Archive for the ‘underemployment’ Category

A New Bretton Woods?

August 1, 2016

We were in Rome about a year and a half ago, as part of a traveling celebration of our 35th wedding anniversary.

One evening as we were lollygagging through the busy rain-slicked streets and sidewalks, we passed in front of a very special building. It was the Rome headquarters of the European Union, or “EU”.

I wanted to take a picture of the building’s entry, because that is what tourists do–take pictures of important places. Seeking a broader view, I crossed the street. While positioning myself and the phone to snap a pic, the guard across the street noticed my activity. He started waving at me frantically, indicating that what I was doing was not permitted.

Excuse me. I was taking a picture of a public building.

In America, we take pictures of .gov buildings, because we have, you know, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, which means, among other things that the people can take pictures of their headquarterses (as Golem might say.)

Is this not the way you do it in Europe? No pictures of the RomeEU headquarters?

Nevertheless, here is my smuggled pic:

EURomeHdq

If you squint at my little jpeg here, you may discern the guard’s upraised right alarm, a gesture of command intended to communicate a stop order on my touristic activity. It vaguely resembles another raised-arm signal that was in use in Europe 75 years ago, during the regime of Mussolini and that German guy who considered the Italian dictator to be his own puppet.

Or maybe I’m being too cynical about this incident. Maybe the guard was saluting me in some way, acknowledging my importance as an American tourist in the city of Rome.

Now, a year and a half later, this morning, seated comfortably in my own humble domicile, back in the USSA . . . I was pondering the idea of government–whether it is truly “of. . .by the people”, or is it something else? Is it, as many citizens insist during these times of tumultuous societal change, actually an institution through which the “1%” (or as they said back in the old days, the “rich and powerful”) project their oligarchical manipulations upon the rest of us?

I was thinking about this after reading online an article about how the worldwide financial system that has evolved.

  http://seekingalpha.com/article/3993559-back-square-one-financial-system-needs-reset?ifp=0

In this Seeking Alpha blogpost, Valentin Schmid, as “Epoch Times” examines our international monetary system. His analysis appears to be generated from  a well-informed position in the world of money, assets and power.

Mr. Schmid raises the question of whether  the current (worldwide) debt load can ever be repaid, because there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

This got my attention, because I have been thinking for a while that there isn’t enough “real money” to go around.

Haha, as if I knew about such things. I don’t know much about money; if I did, I would have more of it.

Anyway, Mr. Schmid’s question is answered by his guest interviewee, Paul Brodsky, in this way:

   . . . “I would argue central banks lost the ability to control the credit cycle. Some relatively minor event could trigger a series of events that creates the need for a sit-down among global monetary policy makers who finally have to acknowledge publicly that their policies are no longer able to control the system, the global economy, which is based on ever increasing demand through ever increasing credit.

And what might occur is a natural drop in output. So you’ll see GDP growth begin to fall. Real GDP growth across the world maybe even be going into contraction and that would spell doom for these balance sheets. And this is not something I’m predicting or trying to time at all, but the natural outcome of that would be a sit-down like a Bretton Woods where arrangements are reconsidered.”

   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretton_Woods_Conference

So what is coming is, perhaps, this:

To compensate for a stalling of global productivity, the movers/shakers of the world may  construct a new,  top-down rearrangement of the world financial system. The purpose of this revision will be to fix the problem of not enough money to go around. Such an extensive reconstruction as this would be has not been done since the Bretton Woods agreement that was promulgated by delegates from 44 Allied nations in 1944.

In a 21st-century world inhabited by billions of inhabitants, our  accessibility to natural resources has heretofore been determined by how many holes we could drill in the ground to extract natural resources; and how many acres of crops we could plant to produce food; how many factories we could build, and so on. . . building an economy to work toward  spreading the bounty around.

In the future, however, we will be moving to a “knowledge” economy. Wealth creation will not be about how much you can dig in a day’s time, nor how much you can plant, nor what you can cobble together in your back yard or over on Main Street.

Wealth generation in the future will be determined by what you know, so start learning now.

The first three essential  things to know are these:

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic.

Well gollee, maybe it won’t be such a brave new world after all.

However this thing plays out, if enough of us can master these three skills, .gov of the people, by the people and for the people will not perish from the earth, we hope.

