Be not afraid…

It’s hard to miss all the current reporting on the growing impact of inflation on the overall economy. Even without the reporting, rapidly rising prices for petrol, food, and other consumer goods, the impact of our inflationary economy would be hard to miss. 

Most of the major news outlets paint a worrying picture – particularly for retirees, anyone sitting on a lot of cash (in a savings account or in certificates of deposit, for instance), or those who loaded up on variable rate debt (like your average credit card). That’s a fair concern, but it’s only part of the bigger picture.

If you happen to be a homeowner – especially one who locked in a mortgage when fixed interest rates drifted down under 3% – inflation gives you the bonus of paying back your loan on an appreciating asset with devalued dollars. If you happen to be holding equities as opposed to cash (including things like 401k, IRA, and other retirement savings vehicles), values should largely increase as the cash value of the underlying companies is inflated. All of that, of course, presupposes that your income also paces the rate of inflation, or at least doesn’t entirely stagnate during a period of sustained inflationary pressure.

I’m obviously not calling for a return to the bad old days of inflation, sky high interest rates, and 10% unemployment… but by read is that there are things out there a hell of a lot more frightening than a little pop of inflation every now and then, so for the time being my motto is “be not afraid.”

Business versus vanity project…

Over the last few days, I’ve watched a handful of news segments and read several stories all striving to make a common point – that businesses from local mom and pop restaurants to heavy industry are having difficulty filling vacant positions.

Some of these stories cite the “Amazon Effect,” that has entry level new hires streaming to fill openings in warehousing and distribution. Others lay the blame with too much free money passed out in the form of federal stimulus payments and increased unemployment.

It seems to me that the most straightforward way to resolve this particular imbalance between the demand for these workers and their limited supply is to increase wages to the point where there are enough people to fill vacancies. 

Admittedly, I’m not a fancy big city economist, but raising wages feels like a fairly basic, tried and true way to attract people into a particular job or even into an entire segment of the workforce.  Yes, it means in some cases the products and services being offered by those businesses will cost more, but if your business can’t generate the revenue necessary to hire people to do the work, you have more of a vanity project than a business anyway.

Clawed back…

Looking at the various trackers I use to keep tabs on “money stuff” it appears I’ve clawed back somewhere around 80% of what was lost when the floor fell out from under the stock market during the opening days of the Great Plague. I wish I could take some kind of credit for having a shrewd financial mind. It has far more to do with being willing to just stand there and take a beating without locking in all those losses by fleeing to the safety of cash equivalents… though I suppose sitting around watching the market erode your nest egg day after day after day without screaming “uncle,” is a certain kind of financial bravery of its own.

I’m happy to see a lot less red ink on the page, but I’m not even cautiously optimistic of the market’s ability to hold on to its gains in the absence of the truly massive amount of money the Federal Reserve has pushed into the system. Until I start seeing unemployment numbers normalizing, consumer confidence picking up, and a reckoning about how the foreclosures and evictions that have been held in abeyance for the last few months will be addressed, I won’t be convinced it’s not an aberration.

Call me a pessimist, if you will, but aside from there being a nice blue sky and sunshine overhead I don’t see how or where we’ve really turned a corner – and I’m fairly sure the economy doesn’t turn on how pretty a day it happens to be outside. Then again it’s possible I have completely lost track about what it is that actually does drive the economy. So much seems to have changed since I took my basic classes twenty years ago… or at least we’re pretending they’ve changed right up until the old rules jump up and bite us in the collective ass later this year.

You’re not going to like this…

No good day starts with the boss wandering by to see you and starting off with the warning, “Well, you’re not going to like this…”

Yeah, some people have a real talent for understatement. I’m not going to get into the how and why of not not like “this,” because it’s not all that important. I mean it’s bad enough being served a double helping of shit sandwich without recounting the experience in agonizing detail. Right?

I’m also not reliving the experience because the insult added to this particular injury was as bad if not worse than the “this” that I was sure not to like. You see, I walked through the entire first half of the day thinking that it was Thursday and that only a “make up” telework day stood between me and the weekend.

Realizing my my error well into the day, I just opted to give up all hope… because other than meaning another day of not living under a bridge, I’m not going to like any of this.

The older I get the more I realize exactly why keeping whiskey in your desk drawer is frowned upon. Sigh. If only I didn’t have to avoid unemployment and the inevitable poverty that follows.

