Tag Archives: economics

News From the Saloon – No Safe Harbor For the Hoarders

Wikimedia creative commons . Photo by Juddo.120px-Fat_cat_1

At the bar last night were some of the regulars.  My friend Phil just got back from a trip to the Caribbean paid for by his wealthy older brother.

“The harbor was packed with yachts.  I mean hundreds of them, ” he said shaking his head. “Some of them are only there for a couple weeks a year.  What it costs to run one  for a week is more than my salary for a year.  Why don’t they just rent one?”

“They don’t know what else to do with the money, ” I sighed, “They Hoover it up from the rest of us. Or as Taibbi says, they stick their blood funnel into everything that smells of money” and then they stuff it into these floating mattresses among other things.”

And surprise, surprise, this morning on “Up” with Chris Hayes, Hayes asked Paul Krugman the same question concerning the hoarding of profits by the 1%.  Profits are way up for the few and companies like Apple have gobs of cash.  You could blame it on no demand, he mused.  But then he added: Continue reading

News From the Saloon – Bang for Your Buck

The bar has been rather quiet lately.  There weren’t as many Christmas parties as in the past.  Not as many people bellied up to the bar.  It’s always a little quieter after the end of the main hunting season that ends at Thanksgiving.  Not as many strangers dressed in camouflage, their orange heads bobbing as they  exchange stories of bagging that elk.  For that I am always thankful at Thanksgiving.  I am thankful that my neighbors have meat in their freezer for the year, yes.  But I am also  thankful that it is the end of dead animals on hoods of trucks season.

And now we have settled in for winter with mostly locals and the occasional travelers on their way across the state on I-90.  They mostly have tales of snow and woe.  There is still talk of hunting but it has to do with what the hunter got for Christmas.  This year’s present seems to be an electronic animal distress call.  And a young man at the bar had just received one.  What in the world was that, I asked.

“Well, it mimics an animal in distress like a rabbit so the coyote or wolf will  come to it and you can get your shot,” the young man replied.

The young woman with him remarked, “He can make all the sounds himself, so he doesn’t really need one.  His sounds are better than the recordings and, yes, quite distressful.”

“I learned those calls when I was a little guy watching the hunting shows on TV, ” he added.  “My mom would just shake her head as I did my best one, the dying rabbit.”

Now I was under the impression that most youngsters were forced to watch Sesame Street with Miss Piggy or cartoons about rascally rabbits.  Instead  I find out that there are little boys out there mastering the fine art of imitating dying bunnies and ‘lil Miss Piggy squeals.  Indeed, life is strange.  But having just see the magnificent “Life of Pi” by director Ang Lee, I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way of explaining the food chain to a kid. Sesame Street or Outdoor Living?  Whose to say?

So this is where the tale gets even stranger for me.  The young man said that he couldn’t really use his present much in Montana as they have rules about such things.  You can’t use electronic devices to lure or bait your prey.

Okay, I don’t hunt.  My sister does.  My uncles did.  My husband used to but hasn’t in 20 years.  He is a rancher and only uses his gun to shoot coyotes that come near his cows and calves.  So I don’t know much about it and usually only half listen to these hunting conversations which I find as tedious as they might find my conversations about life expectancies in the industrialized nations.

So I asked, “I don’t understand. What’s the difference between you making a distressed “lil piggy” and a gizmo doing it?”

“I guess it’s not fair,” he shrugged.  And this, by and large, was the answer I got from about a half dozen people I asked over the course of the next two days.

“Not fair?  Not fair?” I declared each time.  “You are going off to kill something.  I don’t get it.  What difference does it make how you do it? Why are there all these rules?  I get that there is a quota.  I get that hunters are used to thin the herds since there is very little feed around and it is better than having them starve.  Okay.  I get not shooting near a house.  I get asking permission of a rancher to come on his place.  But what is this “not fair” stuff?  It’s not like the deer and the hunter meet at the center of the field and agree on a set of rules and shake paws or hooves or hands and go back to their respective corners waiting for the gong to sound.  The deer and coyotes are not part of this deal.  They did not even designate representatives in the capital to speak on their behalf in making these rules.   I don’t get why it’s a sport at all, I guess.   Is this how an idea like “The Hunger Games” begins? Somebody decides who is predator and who is prey and what’s “fair”?”

The young couple were polite as I finished my rant.  They had no answers for me.

The next day I was having my nails done and I asked the question at the salon.

“Angie, come over here,” Melissa said.  “You hunt.  Why are there these rules about electronic animal sounds?”

“Well, you can’t bait them.  You can’t use a bucket of guts and you can’t use electronic calls.  It’s not fair, I guess, ” she replied.

