Copyright 2008 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
This has been an interesting time to be cruising Southeast Asia. I’m constantly asked by the local businessmen to explain what is happening in America. Sometimes this isn’t easy. They’re woefully uniformed here in Thailand… even on such basic matters as what free enterprise is.
“Free enterprise is called that,” I patiently explain, “because the taxpayers of America are free to pay off the debts of their rich people! In fact, that’s their job, their reason d’etre!”
“But,” stuttered one of my puzzled questioners, “isn’t private enterprise…”
“Oh,” I chuckled. “Don’t confuse those two terms, private and free. Private applies to profits. Let’s say a bond trader at Lehman Brothers gets paid a million dollar bonus for signing up a shoe-shine boy’s billion dollar mortgage to buy a failing casino in Vegas… that’s a private bonus and, thus, of course… he gets to keep that money… which is only fair AND the American Way. In addition, his smiling corporate bosses might send him off on a junket to Monte Carlo for some R&R… with plenty of pure cocaine, cold caviar and hot hookers tossed in as added bonus… as a nice, friendly, non-monetary way of showing him their appreciation for his sterling financial efforts.
“Now, let’s say for the sake of argument… through no fault of the broker… the dumb shoeshine boy has difficulty managing this new ‘income’ property and fails to pay back his zillion dollar mortgage! Why should the broker or his bosses suffer?
So, it is only natural that the taxpayers… the low-paid check-out counter girls, fast food workers and the taxi cab operators of America… take up the slack! And, thus, pay off not only the outstanding mortgage… but also the outstanding tab for the coke, caviar and sweat hogs, too!”
“…but aren’t those bad debts…” started out one of the more irritating fellows and I had to quickly nip him in the bud.
“…stop right there,” I said sternly. “Those aren’t ‘bad debts,’ those are ‘illiquid assets.’ And taxpayers shouldn’t mind paying for them… so that corporate America can ‘…get back to work without undue government interference’ and maintain the status quo.”
“…but your system of government…”
“Yes, we have a two-party system,” I said, struggling to remain calm to the face of such inscrutable ignorance, “because no matter which party is in power, both groups get to party! That’s what freedom and fat cats are all about… being free to tell the worker-drones who to pay and how much!”
By now there was a whole crowd of Asians gathered around me at the Sea Swine bar at Yeech Haven of Phuket. And many of them looked both puzzled and distressed. I wasn’t getting through. So I raised my voice louder. “It’s a democracy, okay?” I shouted, “And in a democracy, every dollar gets a vote!”
This is one of the reasons I seldom come ashore during… election years. People can be so tedious. Some innocents just don’t seem to get it. So I’ve had to explain the political reality v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, in Special English… time and time again… about why our presidential candidates both have to raise 66 million dollars a month from special interests. “They have to raise the money to buy television ads which show they’re beholden to nobody!”
…one guy must not have understood a word I said because he started muttering something about welfare reform.
“Yes,” I agreed while trying to hide my exasperation. “We’ve made a lot of progress with welfare reform recently. It used to be if a father was working two jobs and had two kids and was struggling to make ends meet… and his wife got sick and couldn’t go to her job… well, we’d send him a few pennies to tide him over. Not anymore. Now we know him for what he is… a whiner and a cheat! Even worse, he might be a pedestrian… one of those obnoxious, foot-driven slobs who is always getting in the way of limos and loitering around bus stops… who’d want to financially encourage a guy like that?”
“…so there’s no welfare anymore,” asked one of the Thai dock boys who’d gathered to hear my pearls of economic wisdom being strung together in a necklace of fiscal knowledge.
“No, there isn’t… on an individual basis. But we all also know that stable, profitable markets require steadiness and trust. Let’s say, a VP of AIG makes a million dollars and gets a new Benz every year. Now let’s say that some of his decisions make his corporation’s share price drop fifty percent… should he be penalized personally? Why? Doesn’t he still need and expect a new Benz? And might not the father of the two kids and sick wife enjoy paying off the share-price deficient by, say, working 18 hours a day in a car wash? So corporate welfare isn’t a freebie… it’s a God-given right. And no proud, patriotic American would ever say a word against it.”
