Monday musings

Just one question… If, per Hank Paulson, "taxpayers" are going to own stock in financial companies, where do I sign up to get the dividend checks?

OK, I concede that's a lame attempt at humor, especially on a day when Paul Krugman wins the Nobel Prize in economics.   Brings to mind what Tom Lehrer said 35 years ago about political satire becoming obsolete with Henry Kissinger winning the peace prize.

Hey, it could be worse.  We could be in Iceland.  No doubt you've seen all the stories about how the country is essentially bankrupt after an especially Dionysian binge on derivatives.  I wondered how long it would be before we saw stories about Icelanders stockpiling food and toilet paper.  That day has arrived.  "Bonus, a nationwide chain, has stock at its warehouse for about two weeks," reports Bloomberg. "After that, the shelves will start emptying unless it can get access to foreign currency, the 22-year-old manager said, standing in a walk-in fridge filled with meat products, among the few goods on sale produced locally."  The CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Trade and Services sees shortages even sooner than that, the end of this week, if businesses can't get their hands on foreign currency to make purchases abroad.

Is this coming soon to a country near you?  Even if it doesn't, Outstanding Investments editor Byron King sees a different trigger for shortages in the stores…

Our buddy Matt Simmons said the other day, "We should thank our lucky stars that people in other parts of the world are still willing to ship us oil in payment for dollars."  And: "For as fast as the financial system melted down, the oil and gas network of the world could melt down even faster."  Matt was referring to a run on the refined fuel storage tanks of the world:  y'know, hundreds of millions of cars with an average of five gallons each in the tank, and everyone panics and decides to top off all at once.  We'd drain the system within 24 hours…  be unable to refill it in any conceivable (i.e., short) time frame…. and food supplies would run out — for lack of motor transport — within a week.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press has picked up the story of the National Debt Clock running out of digits, now that the figure has rolled over past $10 trillion.  Funny how this coincides with the release of the companion book to I.O.U.S.A.

No, it's not funny at all.  Forgot, economic satire is obsolete now.