Where is the depression?

Occasionally economically ignorant critics attempt to nip at my ankles by making reference to the apparent absence of the global economic contraction that I believe is happening and predicted would start to become widely recognized by the end of 2010. But the failure of the Great Depression 2.0 to be recognized in the conventional macroeconomic statistics yet doesn’t bother me in the slightest, because the map is not the territory. And, as I demonstrate in the chapter entitled “No One Knows Anything”, those statistics cannot be trusted in the least. Keep in mind that the National Association of Realtors is having to revise its numbers to account for the 3.1 million home sales that were reported by its statistical model in 2009 and 2010 but cannot be found in any real-world recording process; a similar correction to GDP would indicate a 30 percent decline from $14,870 billion to $10,306 billion. It’s interesting to see how this is roughly in line with the confidential Goldman Sachs report cited by the Market Ticker.

What have I been saying? That the only thing keeping us from recognizing a full-on economic depression was government deficit spending? Spending that, at present levels, cannot possibly continue.

Worse, there’s no way out of the box. Raise taxes and you subtract directly from private spending. Refuse to raise taxes and you are forced to continue to borrow. Extrapolate out the $1.7 trillion from calendar 2010 and removing that would result in a decrease of twenty-eight times Goldman’s estimate, or some fifty percent of GDP.

Were you sitting down when you read that? Did you have an incontinent moment? If you didn’t then you don’t believe Goldman’s confidential report. If you do believe it you now know what’s going to happen. Not might, will.

One way or another, the artificial support to GDP that is embedded in our insane deficit spending will stop. It mathematically must stop. And when it does stop, if you believe Goldman’s analysis, even if we only cut deficit spending in half GDP will fall by 25%. If we eliminate it? GDP is halved.

And there, my dear critics, is precisely where your missing depression is. I don’t mind admitting that the Fed has been able to keep the situation strung together with string and chewing gum longer than I thought they could, but it doesn’t matter if they manage to keep it up for another five years. The end result will still be the same. Although it’s not quite correct to say that it doesn’t matter, as the longer they manage to postpone the inevitable, the more painful it is going to be.

Socionomics told us 10 years ago that there we were going to be seeing a huge increase in violent political upheaval around the world. That’s exactly what we’re seeing now across the Middle East, but don’t think that it is going to end there. Once the desperation spending stops, it’s going to spread across the East and West as well. We’re not talking cannibalism in the streets, but we’re also not talking about a stroll in the park either. But just so we’re clear, I expect at least one more round of stimulus, and probably two, before the Keynesians throw in the towel. This indicates that Republicans will eventually cave on the debt ceiling; given their strong rhetoric there will have to be some sort of crisis that will excuse the abandonment of their position.

Progressive projection and the Dynamic Law

One of the things I have continued to find interesting about discussing the topic of morality with those who believe that Man is capable of collective moral progression is their frequent reference to the supposed self-righteousness of those who subscribe to more conventional and traditional moral standards. Consider Ludovici’s notes on Friedrich Nietzche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, which are at the end of the book in the Common translation available at Project Gutenberg.

“‘[T]he good and just,’ throughout the book, is the expression used in referring to the self-righteous of modern times, those who are quite sure that they know all that is to be known concerning good and evil, and are satisfied that the values their little world of tradition has handed down to them, are destined to rule mankind as long as it lasts.”

But what is intriguing about this nineteenth century attitude, (which is shared by many of today’s moral progressives under the false impression that it is something new), is that it is not only morally blind and philosophically ignorant, it is also logically backward. Setting aside the obvious ignorance of the basic concept of Natural Law it entails, the idea of the “self-righteous moral traditionalist” doesn’t even begin to make sense.

Think about it. If a moral tradition has been handed down from previous generations, then it quite clearly is not a subjective standard. If a man is deemed, by himself or others, to be righteous when measured against that traditional standard, he cannot reasonably be described as “self-righteous” because the standard is wholly external to the man. It is particularly absurd to attempt to claim that a Christian is “self-righteous” given that one of the primary tenets of the Christian faith is that righteousness comes only through the grace of God and the person of Jesus Christ.

A “self-righteous Christian” is an intrinsic contradiction in terms. One can reasonably call the self-righteous individual’s Christianity into account, but one cannot reasonably describe the Christian’s adherence to Christian standards as being self-righteous in any way.

