October, 2009

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The Recession is Over! (Now get off your lazy asses and spend some MONEY, dammit!)
by Daniel Patrick Welch
 
These recessions are getting shorter and shorter. If you delay admitting it's
happening until the shit really hits the fan, then claim it's all better while the
shit is still spraying all over you, eventually it will become a complete non-event,
like the ho-hum 'discouraged workers' who keep pushing those jobless claims down.
Good going, guys! Way to take one for the statistical team!
 
The other intriguing development about the "modern" recovery is that it miraculously
continues to be a "recovery" without some previously indispensable component. Under
Clinton and Bush, we were introduced to the "jobless" recovery. Now, with
foreclosures yet to peak and record upside down mortgages still to blow, we are
apparently being fed the "homeless recovery." See? With each recovery, we can begin
to see past those boring necessities that clouded our vision in the past. With
joblessness and homelessness becoming old hat, I can't wait for what's next--maybe a
foodless recovery or an airless recover--for future administrations to bestow on us.
 
All hilarious sarcasm aside (and I am a hoot, aren't I? Isn't misery funny?!) it is
a terribly disheartening time. I can't remember a time where the chirping of the
Talking Heads Chorus or the Powers That Be was more completely in synch, while at
the same time being so completely out of touch with the experience the rest of us
are living.
 
Not that journalists and cheerleaders have had separate job descriptions for quite
awhile now; still it boggles the mind to hear people meekly 'report' as fact the
data that spews forth like clockwork from government and industry mouthpieces. The
THC and PTB are still chirping over the so-called 3.6% housing "jump" when the
sample included an 11% margin of error. No one needs a degree in statistics to see
through such a load of crap. Yet the spewing is allowed to continue.
 
The only recession concession the THCPTB team will make is that the non-existent
recovery is 'fragile' until consumers start loosening up their spending habits
again. Duh. A whopping 70% of GDP is from consumer spending--there simply is no
economy without us buying as much crap as we can get our hands on. Now, people may
finally be catching on to the fact that working 80 hours a week at a job they hate
to finance the overvalued glorified cottage in the suburbs, which is mortgaged for
more than it is worth to finance the never-stop-spending lifestyle that keeps them
on the treadmill--that it all kind of SUCKS! Shhhhhh! The system will simply
collapse if the people actually figure this one out.
 
Well, guess what, THCPTB? They're onto it. And the whiff of panic is growing
stronger in both quarters, among the Talking Heads whose job it is to convince
people to keep spending, and the people who have no money left to spend. THERE IS NO
MORE MONEY for folks to spend, and therefore, there can be no sustained return to
The Way Things Were. Those who think economics can't really be that simple have
forgotten the old joke about the economist stranded on the island with the chemist
and the physicist: they have one can of beans, and will starve if they can't figure
out how to open it. After the chemist and physicist trade long and improbable
solutions about boiling it or throwing it up in the air (the longer-winded and more
boring the better for the joke, unfortunately) the economist smoothly steps in and
says, "okay, ASSUME a can opener..." Why would they know what they are talking about
when the whole game has been one step above reading tea leaves and flipping a coin?
Of course, that's not fair to the coin flippers--they're right half the time....
 
Only such a fantasy world could yield a phrase like "the real economy" as if it is
something that has to be actually described. In "the real economy," people are
frantically going about the business of trying to do more with less, getting used to
a new and grim future in which their dwindling incomes are expected to pay for more
goods and services as government abandons them in a thoroughly bipartisan orgy of
throwing money at the banksters and criminals who are already obscenely rich to
begin with.
 
People look around them, talk to each other, work next to each other, fight with
each other, and they know. They stop listening to the THC--induced buzz and live
their lives. And on a recent trip to the mall to see how all these new green shoots
were doing, it all comes into focus. It was raining, so the parking lots were packed
as people flocked to the the local cathedral, the modern-dayhouse of worship that is
the suburban shopping mall. But inside people were more or less wandering around
like zombies, buying one or two things from the anchor stores or shops blasting
sales, two-for-one, and discounts of 110% (okay, I made that one up). But I couldn't
make up the fact that one store had a huge orange sticker screaming that it had been
SEIZED...damn, that's a sobering shot of reality shoppers really didn't need. Or the
overheard conversations: "I'm tired--let's find a couch and sit and stare..." Or the
fact that there was a line, but only at one store: the Dunkin Donuts! Green shoots
my ass. There may be hope in the plain fact that the people aren't as stupid as
those in power think they are.
 
And take housing, for instance. No one knows what they are talking about, as the
aforementioned statistical White Lies, Big Lies, and plain old Whoppers attest. The
only real measure of what something is "worth" is what people have recently been
paying--actually paying--for similar things. This is easier than it sounds to bypass
the THC and Bernanke's Banksters, at least on a small scale. I was curious about the
local market, so I started keeping track of a simple trend, recent sale prices as a
function of assessed value. Of course, real estate agents will claw their eyes out
and everyone in the business will scream that assessed value shouldn't be confused
with market value. It needn't be. As the only constant applied by a local taxing
authority to all properties, all it needs to do is serve as a backdrop for price
fluctuation.
 
In June, a sampling of one- and two-family homes yielded an average sale price of
around 88.8% of assessed value--a very grim picture indeed, as assessed values are
already considered to be low. In July, the much vaunted "jump" did indeed yield a
local blip--up to about 92.8%, though but for a frantic flurry in the last two days
of the month the average would actually have gone down. The brutal news is, when
trying to do the same analysis for August, there was almost no data to analyze once
throwing out highs and lows for statistical balance. Of the slim pickings in sales
(less than half the volume of the two prior months), the average had dropped to
around 80% of assessed value. Yikes. And this trend was visible, with a little
digging, weeks before the recent "surprising" drop in August sales that is just now
making news. A small picture, admittedly, but what else can we trust when we are
being blamed for not stoking the recovery by spending money we dont' have?
 
And in this traditionally crowded college town, where lack of sufficient housing is
always an issue, ubiquitous "for rent" signs persist into October, long after the
crush of returning students has settled into the new semester. Meanwhile, billions
of our dollars are being spent on endless wars--another bipartisan boondoggle. And
trillions--yes, trillions--can be pulled out of thin air to prop the whole thing up.
Remember that the next time you need a bake sale to fund extracurricular activities
at your kid's school. People know that there is something terribly wrong. And the
only good news is that they may, finally, have stopped listening to the THC.
 
 2009 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to
http://danielpwelch.com. Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch
lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde.
Together they run The Greenhouse School (http://www.greenhouseschool.org).
Translations of articles are available in over two dozen languages. Links to the
website are appreciated.