“But what is all this “fair” stuff?” I repeated.

“Well, if you break the rules you have to pay a fine.  Maybe it’s a way of collecting money,” she pondered.

Okay, that’s an idea I can wrap my head around.  That might be a rationale for those rules.  Maybe it’s the only way a state can figure out revenue.  But there is something more.  Something deeper. The underlying idea is that hunting has come to be viewed as a sport and not something of a necessity.  And “sport” is an idea that has been around for thousands of years.  “Sport” is what keeps the plebes occupied while the elites steal everything in sight.  The elites have always resorted to “bread and circuses” to keep the rabble from cutting off their heads.  Until one day it stops working.  And that’s when the prey becomes the predator.  It is forever thus.

“Sooie!”

On Work/Jobs/Career and Leisure – Updated

I watched my husband swath the alfalfa last Saturday.  It’s a hot, noisy, dusty…well, really  crappy job.  There is nothing idyllic about it although he did comment that he saw a crow catch a mouse, something he had never seen before.  Thought crows ate bugs.  So there you go; a first.

But swathing does have a certain sense of power.  Swathers are big bad machines that can slice up critters hiding in the grass and ruin your hearing.  So when you’ve been out in the heat and the dirt; driving around and around in circles or up and down, row after row, cutting and hacking, you have every right to take the rest of the day off.  Which is what my husband did.  He went to town for some beers.

That got me thinking again about work and leisure.  It is not a new topic but it needs to be discussed in serious ways amongst us.  It would be a good topic for a non partisan group of neighbors.  What is work and what is a job?  Why do we need “careers”?  Careers are sometimes defined as “lifelong work”.  Now isn’t that dandy.  Sentenced to life….long….work.  Whoo! Hoo!  I’ve got a career.   It is also defined as a “permanent calling”.  Oh, that sounds very hoity toity; a calling.  But the permanent part sounds grim. And it is soooo anti- freedom loving American.

I asked my husband for his off-the-top-of-his-head definition of career and he said, “Well, I’d say with a career you can get an upgrade. Some people can’t upgrade, so that’s a job.”   Ah, ha!  The word career then could turn any job into something more desirable.  “I am entering a career in waitering and hope to advance to head waiter or move up the ladder to private butler at the Rockin’ Buckaroo Dude Ranch.”  (Yes, there is a dude ranch that has luxury camping tents with king size beds and your own personal butler. )

But what if having a “career”  is also a sneaky way to make us spend money on college and so to confer on us some sort of status?  Instead of working your way up from a boiler room on Long Island up to hedge fund trader, you can get a degree in selling ice to Eskimos at a very prestigious college.  Much more fun and half the work.  And very hoity-toity sounding.

What is this obsession with work that Americans have anyway?  This week I ran into a sewing materials store to buy some thread and I started chatting with a couple from Australia visiting Montana.  They were here for six weeks!  They officially have four weeks per year off and took an extra two in order to really see America including Hawaii on the way home.  They were shocked to hear that here in the greatest country in the world most people in companies might get two weeks off and work their way up to three.  But most people don’t get any paid vacation at all.

“What?!” they exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, “we live in a very primitive country here.  We aren’t really free.  We have been brainwashed into thinking freedom is something to do with choices in cereals and having a lot of weapons to kill other people just in case they have the cheekiness to not like us very much.  Meanwhile we have few holidays or vacations where we explore other countries like people in developed countries do.  Add to that expensive healthcare, pitiful pensions, exorbitant education costs, and lousy trains, and you’ve got a pretty primitive kind of society for such a big fat empire like the U.S. of A.”

“You are nothing without work.”  You hear that all the time.  What a crock.  I’ve discovered Michael D. Yates when I was reading everything  I could about why the Wisconsin uprising ended up in a mush.  He wrote a piece in March called “Whoopee! We’re All Gonna Die”.  He expounds on the ludicrous way we sheeple buy into the notion that we all want the dignity  and fun of working until we drop.

In his piece he relates a disturbing story from The Guardian and comments on it.  Sounds like something written by Terry Gilliam.

A friend of mine referred me to an article in the February 16, 2012 issue of the Guardian (United Kingdom), in which it is reported that: “Some long-term sick and disabled people face being forced to work unpaid for an unlimited amount of time or have their benefits cut under plans being drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions.” Those ancient Wal-Mart greeters will have to work in those wheelchairs just to get social security. And if they need kidney dialysis, the machines can be hooked up to the chairs while they smile at the customers. Perhaps there will be a nonagenarian so disabled that all he can do is blink his eyes. Then some bright young technological wizard will be tasked to find a way to turn those blinks into labor.

