% x

          From the back pages of the National Post

          The irritating face of economic havoc
          Cosh, Colby. National Post [Don Mills, Ont] 19 Sep 2008: A.18.

          As the American financial system goes up in flames like a tissue-paper fairyland touched by a stray match, I can't help thinking back to the first time I thought to myself, "It's time to short Uncle Sam."

          It was when I first read about Casey Serin -- a name that is not likely to mean much to you now, unless you are a true connoisseur of miscellaneous Internet phenomena. Today, Casey, pictured below, is forgotten, but one day, his curious story will be re-examined with intensity and amazement; for he was the canary whose plummet from the perch disclosed that the world's major financial organs were sucking methane.

          Casey's remarkable adventure was, by and large, already over when he first became famous in the autumn of 2006. That was when the young Californian started his blog, IAmFacingForeclosure.com. The site was one of a number of "housing bubble blogs" run by troubled investors that had begun to attract a following at the time.

          Two things made Casey's site stand out so far from the rest that journalists described him as "on his way to becoming the most hated blogger on the Internet," and an exemplar of "irritainment": the depth of the hole he had dug for himself and the complete lack of self-awareness with which he described his predicament.

          A veteran of get-rich-quick real estate books and seminars -- of the sort that gets nobody rich quick but the authors and presenters --Casey, a newlywed Uzbek immigrant then aged 23, had quit his job in the fall of 2005 to become a full-time property speculator. Using none of his own capital, he had been able to purchase eight houses across the U. S. southwest in just eight months. Total value: roughly US$2.9-million. How was a former Web developer who had never earned more than $50,000 in a year able to build such an empire? The question was once an idle conundrum, but today it seems somehow imperative that a full answer be found.

          The short, ostensive answer, of course, is mortgage fraud-- though it was fraud of a sort that, as Casey has insisted all along, no American authority has been very interested in prosecuting or preventing. With encouragement from mortgage brokers, Serin lied to lenders about his income and abused subsidized loans intended strictly for owner-occupants. Making multiple purchases before the initial ones could filter through to his credit reports was crucial to the process. Later, when he managed to unload some of his properties, he would use up-front cash from sellers to bankroll other purchases (as well as his own expensive lifestyle), failing to give the required notice to increasingly anxious creditors.

          Serin was so unaware he'd done anything wrong -- ethically or legally -- that he openly blogged about all this behaviour, defiantly arguing with Web visitors about his refusal to find a job, his carelessness about reporting to creditors, his reliance on patient friends and relatives and the inane purchases he would make whenever some scrap of cash fell in to his hands. He became legendary in the blogosphere and on the talk-show circuit for alternating half-baked musings about whether he'd really done anything wrong, dipstick maxims like, "The fastest way to becoming a millionaire is to borrow a million," scorn for formal education and hard work and praise for virtually every form of snake oil known to mankind, ranging from enemas to wheat grass to "9/11 truth."

          Yet despite being a naive, lazy combination of American Dreamer and con man, it was only the chance discovery of one of his Web pages by a mortgage lender that stopped him from buying a ninth house.

          At one time, the whole unbelievable crap game might well have worked out for Casey -- but he had picked a hilariously inappropriate time to jump into U. S. real estate, and had made matters worse by buying certain properties sight unseen from wholesalers. In the end, at least five of Serin's houses were foreclosed on, becoming poorly maintained neighbourhood nuisances in the meantime. His net worth is in the abyss, his beautiful wife left him and took her annihilated credit rating with her and his history of shady dealing leaves a declaration of bankruptcy almost entirely out of the question.

          So how many Caseys are out there, living on the edge in the American wilderness? If home lending practices were really as insane as he has demonstrated, using nothing but a head full of self-help nonsense and the guts of a burglar, how much abuse was perpetrated by bright people who really knew how to game the broken system? How much bad debt still remains to be purged, and how low can the bottom of the housing market be? No one can say: All one can do is tremble with dread for the fate of the republic.

          colbycosh@gmail.com

          Credit: Colby Cosh; National Post

          Illustration
          Color Photo: / x ;; Caption:

          Copyright CanWest Interactive, Inc. Sep 19, 2008

          % x

          Data notes to "Will no one rid us of these turnout nerds?"

          Statcan wants me to make sure you know "This analysis is based on the Statistics Canada General Social Survey, Cycle 22: Social Networks, 2008. All computations, use and interpretation of these data are entirely that of Colby Cosh."

          The actual sample sizes for the "Olds" and "Youngs" categories defined in the article are n=1780 for the "Olds" and n=1997 for the "Youngs". To derive national estimates of both eligible-voter totals and "did-vote" totals, the answers by respondents have to be adjusted by individual demographic weights, designed (by Statcan) such that any possible subsample reflects as closely as possible the geographic and demographic qualities of the population as a whole. Individual respondents who have demographic features underweighted in the sample are thus given extra weight for the purpose of making population estimates like mine. This makes estimating confidence bounds and calculating statistical significance a little tricky: readers who are interested can consult the documentation for GSS Cycle 22 (which, unlike the microdata themselves, is publicly viewable). But the differences between the estimated "Old" and "Young" turnouts do appear to be many, many standard deviations apart in every case.

