A Lecture on No-Win Situations

I think the lecture started at Trinidad State Junior College during the farm crisis.  The federal agencies had lost a lot of popularity, and as JC instructor, teaching cowboy engineering and a bit of farm/ranch management, my college Chevette, five Apple // computers and I were still well received in areas with lots of foreclosures.

So I came up with the obvious answer to the question “What do you do in a No-Win situation?”  I mean, what sort of professor can’t answer that?  In capital letters: “YOU LOSE.”  With that as the answer, the question changes to “How can I minimize my losses?”

Then, the problem was low crop prices and high interest rates – and the loans were secured by land values.  There were jokes – at least I hope they were jokes – about the guy who went into the Casino, put a million bucks on one hand at the blackjack table, won, and walked out with the comment, “Well, I can keep farming for one more year.”  One of my computer simulations was farm management – I don’t recall the name.  I do recall that, out of about 60 people who went through the game, one managed to keep her electronic farm afloat for 132 electronic cycles before the bank foreclosed.  From the development of agriculture until now, farmers are the great gamblers of the world.

In a No-Win situation you lose.  How much you lose is a question of how quickly you recognize that you are in a No-Win situation and how you choose to get out.  Success is measured in terms of what you keep – some loss is inevitable. 

I saw a different scenario when I worked at Libby’s FVCC campus around 1990 – the mills closed, the mines shut down, and the good jobs disappeared.  Folks who were accustomed to good paying jobs wound up unemployed.  As an additional kicker, mesothelioma from the asbestos in the vermiculite kicked in.  I watched a lot of people coping with that No-Win situation. 

I recall two couples dealing with No-Win scenarios.  One family decided to work harder to get through the tough times.  Each was putting in long days, each was bright – but hard work alone wasn’t enough to get through.  The other couple sold the ranch low, kept a forty with the house, she kept working at the bank, and he started driving a truck.  The last I heard of them, she was the bank president, and his trucking was short hauls – he was home at night and the sleeper behind the cab wasn’t in use.  When it’s a No-Win situation, recognizing it quickly and reducing your losses is success.

Some left the community.  Some hunkered and cut costs to get through.  Some started with large mortgages, some were debt free.  All lost – it was just a question of how much.  Some were able to use spare cash to do a bit of speculation – they might have been the winners.  In the aftermath of the war between the states, those folks were termed carpet-baggers.

Our land values, our house prices are high.  The transition to a recreation dependent and a retirement destination county has created new opportunities in service jobs – and those service jobs depend on the folks who have bought the expensive homes.  Many of those have sold California homes at inflated values and bought lower-priced starter mansions here – the conversation that enlightened me on that was in San Jose . . . the refugee was a third generation Californio, returning to the Arkansas that his grandfather had left with the dust bowl – where he could buy that starter mansion, hire a maid, and pay for it all with his state retirement.  He recognized that if he stayed in California, he would lose.  I don’t know if his new neighbors in Arkansas recognized the changes in store for them.

Losing isn’t a judgment on the individual – I’m looking at times of social and economic changes.  When the world is encountering an economic crash, why would you think that it won’t affect you?

Dad’s stories of the WWII Navy included a strip-ship bill . . . a list of items to be thrown overboard to keep the ship afloat.  In that No-Win situation, the things you didn’t need were predetermined.  We don’t have strip-ship bills in our homes – but perhaps we should make them. 

In a No-Win scenario, you lose.  With $5 gasoline, I’ve sped up my Yugo project.  The little beast once got 49 mpg on a day when I kept it under 50 mph from Libby to Havre (got trapped behind land yachts).  The Yugo doesn’t have AC.  I still need to put the new timing belt on.  But today, I added two new tires.  Putting it back on the road may not be so comfortable.  It may be a little lower.  But the little beast can drive past the gas pumps.  The picture isn’t mine – but it is mighty close to identical.  Mine is a little more luxurious – it has a radio and an antenna.

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