Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Throwing Fish

Warning: This picture (which I can't believe exists and was hit #1 in my search for an appropriate picture) is absolutely the only thing in today's post that has anything at all to do with cycling.

Where I used to work, we had a couple of great traditions. One of them was that on your birthday, you had to tell a story of something funny that happened to you when you were half of your new age. We got some great stories out of this one. Another was a shorthand phrase we used called "throwing fish," derived from the proverb "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he'll eat forever." Philosophically, I'm absolutely in the "teach a man to fish" camp. Hopefully that comes through in what I write, particularly in things like today's installment of the GamJams new racer series. Sometimes, you just need the damn info, though, as I did one time when I told my friend and co-worker "dude, I'd love to go through the whole back and forth but can you just throw me a fish on this one?" It stuck.

Ready to get a whole kettle of fish thrown at you? The 'good' news is that oil and gas prices are down. The bad news comes in several parts. First, the barrel prices and prices at the pump are down, but the price you pay for a gallon of gas will never again be anywhere near $2 or whatever they were a couple of years ago. There will be general joy in Who-Ville over the drop in price, but the rubber band of gas prices never seems to stretch quite as much on the way down as the way up. The second piece of bad news is that we'll now promptly forget all of the initiatives about developing green and sustainable energy technologies and all of the infrastructure and peripherals to go along with them.

Fish #1 is headed to Detroit. With gas prices down, the companies formerly known as the Big Three can probably make the case to the government that they can slowly bleed taxpayer money "sustainably" for the next decade or so. I empathize with the people who've known nothing but make cars their whole lives and are scared to death of a world without Motor City Madness, but we can do better for them than to keep their genetically underperforming employers on slow drip life support. Why not do mass scale worker retraining and assist the unfunded pensions and that kind of thing while cauterizing the wound and letting these poorly run and uncompetitive businesses die? At one point I'd envisioned government sponsorship of a new car industry that would develop into a position of world leadership and America would once again be able to sell cars without "Employee Pricing" and other hokey gimmicks like that. Could I have been so naive so recently?

Fish #2 is coming right to you. Economic stimulus package numero dos. I'm convinced that this will roll the economic stimulus and homeowner assistance initiatives together like sushi. The exact form this will take I'm not sure, since for many people tax credits are going to take too long to give relief. It could be something as literal as a "the Feds pay your mortgage this month" kind of thing. No matter how badly this will screw the next generation of homebuyers by supporting housing economics predicated on rotten premises like no money loans, I'm sure that these two bad ideas are headed together like chocolate and peanut butter.

It may seem contradictory for me to critique an imagined program that addresses keeping homeowners in their houses, an ideal which I've previously supported on mainly pragmatic but also humanitarian bases. The problem I have with the way I see this developing is that it's selective socialism. We've already raised our hands for socialism, right? But now we're talking about helping only the group that contains the subset of the public who were the most culpable for what's going on. How about the people who said "I'm not buying into this p.o.s. tulip bulb market?" Well, you have to have someone to pay for all of this largesse.

Which brings me to my next point. John McCain displays a worrisome lack of understanding of the problems of housing economics. He seems to think that bringing housing prices back to their previously fundamentally unfounded levels will keep people in their houses. It won't. Bringing housing prices back to their bubble levels will just hit most everybody in the face with a big, smelly, oily fish. What we need is more akin to methadone - a means to shield at risk homeowners from the greatest perils (foreclosure) while facilitating getting whoever is on the hook for all of these non-performing loans some value. We don't need another shot of housing heroin.

Mike May will probably be flopping around on the floor like the gold fish from the classic Faith No More video "Epic" with all of the metaphors I've mixed up for you by now.

Lastly, it's election season and the faultless constituent is getting a 100% hall pass on his contribution to the problems we're having. So a big middle finger to all of you who didn't read the fine print, didn't figure that housing prices could possible stop escalating, rolled all your credit card debt into your housing loans so that you had a nice tabula rasa to take out to the mall - the candidates may have forgiven you, but I haven't.


Boz said...

Funny, but how did our elected officials not see this coming. I mean, only the best and brightest should hold office and run our country, right. So basing an economic expansion on giving %14 mortgages to dead beats on over valued homes w/ no down payment and no equity was the best we could do? Brilliant, just brilliant....

GamJams said...

You get a by on the metaphor bombast because the picture is so surreal it makes me laugh. And also because you nudged well into the black with the chocolate / peanut butter part. Hard to erase the day's gains after that.

David Kirkpatrick said...

Seriously, do a Google image search for "throwing fish" and that's what you get. El Numero Uno.

Boz, the only thing that I can even say is that the stupidity that got us into this will look like stark raving brilliance compared to what you'll see proposed to get us out.