The war in the Persian Gulf is depressing. Then there's the recession to worry about, along with the failures threatening to topple large parts of our financial system.
So instead of afflicting you with my normal tales of gloom, doom, disaster and folly, I've decided to be upbeat this week.
Forget the bad news -- I've found the magic cure for our problems. All we have to do is follow the path blazed by that financial genius, Donald Trump, and his father, Fred.
Donald, of course, is the one-time real estate-airline-casino mogul who has choked on the $3.5 billion or so he owes on his properties. Father Fred, who founded the family fortune, has more restraint than Donald -- and more ready cash.
And even at the age of 85, Fred is clearly much smarter than the people who run some of the nation's biggest banks: He knows better than to lend money to his son.
Fred gave Donald the equivalent of an interest-free loan by buying $3.5 million of chips from the Trump Castle casino-hotel in Atlantic City, N.J. According to an article in the Atlantic City Press, a lawyer representing Fred Trump showed up at the Castle on Dec. 17, deposited a $3.35 million certified check, bought 670 $5,000 chips at a high-stakes blackjack table, stuck the chips in a bag and left. The next day, Fred wired $150,000 to the casino and bought another 30 chips. Pretty slick.
Because Donald knew that his father wouldn't cash in the chips right away, he could use the extra $3.5 million in the till to help make the $18.4 million interest payment due on the bonds. Had he lent Donald $3.5 million, Fred would have had to get in line behind Donald's numerous creditors, and he probably never would see a penny of his money again. This way, Donald got the money he needed, and Fred got chips that he could cash in any time the casino had money on hand to redeem them. He may have cashed in some or all of them by now. Casino regulators are yelling and screaming, but they will probably do nothing but make noise.
But think. This deal has ramifications far beyond just finding a way for Fred to sneak money to his kid. Without knowing it, Donald and Fred Trump have transformed chips from a gambling device into currency.
This brings to mind the way the junk bond market worked when Michael Milken was at the height of his powers. Many of Milken's best customers were perennially short of money, and they met their cash needs by selling junk bonds to Milken's network of junk buyers. The borrowers raised more cash than they needed, and they used the surplus to buy junk issued by other members of the network, who used their surplus cash to buy other members' junk. And so on and so on. Everyone took in everyone else's laundry. You didn't need U.S. currency to play. All you needed was the ability to issue junk bonds.
The only thing that Donald Trump did wrong in the Castle chip caper is to think small -- an uncharacteristic mistake for him. Instead of dealing in millions, Donald should do what Mike Milken did and deal in billions.
Rather than pay his debts with cash, which he doesn't have, Donald should offer to pay his creditors with casino chips, which he can mint endlessly.
Take New Jersey's Midlantic National Bank, which has a $50 million loan on the Castle. Trump hasn't paid interest on the loan for months.
In the chip economy, there's no need for such unpleasantness. Instead of stiffing the bank, Trump can give Midlantic $5 million of Castle chips to pay his interest bill. Then Midlantic, which used to call itself "The Hungry Bank" before it chowed down on a bellyful of bad loans, could use the chips as premiums to entice savers to open Midlantic accounts. Why settle for some crummy toaster when you can get a chip off the old Donald?
If you really want to think big, Donald could use chips to make a deal with Citibank, which has got Trump loans up the kazoo. These include a $235 million loan on the Trump Shuttle airline that's not paying interest, and another $130 million loan that's been tossed onto the pay-us-if-you-ever-get-some-money pile. Lord knows what other Trump paper Citibank is stuck with.
Citibank, which has little chance to collect anything like face value on these loans in our lifetime, could chip them out. The bank would present the loans at the Taj Mahal casino-hotel and walk away with $365 million of chips. Trump would have the Citibank loans off his back, the bank would have the loans off its books.
How does the bank cash out the chips? Easy. It takes them to the Federal Reserve's discount window, posts them as collateral -- everyone knows a casino chip is as good as cash -- and borrows $365 million against them.
See? Isn't it easy? All you need to pay your bills is to buy a casino and mint chips. The only problem with this system, as you may have figured out by now, comes when some smart guy shows up at the casino and wants to convert chips into money. That's a problem easily solved. You just give him more chips. If you think this is a scam, remember that the U.S. Treasury has run the world's biggest deficits, but it makes people happy by giving them new paper to redeem old paper. But don't think about that too much because you would get depressed. And I'll have cheered you up for nothing.
Allan Sloan is a columnist for Newsday in New York.