Out of the storm

2008 – 2009 was a pretty tumultuous year for the financial world. The housing market bubble burst, many were homeless and jobless. The United Stats government had to step in and bailout the major banks with billions of dollars.

It was the beginning of the great recession. Since 1948 there have been 11 economic recessions. A recession is an era of economic decline A recession requires to consecutive quarters of decline if there is only one quarter of decline it is just a contraction. Most economies experience contractions and recessions.

Recessions are more notable in the history of an economy because, of the damage and unemployment that comes with recessions.

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Employment provides much for the employer. Through employment people find, a salary to use money to feed their family, health benefits (at least in the United States), purpose and social interactions. To loose in one fell swoop money, health benefits, purpose and social interactions is jarring and traumatic and I think this is why comparing a recession to a storm is apt. Recessions are bleak and can lead to depression, during most recessions suicide rates rise! How can we weather these storms.

It is possible to not only survive recessions but some have come out of recessions even stronger, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, iRobot, Airbnb, Slack, WhatsAp, Square, Uber, Instagram and Pinterest were all founded during recessions.

The recession storms are not good but, if you can find a way to get money, health benefits, social interactions and purpose outside of your workplace you may discover that, surviving or even thriving during a recession is more likely what happens.

Most people spend forty hours a week at work, and it can be tempting and easy to use work to develop our social structures. When this is done however we run the risk of the storm taking away everything. It can be exhausting but rewarding now and in the future. Building a robust and fulfilling social life is and should be a big part of our mental health. Brunch with friends and rotary meetings are more than just alcohol breakfast and gossip sessions they are mental health work outs.

Needs, wants and this

The United States economy is driven primarily by consumer spending. Us companies spend about 230 billion dollars a year in advertising. All that money and time to get someone somewhere to buy something that will be used and “thrown away”.

Today is Halloween and very shortly we will be right into the Holiday season, Christmas and Hanukah. The average cost of the holidays as in girt giving is 887. That is how many gifts are bought.

71% of the United States economy is in consumption. Buying stuff that we usually try to dispose of. I use the word try because nothing is every really thrown away. Landfills are filled up, eco systems destroyed and all because of what?

We do it because it makes up happy giving and receiving stuff. But does it? Since the 50’s America has gotten bigger stuff. Bigger and more cars, bigger and more houses. more clothes, more food, more everything and happiness still seems to allude most Americans. As of 2020 Americans are at the most unhappy level they have ever been. One of the major reasons cited for being so unhappy was the standard of living.. Wait that makes no sense if stuff makes you happy. Consumption has gone up so fast but no one is happier. Stuff will not make you happy.

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There is a movement called the Slow Movement. Slow living is about consuming less and taking a slower approach to everyday life. This year for the holidays maybe we can give our loved ones less things and the few things we do give them we could build for them. Building something as a gift show thoughts and love.

Hand made Christmas gifts are the best. You learn something new and feel accomplished and the gift receiver gets something unique and special. A great idea is to include before during and after photos of you making the gift for your loved one as well.

Lets end this year with a commitment not to the economy but to ourselves and the environment. Let’s commit to make the world and ourselves better.

Now what

My parents carried cash for everything, cash and checks. When I was in middle school my uncle went o and on about an ATM machine and explained how an ATM card was not a credit card to my parents. Now you are hard pressed to find a person with more than $100 in cash on their person. Money has pretty much been automated.

Restaurants, hotels and health care have taken the reigns as the most labor intensive jobs in the United States. Think about that these jobs are service oriented and produce no physical products. Factory work is far less labor intensive now.

What does it all mean? Well, I think we are currently living at the start of a post scarcity economy. Products and food are in abundance, the need to scrap by or fight for everything we get is now truly a manufactured need and not a real one.

Living in a post scarcity economy means that there should be a shift to better resource management instead there is a shift to service jobs. The lower class is serving the upper class (please bear in mind that the upper class is usually in this position because of birth right).

There is some hope though… I have watched a whole generation resign when covid came and went (sort of people are still struggling with covid but it seems it may be starting to become endemic). After the “great resignation” I watched a whole nation participate in quiet quitting (this is where you simply perform the bare minimum at your position). The transformation from resigning to quitting should change again to setting up a work life balance.

As this article states work life balance is a myth, and what is happening is more of a career or job that is not for money but satisfaction. Within the next generation I predict the end of money and the start of work that is for the purpose of work only.

So now what? I plan on spending more time at home and work doing things that make me feel accomplished than simply paying me money. I plan on doing more work to help others instead of helping myself to the over abundant supply of stuff and I think the world would be much happier if we all did the same thing.

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What matters the Most

Me my wife and kids (I almost typed “My Wife and KIds” there, man I loved that show) worked in our church’s soup kitchen for about 8 years. I loved seeing and helping people my wife loved feeding people and the kids were young enough that they still did as they were told.

