Sunday, January 26, 2020

Things I Just Don't Understand

     We live in confusing times. And I for one am not afraid to admit it.

     It wasn't long ago when we knew how the economy worked. Prosperity was good. Jobs were good. Ambition was good. We saved for the future and aspired to live more affluent lives than our parents did. We agreed on a set of moral and social principles. Politeness was good. Consideration was good. Narcissism was bad. Insults were bad. Crime was bad.

     But everything has become much more muddied in our modern times. For example:

     The Federal Reserve worries about deflation, and for years has been trying to get the inflation rate up to 2%. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the 2018 inflation rate was only 1.9%, and for 2019 it barely rose to 2%. So if this is the case, how can there be, according to many sources including the Atlantic, a "cost-of-living crisis" because of "ballooning rents, sky-high child care prices, spiraling out-of-pocket health-care fees and heavy educational debt loads." How can there be a "cost of living crisis" when there is no inflation?

     And how it is that people are up in arms about global warming, yet Americans are now buying more gas-guzzling SUVs than ever before? For the first time, in 2019, more trucks than cars were sold in America, while electrics and hybrids together make up just 8% of the market. Meanwhile, we plug more computers and more air conditioners into the electric grid, which leads power companies to burn more coal, oil and gas, sending yet more hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

     Then all the experts worry over how the planet is going to accommodate our ballooning population, now at 7.8 billion people and climbing to 10 billion in the next 30 years. I recently read The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert which suggests that global warming is the least of our problems. We will starve to death or catch a fatal communicable disease even before we drown in the rising waters.

     Yet at the same time experts wring their hands over our low birthrate. The United States is not producing enough children even to replace our population. Neither are Europe, China or Japan. So our economy won't grow. Our standard of living will decline. And there will be nobody to support us in our old age.

     I read a piece from NPR the other day. Here we are in the age of instant communication, with phones and texting and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a myriad of ways to connect with other people. And yet, according to NPR, we as Americans suffer a loneliness crisis. Older adults are especially vulnerable since many live in isolation at the very same time they are dealing with the loss of a spouse or close friend or relative. Loneliness, in turn, has led to higher suicide rates, especially among the elderly, and mostly especially among elderly men.

     But loneliness is not restricted to the elderly. One study by the insurance company Cigna found that about half of Americans view themselves as lonely. And somewhere between 20% and 40% are beyond lonely, classified as "socially isolated."

     Another report from San Diego State University said that increased use of social media is actually correlated with increased feelings of loneliness. Is it possible that sometimes the answers to our problems are actually causing the problems?

     Maybe it's time to get back to some basics. Maybe we don't need a big, hulking SUV just to get around town. Maybe we can put the credit card away for a while -- both personally and nationally -- and realize what our parents told us, that money doesn't grow on trees. Maybe we should unplug our computers, at least for a while, and go for a walk with some friends, read a book, and be polite during conversations with our neighbors and fellow countrymen.


Anonymous said...

I think all the consumption of material goods in our society really is out of sight..Everywhere a person turns it is buy buy and buy some more..Our garage door broke down after many years of faithful service, we are waiting for the replacement and my hubs just leaves the car in the garage and we walk everywhere..My neighbor took me to medical appointments and my hubby to library it was fun to get out, but we just did not spend anything and were okay with everything..The car is safe, we have what we need, I cancelled upcoming things I deemed inconsequential..I don't watch tv much but listen to a 60's station and rock out to the oldies, missing the old times is oky doky..Have a good week, enjoying your blog..peace to you & yours!!!!!!

DUTA said...

Well, your President has promised "to make America great again". So, don't worry, Be happy!

Larry said...

Regarding the "official" rate of inflation, the Labor Dept has been changing how they calculate that since 1980, and several times since. The purpose has been to show lower inflation than reality, since so many COLA-type things are tied to it. If inflation was still calculated like it was before the 1980's, the true inflation rate would be in the 6% to 8% range, and that is still what most people are actually experiencing.

Two things have been changed the most: substitution, and hedonic adjustment. The information on these changes is readily available from the Labor Dept and online, but most people aren't aware of it. Except that most people understand that their inflation rate is much higher than the official one.

Celia said...

Worrisome times. Seems to me anyone who thinks the inflation rate is that low does not shop for their own groceries or need to pay rent. That index is in need of showing how most of us live.

Olga said...

Your last paragraph says it all and so may it be.

Janette said...

I remember the idea of "keep buying because the people in _____ deserve the same standard of living as we have."
I am really amazed at how little we can live on when we choose not to buy new things. Th other part of that is the people at my old favorite dress store are now out of business.
You have hit my question on the head. Why should I purchase a new Apple computer when my ten year old one works quite well for the things I need it for.
. We are pushed to upgrade, buy, keep the economy going. If we do not, how will the next generation be employed? Many countries force their people only to buy their country products (Japan and rice, Canada and text books). Maybe the old "buy local" is good? They educate their own students with little regard to taking in people from other places....
All Questions I ponder as well. The inner struggle is real.

Priscilla said...

We truly do need so much less than what we think we need. Food is higher, tv is awful, people are worried, aggravated,,the stores are FULL of merchandise, etc. etc. We need to have some calmness in this country. I just don't know when things are ever going to settle back down. It's just so unnerving to me.

gigi-hawaii said...

