Destruction of the Tower of Babel by Crispijn de Passe the Elder Netherlandish, 1612:
at right men and women flee from the burning tower, at left men and women raise their hands toward two flying angels,
from a series of engravings made for the first edition of the 'Liber Genesis'

"Once prosperous farmers, they moved into a crooked little house in town to live out their days after the Cascade."

The great Cascade has already started, though the full flood has yet to reach many. Starbucks has requested twelve months of rent 'consideration' after not paying rents for the prior two months. Nearly half of the commercial enterprises in this country missed rent payments in April and May, and we're still in very early stages of this particular pandemic. This sort of situation marks only the beginning of a cascade of shortfalls, where landlords, mortgage holders, and property managers start to lose their usual inflows of cash. Insurances and other services follow soon after, with nothing left to even pay the cleaning staff and the garbage men. A building can go derelict after a few remarkably short months. The blood extraction units take over half the turnip patches as the lawyers get involved.

Prosperity has yet to be shown to trickle down, but austerity certainly does, though its trickle easily becomes a Cascade. It also trickles up.
A board, meeting in The Netherlands two months ago, made a decision that resulted the following month in my step son losing his job of over ten years. A month later, his insurance disappeared, so his daughter had to pay full retail price for an urgently needed prescription, a small king's ransom. Everyone involved felt sincerely sorry for the calamity, but everyone felt powerless to reverse its inexorable course. A dear friend faced the choice, back near the beginning of that last Great Recession, of paying his tax or his health insurance bill, and chose to pay his taxes before falling ill and thereby incurring a debt he'll likely never outlive. A normal give and take breaks down without sounding an alarm. It first overtakes as a minor Cascade before creating a great flood. The Tower of Babel crumbled without advance warning.

Now, even the most noted economists end their latest essays hoping for better than their numbers project, though they have no anchoring reason for projecting hope. Get backed up on rent for as few as two months, and it might take years for the lessee to repay the resulting shortfall, given thin margins and absent customers, and nobody will ever recover the cleaning staff's lost wages or their many dependents' resulting debts. Few experiences match meeting with a landlord to 'renegotiate' the terms of a legally-binding lease. The landlord's under no legal obligation to renegotiate squat, and the sheriff's office stands ready to forcibly remove a renter in arrears. The courts cannot command compassion. Somebody's got to be left holding the bag, though nobody ever wants to become the one holding it. "So, sue me! Send out your blood extraction team into my turnip patch, or the turnip patch I'd leased from you. We'll see how well that strategy works." That strategy never works, except to make matters worse and worse and worse.

Once the collapse begins, the outcome seems as inexorable as an imploded building's fate. Support beams shattered, floors pancake upon the floors beneath them to create a fine, fresh rubble pile. There are few orderly retreats. Most quickly devolve into routs, leaving no part of the former effort unscathed. The wound might eventually scab over, but that flesh will lack the resilience of its predecessor. People might remain shy about making investment-quality financial commitments for a generation or more, like my great grandparents did after The Great Depression. They survived in a cash-based economy with public assistance back when it was still called welfare, just after the local poor farm closed down. Once prosperous farmers, they moved into a crooked little house in town to live out their days after the Cascade.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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