Why Artifice Rules the World: We Have No Choice

There’s only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven’t actually fixed what’s broken in the real world.

As I noted yesterday, we now game dysfunctional systems rather than actually repair them. Rather than fix the dysfunctional system of higher education, for example (as I proposed in my book The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy), students and their parents go to extraordinary lengths to game the Ivy league university admissions system.

Rather than actually address the structural causes of unemployment, we lower interest rates to zero and reckon the resulting financial bubble will fix unemployment (and everything else).

To avoid having to deal with unemployment as an issue, the unemployment rate is heavily gamed by counting marginal jobs (working 1 hour a week–you’re employed!) and removing tens of millions of unemployed people from the work-force.

The primary tool of increasing prosperity is the expansion of asset bubbles that supposedly boost the wealth effect, an internalized belief that one is wealthier. This internal belief is presumed to encourage more borrowing and spending which is then presumed to lift all boats in the economy.

This is of course all artifice: the elaborately choreographed applications to the Ivy League, the massaged statistics designed to manage our perceptions of reality rather than address reality itself, and the selling offree money for financiers as a policy that magically helps everyone, even those far from the money spigots of the Federal Reserve.

How did we arrive at a systemic dependence on contrivance and artifice to manage problems? We have no choice. Why do we have no choice?

Because any attempt to actually fix dysfunctional systems necessarily steps on the toes of deeply entrenched vested interests that profit from the dysfunctional Status Quo— interests who will devote every resource in their command to water down, co-opt, divert or defeat any reforms that lessen their share of the national income or their political power.

As a result, true reform of hopelessly dysfunctional systems is politically impossible. Since politicians are elected to give everyone more of what they want, politicos have no choice to but to game the dysfunctional systems via perception management and statistical sleight of hand to make them appear to give everyone more of what they want. Meanwhile, the politicos collect personal fortunes from the Elites and insiders benefiting from the dysfunctional Status Quo.

Artifice and perception management appear to be win-win: everybody seems to win if they see dysfunction as not just “the way the world works,” but as a positive approach that benefits everyone in some fashion.

There’s only one small problem with relying on artifice: we haven’t actually fixed what’s broken in the real world, and those dysfunctions continue to fester beneath the glossy surface of gamed statistics and happy stories we tell ourselves about how well everything is working.

At some point–the actual date is unpredictable, but 2021-2025 is as good a guess as any–the dysfunctional systems will break down and no amount of artifice, bogus statistics or perception management will mask the rot.

Once reality crashes through the thick constructs of artifice, faith in the Status Quo will be lost. At that fragile juncture of destiny, the opportunity to fix what is broken will finally emerge.


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  • unheilig

    In the UK you don’t need to be employed even for one hour to qualify as “employed”. Unemployed folks are often forced to accept “zero hour contracts” which means exactly what it says: you are guaranteed no hours of work whatsoever, but you signed a contract, therefore you’re employed. All hail to the MOTU, bringers of prosperity, stability and security, and…LOOK AT THOSE TERRORISTS OVER THERE!!!

  • Party Like 1999

    There is always a choice.

  • Voice of Reason

    Western Civilization is founded on an “artifice” – the artifice of money. There is a certain poetic justice in it being undermined it. It’s ruling classes have managed to convince their subjects that money is wealth, that everyone should attempt to pile up as much of it as possible by any possible means that don’t result in incarceration. Money is, of course, social debt not wealth, an obligation by the issuing entity to furnish real wealth if and when the bearer of money wishes to exchange that money for it. The economist Michael Hudson explained that “The product of Wall Street is debt.” The late Hyman Minsky noted that “Any unit (i.e. anyone – VoR) can create money. The problem is getting it accepted.”

    Wall Street has been fabulously successful in getting its “product” accepted. That’s why Wall Street and Washington are such good pals. In peace time Washington needs Wall Street to help it get the debt it is creating “accepted”. In war (on whatever, or “police action”?) time, Wall Street needs Washington – not just as General Butler said to ‘collect its debts’ but, under the Empire of Debt, to insure the rest of the world continues to accept new ones created by the Wall Street / Washington partnership.

    When the rest of the world stops ‘buying’ the artifice of Wall Street / Washington-created money as wealth, we are going to have a problem.