Well hello and welcome back to The Lazy Linoleum Surfer. After having condemned the lazy habits of Ramadhan in the GCC, I then disappeared and did nothing on this blog for a month, apart from mock the opportunistic thieving in London with a Libya-based satire that some people didn't seem to get....anyway...here I am, back. Sorry for the intermission. I don't have much excuse apart from some travelling East and West and trying to focus a bit more on making a living, but you don't care about that, do you? Where's the Linoleum AT?!
So, I've been a-thinking, what to write about? There are plenty of things on my mind as usual, and this might end up being the first of more than one post today (oh yeah, get him, a month of diddly squat and now he's talking double-header!), or not...but what's on my mind right now is my car.
OK, maybe that's not quite the socio-political elephant in the room that I normally like to bathe in the fierce luminosity of my insight (yeah, break hasn't done my ego any harm, eh Andy?). Except that it kind of is. Let me start at the beginning:
A little while back, a dear friend of mine moved back to Oman after some challenging times abroad. We were talking about the difficulties that likely lay ahead, personal, practical, financial. And then about the new car that had been ordered. I suggested that perhaps, in uncertain times, buying a fancy-branded top of the range SUV, even a small one, for, say, $50,000, might be a bit...stupid? OK, it was to be financed somehow, allegedly in some kind of halal way, and a car was needed, etc etc. But still, honestly, I was very sceptical. Because for me a new car has always been seen as a luxury indulgence for when everything else in life (e.g. having a house, kids schooling provided for, pension plan etc), is well under control.
This is where we get to the point, then. I mentioned this whole new car thing in Ramadhan a little while ago. At the risk of repeating myself, why is it that this time of supposed spirituality and prayer seems to be a competitive consumer-fest? Frequently culminating in a four year loan (with religiously-forbidden usury built in) for twice the borrower's current annual net income, to have a shiny new car? I mean, I accept that sometimes you just need to replace your car. And in Oman, you really want to have a car, as every planning authority in the country has fought a forty year war against public transport and pedestrians. But the interest part? The massively-in-debt-for-a-rapidly-depreciating-asset part? And just the spending loads of money on something you don't really need part? Isn't that all just kind of....wrong?
Now we're all different and have our own preferences and priorities. But logically, to me anyway, it's partly relative: when my buddy bought a brand new Porsche a couple of years back (ma sha Allah!), I was delighted for him. But he, to put it bluntly, is a rich man. OK, even rich people don't walk around with loads of cash washing about - from what I've seen, lifestyle seems to expand to accommodate income pretty fast whoever you are - but in his case, I know he's never going to have to worry about paying for somewhere to live or what he's going to feed the children. So, fair enough I guess.
What worries me, practically, economically and ethically, is the consumer culture, and let's face it, the culture of showing off, for ordinary folks. Ask anyone who works in a bank, or actually pretty much anyone at all, and they will know someone who has no house, a low income, and car payments that take up the majority of what they take home. Sure, there are supposed to be percentage limits and this and that, but we all know how that works in reality: and even if the limit is supposed to be, say, 30% of net income...isn't that a lot? A third of what you earn, what you spend on anything, just to own that shiny thing? Before you've put fuel in it, maintained or insured it, let alone put a roof over your head, fed yourself or provided for your family.
The personal credit levels right now are a crisis waiting to happen. The first generation of credit card and car loan junkies are now retiring and realising that when their salary gets halved and called a pension (for those fortunate enough to have one), the bank loans stay just the same. And for the young kids who somehow get these loans without even having a job - some of whom were (I'm told) calling for their loans to be paid off by the Government during the protests in Salalah a couple of months ago, it was never sustainable in the first place. If morality doesn't suggest it, then maybe just economically, it's time to throw some cold water on this credit culture with some tighter regulations.
In the mean time, Mr Falani can buy his Lexus and show off to his neighbours and act like a bigshot, regardless of his having a crappy job or none at all. Maybe he can get a smaller car, and spend the rest of it on paying some people to follow him around shouting "Make way, Here comes Funky Voodoo Jesus! Yay!". To be honest, in my jaded eyes, the two things look pretty similar. Then there's my friend, who did buy that nice car and is very happy with it. Except that same friend appears to have cursed my smug, po-faced, lecturing butt by placing an evil eye on my car to teach me a lesson.
Yes, maybe this is just sour grapes, because my car is a big blue pile of faeces. The Crapmobile has recently developed some kind of electrical leukemia for which I am blaming my friend, rather than the gang of cackling, coke-snorting East Asian monkeys who seem to have built it. So while I work out whether it's better value to actually pay for Shitwheels to be fixed again, or just tow it out into the dessert, and set fire to the damn thing, maybe I'm not looking objectively at what someone else should or shouldn't spend on a shiny new car.
But here's a thought: whether or not you have $50,000 kicking around for a new car, or you have to borrow it, it's still a lot of money isn't it? It sounds like it to me, from my admittedly humble background. If you've ever not had money, you realise very quickly that money equals the power of choice. And if you bought, say, the $30,000 car instead, the change could transform a lot of things in your life or someone else's. What about the guy who buys some limited edition Bugatti for a million or more? Trade down to an Aston Martin (which, I'm told, gets the same kind of speeding tickets anyway), and the change is a small fortune. Imagine what you could do with it.
I seriously wouldn't mind a shiny new car. But part of me is still certain that, even in the unlikely event I suddenly became very rich, I'd be a bit embarrassed to spend hundreds of thousands on some gleaming rocketship: partly because I know that for, say, $200,000, you could invest in a little trust find to give an orphan a top quality international education every year forever. Or give a town a water supply. Or save a few thousand starving Somali babies. And partly, maybe, because I've never seen someone in a Lamborghini and not wondered if he might just be a bit of a dick.
Thanks for still reading,
P.S. You might recall I said a couple of months ago that this blog was available for commercial sponsorship by arms dealers, drug smugglers, or manufacturers of deeply unhealthy food and beverage products. I'd now like to add auto manufacturers to that list, just in case you work for one. Pay me in kind, with some gas-guzzling horror show of a car. Pretty much any car. Just take that howling metallic turd away from me and shoot it. Please? Thanks.