Free Food and Agents of the Devil by Gary Siebel

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We were waiting in line at the food bank when someone asked which economist(s) caused the current recession. But several of us pointed out that economic theories cause recessions, not economists themselves. We also pointed out that the recession had been declared over a considerably long time ago. Of course, this led to some debate. A few went so far as to question the value of economic theories in general, especially in terms of kegs of beer, because unlike economic theories, beer rarely proves completely useless at critical moments (aka, a crisis). Some of us got the inside joke; so our college educations were useful after all. And we were at least smart enough to find free food.

Whereupon I was so bold as to suggest we were really in the grip of some as yet undefined economic malady that required some new terminology to help explain and/or define the situation. Looks like a recession, feels like a recession, smells like a recession, so if it’s not a recession, then what is it? Possibly the situation called for yet another new economic theory, too? Our university degrees certainly provided the appropriate training to create new terminology, and anyone can make up an economic theory. So, after more discussion, we eventually declared the economic situation to be a “precession.”

Think of the equinoxes, as in, “precession of,” for in a precession an economy seems to be sliding backward, even though it actually isn’t, just as the sun slides back along the horizon a little further at each equinox, even though it actually isn’t; the wobbling axis of earth causes the apparent precession of the equinox.

Using the terminology of precessionism might also help to rebrand the whole situation, like changing the name of the Exxon “Valdez” to “Charming Butterfly,” thereby brightening everyone’s outlook considerably. There will be less confusion. Recessions can be declared “over” but really just enter a different phase, such as a precession. Economists and politicians can save face.

So what are the characteristics of a precession, as opposed to a recession, depression, or even a secession? The defining aspect is the condition of “surreal estate,” in which homeowners live underwater. Amazingly, many are managing to do so. The real estate you bought yesterday is worth less today, lending itself to the surreal, which dovetails with the term “precession” because during a period of surreal estate housing prices roll back to an earlier era. Living underwater is also a throwback to an earlier era, like the Paleozoic.

We produced more nomenclature — it helped pass the time — such as: “detoxymoronia,” “consumania,” and “entitlementarianism.”

The astute reader will note that “detoxymoronia” is merely “oxymoron” with a “det” prefix and an “ia” at the end. We argued whether it should just be “toxymoronia” without the “de” in front because the “de” made it seem like a rehab sort of situation — but it was the rehab aspect itself that clinched it. We weren’t celebrities, but we understood rehab all the same. We defined detoxymoronia to be a mental impediment such that, when the facts on the ground contradict economic theories or economists’ assertions, the facts on the ground are disregarded. A sort of mental myopia ensues; facts, meaning vast segments of society, are ignored; incomplete statistics become paramount. Street and poor people don’t count, or count for less, because they don’t answer the phone for surveys.

To give credit where it is due, it was Damien, who writes Druidic, horror, romance novels featuring the ebola virus and flesh eating bacteria, but can’t seem to sell very many (the rage is all about vampires these days, he says), who came up with “consumania,” which encourages a society to consume more than it manufactures. There was no debate; it was too obvious a call. (“Everyone with a cellphone who disagrees, please stand up,” he said. No one stood. Some were too busy talking on theirs to hear the question anyway.) However, there was some debate as to whether consumania merely preceded a precession, or was a causative factor for the recession leading to the precession. We made no definitive conclusion, but nonetheless we thought symptoms of consumania could be determined by a simple inspection: if your vehicle(s) are parked in the driveway because the garage is full of all your crap, you have consumania.

Others noted that consumania seems to flourish in conjunction with “entitlementarianism” – which we defined as — I forget. It was something to do with being American.

Of course, since we were broke, we schemed how to either get a grant, or place our Nomenclature of Precessionism before the Nobel Prize committee, as if it were a full blown economic theory, but we realized we had little chance of success because we made no predictions and hence could not possibly be contradicted by the facts. We thought that the committee might itself suffer from detoxymoronia,  and our theory was probably too reality based for them. Instead we suggested the Nobel committee should offer an additional economic award titled, “PonziMadoffWithTheMoney,” to help pay the lawyer fees of its recipients.

