Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Illusions Shattered: Rolling Off the Presses or Down the Hill

Frederick J. Sheehan is the author of Panderer to Power: The Untold Story of How Alan Greenspan Enriched Wall Street and Left a Legacy of Recession  (McGraw-Hill, 2009) and "The Coming Collapse of the Municipal Bond Market" (Aucontrarian.com, 2009)

            At the children's mass on Sunday, the priest told the little angels:

            "I grew up in a country that's far, far away. Canada. Almost as far away as the suburbs. In Toronto.

            "When I went to school, every fall, chestnuts fell from the trees. Everybody at school collected as many chestnuts as they could. The kid who had the most chestnuts was the wealthiest. Don't ask me why. What can you do with a chestnut? Nothing. All you can do is collect them. I could never understand it.

            "Do you know how many chestnuts I had? Zero. None. I couldn't understand collecting these useless chestnuts, so I was the poorest boy at school. And the stupidest. I felt really stupid with no chestnuts. Everybody else was showing off their chestnuts, saying how rich they were, and I had nothing. I couldn't understand why chestnuts made them rich and I felt stupid. And poor.

            "I went to a Catholic School for 12 years. Right next to our school was the public school. In those 12 years, I never once set foot on the public school ground. Nobody else did either. Not one of the children at the public school set foot on the Catholic school grounds.

            "But, I had some friends in the public school. One lived across the street. One day he asked me: "Do you want to see my chestnuts?"

            "I'd love to."

            So he brought me to his bedroom. He had four shopping bags full of chestnuts in his closet. He and his father had gone to the airport and grabbed them all. He was really, really wealthy.

            "He asked me if I'd like some of his chestnuts. "Well, sure, I thought, why not?" And he handed me two, shopping bags, full of chestnuts. I started feeling rich as I crossed the street to go back home.

"Remember now: before, when I had no chestnuts, I felt stupid. Because chestnuts are useless. They were still useless but now I had them. I hadn't collected chestnuts because this didn't make you wealthy. Yet, everyone in school - except me - thought the more chestnuts you had, the richer you were.

"Now, I had two shopping bags full of chestnuts. They were still worthless, but because they were mine, all of sudden, I felt smart and wealthy."

"Then I had to decide how many chestnuts to bring to school to show how wealthy I was. The next morning, I carried both bags to school. Everybody gathered around me. They were all asking if they could have a chestnut: "Can I have one? Can I have one?"

"And, do you know what I said?"


"No! No! No! No! No!"

"Wow, did I feel rich. I strutted into my classroom with both bags and put them in the back of the room. At recess time, I went back, picked up my two bags, and walked to the playground, feeling richer than everyone else. I was waiting for all the kids to gather around me. Nobody did. They were saying: "Let's not play with him. He won't share his chestnuts." They all walked away.

"Our playground was different than most. It had two levels. The upper level was paved. The lower level was all grass. The slope from the upper to lower level was also paved.

"I was standing on top with my two bags of chestnuts. I was the richest kid in the school. Everyone else had gone to the lower playground. They were playing, having a good time, chasing each other, laughing, while I stood on the upper level, rich, and all alone. I felt so lonely standing there. I was the loneliest boy in the world.

            "So, do you know what I did? I rolled both bags of chestnuts down the slope and onto the grass. The kids turned as they heard the chestnuts rolling down the pavement. Everybody came running towards me.

            "I don't want you to misunderstand me: I was not being generous. I was lonely. I wanted friends. I wanted everyone to like me.

            "As they ran towards me, with all my chestnuts rolling down the hill and onto the grass, do you know what they did? They threw away their chestnuts. All at once, they recognized: The chestnuts were worthless! They couldn't do anything with their chestnuts except pretend to be rich. I had flooded the market. There were so many chestnuts now, all the kids got rid of them. We were all poor together.