Sunday, May 9, 2010

From a Distance

My mother asked me recently where she can invest
her assets to keep them safe, from the volatile market
and the rapacious government.
This is how I answered:

It has been said that the safest place to hide your store of food
is in your neighbor's belly.

My only caveat is that I was born into a race full of "takers"
near the peak of their power ... the people in control
take everything they can get their hands on, from everybody,
and give back nothing in return.
their time is over --
its been over ever since they ran out of new people to take from
(the chinese are finally wisening up)

still, among the poorer folk of the world
I have found that most still operate as givers,
where the measure of a man is the amount that he is able to give away.
Like, I have to be the only white man you know
who has a black man come around and mow his lawn out of friendship,
from time to time ... never mind what I do to get that kind of respect ...
Almaz and I agree that Ethiopia is the country of love
while the USA is the country of money ...
but it took her years and years to begin to really understand how everyone here,
especially the rich,
are trying to take money away from her all the time and give nothing back in return.

I could relate some stories about love and sex in Ethiopia
which would be totally misunderstood here
because people here treat sex the same way,
as something to be "taken" from the other person
rather than as a chance to give pleasure ...

The other issue which our society and culture have totally botched
is the issue of security.
Never in history has a society gone to such extremes
to give people the illusion of total protection.
Not only insurance for nearly everything,
but cars are like cocoons, and cubicles and baby carriages and flu shots
and everything.
derivatives, basically, were designed to be financial insurance,
before people on the other side of the transaction began to treat them as leverage.

As Elizabeth Warren (one of our more favorite people these days) puts it,
"Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell."
There must be risk for the system to work.
There must be the potential for failure and calamity of all kinds.

What has happened is that we have made the US government into
the risk-defender of last resort,
the insurance companies' insurance,
the one who protects all of the other organizations that protect.

And what is happening now
(I've said this to a lot of people but not to you yet)
is very much like what Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was describing
in "The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay"
where everything is going wrong all at the same time
and the protector of last resort is failing, spectacularly.

From a distance, it makes for quite a show.

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