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October 25, 2010

Financial Briefing: Brother, Can You Spare A Trillion Dollars?

I knew some young newlyweds who decided to “invest” in a house rather than live in an apartment. He worked (and made a decent salary), and she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I remember visting their house once: a huge spread in a nice part of town, corner lot, with nicely-manicured lawns, hedges, and flowerbeds. But then I went inside...it was nearly empty. What little furniture they had was garage-sale stuff or Ikea bolt-together particleboard pieces. Some rooms were entirely empty or used for storage. They had “invested” in their house only to find that they couldn’t afford to actually live in it. It took every dime they made just to pay the mortgage and keep the lights on. They lived poorer, in that big fancy house, than I did in my 1-bedroom apartment. Tom Friedman’s recent crie de couer is a variation on the same theme. Tom wants a country where everything is spanking new and everyone makes a good wage and everything is just ducky. In Tom's world this will happen if we just want it enough...and spend even more trillions that we don't have (which is the unspoken but obvious corollary to his main point). We will own the fanciest poorhouse in the neighborhood.


The age of turmoil. The short version: you're going to have to be a lot proactive about your future from now on, because Uncle Sugar sure as hell isn't going to be able to help you much. (I'd help you, but I'll be too busy fighting off looters, wasteland mutant bikers, and zombies.)

Don't be such a Gloomy Gus! Cheer up! Things are going to suck a lot worse in two years than they do now!

For this story, only this response seems appropriate.

It's an onion. A big, stinky, rotten, flyblown onion. And sooner or later, we're going to be asked to eat it.

Amity Schlaes: The Rules of the Game and Economic Recovery. (WARNING: PDF file. A long read, but worthwhile -- it's more or less a recap of her book The Forgotten Man.)

Somehow, "fish magnate" just doesn't roll as trippingly off the tongue as "oil baron" or "steel king". Or even "Mack Daddy of the east side".

I'm afraid you can't return this old, stained, beat-to-shit, threadbare, and rather smelly brassiere of a type and brand we do not sell. Your receipt is from the Korean liquor store around the corner, and thus cannot be used as proof of purchase for this particular piece of shit which you are trying to con money out of us for. However, since we admire your nerve if not your brains, here is 5% off coupon for your next purchase of a garter-belt or bustier.

It's sort of like when your older brother grabs your hand and smacks you in your own face with it, all the while chanting, "Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!" Then he gives you a wicked Indian-burn and farts on your head. Pull quote:

On the one hand, the Fed has “a duty to the taxpayer to try to collect on behalf of the taxpayer on these mortgages,” Plosser said today at an event in Philadelphia.

“At the same time, as a regulator, and as someone who’s trying to preserve financial stability and manage the oversight of banks and financial institutions, we’ve got another hat that we wear that says, ‘Should we be in the business of suing the financial institutions that we are in fact responsible for supervising?’”

Still looking for a floor on US housing prices. I personally think that too many people are hoping the bubble will simply reflate rather than accept the fact that our housing stock was simply overvalued by as much as 40%. It's not that the wealth disappeared; it's that the wealth never existed in the first place. People paid too much money for houses they couldn't really afford, then took out loans against equity that didn't really exist. At this point it's just a game of musical chairs: everyone's waiting to see who gets stuck standing when the music stops.

The Chinese word for ghost is gwai (or gui). Maybe that's who lives here. (Tell me this isn't a country inflating a monstrous-huge bubble!)

Too big to fail? Well, we may have a chance to find out! It would be an expensive lesson, but then, the painful lessons are the ones you tend to remember.

Who's to blame for the looming currency-debasement war? Well, we started it, in a manner of speaking.

That whole UK "austerity" thing? Don't bet on it. I've said it before about our own people, but it applies just as well anywhere: people who depend on the public sector for their paychecks will not go gentle into that good night. In the UK and France, those people compromise the bulk of the citizenry.

California: See, here's the thing. When you eat everything in sight, pretty soon you run out of food. When you run out of food, you stop eating. When you stop eating, you start to lose weight. And when you're grotesquely obese, you need to lose a lot of weight.

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In Jimmy Cagney's little-known relationship-building book What In God's Name Are You Babbling About, Woman?, this is known as "The Grapefruit Maneuver". Cagney cautions that it should only be deployed under the most extreme provocation. (Cagney! His pimp-hand was strong before people even know what a pimp-hand was.)

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posted by Monty at 07:38 AM

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