456 The Financial Crisis & Grandma's Victrola
Grandma Julia's Victrola is about 80 or 90 years old and a little battered. Stands about four feet tall, which means Grandma had to strain a little bit to put those Caruso and Ukulele Ike records on the turntable.
It works. You wind it up, you put on the record, you put down the needle and music comes out. Great in a power outage. Not a bad piece of furniture, either. In fact, the cabinets have outlived the works for many of these machines. Nice mahogany with a reddish tinge. A little bit of checking on the finish, but a fine and stately object. The brass hardware is perfect and so is the decal picture of the Victor Talking Machine, later the RCA Victor dog on the underside of the top. This contraption dominated the foyer for more than four decades, then came to visit here and stayed.
It is a valuable artifact or a valuable antique. Or not.
One attempt to sell it brought bids so low as to make parting with it unworthy. A second attempt brought bids so high as to make parting with it economically unfeasible. Is the thing worth a couple of hundred bucks or a couple of thousand? Or both? Or neither.
The contraption is a symbol, though, beside being the only known way to play those old 78 rpm records.
No one knows what it's worth.
Kind of like WaMu or Wachovia, your General Motors stock, your house, your IRA and a dozen eggs.
And here's where the Victrola and the financial markets merge.
No one knows what anything's worth.
That's something the "bailout" doesn't deal with.
Until we know that, we don't know what to do with the bailout. Or the Victrola.
Grandma Julia would say "sell the thing for the best price you can get."
That may have worked in the 1920s. It's not working now.
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