Values, Devaluation -- Pun Or?

by Milo Clark

July 29, 2002


The American word "Billion" has crept into vocabularies of recent. The Brits still prefer "One Thousand Million." Hundred, Thousand and Million have a substance linking perceptions to actualities.

I can hold a hundred. I can get my arms around a thousand. I have to stretch mightily to grasp a million, one thousand thousands. A Billion is quite beyond my capacity to embrace. Those rungs on my ladders of abstraction are busted out. I do not grok Billion. I am hopeless when confronted with Trillion, a mere one thousand billion, one thousand thousand million -- no less and certainly more.

Creeping devaluation is a hoary American tactic or, actually, it is more like a strategy. All the minor and subservient governments of the world are forced, yes forced, to make wrenching lurches in their currencies when judged "overvalued."

Those lurches hit the financial and other media as "Devaluations." A small headline may whisper, "Ecuador today devalued the Escudo 15%." You have ignored them most of your reading life, if you even noticed them. A 15% devaluation, any devaluation of the Escudo drives thousands and thousands of people further back into grinding poverty. People don't count, though. Double entendre, non?

However, exercising high and due diligence you have never seen a headline in American media proclaiming that "America today devalued the dollar 15%." Are you aware that the dollar has slipped approximately 12% in the last six months -- what they call elsewhere devaluation? Several essays are bundled in that one sentence.

Yet, the shortest of memories can recall that something which had a price of $1.00 now has a price of $1.10. As a young person, I clearly remember products costing a demanding twenty five cents that now cost many times as much. Will you calculate the devaluation?

Another word applicable to creeping devaluation is "inflation." Inflation is creeping devaluation. Repetition is said to improve retention. Alan Greenspan, America's Fed Chair and Cheerleader extraordinaire, and his kind go ballistic at a hint of inflation.

Good news for folks, higher employment, better wages, extensions of benefits, fair return on savings make the "market" decline. Bad news for folks, higher unemployment, reduced wages, more layoffs, redundancies, reduced benefits, tanked interest rates on savings make the "market" happy. Paradox may be the nature of actuality -- but come on, fella!

Every sinew and fiber of apparent American and international financial muscle is flooded with adrenaline and launched with full might and wrath at any hint of inflation -- anything positive for folks. Weighty statistics are displayed with flag backdrops to create the illusions that inflation is under control. Yet, when jingling bi-metallic silver-less change of diminishing value in my old jeans, there comes a distinct knowing that control in that sense is akin to flatulence. We all experience flatulence while steadfastly denying that the fart just issued is ours.

America as government and as financial manipulator par excellence does devaluation like most folks do farts. Sneaky, minimally squeaky, eyes averted. Yet, readily apparent, no?

So what?, you ask. Perhaps you read that the American dollar is generally considered "overvalued." Perhaps you note that the new Euro currency is now at par or even a bit stronger than the American dollar. The Nipponese Yen dances around the dollar in a magnificent love/hate display. What is good for the Yen is bad for the dollar and vice-versa.

Argentina, which a few short years ago was applauded for pegging its money to the American dollar, one for one, is now thrashing about like a beheaded chicken. Governments falling, riots, much banging on pots, the Argentine middle class, like the once Mexican middle class prior to their debacle of earlier 1990s, is decimated. Anybody remember the southeast Asian houses of cards which went down a few short years ago? I am told the girls and boys are both more plentiful and cheaper now in Bangkok. The fuckers benefit.

Closer to home, sneaky little stories creep in reflecting that millions of Americans are now forced to delay thoughts of retirement. Folks finding no purpose in saving money are spending it. Good for the economy, right? Ben Franklin is whirling in his grave!

Interest in the pits clobbers savings accounts. Equity markets tumble clawing away at retirement hopes.

Assumed secure foundations of wealth and security as measured by yesterday's standards are no longer calculable in understandable dollars. Add up last week's bankruptcies and several hundred billion of value has disappeared, evaporated, gone down the drains. Add the weeks together and the weight of loss approaches the trillions gone. The imploding corporate shells, lemming rushes to collapse, are eroding billions of dollars of value from illusions taken as actualities.

I would like to call attention to that phrase, ". . . illusions taken as actualities." If a thousand folks lost a thousand dollars each, that takes a million out. If a thousand thousand folks lose a thousand dollars each, there goes a billion. When thousands of billions disappear, thousands of millions of folks take a bath. All this could be the kinda stuff which would make good Buddhists of brokers. It is within such assumptive structures I feel we should now wander with open eyes, available ears and highly tuned sensitivities.

I must resort to some shorthand which, on closer attention, clearly merits volumes. Swans scanners are likely bored with shibboleths I bounce about with some regularity. "The only way not to play a game is not to play." "Trying to solve problems using the tools, techniques and thoughts which create them is silly." "Never in knowable history have economic and financial systems been so manipulated." I keep harping on authors such as Lukacs, Quinn, Schumacher, Kohr and others.

Recently, I have turned off true believers by asserting "Enron is norm rather than exception." Offers to debate that actuality go unclaimed. Fortunately, although more than unfortunate, even headline scanners presently find it a bit hard to ignore the strongly etched patterns emergent in financial news.

Bateson's admonitions to look for differences which make a difference and patterns which connect plop us right smack into a dense cloud of very obnoxious farts. Like farts, do we notice or pretend otherwise? Good fart smellers at least get a giggle. Smart fellers -- get it?

It is also no great revelation that I consider the Bush avalanche a coup d'état. Generations of hard work in many areas of value, as I understand values, are being undone in relative minutes. Devaluation indeed!

Even if in November 2002 Americans who vote return a Congress with strong other than Republican majorities, the damage is done. New generations will struggle to get back to where we may have been a very few short years back. Similar phenomena happened in conjunction with WW I, Great Depression, WW II, Korea-Vietnam and after a brief respite to find new enemies, War on Terror.

Communism/socialism as bête noire has been replaced with Terrorism. Red blinders are now green blinders. Green, in case anyone misses the point, is both the color of ragheads (Islam) and of tree huggers (Greens).

The federal coffers have been striped bare in a flash of time. State and local treasuries were already dusty and empty. Politicians are lining up for assistant manager jobs at Burger King. The delusions and illusions of "Peace Dividend" and "Surplus" have gone poof. The pea is under what shell? Know how to do flim flam?

History buffs may notice a repetitive patterning. In the later years of the nineteenth century, savage capitalism was dominant as it was in the later years of the twentieth century now merging into twenty-first. Then the bête noire was "Anarchy."

What remains consistent, what appears patterned, may be the resilience and return of savage capitalism. And, yet, much like Watergate delayed some matters, perhaps today the implosions in process may function as a leavening agent. A few miles backward ballyhooed as progress measured an inch or two forward. Count those inches as blessings? Yassuh, massah! A corporate rapist who drags off a couple billion or a few hundred million may now get a sentence close to holding a gram of pot. True justice triumphant!

Somehow the manifestations of Republican Party coalesce around a few themes presently receiving little attention. We are decoyed with the noise around abortion, civil rights and religion from noticing the hoary themes from which the Bush family emerged.

Grist for the mills of time, I suppose.

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Milo Clark, a founding member of Swans, had it all: Harvard MBA, big house, three-car garage, top management... Yet, once he had seemingly achieved the famed American dream he felt something was missing somewhere. As any good executive he decided to investigate. Since then, he has become a curmudgeon and, after living in Berkeley, California, where he was growing bamboos, making water gardens, listening to muses, writing, cogitating and pondering, he has moved on to the Big Island in Hawaii where he creates thought forms about sunshine.

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Published July 29, 2002
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