The Great Depression Online

Great Depression Online Archive Issue:

The Useful Fool

Great Depression Online
Long Beach, CA
August 29, 2008

Inside This Issue You Will Discover…

*** The Best Comedies and Tragedies of Life
*** The Mad World of California Politics
*** A Government Mandated Earthquake Free Zone
*** And More

[Ed. Note: We’re short on time this week…so we’ll leave you with a GDO Classic.  This was originally scribbled in September 2006.  And with the public spectacle of the election season in full bloom, we thought it a fitting read.  Enjoy!]

“Against the old contention … that we must all be useful, be efficient, become officials and have power, the old reply is that there are always enough fools left in the world who are willing to be useful, be busy and enjoy power, and so somehow the business of life can and will be carried on.” – Lin Yutang

The Best Comedies and Tragedies of Life

Sentiment is indifferent to logic or reason.  Like the direction the wind blows, it can shift in an instance.  Yet sentiment has the power to change the world.  It can whoop up a war or crash a market as quickly as a sporting event can turn to a riot. 

Politics and markets are driven by sentiment.  And the spectacles it generates are some of the best comedies and tragedies of life.  If you watch from the cheap seats there is much to be learned without being caught up in the circus.

Here is one example of sentiment you may be familiar with.  In fact, you may have participated in it. 

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For the first five years of the 21st Century it said, ‘You cannot go wrong with real estate.  House prices always go up’.  It was great.  To get rich all you had to do was buy a house.  Then, when you need money, just refinance, because ‘house prices always go up’.

People loved the sentiment, and followed it with gusto – buying houses they could not afford, with money they could not repay.  But it did not matter, because ‘house prices always go up’. 

Some nice and otherwise intelligent people bought two or three – or five – houses because, you guessed it, ‘house prices always go up’. 

The sentiment became so ingrained in the minds of most everyone that few bothered to ask: Can we all really get rich buying and selling houses to each other? 

But by mid-2006, the tide was starting to recede.  The wind was shifting.  The sentiment was running out of gas.  The pool of buyers had dried up just as the tidal wave of sellers had crested.  And then something truly amazing happened – brace yourself… 

House prices didn’t go up; they went down.

The intent of this work is not to harp on the housing market collapse.  That is just one example of sentiment too rich to ignore – the fun of pointing a finger and blowing a little gas could not be resisted. 

But taking this notion of sentiment let us turn our attention to the public spectacle of politics.  For it is here that you find the greatest collection of useful fools on earth.  And in this instance, let us yak about one useful fool – The Useful Fool.

The Mad World of California Politics

If there was ever a phenomenon of the mad world of California politics it is U.S. Senator Barbara S. Boxer. 

What she lacks in brains she makes up with bark.  And what she lacks in physical height, standing at almost five feet, she makes up with bite.  If she were a dog she would be a Chihuahua – a yapping ankle biter with a big heart.

Yet it is this combination of bark and bite with a big heart that has carried her to many re-election victories.  Pounding her fist and stomping her feet she can channel sentiment better than most others.  Putting her big heart behind big ideas Senator Boxer can stir the passions of the electorate up to a frothing throng – zealous to do her will. 

How is it, you may ask, that such a remarkable dunce can bear such remarkable power?  Let us explore.

Upon graduating from Brooklyn College Senator Boxer took up the noble trade, as a stockbroker, of separating fools from their money.  It must have been there, trading the hopes and dreams of others, that she first witnessed the dynamism of sentiment. 

But this sentiment must have later seemed trifling when compared to what she would soon experience.  For destiny transplanted this New York Lib. among the wealthy bleeding hearts of Marin County, California

Babs soon found herself working as a journalist for the local Marin rag, the Pacific Sun.  It must have been a gleeful day when she discovered how she could sway popular opinion and influence sentiment to her liking. 

But that was not enough.  Babs wanted still greater power, to be further useful, to shape the world in her image.  So she took the path of least resistance from congressional aide, to County Board of Supervisors, to U.S. House of Representatives, and finally to U.S. Senator.

And has Babs been useful; legislating, reforming, and enacting policy.

A Government Mandated Earthquake Free Zone 

There has hardly been a cause that she has not meddled with: health care, education, the economy, the environment, women’s rights, social security, national security, election reform, foreign policy, the internet, gun control, gay rights, and on and on. 

Following the next big California earthquake one can fully expect her to enact legislation making California a ‘Government Mandated Earthquake Free Zone’, complete with a commission and an agency of college educated busybodies, to ensure that California is never harmed by an earthquake again. 

It is this type of usefulness that qualifies Babs as a useful fool.  If you cannot see the futility in this type of thinking go back to the previous paragraph, read it again, then consider this… 

Every law she has legislated, every reform she has made, and every policy she has passed, has made people a little less free and a little poorer.  Such is the ultimate result of such useful fools.  And such is the ultimate reason why you should choose not to be one of them.


M.N. Gordon
Great Depression Online

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