American economic writer James Rickards has delivered his fourth book on dystopian economics in a series that started in 2011 with the publication of The Currency Wars. Aftermath, released in July, promises to fortify readers for coming economic and societal chaos with not-so-esoteric economic knowledge of seven secrets of wealth preservation.
The author presumes that some content of Aftermath will “shock the most seasoned readers” but also equip them against the events of the coming years. Moreover, he declares that his quartet of books on the international monetary system has thematic resemblances to the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.
This makes it actually quite simple to summarize Aftermath in terms of its central myth—“Doom is now”—and the narrative options it serves up. Besides the biblical allusion to the four horsemen, a reader can immerse themselves into varied imaginative scenarios, including: Odysseus’ journey; a debt history of the US and its predicted debt apocalypse; a Frankensteinian description of bad nudging; a scenario of passive-investments-driven markets meltdown; specters of bad monetary theories; a vision of a global monetary conference hosted by President Trump; a Godzilla moment that theorizes monstrous banks breaking down under their own weight and destroying finance; and an ever-more gaping wealth disparity horror that decimates the middle classes.
Economic narrative of doom
Aftermath is an engaging read of dystopian economics, and, at certain points, very timely. The sum of Rickards’ economic doomsday prophecies is that everything done by the Federal Reserve in the past 10 years was a result of the Great Recession, but that the Fed was not able to achieve its three existential targets: to avert collapse of capital markets, to revive self-sustaining growth in the US economy, and to end its own interventionism. Because the Fed failed in these presumed tasks, the Great Recession has never really ended. “All the Fed proved in recent years is that they really couldn’t exit extraordinary policy intervention without disruption,” Rickards writes. “The Fed has been storing up trouble for another day. That day is here.”
However, this day of trouble in Rickards’ narrative is better read as an imprecise prediction of an economic tipping point that will arrive at some time, possibly.
Despite the book’s overall length that does not suffice for an in-depth examination of the issues raised, but at the same time is far too long for the essay-worthy discussion, Aftermath, throughout its first pages and last two chapters, is a timely and unsettling op-ed. Its narrative and message on the American economy is not necessarily less credible, but definitely far more entertaining than the worn narrative construct of a “favorable place” that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell delivered at the end of August in his message to the Jackson Hole crowd of central bankers and global economists. Although saying that the American economy is in this favorable place, Powell assured everyone that the Fed is working to sustain those conditions “in the face of significant risks we have been monitoring.”
However, when one juxtaposes such official talk with the historic reality of bad calls in the economic professions, any elaborate prophecy of economic doom, like the one presented by Rickards, is a welcome departure.
Reading Aftermath from the perspective of a reader in a small economy and country that has no power to influence Fed decisions and American debt trajectories, puts the dimensions of Lebanon’s economic problems into better perspective. It is weirdly comforting to see evidence that the problems of the biggest economies are not all that different from the turmoil felt by the weakest. Moreover, reading it with Lebanese realities in mind, an exploration of Aftermath is a great opportunity to ponder the question—exaggerated in local debates—if Lebanon is really the worst place on earth to live from the perspective of preserving personal wealth and/or the worst place ever to commit trust and investments to. In the views of this journalist, it is neither.