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September 29, 2011

Rising from the Ashes

Patricia A. Kelly

A recent Wall Street Journal report implied that there are signs of our economy crashing even further than it has, including the possibility of 50% unemployment.


Wall Street businesses are now dealing with a 24/7 protest, modeled after recent uprisings in the Middle East. The complaint is that, after the bailout, businesses are, for the most part, strong, but holding their cards (and funds) close to their chests, contributing nothing to their own employees, not to mention hiring others. “Do more with less,” the old hospital nursing mantra, is spreading in the business world.


Big companies are putting their efforts into politics, attempting to avoid tax increases, or the loss of present, government bestowed privileges, rather than going out and doing business, which would allow their gains to benefit the economy.


Unemployment is double digit, if you include those who are no longer looking for work, and things generally don’t look good. The best forecasts out there predict years of economic distress and a very slow recovery.


Remember the 1980s when everyone was rich, with money to burn, and real estate prices going up like the first leg of a roller coaster ride? I was in real estate at the time. When I did a market analysis for a new client, I went ahead and added 10% to the value implied by the comparables. The new price always worked. That was going to last forever. One just dreamt of things like Silicon Valley, doing a startup, and being set for life.


Needless to say, things are a little different now. Real estate ownership is no longer a joy ride to the stars. And, allow me to ask, is that so bad? Could we live in a world where people buy homes because they want to live in them? What about buying an investment property because the rent would more than cover expenses instead of for tax benefits?


It’s a novel concept, but one that would allow for simplification of the tax code and removal of such tax incentives. Businesses and investors could just work for profit. What a concept!


There is, of course, a lot of suffering out there now, and significantly increased poverty, not only among the un- or under employed, but among the elderly, many of whom have lost their retirement investment savings along with huge decreases in their property values.


Since people are already hurting, this could be the time for real change, such as tax code simplification, a common sense approach to environmental conservation, and removal of tax benefits for outsourcing.


Parents could start raising their own children, and maybe even growing a few hens or rabbits and a garden.


Last weekend, while mildly ill, I watched some exotic food shows on a travel channel, and a show that included, not the death, but the butchering of a wild hog in a remote area of West Texas. These shows came with warnings that children and squeamish viewers should be protected from them. So what would be wrong with a child understanding that his meat was alive and running around before he ate it? Has living in a video dominated, push button, pre-packaged, latchkey world been working out so far for children?


Having participated in the last moments of many chickens during my childhood actually increased my appreciation for my food. It also increased my interest in humane treatment of animals. Running around eating worms, bugs and bits of watermelon rind, and then experiencing a very sudden death at the snap of my granddad’s wrist, was a pretty good life for a chicken, I think. Beats the heck out of those little tiny cages, and having your beaks clipped off so you won’t hurt your roommate.


Remember, making the mortgage payment on your McMansion, the lease payment on your annually traded luxury car, keeping up with the latest trends in clothing, electronics, playrooms, outdoor kitchens, etc., was quite stressful. Always trying to keep up, while living in fear of the inevitable. No matter how fast you run, someone else will eventually win. Maybe you might consider doing what you want, instead.


This difficult time could be a good one for taking stock of what is important in life, and of what we really want, both in our personal lives and in government, not to mention what relationship we want with the world.


Modern technology is a wonderful thing, and real progress and inventiveness can add enormously to the quality of life on earth. At the same time, what one might call a smaller life, of independence, thoughtful spending, using pre-owned items, painting the living room yourself, spending time with your children, and building true community instead of castles, might turn trouble into a blessing.


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