The Ghost of Christmas Future
The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: Part Three of the Daily Reckoning Christmas Trilogy… and God bless us, every one!
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE
It was 4am. I had no doubt about that. The clock said as much. And who am I to argue with clocks? If ever we cannot trust them, the country is done for.
But what were those voices? At such at an hour.
The first to speak was a soft, feminine voice, talking to someone on the landing outside by door, “It’s not the way it used to be.”
“What do you mean?” replied the man, in a voice that was neither young nor old, with slight impatience.
“Of course, I don’t know why I bother,” she went on, “I don’t think it matters to you anyway.”
“What doesn’t matter to me,” he replied, with growing restlessness…
“Oh, come on… what are you talking about?”
“I mean, you are not interested in me anymore. All you think about is your stocks. You and that damned computer! Here it is, even at a Christmas Party, and all you ever talk about is stocks! Broadcom. Qualcom. Dot.com. Does every word you speak and every thought you have to involve money?”
“You’re being silly…”
“No I’m not. It’s you who are being silly. And you know why you spend all your time watching stocks? I’ll tell you – fear! You’re afraid of life.
You’re afraid of me. You condense all your hopes and aspirations… all your dreams and fears… into one simple master-passion – making money in stocks.”
“All you care about is making money,” she went on. “You’re afraid to care about anything else! Not about me. Not about Christmas… not about anything. Even now, why, you’re eager to get home so you can turn on your computer and see how much money you’ve made today.”
“You are exaggerating,” he protested. “Besides, I’m no fool… I’m going to sell them all when I’ve made back what I lost. And I won’t worry about them again. It’s just that I’ve taken a beating recently… and it’s not easy. But that doesn’t mean I feel any different about you. And besides, it’s not about money anyway… it’s about our future.”
The conversation trailed off, as the holiday revelers moved off to their final destination of the evening – an apartment near mine.
I went back to sleep. Having failed to profit from the greatest period of wealth creation of all time, I could sleep in peace.
And yet… I did feel sorry for them.
* * *
While this was taking place, Ebenezer received his third and final visitor of the night.
“I am the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,” said the spirit.
And away they went, the two of them. Ebenezer was scared. Perhaps he feared the future.
The spirit conducted them beyond a full, bright moon… to where the moon shone no more. It was as if a tide of night had washed the stars out of the sky. It was black. And cold.
And then, all of a sudden, a city arose all around them. Its narrow streets, and very high buildings, reminded Ebenezer of somewhere. Yes, it was lower Manhattan. The financial district. It was Wall Street.
On the street, groups of men and women were speaking. But they had worried, haggard faces.
“What troubles them so, Spirit?” asked Ebenezer of his guide.
“You must see for yourself,” replied the Phantom, and they drew near a group on the corner of Broad and Wall.
“Amazon…?” asked one, “are you kidding? The bankers got less than 2 cents on the dollar. Shareholders got nothing. Not even a scrap of paper to put on their bathroom walls.”
“At least the bankers got something,” answered another. “They were lucky. What did Enron shareholders get?”
“Yeah, but who cares?”
“A guy I know cares. He owned JP Morgan and other bank stocks.”
“You’d think they would have held up better.”
“Well, you would have thought a lot of things.”
“Well, you would have thought you could’ve gotten more than a turkey for a Christmas bonus. I remember last year, I got a more than $2 million. This year – a turkey.”
“Some guys didn’t even get that.”
“Where are you living now? I heard you moved?”
“Yeah, we moved in with my wife’s mother. We had to give up our apartment.”
“What, that place overlooking the park on the West Side? What’d you do with your last year’s bonus… didn’t you pay for the place?”
“No… I took out a mortgage and put my bonus into Qualcom. It did so well, I remortgaged at 125% and leveraged up.”
“Jeez… you must be hurting.”
“Nah… it’s the bank that’s really hurting.”
“I’ll tell you who’s really hurting, one of my customers in Baltimore. The guy just wouldn’t take no for an answer. He bought the dips. Ha. Ha. Each time the big techs went down, the guy bought more. The guy died and the banker went to his place – took everything. Even the sheets off the bed.”
