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May 26, 2009

'Decline and Fall: A View From 2089' — by Ben Stein


Bracing and compelling, it appeared in this past Sunday's New York Times Business section, and follows.


Decline and Fall: A View From 2089

The future is now. To see how history might look back on our economic crisis, we bring you this excerpt from "The Decline and Fall of the United States of America," Beijing University Department of Western Hemisphere History (Beijing Press, 2089):

The demise of an economy as mighty as that of the United States as of 2000 cannot be accounted for by anything less than deeply mistaken and foolish decision-making within that nation’s ruling circles.

No amount of foreign competition or resource shortage has historically caused such a catastrophe. However, policy actions undertaken without proof or even evidence of their efficacy have historically done so. (See “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Gibbon, 1776.)

Starting from an extremely strong economic and fiscal position in the year 2000, with surpluses running far into the future in the federal budget and a highly positive outlook for its ability to handle its future pension and health obligations, the United States, under the administration of George W. Bush, a Republican, undertook one of the most mystifyingly self-destructive policy actions yet seen in a democracy.

Taxes were lowered sharply for well-off and other taxpayers, while government expenditures rose in almost every area, civil and defense. This, in short order, led to a multiplication of the size of the federal budget deficit.

The theory behind this puzzling behavior was known as "supply-side economics." Magically, it was supposed to increase productivity, the number of hours worked, and tax receipts to the point that the losses in federal revenue were more than offset. There never was any historical evidence that this would happen, at least not as a consequence of the tax cuts, and the deficit, in fact, grew. So did class antagonisms over the ever-larger share of the national income taken by the wealthy.

There was also a steep increase in liquidity after the notorious terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This, combined with federal regulations that virtually eliminated regulation of lending and banking in general, led to the great Credit Collapse stagflation in the period after 2006.

At this time, the nation’s finance sector had to become a virtual ward of the state, with public shaming of the leaders of the banking sector in front of Congressional committees — a sort of Great Cultural Revolution in America.

There was a spectacular constriction of credit, despite the flooding of the economy with dollars.

Whether this had to do with the fear generated by the Credit Collapse or fear of further public shaming is still in debate.

The Credit Collapse and the government’s conflicting response to it — shoring up the banks and expanding reserves on the one hand, while putting lending officials at risk for aggressive lending on the other — led to a prolonged slowdown in the economy.

At the same time, the confidence that American lenders had in the rule of law, probably one of the main pillars of the economy, was demolished by government actions that invalidated some lenders’ long-held legal rights in favor of ad hoc attempts to please various political constituencies.

Confidence was further eroded as the government embarked upon unprecedented “stimulus” moves costing trillions of dollars in the aggregate. These were rushed into law as a crisis measure immediately after the inauguration of Barack Obama, a Democrat, as president in January 2009. Most of the startling sums involved, however, were not spent until years later, by which time public confidence was so low that even these measures were not meaningful in stimulating the economy.

In retrospect, it is not clear upon what evidence the stimulus packages were based, because no one had ever been able to prove that taking money from taxpayers, and having the government spend it instead, would meaningfully enlarge the scale of economic activity. (See "John Maynard Keynes and the Suicide of the West,” 2039, Hong Kong Press.)

By 2012, after a substantial victory by President Obama over Jeb Bush of Florida, brother of George W. Bush, the United States had been mired in recession for six years. (The Obama victory was greatly aided by the unopposed secession of Texas and Alaska from the nation.)

The flood of liquidity into the economy had translated into unnerving inflation as sellers constantly anticipated higher prices, while labor demand remained soft as buyers resisted buying, especially durable goods. The heavy industry and refining segment of the American economy, once by far the largest in the world, atrophied further as environmental and other regulation made it impossible for executives to compete with the industry of countries that ignored such issues as the environment.

By 2014, the federal government’s debt had reached $25 trillion, while the economy had shrunk to roughly $10 trillion in annual output (at 2006 prices). At that point, the Treasury began to announce that it would suspend payment of interest to foreigners on United States federal debt except by the issuance of so-called P.I.K., or payment-in-kind, notes of the Treasury. These were simply payments by promises instead of by money.

At that point, only the Federal Reserve remained as a buyer of United States Treasury debt. Foreign holders sold as quickly as they could. The dollar collapsed, and the yuan replaced it as a global reserve currency. The resulting hyperinflation in the United States and the accompanying collapse of the republic are by now known to every schoolchild. ...

May 26, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Logic Bolt 1.5 — 'World's first projector phone'


Can your next-gen iPhone do that?

Didn't think so.

Pictured above and, according to the company's ad on page 146 of the June 2009 issue of Wired magazine, "coming this summer."

The website says August 2009.


• GSM Quad Band

• Projector Phone

• Dual Sim Card

• MP4 & 3GP Power Point,  Excel Viewers

• Dual Camera, Digital and Web Cam

Put me down for one.

May 26, 2009 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Watching TV during the day when the weather outside matches that onscreen

Just now, watching the French Open on DirecTV, with the weather here in Charlottesville grey and drizzly just like that in Paris at Roland Garros Stadium, as I lay back and looked back and forth between the hi-def screen and the big sliding glass door that opens to big sky, I got a wonderful sense of, not exactly being in Paris at the match but something in between being here at home and there.

The first good thing I've ever discovered about having my best TV in a room filled with windows and suffused with daylight.

Up to now I'd always toyed with creating a blacked out room to make the viewing experience comparable to that in a movie theater, but if you're watching sports during the day, perhaps that's precisely the place you shouldn't be.

Just a thought.

May 26, 2009 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Blast from the past: Non-marking belt


Nearly four years of Internet time oughta be enough to qualify as "the past," what?

That August 16, 2005 post featured one for $34.99; today's iteration is better — simpler and cheaper.

What's not to like?

From the website:


Buckle-less Belt

Like our original Non-Marking Belt, this one is buckle-less – won’t scratch up fine woodwork or that Norton Commando you’re bringing back to rip-snortin’ life.

Thick full grain bridle leather is 1-1/2" wide, heavily oiled to shrug off surface scratches.

It has a Velcro closure you can adjust in a zip.

Brown or Black.



Especially convenient in airports, as the absence of metal means you can keep it on as you go through security.

Musicians also find them useful.


May 26, 2009 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Open City — Times Square Goes Car-Free

I have seen the future and it includes lounge chairs on Broadway.


Long story short: This past Sunday New York City closed Broadway to vehicles, from 47th to 42nd Streets and 35th to 33rd Streets.

Above, the result.

May 26, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Frank Lloyd Wright x LEGO Architecture Building Sets


Long story short: LEGO's created sets for Fallingwater and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, "developed in collaboration with leading architects to be as accurate as possible."

Note: Fallingwater is one of the few places I've ever been that far exceeded in person what I expected.

Monticello is another.

[via Paul Biba, co-editor of  TeleRead, editor of GPS Passion and iPhone editor of PalmAddict. He needs to find something to do with his free time, in the worst way.]

May 26, 2009 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

iPhone + Brushes app = current New Yorker cover


Look at the magazine cover above.

What do you see?

The cover was created by artist Jorge Colombo using only his iPhone and the $4.99 Brushes app.

It took him about an hour.

You could look it up.

Stephanie Clifford's story in yesterday's New York Times fills in a few more details.

Below, a video demonstrating how Colombo created the cover.

May 26, 2009 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kathleen Dustin's Otherworldly Bags








she is




the world's




polymer clay



[via my7475]

May 26, 2009 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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