What is hormegeddon? Well, it is a play on words, for one thing. We have all heard about Armageddon, right? We may be a little bit vague on the exact meaning, but we have a rough idea. Here is what Wikipedia says, which is close enough for us to go on with:
‘Most traditions interpret this Bible prophecy to be symbolic of the progression of the world toward the “great day of God, the Almighty” in which God pours out his just and holy wrath against unrepentant sinners, led by Satan, in a literal end-of-the-world final confrontation. Armageddon is the symbolic name given to this event based on scripture references regarding divine obliteration of God’s enemies.’
So, sort of “a bad day at Black Rock,” at least for some people.
Hormegeddon is a word apparently made up by Bill Bonner, to talk about disasters of a financial nature. The cover of the book features a picture of an atomic bomb exploding. We might be heading for that magnitude of disaster, because of the policies we insist on following. Hormegeddon is Mr. Bonner’s “shorthand way of describing what happens when you have too much of a good thing in a public policy context.” (p. 6)
Hormegeddon: How Too Much of a Good Thing Leads to Disaster, was published in 2014 by Bill Bonner. Mr. Bonner heads a successful financial firm. But more fundamentally he is a thoughtful and intelligent guy who likes to think about how the world is put together.
He says Hormegeddon has “a modest ambition: to catch a faint glimmer of truth.” (p. 5) Actually, the glimmer is there, but I think it is more than faint. He has told us a lot of very true things. If we listened we as a nation could avoid disasters. But, as he points out early on, who ever listens to good advice?
Napoleon, for example, had enjoyed a spectacular military career. He decided to invade Russia. His aide-de-camp, obviously a supporter of Napoleon, knew that was a mistake.
“He knew better. He had actually been to Russia. Napoleon was the one who sent him there as France’s ambassador to St. Petersburg. He knew invading Russia was a bad idea. He warned the emperor of the terrible weather, the bad roads, and the savage people. He begged him not to go. It would be the ruin of France, he said.
“The Emperor ignored him and a few months later there they both were, freezing their rear ends off as they fled the smoldering ruins of Moscow.
“We have a chart in our library at home that shows what happened next. It records the temperature dropping to minus 30 degrees centigrade…as the size of the French army dropped along with it. Soldiers burned down barns to try to get warm, but many of them froze. Many of those who survived the cold got shot by the Russian army while still others were attacked by partisans on the roads, packs of wolves in the forests, and prisoners the state had released into the city streets. If that didn’t get them, they starved to death. Napoleon entered Russia with 300,000 troops. Only 10,000 got out.
“I told this story to my kids over and over again as they were growing up. And I can tell you with some confidence that it has had beneficial effects. None of my children will ever invade Russia. They won’t make that mistake!” (p. 3)
Food, he points out, is a very good thing, and necessary. But if we eat too much, the benefit goes down, and the bad consequences go up. “You feel bad. You look worse.” (p. 7) Life expectancy is cut.
He asks himself when do nations begin to throw their weight around and begin to act like empires? “‘When they can,’ we answered.” (p. 9) This is almost a throwaway line, but this insight is extremely important. I doubt if he has read Leopold Kohr’s wonderful The Breakdown of Nations, but Kohr made the same point. If the U.S. would look in the mirror, we would see that we have fallen into the trap warned against by Kohr/Bonner.
Mr. Bonner gives an example of what he calls “‘public thinking.'” A man making conversation at an investment conference responded to the fact that the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq.
‘”I guess we’ll have to go in and clean that place up,” he said.
‘Had he ever been to Iraq? Had he ever met an Iraqi? Did he speak the language? Where was the detailed, specific, precise real knowledge that you would need to make sense of it all? What, exactly, was unclean about Iraq? And how would this lack of hygiene be scrubbed up by a foreign invasion?
‘A million nuances, an infinite number of real ‘facts’ based on experience and direct observation, a whole universe of assumptions, misapprehensions, muddled thinking, all reduced to a single phrase. And that, there, is ‘public thinking.” (p. 23)
Gosh, I wonder if we in the U.S. conservative/Christian community might ever have been involved in such public thinking? Oh, probably not. But I digress.
Mr. Bonner points out how difficult it is to reverse bad policy, because “predatory sub-groups” benefit from bad policies, and defend the bad policies’ continued existence with fervor. He calls such people zombies. (p. 12) It is a favorite word with him, and summarizes the situation perfectly. The people that live on tax money and produce nothing of value, are indeed zombies. But try getting rid of them!
Mr. Bonner points out how dishonest are the numbers given for inflation. Numbers?
“But in North America as in South America, the quants work over the numbers as if they were prisoners at Guantanamo. Cristina [Fernandez de Kirchner] is right. The numbers all wear orange jump suits. The Feds are the guards. Waterboard them a few times and the numbers will tell you anything you want to hear.” (p. 43)
Such sentences are quite typical of Mr. Bonner’s writing style. Not only does he have great insights to make, he quite often makes them with superb humor. This reminds me of the gifted writer Bill Kauffman. Both men seem to have an approximate attitude which might go something like this: “Hey, just because unprincipled scoundrels are running things and hurting all of us and quite frequently ruining (or even ending) lives, doesn’t mean we have to be grumpy about it.” This type of attitude is an inspiration to me–at least aspirationally. Let’s at least try to salvage a giggle or two out of the nonsense these scumbags put upon us. No need to be bitter about it all. (Remember, I did say “aspirationally.”)
Here is another bit of humor. People who want a truly free market economy are pretty rare.
“Even those who call themselves friends say nasty things about it when its back is turned. Believers and supporters are so few that they could all probably be rounded up and gunned down in an afternoon.” (p. 170)
Funny–and probably exactly accurate.
These few words above just scratch the surface of the value of Hormegeddon. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, who wants to begin to think honestly (about economics, but also just about life in general) will greatly benefit from reading Hormegeddon–and be entertained as he reads. Mr. Bonner is not a quant working over the numbers. He is a man trying to give us a faint glimmer of truth–and succeeding perhaps far beyond what he might have hoped. May his tribe increase.
Bill Bonner publishes an Internet daily column under the title “Bill Bonner’s Diary.” Or the name “Diary of a Rogue Economist” will probably work as well, if you start searching for it.
Hormegeddon is a superb book of 298 pages, still readily available on the Internet, and for a pittance. Today I found several used paperback copies available at AbeBooks for the astonishing price of $3.74 (free shipping, but sales tax will be additional). $3.74! Is this a great country or what?!