Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Auction America

S. Tsow is a former acquaintance and mentor from 40 years ago. He just sent me this interview he conducted in Thailand. As part of the great national debate over finance we are not having, I thought I should contribute it to the discussion.

The Nerdwell Plan for Economic Salvation:
Auction America

By S. Tsow[1]

September 24, 2008

The top guns of American finance are trying to hammer together a plan to rescue the U.S. economy from catastrophe. Right now nobody knows if it’s going to work.

But my friend Fardley Nerdwell, the man with a solution to every problem, claims to have a plan that will fix everything. Fardley regards himself as a genius, but I know lots of people who think he’s a lunatic. His plan may evoke similar sentiments. For what it’s worth, here it is, as he explained it in a recent conversation:

Tsow: So tell me this great plan of yours, Fard.
Fardley: It’s simple. Our national debt is in the several trillions now. We have to pay it off, and stop adding to it. What does any business do whenever it encounters insurmountable financial problems? It sells off its assets. The United States should do the same.

Tsow: Hang on, Fard. The US leaders aren’t talking about paying off US debt; they are proposing to add $1 trillion to the national debt to save the Wall Street guys and foreign investors by buying up the junk securities that they created and got stuck with. No one else is dumb enough to buy them.
Fardley: Of course. They have it exactly backwards. It is time for national sacrifice, not borrowing more to bail out the rich who created this mess.

Well, I agree with that. Back to your plan. What assets would be sold?
The country itself. I bet there are a lot of oil barons, big tycoons, and third-world dictators who would love to own the United States.

Are you nuts? What would happen to the American people?
We’ll sell them off too, especially the celebrities. Everybody loves American celebrities. We can hold a big auction. I figure we can get an impressive sum for Britney Spears alone. Brad and Angelina, too, will fetch a huge bundle of boodle. In their case, since they’re so intimately connected, compassion will require us to sell them as a unit.

What about all their kids?
The kids can be part of the same package. Or we can sell them separately, at a discount. Other celebrities we can sell? Well, Michael Phelps. What rich couple wouldn’t like to have their own personal Olympic swimmer? Jessica Alba, Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Catherine Zeta-Jones (even if she is Welsh). Of course, the sales contracts will have to have clauses written in to prevent, er, abuse. “Sex and the City” freaks will be eager to buy Sarah Jessica Parker, although I can’t imagine why. Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I bet lots of third-world dictators would love to have the Terminator as their personal bodyguard. We can raise a lot of money by selling our celebrities.

You can’t do that, Fardley. They’re human beings, for God’s sake. That would be slavery.
In such dire economic times, we cannot nitpick about moral niceties. Our celebrities will be sacrificing themselves for the good of the nation. They made huge amounts of money as we were digging this hole we are in. It is time for them to give something back. However, political correctness requires that we avoid using the S-word. We won’t call them slaves. We’ll call them “mandatory companions”. We can sell as much of the rest of the population, too, either individually or in bunches, as we need to pay off our debts.

Why not sell the Wall Street guys who got us into this mess? That seems more fair.
Because no one wants them. We couldn’t raise any money by selling them until we teach them some productive skills, and that will take a lot of time.

This is the sickest idea I’ve ever heard of. Aside from auctioning off people, what else are you going to sell?
Well, as I said before, if we can get a decent bid for the entire country—the fifty American states, together with our territories—we can sell the whole lot. But the buyer will have to have a stupendous amount of money. One man, even one as rich as Bill Gates, won’t be able to afford it. So the world’s billionaires might get together and form a consortium to buy us out. Or we can sell ourselves to a trans-national organization composed of the European Union, the Vatican, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, and Brunei. OPEC would be an ideal buyer; they practically own us anyway. Of course, we’ll have to avoid being bought by sinister gangs of low-life scumbags like drug kingpins, sex traffickers, Hezbollah, and the Mafia.

What if Russia buys us? Or Burma? Would Americans enjoy being slaves—sorry, mandatory companions—of Vladimir Putin or the Burmese junta?
Well, we’ll reject shady buyers who might exploit the situation. I admit that buying the entire United States will be a very costly undertaking. If consortiums can’t be organized to do the job, we can sell the country off in chunks. I bet there are South American countries that would love to own Texas and California, with their rich Spanish traditions. I can envision drug-rich Colombia and oil-rich Venezuela teaming up to buy the newly integrated state of Texifornia, for instance.