Ebenezer couldn’t believe his ears.
“What has happened? Who was the customer in Baltimore?” he asked the spirit.
The phantom of Christmas Future made no response. Instead, he stood erect, pointed his finger… and in an instant, the two were standing once again at the little window in East Baltimore.
“Our time is short,” said the spirit.
The two gazed in the window. The scene was not the boisterous happy one they had seen earlier. Instead, Bob and his family sat still, quiet – as if a dark shadow had passed over them and the fire in their hearth had gone out forever.
There, in the corner, was a crutch, partially hidden by a Christmas tree. Even with its lights and baubles, the tree failed to make the place festive. Something was missing.
“Why, where’s little Tim,” Ebenezer asked, dreading the answer.
“Tim is no more,” said the phantom.
“I have seen enough,” said Ebenezer. “No more shadows. I understand the lesson you are trying to teach. I am not so dull than I cannot grasp your point. I acknowledge it. Some losses are real… and more important than money. I will send Bob and his family a sympathy card.”
“Come…” said the spirit. “Your lessons are not complete.”
A second later, Ebenezer recoiled in terror. They were in a bedroom, stripped of its curtains, sheets, even the pictures were off the walls, leaving light patches of wallpaper where once hung Ebenezer’s collection of great artists works of the mid-20th century. The Pollacks, the Miros, the Warhols – he hated every one of them… but they were great investments. More than once, he muttered to himself, “They ought to pay me to own these things…”
But what had become of them?
And the figure on the bed, the corpse, it was covered only by a large, plastic garbage bag, so carelessly laid on that even a gentle breeze would have left the body naked, exposed to the world as though a ghastly piece of art in a modern exhibition.
Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death, set up thine altar here, and dress it with such terrors as thou hast at thy command…
Strike, shadow, strike… so that we may see his good deeds flow from the wound.
No voice pronounced these words. But Ebenezer heard them anyway.
And then, a moment later, they were in some other place. It was a cemetery.
“We don’t need to come here,” said Ebenezer. I know whose tombstone you will show me. But before we look, answer me this. Are these shadows of the thing that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be only.”
The spirit was immovable. His finger beckoned to the tombstone.
Ebenezer moved forward. He looked. And there it was. His own name, chiseled in stone.
He fell to his knees, and reached for the spirit’s hand. But spirits are as elusive as profits in a bear market. Finding no hand to comfort him, he formed his own in prayer.
In agony, his voice trembled: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone.”
He blinked, and the spirit was gone. So was the graveyard. He was back in his bed.
The room was his own. The bed was his own. Best of all, the time before him was him own. And his to make amends in!
Oh what a feeling of delight! To be alive! A new day! A new life! And to understand, for once, what really matters. How could he have been such a fool, for so many years, in so many ways? Well, it was too late to think about that… and no time for it either. This was a time for action. For something new. “A new era,” he said to himself…
…and chuckled to himself. He couldn’t remember the sound of his own chuckle. So he did it again. What an amusing sound. Chuckle. Chuckle. Ha! What fun.
New era? Yes, this was the real new era. A new era, indeed, with a new kind of wealth – the only kind that really mattered.
He was so excited, he fluttered out of bed as though a robin from its nest.
He rushed to turn on his computer.
“SELL!” His fingers rushed over the letters so fast, the computer could barely keep up. “I don’t know whether they’re going up or down,” he laughed to himself, “but I don’t care anymore. I’m free of all this nonsense forever.”
Opening his window, he saw a young boy on the street corner.
“Hey, boy,” he shouted.
“Who are you calling boy?” came the resentful reply.
“Oh never mind,” said Ebenezer. Times have changed. And he made up his mind to change with them.
“Oh, my, the markets are closed today,” said Ebenezer to himself. “It’s
Christmas. Sell? To whom! No one will be buying or selling stocks today.
How wonderful. Everything is wonderful now.
