Tag Archives: depression

Ignorance is bliss

Ignorance is blissIn the mid-1970’s when the US inflation rate was double-digits, an unnamed administration source1 in the post-Nixon Ford administration explained it simply, “The reason we have inflation is that we measure it. If we didn’t track it, there would be no inflation.” I’ve always admired that idea. Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

Take, for instance, the big news that 103,000 jobs were created last month and our unemployment rate has dropped four tenths of one percent (.004) to the lowest level since spring of 2009. Wow. Those Republicans sure do work fast. Sounds like happy times are here again. The greatest depression since Prozac must be over. Time to celebrate, right?

Maybe, as long as you aren’t tracking the numbers. If you do, it is pretty depressing.

Because of new people entering the workforce, in a typical month, it takes at about 150,000 new jobs just to break even on the unemployment rate. So how did 103,000 new jobs in December create such a decline in the rate when it seems as if it should have gone up? 434,000 people gave up looking for work last month.

All we need to do is keep up this “job growth” until 2016 or so and get another 7.2 million unemployed to give up and drop out of the workforce – that’s the number of jobs lost during the Bush-now-Obama recession.

These numbers are just estimates, of course. They are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) monthly Current Population Survey (tracking of 60,000 households), overlaying Census data, multiplying it all by the winning Illinois Lotto number, just kidding, projecting the data and having it reviewed by politicians. Most economists project the real unemployment rate at about double the official rate – estimates range from 16.5-22.5%. Why? It depends on what definition you use for “unemployment.”

Generally, people, as defined as citizens over 16 and not on active military duty, disabled, in jail, a nursing home or a mental heath facility, who have a job, are employed. People who are jobless and actively looking for a job are unemployed. And people without jobs and not looking are not in the labor force. Seems tidy, doesn’t it? It isn’t.

  • If the only the work you can get is part-time or temping, guess what? You are employed.
  • If you haven’t been able to find a job, part-time or full, so you are helping out with a family business without pay while looking for a job, you are employed.
  • If, for instance, you stood on the corner of Home Depot every day, but were only picked up once for a couple of hours of work at less than minimum wage, you are employed.
  • Let’s say you were fired on Tuesday and the BLS survey was on Friday, you are employed.
  • If you had a job, but couldn’t work because you had the flu, or you had to take care of your kid, or your boss wanted sex and you didn’t, a bandsaw at work cut your arm off, or you sold ice cream and it snowed all week, or a family member was dying, so you couldn’t work and didn’t get paid, you are employed.
  • If, for instance, you are bat-shit crazy, but your state doesn’t have mental health facilities and is tired of having you in jail, you’ve applied for disability and are waiting the three years it takes to get turned down, you, no surprise here, aren’t unemployed. You aren’t in the workforce.
  • If, for instance, you don’t have a job, looked every day at want ads2, didn’t find anything at all or, at least, nothing suitable, and didn’t apply during December when no one is hiring in your profession anyway, you’re not in the workforce.
  • Let’s say you are in your final year of Harvard law. You are waiting tables for tips to stay in school and hoping to land a job with a big New York law firm – you are employed.
  • If you are actively looking for a job, but as a fallback, you are trying to create a business cutting grass, shining shoes or launching that next killer internet company. You haven’t made a dime, but you are employed.
  • Let’s say your plant was shut down “temporarily” and you are expecting a call back, but it hasn’t come. You are employed.
  • If, for instance, you got laid off, received some separation money that was enough to get by for a few months, you posted your resume everywhere you could and were going to your local tech school to get re-trained so you, a former IT manager, could qualify for a job flipping hamburgers. You aren’t in the workforce.
  • If, for instance, you are one of the 99ers – one of the seven million US citizens who been unemployed, have looked for a job for more than 99 weeks, haven’t found one and have exhausted all their unemployment benefits, including all the extensions that get bought, sold and filibustered in Congress. You and all seven million of your fellow 99ers, aren’t in the workforce.

All to say, the real unemployment rate didn’t go down last month.

1 Unnamed Administration Source: prior to Ted Turner inventing 24-7 cable news, which morphed into 24-7 speculation about news or what potentially could be news if it were to actually happen, we were required to read and talk about the news ourselves3. Way back then, journalists4, were occasionally allowed5 to quote an“unnamed administration source” if that source wished to remain anonymous – that is how we existed before Wikilleaks.

2 Want Ads: what old people say when they mean Monster.com or craigslist. Refers to the old days when there were paid advertisements for jobs in newspapers.