Moreover, logic dictates that the accusation of self-righteousness not only can be directed, but must be directed at those who a) subscribe to a subjective moral standard of their own device by selecting bits and pieces from existing moral standards, or b) subscribe to what Bakker described as “naive moral relativism”. Their righteousness, to the extent it can even be said to exist, is entirely based on their own self-references. Therefore, we can safely conclude that the accusation of “self-righteousness” so often directed at those who subscribe to traditional moral standards by those who do not is little more than an obvious case of psychological projection. Just as liars believe everyone else is lying, those who deem themselves to be good by virtue of their own subjective moral standards believe everyone else must be self-righteous too.

As for the question of what standard of morality will rule mankind as long as it lasts, one’s opinion will depend upon whether one believes in the concept of an underlying Natural Law that can be discovered through reason, an arbitrary Divine Law that may or may not be amenable to being discovered through reason and observation, or a Dynamic Law that is created by Man, is enforced by Man’s might, and is therefore intrinsically mutable.

The logical incoherence of the moral progressives can be seen in their adherence to the Dynamic Law concept, forgetting that while its dynamic nature means it will be always changing, the direction of the change is innately indeterminate. In the end, what we see is that what the moral progressive actually means by “self-righteous” is daring to hold another individual accountable to a moral standard. But even if we resort to this practical definition, we can see that the moral progressive is always guilty of self-righteousness.

Future Cat Ladies of America

I have read that it is possible to determine if a child will end up psychopathic as early as the age of three. This video appears to suggest that spinsterhood can be detected as early as five:

The video comes by way of Susan Walsh, who wryly anticipates the need to talk some sense into the girl in 15 years, even at the risk of costing humanity some very special Powerpoint slideshows. But the soliloquy does serve as a helpful reminder of the childish nature of the idea that women can do anything more useful, special, or important than that minor matter of perpetuating the human race.

Let’s try this one more time

One of the things I always find amusing about a discussion on the Internet is the reaction of the more dim-witted fans of one or both of the interlocutors. For example, in his second response, RS Bakker twice admits that he doesn’t understand what I’ve written, but doesn’t let this prevent him from spiraling downward into tangents wherein he attempts to engage in some minor psychoanalysis, demonstrates that he has not, in fact, understood what I’ve written, and finally reaches the conclusion that my argument (and Grin’s) could serve as proof to many modern fantasists that they are doing something right. It was not surprising that this nimble performance elicited the following comment, presumably from a Bakker fan: “What a trouncing! Bakker, you’re quite skilled in argument!” Can you imagine how impressed that fan would have been if Bakker had actually managed to indicate that he understood anything relevant to the issue at hand?

Now, I have absolutely nothing personal against Bakker. I haven’t read his novels, (which are apparently pretty good), and I don’t take exception to his opinion regarding my perceived moral cowardice, sense of moral superiority, or superlative sophistry. (NB: I don’t have a sense of moral superiority, I have a sense of intellectual superiority. Important difference there.) Political columnists tend to be rather more familiar with criticism than the average published author since it tends to come with the territory. After 10 years of receiving email from angry readers performing detailed exegeses of every weekly column, I barely even consider it criticism anymore if the nominal critic doesn’t see fit to threaten a) physical attack, or b) to not have sex with me.

Now, I was initially at somewhat of a loss regarding how I could better explain what I considered to be a pretty uncomplicated analogy, but a snarky little comment from another reader at Bakker’s place provided useful inspiration. To wit: “Monochrome photography is photography where the image produced has a single hue, rather than recording the colours of the object that was photographed.” In other words, the other hues simply are not there. Now, by way of example, please tell me the color of the dilapidated house in this photo. Is it brown? Is it white? Is it that faded blue-grey that you often see in half-collapsed houses out in the country?

Not only is it impossible to say what color it is, but just making a reasonable guess requires the viewer to draw upon his own experiences which are external to the photograph if he is even to begin formulating an opinion. And it is not a value judgment, but a straightforward statement of fact, to observe that color information is missing from the image and therefore the ability of the viewer to formulate an opinion on the color of the object is severely handicapped.

So much for amorality. Now on to alternative moral standards. Consider this picture. Discerning art critics can certainly disagree on the aesthetic value of the image, but it would be very difficult to reasonably argue that it offers a more accurate or realistic picture of a historical automobile than a more conventional image that respects traditional color schemes.

