Reflections

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When Crusoe
woke that morning, he lay, motionless for a moment, as he prepared himself for
the rigours of the day ahead.

He
cursed softly to himself as he became aware, once more, of the stiffness in his
hamstrings which had been brought on by the long hours of trying to keep his balance
on the shifting sandy bottom, as he had stood, waist-deep in the surf, dragging
his self-made fishing net again and again through the water.

But,
no matter, he thought. The catch had been just sufficient to afford him a light
supper and also to feed the new man on the island, Friday, fortifying the latter
while he busied himself about the tasks Crusoe had set him, making extra hunting
traps and then digging out a makeshift food larder in the cool soil at the edge
of the forest.

Though
his shoulders still smarted where the merciless midday sun and the stinging salt
had combined to blister the skin off them — and though his stomach rumbled
in protest at the sparing evening meal which his shared haul had left him —
Crusoe was content enough, for he knew that his sacrifice would mean more for
both men in the future as they combined their labour to increase the tools and
equipment with which they could better exploit their fertile tropical environment.

Canadian
retail sales
unexpectedly rose to a record high in April as debt-loving consumers
like Randy Mickevicius provided the lift.

Retailers
rang up $30.9 billion in business, up 1.5% from March, Statistics Canada reported
yesterday.

Mr.
Mickevicius confessed to having been on a credit-fuelled spending spree over the
past 10 months.

After
buying a house with his partner Karen Bogo last summer, he has turned to a 17-month
interest-free payment plan, a line of credit, or his credit card to buy everything
from a big-screen TV to a washer and dryer. He has also been renovating their
basement, and, most recently, put another $1,100 on plastic for two round-trip
plane tickets to Vancouver.

"It’s
scary, but such is life," says the 32-year-old manager of an upscale Italian
restaurant in Toronto. "We are not going to shut ourselves off from enjoying
anything in life because we are in debt."

Downing
the last of his geneva, Piet van der Eyck, clapped the tankard back on the table
and grubbed in his purse for a few coins.

It
was time he was on his way, he thought, or he’d have to walk the last few miles
in the darkness and — in these wild and fevered times — it was not always
so safe to be abroad in the twilight hour before the night watchmen began their
rounds.

It used
not to be a concern, but a strange madness had overtaken the good burghers of
the stadt lately, loosening their morals and dissolving the restraints of common
decency.

Piet
himself was not blameless in this regard, for he too had succumbed to the sin
of avarice as he had scrambled to find a down payment for one of the bulbs which
had been separated from a particularly fine, variegated specimen.

Once
or twice, he had said sharp things to his neighbours; once or twice he had indulged
in sharper practices, in his greed for a few guilders’ deposit.

He
had even come, albeit briefly, to regard his own, sweet wife as his enemy —
especially that time when Elvira, her sturdy Flemish farmers’ arms firmly crossed
and her reddish brows knitted in stern disapproval, had tried to prevent him from
spending next year’s seed corn money on yet another of those accursed flowers.

u201CI
wouldn’t expect a woman to understand,u201D he was ashamed to recall he’d told her.
u201CInvesting is a man’s work. So you busy yourself about your needlework, dame,
and I’ll look to acquiring us some riches and the better station they will afford.u201D

But Piet was,
at heart too honest and straightforward a man to be led astray for long.

Increasingly
as the mania wore on, he had been nagged by an inner voice — whether his
conscience or his own native wisdom, he could never say. But what he did know
was that he began more and more to doubt the sanity of what he was doing.

All
of the family’s hard-saved cash — including Elvira’s handsome dowry —
had been handed over to the fidgety, sharp-nosed bulb brokers in the main town.
He had even borrowed a sum from the drover who usually bought his surplus cattle,
promising the man a share of his profits later.

However,
Piet had felt uneasy at the thought that a man could get rich by doing no more
than buying and selling — and selling something of so little underlying utility,
to boot.

What
good, after all was a tulip? You couldn’t eat it. You couldn’t make fibre from
it. You couldn’t even extract those vibrant, but short-lived colours and sell
them as pigment to one of the many artists who nowadays flourished in the back
streets of the city, catering to the tastes of the many new rich who had so suddenly
sprung up.

No,
at last Piet had seen sense and so, that very day, he had travelled up to Amsterdam
to sell his prize possession.

The
man he visited had been very eager to have it, though he grumbled long and loud
at Piet’s insistence that he be paid there and then, in full and in good solid
gold, not in promissory notes.

u201CYou
pig-rearers are all the same,u201D the man had fumed. u201CYou always want to get your
grubby peasants’ hands on cash. Don’t you people understand that the world moves
along on credit, these days?u201D

u201CImagine
where we’d all be if we had to pay the full price of everything in gold? How would
anyone get started in this business? How could a man make a profit, if he wasn’t
able to pay five percent down and the rest to come?u201D

Finally,
Piet had offered a small reduction in his selling price and the man had instantly
agreed and had rushed to unlock his money box and weigh out the balance due.

In
fact, Piet suspected that the man would have been more than pleased to have paid
his original price entire and that he thought Piet was a bucolic fool who could
not fully appreciate the value of the flower he was offering.

But
Piet was happy. He had finally quit the tulip madness and he had already marked
out the field he would buy with the proceeds and even some of the kine he would
soon fatten up on its lush water-meadow grass.

Soon,
with God’s good grace and a favourable hay harvest, the extra income would allow
him to settle his debts with the drover and to pay back the whole of Elvira’s
dowry. Then he could put most of the surplus back to work, providing income for
future years.

Once
he’d taken care of that necessity, he might even have enough to get his wife a
little gift as a way of thanking her for her forbearance.

He’d
better not buy her flowers, though, he chuckled to himself.

Toronto-Dominion
Bank economist Eric Lascelles pointed out that sales grew fastest for products
usually bought on credit — cars, furniture, household electronics and building
supplies — and that Canadians are increasingly reliant on credit as their
personal savings rate erodes.

But
Mr. Lascelles also said there are several reasons a so-called negative savings
rate — that is, spending more than you are earning in income — "does
not spell imminent doom."

The
first is that the calculation of the rate excludes the income people earn from
the appreciation of assets they own.

"So
if you’re becoming richer because your house is more valuable and your stocks
are more valuable, that’s not reflected in your income. You could say people simply
didn’t need to save by conventional means."

This
article originally appeared on the Sage
Capital Weblog
.

June
24, 2005

Sean
Corrigan [send him mail] is the
Investment Strategist at Sage Capital Zurich
AG
. The views expressed are, of course, his own.

Sean
Corrigan Archives

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