“…isn’t that trickle-down…”
“Yes,” I said. “Very good! Skilled career politicians know that if birds are starving to death, you can’t just give ‘em bird seed! No sirree! That won’t work. It would ruin their work-ethic, their peck-peck-peck-ability. Instead, you give all rich people in the world more money and some of them will then buy thoroughbred race horses… and said horses will consume a bit of bird seed in their high-protein, high-fiber diet… and then the starving birds can follow behind them… pecking at the, er… droppings… and, well, getting the birdseed properly metered!”
“But in a republic…” started the same irritating guy.
“Yes, our system is a republic. That means that we elect people to represent us. Now, let’s be realistic. If the taxpayers and voters are always footing the bill for the rich guys, well, the taxpayers and voters aren’t too bright, are they? But everyone, no matter how ignorant, wants to feel superior to some poor idiot… so, in the privacy of the polling station…”
“Ah, so,” said a grinning Chinamen on the periphery of the crowd, “Veeerrrry, veeerrry interesting! Finally, after all these years… the election of Dubya begins to make global sense!”
“…is Cheney the puppet master,” cried a bikini-clad Thai bilge bunny.
“…well,” I said with a sly smile, “never underestimate Dickie! …remember when he shot that guy in face… what did the guy do?”
“…apologize?” said one of my students who was particularly well-read on current affairs.
“Exactly,” I said. “The guy with a face-full of shotgun pellets said, ‘Oophs! Sorry! I goofed and stupidly stuck my face in front of the VP’s shot-gun! Please forgive me!’ Now, we’ve all probably shot a few random people here and there… but have any of our victims apologized for catching the bullet? No! That’s power, raw power, power WASHINGTON-STYLE! And that’s why he’s VP and we’re just a drop in his sea of admirers!”
“…so your country’s system is different than, say, a communist one…”
“Aye, you’re getting it now, Comrade,” I gushed. “But we’re not too rigid or ideological. For example, during this current financial crisis… we privatized profit while we socialized debt! That’s fair, isn’t it? Ying and yang? 50/50? I mean, even Hugo Chavez would approve!”
“…but the massive size of the bail-out…” chipped in a bare-footed Buddhist monk as he rubbed his shaven head in befuddlement. “…is it fair that…”
“Excellent debating points!” I shouted, “Fairness and size! …very good! Now, if you guys ever wanna be rich, I suggest you listen up! On the same day that the Fed announced an 850 million bail-out of AIG and possible one trillion dollar ‘free mountain of money’ hand-out for the rest of Wall Street’s sticky-fingered capitalists… on that very day, a judge in Sheboygan, Michigan, sentenced Ryan Mueller (Google it) to six years in jail for stealing $20! The reason? Because Ryan was such a small thinker! He only robbed 20 bucks ONCE from that kid’s piggy bank! Contrast this to Wall street, who unabashedly put a trillion dollar, multi-year lien on the same kid’s future… see why one goes to jail and the other goes to St. Barths on vaca?”
“Let me see if I’ve got this straight,” questioned one of the brighter ones. “There are only a few rich people… too few to equitably share a heavy financial burden. But there are a LOT of poor folks, so why should they care?”
“…irrefutable logic,” I praised. “And I like the implied callousness too! You see, when a private citizen named George W. Bush sat on that Savings-and-Loan board a few years back… and they needed a multi-million bail-out… he didn’t just turn to his super-rich daddy, the Prez… but to his deeper-pocketed uncle, Uncle Sammy!”
People started applauding, first one… then two… then, many! It felt great… to be able to impart some of the economic wisdom I’d picked up over the years.
I smiled. They cheered even louder. Finally, one raised his hand and asked me wistfully, “…do you think that Thailand might… someday… be a world power too?”
It would have been easy to give them false hope—but I did not.
“No,” I said. “I do not… because… well, frankly, because your 1400-year-old system of government makes no sense!”
Editor’s note: Fatty’s next column may focus on Russia’s invasion of Georgia… “I personally never liked Atlanta,” laments Fatty, “…but what’s next… Alabama? Mississippi?”
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.” For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com