          Twitter

            Blogroll

            CANADA
            Full Comment
            NP Network Blogs
            Mark Steyn
            Paul Wells
            Jonathan Kay
            The Shotgun
            Scrolling Eye
            Megapundit
            Norman Spector
            Adam Radwanski
            The Court
            Michael Geist

            The Tyee
            BlogTO
            Torontoist
            George Jonas
            Mathew Ingram
            Kate McMillan
            David Frum
            Mark Evans
            Dust My Broom
            Steve Janke
            Weissenberger/Koch
            Adam Daifallah
            Joey DeVilla
            Angry Robot
            Kathy Shaidle
            Daveberta
            Douglas Bell
            Andrew Steele
            This
            Flit
            Jonathan Chevreau
            Tybalt
            Buckdog
            Jay Currie
            Slaw.ca
            Xtra.ca
            John Cairns
            Stephen Taylor
            Pithlord
            I, Ectomorph
            Darren Barefoot
            Dave Shea
            Paul Willcocks
            Daniel Negreanu
            Jeffrey Shallit
            Stewart Russell
            Daimnation!
            Grant McCracken
            J. Kelly Nestruck
            Caterina Fake
            Nicholas Packwood
            Alec Saunders
            Jay Jardine
            Blogging Tories
            Tim Bray
            3 Bright Stars
            The Dominion
            John Gushue
            Blog Québécois
            Ian Gilmore
            Kevin Grace
            Rick Hiebert
            Globe on Hockey
            Ryan Cousineau

            USA
            Matt Welch
            The Volokh Conspiracy
            Jim Henley
            Aaron Haspel
            Jason Kottke
            Agenda Bender
            E.K. Rescorla
            David Friedman
            Instapundit
            Ken Layne
            Evan Kirchhoff
            Anders Sandberg
            Udolpho
            Rogers Cadenhead
            Lindsay Beyerstein
            Jeff Johnson
            Rob MacDougall
            Virginia Postrel
            Mickey Kaus
            Jerry Pournelle
            Steve Sailer
            Luke Ford
            John Derbyshire
            Gene Expression
            Derek Lowe
            Marginal Revolution
            Lynne Kiesling
            2 Blowhards
            About Last Night
            Hit & Run
            Liberty & Power
            Cato Unbound
            Gene Healy
            Julian Sanchez
            Radley Balko
            Jesse Walker
            Billy Beck
            Steven Jens
            Evan McElravy
            Will Wilkinson
            Tim Cavanaugh
            Greg Ransom
            Jane Galt
            Alex Ross
            Andrew Sullivan
            Armavirumque
            Tony Pierce
            James Lileks
            Joanne Jacobs
            Jeff Jarvis
            A.C. Douglas
            Emmanuelle Richard
            Dr. Weevil
            Maia Lazar
            The Comedian
            Buddyhead
            Aggravated DocSurg
            Jack Balkin
            GetReligion.org
            Terrence Berres
            Eric Scheie
            Bruce Sterling
            Cool Tools
            Mark Chu-Carroll
            Michael Stastny
            Ed Kemmick
            Eve Tushnet
            Brainwash
            Cliopatria
            Language Log
            Jorn Barger
            Brad DeLong
            The Corner
            PWS
            Dienekes
            Cognitive Daily
            Kircher Society
            11D
            Nielsen Hayden
            Paul Kedrosky
            James DiGiorgio
            Daniel Radosh
            Amy Alkon
            Minimally Invasive

            WORLD
            Sarah Kelly
            Null Device
            BoingBoing
            Tim Blair
            Denis Dutton
            Ben Goldacre
            Daily Speculations
            Boris Johnson
            Crooked Timber
            Warren Ellis
            Overcoming Bias
            Scotty Mac
            Russian Dilettante
            Anglican.tk
            Daniel Butler
            Samizdata
            Chris Brand
            Andrew Ian Dodge
            Adam Smith Inst.
            Peking Dork
            Ian Hamet
            Kaiser Kuo
            Mig Greengard
            Danwei.org
            Free Exchange
            Tim Harford
            Japundit
            Shoko Nakagawa
            Tim Krabbé

            SPORTS
            Lowetide
            Covered in Oil
            James Mirtle
            Eric McErlain
            Daryl Reaugh
            Sports Matters
            Hot Oil
            Irreverent Oiler Fans
            Pat McLean
            Littlest Defenseman
            Abel2Yzerman
            Jes Gõlbez
            Tom Benjamin
            Hockey Rodent
            SharksPage
            Baseball Think Factory
            Football Outsiders
            Boatmen Blog
            Free Darko
            Deadspin
            Kissing Suzy Kolber
            Fire Joe Morgan
            Tangotiger

            COMICS/FUN
            Maakies
            Achewood
            Fart Party
            Wondermark
            Dinosaur Comics
            Angry Flower
            XKCD
            Stupid Comics
            Deuce of Clubs
            Something Awful
            David Thorpe
            Fake Steve Jobs
            Jim Treacher
            Cockeyed
            ASIFA
            A Special Thing
            Comics Curmudgeon
            David Campbell
            John Kricfalusi
            Patton Oswalt
            TSOYA