Relax, It's Only a Recession
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The numbers are in and the health of our nation's economy is said to be bad, going on worse.
Consumer spending was down 1.8 percent in September (the latest figures available), which was the largest drop in almost 15 years. Construction spending was down 0.4 percent, down for the fifth consecutive month. Unemployment is now at 5.4 percent, the largest rate in more than two decades.
The fiscal storm clouds are gathering, those goofy economists warn, and it looks like rain. They say times are going to be tough. We'll probably all get wet.
Good for us. I like getting wet.
Besides, if you know where to look, there's plenty of good news hidden in the "bad" numbers. If I'm right, we should all be "singing in the rain."
Consumer spending is down. So? What's the big deal? It just means that consumers are being a little more careful about where they spend their money. They're buying the Smirnoff Vodka instead of the Grey Goose, renting the video instead of going out to see the movie, and eschewing novelty liquid soap dispensers all together.
I'm not complaining. After all, spending money is hard work. You have to go to the store (which may involve both driving through traffic and parking), figure out what it is you want to buy (which is made exponentially more difficult by pushy salespeople and the infinite varieties of even the most mundane products), and then wait on line (remember: whatever line you decide to stand in instantly becomes the slowest line in the store).
I'd much rather stay home and play with the plethora of doorknobs one finds in a modern apartment. Besides, if we all spend less, we won't need to work so hard ... but we'll get to that with the unemployment numbers.
Construction spending is down. Ah yes, construction spending. That tried and true indicator of our nation's economic health. Okay. So a few new office buildings don't get built. A few new housing developments don't go in. Who's complaining? Certainly not those plucky environmentalists, who are always fighting to preserve land and control sprawl. Certainly not those elitist suburbanites who live in quaint little communities where every new home means higher taxes, more traffic, and less exclusivity to their zip code. And how about those cute little squirrels and deer and rabbits who now can keep their homes for a few more years?
Unemployment is now at 5.4 percent. And 3.69 million Americans are getting unemployment benefits. Wait a second. Benefits? That sounds pretty good to me. They're getting paid not to work. I want somebody to pay me not to work. I want to get to sit home all day and do whatever I feel like (well, except spend money). Besides, we're all working so hard these days. A break would be much deserved. A little early retirement, if you will, to relax, kick back, and hope some LBJ-style Democrats take back control of Washington.
Unfortunately, my paradigm is not the dominant one. Our economy is one that thrives on growth. Always more stuff, always better stuff, always improving the standard of living (at least for those who can afford it). Without growth, our economy softens and shrivels like an two-week-old banana. And the numbers discussed here are not "growth" numbers. Thus, the potential for a banana-like conditions.
But I must confess. I am sick of growth. Aren't we big enough already? We've got DVDs, singing stripped bass, and motorized salad spinners. Well, actually, to be honest, I don't have any of those things personally. And that's part of why I'll be "singing in the rain" when the economy tanks. I am tired of other people having things that I can't afford. Hopefully, under this recession, nobody will be able to afford anything particularly nice and then nobody will have to feel particularly bad about not having a cell phone that automatically flosses your teeth for you.
Soon, all us regular joes can look forward to gloating over the formerly wealthy executives who have nothing left but a cardboard box, a pack of stale trail mix, and a couple of moist towelettes.
Of course, not everyone will be pleased by the recession. Some people will find themselves suddenly unable to afford scented and quilted two-ply toilet paper anymore, and this may make them mad. Really mad. Which will actually be great for the war effort. After all, isn't it Osama bin Laden's fault that our economy fell apart? And for the many young men and women with no job, joining the army will become much more appealing. In fact, if the Bush administration were really smart (i.e. if pork were kosher), it would actually enact policies to keep unemployment on the up and up. Wait a second ... that doesn't sound that different from what the "economic stimulus package" would actually do by giving all the tax benefits to the wealthy corporations instead of the working class.
So, I say, bring on the rain. Let's spend less, build less, work less, sleep later, and make the world safer for democracy. And get all wet in the process. Besides, a recession is a terrific excuse for not buying Christmas presents.
Lee Drutman is a staff writer at the Philadelphia Inquirer. In his hopefully-soon-too-be-exponentially increased spare time he writes satires and avoids shopping malls.