3 Reading: it really wasn’t as difficult as it sounds. Similar in many ways to using an iPad, except that the words and photos were printed on paper, delivered to your door each morning, there was no search and crack pots were not allowed to comment. I know, it sounds strange and that’s why Al Gore came up with the internets.

4Journalist (aka: 4th estate, liberal press, etc.): Archaic. Someone who, in the old days, before truth lost favor with advertisers, used to “collect and disseminate information about current events, people, trends, and issues. Reporters were one type of journalist. They created reports as a profession for broadcast or publication in mass media such as newspapers, television, radio, magazines, and documentary film. Reporters found sources for their work, their reports could be either spoken or written, and they were expected to report in the most objective and unbiased way to serve the public good.”

5 Allowed: ridiculously inefficient as it might sound, teams of people used to review and verify what we used to call, “facts”6 before the stories were blurted out as “breaking news” to live forever in Google as “truth.”7 Who would just make stuff up?

6 Facts: similar to talking points and spin, only true.

7 Truth: Archaic. According to Dictionary.com, “the true or actual state of a matter; conformity with fact or reality; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like; actuality or actual existence; an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude; honesty; integrity; truthfulness; ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience: the basic truths of life; agreement with a standard or original; accuracy, as of position or adjustment.” More commonly accepted: anything stated or written by liberals to brainwash God-fearing people with the goal of destroying our way of life and transforming America into a gun-controlled, fascio-socialism state.

How Nero Must Have Felt When He Stopped Fiddling

get-motivated-bushWhat a mess. Somebody should have stopped me.

I have been fortunate to have had many people who encouraged me toward self-improvement. An early example was an employer’s requirement to complete Dale Carniegie’s training to learn “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” As those of you who know me might expect, it did require staying after class a few times. I almost dropped out when I was required to stand up in front of the class and yell with believable enthusiasm, “Boy, do I feel good.” But somehow, I got through it and completed the course. Other than making some great friends in the class and remembering their names for a few months, the long-term affect was not as dramatic as was hoped. I do still remember to “live in a day tight compartment” and that “any fool can criticize, condemn and complain.”

Admittedly, my anti-establishment beliefs ran and still run deep. I didn’t buy their politics, their wars, their attitudes on race or religion, their dog-eat-kennel mentality. I didn’t want to dress like them, talk like them or concentrate on my golf swing. I didn’t want to demure to the “man” or respect a fool for his money or power. And still don’t.

Subsequently, I was encouraged by employers to be Ziglarized, motivated, sold on success, taught to be productive and trained to be a leader. I’ve listened to 10,000 miles of cassettes, read dozens of books, done exercises, been coached, retreated, meditated, counseled and cajoled (George W. Bush wasn’t on tour during my self-improvement phase). Generally, with the same result. As I once said to my wife about technology, but the same is true for me when it comes to self-improvement, “the mind is like a rock. Pour the water of knowledge on it and it looks wet, but almost nothing sinks in.” Okay, I do remember a Ziglar story from “See You at The Top” that I loved – how to train fleas. I love it because I suffer from flea training and still observe friends and their children who suffer from it. It goes something like this:

“To train fleas you place some fleas in a jar with a lid on the jar. The fleas will, of course, begin to jump, repeatedly hitting the lid in their attempt to escape. Wait about 20 minutes. The fleas begin to grow tired of hitting their head on the jar lid. They just give up and will no longer jump as high. Once they become accustomed to the fact that if they jump too high they will hit their heads on the lid. You can remove the lid and the fleas will continue to jump at the same height, never escaping the jar.”

One exception to those who watered my rock was Mooney Player. You’ve probably never heard of him. For much of his life, Mooney was a high school football coach in South Carolina at Saluda High School and Lower Richland. His teams won five state championships in his 18-years of coaching. Ken Burger, executive sports director at the Charleston Post and Courier, said of Mooney,

“He won 90 percent of his games by turning ordinary players into true believers.”*

In 1974, after a year as an assistant coach to Lou Holtz, the University of South Carolina was looking to replace Paul Dietzel and Mooney wanted the job. He campaigned publicly for it, saying that, “if his teams didn’t win at least 10 games, he wouldn’t accept a salary.” Of course, the university would never hire a high school football coach (hired Jim Carlen) and Mooney stopped coaching and became a motivational consultant. That’s when I met Mooney.