It’s not difficult to demonstrate that Bakker has no idea what he’s talking about when he theorizes that I am committing a Consensus Fallacy in observing the literary decline of modern fantasy. The Romance Writers of America report that the SF/F genre sold $554 million last year, of which a significant proportion were Harry Potter and Twilight books. (Twilight books appear to be listed as Fantasy bestsellers, not Romance, based on a review of the RWA’s historical lists.) Religion/inspirational sold $770 million. Now, obviously not all books in the religious/inspirational category will reflect precisely the same moral standard, but it is sufficient evidence of a general belief in moral standards among the book-buying public to indicate that my case is not at all dependent upon the specific moral standards to which I happen to subscribe.

Furthermore, I didn’t say “that moral conflict requires “two immutable poles and two immutable poles only…”. Nor did I imply it or assume it; I used the phrase “at least two moral poles” because that is the minimum number required to generate moral conflict. Bakker is either being disingenuous or suffering from serious reading comprehension problems here to attempt summarizing the section on the requirements for moral conflict so inaccurately.

Finally, Bakker’s claim that he pressed my nose against the “imperative” of “art unconstrained by moral or religious prejudice” by emphasizing the way moral concerns marble my arguments against modern fantasy is downright laughable. This is little more than a predictable, outdated and juvenile justification for artistic coprophagy that underlines my points about the literary decline of the genre. This is the very transgressive mentality to which I referred in my original post. I certainly don’t deny that I am making a value judgment about modern fantasy, what Bakker simply can’t seem to grasp is that I am expressing a literary judgment and not a moral one. The fact that one of the causes of the genre’s literary decline can quite logically be attributed to observable moral color-blindness on the part of many modern fantasy authors does not make the observation a moral judgment, anymore than attributing the decline to historical ignorance would make it a historical judgment.

This isn’t double-talk or moral cowardice. I am about as genuinely disinterested as it is possible to be and still be cognizant of the matter. I have read everything from Nietzsche and Stalin to Keynes and Onfray without it ruffling my feathers so I’m not inclined to be perturbed by mere fictitious monsters. If I was concerned that Joe or anyone else was “leading innocent souls to potential damnation” through nihilistic genre literature, my track record of publishing highly controversial opinions strongly suggests that I would not hesitate to say so. The fact is that I simply don’t believe the writers of modern fantasy matter all that much, in part due to the literary decline of the genre. As I stated before, they are a symptom of the greater societal decline, they are not a cause.

Of course no one likes to hear that their work can be reasonably compared to colorblind children producing monochromatic fingerpaintings. Nor do they have to listen to such cricism. I, for one, won’t mind in the least if the likes of Messrs. Bakker and Abercrombie ignore my opinion and continue basking in the critical acclaim for their moral vacuity, historically incoherent settings, and cardboard characterizations. That is exactly what I expect them to do. I am not writing for their benefit, but for the benefit of the generation of upcoming authors who are capable of learning from the mistakes of those who have gone before and wish to avoid reproducing them.

If the modern fantasists genuinely believe that more blood and titties is literary progress, by all means, let them write more. Let a hundred nihilistic anti-heroes blossom into the murderous child rapists of their creators’ moralblind fantasies. Just don’t expect me, or the large number of intelligent readers capable of noticing what John O’Neill described as “lost magic”, to be favorably impressed with the result.

Despite my mild distaste for Ursula Le Guin’s work, I thought J.S. Bangs had an intelligent perspective on the matter in his amusingly titled post:

On the one hand: it’s possible that the “new gritty” is meant as a reaction against old narratives that have lost their power. But if that’s what those authors are trying to do, then I think they’re doing an awfully poor job of it, because—look, you can question conventional narratives or whatever without sliding into nihilism and madness. What you might do, instead, is offer an alternate model of heroism, an alternate view of goodness. If you do this well you can wind up with something that is compelling, inspiring, and life-changing in much the way that Tolkein and the classical heroic narratives are, but which compels people in a direction that you find more salutory. If you don’t think this can be done, I refer you to the entire oeurve of Ursula K. LeGuin, especially the Earthsea novels and her recent Annals of the Western Shore books. These books repudiate conventional heroic tropes in a variety of ways, but the result is not a demoralizing darkness, but the calm and confident demonstration that there is another way.

