Why are bankers thowing themselves from windows now? By itself, any one of these deaths would have been ghastly enough. But taken together, this string of suicides brings with it a slew of worrying implications.
For a long time, the idea of bankers jumping out of windows was little more than a popular trope. Nearly a century removed from the Black Tuesday scene that inspired the image, it was more of a joking way to refer to a potential downturn in the economy than an actual, physical reality.
Sadly, however, that grisly seen is exactly what played out at JP Morgan's European headquarters at 25 Bank Street in London's Canary Wharf late last month. On January 28th, Gabriel Magee, 39, fell to her death from the roof of the 33 story building, landing on the roof of the building's 9 story southern extension. At least one Canary Wharf worker, Hetal Patel, live tweeted the scene: “The 9th floor roof of JP Morgan is visible from my office window. For a long time the body was left cordoned & unattended. Weird.”
As horrible as that scene must have been, it was not the only apparent suicide by a financial executive in the past week. The day before Magee's death, the managing director of Tata Motors was found dead on the fourth floor of the Shangri-La hotel in Bangkok. The day before that, William Broeksmit, a former senior executive at Deutsche Bank AG, was believed to have killed himself at his central London home. The day after Magee's death, Russell Investment chief economist and former Federal Reserve researcher Mike Dueker was found dead in Washington State after having fallen 15 meters to his death.
By itself, any one of these deaths would have been ghastly enough. But taken together, this string of suicides brings with it a slew of worrying implications. After all, the sight brings with it all the connotations of the 1929 stock market crash that was the harbinger of the Great Depression.
To be sure, there is no indication of any sort of link between any of the bankers who died last week, nor any potential motive for the deaths in relation to a stock market plunge. But even the mention of this possibility was enough to set off a firestorm of talk and speculation online, a sure sign that the collective consciousness is focused on potential alarms right now.
This is not surprising. We are after all bombarded on a daily basis by constant reminders of the signs of imminent financial catastrophe. Many of these signs have been covered in this publication at great length: the ongoing meltdown of the Eurozone as epitomized by Greece's looming third bailout; the S&P acrobatics as unrealistic run-ups in the stock market are followed by dramatic tumbles and equally sudden upswings; the underlying instability in emerging markets as currencies collapse under the weight of capital outflows; the ongoing manipulations of the gold price through naked shorts of ETFs; the inflation of the bond bubble to historic highs through QE madness by central banks around the globe; the doctoring and outright fabrication of jobs reports and GDP figures and other official statistics. The list is almost limitless, and in all cases these stories seem to point to the same fact, namely that the economic reality underlying the phony baloney markets is much worse off than you are being told and the whole house of cards could come crashing down at a moment's notice.
Of course, there are (as always) counterpoints to these sobering reports offered by apologists of the status quo. We've entered a “new normal” where P/E ratios don't have to bear any relation to stock valuations. Where companies like Twitter that have never made a profit and have no clear business plan for generating more revenue can still make markets go gaga for their IPO (until they wake up to the scam). Where job reports that miss expectations can actually make markets spike on expectations that the Federal Reserve will step in to fill the gap with more of its magic QE elixir. Again, the list of reasons why “it's all different this time” is, like its counterpart list, nearly limitless.
This all seems to lead the average investor into one of two pre-ordained courses of action: run around like Chicken Little waiting for the sky to fall or be lulled into a shiftless torpor by the soothing babble of the mainstream repeaters. Indeed, we can see both of those inaction plans being promoted by some pretty mainstream sources.
Take PBS Newshour, for example. On January 30th this eminently level-headed and decidedly anti-sensationalist outlet gave editorial space to Federal Reserve critic Terry Burnham to write about how he was withdrawing his $1,000,000 in savings from his Bank of America checking account. Why is he doing such a thing despite openly musing about how his action (and public declaration) could potentially start a bank run? Because “Bank of America and other big banks are fragile — and vulnerable to bank runs — because the Fed has set interest rates to zero. If a run gathers momentum, the government will take steps to stem it. But I am convinced they have limited ammunition and unlimited problems.” This is all very true. But his solution? “Revamp the Federal Reserve.”
