Posts Tagged ‘English major’

The Unseen Hand of Capitalism, 21st-century version

January 6, 2016

I’m a regular guy who is trying to learn a thing or two about how things work and what makes the world go around and so forth and so on.

Back in the day, early 1970s, I was a clueless college student trying to figure things out. My draft # was 349, so I didn’t have to go to Nam. I know some who did have to go, and I appreciate their service to our nation.

So there I was at LSU in 1970, an English major, clueless about the world and everything in it. (I thank the Lord that my children have made better decisions than I did in their early life choices.) One good thing about being an English major is that you do learn how to read and write well, and that helps a lot as we go through life. To this day, I do not regret learning to read and write copiously.

Well, the years rolled by and I got along all right, with much help from God and my wife, and some dear friends with whom we raised our young’uns. I did sales for awhile, then drifted into construction and stayed on that path for most of the working life. We managed to get the three youn’uns through college and out on their own and that was a great blessing.

Fortunately, I never had to lean heavily on that classic phrase of underemployed English majors, Would you like fries with that?

Long about 2004 or so I decided to ease out of construction work; my wife was doing well in her nursing career. The kids were pretty much on their own. I took a few education classes at the nearby hometown university, and was moving toward some new destiny which we knew not what it would be.

By ‘n by, along came the fall of 2008, and the Crash of 2008 on wall street and so forth and so on. You know the story.

And since I had been, back in the good ole carefree college days, an English major, I was still in the habit of reading and writing. Therefore and henceforth  I started reading copiously about the financial developments that were so profoundly altering everybody’s life, even still yet today, as we speak.

And it seemed to me that the whole economy had kind of gone crazy there for a while, for a few weeks or a few months, as we’re seeing in the Big Short.  But then things sort of evened out a bit, but they never got back to what they were before and furthermore they still haven’t, even though the unemployment rate has dropped down from ~10% in 2009 to the ~5% it is today, according to the BLS or the BS, or some such number-crunchin agency in Washington maybe next to the Brookings or over on K Street or some important think-tank place like that.

Long about that time, early ’09 or somewhere in there, all the doomsayers showed up online and everybody and their brother was saying the whole dam world would come apart at the seams again and u better buy gold and it seemed to me like this Crash might do a replay but it never did. Instead, things just kind of got on a long, slightly upward slope to what we have today, whatever it is, somewhere between recession and high cotton, with  chronic destagulation and perpetual consternation but no real catastrophe like those fringy preppers (not preppies) had said back in ’09 or ’10 or whenever that was.

In my clueless English major kind of way, I was keeping an eye on the stock market, just for fun of course because I didn’t know much about it, but I must say I was amazed that we never really had another big crash like we had had in ’08.

Every time the numbers would take a big turn down, and you’d hear about the market being down a hundred or two hundred, especially in September or October, you’ d think this could be the Big one again.

But it never was the big one again. It’s been pretty much steady-state destagulation with a few ups and downs here and there– no inverted hockey-stick graphs.

By ‘n by, as the weeks rolled by and as I was wondering about all this, I began to wondering if there wasn’t some force or entity that was acting in a big, manipulative and perhaps surreptitious way on behalf of ?whoever ?whatever, the good of mankind, to make the market stay steady instead of taking another dive. It kind of seemed like it. Whoever or whatever it was or is must be pretty daggone powerful or influential. Maybe some Julius Pierpoint Morgan (the original WallStreet bailout artist financier) who was just intervening, out of some sacred duty that had been laid upon him as a knight of the financial garter, on behalf of the whole Western world to keep everything on a relatively even keel so we wouldn’t have another Panic of ’07 or ’29 or 2008.

T’was then I thought about that famous phrase: the Invisible Hand, as applied to economics. There’s got to be an Invisible Hand in there somewhere stopping that WallStreet slide every time one starts.

Wikipedia explained to me that Adam Smith had introduced the concept in economics in the year 1759. The Invisible Hand the idea that the  multiple economic actions of individuals who are acting independently of each other manage to, by luck or Providence or some unseen beneficent force of the Universe, produce a composite outcome that is beneficial to the whole Market, and maybe the whole world.

So as I became more and more astute in these financial matters, I began to feel, somewhat intuitively or through keen powers of in cumulatively clueless observation that this invisible hand was not some ethereal beneficent presence, but rather, a definite entity in the real world. Something very real. Somebody’s doing this! Come on now, who is it?

And now, thanks to Ben Bernanke and his memoir, Courage to Act,

I have been duly informed. My days of financial naiveté are over, and I see the world for what it really is.

It was the Fed all along!

