At work some people are in panic mode. While others of us chuckle and whistle Skeeter Davis songs, they are making serious plans to cash out their 401(k) accounts. I think cooler heads have been able to convince them that this would be a mistake.
I ran into one of them this afternoon as he got a snack out of a vending machine. On the machine someone had taped a note:
I laughed when I saw this sign. If we are at a point where people can be choosy about what varieties of overpriced junk food they want to have available in the vending machine, junk food that is easily available from a supermarket or even a big-box store for a fraction of the price, we're not in such bad shape.
PLEASE STOCK ECLAIR
PIES AND MALLO CUPS
Hell, I complain about the price of the gas I consume each day during my 66 mile commute in my 40 mpg Toyota Tercel.* But this means I have a job, and I have a car, and I have the ability to buy gas.
I got to thinking about the widescreen TV and the satellite feed and the house and the comfy couch and I thought hell, I have a friend whose computer broke and she can't afford to get it fixed and she'll be mostly offline until she can gather up enough money to get it done. The same could have been true for me: I am only online because a good and generous friend built me a new system to replace the overtaxed, obsolete one that died on me last Summer. Because of him, I am online. And, if you are reading this, so are you.** Which means you have (or have access to) a computer, and a monitor, and Internet service. How badly-off are you? How much worse could it get?
Yet strained as my finances are, there are many things I still could trim out of my monthly expenses. Oh, most of the low-hanging fruit is gone: I drive an ancient but highly economical car, almost all of our light bulbs are low-wattage fluorescents, I only rarely eat out (except with a gift card), discretionary purchases are down close to zero. But still there is more that can be trimmed out. There is always more.
I heard somebody quoted on NPR this morning as suggesting we are nearing a tipping point when it comes to the economy. I almost drove off the highway laughing. We are only "near" the tipping point in the sense that we passed it some time ago. Possibly when Merrill Lynch went under. Perhaps when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went down. Maybe when Bear Stearns bit the dust. Possibly sometime before. In any event, we have passed the tipping point, and are now in the accelerating collapse phase. It's not too late, not entirely. With an enormous amount of effort - an amount that increases exponentially with time - we can still pull this system back to something resembling stability. Oh, the damage is done; things have broken that cannot be repaired, things have gone away that will not be coming back. But there's still some time, some chance left for the economy, both in the U.S. and for the global economy.
Right now I feel that the economy is like Eddie Murphy's Aunt Bunny falling down the steps. (Video has NSFW / R-rated language.)
The fall seems to take forever, and we're still only partway down. Can we stop before we hit bottom?
And assuming we can - well, what then?
* $3.47/gallon today, 9/30/2008.
** Unless somebody printed it out and gave it to you. But who the hell would have done that?