“Bubble, schmubble. I’m going to go see my old friend Bob.
“And get that kid of his properly checked out at Johns Hopkins. I think Itec may have a new drug that can help him.
“Hmmm… I should probably buy some stock in Itec. Great company. And it’s been knocked down 50% since last year. Buy the dips! This could be a big winner when the techs come back… I could make a fortune on this one… But who cares! Let the dips do the buying. Heh heh. This is a new era…”
* * *
I confess, dear reader, that I do not know if the story is true. I just know that it ought to be true, even if it is not.
And I know how it ends, too. With these immortal lines from dear Tiny Tim, saved by new technology from Itec:
Merry Christmas. And God bless us, every one!
Your friend and faithful servant,
The Daily Reckoning
December 25, 2006
Editor’s Note: Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of The Wall Street Journal best seller Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley & Sons).
In Bonner and Wiggin’s follow-up book, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis, they wield their sardonic brand of humor to expose the nation for what it really is – an empire built on delusions. Daily Reckoning readers can buy their copy of Empire of Debt at a discount – just click on the link below:
In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made a moan,
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone.
Christina Georgina Rossetti
We arrived back at home a day late and a dollar short. As to the missing day, we were held up by fog (see below). As to the dollar, well…
“Time to get used to a $2 pound,” says an English paper.
The dollar is a weak link in the world financial chain. It could give way at any moment. But then, so could the stock market. And so could the derivative industry. And so could the housing market. The whole chain is nothing but weak links.
Ah yes, dear reader, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, we have to drag around these “chains forged in life…” We live with them. We will die with them. Of course, one way or another, we will get free from them. But that will be when one of the links snaps…and the whole thing comes loose.
But this is Christmas Day…and we’re certainly not going to be a scrooge about it. Merry Christmas to one and all…que sera sera.
And what’s this?
U.S. November PPI up 2.0 pct, largest monthly gain in more than thirty years! Oh la la…just when we were getting in the Christmas spirit. Here’s a report we missed when we were traveling:
“US inflation at the wholesale level rose by its sharpest amount in more than thirty years in November, while prices outside of energy and food rose by the largest amount in more than twenty five years, the Labor
Department said Tuesday.
“The department’s Producer Price Index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach the consumer, rose 2.0 pct last month, sharper than the 0.5 pct rise economists had expected…
“The so-called core-rate of wholesale inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose by more than six times the expected rate, surging 1.3 pct in November. That’s the largest monthly gain in the core rate since July 1980 and substantially sharper than the 0.2 pct gain economists had expected.
And what’s this?
The subprime mortgage market seems to be ready for some post-bubble show trials. It is customary, following a bout of collective insanity, to look for people to blame. DAs see an opportunity to get their names in the papers. Regulators try to distract the public from their own errors and omissions. And the public loves a hanging.
This is going to get especially interesting, says colleague Dan Denning, because the subprime industry targeted poor people – who were disproportionately black. So guess what? Subprime lenders will be accused of taking advantage of black people…a story that should be good for a few slow-news days.
Of course, subprime lenders did target blacks…but they also targeted anyone else too naïve to know better…and too poor to have better opportunities.
Here’s the news item:
“News Reminder – Report: Worst U.S. Foreclosure Crisis Unfolding,
Minorities and Low-Income Families to Face Brunt of Home Losses
“The United States is heading into its worst mortgage foreclosure crisis in modern history, with more than two million predominantly minority and low-income Americans with subprime mortgages expected to lose well over $100 billion in homeownership wealth, according to a major new report to be released by the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).
“The groundbreaking CRL report, “Losing Ground: Foreclosures in the
Subprime Market,” looks at subprime mortgages originated from 1998 through the first half of 2006. This is the first such comprehensive public analysis of the subprime mortgage market.”
What this analysis is going to show is the obvious thing: that the loan sharks sharked loans to any poor penguin they could get in their jaws.