Mooney taught me to be productive and helped me learn to communicate without pissing off everyone in the process (I’m still working on that lesson). He didn’t have books or tapes and generally worked from a notebook more fitting for a football sideline. Mooney taught me to establish goals, break them into meaningful steps that could be accomplished and to set priorities. He taught me to plan each day with A, B and C priorities and to only do the A’s. His thinking was if you take care of the big things, the small things weren’t worth doing. I believed him and it works.

That is until you either run out of goals, or you live in “the worst economy since the great depression.” For many of us, business just stopped last year. Those of us who know a thing or two about a lousy economy or depression know that you gotta re-up. Set new goals. Break out the steps. Learn new things. Implement. Stay productive. Keep good habits. Stay busy. Most of us quickly accomplished our social marketing. We updated our sales tools. We streamlined. We planned. We called. We met. We scaled back. And we tried harder.

After a while of not having A priorities that could be accomplished (see training fleas, above) and being bored silly with B priorities, I found myself compulsively accomplishing C priorities. Those easy things to accomplish that fill our lives and have almost no positive consequence, except the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off a list. I’m over that.

I know unemployment will likely worsen. That small business will likely not see an upturn for a year or more. That the worst may be behind us, but the future is going to be awfully hard. I know the stimulus won’t help me much. That health care reform, should it pass, won’t help me until after the next presidential election when it would go into effect. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not looking for Washington to solve my problems. I’m setting new goals. I’m going to break them into daily steps that I can accomplish. And I’m going cold-turkey on the C priorities.

I’m guessing that is how Nero must have felt when he stopped fiddling and looked out to see Rome in ashes. What a mess. Let’s get out the broom and get to work.

*”Looking back at Mooney the motivator.” The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC). 2001. Retrieved November 04, 2009 from accessmylibrary.

Boardwalk is Too Important to Fail


The Bush-Obama economic recovery plan is largely based on the philosophy post-great-depression, economist Charles Darrow and a couple of brothers named Parker. I kid you not, just read some of the actual rules of the game:

  • The object of the game is to become the wealthiest player through buying, renting and selling of property (note that you are not able to become wealthy by actually working).
  • Each player is given $1500 (we’ll be getting less than that through tax rebates) and all remaining money and other equipment go to the Bank.
  • Select as Banker a player who will also make a good Auctioneer.
  • Besides the Bank’s money, the Bank holds the Title Deeds, and the houses and hotels prior to purchase by the players. The Bank pays salaries and bonuses. It sells and auctions properties and hands out the proper Title Deed cards when purchased by a player, it also sells houses and hotels to the players and loans money when required on mortgages.
  • The Bank collects all taxes, fines, loans and interest, and the price of all properties which it sells and auctions. The Bank “never goes broke.” If the Bank runs out of money, the Banker may issue as much as needed by writing on any ordinary paper.
  • If you land on Income Tax you have two options: You may estimate your tax at $200 and pay the Bank, or you may pay 10% of your total worth to the Bank. Your total worth is all your cash on hand, printed prices of mortgaged and unmortgaged properties and cost price of all buildings you own. You must decide which option you will take before you add up your total worth.
  • Even though you are in Jail, you may buy and sell property, buy and sell houses and hotels and collect rents.
  • Unimproved properties can be mortgaged through the Bank at any time. Before an improved property can be mortgaged, all the buildings on all the properties of its colour-group must be sold back to the Bank at half price. The mortgage value is printed on each Title Deed card.
  • You are declared bankrupt if you owe more than you can pay either to another player or to the Bank. If your debt is to another player, you must turn over to that player all that you have of value and retire from the game. In making this settlement, if you own houses or hotels, you must return these to the Bank in exchange for money to the extent of one-half the amount paid for them.
  • Should you owe the Bank, instead of another player, more than you can pay (because of taxes or penalties) even by selling off buildings and mortgaging property, you must turn over all assets to the Bank. In this case, the Bank immediately sells by auction all property so taken, except buildings. A bankrupt player must immediately retire from the game. The last player left in the game wins.

Most of us have played the game. Most of us have lost. While the makers represent that it requires the skills of negotiation and resource management to win, it is basically a game of chance. In the real version of the game, the money isn’t distributed evenly at the beginning and some players start with hotels of a matching color group.

