The typical human walk, scientists say, is really a controlled fall. We twist our hips a bit and fall forward, but strategically place our foot in just the right spot to propel us along to the next controlled fall. If we didn’t do it this way, we’d have to shuffle, and we’d all wear out our shoes much faster and go along our way more slowly.
I think there are some parallels to be drawn with an economy from this perspective. In regular times, it’s just cruising along in a controlled fall - jobs are created, jobs are destroyed - sometimes by market forces, sometimes by regulatory changes, but it keeps moving forward, one step in front of the other. Children are born, they get big enough to do chores and then menial jobs, often fall in love and have new babies and get better jobs, and then they get old and consume lots of medical services and then they die, and the cycle of life and commerce rolls along. Lots of money to be made in the repair of maintenance of older folk based on statistics and the magnificence of the hospitals being built in recent years.
One interesting thing about an economy, and our trusty GDP, is that it’s agnostic as to the kinds of goods and services that it’s measuring, it’s just dollars. So whether you’re selling e-learning or porn, local farmers market produce or cigarettes, school buildings or bombs, insulin or viagra - it all measures the same. It doesn’t seem quite right, but I can’t figure how to fix it without making it worse, so I shan’t chase that rabbit trail in today’s musings.
When most of the nation went into lockdown in March, it wasn’t as though the economy came to a full stop - there were the essential services still allowing the economy to shuffle along. Groceries and gasoline, road construction and hospitals, and weed dispensaries and booze stores, of course. Basically, anything to keep people warm and fed and sheltered, and not prone to riot. No yoga or acupuncture, no churches or schools - because natural health nuts and Christians are too nice to riot, and children are too small to do it effectively (and they got to stay home from school!) - which was cool for a while but is quite the drag on many families I know today.
So the health experts, through the governor’s pens and executive orders, took the economy down to a slow shuffle for a while, and since then we’ve slowly ratcheted it up to a mask-supported faster shuffle. Restaurants are at ~40% capacity and there’s no night life yet - but it’s better than it had been I suppose. But many millions of jobs have been lost, and small businesses shuttered, and unemployment benefits won’t last forever (or can they? - what do you all think of Universal Basic Income?) (You'll be hearing more about it soon, perhaps).
And where do we go from here?
Can we make like Daylight Savings Time and Fall Back into the vibrant and low-unemployment economy we had in 2019? Can we take our masks off and have big music concerts and real school and sporting events again once the vaccine is available to those who wish to take it?
The economy is pretty much driven by expectations - and so to “fall into recovery” as my title suggests, we need to expect for the best possible outcomes. We can let things happen, or we can make things happen, and for those of us more inclined to make things happen - how can we make it happen for the best?
Well, my first encouragement is we need to pick up our feet and walk, those who are able. If you’re still on the hunt for a good job, but time is running out - take an ok job. If you can’t even find an ok job, or you’re headed back to school to brush up your skills (online?, at the University-experience price? - hah! - but I digress yet again) - maybe it’s a good time to do some volunteer work. This world turns on human effort and in the creation of value for one another, not in the playing of video games and in the posting of Tik Tok videos. Nor in watching Fox News all day or anything else - if you’re not doing something with your many hours of your day that is ultimately in service of other human beings than yourself - you’re doing it wrong. The core of all economic activity is to add value - we create the opportunity for money to flow by adding value to one another.
Encouragement number two - we need to re-localize our economy! Jeff Bozo is approximately $74 Billion dollars richer now than at the beginning of 2020, due in large part to people spending their economic stimulus dollars and +$600 bonus unemployment checks on Amazon purchases. He’s up like 30% - in less than a year! We did a lot of hiking and motorcycle riding and stuff during the harshest of the lockdowns, and it was eerie how quiet the streets were at times. You know what was always out? - even on Sundays? - Amazon delivery vans!
Do you want to hear a quick scary story? In early August I bought a new camping tool/cooking toy - a Blackstone Tailgater - grill/griddle combo. Check it out here on Amazon - but don’t buy it! Buy it at Mannweiler Hardware in Windsor, like I did on impulse. It was only $199.99 at the store in Windsor, but on Amazon at that time, it was $299! - 50% higher price than a local hardware store?! Amazon has come down to $267 now, but I know they buy a lot more volume than does Manweiler and get a lower price.
Are we ok with this loss of local business - for convenience at a higher price? Do people know that’s the tradeoff that will only get worse as local retail dries up and goes away?
OK, I’m getting a bit preachy now - but seriously - localize those dollars if you care about local jobs and local small businesses.
Number three - and final - we need to come together as a nation, before we fall apart! Calling this a toxic social and political atmosphere almost seems like a Captain Obvious moment - have you lost or canceled any friends lately? We watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix the other night and it pretty much put into film what we’ve all been seeing - and guess what? - it’s not Donald Trump’s fault! Not mostly anyway, it’s the echo chambers we’ve all placed ourselves into. An old quote from the 70’s suggested of television - if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. Well, it’s all the more true of social media, and we appear to be headed toward the quick erosion of our social fabric. I don’t want a civil war, and I can’t even imagine what it would look like - but I know we’re headed toward something bad if we can’t accept the results of elections - and I fear this next one isn’t going to be over on November 3rd.
But the thing is, whether Trump or Biden comes away victorious in the ballot box and courtroom struggle ahead - we as Americans are losing yet again. The major parties both have major problems, structurally, and especially culturally. Almost no one in congress ever votes outside the party line these days - and if they do, their re-election is toast! So now, only wealthy people who can fund their own campaigns, or great fundraisers who will be obligated always to their party and their funders (or usually, a hybrid model of the two) can be our leaders now. I’m not really ok with that. Term limits and thoughtful campaign finance reform get my vote every time.
You know that Ghandi quote - “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”? - yeah, fake news. Here’s the real quote:
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi
So - that’s what I’m doing today, being the change I’d wish to see in the world. I’ve spent some time talking about politics and religion lately, trying to set the tone that it’s actually ok - with consequences. My encouragement here is to find time for respectful discourse of ideas and seek to better understand each other - we can disagree but let’s not hate, ok? I'm pleased to spend time with over a coffee or a beer with just about anyone who wants to engage in some vibrant conversation. In fact, I love vibrant conversations with interesting people so so much we’re doing a podcast about it - launching soon and learn more here.
But I ramble yet again - appreciate you all staying with me til the end! Much love and happy raking!