If you read the epilogue of Ben’s book, you’ll see what I mean. Here are just a  few favorable developments during that period, the last seven years, that he mentions:

~ Unemployment rate, from Aug 2012 at 8.15 down to 5.7 in Oct 2014, during QE3

~ 3 million jobs added in 2014, the largest annual increase since 1999

~ 10.7 million jobs added from 2010-2014

~ “The Fed’s securities purchases and lending programs turned a large profit for the government. . .sent almost $100 billion to the Treasury in 2014”

~ “Households had reduced their debt, their interest payments were low, and the value of their homes was higher, as was the value of most retirement accounts.”

~ “Consumer confidence, as measured by surveys, had rebounded.”

~ “At the end of 2014, U.S. output was more than 8 percent higher than at the end of 2007, the pre-crisis peak.”

So it’s plain to see that the Invisible Hand has been absolutely vigilant and effective. But this previously mysterious entity is no longer simply the composite whole enchilada of Capitalism. It is . . .

The Federal Reserve!

Thank you, Uncle Ben and Aunt Janet.

Times have changed, and so. . . has Capitalism. The old days are gone forever. We are now living in a bored new world of managed economy.

Glass Chimera


The Berkeley bathroom experience

September 24, 2013

Yesterday we were wandering around in Berkeley, and I found myself at the mid-campus Campanile just about the time that nature was calling. So I ambled over to an interesting academic building where I knew a bathroom could be found.

When you’re sightseeing on a college campus, finding a facility is not difficult, if you know what to do: just act like you’re any other student or professor whose cerebral deliberations are caught up in the clouds of knowledge-pursuit;  walk right in the nearest building like you belong there. Before you can say fool on the hill you’ll discover that magic sign,  “Men” or “Women”, as the case may be, which offers assurance of imminent deliverance.

It is really a very simple prospect, much easier than, say, finding an appropriate place to do your business in a moment of need in the downtown area of any major city. Although in the downtown predicament, your troubles are over if you can locate a McDonalds. God bless MacDonalds. I mean, I didn’t really appreciate McDonald’s until I stumbled upon one in Rome while searching for a cup of identifiable American style coffee.

But I digress. So there we were at Berkeley yesterday and I walked up the stone steps of a lovely old building called Moses Hall. I immediately understood after entering the place that I had stumbled upon the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Dep’t. It seemed a little unusual that the old Hebrew, Moses, would be associated with philosophy, which is Greek thing.

Nevertheless, slipping with no trouble at all, into my accustomed perpetual-student identity–just, for a novelist, like putting on an old glove–I ascended the well-worn marble stairway with its absolutely smooth wooden handrail, then turned a few corners, and located, within a minute or less, the appointed place for bladder catharsis.

I stepped inside the bathroom, and oh, what a philosophical experience it was.

Indeed, a time warp it was. Suddenly, I was back in a bathroom in Allen Hall at LSU, where I had studied as a clueless English major back in the day, 1970 or thereabouts. This bathroom in Berkeley was almost an exact duplicate of the one I had made frequent use of when I was a student:

Marble walls, perfectly illuminated in the bright sunshine through large, old wooden sash windows with brass handles. White and gray streaky, dappled marble, and not only on the walls, but also the large partitions between roomy toilet stalls. Chrome fastenings on the partitions, well maintained and not rusty nor grimy. Pristine white fixtures: large, sparkling urinals, and toilets with chrome handles.

Ancient, rounded lavatory white fixtures with separate hot valve and cold valve, shining with seasoned chrome anneal that was old enough to reveal at its spout edges and knobby handle-ends the brass integrity beneath.

An entire floor of solidly grouted 1-inch hexagonal white ceramic tiles. I mean, an Interstate gas-station bathroom this was not.

It was a perfect place for a philosopher to productively continue his pondering, even while enduring the interruption of a trip to the bathroom.

And I thought: this place was built in the ’30s, just like the bathroom in Allen Hall, where the main hall walls had been painted, old Post Office style,  with murals that depicted for posterity those swarthy, 1930’s-style agricultural workers who had heard America singing while they coaxed fruitful productivity out of the land of milk and honey, between rows of wheat 0r barley or corn, back in the day when our parents and grandparents were working themselves out of the “Great” Depression.  This was my memory of the halls, back at the ole alma mater, LSU where I first learned how to think too much: Allen Hall, shaded by stately oaks that reside perpetually in the verdant groves of academe. So very similar in appearance and feeling to the campus I was now exploring.

Sure enough, as I exited the building a few minutes later, there was a brass plaque on the wall in the vestibule entryway: Moses Hall was built by the University of California in 1931.

Since I am now a Republican who resides in North Carolina, I have heard, from time to time, a critical word or two about Roosevelt and his New Deal. But one thing I can say for those NewDealers–the WPA, CCC, etcetera etcetera etcetera–they sure knew how to do bathrooms with aesthetically exceptional sustainability.

And I walked out of there relieved.

Glass half Full