Posted by: The Tim

Tim Ellis is the founder of Seattle Bubble. His background in engineering and computer / internet technology, a fondness of data-based analysis of problems, and an addiction to spreadsheets all influence his perspective on the Seattle-area real estate market.

45 responses to “Weekend Open Thread (2009-12-11)”

  1. Trigger

    I am trying to figure out when is the point of having too much debt? Everybody is saying – oh – we had a party, we spent like crazy and now we have a hangover.

    So let’s assume the debt is 150% of GDP. Is that a biggie? If you assume the interest rate of say 5% – then 7.5% of GDP would go into servicing such debt. Is that too big?

    Ok – now assume your debt is 10x your GDP. Then if you assume interest rate of 5% – then 50% of your GDP goes into servicing your debt. This I would assume is a biggie and could cause the govt to take some extra measures like starting a war to take other countries resources or start a Weimar Republic to get rid of the debt.

    Also to what extent should the govt print money vs get into debt? If the govt just keeps replacing lost monetary base like what was happening now – the result is
    – No deflation. The govt was successfully able to combat deflation and we all can thank Helicopter Ben for this.
    – Interest rates can remain low
    – investor confidence is at an ok level
    – China is chilling and so are other countries that hold US debt

    Now it would seem that if the US govt came to a conclusion that it would be nice to wipe out debt by starting high inflation – then I think we could be heading for trouble.

    So do we have historical data on when the breaking point is reached on printing money and absorbing debt?

    I think when we answer those questions we will be able to to simply chill, hike and relax until we hit that breaking point. When we hit that point we will not be able to relax anymore though.

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  2. David Losh

    RE: Trigger @ 1

    Wow, well put.

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  3. Haybaler

    RE: Trigger @ 1
    Recently, I spent most of the afternoon watching CSpan. That was one of the days the Senate was holding confirmation hearings for Bernanke.

    I watched a 40 minute interview with Ron Paul….. Naturally he was not involved with the confirmation hearings but he found a forum for his perspective on one of those interview programs.

    He made some interesting statements which rang true. The sort of things that I responded to with an “Ah Ha!”

    He seemed to be quite an expert on the history of the Federal Reserve and it’s policies. He talked at length about the Great Depression and the actions of the Fed. He also talked about the previous 2 permutations of the Fed which previous presidents had eliminated.

    One of the statements which stuck with me was “Governments do not Default, they print money”.

    Another was (I paraphrase) “Our debt is impossible to pay ….our Fed is set on a course to deflate it away at a rate of 20% p/year”

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  4. AMS

    RE: Haybaler @ 3 – Inflation will solve some problems, but cause other problems. If the level of inflation is too high, the total will be net negative.

    That said, inflation is a possibility, yet some here say it will never happen. I am not going to suggest that it will never happen, but I am unsure as to when it will happen.

    All that said, starting with: “Our debt is impossible to pay ….our Fed is set on a course to deflate it away at a rate of 20% p/year,” I note that I have heard these claims for many years. How much longer until a high level of inflation starts? Will we be alive?

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  5. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: AMS @ 5 – I forget if I said this yesterday, but although not true inflation we could see an increase in the CPI numbers if oil prices rise. IMHO, that was the cause of stagflation back in the 70s.

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  6. Tyler

    RE: Trigger @ 1

    The government % of the GDP is only about 40%, so in your benign example of debt being 150% of GDP, it would be closer to 19% of all government spending. Our Military spending is about 9% of the US budget, so it would be almost 2x that.

    I am not arguing against your general point, just wanted to show that the “tipping point” comes A LOT sooner.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_United_States_federal_budget

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  7. Haybaler

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 6
    The implications of Fed policy are complicated. I am not an expert on Macro economics, but am trying to get up to speed.

    I have stated here several times that Prices seem to be higher for things that I use. This week I went to Home Depot for a 4×8 sheet of 1/2inch cement board….the kind used behind Tile…..in this case I wanted a Fire Proof material to put on the wall behind my wood burning stove…..It cost $20!. Just a year ago I was paying $10ish for the same material. A meal at McD’s costs nearly $8. …the $1 menu is now $1.29….(29% incr).

