Saturday, October 29, 2011

One Way to Understand the EU's Inevitable Crash Landing: the Autopilot Analogy

The leaders of the EU don't actually know how to fly; they only know how to watch the financial sector's autopilot do its "magic." Too bad the autopilot shorted out last May.

Recent anecdotal evidence out of Asia suggests that the flight training received by some civilian airline pilots is based entirely on the aircraft's autopilot functions.Recall that an autopilot is a mechanical, electrical, or hydraulic system used to guide a vehicle without assistance from a human being. This deficiency in their training has been revealed in a most disconcerting fashion: when the aircraft's autopilot malfunctions, thepilots do not know how to actually fly the airplane.

In other words, pilots are not actually trained to fly aircraft, i.e. to know how the aircraft responds in real time to actual human intervention/control; they're trained to monitor and manage the autopilot system which does the actual flying.

This is a precise analogy for the European Union's leadership: they don't know how the financial system actually works, they only know how to follow the banking system's autopilot. Now that the financial system's autopilot has been fried, they are clueless and increasingly panicky: what does this lever do? Why is the stick so sluggish? We're losing power... there must be an auxiliary power switch, like in Star Trek... Good God, doesn't anyone know how to actually fly this thing?

Sadly, the answer is no. The EU leadership, just like that of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government, only know how to blindly follow the system's autopilot program: increase leverage and debt, keep interest rates low so everyone (and every nation) with a pulse can increase their debt load, and let high-frequency trading (HFT) programs goose the stock market ever higher.

Nobody knows what to do once the autopilot fails. The EU's "pilots" are hoping that their oft-repeated "determination" to save their spinning-out-of-control economy will magically grant them the knowledge and skills to fly their craft through violent crosswinds and unprecedented storms. It won't; PR, spin and "meetings" can't teach anyone how to fly.

Here in the U.S., Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has studied the flying manual of 1929-era aircraft, and he is absolutely confident that this book learning will enable him to fly the overloaded, losing thrust 747 U.S. economy on manual. Needless to say, his confidence is tragi-comically misplaced; all he really knows how to do is blindly follow the financial system's autopilot: increase leverage and debt, keep interest rates low, goose the markets with intervention, money-printing and HFT, and repeat his "determination" to fly this plane like it's never been flown before, through typhoons and wind shear and whatever Nature throws at it, because, by gum, determination and the shorted-out autopilot will somehow keep the aircraft from buying the farm.

Unfortunately, determination has nothing to do with the end result of willful ignorance, incompetence and supremely misplaced confidence.

Which aircraft do you want to be on? The one with pilots who keep babbling about their "determination" to learn to fly in hastily convened cockpit meetings, or the one with pilots who actually know how to fly? The citizens of the EU, the U.S. and yes, China and Japan, too, will soon enough discover that determination doesn't give you an understanding of financial gravity or the experiential skills to fly through unprecedentedly challenging weather.

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