Of course, we can’t all be Ursula K. LeGuin. (Oh, but what if we could?) Still, if we grant that the foundations of reactionary fantasy are rotten (not something I agree with, but for the sake of argument), then a lot of the dark, gritty fantasy that I’ve sampled seems like it’s just kicking in the creaky old doors and drawing obscene graffiti in the entrance hall. If the literary building is decrepit, who cares? But this doesn’t impress me. Better you build something beautiful in the ruins.

Of course, they don’t because they won’t and they won’t because they know they can’t. If you can’t draw, you can still scribble. If you can’t create, you can still deconstruct. If you can’t build, you can still destroy. And if you can’t argue, at least you can still mock. None of this is new or even the least bit innovative. I happened to have finished a book last night which makes it clear that the core concept is a tediously old one, older than Tolkien or even Howard. The Preachers of Death call themselves creators, but they create only corpses. Fortunately, in this case, the corpses are only imaginary.

To allure many from the herd—for that purpose have I come. The people and the herd must be angry with me: a robber shall Zarathustra be called by the herdsmen.

Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the good and just. Herdsmen, I say, but they call themselves the believers in the orthodox belief.

Behold the good and just! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the lawbreaker:—he, however, is the creator.

Behold the believers of all beliefs! Whom do they hate most? Him who breaketh up their tables of values, the breaker, the law-breaker—he, however, is the creator.

Companions, the creator seeketh, not corpses—and not herds or believers either. Fellow-creators the creator seeketh—those who grave new values on new tables.

Companions, the creator seeketh, and fellow-reapers: for everything is ripe for the harvest with him. But he lacketh the hundred sickles: so he plucketh the ears of corn and is vexed.

Companions, the creator seeketh, and such as know how to whet their sickles. Destroyers, will they be called, and despisers of good and evil. But they are the reapers and rejoicers.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, IX

Jakob Schmidt had an interesting comment there which I also thought was worth addressing:

Now, Theo’s color metaphor seems to imply that he deems ethical relativism to be somehow “too difficult” a concept to master for most writers. In other words, if a fantasy author doesn’t write from the clear cut notion that, e.g., “honorable conduct” (red) is fundamentally good and that “betraying your king” (blue) is inherently bad, the result will most probably be a muddled and ugly grey mess. What he doesn’t seem to take into account is the idea that a writer could write about moral values that are problematic to us, to allow a reader to react to them in an ethical way.

No, I specifically allowed for that possibility, hence the analogy to the prospective ability of the master painter to paint without color and still achieve a superlative color effect. But Jakob is correct, as given the observable inability of modern fantasy authors to competently portray historical religions and philosophies with any degree of versimilitude, the ethical relativism he described is without even the smallest modicum of doubt far, far beyond the literary and intellectual abilities of the average modern fantasy author.

Blowing up MERS

A county in Massachusetts has the mortgage bankers’ scam engine in its sights:

Essex South Register of Deeds John O’Brien announced today that he will be seeking over $22 million dollars from the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, “MERS” which represents several major banking conglomerates. O’Brien bases the $22M number on the fact that the Salem registry has recorded over 148,663 MERS mortgages since 1998. After a careful review of a number of these mortgages O’Brien said it became very clear to him that MERS had assigned mortgages to other entities at least twice without paying a recording fee. Based on this information the taxpayers have been defrauded out of $22,299,450 in Southern Essex County alone.

That’s one way to start addressing the pension hole in a lot of local government budgets. This would appear to be one of the reasons MERS has announced that it is getting out of the foreclosure business. Of course, they’re already guilty of an incredible number of fraudulent actions and responsible for billions in unpaid recording fees, so this ex post facto handwashing isn’t going to change anything.

The Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems company (known as MERS), which has been at the center of legal problems affecting the securitization of home mortgages and foreclosures, has given up one of its principal corporate objectives. It is now instructing its members to cease foreclosing on residential properties in the name of MERS, and to begin immediately to register all assignments of mortgages with local county recorders of deeds.

Turkeys can’t fly

And, it turns out, camels can’t walk on ice. But how could a bunch of liberals from New York City possibly know that? Nice work, Jon Stewart. Torture a camel, that will certainly show those evil ArabsWisconsin Republicans that you mean business!

