Old Money

Sign of the Times?

There are several leading indicators that say the economy is looking up, that we are emerging out of some “thing” and headed for a happy place.  We are told that we can all resume our lives at any point, that “jobs” are coming back and housing prices are rising which is a good thing except that more people than ever before are renting and last I looked, at least in certain urban areas, rents are going up.

I’m not sure who to believe anymore.  The TeeVee People, with their big hair smiles?  The OWS crowd who want to…. occupy for equality and gay marriage and Free Mumia and…. Mic check!  Do I try to make some sense out of the predictions of the doomsters?  Is there this one blog where the roadmap for the future is hiding?   If I don’t find that url I won’t know how many dry beans to buy from Emergency Essentials (G/g/o/_/o/d/s/d/es/ss/es the mice will have a field day if we’re all wrong because… I really don’t like beans)?  I am not sure if I should be investing in hand tools, wind mills, or stock up on rifles and dig in containers into the ground at… my mom’s place since that’s about all I have access to…. and I’m not sure my mom would like that because she is a Baby Boomer and loves her lawn….  or is there another source of information out there that I’m missing?  Some days it seems that all this reading and thinking I do is just a waste of time.

The data says this, we are told it actually means that.  “New data out today tells us blah blah blah,” the wo/man/child tells us on TeeVee/raido/onlne.  “Biggest gain in X since we started counting Y.”  Perhaps MSM knows fewer than 24% of American college graduates study math or science and know they only have to say “studies say” or spout out Arabic numerals because the corporate sports slobovia uses Roman numerals and no-one can do long division in those… wait, and they don’t teach long division in school anymore so forget it….

Anyway, we are told we have largest gain or drop in housing starts, new home sales, existing sales, pre-contract sales, foreclosure sales and then next month another gain or drop in the same numbers which are equally historic.  We are told the stock market rises such-and-such or drops a tenth of one percent, and still things chug along on the ground looking the same.  The vacant office spaces and industrial buildings outside of the city are still as empty as before.  The strip malls still filled with the same shitty stores with dust covered merchandise or that nail salon filled with the same Asian women as you just saw at twenty other such salons begging the question as to how we import nail salon employees and given the chemicals these women are exposed to will be have a mutant super-race of nail painted Asians…..  Yes.  Still the same out my window, but just because it’s dark outside doesn’t mean the sun has vanished for everyone, it may just be dark around me.

New numbers came out about employment and the Republicrats are trying to pick apart the numbers.  The process is corrupt, they exclaim.  I mean we knew that already, but now it’s an issue because these are Demopublican numbers…. and we don’t want The Big O re-elected…. because he will sell out our country to the big banks…. that is, sell out our nation to the competitors of the big banks that own the Republicrats.  We are told these numbers mean a recovery.  We are told that the Fed does not expect a recovery for two years.  We are told that these numbers are fake and The Big O has cost us jobs.  We are told a lot of things, often different views from the same agency and just days apart.  Oh, we revised the number.  Oh, we just lied to you.

Do I believe the Gubberment numbers, or the critics?  The NYT has had us recovering since 2008, except for those “lowest housing prices in history” stories they run every few months.  Can I believe the NYT “yay team!” stories about homeowner bailouts (read bank bailouts), stimulus packages (read corporate bailouts), and investment in infrastructure  (read Paying off Big Labour) that claim that there is indeed food just around the corner?  There is so much information out there that we are indeed entitled to our own opinions and indeed facts since data does not tell  a neutral story, and you can lie with cartography, analytics, and indeed science if the placement of the decimal point is moved.

From my vantage point, I only see a small story of “what’s really happening.”  I am limited in my social interactions and barely have time to talk to even my good friends.  I live between a large urban center and a rural township, which does not put me into contact with suburbia too much and where the vast majority of Americans live.  My employer is currently hiring.  Rents, as I said, and despite much work by the Rent is Too Damn High party, is going up in the city, but falling in the countryside.  Last time we looked for a room mate each applicant told us it was very competitive out there, and that so many people are trying to move into the city for work or school and are willing to pay what city landlords demand.  So, perhaps more jobs, but more expensive living making said job worth fewer actual take-home-dollars.  Most friends I have are working, even the borderline losers I know have jobs they may now miss showing up to or otherwise screw up at.  However, most of these friends are stuck in the same rut, the same position or level, perhaps doing more work or having increased expectations at work.  A good many are doing exactly what they did ten years ago.  Most seem to be working for about the same pay with some cases enjoying a cost of living increase – although not on any schedule.  The jobs pay the same, but the rent is now going up.  Steve jobs said not to expect certain jobs to come back, and we are learning not to expect that.  We also understand that Jobs won’t be coming back either.

The Main Street I live on upstate is down the last respectable restaurant, leaving only an over-priced oil-laden Italian place and a few seasonal eateries.  I had always thought of that place as a corner stone on Main Street because it was a destination restaurant.  I had frequented it many times with friends when I lived up there full-time.  However, I had seen a decrease in attendance over the past year.  I walked by on Fridays or Saturdays and the place was vacant, even on certain warm nights.  As I am very tight with money, I couldn’t pitch in and eat there regularly.  So, they shuttered their doors last week, as have six such establishments since I started living on Main Street six years ago.  The businesses that have closed in three (or so) years include: office stationary store there since 1875, hardware store in place since 1857, Army & Navy shop, pottery kiln, three thrift shops, three antique shops, a number of boutiques that flash in and out so fast the paint on the sign is still wet when it is removed, Asian Furnishing store, skateboard shop, clothing store there since 1968 or so, two cafes, a chocolate shop, and seven art galleries.  The soft ice cream stand was washed away in the last hurricane and isn’t coming back, the majority of the kiddie rides in the parking lot having washed into the creek and perhaps are sunk to the bottom of the river.  My storefront has held four businesses in about as many years.  The big news is that someone won the Lotto and bought two stores for his son so he could have a place to play Magic The Gathering.  Yes, the last economy on Main Street is also based on fantasy.

The frost-free winter could give way to a cold or blistering hot spring, a wet or drought summer, an economy of roses and rock candy mountains or of a season of discontent.  Employment may go up, and prices follow as commodities spike.  Gasoline prices, the bellwether touchstone for so much news content a scant few years ago, has become a mute topic and yet, in many places under $4 USD a gallon is a bargain and prices could increase with Happy Motoring as Rents get Too Damn High as more people flock to urban areas or are displaced from ownership and attempt to move out of their parent’s place or otherwise line up for jobs where the pay is Too Damn Low.

One strange thing I have noticed is old money.  You know, the sort with all those old Federal decorations, the small portraiture of dead presidents, the sort that Russian teenagers found so simple to counterfeit?  First I thought, wow, and old $5 bill.  I took it aside to nail on my wall.  Then I got another.  Then a few $20 bills.  I joked to a friend that all the people on Main Street that had closed their businesses took off the “GOOD LUCK MARTY,” “My First Sale,” “Many more!!!!!!!!!!” bills from their walls and were spending them.

It may be nothing, but in the city, from an ATM, out spat an old $20 bill.  Again, may mean nothing because I am not able to know anything.  I am just a private citizen, how could I ever be as informed at The Ben Bernak, or The Trump, or The New York Times Magazine?  But, as I walked down the street today, I wondered, what if this is something and not just Main Street, but many people are checking out those little piles of money in jars and wherever and spending it?  Perhaps they’re spending it because even though they got a minimum wage job and can say they are working, they are still scrapping by because now we are in recovery, the rent is too damn high.

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