So here we are winding down toward the end of the game. Some suggest the game should just play out. Others suggest that each of the players just get more money so all can continue playing. Those with heavily mortgaged properties want mortgage relief so they can start collecting rents again. All those going to jail, of course, want to get out free. There are even voices who dare to suggest that the rules need changing and there be regulation. So here’s what the Treasury plans to do: just keep giving the bank(s) more money. An odd choice. The banks will have the money, but no one will be playing.

Two Views of the Great Depression

Over the hills.GG

Yesterday, I drove 150 miles over the hills and through the woods to my grandmother’s house. “GG.” She’s 103. Lives independent, because all the men she knows are “just too old” and she’s “not planning on any more children.” There’s always a sparkle in her eyes when she looks at you. While her short term memory betrays her more often than the last year or so, her wit never does. Always listening and wanting to make you feel special. To laugh. To smile back into hers eyes. To say as she does that, “she’s lucky,” is an exaggerated understatement. Every day of her life she has been able to say, “I feel great.” She never worried for money and the only job she ever had was “making up my brother’s bed for a nickel a week.” Survived two exceptional husbands – one who laughed to 78, and the second who was gracefully internet active and drove himself to the hospital where he died at 99. Adored by two children, now in their eighties, seven grandchildren, sixteen great-grandchilren and ten great-great-grandchilren. And is almost mythical to spouses, extended family and friends. She renewed her driver’s license last year and State Farm reduced her insurance rate for being a safe driver – though she no longer drives on the interstates because she’s “too polite to merge.” She doesn’t wear glasses and devours paperbacks by the box – the bawdy ones, too. Plays bridge. Pays her bills. Manages her investments. Remembers and writes birthday cards – though friends are now all second and third generation. Clearly, we are lucky, too.

A year ago, I would have also visited my “younger” grandmother who we knew as “Papa’s Mama.” At 98, she finally got her wish of the last few years and died. She had occupied a Medicaid bed in a nursing home for seven years – too healthy to die, too infirmed to live the purposeful life which was all she had heretofore known. I never knew her when she was healthy, and seldom when she was happy. Papa's MamaShe was walking to the drug store diner on her lunch hour one random day in the early 60’s, when the brakes of a parked car gave way and pinned her between another car. Her legs were crushed and, in that moment, so was her joy. Six months in the hospital. Numerous surgeries. With torturous rehab, she regained her ability to walk, but she never fully recovered from the pain. Late in her life, Papa’s Mama finally revealed her long dormant sweet side to those of us who had only known the other. It was after she’d buried her second husband of 50 years, her only son – he called her “Pal,” her humble devoted brother, and her favorite and always misunderstood, or at least she felt was misunderstood, grandchild – all within just a few years of each other – that she seemed to give up feeling sorry for herself and lovingly reached out to those of us who had always hoped it was there for us, too, but had never known it. Papa’s Mama’s life had been hard.

GG was 24 in October of 1929, married and pregnant with my mother. Her father was in real estate, owned some rental homes and the building that housed the local department store – the stock market crash hurt them, but years later their worthless stock certificates turned back into modest wealth. GG’s husband was an engineer and kept his job, while his parents owned a grocery store that prospered even during those terrible times, and in a few years, was acquired by a chain for stock that merged with a national chain for more stock. Their view of the great depression was mostly from the inside of a chauffeured car and of the gratitude of those less fortunate that they both helped and profited on.

Papa’s Mama was 19, married and the mother of my six-month old father in October of 1929. Her family was country poor. Her father was a farmer. Her mother, the meanest, nastiest-spirited woman I have ever known, took them in and reminded my grandfather every day that he was a miserable failure. Family folklore has it that during one of her nightly beratings at dinner, she placed a bottle of rat poison in front of him and dared him to drink it. He did. Papa’s Mama was a homeless widow at 22. The only societal safety net then was family, church and a soup kitchen. At a time when few women worked, she got a job working in the office of a hotel. She didn’t have a car and couldn’t afford the street car. Six days every week for the next 10 years, whether it was 90 degrees and sunny, or 33 degrees and raining, she walked the five miles from her rented room to her work and she kept working most all of her life.

What does that say about our great depression?

Those that have some wealth, some property or stocks, a dependable job, they’ll do okay. The percentage won’t change much for them – they’ll still have more than most, even with less. Wait it out. Hold onto to those investments, they’ll come back.

Those without wealth will have it very hard. Lives will be lost. Families will be broken. There will be hunger. They’ll have to do without. There won’t be much joy. Some, with luck and hard work, will make it. It may take a decade, but the next generation can have it better. Others, won’t be so lucky.