Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stock traders in limousines.

What if how we might get out of this financial mess was by getting in it.

There is a bronze statue that stands outside of Wall Street and the New York stock exchange. A giant icon of the hopes and futures of Wall Street and American capitalism bucking and fiercely echoing to us as a glaring reminder of what we need to find again. And while a bull market seems to be fading away, I think it brings a good time to rediscover where it came from. Back to the roots. Or, I mean, back to the bulls.

I always saw my uncle as a blue collar farmer who dealt with animals, and nasty smells, and constant mud on his Ohio farm. A little more on the rough side with his cowboy hat, and occasional fowl mouth, with Garth Brooks playing, always chirping off at those men in boardrooms and business deals—who I saw as the more fortunate souls, like my white collar roots. As a kid from a private school, and a college education, I was told indirectly to avoid this type of life through my business degree. It was for the more poor and unfortunate souls. What I never knew, until a recent visit, was that he was the real stock broker in limousines, and the type of business man who knew his way around the bull, much better than any concrete executive in steel buildings in a city.

If you want to understand where America went wrong, all you have to do is go visit a stock broker. The original ones—like my Uncle Mike.

Mike is getting older, hair is fading, and his life is into what we could call retirement age, sagging a bit, and a little less amiable. But when I showed up at the farm, he was out demolishing some old concrete, pounding under the wooden rafters of his barn with a metal mallet that most men could barely swing into position a time or two, much less a full day of breaking hard concrete into pieces. While he might get senior coffee at McDonalds, he could take out the whole restaurant in one blow if needed. And you don’t have to tell him that, he knows it. He is a quiet strength type.

It wasn’t till I actually went to spend a day with him that I realized he was a stock broker of the finest quality, and highest reputation. A genuine bull trader of preferred stock. These words first taught to me in classrooms and business school.
But it all began to make more sense out here. And the origins of it all.
Mike not only sells the stock, he also picks up its poop, gives them shots, and feeds them feed and hay often in ten degrees of frozen ice. The problems on Wall street are obvious, we don’t have any more cash cows. The problem is not the cash, as people think, it is the fading understanding of the cows.

The word stock came out of a term to describe tangible goods and supplies used for thousands of years. A stockroom might be filled with cans of Yams. A stock yard might contain a whole mess of cattle mooing, and eating hay on route to be slaughtered. Hundreds of years ago, when business was about trading these stock, it was often directly for goods and services. Lewis and Clark trading their guns and supplies, for furs and food with Indians.

But as Americans, we found our way, as any progressing economy, to separate jobs and labor, and different classes to avoid such cumbersome transactions. While stock was good to trade, it took work, and it had to be stored, and it often pooped, and made a mess, and so we replaced items and stock, and turned it into paper, and separated people into professions and classes to do the different labor. We were able to exchange real stock with the paper, and could print it, and make it more abundant, and stack it, and fit it neatly onto balance sheets, and books and sell it more easily to people who wanted a part.

Instead of item for item, an exchange of one good for another, we had all these sheets of paper, and money, from all these treaties, and contracts to disperse and distribute, and hold onto in vaults. We needed bankers to hold the paper. We needed lawyers to figure out the contracts, and accountants to count up all the numbers, and then found businessmen to sell it and advertise how good the stock was. It was working great. We soon realized it could also be digitized. And deposit our paper directly into our online accounts.

We could transfer and trade it online with a computer, and buy stocks so easily that a caveman could do it, or wait, even less, little babies on E-trade could do it. Stock trading was no longer reserved exclusively for some rancher in Ohio with land and hay, it was for babies.

Before long, like wandering cows in a field, we got all scattered around, and gone astray and we forget what it was to know the stock, and interact with it, and pull out a baby cow, and help nurse it and feed it milk. We did not know how to tend to the thing when it mooed, or cried, or was hungry. And we are even finding, when we thought we had stock, we had nothing at all—some dude on wall street just gave us a blank paper, instead of one with some official writing on it.

We talk about numbers, thousands, six figures, millions, billions, and trillions. Numbers that were just that, numbers. No real meaning behind them. And so we could pay people large amounts, and stock options and they never met much since we were all getting bigger numbers too.

