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ClubOrlov: Welcome to Fuffland!
...the Russians actually have a word for precisely the thing that has bewitched us, first accounting for an ever-increasing share of our gross domestic product, and is now responsible for our ever-larger financial black hole. That word is "фуфло" fufló when applied to a quantity of something, and "фуфел" fúfel when applied to a singular item. This word has the obscure English cognate "fuffle," which the Oxford English Dictionary dates to the early XVI century but fails to define adequately. I suspect that this word has been in circulation in many languages ever since some Protoindoeuropean simpleton showed up at some archaic fair and, being none too wise, bartered his meager trade goods in exchange for what thereafter became known as a fuffle....

A fuffle is an artful fake, an artifact specifically made to fool, beguile, seduce, or intimidate people into paying for it. Ideally, the initial transaction serves as the basis of a permanent arrangement, with the victim roped into an installment plan, which keeps the payments flowing even after the fuffle itself has crumbled into a pile of dust. An even better fuffle is one that grows over time. Since a fuffle is, in essence, a fake, its useful properties, should it have any, are largely irrelevant, and so its abstract (which is to say, financial) properties come forth as being the essential ones. The most important such property is, quite obviously, size, and indeed fuffles tend to get bigger and bigger over time....

Take, for example, suburban and exurban houses. For a time, people couldn't get enough of them, and at one point fully half of the US population was living in them. Their square footage had increased far past what even a large family might actually need, while at the same time their cost had exceeded what an average family could afford. In the final act of suburban expansion, these fuffled houses begat fuffled mortgages: fraudulent loans clearly not intended to be repayable over their entire term but quickly rolled over into some other fraudulent monstrosity. And fuffled mortgages begat fuffled equity-backed securities. And these begat fuffled government bailouts.

Another example is America's favorite fufflemobile: the SUV....

Or take the gigantic fuffle of guaranteed student loans, which enabled fuffle-like growth in college tuitions. Following a few years of flipping burgers or serving lattes the value of the diploma may be zero, and most of the knowledge it implied either forgotten or obsolete, but repayments continue, sometimes until the poor student's death....

My last example is private retirement based on IRA and 401k retirement funds. Unlike proper retirement systems, which transfer a percentage of earnings from working-age people directly to retirees, this fuffled scheme takes these earnings and invests them in some fuffles, expecting these fuffles to grow like they always do, making the retirees well off upon retirement....

by das monde on Mon Mar 23rd, 2009 at 08:16:01 AM EST

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