Ashes to Ashes

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We got a kick out of that story in the London Times about how a “mysterious Russian billionaire” has gone and paid $750 million for Lily Safra’s house, Villa Leopolda, on the heights of Villefrance. It’s many times the previous record for a residence. The Times reports that “Russian excess is feeding discontent among poorer people,” and it quotes our Russian’s housekeeper, “Pierrette,” as saying she attended a party “where the guests had fun throwing burning EUR500 notes into the air while everyone split their sides laughing.” The paper reports the servants were later told to “collect the ashes.”

Well, who does one suppose was at that party? Russian oligarchs? The directors of Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Could it have been a meeting of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve? Nah, our bet is that it was a conference of classical economists. One of them probably said to the other, “What is a euro, anyhow?” While waiting for an answer he probably put a cigarette in his mouth, and, since they were all tipsy anyhow, another stuck a EUR500 note into a candle to give him a light, and …

Well, forgive our reveries. We’re not defending the boorish oligarchs, just observing that we are in an era of fiat currencies, when no one knows what a euro is, or, for that matter, 500 of them. The dollar was headed down and is now headed up. This is something to bear in mind, whether it’s a story about Mrs. Safra’s mansion, or the balance of trade deficit, or a mortgage lending institution, or the price of a new car or the gasoline that goes into it. Or the taxes one pays. It’s all being denominated in currencies that have no definition. There’s no telling what they will or will not be worth one day. No wonder the servants were being asked to sweep up the ashes.

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