David Hines
Tilt!
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By David Hines
February 25, 2009

I grew up around pinball machines. My dad had some in his lunchroom. Today I see a lot of familiar behavior.

There were the bingo machines, in which the player would try to get balls into numbered holes to achieve five in a row on the lighted display. There wasn't much control of where the ball went, except to bump the machine. If you slammed it too hard, the machine would tilt. You'd lose.

Bernanke knows that it will take a lot of slamming to get a bingo in the economy. Tilting is a distinct possibility. But without that bingo the game is done, and he's got no more nickels to stick in the slot. So there's a lot of slamming going on.

Yes, I remember when a game of pinball could be had for a nickel instead of a quarter or more. But in 1913 that nickel could have bought a whole lot more than a few minutes of idle amusement. The nickels aren't even the same. When I was young nickels weren't mostly copper; pennies were. Now "coppers" are mostly zinc.

There were the flipper machines. The object is to keep the ball in play for as long as possible, racking up points. Here there is a little more control. Flipper finesse can be developed, sending the ball approximately where you want it. Players also try bumping the machine at times as an additional manipulation.

Our politicians are trying to keep the ball rolling. They target money here and there, with no idea where that money is coming from. As long as they keep money rolling around, they can pretend that the system is sound. If they can rack up tens of thousands of points, or trillions, in analytical numbers, they can announce that the economy has been restored.

If the stock market goes up, that's good, right? Maybe — if the numbers reflect real production rather than inflation. But the "recovery" being sought by Washington is of the inflationary sort. Fiat dollars don't represent any real growth. They merely make for bigger numbers. Bigger numbers give politicians bragging rights, but don't do much for the ordinary citizen except raise the prices he must pay.

The pinball machine attracts the rubes with flashing lights and lots of noise. The so-called "stimulus" plans take much the same approach. Rubes in and out of Congress come running.

I'd see guys spend hours trying to beat the pinball machine instead of doing anything productive. Now I see politicians spending days on end trying to beat the machine without tilting. I get the feeling they're more intent upon onanistic entertainment than on productive pursuits.

They can't beat the system without a great deal of force. The machine's going to tilt, and they're running out of fiat nickels.

© David Hines

 

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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)

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