It helps to have a happy marriage. Two incomes and no loneliness.

Red said...

I like what you say that we see some looming problems that we are unwilling to deal with but what's going to do us in is something else.

Anonymous said...

I don’t understand how we lost the presumption of innocence. Right now, you’re guilty to proven innocent. It used to be you’re innocent till proven guilty. When did that change? Also why are states changing the bail laws? California did it and now New York is doing it. Commit a crime and if you didn’t use a gun you’re given a Desk Ticket to appear in court and then set free. So, you can be a rapist, burglar, thief, gang member, long as you didn’t use a weapon you’re set free to commit your crimes again. In case you’re worried if the criminal would show up for their appearance in front of the judge, the courts are giving away baseball tickets, Starbucks cards and other incentives.

I’d like to know why and when America lost its brains?

Tom said...

I knew about the substitution effect on inflation, but not the hedonistic effect. Good point. Red, I'm glad you picked up on that point, because it's probably right. And the other point is that not everything is a crisis, like many experts would have us believe. Maybe if we calm down we can address some issues without the hysteria -- realizing that we are constantly making progress and can do plenty more if we keep our wits about us.

Kay said...

I was about to write exactly what Olga said. I agree with you especially about being polite. I would add being kind and considerate of others. AND I still think we need to not be wasteful and be nurturing of our environment. My husband worked for the EPA and is appalled at what is happening.

Tabor said...

An oligarchy has moved the goal posts for many things in their favor and this means the average Aemrican will suffer many new challenges. I think loneliness has always been with us, but social media even hides that. I have a young many on FB that lives alone and would love a family, but it is just not working out for him. Of course, none of this shows on FB! Kolberts book is honest and most likely true, but people would rather blame others and not themselves. We all live a much higher standard than our grandparents did, and we must remember that.

Wisewebwoman said...

Excellent post Tom. I watch a few things as I buy so little. One is my uncovered health care expense of podiatry which recently hiked the rate from $50 to $55 without warning, to me, on a fixed income for many years. There was a bump from $45 to $50 about 3 years ago. This is for about 10 minutes work as my feet are in good condition but I want them to stay that way. Unconscionable. I did ask for a seniors discount but refused and phoning around the podiatry clinics here I find they are all "fixed". Which enrages me as I know it is illegal to fix. But gas bars do it along with others.

I just wish I could receive the 10% increase that seems to be floating around our stores and services in this month of January.


Kathy @ SMART Living said...

Hi Tom! I agree that we live in challenging times. But I tend to wonder if it has always been that way to a certain degree. It's easy to look back and say things were so much "simpler" and perhaps better years ago, but I'm wondering if the elders at the time felt exactly like many of us do today. Is it maybe a symptom of getting older? Plus, a Jungian i have been studying lately named James Hollis says that we live in a time of GREAT uncertainty on many levels, things are changing really FAST. And unfortunately, most of us hate change and resist it as much as possible. Yet anything we resists persists and gets even worse. Hollis' explanation for what is happening in our country today is that with this incredible amount of change happening there is a huge block of people (I'm guessing the more conservative among us) are doing everything they can to hold on or "return" us to a time they thought was better. That backlash is causing great turmoil--duh. But according to Hollis, it will likely only get worse in the days to come. So we have two options, get used to the changes as they come or resist. ~Kathy

oldwahoo said...

The "simpler times" complaint is easy to make. But I remember the days around 1979-80 when we had 14 percent inflation and 16 percent interest rates, OPEC shocks, Iran hostages and Jimmy Carter as president.

How about 1968? Riots, assassinations, hippies, Yippies, Vietnam, drugs.

How about 2009? Worst recession since 1937. Unemployment above 10 percent, house prices plummeting.

We are experiencing low inflation, lower crime rates, low unemployment, low interest rates and a booming stock market. Yes, we face a climate change crisis, largely caused by Chinese and Indian coal use (things like SUVs are relatively minor contributors). But our children and grandchildren will have to deal with that.

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Liz said...

Since my husband died 5 years ago and having been actively involved in business with him for many years and in a rut, on his death, I decided to change my life-style. I had visited and lived in a number of countries over the years but had never been to Eastern Europe,
Now, with one of my sons, I am living in one of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world - Georgia.
A tiny country, smaller than South Carolina, it boasts of more than 30 micro climates from mild to Mediterranean on the Black Sea coast and in the western plain, while it is more continental and arid in the central and eastern inland areas. In the mountains, it is obviously colder and has a number of really beautiful ski resorts.
Having spent some six weeks now in the centre of the capital city of Tbilisi where I stayed in two different and well appointed holiday apartments at the princely cost of $35 per night for 2 bedrooms, I am about to - in a week or so - move down to the Black Sea coast - I like fishing!
My large,swish, modern, balconied apartment overlooking the sea is running me in at less than $399 a month - and if I feel like a flutter, there is a palatial international casino about 1 km away!
And, by the way the cost of living and medical here is around 1/8 or less than in USA.
Cheers from beautiful Georgia.

Liz said...

Sorry. Error - cost of sea view apartment is $ 299/mth - not $399.

Kay said...

Adding to this: Wages have remained stagnant, which is one reason why the cost of living is more burdensome now.