Postulating a literary triumph

RS Bakker, whose work was one of the examples of modern fantasy cited in the heroism/nihilism debate at Black Gate inspired by Leo Grin’s original essay, weighs in on the matter. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with Mr. Bakker’s novels, but I have heard some very good things about them, so it was more than a little interesting to read his perspective:

More often than not, the truth, whatever it is, likes to hide in the trashcan. So let me suggest, from the outset, that even though we may belong to the low paraliterati, we are actually engaging in an incredibly complex and timely debate, one which represents genuinely conflicting social interests, while the literati are simply disputing angels and pins amongst themselves.

Only in fantasy, folks. Which is why I have been self-consciously exploring these self-same issues throughout The Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor. These are literally the problems that I used to structure the metaphysics of the World and the Outside. I can’t help but feel a little bit of that delicious I-told-you-so tingle…

The latest salvo in the dour side of the debate is “The Decline and Fall of the Fantasy Novel,” which appeared on Black Gate just this past Sunday. In this essay, Theo breaks Grin’s lament down into four categories, so rescuing the argument from all the hyperbole and self-congratulatory in-group asides that so marred the original.

I liked Bakker’s sober, straightforward take on the matter, which stands in marked contrast to the disjointed reactions of some of the more impassioned opinions expressed. With regards to the first category, 1) Heroic inspiration versus anti-heroic discouragement, Bakker wrote: “Why this [moral redemption or heroic overcoming of external threats] should be the cornerstone of the genre, or anything beyond a statement of personal taste, is quite beyond me.”

But in the very first issue of Black Gate, John O’Neill wrote: “Some people believe that the age of the magazines is over. That people don’t read short stories anymore, that no one is interested in fantasy not packaged as a trilogy. I don’t believe that. But at the same time, I will admit that modern magazines have lost some of the magic that characterized the first Golden Age. In particular, they’ve misplaced the sense of excitement, the focus on adventure, and the ability to reach across generations to readers of all ages. In Black Gate, we hope to recapture that spirit, to publish original epic fantasy in the classic mold – with strong characters, exotic settings, and page-turning action.”
– Black Gate, Spring 2001, pg. 4

My suggestion is that what John was referring to with regards to the lost magic can quite reasonably be identified as the moral redemption and heroic overcoming of external threats, which are important elements going into that which makes characters strong and fantasy epic. This doesn’t mean that this lost magic needs to be a cornerstone of the genre anymore than sex with murderous dead people does. But there is, nevertheless, a distinct and palpable sense of loss in the move from the one to the other. Now, Bakker is right, as it is a matter of personal taste regarding what one prefers to consume, but then, that is equally true of expressing a gastronomic preference between eating chocolate and eating shit. And with literature as with food, what one consumes will tend to have consequences over time.

On the second point concerning 2) Moral certainty versus relativistic confusion, I very much disagree that there is any straw man, let alone a Great Straw Man involved. Bakker writes: “The idea seems to be that ‘moral relativism’ has some kind of ‘moral dampening effect,’ which in turn forces the author to reach deeper to achieve moral effects. I’m not so sure this makes much sense.” But I don’t see how the dampening effect can be reasonably doubted. Let me put it in visual terms. If I am painting with primary colors, it is not difficult to achieve the effects of “red” and “blue”. I simply use red and blue paint. If, however, I have nothing but grey paint, it takes a tremendous amount of skill to achieve any distinction between a red effect and a blue effect. So most painters, not being sufficiently skilled, will be forced to utilize other means of getting the effect across to the viewer by appealing to the viewer’s strongest preconceptions about color, preconceptions which are entirely external to the work. (This is what I meant when I referred to an “artificial facsimile of a moral sensibility” which is located within the work itself.) The inclusion of a stop sign or a police uniform can serve as reference points for colors that aren’t actually there. While one might quite reasonably argue that it is simplistic to use traditional and commonly understood colors in order to achieve a specific color effect, I don’t see how one can rationally argue that not using color, or worse, using yellow for red and brown for blue, is a more effective or powerful means of communicating color. What might work out extraordinarily well in the sophisticated hands of a master painter is very likely to turn out as a gaudy and nonsensical disaster in less accomplished hands. And these sorts of morally incoherent disasters are precisely what I perceive in much modern fantasy today. To extend the analogy a bit further, the problem with the end result isn’t that the painting doesn’t have the exact amount of blue that I, (or anyone else), might believe it should have, the problem is that it is an ugly mess that lacks versimilitude and is incapable of stirring any feeling in the viewer but contempt and disgust.

