Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Gas Tank Of Damocles
We drive old vehicles. I don't like driving old vehicles. The reliability of your transportation is paramount. Old cars break down. Buying a new car is a form of insurance against risk. But real insurance against risk is unavailable, or illegal, for such as us, with one exception -- personal avoidance of risk at all costs.
My wife saw a piece of metal hanging below the car that looked as out of place as an honest man in Congress. One of the two straps that held the gas tank from dragging on the road had rusted clean through and broken. The other strap looked as reliable as cell phone service in a tunnel. Something must be done, and immediately.
My family never goes anywhere much now. We cannot hope to weather much bad luck with our own meager resources, and we cannot rely on others, so we keep our heads down. We were lucky that we discovered the problem in our driveway, instead of on the highway. You might think us daft for being grateful for a broken gas tank strap in our driveway, but we were. We were doubly grateful that it wasn't February, as well. So we offered our hosannahs. Now what to do?
In a fiscal landscape that made any sense, I'd pay a mechanic to repair the car. There's a fellow down the street --walking distance, what a luxury for us ---and he's honest and could use the money. He's my neighbor. But I poked around and found out that the repair would cost maybe $750 at a dealer. The mechanic down the street might only command half that, but it's still too much. I'd have to fix it myself.
I do not enjoy fixing my car. I've done it, back when I was young and Gerry Ford and Jimmy Carter were desolating the landscape, but I have no natural ability or affinity for it. But I went to Amazon, and found the correct parts, and ordered them, and crawled under the car and fixed it. My older son is old enough to help now, thank goodness. I am somewhat infirm in certain ways, and to lay vaguely upside-down under a car yanking on rusty bolts nearly overcame me. But after two days of effort interspersed with trips to the fainting couch, we had replaced the parts. The repair will outlast the car.
I did not earn money by fixing my own car, of course --just the opposite. The mechanic did not earn money. The people who rely on the mechanic to earn money will not earn money, and so forth. Ultimately, through a process which must be deduced, because it cannot be observed, this lack of commerce will ultimately filter its way through the entire economy to the point where someone will not buy what I make because I didn't hire the mechanic. It's the circle of life, except it's the circle of the death of commerce.
I am barraged daily with references to Helicopter Ben running the Treasury printing presses day and night, and thereby causing inflation. It's an insane idea. When the velocity of money sniffs zero, there is no inflation. The Fed makes money and gives it to the government, who lends it to itself, and none of it ever makes it into the wild where a car mechanic and his downstream brethren might get ahold of it. For productive people in today's American economy, the money might as well not exist. The bill for it will exist plenty in the future, of course. But when the velocity of money is zero, the future must be entirely discounted. It's a meaningless concept, like watching an unplugged clock.
The term velocity referring to the passage of money through the alimentary canal of commerce is very descriptive, and apt to my circumstances. The economy is in exactly the same shape as my wife's gas tank -- filled with fuel which only makes it sag on its rusty underpinnings further, making it more difficult to fix, and dangerous to be underneath, but you must bang around under there anyway because there's no other choice. Nervous Nellies endlessly warn me that if it was all released at once, it would explode, but that eventuality is remote compared to going hungry because we can't drive to the supermarket until it's fixed. And above all, the fuel isn't taking you anywhere because the whole apparatus is busted, and the process to fix it is busted, and if you want it fixed you better do it yourself because nobody outside a building with a seal on it has any money.
It's hard to work under the gas tank of Damocles.