Monday, June 27, 2022

Harvesting the Stupid

You can't fall for a rip-off if you are astute - and you can choose to be astute or stupid.  Your choice.

NOTE:  This is an older posting I only finished today.

I recounted before about a conversation I had with a young(er) man, when he asked me "What do the car companies do with all the cars that remain unsold?"  I quickly realized he had clicked on a "sponsored content" article or some Facebook posting which was going around a while back, claiming that car companies actually made cars and then immediately crushed them - or put them out in huge lots to rot, because no one wanted to buy them - or they sell them for "pennies on the dollar" but only to those in the know!

I am not sure what the point of these articles was, other than perhaps a come-on for a "lead service" to steer you to some car sales site, or perhaps our Russian friends, at it again, trying to convince people that capitalism just doesn't work.  After all, you want a new car and the car companies are just throwing them away!   This sort of nonsense just stirs up background dissent among the population.

What happens to cars that are unsold?   There are none - they all get sold.   Sure, car companies crush cars - test prototypes and experimental jobs.   When unions go on strike, there are often half-finished cars on the assembly line, whose unpainted bodies might be rusty after a few weeks.  Often these are crushed as well.  Cars that are flooded in hurricanes, or fall off the transporter or whatever - often these are destroyed.   But the rest go to dealers, who sell them, and when they can't sell them, dealers are given "incentives" to move older models off the lot.

When we shopped for our (used) pickup truck, we were chagrined to see some smaller rural dealers still selling brand new 2016 models - in 2018.   Oddly enough, they weren't offering big discounts, either.   Sometimes the dealers wait for assistance from the manufacturer, but for hot-selling models like the F150, it may not be forthcoming.   Sadly, this happens a lot with smaller rural dealers, who think they need to get maximum profits from the few cars they sell (and often their lots are clogged with unsold cars).   Like I said in a previous posting, the car companies would rather do without these dealers, as they don't move iron off the lot the way the mega-dealers do, in the big cities.

As a last resort, what dealers will do is take a car from the new car lot, and move it to the used car lot, and cut the price - or often raise it.  As I noted before, used cars sometimes cost more then new ones, because used car buyers are often less sophisticated and dealers can make more money from them, in terms of sales price, add-ons, extended warranties, and of course, sub-prime financing.   And that is one reason why, when we went to some of these dealers, with our checkbook to pay the entire purchase price, they weren't interested.   There was some other chump out there who would pay top dollar for that car.   It was why, even when I used a "buying club" to buy our first F150, the dealer tried to mess with the pricing.  They weren't happy that I was buying the most loaded truck on the lot, for a far lower price that they could get from some jughead who "just had to have it."

In some instances, manufacturers will offer dealers incentives to move iron to the used car lot.  When the Audi TT came out (basically a VW Golf in drag) it was quite popular.  But its bathtub shape caused aerodynamic lift, and one professional rally driver was killed in a high-speed accident when his personal car lifted off the ground at speed.   They recalled the cars and fitted wings to them, but the damage was done - no one wanted to buy one.  So they paid the dealers to sell them as used cars, at which point they sold - everything finds a price, even at a loss.

Dealers do other weird things.  We saw some trucks on sale on the "Off Lease Only" site, some of them had absurdly low miles on them, and the Carfax was odd.  The car was shown as unsold for nearly two years, and then suddenly shows up at auto auction with 5,000 miles on it, and is re-sold twice before making down the food chain to Off-Lease Only.  Wrecked car?  Perhaps.  A salesman explained to me that it could have been a "parts runner" or a demonstrator, or more likely, a hard-to-sell model that was gotten rid of.  The truck in question was an oddball - a cab-and-a-half, with every single option, pushing the purchase price into King Ranch or Platinum territory.  Buyers of those trucks aren't interested in a cab-and-a-half.  Cab-and-a-half buyers want a white truck with a rubber floor and a bench seat, not skylights and surround-sound.

But the cars do not remain unsold.   When manufacturers cannot get dealers to take on the cars, they sell them to the rental fleets.  And in the past, each rental car company had a relationship with a major manufacturer.   Ford offloaded a lot of cars to Hertz, for example.  When no one wanted to buy GM's boring sedans, they made their way to Avis, which kept the assembly lines running.  In the pre-bankruptcy days, GM had to pay the workers whether the factory was running or not, so it made sense to make the cars, even at a loss, rather than pay people not to work.

Of course, the problem with fleet sales is that you flood the secondary market with lightly used cars.  It also tarnishes the marque, as people associate your vehicle with rental fleets, and thus value it even less, leading to an even greater decrease in new-car sales.  Some cars became so famous for being rental car fleet fodder, it is hard to believe anyone would actually buy one new.   Car companies are getting away from this - the post-bankruptcy UAW contract doesn't incentivize them to do this, and moreover, they realize it is a short-sighted strategy, moving iron for the short-term, but damaging sales, long-term.

I digress, a lot.  But it illustrates the point - it is hard to understand how the world works, and the world works in complicated ways.  It is a lot easier (and let's face it, more fun) to believe some click-bait story about cars being crushed at the end of the assembly line, or left to rot in fields somewhere.  It is an easier story to digest, and as I keep repeating as one of my mantras, Easy Answers Are Usually The Wrong Answers.   Understanding how things actually work takes effort, and most people are lazy.

