Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Stone stairs between tulip beds
I am not an economist, nor do I play one on TV. Having thus made my disclaimer, I do have a few thoughts to share about the current economic crisis, as it is called.

First, I like it when Letterman says "All the money is gone. My question is, where did it go?" I think that's an excellent question, and I have not yet heard a simple, believable answer except the one in my gut which says "Well, a lot of it must not have been there to begin with." As in: The emperor's clothes didn't suddenly just vanish, he was walking around buck nekkid the whole time.

Since the advent of Reaganomics, we've been increasingly a culture operating on credit. And in the last decade, the best way to make money was not to produce goods or even concrete services, but to play around with imaginary concepts which had to do with credit. That illusion has finally collapsed, and I simply don't believe it is coming back. It looks to me like a lot of other people don't believe it's coming back, either. Banks are not loaning unless the loans are iron-clad, investors want something else to put their money into, and credit-based businesses are increasingly finding other ways to bleed us if they can.

Some commentator on the national news tonight said "People are simply not spending their money." I wondered what fucking universe she lives in. EVERYBODY I know is spending their money, every last cent of it, on groceries, fuel, housing, and maybe health care. There are ballooning numbers of people out there who have spent every cent and now are losing their homes or having to go to food banks to eat. The majority of people in this country -- that majority which is working class, no matter how much they and the politicians pretend they are middle class -- are not sitting on unspent money. What they/we are no longer spending is money we didn't have. Living on credit is coming to an end.

Which means the same amount of money that ever existed is still around, but decisions about how it spent are changing, must change. And its distribution must return to being a collective decision.

Some of us are capable of making decisions about spending that takes into account, primarily, the common good. Some of us are not. Those who are not will not disappear quietly. They are, as we speak, trying to bust unions, shove more worker-hating legislation quietly through the pipeline, and hiding the footprints of their fellow thieves.

There is no recovery from this, because the term "recovery" implies a return to basic principles and function as it was. What we are facing is reinvention. Which, even as I personally face being swept away, is still a hopeful idea to me. It's time, it's more than time, and working people know how to retool. When you believe you EARN your paycheck each week, reorganization and learning how to do things a different way does not threaten exposure and exile: We know we can handle it, we handle everything else, right?

The risk we're facing is revealed by something Einstein said: "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

So, stop listening to people who don't make sense, who you think maybe you shouldn't trust, and quit worrying. Especially quit worrying. I know how hard that is to do when things are so bad, believe me, I do. I've gone without a lot of meals in the last month, and there's nothing like hunger to mess with brain chemistry. But worry does not prepare you for reality, it does not foster flexibility or humor. It's a dead end, because it is another name for fear. There are a thousand ways to outwit fear, and by golly, if we have not become experts in those techniques since Bush sashayed into the White House, we're no longer drawing breath.

I'll see you on the soup line, sister. Breathe deep and finger what luck you have. It'll be all right in the end, I do believe.


Liza Cowan said...

Thanks Mags. That was a tonic.

I think that eventually this mess will strengthen us as a country or a world, but in the meantime, it's hard. Or a challenge. Or an opportunity. Very sobering.

But it keeps coming back to the fact that it's the folks who have the least money who have to carry most of the burden, and that's just not right.

I watch it daily in my retail business and in my small city. Stores closing, people losing jobs. At holiday season, people who are still buying presents are looking for the best buy for the least money - which I think is a good thing.

Still, I've decided that my best route to financial survival is through community building. In my case, retail, it means leasing out some of the space I really didn't need to other small arts related businesses. And you know what? It's not just ok - it's better than before. More energy, more people circulating through the space, more comraderie, more brain power, more fun, and yes, sales have been ok. Not brilliant, but better than I expected.

We'll see what happens in the new year, but I'm trying to stay flexible and creative and trying to figure out how nourishing a community with art will circle back and nourish the artists with money, goods or services. Yeah, we barter, too.

And I agree with you. The money was an illusion. Poof. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Toto has just piddled on his leg.

kat said...

I heard an interesting piece the other day (on NPR.....only radio worth listening to these days) about England and its financial crisis.

The piece focused on what they called "The nation of shopkeepers" since there are fewer big chain stores there, and more independent retailers. Apparently England has dug itself into a black hole of credit, starting with what they call "overdraft" (which is not the same as when one overdrafts here. Rather you have a set amount that you can spend ON TOP of what's in your account, and it's like a line of credit....or something.....)

Apparently because of the "OMG GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS" banks are axing their customers' overdrafts. Business owners have gotten so used to the constant flow of credit that having it stop is causing them to really have to think about how to maintain their businesses.

I hate to see local, independent merchants hurt, but at the same time, the whole "constant flow of credit" is a little scary. And very Emporers New Clothes, like you said.....