TF: Post-Rapture economics

TF: Post-Rapture economics September 7, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 406-407

More than 18 months after the Rapture, it finally occurs to the authors that the final countdown of history might also have financial and economic implications:

Rayford was going to be out of town until the day before he and Chloe and the new buyers were to close on the house. He smiled at the idea of buyers securing a 30-year mortgage. Someone was going to lose on that deal.

Well, sort of.

If this is simply a typical 30-year mortgage, then signing the deal doesn’t really make anything better or worse for either party. Both the bankers and the buyers will be dead in five and a half years, when the house and the land it sits on will be consumed by divine fire along with the rest of the housing market and the rest of the universe. So, yes, the new owners are committing to make loan payments for the next 30 years and they won’t wind up having to fulfill that obligation, but that advantage is offset by their inability to continue owning that house due to A) its being destroyed by the aforementioned universe-devouring divine fire, and B) their being themselves soon-to-be-former residents of that soon-to-be-former universe.

And of course that’s the best-case scenario for these new homeowners. The odds are against their surviving until the actual end of the universe five and a half years hence. It’s much likelier that they will die much sooner from a massive earthquake, Wormwood, demon locusts, burning hail, war, famine or pestilence. Ditto for the bankers.

Given that, it’s hard to imagine either side winning on that deal.

The fast-approaching End of the World could be exploited for financial gain, but only if one side had foreknowledge of it while the other did not. Rayford knows what the future will be and could put that knowledge to use by purchasing a new house with one of those back-loaded balloon-payment mortgages that it would be foolish to agree to unless you were sure the world was going to end. (This was, more or less, the strategy employed by the George W. Bush administration, which left behind all sorts of balloon payments set to come due after January 2009.)

If the bank knew beforehand that a 30-year mortgage would be 24½ years too long, I suppose they might consider requiring a shorter-term loan with a much larger down payment. But then if the banks knew what Rayford knows, I doubt they’d bother to continue making routine housing loans. They would, instead, start moving their assets into black-market, underground goods — bottled water, canned food, ammunition, medical supplies and other survival necessities — in order to prepare for the rapidly approaching apocalyptic portion of the apocalypse.

Rayford of course knows what Rayford knows, but he’s not doing any of that himself. He’s cashing out his house to move to New Babylon, but he doesn’t seem to be giving any thought about what to do with the money.

Let’s pause for a moment, as readers of these books are often forced to do, to think about something the authors don’t seem to have thought about at all: How much could Rayford expect to get for the sale of his house?

I’m sure it’s a nice house, even if Irene’s cluttered “knick-knacks” detract from its ideal staging for prospective buyers. The problem is there wouldn’t likely be any prospective buyers. The Rapture would have devastated the housing market, sending prices spiraling downward and glutting the market with an unsold inventory of enough vacant homes to last until the end of time. This wouldn’t be a “dip” or a “downturn,” but a full-on depression in the housing sector.*

And the Steeles’ home would be in one of the hardest-hit areas in the country. The Wheaton/Carol Stream area of the Chicago suburbs is the evangelical capital of the Midwest. Evangelical hotspots like the Steeles’ neighborhood — or like Grand Rapids, Colorado Springs or Orange County, Calif. — would make Las Vegas in 2008 look like a Golden Age of real estate.

Rayford could only sell his house if he priced it to compete with all the newly vacant properties left behind by Wheaton professors and Christianity Today editors. Plus he has to sell fast due to his new job with Nicolae, so he’s not in any position to negotiate or to wait for a better deal. It seems unlikely, then, that he’d recoup even half of what he and Irene originally paid for the house. Let’s settle on a figure of $100,000, even though that seems impossibly optimistic. What does Rayford plan to do with the $100,000 about to be transferred into his checking account?

This infusion of cash from the sale of his house ought to be forcing Rayford to finally think about the reality he is facing in a way that he has so far avoided doing. No point trying to invest it in stocks — whatever value they might still appear to have is doomed to disappear very shortly. Government bonds, presumably, ceased to be an investment option when there ceased to be governments.** And Rayford knows that cash and even gold will soon cease to have any meaningful value.

The only investments that would make any sense would be land — remote, off the grid, well-hidden — and the soon-to-be urgently needed survival provisions mentioned above.

Yet even now Rayford shows no sign of thinking about such things.

With Rayford gone, Chloe would be left with much of the work, selling stuff off, putting furniture into storage, and arranging with a moving company to ship her things to a local apartment and his all the way to Iraq.

I appreciate that Great-grandmother Steele’s armoire has been in the family for generations, but you’d think that just the task of toting something that heavy off to a storage rental would jar him out of this weird stupor and remind him that his will be the last generation of the family and there’s no point in putting the furniture into storage when the world is ending.

I find myself responding to Rayford’s short-sightedness differently than I do to the overall problem here of woefully inadequate world-building. The latter I blame on the authors. They keep tossing out these huge, world-altering events without ever bothering to show the world being altered — or even to acknowledge that the world has been altered. Every child on earth disappears and life continues unchanged. The United States government is dissolved and life continues unchanged. Every religious believer is legally required to convert to a brand new, ill-defined and infelicitously named new religion and life continues unchanged.