Glass half-Full

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The Crossroads

June 28, 2016

The legend lives on from the blues men on down of the big choice they call the ole crossroads.

The crossroads, it is told, is where a man’s mortal soul can be sold for a life of good fortune.

Somewhere out there in the delta, in the sweltering heat of Mississippi where the cotton grew high and the ancient blues twangers sang their mournful 12-bar tunes about how hard life is and how much much harder it could be when the love of a woman is tasted but then gets lost somewhere between trouble and tragedy, and the tragedy is turned into song. . . out there where Miss’ippi mud is blacker than New’Awlins coffee, and the blues pangs clangin’ off them ole guitar strings is thicker and stronger than bad whisky. . .

that ole crossroads where they say the devil would hang around waitin’ for the blues man to come walkin’ along, desperate for some kind of simple twist of fate that would set his heartstrings and his sixstrings into a new direction, where he could catch a ride to Memphis or NewYawk and sing them blues into the big microphone and get satisfaction for his pain, get some monetary compensation for sharing his pain with the world, to the tune of . . .Crossroads

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd60nI4sa9A

As I was a-growin’ up down there in Miss’ippi, snotty-nosed clueless white kid in the suburbs of Jackson, late 1950’s, my daddy might have driven right over them very crossroads, out there in the piney woods backwoods near where Robert Johnson and Pop Staples had cranked out their doleful blues tunes. My daddy might have clunked over them crossroads in the old Ford station wagon as he was driving the backroads doing forestry work, but if he did I never knew it.

Wasn’t ’til later that I found out about them blues, encountered them blues for myself while tasting for my own young self the sorts of pain that this life can deal out.

Years later, when I was wandering in the college scene in the late ’60s, I got a little turned around and confused and encountered the blues, found myself romanticizing some pain that was in my head and a little too caught up in the mary jane and the avoidance of the pain, but still managed somehow to gain a degree, for what its worth, in political science or English or some useless crossroads thereof.

I say useless, but not really.

It’s good to learn to read and write, and to research etc blahblahblah. Now I’m working on a fourth novel, like a thousand and one other boomer fools.

But As I was sayin’, One thing led to another and then after college I was in Florida for awhile, selling insurance and then advertising with many a night misspent in topless bars and what not, followed by a few nights in Pasco county jail and the night I got out of jail I saw a movie that had been made in the mountains of North Carolina and so I, still running from my troubles, went up there, landed in Asheville, been there ever since, not in Asheville but in the great green state of North Carolina.

 North Carolina Is My Home

After a few more false starts and dead ends I finally found, by the grace of God, salvation and the love of my life, from whose womb birth was given that brought forth our three children and this wonderful life, which is, as it turned out, so richly lived, even without all the money that I coulda shoulda woulda made had I made better choices.

Now after 35 years of building houses and other structures I suddenly found myself turning a corner toward the big 65 when I found myself not yet ready to throw in the towel  and just settle into the social security dole which supposedly I have contributed to all these years and therefore earned, so I went and got myself a job at Lowe’s home center, which is at the crossroads between two great industries of this country–retail and construction–not a bad place to be in America.

Crossroads

Now at this late stage, looking back on it all, it seems I’ve been, like many boomers, and like many so-called millennials will be by the time they get to be my age, underemployed. Hey, I’ve been underemployed all my life, but that has turned out to be no big deal.

It’s been a good ride, thanks be to God.

And the big 65, which I’ll turn here in about three weeks, is really nothing special–no magic number, so I’ll keep paying my dues–which is to say, working– for a few more years because this life is, as the Beatles said on Abbey Road. . . the bread you make is equal to the bread . . . you take.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVYjQScC1DY

Or something like that.

And so my advice to all you millennials and gen-Xers out there who are over-educated, underpaid and underemployed is this:

Find a job, any job, and just stay busy working, learning, progressing toward your destiny. Don’t wait for .gov or Bernie or anybody else to bail you out because this world really does not work that way.

Get busy, stay busy, work every day you can, and your destiny will find you by the time you’re my age and you will find that . . .

Life is good. Make the best of it. Don’t wait for a handout and don’t blame anyone else for your troubles.

But you can sing the blues if it helps you to deal with the pain. And you may find yourselves, along the way, at a crossroads or two, but don’t sell your soul.