    CPI numbers would be higher if oil hadn’t fallen through the floor this year….that one item has camouflaged the increase in consumer costs.

    What does this bode for Real Estate? Naturally, there are supply surpluses today. After those are worked out of the system where do prices go with inflation marching on as Public Policy.

    When we have well educated, knowledgeable public figures making statements about Federal Reserve and Foreign Federal Reserve counterparts’ policy, then maybe we should read the writing on the wall?

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  8. AMS

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 6 – The spike to $4 per gallon didn’t drive the CPI up much. Why is today different?

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  9. softwarengineer

    RE: Trigger @ 1

    To Quote Ralph Nader:

    “…“They [administration leaders] don’t see the distinction between public power and corporate power,” Nader said. “This is their time in history to reassert public values represented by workers, consumers, taxpayers and communities. They are creating a jobless recovery, the worst of the worst, with the clear specter of inflation on the horizon. We are heading for deep water.”

    The massive borrowing acts as an anesthetic. It prevents us from facing the new limitations we must learn to cope with domestically and abroad. It allows us to live in the illusion that we are not in a state of irrevocable crisis, that our decline is not real and that catastrophe has been averted. But running up the national debt can work only so long.

    “No one can predict the future,” Nader added hopefully. “No one knows the variables. No one predicted the move on tobacco. No one predicted gay rights. No one predicted the Berkeley student rebellion. The students were supine. You never know what will light the fire. You have to keep the pressure on. I know only one thing for sure: The whole liberal-progressive constituency is going nowhere.” …”

    The bottom line is interest rates [and credit payment inflation] could sky rocket tomorrow because of today’s horrifying debt, for you to be comfortable with that lurking in the background is insane in my book. House prices would totally collapse if interest rates took off, they’d have to.

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  10. softwarengineer

    Why College Enrollment Numbers are Doomed

    Article in part:

    “….today’s parents may not realize how much things have changed. Parents may have been able to work their own way through college. But tuition prices have risen much faster than wages and financial aid in the past 20 years. Many states, in fact, are reducing the number and size of grants they hand out to students even as they raise tuition at public universities. And it is harder for students to find jobs in the midst of the worst economy since the Great Depression….”

    The rest of the URL:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/usnews/20091211/ts_usnews/shouldyourkidspayforcollegethemselves

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  11. softwarengineer

    I’ve Gotten New Information on the World’s Oil Consumption and the World’s Stimulus Debts’ Direct Impact on Worsening Global Warming

    For the Record [BTW, I do change my opinion 180 degrees at times or reframe it with new information, we all should do this, its called intelligence]

    DEPOPULATION CURES GLOBAL WARMING: Updated 12/11/09
    YE OF LITTLE FAITH

    So you don’t trust ole softie’s gut feel projections.
    World Oil Consumption is approx flat since 2004-2009 at approx 84-86 million barrels/day.

    Compare that to the 2009 projection URL of 85 at $70/barrel, and golly gee willerkers….we’re using about the same oil in 2009 than 2006, even with a horrifying economic downturn. That’s very odd indeed isn’t it?

    IMO there could likely be an approx 40% oil use consumption increase tied predominantly to Chinese stimulus/oil debt use. Add in the other short-term world stimulus debt injections in America/Europe and the oil we saved by reducing economic activity was lost to stimulus short-term debt.

    I still see the freeways where I live with substantially reduced traffic in 2009 and stand firm in my % prediction estimate though. Without world stimulus debt, especially China, I imagine we could be at 55 million barrels/day oil use, right now….the equivalent of slashing world population density by approx 40% too, curing global warming. We’re apparently stimulus debt infusing global warming right now.

    Maybe we don’t need all them hybrids and smart cars after all? All we needed was the equivalent of depopulation to solve global warming, a good ole fashion economic crisis [without the phony debt stimulus bandaid that goes away soon anyway]? LOL

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  12. Trigger

    RE: softwarengineer @ 10 – SoftwareEngineer – Put yourself in Obama’s shoes. You go out to the nation and say – hey – look we spent too much. Now we will have a 20% unemployment, we will implode the economy, face massive foreclosures, unrest because you know what – we spent too much. Blame it all on the past administration?

