There are no geniuses in the outhouse

Troubador owner  Jim McCoy and “The Smoking Gun,”
a barbecue smoker that holds a whole pig,
The fire box is in the handle.

By Joe Bageant

Sometimes you overhear a remark so wonderfully prescient you wish you’d said it yourself. Especially if you are a writer. Sitting in back of the Troubadour Club, a West Virginia honky tonk high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’m listening to Petie Yost, an auctioneer, talk to Bud Shanholtz, who lives on Social Security and drives a snowplow occasionally during the winter.

Now ole Petie uses exotic economic terms such as “investment return” and “percentage.” He says things like, “I don’t do household auctions ’cause there ain’t no real percentage in it.” Which makes him an economic expert in these beery circles. And right now he is telling Bud why our Social Security and the FDIC do not exist.

“Whadaya mean they don’t exist?” asks Bud.

“Because they are both absolutely broke,” replies Petie. “Tits up. Nada.”

“How do ya mean?”

“Well, it’s like this. If you only have $100, and no job, but you owe $15 on your phone bill, and $700 for your rent and $400 on your credit card, you’re in deep shit. Right? You can’t just pay one of those bills and figure you’re OK. Right?”

“I’d say so” agrees Bud.

“Well, that’s the fix the U.S. Government is in. If you ask if the government has enough money to fund the FDIC during a bank run, and sure as Nellie’s goat eats cans there’s gonna be one, the government says yes. And if you ask if the Social Security checks will keep coming and never bounce, it says yes. But it’s one set of bills that comes out of one government pocket. Ain’t no special safe in Fort Knox where they keep the Social Security money or the FDIC money. So the government pays the $15 light bill and hope people never ask for their bank savings to be covered by the FDIC. Lucky for them, ain’t many people even got savings anyway.”

Bud nods and Petie continues.

“Meanwhile, they pay out the Social Security money as it dribbles in from kids flippimg hamburgers, and pay the $15 light bill, and pray to hell the Ay-rabs keep loaning them some dough now and then, until they can pawn off the rest of the country and maybe break even in the long haul. That is, if the bailouts keep the bankers’ shell game going long enough so nobody can figure out what’s up. Of course the bankers ain’t gonna squeal on the whole deal because they’re the only ones getting richer in this thing. But still the government is working out of one pocket where the hundred bucks used to be.”

Bud makes a sour face, and says, “Well, that stinks like a country outhouse in July, don’t it?”

“Worse, I’d say. Nobody expects a whole country to be run out of a shithouse. But everybody figures the shithouse in Washington is full of geniuses.”

I bought them both a round just for the pleasure of hearing some common sense for a change.

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