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Pessimism Porn

A soft spot for hard times.

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My wife busted me again the other day. I had slipped away from her and the kids and into the fantasy world of the web. But not the kind of fantasy you’re probably thinking of. This was pessimism porn. A friend had turned me on to a futurist named Gerald Celente, who anticipated the Asian financial crisis and other calamities. Now, Celente says, the U.S. is heading for a middle-class tax revolt, food riots, and a Central Park engulfed by shantytowns.

This is cruder stuff than I usually go for. Abstruse financial analysis provides a more satisfying jolt of fright, dread, and incomprehension. One god-awful prediction that dances through my head at three in the morning is the “coming dollar debasement trade,” which will happen when the Chinese and the rest of the world give up, en masse, on our currency as a reserve. The leading nightmare peddlers see it as nothing less than the end of civilized America.

The blog Calculated Risk is always a reliable turn-on. The guy who runs it combs the financial media for “cliff-diving” rates of this and that. One data point he often cites is the A2P2 spread, or the difference “between high- and low-quality 30-day nonfinancial commercial paper.” Turns out it “gapped” dangerously last fall.

Worrying about the A2P2 spread is like having a dirty secret. I spend many fruitful minutes playing out scenarios: What do I do when my corner deli gets looted? What bridge do I take out of town? There’s something very exciting about it all.

As in real porn, there’s also a thrill in surreptitiously connecting with fellow users, like the guy standing at the periphery of the kid’s birthday party, glassy-eyed from another crushing week at the office. The subject of gold is a good icebreaker. If you’ve chosen your mark properly, you’ll soon be swapping advice on techniques for securing your own gold bars.

Like real porn, the economic variety gives you the illusion of control, and similarly it only leaves you hungry for more. But econo-porn also feeds a powerful sense of intellectual vanity. You walk the streets feeling superior to all these heedless knaves who have no clue what’s coming down the pike. By making yourself miserable about the frightful hell that awaits us, you feel better. Pessimism can be bliss too.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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