Thus, Burnham's takeaway message is ultimately one of futility. No matter what happens, you are powerless. Only the Federal Reserve's actions matter, and there is no possibility for action outside of its grasp. Thus, problems in the Federal Reserve system must be fixed by “reform.” Is this the same “reform” that the usual Washington insiders are now promising at the NSA in order to sweep that agency's illegal spying back under the rug? Or the “reform” of DoD accounting procedures that leveraged a $2.3 trillion black hole in Rumsfeld's 2001 Pentagon budget into an $8.5 trillion black hole last year? The same “reform” that the Japanese government has established to oversee its “revamped” nuclear industry post-Fukushima? As no shortage of examples demonstrate, promises of “reform” or “revamping the system” are nothing more than hot air, designed to divert the public's attention while the abuses and fraud they are meant to take care of continue to fester.
What is opposed to this type of PBS-pushed Burnham gloom and doom? Well one has simply to turn the boob tube over to CNBC. Their examination of Friday's nonfarm payroll report was a case study in how to spin bad news into “good” news. Despite telling viewers repeatedly that this wasn't a strong report, the talking heads on the “Markets Now” panel did anything they could to focus on any piece of information that could possibly sound positive. Despite missing the consensus estimate of new jobs in January by nearly 70k, much more attention was paid to the (doctored) unemployment rate, which dropped 0.1%, and even the labor participation rate, which eased off its 35 year lows (which were not mentioned, of course) by a tiny amount last month. According to CNBC's analysts, this is good enough reason to have optimism that the so-called jobless recovery is still on track.
Thus, the takeaway from the corporate repeaters at unabashedly pro-market propaganda centers like CNBC is ultimately one of docility. There's no big need for panic, no reason to bother with the specifics of this or that report, even if it does come in under expectations. At the end of the day, the recovery is on track, things are going well, everything is improving, and no major changes in policy are necessary.
So here we are, stuck between the rock of Burnham's futility (with the promise of ever-illusive “reforms” of the system) and the hard place of the talking heads' soothing blather (with their underlying message that everything is fine and nothing needs to be done). But is this really the choice that is on the table? Either way, there doesn't seem to be much room for the average person to actually do anything about this, or to deflect the course that the economy is on. In both cases we have to wait for outside forces to act on our behalf to make things work again or to keep them working the way they are. In either event, the message is fundamentally the same: you are powerless.
Of course, subscribers to this publication should not be surprised to hear that the truth lies in neither of these two false choices in this phony dichotomy. The real course of action is not to wait for the creation of a New Economic Order to take care of the problems that we so clearly see coming down the pike, but to wrench ourselves from our dependence on this economic order at all. The more our lives depend on the Federal Reserve and the debt instruments that it conjures into existence (i.e. “dollars”) and the banks with their casino economics and leveraged speculation, the more we have to worry about the collapse of that system. But the more that we commit ourselves to engaging in alternative means of exchange, alternative banking structures, alternative currencies and alternative business networks, the less we have to worry about the inevitable collapse of the bond-bubble fueled insanity of the central bank dominated funny money system.
The methods for detaching yourself from this system of control are themselves almost limitless. They include reducing reliance on energy grids, industrial food production, manufacturing supply chains and the like by practicing self-reliance, whether low-tech (canning and storing food, community farming, learning basic wilderness survival skills) or high-tech (installing solar panels, manufacturing at home with a 3D printer). They include sourcing (or creating) alternative business ecosystems of like-minded community businesses that can run on complementary currencies like a LETS system or time-based community currency. They include supporting locally owned and operated credit unions with a track record of encouraging and promoting local business. They include the use of agoristic principles and available technologies like crypto currencies to encourage the maximization of economic activity outside of the government's purview.
Whatever methods people choose to unhook themselves from the yoke of economic repression, it will always feel better to be focusing on creative positive solutions than the problems of the macro economy that cannot be influenced directly by any individual. As humans, we are fundamentally problem-solvers, and the Chicken Littles and Pollyanna Propagandists are both trying to convince you that taking matters into your own hands is not the real solution to what is happening today. They are wrong.
And when you have achieved some level of freedom from the system, then the deaths of people like Gabriel Magee can be seen and appreciated for what they are—human tragedies—rather than potential signs of some economic armageddon.