Time to have a talk with your neighbors.  Get what needs to get done, done.   Make what needs to be consumed but stop with making all the bric a brac and the knick knacks.  Michael Yates is right;  we need more security not less and a lot more leisure not a life of joyless toil.  So cut some rows, fix some fence, and head to town for a brewski. And start to look for alternatives like the Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) idea to provide for the basic needs of everybody on the planet. Hey the banks stole around 800 trillion in the latest LIBOR scandal.  That should work to fund our mad scene of a life filled with time for family and friends and thought.  Now that’s a career I could get behind.

UPDATE: Last night after I published this I woke up and followed a link from Naked Capitalism to a item in the Financial Times called “Enough is Enough of the Age of Consumption”  This article by Robert and Edward Skideisky references the John Maynard Keynes essay I was going to look up on a recommendation by a NC commenter. Keynes wrote “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” in 1930 and “predicted that by now we would only need to work  15 hours a week… The rest would be leisure time.”

The Skideiskys point out that conventional wisdom in economics said that there were three stages of economic development; the age of capital in which people save  their income; the age of consumption where they consumed their income; and the age of abundance where they would say “enough is enough” already.  Let’s work less.

What went wrong?

Well,  producing more than we really need seems to be the culprit along with kicking small farmers off the land and into factories. Large land owners don’t seem to be a good idea.  Saying that, of course around here, will make me few friends.  Montana is home to Ted Turner who owns a good chunk of the state and has his buffalo a roaming and his restaurant “Ted’s” to eat bison burgers.  The idea of large chunks of land with cows and other critters roaming isn’t a bad one.  If we could have some shares in it rather than have just a few wealthy lords makes more sense.  But that’s another whole essay.

Working with our present system, looks like we should have that Basic Income Guarantee.  For people who don’t mind tedious jobs in factories or driving a tractor up and down, we make sure that they have plenty of leisure time.  We could also make sure aka subsidize that artists, musicians, and other performers could create.  Scientists seem to never want to stop working so give them what they need to invent things and cure diseases.

This morning I heard that the LIBOR scandal number was $350 Trillion.  Less than the $800 Trillion I read from Taibbi who got it from the WSJ, but still enough to finance a more balanced world where people have time for themselves and their own ideas of leisure.

Food Fight

I’m reading Tom McNamee’s succulent, savory and savvy book on Alice Waters.  It’s called “Alice Waters and  Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution.”  Berkeley, California in the 1970s is certainly trippy.

Throughout the book, the narrative will be interrupted by Alice Waters giving a detailed description of how to cook a dish.  After reading about how to make the perfect omelet, I had to try it myself.  (I have to work on flipping it over in the air).  Having hard boiled eggs around also turned out to be a simple way to start the day.  Her search for the perfect lettuce and the perfect peach had me combing my local farmers’ market pretending to be a forager from Chez Panisse.  I brought the peach to my nose and inhaled.  I cradled the beautiful head of lettuce and pictured it on my table. I sniffed and caressed.

Lettuce

For many people, these are hard times.  So talking about good food may seem callous and a bit hippy dippy.  But that’s not why I’m recommending this book.  What we eat is something we have some control over.  We can eat simply and healthy.  And people on food stamps can buy produce from farmers’ markets instead of filling up on processed cheese.  I was at a farmers’ market in Livingston, Montana.  The couple ahead of me were buying some nice potatoes, lettuce, and radishes.  They used food stamps.

Radishes on Lace

Something else that I do to ward off the evil spirits of doom and gloom is to get out an old lace tablecloth and serve my radishes on a nice china plate.  A little elegance on the frontier is what ranch wives often tried to do in the face of dust and dirt.  And I continue the tradition.

When I moved here 18 years ago from NYC and LA, there were few farmers’ markets.  Oddly, I had been spoiled by living in those big cities.  They had fabulous farmers’ markets.  New Jersey is not called the Garden State for nothing. But Montana imported 80% of its food.  Also I discovered that people here did have vegetable gardens but they traded with their friends but didn’t sell the fresh produce.  Thanks to local women, we got our own farmers’ market.  And the ones in the larger towns have grown and become increasingly sophisticated in their consciousness of flavor and organic ways of growing things.  It took me years, but I finally convinced my rancher husband to stop grain feeding his steers and go grass fed.

I thank you Alice Waters for your pioneering spirit and pushing farm to restaurant and schoolyard gardens.  Yes, you can be a pioneer in Berkeley and you can lead a revolution with a spatula and a iron skillet.