But now the press and the prosecutors are out with their harpoons and depth charges. Soon, there will be a few of these sharks hanging on hooks…
Eric Fry, reporting from Laguna Beach, California…
“…Because negative amortization (neg-am) mortgages have become increasingly popular, and because delinquency rates on all forms of high-risk mortgages are becoming alarmingly high…”
For the rest of this story and for more market insights, see the latest issue of The Rude Awakening
And more views on this midwinter day…
*** Today is cold and gray in France. A hoar frost clings to the fields and trees. Out here in the country it is still and quiet. The only visitor we’ve had so far this Christmas Day is our gardener, who brought over a ham he had just cured.
When it is cold, Damien wears a hat with floppy earmuffs on the side. He is a jolly character in any season, but at Christmas, with his earmuffs, he reminds us of a big, friend dog.
“It’s huge…” Elizabeth noticed the ham. “What are we going to do with all that meat?”
“Well, you better eat it fast,” Damien replied. “Because I didn’t put too much salt in it. It won’t last forever. Last year, I think I put in too much salt. The meat was hard to eat. This year, I put in a lot less.”
Damien stayed long enough to drink a cup of coffee…and catch us up on the local news.
“What happened? Well, nothing. Nothing ever happens here. You know, there are nothing but old people left in the town. So the only thing that happens is that they get sick and die. Madame Clemente has lost her mind, the poor thing. I just realized it last week, when I said hello to her at the store. She didn’t seem to know who I was. But no one has died lately. So it’s been a good few weeks.”
*** On Christmas Eve, we went to mass at the local church. It was supposed to be a carol service. But the choir director has been struck down by cancer. The singers did their best, but plainly needed some leadership. After the service was over, we typically say hello to neighbors and friends, but it was bitterly cold that no one stood outside for very long. By the time we got of the church they were almost all gone.
We, too, rushed home. Your editor shucked oysters for our traditional oyster stew, while we sang our own carols…and listed to Dean Martin sing his favorites. Then, in front of a roaring fire, we ate our stew…finished decorating the tree…and opened our first presents. Our mother – who had left to return to the United States only a few weeks ago – sent over photo albums, one for each of us. There were photos of each of us – stretching back for many years. We rediscovered people and places we had forgotten many years ago.
“How did she do it? Your mother can barely walk. How was she able to find these old photos…each one specially chosen for its recipient…and put together the albums?”
“She’s always had a little bit of Christmas magic, hasn’t she,” said Maria.
*** We had not intended to spend a night in London. But travelers need to be flexible. Our plane from Buenos Aires touched down at Heathrow in dense fog. Once on the ground, we couldn’t take off again.
This was a far bigger problem for other travelers than for us. We just got on a train and went to the office…and then to our bachelor pad for the night.
But this unexpected little detour left us with time on our hands. By 4pm, Friday, everyone had cleared out of the office in preparation for the holidays. Our daughter Maria, normally resident in London, had already left for France. We found ourselves alone in the office, alone in the world. What could we do? In desperation…we picked up the paper and read the news!
The English newspapers are the best in the world. The press is, well, irrepressible. It has no shame…no sense of embarrassment…no standards other the honest one – selling papers.
Gone is much of the high-minded, public spectacle blather you find in the New York Times, the Washington Post, or Le Monde. Instead, the English papers – at least the tabloids – give the world-improvers the old heave-ho and focus on the kind of news that is both entertaining and enlightening. Even where matters of public policy are concerned, they are approached from a private, personal perspective:
“Husband’s fury after Somali gunmen was left free to kill [a female police officer] because to deport him would have infringed his human rights’ says the cover-story headline.
“The heartbroken husband of Sharon Beshenivsky yesterday attacked the ‘soft touch’ immigration laws which left Somali criminals free to murder her.”
Not many people are murdered in England. Compared to America, it is a fairly safe place. When someone is killed, it makes the news. This was the story of the only policewoman to be murdered in more than 20 years. She was shot dead by a group of immigrants from Africa. At least two of these immigrants had long criminal records, which would have normally caused them to be deported back to where they came from. But since they were from Somalia, immigration officials decided that Britain would offer them asylum. It would be “too dangerous” to send them back to their homelands, the Home Office ruled. But after the murder, at least one of the criminals fled back to Somalia…disguised as a woman, wearing a burqa.