Glass half-Full

the Ole Firmer’s Almaniac

May 27, 2016

The ole firmer walked around the backside of the barn. His wearied eyes took a moment to focus on the horizon; dark clouds appeared to dominate that distant line; they’d been hanging there for quite a long while now. The immediate vicinity was clear, however, if BLS numbers are to be believed. Mixed signals here there and yon. The times they are a-changin’, thought he, and things ain’t ClasicBldgRuf
what they used to be.

The rules of the game have changed; the old computations are no longer working, with the ole firmer and his firm being blindsided by all the new manipulations, robo-washed sterile by robo-driven arbitragers as if someone behind the sprays and fluff were cleaning the clocks of commerce, wiping away the profits, constantly leveling the playing field and rendering the firmer high but not dry, now eyeless in nasdaq, then dumb in the dow, spooked by the S&P, then suddenly swept up again in a flood of liquidity, floating on Fed flotsam, pummeled by day trade dealers punting buyback fluff up and down the field. The firmer pondered all this while studying the broad side of his barn. Need to fix that roof-– the thought crossed his mind for the umpteenth time.

Then without warning, his step coincides with a pile of BLS. Oh shit, exclaimed he. Up on the rooftop, the ever-vigilant barnyard blackbirds squawked loudly, as if trumpeting their amusement at his misfortune.  Caw! Buyback! Caw! Quoth the raven: Evermore! Now and evermore! So shall your ascending P/E path be: driving under the influence of BLS, monitored by SEC, checked with OMB, hog-tied with Dodd-Frank, frothing high in P/E ratios, fearless Fannie and fawning Freddie sharpening pencils in the background, consuming FOMC reports, leaning on Fed puts, flummoxed at SEC stops, disgusted with IRS farts and bewildered by WTF surprises.

LOL . . . not.

The ole firmer’s labor participation rate was, and had been for awhile, after 89 months of zero-bound interest rates on the downward trajectory–headed south, as some folks say, although he  wasn’t comfortable with the phrase. And out there on what used to be the open prairie of Price discovery–that old crossroads of supply and demand– well, it has become well-nigh impossible to determine where, when, how and why, it seemed to the ole firmer.

This is what it felt like, he surmised, to be on Main Street in a Kmart world, then at Kmart in a Walmart world, now being disoriented in an Amazon jungle, no way out,  with the Fed ham-stringin all the supply lines so’s to simulate demand on a rising level. How this gmo steady-state staid new world of post-capital never-everland came about he’d never understand.

The old firmer would never understand. He felt like the onslaught of old-timers’ disease was gnawing away at his youthful entrepeneural sensibilities.

The obnoxious ravens on the roof calmed down, their screechy cawing now lapsing into a low zirping. Quoth the raven–Nevermore! There’s no real investment any more. No more frontier, no more exceptional expansion, no more manifest destiny, where do we go from here, caught between rocknroll and a hard face.

They say casinos are big now.

Where’s the high-flyin’ high-multiplyin’ authentic productivity? Inventories high, sales low. Slow go. What would Rockefeller do? Where’s JP Morgan when you need him? Carnegie’s steel has all been laid; Edison’s taking a nap  and Bell won’t answer the phone. No Ford nor Chevy on the horizon that I can see, thought he. Watson’s now a programmed response. Fairchild’s been implanted in a solid state econ. Gates is creaky; Jobs is gone– out there somewhere on that musky dark cloud horizon. What’s everybody doing?

Tappin’ on chinky glass, devolving in devices vices, sippin’ Singapore slings,  all sound and futility signifying no-growth, thought he, hobbling along on a programmed 2% inflation path. Old-timers like me can no longer hit the broad side of a barn with our antiquarian projections based on old-school free-market dynamics, rallies and hog bellies, bushels, widgets and gadgets, buy and sell orders ’til the bears come home, might as well lay bricks in mortars with all these start-up farters.

Out on the horizon, big dust-storm coming up. Bulls are at it again, trying to stampede their way out of the Everything’s OK corral, but Uncle Fed and Aunt Fannie shut ’em down every time.

Glass Chimera

Doing the Limbo at 64

January 9, 2016

I remember back in the 1950s when I was growing up and attending Catholic school. They taught us that there’s a place called Limbo, where you go after death if you had never received baptism while living in the world. Although I am a mere Christian now, having been baptized in 1978 by own choice choice at the age of 27, it has been revealed to this protestant that there is indeed a place called Limbo.

