Take the Copper, Leave the Drywall

Tweaker…picking the remains, Van Nuys.

The timbers, I notice, are well-preserved, straight-grained and true.  Old growth, probably. You can’t get it anymore, at any price.

Anything hockable has been stripped, hauled off in shopping carts and bartered at the scrapyard, then converted to crack cocaine and exhaled,  unsatiated, in a fit of tachycardia in a tent by the Orange Line.  The metals will journey onward via container to Long Beach, then China, which will melt it down and sell it back to us as a consumer good.

In a couple days, perhaps tomorrow, the carcass will be demolished along with the other homes and taken to the landfill, save the fireplace masonry, with will be salvaged by the specialist, and retailed for a buck a piece at Balboa Brick.


Bamboo flooring! Oh, the hopes someone once had for the place.

…and a swimming pool, even though the backyard abutted the 405. The concrete will be broken down into aggregate and live again, as some sort of structural underlayment, perhaps as a breakwater.

In six months the lots will be consolidated and a six story Bento Box apartment building will sprout in their place.

I think of the Moroccan tile we installed over the summer.    How satisfying it felt as the back butter grabbed the floor and the corners met precisely, within 1/32 an inch of tolerance.  How permanent.

Hope is not a plan

No kidding
No kidding

Just as a thought experiment, substitute the word neighbors for in-laws as you consider this bus shelter PSA which sprouted across the Valley this week. For it is a peculiar moment in which we have placed ourselves, as a nation.  There are now fewer people working and paying into the system than not. Next year, there will be fewer still. Fully one third of able-bodied working age Americans are unemployed and living to a large degree a life subsidized by the state. Or to put it another way, by their neighbors.  Except we usually don’t think of it in those terms. No one really says ‘I’m gonna walk across the street and ask John if I can borrow a cup of sugar and this month’s rent. I’m gonna go next door to Alice and ask her for groceries and this month’s 401K deposit.’  And yet….what are we doing, but precisely that?  In a rational policy marketplace we could have come to a reckoning with our obligations and adjusted accordingly.  Instead, we keep borrowing 40 cents on the dollar to postpone the inevitable for another year. Which is to say, we print money, i.e., sell Treasury bonds. And who has to pay the bonds off?  Maybe us, maybe our neighbor’s children. Maybe his children’s children, not yet born.   We have passed agreements paying out to retirees in public pensions far in excess of what was paid in. We know this, yet we cannot summon the political will to make even modest curtailments of benefits for the survival of the system.  Even in the face of municipal bankruptcy we don’t do it, at least not in California. There’s a phrase for this. It’s called eating the seed corn.

This is not the Chinese way. The Chinese are working. They are saving. They are buying the bonds our grandchildren will be working to pay off.  They are coming to our schools and dominating our STEM programs. Then they are taking what they learn and selling it back to us at a profit. Meanwhile, an unhealthy percentage of Americans are sitting at home watching TV and listening to appeals from personal injury lawyers and sucker bait payday/car title lenders, the subtext being you can painlessly obtain something for nothing.  The conventional wisdom, particularly here in California, is deficits don’t matter. They can be rolled over indefinitely, or failing that, if push comes to shove and we really, really need to get serious, we can always reach deeper into the Magic Money Bucket that is Apple, Google and Facebook, and grab even more than we already are.  As though these companies were a permanent extractable resource, like coal. Fifteen years ago, Apple was staving off liquidation. Google was not even a listed stock. Mark Zuckerberg was in high school.  Microsoft and AOL were the dominant players, and look where they are now.  No one in a world of Deep Think tome-wielders and stock pickers predicted what happened.  Literally, no one.   To hang the future of California on three new media companies when no one knows what the next 15 years will bring, is to cleave to hope. And hope is not a plan.

Remnants of industrial America

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This spur went somewhere, once upon a time.  People manufactured things right here. The things were loaded onto railroad cars and dispersed across the country.  We don’t make stuff anymore. We design things.  Incredible stuff, actually. Like this iMac.  We send the blueprints to China and they make it for us.  The designers do very well in this arrangement.  The Chinese do well. Industrialists in China don’t count their money, they weigh it.  They give some of it back in the casinos of Macao, but mostly they double their return by buying our Treasury bonds.  We sell bonds to raise money to send checks to idled Workers Who Formerly Made Things in This Country.  We have decided, in lieu of Unpleasant Decisions, to make our children pay these bonds for us. A century ago, the Chinese sent coolies to America to build the railroads.  Today young American women doll themselves up, get on the plane to Shanghai and Macao and offer themselves as mistresses to Chinese industrialists.   It’s a living.