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How many zeros?

Fri, Dec 19th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

Know why they always print 70b or 700b? Because only mathematicians know how many zeros are in a number so large. The reason our math teachers taught us up to the thousands and then used those "to the power of" and algebraic letters was, they had no expectation that we would ever need to deal in things larger than our checkbooks needed to know.

Who gets the chore of writing out that check, drawn on the account of our grandkids, with all those zeros? Are the lines longer on the Treasury Account checks than mine are? It's clear, my bank won't let me write really big numbers or they would allow more space.

As a family, America is into really huge sums of dollars.

It's pretty clear, something had to be done. All those outrageous mortgages for outrageous houses, had to be dealt with. McMansions were sprouting up like dandelions on every hill and valley across the nation. They all needed furniture and window treatments. What good is a four car garage without four cars, a boat, a motorcycle and an odd assortment of doo-dads that don't match the drapes? A good time in American history to own a bit of rental space. "Place your stuff here- your kids might come for it one day"

Then there were the banks. Promising young families that they could afford a house with sixteen bedrooms and an in ground pool - and furthermore, that they deserved it. Didn't we all believe in teachers, clergy, and bankers?

For sure, the bankers will get reimbursed. The buyers of all that American Dream might now be learning that despite the Reagan rhetoric about the working class being the middle class, in fact, the working class is still making payments to the upper class. And, the upper class has the ear of the government. Did the government care when GM closed its plants in Flint, Michigan in the 1970's? Not too much, as long as the auto making corporations could make mega bucks elsewhere (like Mexico).

Now the Big Three are sitting there, trying to look like kids caught with a cigarette in their back packs, asking for twenty five or thirty four billion (do the numbers matter at this point?) and promising to build cars that should have been engineered while Jimmy Carter was wearing a sweater and talking about energy in the 70's.

I have an idea. Let's blame the UAW. Imagine, cars made money and the poor schmucks who did that boring job for forty years or so, should be taken out and hung because their pensions and health care are killing the cost of a Malibu. Perhaps the only solution to the global economy is for all of us to accept the economic and environmental realities of China and Mexico. Know how that works? The uber rich have haciendas and health care, the slaves die young, the air stinks in the cities and the rich live on the coast.

Class warfare won't help. The USA needs manufacturing or we will be selling insurance to one another. But all of these issues are complicated and we need to explore, seriously, the basic philosophies that got us here.

Free markets are the foundation of capitalism but if that means Americans sit cross legged on straw mats in markets while the air hangs brown above us, then all that we have gained in power and technology is lost.

Can we find a middle ground between "Give me mine" and "Yes, Master"?

I admit, I don't get it. If you do, let me know. I've read and heard all the best economists and it seems none of them are sure either.

America seems to still thrive somewhere between the madness of extremes. I still write checks in numbers that fit on the line my bank offers. I have to trust that those given the task to write bigger ones are on my side. Let's not lose our voice, nor our concern, in all those zeros.

Beadrin Youngdahl lives in Peterson. She can be reached at beadrin@aol.com

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