Because Ice Fishing Isn’t as Exciting as You Might Think

I once lead a group of men up to Mille Lacs for an ice-fishing weekend. As the Minfidel has previously stated, ice-fishing isn’t necessarily a thrill a minute, or even a thrill an hour. To wile away the time when we weren’t clubbing eelpout or steeling ourselves for a trip to the satellite, I devised a poker tournament.

The concept was simple. Each of the ten guys received $2500 in scrip to use for betting. At the end of the weekend we would use the scrip we’d accumulated to bid on prizes that I brought along. Scrip changed hands at a moderate rate for the first hour or so as we played conventional games such as five card draw and seven card stud. Then someone suggested a hand of “in-between.”

For those not familiar with this type of poker, it is a very simple but diabolical game that calls for very little strategy but generates huge pots and sudden betting reversals that deliver the kind of belly laughs that normally accompany watching another guy take an unexpected shot to the – umm – mid-section. This soon became the game of choice among our group, and it wasn’t long after that before our first guys tapped out. Since it was hours until dawn and the fish were fasting, “loans” were quickly arranged for the less fortunate so everyone could continue to play. Soon enough, the once wealthy were borrowing from other players as well. Some effort was made to keep track of who owed what and to who, but it rapidly became so convoluted as to be impossible.

By the time we were ready to go even the guy who had the biggest stack at the end still owed many times that to other players, who themselves owed many of their neighbors. As we tried to reconstruct the transactions I got the idea to add up all the “loans” that were passed around. Even though there was still only $25,000 in actual scrip, the total of all the loans was easily more than ten times that. Rather than auction, we decided to simply draw lots for the prizes. This seemed to please everyone but the guy who had ended up with the pile and who, as I recall, didn’t win anything in the drawing.

Now I’m sure you economists out there and others more clever than I in finances can draw all kinds of metaphors on socialism, credit, inflation and even the gold standard from the mini-symposium in economics we unwittingly conducted. When I think about the current debate over Social Security, however, I often find myself harkening back to that frozen weekend.

As I understand it, while there’s no doubt that Social Security benefits are being paid, and that taxes have been collected, the so-called “lockbox” is full of nothing but promises to pay. The politicians have swapped the funds back and forth between each other time after time just so they can keep playing the game. Eventually it’s going to be time to go home, and somebody’s going to be left holding a bunch of worthless paper.

And I thought eelpout where ugly.

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