    So you take the gamble you have to. First of all you know that the US debt is denominated in USD. Wow. cool. Because if the US debt was denominated in Yen or EUR and USD would suddenly tank because of panic attack – you would have to face unrest or start a war. Wars are started, people get killed because someone cannot pay.

    Now the US debt is not as bad as say Belgium (and I know Belgium is some small unimportant country somewhere in the middle of nowhere). So you think to yourself if I try to do all those bailouts, get into more debt and try to replace monetary base – well maybe things will not fall apart completely. And since your debt is still manageable that it does not stifle growth completely like the debt Germany had before WWII – then you say – cool.

    And then you also try to bully other countries that there is no real alternative to the US. Who is going to lead the world? China? Does anyone think that the world would be a safe place if China rules it? Are you comfortable with the Chinese regime that oppresses millions of people in China?

    And then you hope that the regime in China stays cool with your policies. Because the regime in China can thrive if the US thrives.

    And then you put a blind eye to the Bush policy where they misinformed the nation about weapons of mass destruction and you hope that you can get oil at preferential prices from Iraq for example in exchange for rebuilding Iraq. If that happens this will also be a boost to the economy and help wipe off the debt.

    And in order not to piss off too many people you try to print enough but not too much and stay with a smile on the face. And this is possibly the best option. I am sure that when they start the inflation going they will actually want to make the inflation stay low key – like 10% – this will wipe off the debt slowly without people noticing it.

    But my question is when is there too much printing and when is there too much debt. SoftwareEngineer – you seem to think we are actually at that breaking point. But are we? And can you justify? And when will we go overboard and when will Obama’s policies be counterproductive?

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  13. Trigger

    And in some sense Obama deserves some credit for the Noble Prize. The Noble Prize goes to the President who chooses not to obliterate the whole world. Maybe it sounds sarcastic but it is not. Many regimes in the world that would find itself in the US position would start employing nukes here and there.

    So Obama is a saint, an angel. He will employ force in some areas, kill some people in some areas but he will not start new wars and kill millions just because the US economy is tanking. In this way I do think he deserves some credit and respect.

    And Noble prize is different now. You get it if you don’t want to kill too many people because that proves you are a noble person.

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  14. softwarengineer

    RE: Trigger @ 14

    Based on the Past List of Nobel Winners

    Obama certainly deserves it.

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  15. softwarengineer

    RE: Trigger @ 13

    The Breaking Point

    We’re clearly there when we’re happy when half of America has decent jobs and the other half doesn’t. Yes, we’re there.

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  16. Joe renter

    Interesting that Japan’s debt is 200% GDP. From what I understand is that the citizens fund the debt by buying bonds sold by the government. They save much more than the average American and must trust that buying those bonds are a good investment.
    The time we live in is the end game of Capitalism as we know it. Corrupt institutions are run by those who crave power and only care for their own gain. If our leaders cared at all about the welfare of it’s citizens and this federation they would reform the election process tomorrow. When having to raise millions for a campaign and not having those resources to do so, they become puppets of those who put them in that seat.
    Keep an ear out for a solution to all this from an voice that speaks from outside of the plutocracy.
    If we truly care about our community, this country, and the other billions who are on this planet, and are willing to make changes in our lifestyles so that we all have enough for the basics (like the UN charter of human rights) we have a future. Otherwise we are doomed.

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  17. Scotsman

    RE: Trigger @ 1

    It helps if you think of the economy as a business. And since the economy currently serves an expanding population, it too must expand to match the rate of population growth if you want to maintain a constant or improving standard of living. To grow requires that the current level of production not only meets current demand, but throws off some extra, a profit if you will, that can be reinvested to increase production to meet the needs of the growing population.

    The tipping point comes when the interest expense of servicing the national debt is equal to the total profit or excess production of the economy. At that point nothing is available to reinvest in new productive capacity, and the growing population must accept a continuously decreasing standard of living. Interest essentially crowds out savings and reinvestment, putting the brakes on the economy until it grinds to a halt. In a modern economy that point is somewhere around debt=GDP.