Texas and California are not contiguous territories, Fardley.
Hey, I’m a conceptualizer, not a mechanic. I paint the big picture. Let lesser artists fill in the details. If you want to be a bean-counter and fret about the petty stuff, we can throw in the connecting states as a deal-sweetener.

What other parts of the country will you sell?
Alaska. We bought Alaska from the Russians a long time ago. I bet they’d love to have it back. There was a joke on “Saturday Night Live” recently about Sarah Palin being able to see Russia from her house. If Russia buys Alaska, she’ll be able to see Russia all around her house. Of course, she’ll have to change her name to Sarah Palinsky. Canada might buy some of our northern states. Maybe the Netherlands would like to buy back Manhattan Island. France might want to reclaim the Louisiana Purchase.

What about selling our national monuments?
Great idea. I bet the Grand Canyon would bring a good price. Of course, if the buyers wanted to move it, that could be a problem.

Let the bean-counters worry about it, eh?
Right. Then there’s the Mount Rushmore Memorial. I bet somebody like Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, or Muammar Gaddafi would love to buy that and put their own faces up there, right alongside Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt.

That would certainly give the place a more international atmosphere. But look, if you’re going to sell off the whole country, and its people, who’s going to collect the money?
There you go, the bean-counter mentality again. Why am I always surrounded by petty minds that lack the grand, cosmic overview, and fuss about tawdry nuts and bolts? We wouldn’t actually have to SELL everything. We could lease it out, say for terms of three to five years. The government knows how to do this. They do it with oil and gas leases today. The difference is under my plan the government would actually collect money, instead of sexual favors. The government would collect the money, pay off the national debt, and then, when the leases expire, if there is money left over reimburse some or all the mandatory companions for their, uh, service.

So an oil sheikh, say, wouldn’t actually be able to BUY Britney? He’d just lease her for three years or so? I wonder what shape she’d be in after those three interesting years.
As I’ve said, we’ll devise stern contractual measures to prevent abuse. And since alcohol is banned in most of those countries, she would be better off. Listen, this is a brilliant concept. I expect it to get me the Nobel Peace Prize, or maybe the Nobel Prize for Economics. For sure the Congressional Medal of Honor.

They give that only to soldiers, Fardley. Now, what do you call your plan? The Nerdwell Plan for Utter Insanity?
Don’t be sarcastic. No, I’m a modest man who shuns the gaudy trappings of fame and glory. My name need not be invoked. We can call it the Great American Fire Sale, or the Grand American Sell-off; or, for simplicity’s sake, Auction America. Hey, it is far better for future generations than the current plan Paulson is pushing. He wants us to go deeper in the hole, borrowing another $700 billion, and give it to him with no conditions or supervision, and hope he does the right thing.

Sometimes Fardley makes frighteningly good sense.


Skipping Forward a Year:

We find S. Tsow’s research assistant in his new home serving the Sheikh of East Qatar.

· Sheikh: Mandated companion, come here!
· David: Yes, sir, your sheikhness, sir. How may this lowly slave be of service to your sheikhly eminence?
· Sheikh: You must change your name. It must be an Arab name. How would you like to be called Daud al-Wadi?David: Al-Wadi? Doesn't that mean a ravine?
· Sheikh (sternly): You are merely a mandated companion; you cannot be fussy about your name. So long as it sounds like your infidel name, it should please you. You should be pleased I don't give you a rotten name like the one your former English teacher--may Allah condemn him to the Pit of Pits!--has adopted.
· David: Oh? What is that, your sheikhness?
· Sheikh (scowling): He calls himself Bilal-al-Kafir.
· David: Which means?
· Sheikh: Billy the Infidel.
· David: Well, it certainly suits him.

[1] S.Tsow has a checkered history of intellectual curiosity and ethereal commitment. He has many names and personas. William recurs frequently before he turns a new Page. He resides in northern Thailand and has just converted his savings of dollars into the much safer Baht currency. He gratefully acknowledges the research assistance of David, his former English student in Taipei, now posted as his US agent and soon to be known as Daud Al-Wadi. Daud is at work developing a list of his bad investments to sell to the US Treasury Department. Although he disclaims all responsibility for the Nerdwell Plan, S. Tsow can be scolded at Daud Al-Wadi can be insulted and instructed at

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