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From Banks to Brains: Our National Zombie Obsession

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No one knows precisely where or when the outbreak began. Some say 2006, some 2007, others trace it as far back as 2005. Newly-developed suburban housing enclaves in California and Florida were the most likely points of origin -- in retrospect, these were the weakest links in the system and, thus, the most vulnerable -- but once it began to spread the origin became largely academic, irrelevant. What difference did it make? By 2008, despite repeated public assurances from government officials that things were "well contained," people began to suspect something was desperately wrong.

The government response, naturally, was to try and isolate the outbreak, contain it and throw money at it. Unfortunately, the nature of the problem -- what we can now best describe as a systemic autoimmune disorder, one where the system begins to attack itself from the inside -- is such that what we thought was a cure was, in reality, reinforcing the growth and spread of the contagion. What began in the weakest, most vulnerable suburban locations around the country eventually began to spread to more established, prime locations.

The funny thing about the imperfect human imagination is nothing we dread is ever truly as awful as we imagine it to be, and nothing we look forward to is ever as satisfying. Here we are three years later and about 70-to-75 percent of us still go to work, our children still play and go to school, the overwhelming majority of us still watch our dumb television shows about dancing celebrities, we follow  sports and eat and do all the things we did before, only with a slightly more detached, vacant -- enthusiasm? -- no, not enthusiasm, that's not the right word... resignation.

Wait, did you think? What? Who said anything about zombies? I'm speaking of the debt crisis. But you're right. Zombies are the perfect metaphorical conceptualization of our morose, debt-ridden society. The infected stumble around in the mindless pursuit of more debt to help sustain their miserable existence. Everyone else wavers back and forth between feeding them and starving them; reluctant codependents, afraid of what might happen if we just stop, stop the flow of debt.

The metaphor is obvious, as the Google search trends results shown below illustrate. Less obvious are some of the subtle ways zombies and their depiction in film and literature have changed since the 1970s. For one thing, they're no longer universally shown as slow-moving moaners. Films such as 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and Resident Evil portray zombies as fast-moving, and possibly still possessing some degree of intelligence. This, of course, coincides with the increase in the velocity of debt itself; increased debt velocity, the zombification of the economy. This is what it's come to.

Interesting bit of trivia: the term "zombie banks" originated in the 1987 in the wake of the savings and loan crisis. 

POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.