    There are exceptions, Japan bing the most famous. Japan is able to support debt= 2 X GDP because of artificially low interest rates and a decreasing population. Make no mistake, their economy is essentially dying, but their national population is aging/dying at the same or faster rate so to a “man on the street” all appears OK, or at least constant. An older population with lower consumption needs and a high savings rate are also important factors. But don’t be deceived- the minute interest rates shoot up Japan will collapse as governmental expenses escalate. It will also trash their currency, a major crisis for an economy that must import food and energy.

    Japan has entered a box canyon with no socially acceptable way out short of collapse and reset. The U.S. isn’t far behind.

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  18. Hugh Dominic

    RE: softwarengineer @ 12 – what’s your depopulation strategy? Gas chambers? Throw a gene pool goal in there too?

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  19. wreckingbull

    If anyone thinks that unemployment will drop below 10% anytime soon, listening to this interview with Mish might change your mind. The amount of new jobs needed just to tread water is frightening.

    http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/article/386091/Mish-Nov.-Jobs-Report-%22Looked-Fabricated%22-Expect-Harder-Times-in-2010

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  20. Herman

    RE: Trigger @ 1 – Someone posted a really good summary of the economic conditions of countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios. It was just a few days ago. They were in pretty bad shape.

    But then, none of them controls the closest thing to the world’s standard fiat currency. The US can print USD with fewer repercussions, than, say, Italy printing Euro. Mock my words, we’ll print our way out of this. In fact, since the USD supply is being destroyed as credit contracts, the .gov gets a free pass to print all the money it needs to replenish the supply.

    For example, if there were 10 Trillion USD outstanding, and 2 Trillion were destroyed in the credit contraction, then the government can print and diburse 2 Trillion without causing inflation. Or so the theory goes. It just means that big parts of the 10 Trillion moved into different hands. It vanished from bank and consumer balance sheets, only to reappear in the treasury where the .gov powers get to inject it back into the economy by giving it to their friends and special interests.

    Don’t worry, it’ll trickle down to you eventually. The nice bank lobbyist will buy a yacht, and the yacht dealer will buy a pizza, which you will get paid to deliver. Everyone wins.

    Unless the lobbyist buys a German car instead of an American yacht. In that case, the German pizza drivers win.

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  21. Trigger

    RE: Herman @ 21 – Paul Krugman is already saying that there needs to be a new cash infusion and the Fed needs to buy 2 bill worth of treasuries. It just needs to put in more cash.

    The question is: Were we able to fully replace the monetary base after credit collapse?

    Will the new printing of money be a little dangerous after the economy starts recuperating?

    Does it make more sense to print money to get rid of debt or does it make more sense to try to repay it? But this would mean that the spending would go down and economy would get nuked? How much money can be printed to get rid of the debt in order to make it a good proposition for people who were lenders? And how will the debt reduction work?

    I think Helicopter Ben needs to discuss how the US will be getting rid of debt while maintaining the spending and nice bailouts. I think the countries with high debt are not comparable to the US. The US has debt in USD – and this is the key thing here.

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  22. softwarengineer

    RE: Hugh Dominic @ 19
    More Planned Parenthood Funding, Worldwide Too

    It will take decades to get results, the sooner we start the better.

    And if you’re the type who think Jesus is coming back soon anyway and it doesn’t matter, consider these points:

    In the Bible, Jesus said He was coming back soon 2000 yrs ago, so “soon” in God’s terms at least means several thousands of years.

    “As in the days of Noah”, Jesus talked about the future end times. And even assuming the “end days’ are very soon, in the days of Noah, God took care of the problem using His form of planned parenthood [but He promised not to do it again], a worldwide flood eliminating all of mankind, but He made sure to save His animal species.

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  23. softwarengineer

    RE: Scotsman @ 18

    You’re Absolutely Right-on Scotsman

    Japan is in horrifying shape, their population density is one of the highest in the world and the only thing keeping them barely afloat is handouts (trade deficits) from less densely [for now] nations, especially America. Trouble is, like any drunken party on borrowed beer, once the beer’s gone the party’s over.

    Pete Murphy summed in up in his book “Five Short Blasts” [get it Scotsman, for you it will be a 5 star read], we need tarriffs on rich high population density countries like Japan and Germany, why are we taking a standard of living drop to make the high dense population countries rich richer? He suggests far less tarriffs and even economic aid to the disadvantaged 3rd world high population countries. Makes perfect sense to me.

