The Mandibles: Your Financial Future?
“Can I help you?”
The woman faced two soldiers in combat gear at her door in Brooklyn. This happens in the future, 2029; it is described in a book titled The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver.
“Don’t need no help,” the big one said, spinning the laminated ID around his neck with a contemptuous flick. “Comin’ in, lady.” He opened the screen door himself.
Florence barred his way. “Excuse me, do you have a warrant?”
“Got better than a warrant,” the lout said. “Got a law. Let’s move, Ajay.”
“I don’t allow guns in this house,” she insisted.
“Ain’t that a shame. ’Cause the U.S. Army don’t leave M-17s on the porch like shoes outside a mosque.”
Armed also with metal detectors, the two trooped into the foyer uninvited, neglecting to wipe their boots on the doormat and getting black snow on the rug.
“Why are you wearing that camouflage when we don’t have any trees?” Willing asked, studying
them from the stairs. “If you don’t want people to see you in this neighborhood, your uniforms should look like aluminum siding.”
The book is clever. The dialog can be fast and witty (though it often has an explanatory quality which is heavyhanded and off-putting… at least to this
In 2029, something has gone very wrong in the U.S. Ms. Shriver illustrates what a financial/social breakdown might look like. The feds have run up too much debt. What can they do? They announce a “Renunciation,” meaning… they won’t pay.
Then things go from bad to worse. The dollar collapses. Inflation goes into orbit. Basic services fail. Corruption and violence increase. The Mexicans build a wall to keep Americans out. In short, Ms. Shriver examines, in novel form, all the things we predict might happen.
It is a new genre of literature that might be called “financial dystopia.” She understands money well enough to see that the present system is dysfunctional and dangerous. She wonders where it will lead. But rather than try to guess about it as an economist would… she describes what it might look like. The Mandibles are members of a family. The old man, perhaps misinterpreting our advice, put all his money in gold. When the feds confiscate gold, he is left penniless. Too bad no one else in the family had come up with a good way to make money… which, of course, made saving it impossible, too. They just waited for the old man to pop off.
One daughter married an economist, a professor at Georgetown University. He has no idea what is going on. And then the university runs out of money and fires him. The family can’t pay its mortgage and must move in with the other daughter, Florence.
Florence decided to devote herself to good works… and low paying jobs, such as helping people in a homeless shelter. But at least she owns her own home… to which everyone in the family retreats. There, crammed into basement and attic, getting on each other’s nerves, they cope with the breakdown of the economy… and the decline of the civilization that sustains it. They are soon out of food, out of toilet paper, and out of luck (while the economist brother-in-law writes articles explaining why this can’t be happening… and what must be done to fix it).
The book is worth reading. First, it is entertaining… You want to see what happens to them. Second, it is instructive. Ms. Shriver does not necessarily describe the future, but she understands what is going on in the financial world today… and describes the dangers and provocations it entails.
Who Can You Trust?
When a money system breaks down, the veneer of civilization cracks and warps. It is not very pleasant.
One quick lesson: Civilization does not depend on laws written by politicians, but on relationships of trust with those around you. When a real crisis comes… that is, when all the promises of eternal bull markets, unlimited borrowing, never-ending social security and Obamacare, and money out of nowhere are shown to be fraudulent… you will want a refuge.
You will not be able to trust the government or its employees. You will not be able to trust its money or its promises. You will not be able to trust most of your fellow citizens; they will be desperate… destitute… and probably delusional. Even your stash of gold… and food… could be taken away.
The best you can hope for: You need to be able to trust your neighbors.
July 12, 2017