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Gary Horton: No birds and bees or cigarette trees these days

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: December 1, 2009 8:50 p.m.
Updated: December 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There’s a land that’s fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night.
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
And the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

 — Harry McClintock, “In the Big Rock Candy Mountains”
I want to go back to the easy, carefree days of “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” I want to go back to the way it was before the credit bubbles burst.

We all likely would. From Realtors to restaurateurs to candlestick makers, if we could just push some global reset button and get back to the easier life of the loose credit days.

Instead, new bubbles pop up and keep on bursting. Brother, those were high times when free-flowing money ballooned our heads and floated our boats.

Three years recession-deep, and most have been twisting and turning and just hanging on. We’ve suffered through a sort of slow financial serial killing. First the Realtors got plugged, then the builders, then defaulters on their mortgages, then bankers, car makers and finally, about everyone else not on welfare — as the entire house of (loose credit) cards blew up all over the globe.

One wonders when we’ll be able to reshuffle that deck. Just when we have seen promising light at our tunnel’s distant end, new bubbles appear and burst.

Last Friday, Dubai’s isles in the sea and castles in the sand submerged in an $80 billion debt tsunami and world markets again got hypothermia. Better hope this storm blows by quickly.

If America looked crazy selling millions of cheap homes to anyone fogging a mirror, just how nuts is it for an out-of-oil oil nation to blow half a trillion dollars building thousands of fake fantasy islands for the ultra rich?

Indoor ski resorts were one thing; you can kind of get your head around that. But entirely fake archipelagos patterned of palm trees and world maps come from a hyper-risky place well beyond entrepreneurial imagination.

I suppose you can sell the oil under your feet until the last drop is gone and follow up with faux islands for sale to keep the dollars coming back for more. But a glammed-up Palmdale by the Sea won’t float when the rich and famous aren’t either anymore. With the rich gasping for air, it wasn’t long before the faux islands blew bubbles, too.

Pity the disappointed island buyers. What do you do with your half-finished island 5,000 miles from anywhere? Pity the distressed Riverside homebuyer whose builder went down before his street was complete.

But most, pity us savers and taxpayers who now fund the collapsed banks and lenders that begat the oceans of dumbness drowning us.

The early 2000s were financial Big Rock Candy Mountains, as worldwide loose credit markets swelled our wallets and egos.

Check your economic worries at the door: No matter the purpose and no matter the cost, “If we can build it, so we should. If we can buy it, then why not?”

But don’t fault only the moguls. We can all wring our collective hands at our own individual modes of excess.

Yesterday was “downsize the mini storage unit” day for the Hortons. Three decades of marriage and kids find us having acquired tons of stuff overflowing the homestead and into the mini storage.

I’m not aberrant — there’s billions of mini storage units in the Santa Clarita Valley all stuffed with SCV people’s stuff. So it’s not just me.

Shouldn’t a garage and closets suffice for containing enough stuff for a good life? By the time Carrie and I got half through the job we were asking ourselves, “Did we really need all this? Why do we hang onto it?”

We’re buried alive and suffocated by stuff. Good stuff, mediocre stuff and just plain junk. I wish so much we had saved the money instead.

Oh, had we just lived more with our time instead of our wallets.

I’ve never built zillion-dollar sand castles washed away in debt, but I’ve torn through more money than remotely prudent. In this, many of us share a similar guilt. We wish we could turn back the clock and get our cash back from the excesses we indulged.

These are tough, grinding life lessons being taught us by the economic upheavals shaking the world. You and I are involuntarily enrollees in the Authentic School of Hard Knocks.

If we’re smart enough and wise up, we’ll never forget the lessons we’re being forced to learn.

So there is some silver lining in the dark recessionary clouds shrouding Big Rock Candy Mountain: A rediscovered prudence taught to a generation of newly rational thinkers and savers.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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