On Sunday morning I saw a line of people waiting patiently for the doors at SOVA Pantry to open so that they can get food. On the same evening I saw an even longer line of people lined up in Beverly Hills to buy $4 cupcakes "handcrafted in small batches" at Sprinkles. There are over 20 tantalizing flavors to satisfy the sweet tooth, using the freshest ingredients including sweet cream butter, bittersweet Belgian chocolate, pure Madagascar Bourbon vanilla etc. Need any today?
Ritzy, glamorous, extravagant lifestyle. The decay is so deep, yet the pain is not widespread, so it has not been felt everywhere yet. There will come a day, in the not so distant future, when standing in line to buy cupcakes will not be a status symbol anymore, people will start thinking about others as well and indulgence will be replaced by kindness if not by fear.
People refuse to recognize what is happening, so we continue behaving the same. Bloomberg online reports: "Hedge funds may cut a record 20,000 jobs as losses erode fees," "United Technologies will cut 11,600 jobs, reduces profit, sales forecasts" and "Jobless rate in U.S. will reach 9.4% this year, economists say in survey." Do I care about 20,000 out of work from the financial industry? When they made their hefty salaries, often in the hundreds of thousands or more, did they care about society? Did they take one step other than the one that would maximize their after-tax income (i.e. deduct the maximum for "charities," usually of the type that includes glamorous meals at world-class hotels, raffles and other make-myself-feel-good type)?
We have already surpassed the eight percent unemployment figure, and this must make all of us worry. If you count 12 people, then on average one of them is out of work. The forecast is that one of every ten people in the United States will be unemployed. The figure historically did not include those who were out of the circle already, ineligible for any more benefits.
Did you ever stop to think what it means to be unemployed? What would be the weekly payment from the Government? What will happen to all the regular bills (cable TV may be the first to go, but then there is the cell phone with a remaining two year commitment, the regular phone, electricity, gas and water, some credit card bills, health insurance, rent or mortgage and food)? How do you take care of taxes (are benefits taxable as income?), life insurance and other "incidentals?" The word "incidental" cannot be included, for these will be the first to go, but a co-payment for a doctor's visit or for a prescription still needs to be paid. How long can we live on unemployment benefits before they run out or before the State runs out of money?
Have you ever thought of food stamps? I saw a person using them once at a local produce store. Soon new words will enter our vocabulary. These will undoubtedly include the following: "ABAWDs" are Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents, "SNAP" is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the new name, as of 10/1/2008, of the Federal Food Stamp Program) and ARRA is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (signed into law on 2/17/2009). "Job cuts" will become a permanent part of our nomenclature.
The White House website highlights a report from March 9th by Andrew Miga of Associated Press that the President led a Kennedy Center crowd in a performance of "Happy Birthday" to Uncle Teddi. This must have been a token of appreciation to Sen. Edward Kennedy's support during the election last year. The performers then sang "The Best is Yet to Come." This is one of a sequence of parties in which the President and First Lady have participated lately. Money seems not to be an object – when there is not enough, print more (or borrow – future generations will pay the bill). The partying must go on.
We do not stop to think that today's lavish spending style may need to be repaid. We no longer talk in anything but billions and trillions. The oil companies are making tens of billions in net profits, the automobile companies lose tens of billions every quarter, and we pay for it all. Soon the airlines, banks and other industries will join the line of those expecting, demanding in fact, assistance. Free for all, on whose account?
We are still paying $2.5 for a gallon of premium unleaded. It seems low relative to $4.5 of just half a year ago, but a barrel of oil then was at $150 and it is now in the low 40's. A barrel should really be at $14 or below, gas should be at or below $1.05 and "parking lot" traffic should be eased. How were we able to live once, not that many decades ago, without each kid having a car of her own?
The "proven" old methods (spend billions on infrastructure projects) do not work anymore simply because they do not apply. People are not desperate yet, and there are large companies, the likes of Halliburton, that know how to funnel billion of well-intentioned allotments into the wrong ends (or hands).
It was imperative – some thought - not to let industries fail. Thus, trillions have been poured to save these industries, only to discover after a few weeks that the staggering sums are insufficient, and billions more are necessary to keep them afloat. Let industries fail, since they will anyway. Rather than pour money for executives to split the windfall profits while laying off thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, who end up on the unemployment payroll, let these organizations find the fate that eventually arrives without fail: become more efficient or die. Improve or cease to exist. Reduce the dependency on oil in favor of alternative energies. Life as we knew it is no longer. It is time to change our habits, to think and act differently. It is time to face the new reality.