Sunday, September 11, 2005
Eat the Rich
I resist the idea popular in immortal fiction (not fiction which has become immortal, but fiction about people who live forever) that the longer you live the richer you are. There's this idea that any vampire who "invested a penny in 1776" is now sitting on a tidy nest egg. Granted, I know jack about the stock market. When I hear someone talking about an IRA, I assume they're discussing Irish nationalism. Everything I know about the early stock market comes from fiction -- specifically from David Liss and his books Conspiracy of Paper and Coffee Trader. But, my sense of the very early stock market is that it was a much easier place to lose a fortune than to gain it with any kind of permancy. Even with an amazing broker (since our investing vampire can't go out in the daylight, aka bankers hours), the moment Johann's ship sank on its way back from the Golden Triangle or Black Monday hit everything would be lost, like it was for so many. Maybe the assumption is that our investing vampire is psyhic. He can see into the future and know that investing in some crazy start-up called "Microsoft" is an excellent idea. Before his broker Igor shows up, our vampire casts the bones and they tell him "Coca-Cola," "IBM," and "Plastics." And the bones are NEVER wrong, and he also has some kind of early warning system that causes him to sell at a profit before all the various crashs and bursting bubbles that plague most people deeply involved in the financial world. Or maybe we're supposed to assume he's a member of the Illuminati, and so he actually orchestrates all of these financial ups and downs for his own profit and amusement. The other thing that irritates me about the whole penny in 1776 scenario is this sense that money itself -- and what is valuable -- hasn't changed drastically throughout history. You can't spend that 1776 penny today at the SuperAmerica (--hell, my SuperAmerica barely likes the Susan B. Anthonys and two-dollar bills I occassionaly try to spend there). I charge you to even dig through your pockets and find a penny minted before 1945. Unless you're a numismatist, you probably have never even seen that 1776 penny. I haven't. I'm not even sure a "penny" even existed as such in 1776. The earliest ones I've seen are from 1911. So maybe our vampire is, like some dragon, sitting on a pile of gold. So then there's the gold standard. That's changed too. If someone on the street today were to offer you fifty bricks of gold or a million dollars (US) cash, the choice -- at least for me -- would be simple. I'd take the cash. I can spend it right away. My bank takes it. Gold -- okay, it might actually be worth more than the cash, but the logistical problems alone would stop me... how could I even carry that all the way to the bank? Can the bank take gold and give me money? SuperAmerica isn't going to take a brick of gold in echange for a full tank of gas (although that's about how much it costs). Our vampire also has to have a place to keep all this gold of his. I guess this is why so many vampires own castles. You'd have to keep up that castle and protect it from invaders throughout time, and as the Windsors know, all those servants and such cost money. If you don't have new money coming in, even sitting on real estate like Buckingham Palace isn't going to amount to squat. Your gold is going to get spent just keeping your gold safe... because even safe deposit boxes cost money (and money kept in banks only started being insured AFTER the stock market panic of 1929.) All, but what about all those antiques laying around the castle... surely those are worth a small fortune? Well, with the assumption that our vampire has exquisite and rare taste and the money to buy the stuff in the first place, he'd still have to be pretty psychic. He'd still have to have a moment of brillance to say to himself, wow, this Tiffany lamp is the one for me... as opposed to this equally intesting Bob Smith fixture. You've all seen Antiques Roadshow. Doesn't it seem like the ugliest stuff is worth the most? Can't you just see a vampire watching that show saying, "D'oh! I had that, but it was so ugly I gave it to my buddy Elias for two bucks." And there's Elias grinning out of the screen saying, "It's worth how much???" The other way antiques get value is if they come from the right moment in history. That would involve our vampire making sure he was in all the historical hotspots throughout time. I'd love to see a vampire who laments his bad luck... "Oh, crap, I spent the American Civil war vacating in Iceland." Or, "Elvis music? Who would listen to that crap? It's so damn loud." So, the point is... I don't buy it. Being alive a long time isn't going to make anyone rich.