January 18, 2010

A Chance to Re-Think Everything?

January 18, 2010 Someone wrote to me recently and said that he had expected the U.S. economy would be unwinding faster and deeper by now!  I keep watching the economy, tracking it, and thinking, “How much longer can this charade continue?” The levels of unemployment, the amount of national debt, and the ratio of debt to income, (almost 400% more debt than income)…it is clear we’re still in trouble. However, when I tune in to see if I can get a sense of when and if things will fall apart, I pick up a sense of optimism, of “everything is going to be all right…things are turning around…we just have to hang on.” The whole situation reminds me of the times when my children first got out into the world and overspent with their first checking accounts and charge cards. A hallmark of immaturity is a lack of realism. We have the attitude of a very immature society. If you look around you’ll see a clear line of demarcation between those who lost out in the recent financial disasters and those who made it through with some of their fortunes intact. Those who made it through are moving right back into the national gambling ring on Wall Street to play some more. Those who sank are still looking for help and hoping that someone will rescue them. To make matters worse, the stock market is no longer an investment tool for building productive companies. It is just a way of making money for those who can afford to gamble: put dollars in, wait a little bit, pull them out when you can inch up your investment a tad, watch for another wave, catch it just right and put another dollop of cash in, pull it out again to make another dime…and on and on, hopefully making more than you lose. Meanwhile, those who lost out and sank are of no concern to those who are back in the game. Slowly, the gap between those who sank and those who managed to hang onto a little money and power is getting ever wider. Some actually believe that things will be okay. Some hope that it will all turn out alright. Some are playing faster and harder to make as much as they can before the gig is up. Some know it’s over and have taken their money elsewhere. Some sense that the game is over and have abandoned all the rules. Some are stockpiling. Some are frozen into routines they can’t seem to get out of. And quite a few are hoping that whatever happens will just sort of pass over them. We’ll see what happens in March when the U.S. government has to decide whether or not to continue their new policy of “Quantitative Easing” (printing money wildly). If they do, the national debt will rise, and probably prices will go up as well. If they don’t keep printing money there will be a collapse, but the cure (inflation) will be as bad as the disease (collapse). The good and bad about a collapse is that in the short run, there would be a lot of chaos. In the long run, we would all have an excuse to simplify our lives. We would have to learn to work together, help one another, and figure out what kind of communities we want to live in as well as how to produce what we need – or perish. You know, you just don’t get the opportunity to re-think everything about life very often!