Finally, we considered it important to produce some sort of Manifesto, or Proclamation, like they did in the 60s, just to prove we were unafraid of incommunicado detention by Homeland Security. But, alas, we couldn’t agree on much except our fine, new nomenclature, so we deputized Rudy, because he has a Degree in Poesy (but keeps getting rejected by Copper Canyon because he rhymes too much), to scribe a sarcastic short story about economists, which he could read at the next open mic of our favorite local tavern (The Uptown), thereby balancing the ills of the world, and to help remind us the recession was really “over.” Titled, “Agents of the Devil?” it is hereunto appended.


Contrary to popular belief, the Devil seldom shows up in human form. Rather than appear in public where he can be subjected to sarcasm — a weapon against which he has no defense — he prefers to operate via human agents who can sow discord and calamity with society’s blessing. However, his agents are not, as one might think, members of any religious organization. Nor are they lawyers, politicians, or even dentists – those choices would be too obvious. The Devil is clever — he understands our vulnerability to experts who can wreak more havoc, without ever leaving their ivory towers, than a large pack of demons, who are limited by their physical forms to local interventions. The Devil’s experts are, of course, economists.

Enters now Our Hero, who must slay the economists, and rescue the damsel from the dungeon where they keep the gold they have been hoarding in anticipation of a return to the gold standard. He awakens in the middle of a charming meadow on a warm, summer day on the outskirts of a small town in America. He opens his eyes and sees blue sky. He is naked but doesn’t realize that just yet, even though the tall grass chafes his butt. But he doesn’t remember anything about his mission, a realization that makes him abruptly sit up to check out his surroundings.

Then his stomach growled. Primal commands took over. He cast his eyes about looking for something to eat. Then he smelled something that makes even the nostrils of vegetarians flare: bacon. He sniffed the air. That direction, he noted, toward the town.

He was just over six feet tall, athletically trim, with olive skin, dark eyes, dark hair, maybe in his 20s. He looked vaguely Middle Eastern, but not Persian or Arab, or even Jewish. His nose was wrong for all of those groups, since it was more aquiline, but his hair had a tight curl to it. His pubic hair was dark and wiry, too, and he was uncircumcised. The latter fact was noted by Agnes Weathersby, the first of two people who saw him walking in town. While she momentarily paused to consider the situation, her husband Mort rounded the corner shortly behind her, since they were out on their daily walk.

Agnes and Mort Weathersby were “aging hippies.” They hadn’t exactly been Woodstock, but they had done their share of travel and fun things which happened to be illegal at the time. However, neither of them had seen a naked man outdoors, much less on the street in their small town, in quite some time, and they were a bit nonplussed, especially since it was just a few yards from their house, which they valued so highly they used to check a website daily to see how much it had gone up in price — but the joy had gone out of that search some time ago.

“Hello,” Mort managed to stammer, grinning awkwardly. “Nice day for a walk, eh?” he volunteered, trying to sound cheery and not put off or frightened in the least. Both Mort and Agnes nodded in unison as the naked guy came to a momentary halt to return their greeting.

“Hello,” replied the naked guy, not knowing how he knew to say “Hello” back, much less that it was in English. He might have just as easily repeated it in Mandarin, or Amharic, if that had been what he heard first.

“I’m hungry, could you please direct me towards some economists?” he politely asked. But naked guy could tell from their reactions that he was naked, and that it was considered inappropriate. Or perhaps it was the incongruity of the question that made them raise their eyebrows.

“There’s a grocery store and a food co-op not far from here, over that-a-way,” replied Mortimer, “but, ahem, cough cough, you might consider putting on some clothes before you go in there.” Mort and Agnes smiled and nodded, but as soon as naked guy was out of earshot, Mort grabbed his cell phone, telling Agnes, “I’m calling the cops. We don’t need any troublemakers around here.”

“He didn’t seem crazy,” she replied, “but why else would he have wanted directions to economists?”

At that point Rudy abruptly stopped speaking, peered up at us, and admitted that was as far as he got writing the story — and this after delaying us for weeks. There were some hoots of derision and joking shouts of, “you suck,” and, “stick to poetry.” He had  suckered us (as usual) into thinking he had written something grand, what with the way he approached the stage with such an incredible air of gravity, clutching a thick sheaf of papers under his bushy, white beard. He just looked so scholarly.

