Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,

  • a quiz show starring Regis Philbin, offered an upward ladder-climb through a maze of questions. At each stage of the game, the questions got harder and more insoluble and you had to dial a buddy long-distance to help out. Two minds are better than one.
  •       The governments of the world, hindered by the disaster of a declining economy and the need to prop it up, are often tempted to play their own trivia game, pooling the minds of economists, two-fer-one, along the road to cheating their way out of a faltering business landscape.
  •       The easy solution is often to shoot off money. For me, in counterargument to this action, the prime object is the lawn mower. It is the most banal and normal consumer product. What could be more natural than a backyard, a summer day, and a man stripped to the waist leaning into his house-appearance-maintenance device? But lawn mowers, though made by the million, are limited in their production runs. Printing more money does not solve the fundamental problem of allocating resources to more lawn mowers; the lawn mowers move up in price. Like Dennis the Menace on a PMS Rag, the economy stomps its way in upsetness, refusing to settle down to healthy equilibrium. Changes ripple from lawn mowers to food products to clothes. Essentials, essential goods, strike at us in body blows, trying to disjar our wallets. And the national capitals are to blame for their short-sighted actions, though not all are as bad as modern-day Venezuela or Weimer Germany.
  •       To take one national capital at random, Washington and the Treasury Department handle the mint, the printing of money in various indirect and direct ways. Because America is a collaborative government with many centers of power the responsibility for money can flow like mist across the political landscape. It is possible to argue that even intelligent fountainhead newspapers, and their hoighty-toity editors, can influence the speed and output of the printing presses.
  •       The deliverance of a business landscape from disaster is best achieved through consistent wise governance, reasonable taxes, and time. A business landscape is a network of ten million firms, with tendril-like linkages to other countries with 500,000 to ten million firms also, foreign landscapes to speak the word that dare not be named (foreign is a bad word nowadays).
  •       The irony of business is that businessmen themselves are not qualified to pronounce “medical” cures on what ails them. Their short-term orientation, and their inability to see the forest for the trees — plus their biases against government intervention in general — are all  handicaps for their prospective roles as “deciders” (George W. Bush lexicon) for what path should be taken forward.
  •       And yet statesmen are not fit for fiscal-financial leadership either. Most of them come from the legal branches and, put generously, were ambulance-chasers before they donned the hats of the serious thinker guiding the ship of state.
  •       What you want is someone like Canada’s Bank of Canada leader who transferred later to England to assume the same role there and pronounced politicians as being unwelcome on his territory. The innate conservatism of Canada’s banking community was responsible for a lot of Canada’s successes during the sub-prime crisis of 2008, but in point of fact the Bank of Canada head honcho did his job well too.
  •       A note on conservatism versus greedy innovation (greed in a good way, of course, since we’re talking business). America is the world-leader in innovation. It takes chances and sees opportunities where others see monolithic obstacles and bland vast landscapes with nothing new. Imagine an ocean, and America finds all the mermaids and harnesses them to the new “Poseidon chariots.” That’s what America tried to do with sub-prime (“sub-par”) debt. Aside from a systemic flaw (good title for a sci-fi book, that) that had the ratings agencies falsely up-value shit-loans, the basic idea of salami-slicing housing loans and spreading them around was good. The implementation failed because this new market, based on lies, didn’t mesh. Too many losers were getting too-big houses all at the same time. Later on Warren Buffett said he would buy these price-depressed houses, if he had some easy way to close the deal, so you know the real estate was good. The problem was the buyer, a bunch of lowlife losers, not the seller — a buyer aided and abetted by a corrupt series of financial wizards, Bernie Madoffs writ large, but with less need to sell, sell, sell.
  •       The ideology of the printing press is like Stephen King says in the intro to The Stand. “We got the presses, let’s hump a bunch of — 50,000 — thousand-dollar bills the Christ into solution,” and the wise Texan drily retorts, “That won’t solve your problem. It’ll be just like Richmond during the War Between the States.”
  •       In China, during their desperate need for silver, deliverance was provided, like manna from heaven, by the arrival of Spanish ships bearing Mexican silver. A stable currency is often a problem beyond the reach of private business to solve, because so many of the intertwining factors that go into the solving require disparate resources which they’ll never have — ranging from fiat currency legitimization powers to the access to mines, or even shipping what you haul out of the earth to your home territory without foreign intervention.
  •       Another problem throughout the ages has been the dilution of coins with shoddier metals, rendering them closer and closer to worthless. This was the medieval version of a printing press gone wild. Monarchs needed to make up money, but couldn’t find the precious metals they needed, and even if they could, often their economy had no underlying backbone to support the issuance of big, fancy coins declaring wealth. Remember: the lawn mower. The lawn mower is the real wealth, not the $500 you took out of your pocket to give Toro to hand you its new-and-improved Chink-made piece of shit made with the loving care of a two-year-old banging a rattle on the concrete.
  •       The thing to remember, is that with fiat currency the danger doubles or triples over the Middle Ages. The velocity of money is faster, newer and newer fiber-optic cables are joining stock markets to trading offices, automated algorithms designed helpfully by quants are stepping into the picture, and today’s global economy makes 1929 Depression Earth seem like a child’s sandbox by comparison. We have a much better technological productive base, giving us six times the wealth of that era, and that’s a solid backbone to stand on, but the ethereal starry firmament of finances, numbers and balance sheets (which is, admittedly, harder to design than the new Toro 5000T) is almost as unstable as ever.
  •       Only time will tell if supergenius economists from University of Chicago and brilliant boneheads from the London stock exchange will get together and lay together a consistently winning deck of cards that ensures fun for all and the conclusive magic of a winning pot to be shared by all players. Judging by the frequent financial panics of the last centuries, the answer will be no.

~/ Xwarper