Sympathy for politicians? Maybe – consider their tool kit, the electoral freak show, and the stupefying demands and realities they face


Multi-election years are trying times for those that don’t enjoy the game of politics. If one is immune to the charms of glad-handing and full-frontal bullshitting, exposure to the black art of politics at a minimum leads to dry heaves, and, in high enough concentrations, a stay in a hospital.

Some feel otherwise; a university friend and I once debated the merits of choosing the political life. He defended the career path on the grounds that working for the public interest was a noble calling; to do so was to acknowledge that massive effort was required to keep society functioning beyond the pure profit motive of individuals.

Over time, my view softened somewhat (I’d just read Atlas Shrugged, twice, and it therefore needed softening) and he had at least the makings of a decent point – that there were issues of civilization that markets could not solve, and my attitude towards bureaucrats and politicians softened somewhat (though he now works for one of the world’s biggest energy companies, so go figure).

The revulsion to politics is still overwhelmingly strong, but time, contemplation and experience do bring some empathy for those who, either through visions of societal benevolence or history-making vanity, find themselves in the big chair, faced with a staggering array of challenges, and armed only with the spectacularly dysfunctional skill set required to ascend in modern politics (Trump is a notable exception, with a wholly different skill set. But there can’t be two of him. Can there?). And they are in massive trouble.

As they attempt to lead, we are forced to watch these highly motivated creatures wriggle and writhe under the spotlight like fish in the bottom of the boat, with no mercy club in sight until the next election. The load on them is peculiar and immense. Imagine the stress of answering a simple question, knowing that cameras are always rolling, that global disgrace and mockery is a heartbeat away, with social media circling like a vulture for any word or facial gesture gone wrong. Prime Minister Trudeau recently tested those waters when he went off script for a simple question about plastic water bottles and launched into a bewildering, incoherent, grinning monologue about non-existent water boxes, and no one outside of his inner circle realized what a remarkable feat it was that the PM did not wet himself right then and there. It is true that modern politicians put themselves in that situation voluntarily, but it is highly unlikely that any of them had the foresight to know how just how far they would be forced to contort their words and beliefs and visions and principles in inconceivable ways simply to keep everything running.

That is because the world has gone mad. Previous generations may have thought so too, but consider the current circumstances.

Consider that a few decades ago the biggest superpowers stepped back from ideological war and the world for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, was in broad strokes free to focus on improving the human condition. We then quickly realized, in advanced economies, that we couldn’t really afford it. Governments were racking up not just huge debt, but huge unfunded liabilities. Specifically, no one knew how to meet future pension obligations for aging societies, or how to meet the exponentially growing costs of health care systems that became ever more capable and expensive. (At what point/age was a life not worth a thousand dollars a month in life-preserving drugs? Five thousand dollars’ worth? Should we perform open heart surgery on 85 year olds, and who decides?) Mildly-panicked economists wrote papers and valiantly went on popular TV current affairs shows in a cultural/cosmetic mismatch of epic proportions to try to describe the situation to a population fixated on how large their next SUV should be.

Fast forward to today, and that very same fear – that we will be unable to afford our standard of living in countries whose standards of living keep rising – is as fashionable as a mullet. We have new fears!

The primary new fear hardly bears mentioning. The entire world is being pickled in climate change messaging, that civilization will be all but over within decades if we don’t reverse the CO2-emitting course of humanity.

The other fear, which is not as flamboyantly displayed but is in fact far more real and pervasive, is fear for our future financial security. No matter what noise a politician makes to show concern for abstract fears like a potentially changing climate, the demands of its citizens for jobs, services, and stability are the true puppet-masters. This holds true all over the world.

Both these fears are set against a gargantuan reality that governments can’t ignore: it’s not working. None of it.

On the climate front, as the IEA recently noted, 30 years ago 81 percent of the world’s energy mix was fossil fuel-based; today, after $4 trillion in renewable investment, it remains at 81 percent.

Economically, in a truly bizarre phenomenon, a new form of unprecedented chaos reigns. Central banks of the world’s largest economies have pushed interest rates into negative territory for over $13 trillion of debt in a frantic effort to kick-start economies. Central banks are in effect telling lending institutions: we don’t want to see your money, go loan it out. If you bring it around here we’ll charge you instead of paying you interest – an unprecedented situation in the financial world (the negative interest expense, bizarrely now interest income, does make all the debt affordable and does help pay for government expenditures, but not a meaningful amount). And lending institutions seem to be saying, we’re good with that, because we don’t see anything worth loaning for, so we’ll buy those bonds even if it costs us. Which causes central banks to panic some more.

And they are panicked, because they can’t afford social programs, never mind forking over trillions for climate-saving renewable options that may be entirely in vain. Even the densest politician can look around at global consumption patterns – up and to the right, for virtually every commodity including fossil fuels – and see which way the wind is blowing, panicked children or not.

We are in uncharted waters. Advanced nations are in effect insolvent, saved only by their ability to print money, and we don’t know how long that house of cards can stand. Ferociously large sums of borrowed money are being put into non-productive social programs and green energy schemes – even the mighty US is facing a trillion-dollar budget deficit this year – and the world’s voting populations (and the non-voting ones in China) say what they feel obligated to say about climate change, yet act in exactly the opposite manner.

Overhanging all this madness is the sheer, relentless, seemingly unstoppable demand for fossil fuels of all types. Where they come from is anyone’s guess, but they will come, and the enemies of fossil fuels will ratchet up the pressure to quit using them to the point of sheer insanity.

And in the most frightening aspect of all, we are being directed in this madhouse by over-their-heads politicians operating in the most twisted, distorted, shape-shifting arena ever, guided by environmental zealots who have never built anything and snotty punk social media commentators who’s abilities start and end with sarcasm, all the while being led by central bankers who are conducting the highest-stakes fiscal experiment ever conceived, one that has seasoned market participants fearing that they’ve lost their mind.

Where this goes is anyone’s guess, but when it blows up, it’s gonna blow up real good, as Billy Sol Hurok put it in the relatively sane SCTV Farm Film Report.

Due to summer laziness, this post originally published at BOE Report

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1 Comment

  1. […] Time, contemplation and experience do bring some empathy for those who, either through visions of societal benevolence or history-making vanity, find themselves in the big chair, faced with a staggering array of challenges, and armed only with the spectacularly dysfunctional skill set required to ascend in modern politics. Read on… […]


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