    Or stay on the present path and slamdunk become a banana republic of america.

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  24. Pierce Anon

    RE: softwarengineer @ 11

    You notice the article does not address why college tuition soared faster than the rate of inflation. Student loans guaranteed by the US government.

    As parents and students have been sold a bill of goods about the value of higher education, they have been willing to go deeper and deeper in debt. The maximum loans limits have kept increasing as the higher educational industrial complex keeps boosting their fees. A nice circular relationship.

    If the government had simply said we will not give loans to schools that increase tuition and fees more than 3% a year, then the universities would have been forced to find efficiencies to keep their rates in line. However the higher education industrial complex has lots of power, influence and votes–so the only way they will be curbed is when students and parents decide to opt our of the charade or are forced to do so due to the financial burden.

    Just like government back home loans, what starts as a good idea gets perverted by the greedy and leads to negative consequences.

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  25. Tyler

    RE: Pierce Anon @ 25

    You are exactly right. Another big problem I have is with schools charging the exact same price for all degrees when the average income for different fields can be off by a factor of 2-3.

    I loved that Ron Paul brought some focus to monetary policy during the last election. You can trace a lot of unsustainable behavior to loose monetary policy.

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  26. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Pierce Anon @ 25 – There are also programs like Guaranteed Education Tuition, where the tuition is paid at the rate in effect when the funds were invested. That just puts more upward pressure on the state to raise rates because they are getting less of the tuition paid for in cash, and they have more “buyers” that don’t care what the product costs (similar to medical insurance with no co-pays if they’re fully paid up).

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  27. Kary L. Krismer

    I was in a house today where the kitchen sinks were full of water. There was ice on top of the water. And the water to the house was turned on! I called the agent to warn them.

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  28. AMS

    JimTV:

    The bank owned properties keep rollin’ in.

    Guess the price as you watch this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErOI6PHgi3k

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  29. Scotsman

    RE: AMS @ 29

    Wow- i love that guy. Here’s another of his I watched this morning, mcmansions on the hill. If Ca still has a long way to go, where is Seattle at? Check the rental scam at the end of this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6kmdGZvp_Y&feature=player_embedded

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  30. Scotsman

    Man made global warming is a farce- see the ice core data:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFbUVBYIPlI&feature=player_embedded

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  31. AMS

    RE: Scotsman @ 30 – “Check the rental scam at the end of this:”

    Wonder how much rent the ‘owner’ was asking on a $1.875M place where not one payment was made, yet the current market value is probably only $1.2M? CRAZY! Maybe the $8k/6.5k income tax credit will save the day?

    I particularly like this comment about the video:

    rayme4raw writes, “Do you ever get the feeling that America has a rich people shortage?”

    I’d love to suggest that Americans were far ‘richer’ when the leverage just kept going higher.

    After watching Jim’s videos, I have a much greater appreciation of copycat crimes. I don’t have a video camera, but it might be fun to buy one and drive around and shoot some footage!

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  32. Scotsman

    This is sad- not that she’s gay, but the level of voter turnout. Use that vote or lose it.

    “HOUSTON (AP) – Houston became the largest U.S. city to elect an openly gay mayor, with voters handing a solid victory to City Controller Annise Parker after a hotly contested runoff.

    Parker defeated former city attorney Gene Locke with 53.6 percent of the vote Saturday in a race that had a turnout of only 16.5 percent…..

    A little more than 152,000 residents turned out to cast ballots in the nation’s fourth largest city, which has a population of 2.2 million. Of those voters, 81,743 chose Parker – some 11,000 votes more than Locke received.”

    Wow- 16.5%. I’m tempted to say they should invalidate it based on turnout just because of the potential for abuse by a small minority down the road.

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  33. Willy Nilly

    RE: Pierce Anon @ 25

    I think the college tuition rates are being raised because states are so cash starved and they can throttle tuition to gain more revenue. Funny thing is not one dime of the increase is going back into the college system (in the state I got some privy info on) the state is merely absorbing the increase as an immediate means of generating cash. If the lenders were able to offer creative financing options for mortgages I don’t see why they don’t migrate some of those products over to unsuspecting young college students in the future.

