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Liar, Liar; Planet on Fire — Skating On The Thin Ice of Economic Chaos
At the back of every bookstore you can usually find a dusty clearance rack where for the pittance of a dollar each, you can buy unfulfilled gloom and doom books about the total economic collapse of this or that year. These ardent prognosticators of doom unusually fail because they are focused on economic substance as opposed to the manipulated appearance of substance. Yet, it is the appearance of substance that has enabled us to muddle through one economic crisis or another over the past years.
The reason we have always muddled through is that despite appearances, the poor actually hold the bulk of the world's wealth. It is almost like a bottomless well and it certainly will not go dry in our time. The reason why the rich are — well -- so rich, is that their wealth is mobile. They use a bevy of legal instruments such as deeds, stocks, licenses, royalty agreements, golden parachute employment contracts and so forth to move wealth with utmost ease. When they get noticed doing it, they can use another layer of legal instruments prepared by lawyers and accountants to further minimize their cost of doing business.
The poor on the other hand do not have the same level of access to this exclusive kind of information power, which means they are always at a disadvantage. Or in other words, the rich and the poor play the same shell game, except the poor have to work with walnut shells that have been glued to the table. This is called "free trade."
However, if we are really moving from an industrial economy to an information economy then the "free trade" concepts of the industrial age must yield way to the "free trade" concepts of the information economy. Oddly enough, 9-11 will be remembered by future generations as the turning point in this enlightened transition.
The Long Term Emotional Impact of 9-11
With 911, the smoke and mirror machinations of the industrial economy have been revealed to be as bankrupt as Enron. Further, if the collapse of the World Trade Center has taught us anything, it is that we are skating on the thin ice of economic chaos because the middlemen of the industrial age have been draining the life out of our country in exchange for appearance of substance, which amounts to less than nothing.
Is the world headed to hell in a handbag? Before you nervously begin looking up the price of gold, please relax. This article is about how we got here, where we're going and why there is both great hope as well as great concern for our future.
Keep in mind that the socioeconomic state of mankind has and will continue to be a fluid and ever-changing story of civilization, and is best described by U.S. historian Will Durant.
Will Durant (1885–1981),
Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.
On the other hand, have you ever sat in a doctor's office waiting for the dreaded news, when all you really want to hear is that you're as healthy as an Ox and that you need to get out of his office so he can treat someone who really needs his help?
Well let's not fool ourselves. We're not as healthy as an Ox in the economic sense so let's get the bad news out of the way first so we can understand why the good news is really good. Then, we'll move on to the concerns for our future, as we pass from a global industrial economy to a global information economy.
So, tuck that patient gown, paint a stoic face and pretend you're tough because this next part is going to be about as pleasant as sitting through a root canal.
The Appearance of Substance
On September 11, 2001 radical Muslim terrorists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon causing a staggeringly tragic loss of life. The damage to the Pentagon was relatively contained, but the World Trade Center towers collapsed upon themselves to make a dusty, fiery grave for thousands of innocent Americans.
The purpose of the attack to was to wreck our economy by attacking a key economic command and control center and to send us a message. Despite what the terrorists thought, their bombing of the World Trade Center towers, which was far more successful than they had planned, will in fact help us to build an even stronger and better economy because it will help us hasten the transition from our industrial age economy to the new information age economy.
This may seem like an odd statement, so to put it in perspective let's look at why the World Trade Center towers collapsed. They were the last great monuments to the industrial age economy, which we must leave behind as quickly as possible if we are to prevent economic chaos as the result of an unforeseen catastrophic event.
Like the World Trade Center towers, our economy has the appearance of substance, but lacks the substance to survive a catastrophe.
Donald Trump recently brought this point home during an MSNBC interview, where he expressed the opinion that the WTC failed because:
During the interview he also stated that had the terrorists flown one of the jets into the Empire State Building, it would have survived the impact because of its concrete-based heavy construction. This view is also substantiated by professional firefighters as well.
Deputy Chief Vincent Dunn ret
You can say the reason they (World Trade Center buildings) collapsed was they were struck with a 185 ton jet airliner and the 24,000 gallons of jet fuel caused a fire of 1500 to 2000 degrees F which weakened the steel and cause the collapse. Or you can take a closer look at the buildings construction of the WTC buildings. And ask yourself why did these structures collapse so fast and so completely. The answer can be found by examining high-rise construction in New York City over the past 50 years.
