Imagine that for some reason the Bolder Boulder 10K — which I will be running for the first time on Memorial Day — fronted me 200 race bibs for this year’s event, and told me that they wanted $10,000 ($50 per bib) in return. Recognizing that the homeless and low-income population of Boulder is an untapped and eager market for this race — there’s a lot of free food and a free T-shirt involved, after all — I canvass the downtown area and offer to give race bibs away for $5 each, along with any EBT cards with a balance of between $25 and $50 (I might throw in a pint of vodka to sweeten the deal). I am able to very rapidly hawk all 2,000 numbers, giving me about $1,000 in cash and a pile of EBT cards. I have no idea if these have any value and I don’t check because I don’t care.
The reason I don’t care is simple: I’m on the hook for ten grand to the Bolder Boulder, but that is about to become someone else’s problem. Through a process of possibly illegal but complicated forgery, I manage to make the 200 EBT cards look like Whole Foods gift cards with a value of $250 each, and I offer these to people around Whole Foods stores and on Craigslist for $50 in cash, explaining that I have a gripe against the company and want no part of any of their nasty-tasting, overpriced garbage and homeopathic woo-woo. In the fine print of the agreement, which is written in Sanskrit, I have each “gift card” buyer sign for my personal tax records, it says that they also owe the Bolder Boulder 10K $50 in the form of a mandatory charitable donation to the Bolder Boulder 10K itself. It also says that the gift cards are only good in Whole Foods stores that open on or after January 1, 2020. No problem.
Now I have $11,000 in cash ($1,000 from the poor race-bib buyers and $10,000 from selling the “gift cards”) and no liability. The yutzes who bought the cards from me, though, are in a bit of a spot. They are trying to use their “gift cards” at Whole Foods stores all over Boulder County and they are being declined. They are also being contacted by the Bolder Boulder 10K about the $50 each of them owes to the event, and are understandably refusing to pay. As a result, the Bolder Boulder invalidates the race bibs and none of the 200 homeless and low-income entrants is an official part of the event anymore. They also don’t have any way to buy food because I took their EBT cards.
Naturally the Bolder Boulder 10K is pissed off about losing $10,000, but I have legally binding contracts from 200 “investors” claiming that they, not I. will provide to money originally fronted to me in the form of race entries, which are now worth precisely shit, if that. So the race appeals to the City of Boulder for help. They claim that there is no way to stage the race with a $10,000 shortfall because they won’t be able to pay the police for traffic control. Deciding immediately that the race is too large of a local event to fail, the city picks up the tab and unilaterally jacks up the property taxes on city residents incrementally in order to cover the loss.
If this sounds like a bit of an asshole move on my part, you’re right. If it sounds like I screwed over a lot of poor people as well as well-off people, you’re correct there as well. If it sounds like I broke any laws, I didn’t. Everything I had people sign included a waiver of indemnity and full disclosure. If people are too lazy to learn Sanskrit, tough. I may not have the best reputation about town anymore, but see, that’s the other cool part. I never appeared in person for any of this. I had paid lackeys approach the homeless and poor folks as well as deal with the Whole Foods zombies. The Bolder Boulder 10K sent the 200 race bibs to my neighbor, who had no idea I was using his address for this purpose because I check his mailbox every day before she gets home. (This is also why she doesn’t have any of the vibrators, Penthouse compilation DVDs, and anal beads she keeps ordering.)
In this scheme, think of the homeless people as subprime mortgage buyers in the NINA (no income, no assets) category circa 2003, the Bolder Boulder 10K as Bear Stearns, the City of Boulder as the Federal Reserve, and me and my nameless operatives as a Wall Street securities firm that can plausibly claim to have been burned just as badly in the whole mess as anyone else despite it — or at least its CEO — making off like a joyous bandit. The whole account represents my understanding of the financial crisis of 2008 and its underpinnings — parts of the analogy obviously fail (especially in the matter of simple scale), but overall I think it works about as well as anything I’ve read.