Although he characterized it correctly, I don’t think Bakker quite understood the third point, 3) Organic consistency versus moral anachronism, in its entirety. I applaud his refusal to bow to the temporal moral anachronisms that litter modern fantasy like a virulent STD, and will happily assure him that I have never presumed “individuals in ancient contexts were not morally conflicted”. The simple fact that has apparently been missed here is that in order to be “morally conflicted”, there must be at least two moral poles between which that conflict can take place. It doesn’t matter what the moralities are, as one can create a credible moral conflict regardless of whether one believes that stoning homosexuals is a moral imperative or a totally immoral act. The point is that there must be a defined pole and an anti-pole or else there is no moral conflict; define those poles how you like, albeit with due respect for historical definitions if you have decided to make use of a recognizable historical setting. As for the connection between moral anachronisms in fiction and certain sensibilities, I would think it is rather obvious that it is almost always those writers who reject traditional moral standards – or alternatively, the very concept of universally applicable moral standards – who are so uncomfortable with them that they insist on introducing the moral equivalent of laser-sighted handguns into an era of swords and spears. This is just bad judgment leading to bad writing.

With regards to the fourth point, I am entirely open to the idea that the latest generation of modern fantasists are not at all responsible for the way they are regarded by their fans. But their predecessors in the SF/F genre, such as Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison, certainly revelled in their self-styled transgressivism and so-called “dangerous” visions. Still, I think it is abundantly clear that there is nothing bold or daring about upholding the moral perspective of what has now become the mainstream perspective in the publishing industry, if not necessarily among the readership. If Messrs. Joe, Steve, and George don’t consider themselves to be dangerous, transgressive writers in the Moorcockian mode, then obviously the charge of hypocrisy would not apply.

Finally, I have no choice but to conclude that Bakker has missed the primary thrust of my argument when he writes: “As I hope should be clear by this point, Theo’s four recapitulations of Grin’s points are really different spins of the same complaint: modern fantasy is a moral failure.”

But this is not what I am saying at all. I am observing – not complaining – that modern fantasy is a literary failure and that the literary decline of the genre over the last fifty years is one of the many symptoms of a greater societal decline. That this literary and societal decline has a moral component is readily apparent, but is beyond the scope of my argument, nor does that argument rely upon subscription to “a certain family of wish-fulfilment moralities”. In other words, there is no circle, which is why the potential difficulty of squaring it is irrelevant. I have no desire to tell anyone what they should or should not write, anymore than I wish to tell them what they should or should not eat. Write what thou wilt is the whole of the literary law. But if you happen to be wondering why so many people think your breath stinks, I’m certainly not going to hesitate to explain that you may want to reconsider your eating habits.

UPDATE – Mr. Bakker responds. But unfortunately, by his own admission, it would appear that most of it sailed right over his head. I’m not sure how I can make what is a fairly basic concept much more clear, but I will certainly attempt to do so tomorrow. In the meantime, I am much amused by his opinion that he has forced me “into an uncomfortable position”. I’m not uncomfortable at all, I’m just bemused. It increasingly feels like trying to explain to retarded children why their fingerpaintings suck and how they might like to try improving them by using more than one color… then having them respond “I like pink and you’re just AFRAID of it.” Throw in more blood and titties if you like, by all means. I certainly don’t care. And if that sums up the scope of your literary ambitions, well, so be it. I’m sure we’ll all look forward to seeing holographic movies based on your epic novels 50 years from now, or at least the bowdlerized versions approved by the Imam of Culture.

Overstated

Long-time readers will recall that NAR Chief Economist has been my bitch for the last two years that I made existing home sale price predictions. So, you can probably understand that I was amused at the news that the basic NAR model badly wants revision:

Case-Shiller also released its quarterly index covering all homes in the country. It showed prices fell 3.9 percent in the fourth quarter and 4.1 percent for all of 2010. All of that may be the good news. The bad news is the Wall Street Journal reports that the National Association of Realtors may have been overstating existing home sale figures as far back as 2007.

