Friday, November 28, 2008
Like many others, I have been thinking a lot about the economy lately. The the inquisitive junkie I am, I wonder how we got here, what the systemic effects are, and how we can get out of it. Since there are so many people, companies, countries, factors involved, it is a very complex system. Basically, "THE economy" is a term that encompasses so much more than most people give it credit for. Gregory Bateson has a phrase, "The name is not the thing named." This is perfect for the name "economy" because the current economy includes basically every person in the world that has ever lived and any financial interaction they have ever had that has led us to this point. How does anyone analyze today's "global economy"??? You can't. Not effectively anyway. Sure, you can tell me how much is being spent and where its coming from and where its going, but those are fairly static numbers. Just because someone may be able to throw out some data doesn't mean anyone could really understand it. To understand it would be to understand everything from individuals to groups to cultures to nations to continents to the world and how each of those different subunits interact. No offense, but few economists can probably make that claim. Even a very capable group of economists, systemicists, anthropologists, and psychologists would have a hard time truly understanding the world economy - and that would have to be a very large group in order to understand each culture.
Sure, you can study the U.S., China, Japan, and Europe and get a pretty good idea, but not a complete idea.
I've completely digressed.... my point is, whether we understand it or not, the economy is fucked - especially in the U.S. - and I'm kind of glad. We (America) needed a good housecleaning. Things have been spiraling out of control. I recently saw a graph that showed house prices over the past 100 or so years (that accounted for inflation) - it showed how housing prices have dramatically increased over the last 10-20 years. Look at professional athlete's and movie star and music star salaries!!! Talk about inflation! 50 years ago, professional football players were working labor jobs in the off-season to supplement their football pay. Now, elite players are turning down $10Mil/year offers! WTF? Some people pay $100 for a game ticket and complain about a $6.00 beer and $3.00 soda even though those beer and soda companies pay for the commercial spots that pay the league/teams that pay those prima donna players we complain about.
I'm very interested to see how this recession will affect those things that have escalated out of control. I've already seen how it has affected the housing market. House values have decreased and houses are hard to sell. But, if people are collectively purchasing less cars, beer, soda, diamonds, and investing less money with investors, then will those companies be able to pay as much for commercial spots during sporting events? Or, similarly, if stadiums cannot fill seats because ticket prices are too high, will they be forced to lower the price? If commercial spot and ticket prices are lowered, will leagues/teams be able to pay their players as much?
Society won't make change - at least drastic changes - unless it has to. Today's economy, educational system, media, criminal justice system have all developed into what we know today over a long period of very subtle changes. Who's to say the way they are structured now is the best way? Few would argue that our educational system is the best it can get. But as long as the people at the top (i.e., the people that profit) are making money, they sure as hell aren't going to change anything, at least drastically, that may cause them to not make money any more. But if the economy were to crash completely, then "we" could build up our institutions from the ground up the way that makes sense in today's world. I liken it to a wildfire: yes, they are destructive and wipe away almost everything in existence, but after they are done, a stronger, healthier system grows out of it. Like a cleansing. The world could use a cleansing right about now. What a different world it would be if teachers, religious leaders, stay-at-home mothers, non-profit leaders, food pantry operators, etc were paid as much as athletes and athletes were playing sports for fun instead of millions of dollars. Would that drastic of a change really change the fabric of our society? Perhaps, but perhaps for the better.
By now you have probably heard about the Wal-Mart employee (a man) who was trampled to death on "black Friday" after Thanksgiving after the doors were opened early that morning. As long as the feed works, you can read about it at http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2008/11/28/2008-11-28_worker_dies_at_long_island_walmart_after.html
Sadly a pregnant woman was also hurt in the stampede. (I had heard via word of mouth that she lost the baby, but I cannot confirm that.) And, yes, I use the word "stampede" deliberately, because those people - and many others across the country - were acting like animals. Animals succumb to their biological urges without using their minds to reason. Human beings should know and do better. That goes for their actions of trampling a man and pregnant woman and "taking doors of their hinges" that morning. But, perhaps more importantly, I think that goes for the days prior when they actually made the decision to get up early (or stay awake over night) to stand in line for 0-6 hours in the freezing cold just to save $40 on a GPS device or $20 on a DVD player.
Let's look at this from an economic perspective. I'm no economist or retail expert, but I'm pretty sure if virtually nobody showed up on Black Friday, the "deals" those stores offered would still be available later on, and probably for a longer time and as an even larger discount. But instead, many people were "hypnotized" or crazed into getting a great deal in our individualistic, "immediate satisfaction" society and don't think about how they are perpetuating a cycle that is actually not benefiting them as much as starting a new cycle.
The retail stores are manipulatively brilliant (or brilliantly manipulative) in creating a competitive situation that pits crazed shopper against crazed shopper. The "deals", they claim, are all for you - the consumer - but it seems the only entities benefiting from this season are the retails stores, the government via taxes, the confession booths, and apparently now hospitals.
This logical argument is on top of the fact that consumerism has taken over the entire point of the season - which is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In case you never noticed: CHRISTmas. I'm not a preacher; I'm simply pointing out that whether you're a believer or not, I'm pretty sure trampling people wasn't on the list of "NICE" things Santa keeps on his list. I'm pretty sure swearing at people in line, honking at people in parking lots, and complaining about gifts you get aren't on that list either.
Over the beltline and through the streets
To Meriter hospital we go.
The ambluance knows the way;
Write a check for your co-pay,
Through the operating doors we gooo, OH!
Merry fricking Christmas everyone!
Monday, November 17, 2008
If you've read my blog before, you know I spend a lot of time thinking - especially about people. The other day I was thinking and wondering what the difference was between optimists and pessimists. Probability would lead me to think that good and bad things happen to just about everyone; and the number of good and bad things even out over time. There might be good days and bad days, good months and bad months, good years and bad years, but overall things probably just about even out. That being said, we probably all know people who are (or at least seem) happy nearly every day, and - vice versa - people who are mad/sad everyday and complain about everything. So, I guess I should clarify that I'm calling perpetually happy/positive people "Optimists" and perpetually negative people - though not clinically depressed - "Pessimists". And I do not consider people who ACT happy in public but are really miserable in private to be optimists; those people are not optimists or happy, just good actors.
Generally speaking, I tend to view or see each human being as being on a nearly infinite amount of spectrums for every imaginable physiological, biological, and personality trait - "level of optimism/pessimism" being just one of them.
What I came up with is that our existence is made up of successive, or simultaneous, neutral events. Without getting into constructivism, events are not good or bad in and of themselves. People construct their 'reality' based on previous experiences and attitudes toward those experiences.
Assuming events are neutral and people alone attribute values to them, most people have the ability to (and/or just do) reframe how events impact them. Reframing is a psychology term that roughly equates to "spinning". I think optimists have the ability to reframe, or spin, more situations in their own minds. For example, let's say a person is driving down the road and is held to a slower than ideal speed by a car driving slow in front of them. A pessimist would probably get frustrated and upset and perhance even complain or yell (heaven forbid tailgate the person in front), whereas an optimist might simply not worry about it. The optimist may even justify why the person in front of them is going slow - because they are looking for an address or trying to be safe. Some optimists might even be able to reframe the situation as "meant to be", like maybe by going slow, they will avoid getting a ticket or getting in an accident as if the slow driver was sent by God to keep the optimist out of trouble.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you reframe things in your mind to have them "fit" a happier reality? Or is the world out to get you?
Me? I'm a realist. It is what it is and I call it how I see it. ;)