Marc Carlisle: A president in Tokyo
On the Marc
Tokyo is a lonely town for a Texan. As a foreigner, you’re a class, a low caste group and not an individual, and no one recognizes by your swagger that you’re a big man. Prices are incredible ” the cab ride from the airport cost almost as much as the flight to the airport, and the surly Korean cabbie sneered at dollar bills.
This morning the loneliest occidental on the streets of Tokyo must be the President, in town for the G8 summit, a gathering of economic superpowers, although he must wonder what an Italian and a Canadian are doing there these days, which is exactly what they’re thinking about him.
Eight years ago, they were kissing the soles of his hand-tooled boots because the American economy was robust, the budget in balance, the dollar in demand. Today, the U.S. economy is in recession, the budget bust, and the dollar worth pennies on itself.
If he knew any history, he’d understand why the European leaders keep mentioning the Ottoman Empire, the “sick man” of Europe a century ago, big on paper but really just a shell of its former self. His fellow heads of state are strangers in almost every way ” in eight years as president, he’s traveled fewer miles abroad than his dad did in the first two years of his presidency, even though they both started the same war.
His dad traveled to get support for the war, and the outcome of Iraq 2.0 might have been different if his son had traveled with the same vigor. Moreover, as a lame duck, no one’s asking his opinion on anything other than what this man Obama will do when he takes office.
In London, the bookmakers have the presumptive Democrat nominee a prohibitive 2:5 favorite, and McCain’s plans are not even a curiosity. With 3-of-4 Americans telling pollsters they disapprove of the way the President is doing his job, he can’t find a friendly audience anywhere except on military bases where discipline is enforced.
Abroad, the crowd reaction is even worse, so bad that he can’t even go to Kabul, Afghanistan, sending his wife instead to one of the most dangerous capitals in the world. Here, in Tokyo, he’d hoped to find the respect and honor he’d found in Tel Aviv just two months ago, not realizing that in the name of security all protests and protestors were kept out of his sight.
He was a hit in Israel, and a success as he persuaded the Jews to cease fire and talk to the Arabs about Gaza, not realizing that Israel had no choice but to talk, their economy closely linked to ours and performing as badly with no new billions of dollars likely from the U.S. Congress. Instead of respect in Tokyo, his hosts give him the cold shoulder and sneer, something about how his countrymen found joy in the misery of the Japanese in the 1980s when their economy came a-cropper as the Tokyo real estate bubble burst.
He hopes there is no parallel, that the damage done by real estate speculation to the U.S. economy will not take a decade to correct as it did in Japan. While he has no sense of history, the President is an entrepreneur and a capitalist, and his sense of the real estate market tells him that a long, long recovery may be inevitable. He knows that real estate, especially residential real estate, is a klinker in the economic coal bin.
When economic needs change, assets such as labor, capital, oil, corn, almost every asset except residential real estate can be redirected to a different, more profitable use.
A house, once built, is a house, and that’s all. To make matters worse, a single bushel of corn, for example, has an independent value and a unique price depending on for what and where and when it’s used, a value and price removed from that of another bushel of corn from the same farm.
A house, however, has a dependent value and an artificial price that depends on the city block where it was built. If price goes up, the prices of all the houses on the block go up. If its price goes down, so go the prices and the value of all the houses on the block.
The only way to maintain a price is to own the block which, of course, he does at home on the ranch in Crawford, Texas. And in Tokyo, the President can’t help think of home and Craword. He’s anxious to return there full time, and who can argue with that?
Marc Carlisle writes a Thursday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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