Magical Places and Radical Dreams

Paul Street recently noted in a piece called “Hope Killer for Re-Hire” http://www.zcommunications.org/hope-killer-for-re-hire-brand-obama-and-the-management-of-popular-expectations-by-paul-street

that Barack Obama in his 2004 Keynote Speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention called the United States “a magical place”.  Hmmm?  I thought.  Like “Oz”, the Easter Bunny’s garden of eggs, Santa Claus’ workshop, and George Clooney’s bedroom, America as magical is a big fat myth.  (Well, I’ll give you that George’s place could be dreamy).  Continue reading

Know-It-All Stubborn Mules

muleMichael Lewis has this quote at the beginning of his book “The Big Short”.  Kind of explains the whole financial crisis in a nutshell and the whole political circus going on nationally and all the way down to the local level.

“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of a doubt, what is laid before him.”  -Leo Tolstoy, 1897

A lot of people have their mind already made up despite having facts placed before them.  I heard this recently from a city council member who doesn’t like “public parks” especially ones who are trying to be “sustainable” because that means they are part of U.N. Agenda 21.  “You’re not going to change my mind.”

You see, that’s the first thing I would ask any candidate or politician.  “Could you change your mind?…without a bribe, that is?

Et Tu, Zuckerberg?

I’m in the movie business and I don’t go to the movies much anymore.  It’s only partially because I live 70 frickin’ miles from a multiplex, but more because the movies have been really sucky of late.  Sometimes a “Michael Clayton” studio movie comes along.  You know, a movie with dialogue and some sort of social conscience like “Network”.  Yes, we fortunately have the Cohen brothers for creepy yet thrilling character portrayals and Pixar for joy.  But mostly we get a lot of hurling; large pieces of car flying at us or guys throwing up a lot.

So I’m happy to report that even though this is a movie about a bunch of narcissistic guys who invent a way to avoid social contact, “Social Network” about the origins of Facebook  had me laughing one minute and on the edge of my seat in another.  Yes, it was worth the 2 hours of driving, (although driving on Interstate 90 in Montana is sheer bliss with little traffic and kick ass scenery.  You know the whole eagles soaring deal above the Yellowstone River and against the backdrop of the buttes.) I could kick myself for not asking the young Montanans there what they thought of the excess of Harvard life.  I mean those Harvard dorms rooms are mighty swanky.  Their refrigerators are filled with Heineken.  Loads of it.   And the women’s underwear in the first party scene?   Oh boy, did I feel like I needed to go shopping.

The movie was a kind of me generation “Othello”  with the Othello character (nice Brazilian roommate Eduardo Severin played by Andrew Garfield)  becoming the supporting player and Iago (Mark Zuckerberg) becoming the dark maladjusted leading man.  The movie starts out with the Desdemona character Erica (played by Rooney Mara) being condescended to in a Boston bar by  Zuckerberg (played to dark perfection by Jesse Eisenberg) and finally dumping his sorry ass, thus ending that Othello comparison.  (The movie theater I was in had a sound problem and the first couple minutes we couldn’t hear the dialogue which made us a bit rebellious. So they started the whole movie over and I’m glad they did because the movie starts off with such a bang that to have missed it would have been a sin.)

Every performance is dead on.  Eisenberg provides the strange hypnotic but sad center.  While Garfield provides its only beating heart.  The Winklevoss twins played by Armie Hammer with body double Josh Pence are the epitome of privilege who are impossibly handsome, smart and , oh yes, are on the Olympic crew team.  You start off hating them, but end up loving every minute they are on the screen. And just when you thought you were having all the fun you could stand, in walks Lucifer minion Sean Parker, played with astonishing dash and complexity by Justin Timberlake.  A seducer of the first order, he lures Zuckerberg away from this best friend Eduardo into the Silicon Valley version of decadent paradise.

The direction of David Fincher couldn’t be better making even the scenes in the law office fraught with danger.  The Aaron Sorkin script is fast, almost dizzying, but still luscious and spare at the same time.  The first scenes are actually flashbacks.  We then are shown the present which is a law office where the depositions are being taken of the people suing Zuckerberg over whose idea Facebook was.  Who would have thought you could get that much drama in deposing people?  And who is telling the truth? I’m probably not the first person to remark that Sorkin used the “Rashomon” structure to brilliant effect.  Who is telling the whole truth?

The women’s roles are not so much.  This is a movie about young masters of the universe in the making and their whirling neon drug and alcohol filled world of whoopee. If we let them, they will continue to infect our innate sense of community with a crapolistic sociopathy that will be the end of us.    But somehow, thank goodness I saw another possibility.   I ended up hoping that  Erica was happily talking philosophy with her good friends at a Boston University hangout. She was not  sitting with a bunch of assholes basking in their perceived glory or alone collecting friends on her Facebook page. Who will be the winners in this battle for a real social network?  Tune in.