Monday, August 17, 2009

The Recession is Over!

The world is reportedly pulling out of the global recession, at least if one can rely upon the conjectures of the likes of those who are regularly paraded about the BBC and CNN. It is nonetheless undeniable that there are still a great number of people who are seriously smarting from the collapse of the financial industry and the capital markets that once supported it. In addition, the event has unquestionably caused a lot of suspicion about what’s going on. Yet the bitter truth is that few if any have any better idea about where to invest money, a dilemma made all the more tortuous when one recalls that money doesn’t disappear, it just changes hands. So where indeed did all that money go?

The little I know or understand about economics tells me that (in spite of the melt-down) there is an aging population with a lot of money, and they’re looking around for a place to plant it. Some may choose merely to bury it, in hopes of amortizing its value over their predictable life span. Current rates of return - assuming one chooses the more secure financial vehicles - make it almost academic regarding investment debate. There may be some who hope to purchase their future nutrition and accommodation by applying the money to the reduction of their children’s debt (said to be at record high levels for the baby-boomer generation), but this smacks of one more attempt to spoil the same group of people, clearly a posture which hasn’t paid the anticipated dividends.

Meanwhile younger people coming up through the ranks are apparently having difficulty getting or keeping employment, either because of their lack of experience or because of down-sizing (where the senior employees stay the longest). Everyone who has suffered economic hardship knows how devastating it is, and I suspect the impact on young minds and bodies is extremely deleterious.

As we all know, apart from the global this and the global that, the universe is ultimately personal, and we each face our own unique challenges and exigencies. I suppose there’s nothing wrong about having the time to contemplate one’s future, though it would likely be less foreboding if one could put a finger on where one will be tomorrow. Bankruptcies (the "personal" kind, as though there is anything impersonal about any bankruptcy) are escalating daily, and it is common knowledge that one is better to make a clean sweep of it than propose to avoid the indignity by selling everything you own to pay your creditors. Even if the baby-boomers were, by some concerted effort, to liquidate the cottage, the Lexus and the monster house for the sake of eliminating the staggering levels of debt (the personal kind once again), one has to wonder who would buy it all, and at what price? We’ve succeeded in building a fairly clever snare for ourselves, and unfortunately we’re our own unintended victims.

It won’t surprise me to see a resurgence of a practice which was once very common in any Province of this country, though lately in the less wealthy only; and that is the practice of having aging parents live with their children, frequently in the large family home. Such an arrangement does of course save face on many levels (not to mention the money), but it requires a complete readjustment as far as personal inclinations go (or at the very least an abandonment of the fear of alcoholism). The whole idea behind having one’s own car and one’s own house is at the very root of the problem. The aspiration belies a great deal that is far less enviable, and goes a long way to explain the alienation of people from one another. However, we’ll soon no doubt come to recognize that island mentality is a huge luxury (especially if "retirement living" consumes valuable resources, as it undoubtedly does).

Compromise is another possibility for the debt-stained population. I rather suspect that those in the United States who have lost their highly-leveraged homes will think quite differently about what one needs to be happy in this world. Often one hears how the post-depression survivors adopted new means of controlling their finances. The appetite for material consumption surely pales in the face of its predictable outcome. Unfortunately, this is not what many - including our elected delegates in government - consider a workable prescription for getting people back to work. The battle cry is, "Spend, spend, spend!". Assuming the banks will begin to retract their tentacles by offering less and less credit, I can’t see that there will be a mass migration to the emporia. This means that of necessity people will begin to compromise, keep the car longer, repair the old house, take fewer vacations, dine out less and generally start living within their means (humiliating and distasteful phrase that it is).

As a small businessman who can actually feel the pulse of the economy (I am after all at street level), I have long accepted that nothing I can do or think about the situation will matter a damn. What I do know, however, is that it is far too late for me to change horses or direction, so I just keep lopping along, taking care of business as best I know how, enjoying the searing summer heat, and relishing the prospect of a further retainer. I may find, too, that I have joined the burgeoning ranks of those who have no likelihood of retirement in the near future. This does not deflate me, since my predecessor (no less than one of Her Majesty’s Counsel Learned-in-the-Law, a federal appointment to boot) did not lay down the trowel until he was 81 years of age. I mean, what’s my hurry!

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