Fear in My 31st Year

The economic numbers are getting bad, worldwide. The IMF predicts almost stagnation for this year in terms of worldwide growth. Unemployment numbers in the US came out at 7.6% this morning, much lower than unofficial estimates at around 14%ish. The newest Economist cover jokes about the return of protectionism by showing a zombie hand emerging from the graves of past protectionist periods.

I am now hearing of friends who have been laid off (a recession being when you hear of people being laid off, a depression being when YOU are laid off), and that makes me sad.

There are deaths, break-ups, complaints about lack of funding everywhere, worsening conditions, riots…all around us right now.

And I think it’s safe to say that things are going to get worse. Right now tech stocks have rallied quite a bit (AMZN, which I had at $35 before getting pussed out, is now $67…ouch) but there’s still the consumer side of the economy left to collapse. It will happen around mid-year, I’d imagine.

The protectionist bent is an interesting theme. When economic conditions worsen, people return to culture, family, and insularity. They get back to their “basics”.

After my Christmas family reunion at my grandmother’s house, I looked for a good Web 2.0ified genealogy site/family tree builder. I found Geni.com, and it has performed superbly.

Distant relatives of mine and my grandmother and the older members of my family have been extremely active in adding information about our family, to include posting photos, filling in dates, and discussing small details of history.

It is amazing that this web site has attracted such interest in an older group of people who generally tend to be resistant/not interested in social networking. But geni.com makes it very easy to build a family tree out — the benefits of social, organic production of content allow all individuals to add what they know and share it.

I would provide an embed of my family tree, but WordPress.com doesn’t allow it. So I can only provide a link: the Turner family tree at Geni.com.

So that is good.  But I am worried about people.  I am worried that Congress, a bunch of clueless fools when it comes to economics, is going to screw up one of the biggest (and seemingly obvious) fixes to the dilemma of our time in the way of a stimulus and forgiveness bill.

I am worried about unemployment becoming a structural problem and not just a frictional one, so that people who lose their jobs don’t have the skills or the labor market to get another job quickly.  Their resources will be tapped out and they will be forced to foreclose or move, downsize; this will devastate family fabrics and morale.

It will be global.  The massive credit and finance expansion is now collapsing.  Aggregate supply and demand worldwide are contracting. Do we have the underlying social, human, and political capital to withstand it?  Do we have a choice?

I just had my birthday.  With it came a lot of changes in my life, and I am doing what we all should be doing right now:  re-evaluating what really means something to us.  What values are most dear to us?  Which people are truly our friends?  Are we doing in life what makes us happy?  Are we preparing ourself for the post-Great Disruption world?  Where do our nationalist, religious, and social identities lie?  Where should our money be spent?

Are we going to approach this crisis with dignity, with bravery, with wisdom, with self-respect?

A friend of mine posted a note to Facebook, reading:

“I find that there are times when the very weight of life seems almost crushing. Problem after problem arises, and as soon as you have almost dealt with one another arises. Nothing seems to go right, and everywhere you go and everything you do seems to be somehow wrong. You find yourself somehow trapped within yourself…lost…with no idea of what to do.

“I think every body has felt like that at some point in their lives and I have found a very simple solution. You must first walk into your bathroom and turn on the light, then you look into your mirror and say…”Stop being an asshole.” That’s right, stop being an asshole. There is nothing that life can throw at us that we can’t handle. The problem is we often seem to want to focus on our problems instead of their solutions because it’s easier and the misery it causes us be damned; But when you fall down you can’t stay down. You have to pick your ass up, put one foot in front of the other, breathe in, breathe out, and put a damn smile on your face. Go listen to some music, watch a funny movie, read a book, and remember that there are lots of people in the world besides yourself, so acting like it would be appropriate.

“Something I can’t get out of my mind. When I was in Iraq there were some Ugandans guarding a gate. I drove up to the check point to show the Ugandan guard my credentials and asked him how he was doing. He looked at me with one of the biggest, goofiest,most sincere smiles I have ever see and said “I am great, they gave me socks today.” Here we are bitching about our paychecks, or jobs, or the cost of gas, or other stupid crap and there are people out there who have to go to foreign countries and be shot at just so they can get a pair of comfortable socks…and they are glad to do it…stop being an asshole indeed. And if you believed in God, and I am speaking to myself here, you REALLY need to stop being an asshole. Faith..is it not written to not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow will take care of itself? I find that a little bit of faith can go a long way, that if you do everything you know to do that God will take care of you. He has a plan…and though it can be difficult sometimes. We have to trust in it. He doesn’t forget us, why must we forget Him?…..just my .02 for the day.”

Said FDR, in his “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” speech:

“If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.”

What are we going to choose to do?  This is when character is forged.  In moments of weakness, not in moments of leisure.

For my part, I am graduating soon into an uncertain world.  Obama has become president, embodying hope and change.  A cat mysteriously showed up in our living room the other night, and he is awesome.  We can’t keep him, but as my mother reminded me, one of our favorite cats who’d gone missing had returned on my birthday back when I was a little kid.  Always keep your chin up.  You never know what will happen next.