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Rabobank: “Bigger Problems, Fewer Words”

Courtesy of ZeroHedge View original post here.

By Michael Every of Rabobank

Fathers and Sons. Full Stop/Period

Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons’ came to mind this morning; and you know it’s not going to be a tiding of joy when Russian literature is your first reference point as you read the news. Why Turgenev? Because it is being reported that Generation Z are apparently unhappy with the full stop. Period. (NB, I will use ‘full stop’ from now, being British.) Apparently this simple yet essential grammatical device, used to separate one’s written thoughts, is seen as being “too aggressive”. That’s right. Too aggressive. Presumably, a flood of thoughts with no method of grammatical segmentation is passively preferable; or a sequence of very short thoughts that don’t require clarification with commas, colons, semicolons, or hyphens – because why should they survive?

Cherish that 19th century literature. Because we won’t be seeing its like again on this kind of trend. Luckily we can still just about squeeze in Wittgenstein’s “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” into a Tweet, without a full stop, and still grasp the enormity of this inexorable linguistic entropy taking place. A thought which will itself soon just be a picture of Wittgenstein and a sad face emoticon, presumably :L

The irony, of course, is that Turgenev speaks perfectly to this generational disconnect, and to a foreboding sense of social entropy, albeit his book was published nearly half a century before the Bolsheviks ultimately seized power. Genteel petty-bourgeoisie Nikolay Kirsanov, who thinks himself a social liberal, is totally unable to understand his son Arkady after he returns home a graduate from St Petersburg a disaffected nihilist. “The fact is that previously they were simply dunces and now they've suddenly become nihilists,” states the confused older generation who want to talk about much-needed social reforms; and “What's important is that twice two is four and all the rest's nonsense” – which is something still being argued today in some circles. Arkady is happy to use full stops though, even if his replies are the 19th century equivalent of “Ok, Boomer”.

Look at the increasing political polarisation and social disconnect we are experiencing in the West, both horizontally (left-right, with the centre collapsing), and vertically (old-young, with the old moving right and the young running left). This is clear in the results from the last few UK elections as well as the Brexit vote, and in the US in Millennial attitudes vs. those of the Boomers.

Equally, look at our crumbling global architecture and stability. India and China are both digging in at their border; we have Taiwan and the South China Sea – with the Wall Street Journal alleging China is prepared to offer its Covid vaccine to those who will accept its claim to the latter; Iran, where the US is going to proceed with snapback sanctions – in isolation; Turkey, who announced a moderate-sized gas find on Friday, said it will continue to drill in waters claimed by the EU, and is apparently ordering another set of controversial S-400 Russian anti-aircraft missiles that are a red flag to the US and NATO; Ukraine, which rumbles on; and now Belarus and a potential changing of the guard there. Plus, reports -again – that Kim Jong-Un of North Korea is dead and is to be replaced by his sister, opening up unpredictable futures in another potential Asian flashpoint.

Meanwhile, of course, US-China relations continue to deteriorate. In the last few days we have seen two new bills proposed: one will not allow Xi Jinping to be called ‘president’ in any US government documentation, using his title of ‘Party Chairman’ instead – which is arguably accurate when one looks at his Chinese language title, but which also underlines the increasingly-stark systemic differences between the US and China; the second is a claim that China must repay USD1.6 trillion in pre-1949 government debt it defaulted on after the revolution. Neither sound like détente; and neither does President Trump, whose Republican National Convention will be ultra-hawkish on China this week, talking about decoupling the two countries in a Fox TV interview. Indeed, the South China Morning Post today asks “Is Donald Trump bluffing about starting a financial war with China? Chinese officials aren’t so sure.

You wouldn’t know it from looking at stock markets (in the green across the board again in Asia this morning), but there is a real Turgenev-esque entropy, not negentropy – things being more and more in order – all around us.

Perhaps failure to see that is demographic. Try being young and/or working class or self-employed at the moment rather than middle-aged and middle-class and working from home in the country. Perhaps it’s geographic, which intersects to a large degree: much of the media virus focus is on the West (“My European holiday was simply ruined!”) rather than on the struggles of emerging markets. At the very least it’s sharply hierarchical: if you are getting that sweet, sweet flow of government/central-bank money, you don’t feel much pain right now. How much nicer it would be if we could all see things how others do. As Turgenev says:

“A man is capable of understanding everything – how the ether vibrates and what happens on the sun. But to understand how another man can blow his nose differently from the way he blows his own is something beyond his capability.”

Yet entropy is out there all the same. Even if we beat Covid-19 through a combination of new therapies, another of which Trump just green-lit, or even a vaccine, Russian, Chinese, American, or whatever, does anyone think we are going to go back to business as normal as if no new similar global shock could ever reoccur? Possibly. We have desperately short memories – and on purpose, some might argue. Hardly anybody remembers Turgenev banging on about two times two, or Orwell and two plus two. And neither were the first to say it.

Yet entropy is still accelerating. Indeed, as our global problems become ever more complex and inter-connected, and reach tipping points, the language we have to try to describe, let alone solve them, becomes less and less granular. Bigger problems, fewer words – and no full stops.

For now, the prudent case is to assume that the can-kicking fiscal and monetary policies we have recently pursued will linger – much as finance ministers try to argue it is already time to try to put fiscal genies back in bottles. So the Nikolays of the world will get richer, and the Arkadys will get even angrier. Perhaps they will even shift to ALL CAPS. As the nihilists in ‘Fathers and Sons’ cry: “I want everything or nothing. A life for a life, taking one and giving up another without hesitation and beyond recall. Or else better have nothing!”

Personally, I conclude with this:

“Whereas I think: I’m lying here in a haystack… The tiny space I occupy is so infinitesimal in comparison with the rest of space, which I don’t occupy and which has no relation to me. And the period of time in which I’m fated to live is so insignificant beside the eternity in which I haven’t existed and won’t exist… And yet in this atom, this mathematical point, blood is circulating, a brain is working, desiring something… What chaos! What a farce!”

And now back to Bloomberg…

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