The problem was, he said, that he wanted it to be literary, but couldn’t find any other literary examples of people wanting to kill economists, except other economists. So he couldn’t figure out how Our Hero could slay the economists without dragging religion, magic powers, and/or space aliens into it. He was open to suggestions as to how to proceed.

Jason, the construction worker turned dishwasher, promptly suggested it should be like Lord of the Rings, except it would be a hunt for the Ivory Towers wherein dwelt the evil, wizard economists, who cast their theories at us minions like magic spells, only to be destroyed by Our Hero operating a Predator from a remote location, who also gets the girl.

Cory wanted to make a zombie movie, where the zombies would eat the economists, drawn to their flesh by the odor of numbers. Side debate as to what numbers smelled like. Idea is rejected.

Arsimone (pronounced R Sim Oh Knee) suggested it should be vampire themed, instead, so stakes could be driven through their hearts.

“Vampires and zombies — done been done,” was the consensus response, and we faced a different kind of horror, anyway.

Besides,”wouldn’t bloodsuckers be more about doctors and lawyers?” quipped Hairy with an “ai.” That’s how he always signed up to play guitar on open mic night. He was third down, but there was no rush to get Rudy off the hot seat just yet because he had recently finagled many a free beer in claims it was necessary lubrication to produce the epic piece he had been supposedly typing away at for weeks in the back corner booth.

He said he got bogged down further when he found over 190 pages of economic theories on Wiki, and tried to work his way through them all. They were all so incredibly contradictory that it drove him to drink.

“Just check out the names of some of these theories, and you will see why I’m stuck,” he continued. “The Robinson Crusoe Theory; The Henry George Theorem; Ragnar Norske’s balanced growth theory; Hydraulic macroeconomics; Trickle Down Economics; the economics of Lord Mahavira; an Oligopolistic reaction; a Theory of Storage; a Toothpaste tube Theory; a Wimbledon Effect; Bimetallism; and even a Theory of Interstellar Trade, to name but a few.” He might have gone on indefinitely but I suspect he realized our eyes were starting to glaze over.

“You’d think they would just bring back manufacturing,” he prodded, peering owlishly over his reading glasses. “Production seems to be the key to wealth, not consumption.”

Susan declaimed from her bar stool that the literature thing is difficult even without distractions, offering him an excuse, but actually a clever dagger of condescension. He declined, saying literature is easy.

“Is not,” says she.

“Is too,” says he. She says, he says. Hard to believe but they used to be an item. She fancies herself a writer of literature. We have a surfeit of writers. It’s a liberal, West coast town.

“Literature is easy,” he declared, getting in the last word.

“Apropos of nothing, the story begins. Sometimes it begins at the end. Sometimes it begins in the middle. It seldom begins at the beginning. Maybe some exposition follows the opening, perhaps a crisis or emotional travail, or some background. The order can be rearranged. For our story’s background: economists are suddenly riddled with a never-felt-before, tremendous guilt over erroneous projections, and begin slowly dying from it in droves, thereby providing much emotional detail to write about. Whole chapters. Especially their feelings about the fact there is no great medical emergency declared to save them. The shock at realizing they aren’t needed; the painful emptiness from being ostracized. Write as if from hindsight about them all dying, slowly. Add some emotional resolution, and perhaps an ambiguous ending. That’s it.”

If it’s so easy, then why didn’t he do it? He’s a pretender, says Susan. They go at it again.

“That’s it, off the stage,” insists Craig, stepping up to the mic. He runs the list. Everybody laughed. It’s winter, the tourists are gone, and open mic is an important source of entertainment. Rudy got a free beer for doing open mic. We survived another day.


Gary Siebel is an old guy existing in the watery wonderland of the great Pacific Northwest, partially deranged, and completely ridiculous in lifestyle, considering the weather. “It took me 32 years to graduate from the University of Washington, a fact not relevant to anything I can think of at the moment. Not sure why I even mentioned it, except perhaps to serve as padding. What the heck do you need to know, anyway?”

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