The Smoking Haystack

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Yesterday started out nicely enough. We looked out our bedroom window at 6am; the field behind the house was on fire.

France is dry. A water emergency has been declared in many departments, including this one. Watering the lawn is against the law. Helicopters fly over looking for the green lawns of scofflaws, or so they say.

The fields are so dry that a dropped cigarette can set off a wildfire. We got word from Normandy the other day that a haystack was ablaze:

A message on the telephone:

"Hi, this is Jean-Baptiste. One of the piles of hay next to the main barn is smoking. Should I call the fire department?"

By the time we got the message, whatever was going to happen had happened, so we didn’t worry about it. But we were on the alert.

We return to the scene in our back yard, below. In the meantime, we talk money…

We are in a late fin de bubble period, we believe…similar to the spell in 1999, when the world’s stock markets were so dry and so hot they threatened to go up in flames at any moment. We watched. We waited. For a long time, nothing happened. People sent us letters telling us that we were just sourpusses who were jealous because we’d missed the tech stock boom. Then, of course, tech stocks blew up beginning in January-March of 2000. But before the fire got completely out of hand, Alan Greenspan
showed up on the scene with the biggest hose the world has ever seen. Never before has so much liquidity been pumped into the world’s economy. After a few months, the whole planet was dripping with it.

The effect of all the wet stuff was to send up another whole crop of bad investments – creating more tinder for an even bigger fire. Now, it is the real estate speculators who send us notes. They are still confident and self-satisfied; they think they’ve gotten away with something. And now it
is not just the stock market that is in a bubble, but the entire economy.

At the center of this new bubble are the homebuilders. It looked as though they couldn’t build new houses fast enough to satisfy the demand. Their stocks soared. When this bubble finally ends, the homebuilders’ stocks should be toast. They’ve already headed down – could the fin of the bubble
be at hand?

Well, we don’t know. We’ve been expecting it for a long time. Readers may think we expect it permanently. And maybe it will never come at all, for all we know. Still, we are keeping a special "We told you so!" ready, just in case…

The fire we saw out our window proved benign. At 4 am, our gardener had come to cook a pig. By 6 am he had the pig on a spit roasting over the open fire and a glass of wine in his hand.

"Do you always begin drinking so early?" we asked.

"Early? I got up at three to start this operation. I’m ready for a little refreshment."

Damien had enlisted the help of another neighbor, Roger. The two of them were spreading olive oil on the pig as it turned. The oil, along with the pig’s own fat, dropped into the fire and sizzled.

"Mmm…this is going to be good," said Damien.

This little episode has nothing much to do with investing. Nor nothing much to do with anything else. What we found interesting about it was that so many people were ready to spend an entire day preparing food and then eating it. By the end of the day, they were no further along than they had
been when the day began. They had made no progress – they were not a penny richer.

"Let’s have some breakfast," said Damien. The bakery in town wasn’t open yet, but Damien had gone around to the back. "They’ll give you whatever you want. They don’t open the doors until 7am, but they usually have baked the first loaves by 6."

So we sat down on a tressle table next to the roasting pig. Damien had brought rillette – a pate-like spread made from a pig’s innards – and cheese. Your editor made coffee.

"People don’t know how to do this anymore," said Roger. "Everybody’s too busy."

"What do you mean?" we asked

"I mean, cook a pig like this. It takes all day. And you have to set it up the day before…and get the pig ready…and then get up early to get the fire lit. People don’t want to be bothered. They go to the
supermarket and buy a ready-cooked ham."

"But it’s not at all the same thing," Damien added. "Have some more wine."

The morning was cold. It is still August, but already the sun seems low in the sky. At 7am it was still not visible. Brown leaves lay curled up on the ground, Damien sat at the table wearing a winter coat and a sweater. Roger, an older man, in his 70s, didn’t seem to notice the cold. He wore a cotton shirt. His face was bright red from standing close to the fire, tending the pig.

The two men took turns basting the pig. Occasionally, they would add oak logs to the fire. Mostly, theystood together and watched the pig turn on its electric spit.

For six hours the pig turned, roasted, and sizzled. Neighbors began arriving about noon. By 1 pm there was a crowd of about 25 people. Roger began carving. He sliced off thick, juicy cuts and placed them on a large serving platter. We came with our plates to load them up.

The meal was simple: string beans, potatoes and pig. And many bottles of
red wine. It was not so different from a meal you would get in an ordinary
French restaurant in the country. But…

"No, it’s not the same thing," said Roger.

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century.

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