I recounted how, yesterday, we got three phone calls in succession from Trumpcare telemarketers. If you choose to be astute, you can spot this as a rip-off at 1000 yards.  How?  Well, for starters, they are violating the Do-Not-Call registry, so you know they are crooks.  They call three times, from three different numbers (which you can't call back, as you only get disconnected numbers) spoofing the caller-ID feature.   Legitimate companies don't do this, period.   And of course, they use confusing language and fast-talking to make it seem like they are affiliated with mainstream insurance companies or the ACA, when in fact they are not.   I realized this 30 seconds into the call.

They are selling something that sounds awfully convenient to me - low-cost health insurance!  Yea, that could exist, on Planet Bizarro.   Again, when something sounds too-good-to-be-true, it usually ain't.  And when a story sounds convenient to your personal interests, you should examine it doubly carefully.

The next time these bozos call, I will ask them one simple question.  I'll just say, "Gee, I'm kind of busy right now, can I call you back?" And I suspect they will not be able to provide a call-back number, because they are frauds.

Today, I got two calls, on my phone this time, from "the credit card company" offering to refinance my staggering credit card debt (today's balance: zero dollars and zero cents, at 7.17% interest).    When I press one, a man answers in a thick Indian accent.   I pretend the line is noisy and I can't hear him, and keep him on the line for several minutes, before I say, "I can't understand you because of your thick Indian accent!" and he says, "You motherfucker!" and hangs up.   It is two in the morning in India, and these guys are wired on cheap crank, or speed, and have a quota to make.  The best way to mess with them is to waste their time.

I am not picking on Indians - but that country does seem to be the source of so many of these fraudulent calls.   There are many brilliant Indian Engineers, Businessmen, Scientists, Teachers and whatnot.  These telemarketer callers are not among them and never will be.  From their perspective, we here in the USA have a staggering amount of money (Oh, right, I forgot, things here are awful, right?) and they deserve some of it.  So whatever moral qualms they have, they swallow, so they can make a few bucks.

And others - including many here in the USA - have no such moral qualms.  Many a lawyer I've met has told me they have no compunction about "harvesting the stupid" - taking advantage of other people's ignorance of basic facts, or their basic lack of skepticism.   If someone is dumb enough - or greedy enough - to fall victim to your scam, too bad for them!  They should know better, and in a way, these con artists are right.

There is a staggering amount of informed stupidity in this country.  On that same trip, at the same campground, I met another young(er) man who informed me he voted for Bernie.  "In the primary, you mean," I replied, "Who did you vote for in the general election?"

"Aren't they the same thing?" he replied.   This floored me.   Maybe we should go back to the old days when only rich people could vote - or something.   What was worse, the fellow was a naturalized citizen, who had to pass a citizenship test.   Many naturalized citizens, as a result of this test, know more about American history and laws than native-born citizens do.

It seems that stupidity is the new smart.   But it seems to me that many people choose this rather than choosing smartness, because smart is hard.

People love to mindlessly worship celebrities.  People spend hours watching "Reality TeeVee" and believe it to be real, even after it has been demonstrated, time and time again, to be vaguely scripted and heavily edited to create plotlines and conflicts, where there are none.   People dedicate their lives to a celebrity rock star or a football team, to the detriment of their own lives.  The yearn for that 15 minutes of fame, when maybe they, too, will be celebrated as a "superfan" in some kooky piece on the 6 o'clock news, showing their home  and car painted in team colors.

I know people who can tell you more about the personal finances of their favorite celebrity or quarterback, but yet don't know the balance on their own credit card.  We are fed this crap to distract us from what is important in our lives, to get us to believe in easy answers to tough questions, so that when these shifty people call or advertise to us, we jump on their phony promises like a drowning man reaching for a life-ring.

It doesn't take but two or three brain cells to realize that it doesn't profit anyone to make cars and crush them, or leave them "unsold" on huge lots somewhere.  Even if you are selling at a loss, you are doing better discounting a product and moving it off the lot than just destroying it and getting nothing.   And common sense would tell you that some click-bait ad on the Internet isn't going to steer you to "pennies on the dollar" on highly demanded brand-new SUVs.

There are plenty of people out there willing to harvest the stupid.   Yea, it sucks, I know.  As Christians, we are suppose to protect those weaker then ourselves and not exploit their weaknesses.  But sadly, a lot of people who consider themselves Christians - particularly "Visible Christians" who make quite a show of their faith - have no qualms about ripping off those less astute than themselves.  If God didn't want them to do it, he would stop them, right?   But since they are prospering from such chicanery, it must be a sign of God's approval.

The only real answer is to stop being stupid, which is hard to do, as stupid is fun.  The young man I met wanted to believe that he could get something-for-nothing, in this case, a new SUV for pennies.  The other young man wanted to believe in the fairy dust of Bernie Sanders - but didn't even understand the election process, much less the daunting task it would be to elect Bernie Sanders or push his agenda through Congress.

It is kind of sad, too.  Because you try to explain these things to people and their eyes glaze over.  "Yea, yea, yea," they say, "That's all very well and fine.  But where do I go to buy a leftover SUV??"

I guess you just can't help some folks!