That's one quadrillion dollars. I've never seen that figure used before this morning. Hernando de Soto, author of one of my favorite economic books: The Mystery of Capital, used it in an op-ed piece in today's Wall St. Journal. Apparently, that's the amount that the Bank for International Settlements estimates as the worth of new derivatives (mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and credit default swaps) created since the beginning of this decade.
One of de Soto's points, near as I can gather with my simple lay person's understanding of economics, is that the so-called "toxic assets" on bank balance sheets that are scaring away investors, borrowers and lenders, aren't the real problem. The assets themselves - land, buildings, machinery, patents, copyrights - aren't poisonous. They're still there, and they have inherent value. What is toxic is the unreal mountains of unregulated, unreported, unvalued paper that has been generated to somehow represent, bundle and leverage those real assets.
de Soto makes some excellent suggestions for what can be done in the future, and ought to be done soon with regard to other outstanding debt, such as credit cards and student loans, to restore trust in paper. Which is, in essence, what all these financial machinations are dealing in.
Click here for de Soto's article.
And click here to see what one quadrillion pennies would look like.*
* A U.S. quadrillion (10 to the 15th power), that is. A British quadrillion is a whole lot more (10 to the 24th power).
As for the Blues
Last night I went to see T Model Ford, an 88 year old blues guitar player and singer from Greenville, Mississippi. It's the third time I've seen him and every time I do I feel privileged to have done so.
He is not the world's greatest guitar player or singer, not by a longshot. His backup band was just, merely, that. He's much too old and beat up to ramble around the stage or perform any real antics or theatrics. But he is one of maybe four or five people still living with a direct connection to the deepest, darkest roots of the music that I grew up with and love: blues, rhythm & blues, rock & roll. Hearing him play is a visceral experience. It grabs you in the gut with the most powerful kind of raw, fundamental emotion.
And he is among the very last of his generation. And one of the things that has given me the greatest pleasure in my life is the chance I've had to see him and others, now gone, who laid down the foundations of the music I enjoy to this day. And if you hurry, you can maybe see him, too. And I highly recommend it.
Here's his upcoming schedule:
March 25 - Long Beach, CA - Alex's Bar
March 27 - Sacramento, CA - The Kennel Club
March 28 - Santa Cruz, CA - The Crepe Place
March 29 - San Francisco, CA - Three Parkside
March 31 - Reno, NV - St. James Infirmary
April 01 - Crystal Bay, NV - Crystal Bay Casino
April 03 - Medford, OR - Johnny B's
April 04 - Seattle, WA - Comet Taver
April 05 - Portland, OR - Dante's
July 24 - New Haven, CT - Cafe Nine
July 25 - West Kingston, RI - Roots Hoot
And if you want to read more about him, listen to some mp3s, or order some of his CDs, you can click here to do so (go to the drop down menu for "Select", scroll through to T Model Ford and click on his name.)
And when you play his music, play it LOUD, real loud, loud enough that your speakers begin to complain. And drink some whiskey while you're listening. You'll be glad you did.