“The group reported that there were 4.9 million sales of previously owned homes in 2010, down 5.7% from 5.2 million in 2009. But CoreLogic, a real-estate analytics firm based in Santa Ana, Calif., counted just 3.3 million homes sales last year, a drop of 10.8% from 3.7 million in 2009. CoreLogic says NAR could have overstated home sales by as much as 20%.

If the Realtors have overstated sales, the existing overhang of unsold homes is even greater than what’s been thought.

In determining annual sales numbers the Realtors have been using a model “that is benchmarked to the figures reported in the decennial U.S. Census. The model requires making certain assumptions for population growth and other measures in between the census surveys,” reports the WSJ.

The model may have overstated the number of sales “due to recent consolidation among multiple-listing services, which has resulted in those firms having wider coverage of housing markets. NAR’s tally could be distorted if the firms ‘are sending us more home sales because they have a larger coverage area, but without informing us that their reach has grown,’” said Lawrence Yun, who is the chief economist at NAR and the one keeping an eye on the model.

Needless to say, if they overstated the sales numbers, there is a very good chance that they overstated the average prices paid as well. Once more, it looks as if I was insufficiently pessimistic in RGD, positive GDP reports notwithstanding. Of course, now that we’ve brought up the subject of erroneous statistical reports….

The economic contraction isn’t over. It has still barely begun.

Fire them all II

Whatever would we do without those dedicated, unionized Wisconsin school teachers?

Two-thirds of the eighth graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently according to the U.S. Department of Education, despite the fact that Wisconsin spends more per pupil in its public schools than any other state in the Midwest.

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that without the Wisconsin public school teachers, 80 percent of Wisconsin’s eighth graders wouldn’t be able to read. More likely, though, is that the idiot teachers are getting in the way with their counterproductive methods such as “whole language instruction”, and that getting rid of all the teachers would actually improve the literacy rate.

There are good teachers out there. I very much respect them, considering all that they are up against. But they are very few and far between. Fortunately, the coming education technology will make them more and more valuable, while eliminating the need for 95 percent of their less useful colleagues.

Mailvox: the grasshoppers cry

NL makes an emotional appeal in defense of Social Security:

You said, “What it cannot afford to do is to permit them to increase while simultaneously spending more on…. massive income transfers to the elderly, the poor and other unproductive classes. “

HOW DARE you say this about the “elderly”. The generations like your ma and pa that worked hard all their lives to get us what we have TODAY. They are OWED their retirement and to have a decent live after.

WE OWE our parents everything for all the blessings we have today. Most just live on a moderate pension and Social Security. As for the poor, I hope you are NOT talking about the widows and the fatherless. (No, not the abandoning kind.) As a Christian you know you are breaking “Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the earth”? If you feel they should not have their monies and call them “unproductive”.

This prodigiously stupid response to my WND column yesterday is, alas, a fairly typical one. The Baby Boomers, as is their narcissistic wont, are clearly in complete denial about the mathematically inevitable consequences of the grand Ponzi scheme that is Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They don’t seem to grasp that the large numbers that made them such a cultural force from the 1960s onward now renders them a vast financial anchor on the nation that will inevitably have to be cut loose in some manner. Like a vast plague of locusts, they devoured the nation’s harvest and its seed corn.

If the collective “ma and pa” had worked hard all their lives rather than borrowing money to live beyond their means, there wouldn’t be any need for this melodrama. But they didn’t. They spent everything they earned, they spent everything their children will earn, and they spent everything their grandchildren will earn… assuming they weren’t among the millions of women who murdered their children and eliminated future generations post-1973. The elderly of America not only don’t deserve much in the way of respect, they will be extremely fortunate if they are not forcibly exiled to metaphorical ice floes for their inter-generational financial crimes. They not only ransacked the present, they raped the future.

The elderly are presently the wealthiest segment of the nation. Extracting more wealth from the young and transferring to the irresponsible elderly is not only a mockery of justice, it is rubbing salt in the wound. And one does not honor one’s father or mother by robbing from someone else and presenting one’s aged parent with the proceeds of one’s crimes. But it should not surprise us that an aging Baby Boomer would attempt to turn theft into a Biblical injunction.

Not every Baby Boomer is responsible for the crimes of his generation, just as every National Socialist wasn’t responsible for the crimes of the SS-Totenkopfverbände. But that doesn’t make the crimes, or the inevitable consequences of those crimes, disappear.