The trend over the past half-century is to create lightweight high buildings. To do this you use thin steel bent bar truss construction instead of solid steel beams. To do this you use hollow tube steel bearing walls, and curved sheet steel (corrugated) under floors. To do this you eliminate as much concrete from the structure as you can and replace it with steel. Lightweight construction means economy. It means building more with less. If you reduce the structure's mass, you can build cheaper and builder higher. Unfortunately unprotected steel warps, melts, sags and collapses when heated to normal fire temperatures about 1100 to 1200 degrees F.
Perhaps builders should take a second look at the Empire State Buildings construction. There might be something to learn when they rebuild on ground zero. The empire state building has an Indiana limestone exterior wall, 8 inches thick. The floors are also 8 inches thick consisting of one-inch cement over 7 inches of cinder and concrete. All columns, girders and floor beams are solid steel covered with 1 to 2 inches of brick terracotta and concrete.
The fact that the Empire State Building with its much more substantial construction could have survived where the WTC failed is not only the result of the failed construction philosophy of the WTC architects, it also paints a similar picture of the failed economic policies of the business interests centered around the WTC and their singular preoccupation with the appearance of substance, at the cost of true substance.
The net result is that Americans are slowly beginning to ask a simple question, "What am I really seeing?"
Who Can We Trust These Days
The same greedy, egotistical and shortsighted business philosophies that created the twin hundred-story catastrophe tinderboxes of the World Trade Center also created in the wake of the WTC disaster, the largest corporate bankruptcy in the history of the country.
Financial analysts were still giving Americans a strong buy recommendation for Enron Corp. because they had been taken in by the phony trading floor Enron has setup to impress analysts during their site visits. The phony trading floor was designed to impart one simple emotional validation — the appearance of substance.
It's no wonder that the stock analysts lapped up the rosy Enron audit reports prepared by Chicago-based Arthur Andersen, a prestigious Big 5 accounting firm, the smallest of the Big 5 firms that include Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Deloitte.
In boxing parlance, it was the classic "one-two knockout punch." Enron presented the appearance of substance, and Andersen took advantage of the public trust for self-gain and gave the theft credence so that Enron could avoid a more revealing close inspection by outsiders.
What Enron and its leadership did was criminal, but what Andersen did was fundamentally disastrous for the U.S. economy as honest firms now find it increasingly difficult to raise much-needed stock capital from jaded individual and institutional investors. Consequently, Andersen's role in collapse of Enron may lead to a criminal case.
Reuters, March 7, 2002
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is seriously considering bringing criminal charges against accounting firm Arthur Andersen for its role in the collapse of Houston-based Enron Corp., federal law enforcement officials said on Thursday.
Former prosecutors have said the document destruction leaves Andersen open to charges of obstruction of justice.
The government could either seek an indictment of Andersen by a grand jury or negotiate a settlement contingent on its cooperation in the Enron probe, these experts say.
When all is said and done, Andersen will get a sweetheart deal from the Department of Justice, because as the many reelection coffers of our esteemed members of Congress prove, it is already bought and paid for.
Also, a sweetheart deal from the government will grease the wheels for a Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu help buyout of Andersen.
CNN/Money, March 11, 2002
NEW YORK () - Arthur Andersen LLP, which currently is trying to settle litigation due to its role in the collapse of Enron Corp., is in talks with rival Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu to merge or sell all or part of its business, a source familiar with the discussions told CNNfn Monday.
Andersen is considering many options, firm spokesman Patrick Dorton said. "We are committed to making changes to our business that will restore the public's trust, enhance the quality and independence of our audit practice, and allow all of our practices to thrive," Dorton said, declining to comment further.
Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu confirmed that it is involved in "scenario planning exercises" to address current and future issues addressing the accounting industry. "It's inappropriate for us to discuss these planning exercises in public," Deloitte spokesman Matthew Batters said.
Andersen will get a negotiated pitty-pat slap on the hands and walk off with nothing more than an annoying blip on their balance sheet and the high-level Andersen executives who engineered this national disgrace will still walk away from this rigged gaming table with all their chips. And this is called "free trade."