Working in the soup kitchen was strange. We would check the supplies and if needed head out to a grocery store and purchase supplies. The grocery store was full of food. The grocery store has always been full of food even at the height of the pandemic very few food items at our local grocery store went un stocked. That abundance seems to be the evidence for success of the United States social system. Here is an interesting article comparing the shopping differences in different countries. The grocery stores in the United States are amazing we do not seem to be bound by geography or season, you can get food from all around the world in and out of the season that the food is grown in. I am no longer working in the soup kitchen however I enjoy cooking at the house and it is not uncommon for me to find a recipe online travel to my local grocery store and get the ingredients I need to prepare the food, no matter what time of the year it is.

After picking up all the needed supplies we would go back to the kitchen and start cooking. Quick note here, most of the supplies we picked up were perishables, the community and church patrons have been very generous and we always had supplies on hand. As we started cooking and opening up the kitchen to the public folks would poor in. It took time and there were lulls in the customers coming is so my wife and the kids would spend that time playing scrabble of course

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Something that struck me then and I still find startling is the demographics of the hungry in the United States. Most of our customers were children under 16 and adults over the age of 55. So basically people who could not work.

The same system that created the circumstances for the abundance in the grocery store has also created a rather high amount of poor hungry children and senior citizens. Economics is a required class for most in college. When I first got out of the US Army I spent a fair amount of time at the employment office looking for work and speaking with the veterans assistant. When I couldn’t find employment I was told that “it was the economy”. Being the smart alec that I am I asked the assistant to define the economy he couldn’t. The economy is; the resources of a group and how they are managed. That is it simply put it is how we get all that food in the grocery store onto our plates or how it is kept away from our children’s plates. That is the economy and it is not working.

Children are staving while food spoils. Ecological systems collapse and parts of the world become unlivable for humans and almost any animal. I think about the Cedars of Lebanon and their destruction and I see a parallels to the logging that the United States has done out west and now what is left is being destroyed in fire and drought. In Flint Michigan the drinking water was poisoned and there are cities in Pennsylvania that people cannot live in and have fires that have been burning for over 50 years.

I know todays post seems like a bummer and it can be easy to dismiss it all by saying I am not responsible for the hungry children because they are not my kids and I go to work and kill myself everyday to make sure my kids are not hungry. What happens when you can no longer kill yourself? Will you be at the soup kitchen? Many of the retired soup kitchen customers had family. I know because they would show up when tragedy struck for the customer. We like to believe as parents that our children would not abandon us but what if our children are killing themselves to provide for their children and do not have the bandwidth for us. Well then we can dismiss the system with our 401k’s pension plans and medicare right? I have seen story after story of cases were 401ks and pension plans have been robbed and where medicare has not covered the bills. I am not trying to scare anyone but I am beginning to frighten myself. My dad is preparing for retirement right now and I cannot imagine what his anxiety level looks like. Dad and mom worked ungodly hours to take care of me and my sisters for years. Me and the family recycle and I find it tempting to dismiss the ecological disasters with the idea that we recycle so we are not adding to the problem but aren’t we?

See there is a difference in thoughts and idea here. The current economic system in most of the world involves induvial rights and freedoms and no responsibility. Instead of being responsible for our success and our families success the attitude has to change to a sense of obligation for everyone and everything. Here in the United States we are taught that, we are born with rights. In the document that declared Independence from the Monarchy the founding fathers spoke highly about the rights. The founding fathers called them Unalienable. Unalienable means that the rights are impossible to take away or give up. They say that in mans creation they are endowed the rights by the creator but these rights cost something don’t they? The rights are LIfe, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Life requires food and our children are not getting food. Liberty requires freedom and in the United States for every 100 000 people there are 655 that are incarcerated. Happiness is a hard one isn’t it. “Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them” – Tolstoy. It is hard to define and hard to be happy with the current world state. How can we take solace in the poverty, pestilence and war?

Working at the soup kitchen would seem depressing seeing hungry kids and senior citizens should have really bummed me out but it didn’t. I am not cold and unfeeling that is not why it didn’t bum me out. I got to connect with these folks, by talking and playing board games and on nights when me and the wife cooked enough eating with them.

That community helped me realize the major problem with society. We think about rights instead of obligations. Instead of protecting everyone and everything we decide to take care of our rights and our family rights. This thinking causes stockpiling and the few times grocery stores have ran out of food was do to families buying more supplies than they needed.

It is fear and lack of knowledge that keep us away from our obligations. You have an obligation to humanity and the world you live in. We have to take care of each other and the world. When I think of obligation I think of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

We are commanded in the Christian religion and every religion to Love each other and we have that definition for love. This is what we should live by. Love should enforce our sense of community and obligation to others.

I am not sure about you but freedoms and rights give me little solace with the current state of the world but love and the power of love… That is my happy place. Love is the only hope I see for my children and it is the only path that has seemed to work in the past.