Opinion

Water, water everywhere

If you haven’t checked your 401(k) or stock portfolio lately, don’t. Reliable sources have it that any resulting illness occasioned thereby isn’t covered by health insurance – like shareholders of former “Friend of the Family,” Washington Mutual, you’ll be on your own.

While I’m not endorsing this type of treatment, no doubt many are succumbing to signs such as the one I saw outside a purveyor of refreshments at the Coleman Dock ferry terminal in Seattle encouraging financially depressed passers-by to enter and self-medicate with a few tall, cold ones.

It’s bad out there.

But in the hair-pulling angst and Chicken Little sky-is-falling hysteria, little sober analysis is seen or heard as to why. What financial domino was flicked over resulting in the cascading of the rest of them?

Eventually, after the markets equalize and the dust of now-worthless mortgage instruments settles, academics and policy analysts will generate thousands of pages of complicated formulations, charts, graphs, and esoteric economic theorems to explain it all.

Since all that won’t be read by anyone except other academics and policy analysts, I’ll wait for the movie.

In the meantime, let me offer a simplistic word picture that might help you to understand what in the name of Mother Jones is going on: Water does not run up hill.

Whether you regard gravity as a theory or a law, it goes without saying that it applies. Because of it, water at the top of a hill inexorably flows downward to the bottom of the hill. Likewise, water at the bottom of a hill stays there – it won’t work its way uphill no matter how much anyone thinks that it’s unfair for it not to.

Both Wall Street and Main Street forgot that. Whether bundling sub-prime mortgages into a security instrument lacking in fundamental economic sense, or applying for – and receiving - a home-loan greater than warranted by income and credit history, the net, net, net is the same.

The economic water now running down hill is doing an excellent impersonation of recent Hurricane Ivan and flooding everything in sight. Tried to finance a new car lately?

Local corporate villain, WaMu, drowned in the flood, though former CEO, Kerry Killinger, seems to have escaped in a very gold-plated life raft, to his everlasting shame. News reports that bank creditors will go after his reported $16.5 million severance package offer a modicum of succor. I wish them well.

Here in town, the mad dash to build bigger, bigGER, BIGGER mega-mansions where real homes for real families once stood has contributed to the overall muck and mire.

Is it really good that the average cost of a home in Kirkland exceeds $471K while the median household income is $72K? Conventional – or what used to be conventional – wisdom has it that a home price of under $230K (assuming $30K down) is what that income level can afford.

Somewhere along the way, conventional wisdom got tossed into the ditch in favor of keeping up with the Jones’ who, by the way, just lost their place to foreclosure.

Kirkland’s rush to get grand and glitzy has even sucked city government into an ill conceived and overkill building moratorium to stave off the foreseeable consequences of that rush to keep up. City fathers and mothers, in their effort to mold Kirkland into a nifty place, find themselves hoist upon a high-rise petard. To coin a phrase, you get what you pray for.

As this is written, the news out of Washington, D.C. strikes me as, if not an effort to convince water to go uphill, at least one to prevent it from gushing downhill by building a dam out of $700 billion of our tax dollars. In the U.S. House of Representatives, an unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives joined together to tank the plan. I wish them well, too.

Water must go where it must go.

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