That’s infuriating, but my frustration is directed toward the authors and I find that frustration with the authors — thinking of them as careless, thoughtless hacks — doesn’t impede my ability to continue slogging through this awful book as much as frustration with the characters does. Rayford’s obliviousness makes me frustrated with Rayford. I realize, of course, that Rayford’s faults are also the authors’ fault — that he behaves like an idiot because that’s how he’s written, but it’s difficult to exempt him from all blame. And that makes this book an even worse experience for me. Reading a story written by idiots is bad enough, but reading a story written by idiots that’s also about idiots is even worse.

For the past couple of months, Amanda had been driving Rayford to O’Hare for these long trips, but she had recently taken a new position and couldn’t get away. So today, Chloe would take Rayford by Amanda’s new office, where she was chief buyer for a retail clothier.

This is disappointing on several levels.

First of all, it’s just a bad acquisition for the team. The Tribulation Force still has a lot of roster slots it desperately needs to fill and Amanda doesn’t seem to fit any of them. No matter how you look at this gang — a party of adventurers, a rag-tag merry band of outlaws — they have several positions that remain unfilled. They need muscle, a ship’s doctor, a scrounger, a Mr. Fixit and a scientist, at least. I’m happy that Rayford has met someone special, but a keen eye for next season’s trends in fashion*** wasn’t really on the short list of skills the Trib Force needed to add in their struggle to pretend to oppose the Antichrist.

Writing in a new wife for Rayford was a chance to improve and strengthen the team, but Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins were incapable of imagining a female character doing that. Given their attitude about gender, I knew it would be too much to hope for Amanda to turn out to be a cop, a grifter, a scientist or a doctor, but I at least thought they might allow her to be a nurse. That might have been an acceptably “feminine” profession in the authors’ eyes while also providing her with a skill set that would prove useful during the Great Tribulation. (Not that I’m saying people who work in retail can’t become valuable team members. Rose Tyler worked in retail and she proved pretty capable in a pinch.)

Apart from the particulars of her job, though, the stranger thing here is that Amanda just took this job recently. Ever since the Event, she’s become an active member of New Hope Village Church. She’s heard the “dire warnings” of Bruce’s sermons every Sunday, and she’s been studying hard in the regular outer-circle prophecy study groups, so she too knows all about the approaching hoofbeats of war, famine and death, to be followed by “17 more judgments … in rapid succession.”

If you know that’s what’s about to happen — if you’re 100-percent certain that this is what the very near future holds in store for you — then it’s time to quit your job and get busy. Preparation for the coming calamities should become your only full-time job. What good is a job, anyway? Maxing out your credit cards should provide more than enough cash to last from now until the arrival of Horseman No. 3, at which point money becomes essentially useless. And after that no amount of money will do Amanda any good anyway unless she plans on accepting the Mark of the Beast.

Yet no one in the story bats an eye over the news that Amanda has chosen this point in time to go out and get a new job as “chief buyer for a retail clothier.”

I can’t help but wonder about that job interview: “So, Mrs. White, where do you see yourself five years from now?”

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* The more I try to think about the economy of the post-Rapture world, the more complicated it becomes and the more impossible the events of these books seem to be. In addition to the devastation of the housing market due to the post-Rapture vacancies, there would be the massive unemployment due to the elimination of whole industries — children 12-and-under are not an insignificant factor in the global economy. In the ensuing global depression, deprivation and chaos, one can imagine the rise of a totalitarian leader, but such a leader’s path to power wouldn’t be anything like the path that Nicolae Carpathia follows in these novels.

Even a passing consideration of economics also serves to illustrate how unpopular — and thus how implausible — much of his agenda would prove to be. He great schemes of eliminating all national sovereignty, eliminating all but one currency, all but one language and all but one religion might all entail a handful of economic winners, but they would also all create billions of clear economic losers, none of whom could be expected to passively go along with the destruction of their livelihoods. To the extent that the authors consider this at all, they seem to think that such concerns can be hand-waved away with Nicolae’s mind-control powers and Stonagal’s wealth, but neither of those magical solutions seems powerful enough for the enormity of the task.

Consider just one portion of Nicolae’s agenda — the OWG. Then think of how many years it takes to negotiate a “free-trade” agreement between, say, the United States and Paraguay. Think of how many thousands of pages such an agreement fills, how many lawyers were involved, how many exceptions, exemptions, loopholes and sweeteners are required to be argued over and bargained for. Give someone all of Stonagal’s massive financial resources and toss in supernatural powers of persuasion and preternatural charisma and I might believe that such a person could, in a mere 18 months, succeed in arranging a free-trade agreement between Nigeria and South Korea. But even that is a stretch. A one-world government? Not a chance.

** Nicolae Carpathia presumably shares Rayford’s advantage of knowing what the prophecies say about the near future and the lack of anything beyond it. One wonders if he’s not exploiting that knowledge by issuing GC-bills, bonds promising investors an exorbitant payout in just six short years.

*** The Great Tribulation heats up this summer with kevlar as the new black. Vibrant scarlet is the season’s hottest color — not just for sword-wielding horsemen, but for everyone from soccer moms to the mother of whores and of earth’s abominations, Mystery Babylon herself. The summer’s stylish new accessory — a true MUST-have for everyone — will be worn on the right hand or the forehead …

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