So Paul Krugman today made the astute observation that the huslte and bustle and bluff and moxie coming out of the mouth of the White House in regards to the current financial crisis quite closely resembles the famed Dilbert Strategy. When you have absolutely no clue how to fix a problem, just make some flow charts, a pretty colored pie chart, an org chart showing who reports to who, and possibly a graph or two, try to look busy, and hope the problem just goes away or someone else fixes it.
Except one little problem: this isnt a cartoon, a crappy middle management job, or a government simulation video game (developed by Will Wright and Sid Meier). Its our freaking National Economy. And it sucks. Its broken. Its like Humpty-Dumpty:
- Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
- Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
- All the king's horses and all the king's men
- Couldn't put Humpty together again.
So what did all the King's horses and all the King's men do instead? They created a few org charts, realized they were out of glue, made a huge egg and cheese sandwhich and called it a day.
Unfortunately for President Bush and his cadre of economic advisers, our economy isnt made out of eggy goodness that can be spread upon a buttered roll (OK enough, Im hungry now). Its made out of dollars and cents and when they go down in value everyone loses - even the "winners" on Wall St., as a friend of mine recently found out.
Evil Max, Bejeweled master jewler and numero uno de Uno, who works more hours a week at his job than all my other friends combined, recently decided that it might be nice to buy a gift for our good Dutch friend Darth Mikal who has been stuck in a rut of masochistic XBLA titles like Metal Slug 3 and N+. The last actual game Darth bought was Halo 3 if I am not mistaken, and he claims to despise that game, at least the multiplayer portion.
Darth is a person who enjoys hardcore, solipsistic Japanese games such as the Final Fantasy series, Ninja Gaiden Black, Sexy Beach 2, and pretty much anything by Nintendo or Bioware. If he plays multiplayer online games, he wants to spoon feed you your own sphincter so this results in a very small group of multiplayer games that he focuses on exclusively, like Burnout 3, Gears, and Worms (hes that guy ninja flipping the rope across the ceiling to drop dynamite on your head).
Max decided that a good game for Darth would be Mass Effect. Its Bioware, first and foremost, and its sci-fi, and its not online, so the game gets a +3 bonus to its Charisma vs. Dutch Homunculoids. The only problem was that Max didnt know the game was region free, and didnt take the time to look on www.ebay.nl or www.play-asia.com. Max could have also sent him his own personal copy, which was inserted and removed exactly one one time from his Xbox 360, destined to the massive pile of games he buys and plays for 5 minutes and then retires, never selling or trading them in. Just in case, or something. So, Max bought the game off amazon.uk, and then had it shipped to Holland, to the tune of $135, all while used copies were floating around ebay.nl for 35 euros (with free shipping). Nice one, Max.
How does a $60 game end up $135? I could blame Max for not shopping around, or I could blame the criminally high rates FedEx and DHL charge, or the semi-legal import fees and taxes on gifts (GIFTS!), or I could takle the softest and most likely target: the superweak US dollar, and the crumbling US economy. Seeing as though I dont play the stock market or own a home, the impact of our weak economy on my day-to-day life is somewhat mitigated. I think for many Americans the case is similar; aside from skyrocketing gas and home heating bills, the precipitous decline in the dollar has for the most part been insulated by the stable cost of other goods, so its imact on our day to day day life is mitigated. But if you try to book a vacation to Amsterdam, or buy something outside of the US, prepare for some serious sticker shock.
The federal government has basically defaulted on its agreement to keep Americans safe from shady banking techniques and unsafe lending processes. Its took some 80 years, but the regulations and limitations that were placed on banking institutions after the Great Depression were slowly but surely wriggled out of by the free market. Speaking as a poker player, and not a financial analyst or economist, it appears to me that banks such as Bear Stearns werent actually gambling on all these marginal lending practices after all - they were freerolling, because if they busted out, the fed would bankroll them with a rebuy loan through JP Morgan Chase. If The Fed is going to come bail out these non-regulated firms anyway, its doesnt take a Karl Marx to figure out that these institutions should be regulated from the get-go as well.
So what does the Bush administration propose in its new guidelines? " '[R]egulation... limited to institutions that receive explicit federal guarantees' - that is, for institutions that are already regulated, and have not been the source of today’s problems. As for the rest, it blithely declares that 'market discipline is the most effective tool to limit systemic risk.' ”
Basically, make a huge org chart, eat an egg sandwhich, and hope the storm passes.