I know as much about money as playing trombone. Underwater. Let me explain.
Way back before apes evolved into Republicans (proof of evolution!), I had something called a "checking account." This was when I had something called a "job." And in this checking account, there were things called “dollars”---at least a few. Really. I spent every one of them.
It was all pretty thrilling at first, there in my first days in the work force, but then. . .
Every month, checks would be written, and dollars would disappear---until there were just five or ten, or fifty cents, or negative-50 cents and an overdrawn penalty, left in the "checking account." It did not take long to realize that the fix was in, and that the idea of saving money was as potent as the idea of getting people to stop wantonly reproducing. It was then that I simply. . .stopped keeping records.
That's correct. Haven't balanced a checkbook in thirty-three years.
I have often relished announcing this rather antisocial fact, especially to women who once upon a time seemed to have some prurient interest in me, just to watch their jaws gape. And to hear the whooshing of their reproductive hormones fleeing the scene. Then I would spring my Zen-like explanation, ever at the ready:
"Why," I would say, "keep track of nothing?"
Of course, working in journalism helped facilitate this elegant circumstance. It is a very special profession in that one can work for a lifetime---work very hard, and achieve great success---and still say:
"Why keep track of nothing?"
Oh, and did I say "elegant?" Yes, a well-appointed word for barely breaking even, really. I didn't used to think so, back when I would sit in my apartment, out-cursing Cadillac Don and J-Money because I was rolling pennies in order to eat. But after a conversation in which a personage worth perhaps $500 million used this word to describe my um, lifestyle, I saw things differently. I think she might have actually been jealous!
Yes, I realize my monetary attitude makes me an eccentric, but if readers of http://riprense.com haven’t already figured that out, they are whistling without Dixie. And to gild the eccentric lily, consider this: I have also never used a credit card. Okay, well, that’s kind of John McCain-type statement, which is to say, a lie. Back in college, the Bank of America had the bright idea of just giving away credit cards to students (can you say, "heroin?"), and lo and behold, one arrived in my mailbox one day.
So I promptly took my friends out to dinner, and then took my friends out to dinner, and did I mention that I also took my friends out to dinner? I did this many more times in the next two years, especially during periods between jobs as a fry cook, lamp salesman (!), and grocery store clerk. I thought it was funny. Here I had no job, or a lousy one, no career, or a lousy one---but endless amounts of moneymoneymoney money! What a country! Three years later, when I finally paid off the magic card, I swore off it. Subsequent credit cards in my mail box met violent ends with a pair of scissors.
The lame-o, economics-for-pinheads point I am making here is that today, the USA finds itself exactly where I have long been: keeping track of nothing. The difference is that the USA never stopped taking its friends out to dinner. Of course, that's such a paltry metaphor. The USA is ever engaged in very grand affairs, such as bankrolling trillion dollar wars by borrowing from China and Saudi Arabia. And giving no-interest housing loans to anyone who walks in off the street without a beard and displeasing odor. And allowing massive corporations to keep books with every bit as much conscience as Al Capone. Or Jack Abramoff.
But that’s not all. It is as American as apple pie and porn to---I’m not making this up---speculate with debt. Think about that just a moment. Perhaps it isn’t alien to you. To me, it’s alien, and Aliens, and Alien 3, 4, and 5. (Sigourney, why’d you do it?) Now let's define "speculation," just for fun, never mind that I do not understand this stuff any better than Sarah Palin understands Russia. Speculation, to revert to my personal example, would be something like this:
After taking my friends out to dinner on a credit card, I would have borrowed money to pay my bills, but instead of paying my bills, I would have taken that money to a baseball game and gambled it on every pitch, every ball and strike, and whether the batter would scratch his vitals before stepping to the plate. Then I would have gambled my car, shirts, underwear, hogs (if I’d had any), record collection on balls, strikes, and whether the batter scratched his vitals, etc. Then I would have borrowed more money---to play the ponies.
This is sort of what has gone on in Corporate America, where CEOs become senators who become lobbyists who become oil tycoons who become presidents who become advisors who become cabinet members who become lobbyists who become TV commentators who become Carlyle Group who become Enron who become Lehman Brothers and I don’t know why she swallowed the fly perhaps she’ll die.
Here is the USA’s economics motto: Come on, lucky 7!
A friend who is smarter than I am about this stuff, which is kind of like being faster than a snail, summed things up rather handily:
“Corporate giants scream for government deregulation. Republicraps give it to them. They plunder the system, fill their pockets and, in the process, bankrupt their companies. The government comes in, bails them out, regulates them, then the same cycle happens again. The corporate media keep the general public distracted with flag pins and Lindsay Lohan’s nipples. We're privatizing profits and nationalizing losses.”
I would add---and I base this only on instinct, as I have nothing else---that I do not think the cycle will not happen again, this time. I think the whole rancid, festering, amoral, venal, sociopathic infrastructure is about to crash down the way that wall crashed on Skull Island when Kong slammed it with the back of his fist. I think we will soon all be riding bicycles and planting vegetable gardens by the curb. And hob-nobbing with “the homeless,” if we are not already a member of their swelling ranks.
I know that my ignorance and eccentricity already cripple my credibility here, but I must add I that when I hear about things like banks "bundling mortgages" and selling them to, well, call them "investors," my brain locks up like the San Diego Freeway. North and south. The very same thing happens to the "ethical" part of my brain, also, but never mind such antiquated and quaint things as ethics. No one else does. And when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars to bail out private companies ($85 billion for AIG, cough, sputter, choke) that have gone belly-up by gambling on whether the batter will scratch his crotch or not, I say to myself, "Gee, wasn't that the money that the citizens gave to the government to support. . .the citizens?"
Pretty naïve, eh?
You see, I am such a caveman, such a rube, such a Luddite, that I have always thought people should live within their means, never use credit cards, and boycott cable TV and Jimmy Choo and BMW. I have always thought that when you put your money in a bank, or your mortgage, it should stay there. That the bank should not sell your mortgages to nefarious cadres of rich a**holes (NCRA) to do with as they please. Until Wall Street comes a-tumblin’ down.
So like my old checkbook experience, the USA now finds itself in a Zen situation, keeping track of a whole lot of nothing. Of course, Zen is a religion-inspired philosophy of nothing being everything, and according to this mode of thinking, our proud country is very rich, indeed! Why, we have no economy, really, unless you are a hydra, like Dick Cheney, and you believe that debts are irrelevant. We are, after all, several trillion dollars in the hole (which is more than five, and less than all the stars.) This vast nothing, of course, is thanks largely to the "war on terror," a plan to eradicate small numbers of terrorists spread all over the world---by occupying particular defenseless countries and wiping out huge numbers of innocent people. A nothing plan, in other words! See how it all fits together?
Then we have nothing morals, where “the law” is an obstacle course, and slavering, carnal greed is the rule. This has turned capitalism, formerly a fairly successful way to run a nation, into a shipwreck of a nothing. Then we have a great many nothing elected officials, who can be counted on to speak tired and empty nothings almost all the time, no matter how unpleasant things become.
For a big nothing, we're really quite something.