A proud moment…

I applied for unemployment with the State of Maryland this morning. That’s a proud moment for this career civil servant, let me tell you. It’s hard to believe that there was a time in this country when being a part of the professional, non-partisan cadre of federal employees was considered an honorable (and stable) career. Now that our elected masters have figured out how to politicize the bureaucracy, well, it’s a safe bet that those days are long gone. I suppose if I were a bloviating asshat in love with the sound of my own voice (i.e. a typical member of Congress), federal employees would make a convenient scapegoat of opportunity.

The thing to remember is that under the American Plan, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” What that means for those of you who don’t speak 18th century is that every action taken by a federal employee is in response to a law passed by the Congress of the United States and signed by the president. Blaming the average federal employee for the intransigence of our political masters is like blaming the guy cooking your fries when the price of McDonald’s stock goes down. Sure, it’s easy to do, but it just doesn’t pass the objectivity test.

Trust me when I say that we have more reason than most to hate the douchebags in Washington who make the laws and set the priorities.


Well, this is embarrassing. It seems that the American political system is precisely as dysfunctional as I’ve been afraid it was. Remind me to never to use the “world’s oldest operating democratic republic” line again, will you?
Today’s plan of attack:

1. Drive to work and get handed my official furlough notice. (Yes, for reasons that bugger the imagination, sending that to us in an email and saving everyone an unnecessary trip to and from the office is something that’s apparently too hard to do.)

2. Apply for unemployment benefits from the State of Maryland.

3. Update my resume on Monster and begin applying for jobs.

4. Spend some time writing something that I may be able to sell for profit and bidding on freelance writing jobs.

5. Call Representative Andy Harris, Senator Ben Cardin, and Senator Barbara Mikulski and leave a voice message expressing my absolute disgust with our elected “leaders.” (Since most congressional staffers are also non-essential, the chance of anyone ever getting that message are somewhere between slim and none.)

6. Write a blog post that hides the fact that I am stark raving furious about the disfunction of our political masters under a thin veneer of snark and sarcasm.

So that’s what I’ll be doing instead of the job that Uncle Sam has spent a great deal of time and money training me to do and which I have demonstrated award-winning skill in carrying out. I thought I had a career, but apparently it’s only a job. I’ll adjust my expectations and level of dedication accordingly.

Playing what if…

Note: This started as a response to an old friend who poked me with a pointy stick in response to last night’s post. Because I often can’t resist poking back, you get what we have here, which is a far longer response than is strictly necessary, but one that I think was worth the effort to write down all in one place.

Two years ago I decided a change was in order. To make the change a reality, I papered the countryside from southern New Jersey to the Carolinas with just shy of 600 resumes. So when someone tells me that I don’t know what the job market is like out there, I’m not quite sure how to respond. Out of that pool of 600 jobs, I got maybe 12 interviews, six follow-up interviews, and one firm offer of employment. It took the better part of a year, but I was still able to get from Point A to Point B. Trust me, I know the job market ain’t what it used to be.

Given the impending draconian cuts in defense spending that will be enacted in January if Congress fails (once again) to do its job, there’s the outside chance that my gig will be on the chopping block just like everyone else’s. Yep, that sucks, but it’s reality. Uncle Sam promised the opportunity to work. He didn’t make any promises of a job for life. If the budget ax falls and I’m on the wrong side of it, well, that means I’ll be looking for work (again, just like everyone else). I like to think that my unique set of knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and training make me marketable across a respectably wide swath of potential employers… but I don’t think any combination of those things is a guarantee that I’ll be able to land exactly the job I want, when I want it, with the pay that I’d like to earn. That, of course leads to the inevitable question, “What happens if you don’t get anything close to the job you want or are qualified for?”

The best answer is I’d do whatever I needed to do to make ends meet. First the non-essential spending goes away – cable TV, booze, eating out, movies, horse racing, the things that are fun, but don’t do anything other than take money away from the bottom line. In a pinch, I sell the truck in favor of something more fuel efficient, take on a roommate to help balance the cost of rent and utilities. None of these are things I want to do, but they’re the things that need done when funds have to be prioritized.

