Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Monetary meltdowns, the stink of molten cash, bitcoin blues and other funny money

In addition to mortgage meltdowns and market
meltdowns, much of the world may soon be able to
 see it's money melt, like ice cream in a blast furnace.

Maybe it’s the Christmas spirit. The Christmas money spending spirit, that is. Everywhere I go, the news turns to money.

In today's paper there's an article about Great Britain’s move (along with the move of other countries) to plastic money. No, not the credit card kind of plastic. I’m talking here about the kind of money that most countries once printed on paper. Apparently everybody’s printing money on polymer plastic now. Except us.

Today's New York Times reassured all of us about the fragility of plastic money:
“Richard Wall, the director of currency at the Bank of Canada, dismissed claims that polymer bills melt after being left inside cars on hot summer days or become brittle and snap in extreme cold. He said temperatures that would melt the bills would also melt interior plastics in a car. Tests show that polymer bills can withstand temperatures as high as 284 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as minus 103. 
(In an unscientific test using a household oven set to 280 degrees Fahrenheit, a new Canadian 5 dollar note did not melt. But after eight minutes, it started to smell bad, shrink substantially and curl markedly. Its translucent security features also became opaque blobs.”) 

This gives new meaning to the old cliche, "Keep your stinking money."

Then there’s bitcoin, a new form of currency consisting of a string of numbers, which in turn consist of even longer strings of the numbers in various combinations of one and zero. I hear that you “mine” them by solving mathematical problems. And they have value because everybody says they have value, whoever “everybody” is. I can tell you that everybody isn’t me. The first person who tries to pay me for anything in bitcoin will get bitten.

You really wanna know the truth? I have no idea what the bitcoin market is all about, or how you can produce something of value by solving a mathematical problem that is designed for the sole purpose of giving you a bitcoin if you get the right answer. Or why anybody would want to indulge in this stuff. Bitcoin is supposedly good for money laundering and illegal drug transactions, although I don’t understand why, especially now that there’s easily washable plastic cash.

Besides, as I write this, bitcoin holders must be biting on sticks, while the value of bitcoin plunges.

Finally, there’s the stock market. That interests me because that’s where my old age money is, nary a penny of it in bitcoin.)

According to all the theories I learned both in liberal Idiot Econ 101 back in my college days, and from my high school econ teacher, Miss Estelle Dwyer, who was somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, the market goes up in good economies and goes down in bad economies. Once upon a time, both the Left and the Right agreed on this.

Except that’s not true right now. Or at least not in the USA, where the market for the past few days has begun drifting down from all-time highs because the economy is getting better. That’s because, with the economy improving, the gnomes of Wall Street fear the U.S. Federal Reserve, (or is it the U.S. Treasury, or somebody ipretending to be Ben Bernacke or Janet Yellen?) will tighten up money, which will raise interest rates, which will make people less willing to invest to get dividends when they can put their money in the banks and earn interest without watching the value of some underlying stock see-saw up and down.

But if the economy starts plunging back into the toilet, the Fed will have to prop up the economy (and drag up the national debt) by loosening up money. In which case, a toilet bowl economy will create a stratospheric stock market.

Except, it turns out that these days the bank’s no place to put money either, even if the interest rates go sky high. That’s because, the banks appear to be back on their funny-money teeter-totters, and evidently if they fail again, there’s not enough money on the planet to bail them out. And also because, even if we do have a bailout, due to some technicality that causes me to grind my teeth with rage even though I don’t understand it, the government will be required to pay back the bankers who get us into the mess before they pay the insured depositors whose money got gambled away by the bankers. Which means, if true, that you rmoney is as safe in the bank as it is in 250 Shares Consolidated Hose Nozzle in the thieves market in Timbuctu.

Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna get in bed with a bottle of scotch and ... oh, wait a second. Have you seen what a nice bottle of Scotch costs lately?

I wonder if the liquor store takes molten plastic?

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