Saturday, February 5, 2011

Preliminary Thoughts on Growth

Go east, south, west, if you want growth -- to China, Turkey, India or Brazil.  We seem to be maxed out here at home in the U.S.

"But the stock market," says Virginia, "it's up, what, 20% in the past year?  Isn't that a good sign?"

It feels good, maybe, so long as we forget the high unemployment rate, all the people who've given up looking for work, the low rise in our gross domestic product (GDP) compared to what we used to see, the fact that many of the companies in the Dow Jones Industrial Average or other market averages earned half their revenues overseas, and our huge national deficit.  A lot of psychology runs the "market."

"Retail sales were up last month, right?" Virginia adds.

I guess so.  Where did the money come from to buy those things?  I read somewhere that our savings rate clicked downward, folks drew on money market and investment accounts, while incomes lifted a tad.  Maybe we're "recovering" from the concern about over-extension we had a year ago and we're ready to resume our bad habits.

Some "experts" say economic data has become more volatile and we should expect more frequent recessions in the next decade or two, say every three years or so.  I guess recessions are likely because our growth rate is so low.  It wouldn't take much to tip it below zero now and then...a recession.  We can't count on growth to bring in more taxes to pay for higher government "investment," so we'll: (1) go deeper into debt; (2) raise tax rates; and/or (3) cut government programs  

Something's got to give.  A serious attitude adjustment is in order.  Ordinary Americans will need to revise our expectations.  So much for the sizable salary raises we used to expect.  Goodbye tax breaks.  We may need to save up for things we really want, which will give us time to decide whether we really want them.

"Keeping up with the Joneses" may take on a different flavor.
     -- "Hey, how about a coupon exchange, I brought my scrapbook along?"
     -- "I'm glad we raised an extra hog; we'll trade sausage for sweet corn."
     -- "I've done that before; here, help me split this pile of wood, then we'll build your fence."
     -- "My mower broke; I'll give your child piano lessons if you'll mow my lawn."
     -- "Wow, your garden looks great; what did you do to keep the cabbage worms away?"
     -- "You know, I thought about applying for that job, but it made more sense to work at home; I don't need a car and gasoline to gather sap from our maple trees and expand the planting -- besides, the exercise is good for me...and I won't need a new wardrobe."

"Definitely sounds retro," says Virginia, "while the Egyptians say 'stick-it-to-the-man,' we could support each other.  Think 'victory gardens' times ten."

Or a thousand, this time permanently -- unless a post-information technology revolution comes along, created by a new generation of innovators.  Go kids, go!

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.  The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."  George Bernard Shaw

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