I spent five years flipping burgers at a time when minimum wage was a hellofa lot less than it is now. I did it before and I’m not too proud to do it again if needs be. When the chips are really down common sense tells me that having some money coming in is better than no money coming in at all. When I wasn’t asking if someone wanted fries with that I worked sporadically as a valet. That job paid tips and a hot meal at the end of the night. In the summer I baled hay on a local farm and shoveled shit when it needed shoveling. Lord knows that wasn’t glamorous or high paying. For a while I was even directed traffic and took admission tickets at the county fairgrounds. I spent days most summers cutting grass for anyone who would throw a $20 my way. More often than not, I was working one or more of those jobs on the same day. And if all of those things weren’t a sufficient lesson in thrift and humility, I taught civics to high school freshmen. Anyone who does that job deserves some kind of medal.

I’m not here to tell anyone they suck or that they’re not working hard enough and I rarely espouse any political belief other than my own. Lord knows there’s no major (or minor) party that’s perfectly aligned with my way of thinking. I make observations based on my own experience and adjust my thoughts accordingly. I see plenty of problems with the world and how it’s operating, but I still don’t see a system that’s hopelessly broken. No one promises that life is going to be fair. The Declaration itself calls for the pursuit of happiness, not the guarantee of happiness. Life isn’t fair and sometimes that just sucks. I’d love to have the body of a young Brad Pitt and the voice of a Pavarotti, but those weren’t the gifts I got… yet I still go to the movies and enjoy listening to a tenor sing. Somehow I don’t see any benefit of shuttering the theaters and concert halls just because I can’t have what they have.

Come at me with concrete, realistic ideas about what can be better and how to achieve it and I’m all ears, but don’t expect me to join a crusade just to burn down what we have now. For all its warts, I dare say our system is still a far better operation than what our friends in Syria, Iran, Egypt, and dozens of other countries enjoy at the moment. I’m not willing to throw it over because hey maybe the next thing we try will be better.

New Deal Revisited…

A member of Congress with a famous family name is proposing a simple solution to the bringing down the unemployment rate: Put approximately 15 million people on the federal payroll with a $40,000 a year salary. The proposal would revive concepts that saw a Civilian Conservation Corps plant trees, build dams, and forge roads and a Works Progress Administration that built airports and paid authors and photographers to ply their trade on behalf of the US Government. As fanatical as I am about the proper role of government, even I have to admit that the CCC and WPA probably represent the best instincts of government. Maybe I have a soft spot for the concept because I grew up swimming and camping at a place built by the CCC in the late 30s. Say what you will about it having been a “make work” project, but their efforts have held up pretty well under 80 years of continual use.

Maybe more importantly, the CCC and WPA made constructive work part of the requirement to receive federal assistance. In the 30s, your options were pretty much work or starve. I wonder, though, if those concepts would still hold up. How many people receiving federal assistance would be willing to go to work camps in the wilderness, to sweep their cities streets, or to lift a hand to earn what we now think of as entitlements? As a result of their experiences during the Depression, my grandfather saved soap slivers that he eventually pressed together into a new bar and my grandmother used the same teabag for cup after cup of tea despite the need for them to do these things being long past. When’s the last time any of us even thought about doing something like that?

I never in my life thought I could be convinced to line up with Representative Jesse Jackson Jr on an issue, but I think this one at least has academic merit. I don’t necessarily agree with all his reasoning or the total numbers he’s talking about, but I have to admit I really like the concept. Let’s face it, we’re going to pay unemployment, welfare, and a raft of other “entitlements” anyway, so why not make productivity a requirement for receiving unemployment and other funds from the government?

This is probably the point where someone is going to come to my door to collect my Republican Party membership card.

My Mr. Smith moment…

I did something today that I’ve never even given more than a passing thught to doing in the past. I exercised my right to call out, or rather call on, my elected representative to Congress. The nice staffer at Congressman Blackburn’s office was very polite when i explained that I was a registered voter in the Tennessee 7th, a federal employee, and that I’d very much like to go to work on Monday. She assured me that my message would make it to the congressman straight away. Yeah, I’m not sure I bought that part, but someone less jaded would have probably appreciated it as a helpful throwaway statement.

I have no idea what made me think of doing that. It just struck me that some effort needs to be made to keep the scale from being completely filled with the voices of the radicals who want to believe that Jesus hates compromise. We need serious structural changes to how the government does business. What we don’t need is 800,000 more people unemployed on Monday morning because the elected leaders of the United States of America can’t find their honorable asses with both hands and a flashlight.