“What about my kids, my wife, my family?” asked the grieving husband.
“I’d like these do-gooders to come and explain that to my children.”
Later in the article, we find out how Mr. Beshenvisky has coped with his sorrow. After learning about the kids’ problems in school, and his own troubles with the bottle, we discover that the man has found a new friend:
“Michelle agreed to help me with the kids,” he explained sheepishly. “It’s not as if either of went out looking for it. Anyway, how long do you wait? I know Sharon wouldn’t want me to feel guilty about this…what I’ve tried to do…get on with life.”
Meanwhile, on page 5:
“Man gets 3 million pounds for fall that made him a sex addict,” says a headline in the Daily Mail. Then the explanation: “A husband whose sex drive increased dramatically after he suffered a severe head injury at work was awarded [nearly $6 million] in damages yesterday.”
The gist of the story is that a Mr. Tame fell off a scaffold and then went wild.
Surely the hacks had some fun with this: “The judge said 29-year-old Stephen Tame’s marriage is unlikely to survive his condition and he will need professional care.” The fall left him so “sexually disinhibited,” the paper adds, that he resorted to the services of a professional prostitute and had an affair with a 57-year-old woman.
Just so we have no illusions, the Daily Mail includes a photo of the poor man’s wife – who looks so fat and grumpy that you’d think she would have quickly settled the man’s problem.
A dear friend of ours was once treated for sex addiction. Recently, he recalled his situation:
“I couldn’t believe it. The counselor told me to attend a ‘sex addiction help group.’ This turned out to be like trying to cure a shoplifter by giving him a charge card. “I was in a group with about 10 people – a few gay guys, but most of the people in the group were women who couldn’t seem to say ‘no.’ We were supposed to call each other for support. The girls soon started calling me. I’d say… ‘Oh…you’re having trouble…you’re feeling weak…like you’re going to give into it…well, come on over, maybe I can help you.’ They kicked me out of the group. Said I was a bad influence. But the girls kept calling.’
Back to the papers…
On the same page, we find poor Prince Harry. The prince is in the army – the Blues and Royals Regiment. Today, rather than spend Christmas with his royal family, he has guard duty – at the Household Cavalry barracks in
Turning the page, we find another heartbreaking story – this one about a TV presenter who betrayed his wife and family. His daughter is the central character in the story; she says she will never forgive him.
And what’s this…”Broken dreams of motherhood…” Here’s a story about a pathetic woman who went to Greece on a holiday, had an affair with a man half her age, and then tried to steal a baby. The reporter than discovers that the woman has a long history of trouble… claiming to be pregnant to force men to marry her…running up bills…and then taking up with someone new, including a US serviceman from California.
Then, there is the story of the girl whose hair turned green after swimming in a public pool. “This is the first time a problem of this kind has ever been reported in the city,” said a spokesman for Swansea Council.
Accompanying the story is a photo of the girl…in color. And yes, her hair is green.
Thence cometh the story of the bishop who got rip-roaring drunk at a Christmas party…and ended up with a black eye. He claimed a neurological episode’ had wiped out his memory. But the newshounds at the Daily Mail traced his footsteps and found out the truth:
The Bishop of Southwark was so drunk, the paper reported, “he fell down and hit his head…then he got up and staggered under the railway bridge.”
And how’s this for a real-life story:
“Woman hit back at boyfriend after row by putting his cat in the washing machine.”
The couple had argued. He left. Then, “Diane Hannon, 42, bundled the pet into the washing machine and put it on full cycle.”
The poor woman now faces the law…and may be hung out to dry: “Magistrates warned Hannon, of Old Colwyn in North Wales, that she may face prison.
Lawyers for Ms. Hannon explained that the woman was depressive and the relationship was abusive. Too bad she’s not from Somalia.
— Merry Christmas! —