Post-TINA, Post-Peak (part 1)
In 2007 I woke up because grocery stores were empty and IHOP pancakes had gotten smaller. There was an oil shortage; gas prices were reaching levels that seemed impossible. I did some research and found “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.” This was the first time I had heard of peak anything, but I found out that the peak of almost everything was going to happen in my lifetime.
I had never cared about economics. I was blissfully building the AI that I thought would carry us into god-like prosperity. Now I was diving into Mises and George and anything that could make sense of this new situation and I found that — unless something changed — the value I created was mostly just going to benefit the rich.
I was in somewhat of a stupor, but still ingesting information when the financial crisis hit. Now I knew enough to know I was being lied to. The president got on T.V. to tell us if we didn’t bail out the banks that everyday people would lose the money in their accounts. This was a lie. I had heard that politicians were liars; that they were self-serving. Now I was seeing it with my own eyes. I turned on C-SPAN and watched Nancy Pelosi scolding some of our so-called representatives for not wanting to go along with the bailout. She said that those that were coming up for reelection had a pass, but not the rest. She didn’t even try to pretend to be on the side of the people — she was urging congress to help the entrenched power structures against the will of the people.
It was also about this time — at the market’s rock bottom — that I had my first real money to invest, but there was a problem. I remembered my high-school literature teacher lecturing about the power of compounding interest (my regular old bank account returned 6.5% at the time); I think he genuinely wanted us to have good, stable, responsible lives and retire. The now-familiar 0% interest rate was the new reality. I did more research and found that we were living in a carefully-crafted environment known as “financial repression” and there was no way out in sight.
Financial repression caters to the biggest of the big. It ensures that if a regular person wants a chance at financial stability — even the thought of retirement — we need to buy a certain product: their stock. Teacher’s pension funds, company retirement plans, you name it, were buying up the stocks of the biggest monopoly players. In 2008 I looked — believe me — and there really was no alternative. TINA was real.
So what’s the harm if everyone and their dog is forced by their retirement plan — or TINA — to buy Amazon stock? It comes down to whether we see ourselves as investors or consumers or something else. What does Amazon do when its stock price is inflated because we’re all forced to buy it? It buys competitors. The worse it gets, the more outlandish the takeovers are. I remember when Amazon bought Whole Foods thinking “what’s next?” Maybe we as investors get to retire, but we as consumers lose out on a lot of competition, innovation, and choice.
I don’t ideally see us as consumers, though (because we risk over-consuming at a time when we’re reaching peak everything), and I definitely don’t see us as investors. (Who really wants to be forced to pick stocks just to the get to the non-terrible retirement facility at the end of the game of life?) So how do I see a regular person like myself? In part 2, I’ll explain my life’s mission in the Post-TINA, Post-Peak world.