But it is not actually a place; rather, it is a time, a time of life.

How do I know this?

I am in Limbo now.  I am learning that it is a stage of life through which you pass, before–not after– death, a kind of a nether time through which the maturing American sojourns, somewhere between ages 64 and 66.

When you turn 64, there are multiple signs that indicate you have arrived in Limbo. The first is, of course, remembering back to 1968 when the Beatles raised the profound question “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x158z5_beatles-when-i-m-sixty-four_music

On one level, the song is profound for the aging adult, insofar as it raises the question of one’s life-status or love-condition in relation to one’s spouse, or, as they say nowadays, one’s “significant other” or lack thereof.

On another level, the question itself–about being needed and fed–is critical for the aging adult, insofar as it raises the question of one’s life-status in relation to “the System.”

You know the System I’m talking about, the one that–as we thought back in the day–would relegate us all to little ticky-tacky houses where we’d all look just the same.

And once you start seeing the signs that you are approaching–or perhaps have already arrived in– Limbo, suddenly the omens are all over the place, and very plain to see.

For example, as I happened to tune in, a couple of days ago, to Diane Rehm’s show, in which the Grand mistress of inside-the-beltway grapevine NPR confab discussed the big “R” word with Teresa Ghilarducci,

http://thedianerehmshow.org/audio/#/shows/2016-01-07/teresa-ghilarducci-how-to-retire-with-enough-money/111702/@00:00

I learned that the assets so far accumulated by myself and my wife (six years younger than me) are, of course, not nearly enough to “make it through” the Retirement years, which is a special golden or rose-colored-glasses period  sometimes called the “rest of our life.”

Theoretically, our assets are not enough, especially with, you know, zero interest rates etcetera etcetera.

On the other hand, who the hell knows how much is enough?

Furthermore, this unstable scenario has been further destabilized by myself, yours truly, who recently, and oh-so-irresponsibly, decided to quit my job seven months before reaching the big SIX-FIVE road marker, because it was–as my body was daily communicating to me–wearing me out, after the past 45 years of uninterrupted work, the lion’s share of which was spent in construction and maintenance jobs.

There’s a reason (as I am discovering) that 65 is the big mile marker, the fork in the road where two paths diverge, as Robert Frost might have called it many and many a year ago.

In my case, I just didn’t quite make it that far, stopped short of the finish line with only seven months to go.

In one moment of time I morphed from one Bureau of Labor Statistical category to another. Whereas, I formerly was perhaps categorized as  employed but underemployed (being a college grad in a maintenance job), this statistical territory I now inhabit is a never-neverland somewhere between “unemployed” and “dropped-out of the labor force altogether–having given up on looking for another job!

Limbo!

The real hell of it is I’m still looking for a job, still striving to redeem myself from the stigma of being a labor-force dropout, still busting gut to add another few thousand bucks into that magic pot of IRA and/or 401K gold at the end of the Social Security rainbow.

Did I mention “gold”? Don’t even think about it, except all the online doomsayers are saying I need to buy it. But I wouldn’t know where to start. I mean, I’ve lived in the System all my life.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, where I’m filling blanks and checking boxes in online applications, the question becomes: who is going to hire a 64-year-old who just may be one of those  off-the-chart non-entitities who has “given up” on gainful employment, when there are multitudes of unemployed or underemployed 22-year-olds out there pounding the keyboard and the pavement looking for work?

Who? I ask you who?

Don’t think too hard. That’s been my problem all my life–thinking too much, and maybe writing too much too. (And if you believe that, I’ve got three novels, poised in cyberspace on the website linked below; they’re hanging there, suspended in electrons waiting to enhance your historical reading experience.)

So here I leave you with a closing anecdote. It is a dilemma wrapped in an enigma.

6:30 this morning, still dark. I just delivered my wife to her nursing job. I’m at the gas pump of a convenience store. I’m thinking. . .maybe I should go in there and ask for a job. Then I’m looking blankly at the gas pump as the digitals flash, and my eye wanders up to a sign on the gas pump. It says:

“Polar pop any size 69 cents”

And above that message is another little sign, with pictures of “Crown” cigarette packs, and an offer that smokers cannot refuse:

“$3.18 if you buy two.”

Do I really want to spend the last six months of my working life. . .

Fuhgedaboudit.

Smoke