If you tell Mike we are going to add 4 more to his stock, he knows what it means, and how it relates and affects him. He understand he will have to shovel more crap, that it will eat more food, and take more space, and break more fences and require more shots. A number means something to his stock. It means more work. The problem with our economy, is we have lost the value of that. Throw in a few more hundred billion to the economy, sure. Whatever we need, in some part, because we don’t feel the pain in it, we aren’t connected to numbers anymore. They don’t carry a cost, like Mike.

Since we don’t shovel the crap, or collect the hay, we let some poor and unfortunate farmer in Ohio do it for us-thinking we had avoided such petty work. We could get back to watching the Super Bowl.

Before long, the executives were eating the meat, maybe of their own stock, and they didn’t know where it came from, what the cut of meat even met, or that an animal was slaughtered for their meal. And that is where it all broke down. Being so disconnected from it all. Expensive jets, and weekend excursions from all those big bonuses for raising the stock price. But, often, there was nothing much there. And more often than not, we were eating ourselves from within, like cannibals, only our meat was our inflated stock. It was not fat from too much grain, but our own narcisstic egos that somehow believed we had got away from the hard and rough life of a rancher. We had avoided it all.

No one knew that while CEO’S drove up in Limousines to cheeky restaurants in luxurious New York city streets celebrating their stock prices that the $100 Ruth Chris New York strip steak served so delicately and deliciously before them was the bull, that it lived and breathed, pooped and chewed cud and was traded by a stock broker like my Uncle Mike. It was just presented each time, nicely prepared, and cut to size, and served with butter, and some crisp, but not too hard mushrooms on a warm and delicate white plate.

And so we lost the real value of stock, of what it meant, and where it came from, and to put it simply, our cash cow was gone. We simply ate it, not even knowing it.
I never knew it, but my Uncle Mike was the original real businessman in Limousines.
You see, he is a trader of real preferred stock too. He is a stock breeder that takes his best cattle to shows across the country. And if you asked him what type of stock he trades in, he would tell you limousines.

Mike has no glamorous job. He admits that he has made his living by using a metal contraption and ejaculating the bull limousines, and collecting the sperm, then breds the viles into the egg of another prize heifer by shoving a metal tube up through the heifer’s asshole, and into the cervix.

Before he ever takes his preferred stock limousine to shows across the country, he has actually created the stock from a sperm and egg with his own hands years before. And with these limousines, he doesn’t get the pleasure to ride on, but drives them in a trailer across the country.

What I never gave him credit for is that the man is a smart guy. While he still deals with dirt, and mud, and sweat and hay, and freezing winter months, he also has real estate investments and made land purchase acquisitions along the way. He makes trades on leases of hay, and the crops on his land.

At one time, his father was a Ford car salesman, but at some point sold it all, and was sick of the work, the haggling, and the sales techniques and dealing with people. And so, he sold it, and traded it all for this 250 acre farm outside of town. He didn’t go out and sell the farm, he bought it. Traded what used to be an American cash cow, the car industry, overpriced and bulky from fat union wages and the bellies of bad decisions along the way, and traded it all in for real cows.

The cows taught Mike what we have failed to find, and learn. We forgot what it meant to care for it when it cried, to nurse the calves, and bring it hay each day, and give it yearly shots, and shovel the bull shit ourselves, not let someone else do it for us. Everything was inflated in Wall Street, and home prices, partially because nothing could be really measured for a real value. We seemed to all benefit, so we never asked questions. But for Mike’s stock to rise, for him to sell his preferred stock, sometimes in upwards of $100,000 a prize winning cow, he has to get him to the right condition.

Through feeding, and breeding, and taking care of the animals to produce the great muscle structure they need. “He fattens the calf.” Literally. And when he trades the stock, people can see just what that bull stock is worth.
We forgot how to raise the value of stock. By feeding it, and giving it corn feed.

Real stock comes from work, the kind of work where you are connected to the people, and to the land, and the animals and the places you are around. Eventually when that work is added up, it produces a harvest. The kind this country needs to rediscover by getting its hands in the dirt, and back to the farm, and to economics 101.

And so, while wall street crumbles, and our economy falls into itself by printing more money, and letting the government buy up all the bad stock, I’d like to suggest some of the men who claim to be fixing our economy, get back to the basics, and discover what a piece of stock really is. If we are going to save this economy, I say find some of those bull traders, and have them pull up with their limousines and release them on Wall Street. We could use their inspiration.