Monday, March 23, 2009

Дмитрий Орлов - Америка Это Фуфляндия.

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In the unfolding global financial collapse, it is not just our accounts and balance sheets that come up short, but our language as well. What do you call a bunch of liar loans packaged into toxic assets and placed on the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve as collateral for rescue loans? J,K. Galbraith has proposed the term “Bezzle,” taking it to mean the eternal ebb and flow of questionable transactions within an economic cycle. Rational actors cut corners during easy times when they know no-one is looking, and then play nice again when the times change and someone starts paying attention again.

But I believe that the phenomenon we are observing is something different: we need a word that describes the artifacts generated in response to irrational actors who demand to be fooled. As the old saying goes, “A fool and his money are soon parted” – at the fool's own insistence, no less! If the deer comes out of the forest and walks up to the hunter, it is not proper hunting, and this is not proper con artistry or grift or embezzlement or any other term we use to describe proper works of evil. If the victim, at the site of the economic predator, goes into doggie submission, we must stop discussing the phenomenon in terms of conflict and consider whether what we are observing might be some strange instance of symbiosis.

I am Russian, and so I tend to use my Russian background to look for answers to questions big and small. Sometimes this works rather well for me. It seems that the Russians are better-equipped to survive financial collapse than just about anyone else. They have formidable reserves of gold and foreign currency to soften the downward slide. They have a dwindling but still sizable endowment of things the world still wants, even if at temporarily reduced prices. They have plenty of timber and farmland and other natural resources, and can become self-sufficient and decouple themselves economically should they choose to do so. They have high-tech weaponry and a nuclear deterrent in case other nations get any crazy ideas. After all the upheavals, they have ended up with a centrally-managed, natural resource-based, geographically contiguous realm that is not overly dependent on global finance. Yes, the Russian consumer sector is crashing hard, and many Russians are in the process of losing their savings yet again, but they have managed to survive without a consumer sector before, and no doubt will again.

Be that as it may, because as far as our own welfare is concerned the subject of Russian economic survival will be little more than academic. Perhaps Russia will thrive, all the way on the other side of the globe, just like it did while we wallowed in the Great Depression; how could that be helpful to us, in our predicament? Well, it turns out that Russia has something to offer that should be to our great advantage in coming to terms with financial collapse, and it is something that it is perfectly willing to share with us, because it is just a matter of learning some new vocabulary. All we need to do is borrow a single word, and learn to understand the concept it signifies.

Yes, the Russians actually have a word for precisely the thing that has bewitched us, first accounting for an ever-increasing share of our gross domestic product, and is now responsible for our ever-larger financial black hole. That word is “фуфло” /fufló/ when applied to a quantity of something, and "фуфел" /fúfel/ when applied to a singular item. This word has the obscure English cognate “fuffle,” which the Oxford English Dictionary dates to the early XVI century but fails to define adequately. I suspect that this word has been in circulation in many languages ever since some Protoindoeuropean simpleton showed up at some archaic fair and, being none too wise, bartered his meager trade goods in exchange for what thereafter became known as a fuffle. At that point, his story may have gone two different ways. Either ...читать дальше

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