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  34. One Eyed Man

    RE: Scotsman @ 33

    What’s the matter Scotsman? You got a problem with people voting “Present” rather than for an issue or a candidate?;-) Abstaining is apparently more American than voting, at least in Houston and perhaps in the Illinois legislature. Ironically voting is probably the only forum in which abstinence is so popular given the 2.2 million population number for Houston.

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  35. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: One Eyed Man @ 35
    I just don’t see Houston as the hotbed of liberalism like Seattle is, so if one candidate is an African American liberal and the other candidate is a white lesbian liberal, I’m not too shocked that the turnout was so low.
    Apparently the redneck candidate had trouble getting his message out for the primary. The pickup truck broke down a few too many times before campaign appearances.

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  36. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ 36 – Hey, lay off the jokes about pickup trucks! ;-)

    BTW, mine will be going over 150,000 on the odometer this week.

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  37. AMS

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 37 – 1989 with only 150k? That’s low mileage!

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  38. Kary L. Krismer

    That’s what happens when you live and work downtown for several years. I used to go grocery shopping up at Northgate just so that the truck would get a few miles on it each week.

    The agent life is actually putting a lot more miles on it now. About 15k each of the past three years. So three years ago at 105,000 it was really low miles for a 1989.

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  39. AMS

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 39 – You’ve definitely put your poor Ranger through the severe duty–frequent cold starts, short trips, probably some elevation changes, idling in traffic and low speed operations. It’s probably happy to have the additional use. I can only imagine what an oil analysis would reveal. The acids and water content build up in the oil, and can remain quite high under severe driving conditions.

    What would you replace it with if it were stolen? (ok, I know it is way outside the realm of possibility to even suggest it might get stolen, but you get the idea…)

    Also what would you do if a major mechanical component failed, such as a crankshaft?

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  40. Kary L. Krismer

    I’ve taken good care of the oil. That was part of the reason for the trips to Northgate.

    I put almost $1,500 into maintenance during the cash for clunkers program. Front calipers, clutch, and dealing with some minor oil leaks on the top part of the engine (very optional work). What was CFC, $4,500? That’s about a $6,000 swing.

    Anyway, if something major does happen, I’ll just buy a new 4×4 something and drive it till it dies. I’m not driving it because I have to. I’m driving it because I want to.

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  41. AMS

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 41 – Oh, don’t get me wrong, I left my new vehicle in the driveway today. I drove my clunker with 230k miles. There are some niceties about the new vehicle; don’t get me wrong, the older vehicle has its advantages too. I don’t worry about someone scratching it up. I don’t worry about it getting stolen. The motor has far more power and moves it around quite nicely. CFC was tempting enough to lure me in, but I have not abandoned my older iron.

    Now that you’ve mentioned “clutch,” I have to raise the white flag a big higher, but I might have to lower the white flag a bit, given it has so few miles on it. I had envisioned an automatic with far more miles…

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  42. Ira Sacharoff

    RE: Kary L. Krismer @ 37
    Well, if business gets too slow, you can always market yourself as ” Redneck Real Estate”. You’ve got the truck for it, and installing a gun rack shouldn’t cost too much.

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  43. Kary L. Krismer

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ 43RE: AMS @ 42 – The only thing a new vehicle would get me would be airbags and more advanced anti-lock brakes. I’m hoping my next truck doesn’t run on gasoline. BTW, I think my efforts to protect the engine from little use have succeeded. It still doesn’t use a quart of oil in 5,000 miles (not anywhere near now with the new valve cover gaskets). We owned boats when I was a kid, so I’ve seen what non-use can do to an engine. Back when I lived in the condo I’ve mentioned, the car next to mine was a 195? Thunderbird that only had about 3,000 miles on it in the mid-eighties. That would be a vehicle to worry about. I never saw it move in 10 years, but it looked good, being garaged probably all its life.

    Ira, somehow, I don’t think a gun rack would look right on a Ranger.

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  44. AMS

    RE: Ira Sacharoff @ 43 – Once the new Redneck Income Tax credit starts, Kary’s business will be booming.

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