A Crack In The Door

I am sorry for the lack of posts. My poor husband told me he checks my blog multiple times per day to see if I have posted; must be a source of constant disappointment.

There has been a lot going on, much of which I have kept to myself, much of which is irrelevant, and much of which is simply unrelated to the basic concept of this blog. This is a knitting blog, primarily. It is not like my old Livejournal blog of years past where it was mostly a way of keeping in daily contact with dozens of my SCAdian friends; essentially an electronic penpal network. This is supposed to be creative outlet, both for fiber arts, and for writing, an activity I do enjoy.

While I am knitting a lot lately, that is just not where my brain has been. It has been a Socktoberfest for me, as I am working on finishing the second Leyburn sock, I finished one Circle Sock, and even *gasp* worked a few rounds on the Beer Socks of doom. Miralda is sitting, unloved and unattended to for the most part, and the Peacock and Leaves scarf is gathering dust.

Do you really want to know where my brain is? Really really?

It’s on current affairs. Economics. Politics. Environment. Energy.

One of the subjects I did best at in both high school and my brief stint in college was economics, and I still enjoy the subject of macro-economics (micro-economics, like accounting, are very much NOT my forte). I read economic blogs like ZeroHedge, The Automatic Earth, and naked capitalism, and less frequently, individuals like Jim Sinclair and Chris Martensen.

The “tension” in the economic air is a lot like the summer of 2008, before Lehman but after Bear Stearns. There is a sense across the independent internet media that something big is coming down the financial pike. There is “Foreclosuregate” out there, which will almost assuredly impact home sales; the second round of quantitative easing (QE2); and let us never forget the high unemployment rate around the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 41.7% of all unemployed have been unemployed for 27 or more weeks. That is a huge figure, but the BLS does not count anyone out of work more than 26 weeks towards the base line unemployment rate. So for a more accurate picture of what unemployment in the US looks like, add 40% more people to that number that gives us our current unemployment rate of 9.6%, and suddenly things are a lot more grim; I believe that number is more like 16%, though I cannot find a really up to date figure.

Anyway, the point is that I enjoy debating what all the “signs” mean with similar minded individuals. Inflationary cycle? Deflation? Hyperinflation? And then asking and debating what it all means to you and me?

Nothing? Food shortages? Decreased costs at the grocery store? Increased costs of fuel and food? There is NEVER a hard and fast answer to the age old question of “What does it mean to me?” because economics is the astrology of hard sciences. It is all about prognostication based on past experience, and of course, humans are highly unpredictable.

I personally find it entertaining to read the news, mull it over, and debate it anonymously on the internet, probably in the same way people find it entertaining to have their palms read and their astrological houses charted. With all the action in the news (actually, not as heavily in the mainstream news; more like an undercurrent below the Lindsey Lohan/Dancing With The Stars surface that constitutes the news these days), I have been busy considering what all it “means to me” and what, if anything, we need to do.

This month, we sent our last check to our last credit card that held the last of our once crushing debt. We have successfully paid off over $18K in debt in two years, and we did it with a 30% pay cut for Byram, and no raises for either of us in a long time. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and a process that was started during that aforementioned Summer of 2008 between Bear Stearns and Lehman. The signs were in the air back then, and were explicitly clear to both of us: our finances were in disarray and we better do something fast, because things were unraveling pretty fast across the country.

With that old crushing debt gone, we can tackle the new debts incurred at the dentist this summer, which should be taken care of by the end of the year, and after that, we can pay off our van, and then the world is our fiscal oyster. Which is not to say I am going to run out and buy anything I want. I absolutely refuse to go back into debt. I never want to live like that again.

My priorities have changed a lot since 2008. I have become more aware of the very real limits our country faces in terms of economic growth when balanced against finite resources, because these limits exist on the macro scale (country wide) same as the micro scale (our personal budget). Now that we have successfully scaled back our personal finances to a sustainable level (assuming no personal disasters), I can see how this country (and the world on the largest scale) is headed down the same path Byram and I were on until we hit the Very Real Wall in a Quaker Steak and Lube in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, when we found ourselves holding a bill for our dinner that we had no money in our bank account to pay.

That was a very eye-opening moment; a turn-around moment. I wonder what, if anything, will be the eye-opener for the US as a whole? On my most pessimistic days, I doubt anything will make us stand up and realize we, as a country, are living WAY beyond our means, and I am not just talking financial. I mean our energy means, our water means, our lumber means, and so forth. Our whole economy is based on the theory of infinite growth, when in fact, the model itself is much more like a rubber band. As we expand and grow, the slack is taken up, then things start to stretch, then it gets quite thin, until one tiny flaw appears and the whole rubber band snaps and suddenly contracts.

The current and ongoing economic “crisis” is a perfect example of a sudden contraction after a flaw snapped the whole band. We always glue the rubber band back together, and then begin stretching it all over again. This is why we have cycles of prosperity and recessions, and as resources become more depleted, the cycles are going to be shorter and, I believe, more violent.

I know I sound pessimistic bordering on outright gloom, but I prefer to think of myself as a realist. I do not currently see a willingness on the part of the American public and especially not on the part of the American Government (and I include both sides of the political spectrum) to be honest with ourselves about the troubles we are getting ourselves into, economically or environmentally. Politicians cannot win elections by telling people we are overspending our resource budget. The Average American continues to put a tremendous value on their social status, even to the detriment of their personal finances; also called Keeping Up With the Joneses syndrome.

Without some sort of major mental shift across the whole country, I do not see us changing our course. That thought creates a whole train of thoughts that are similar to water circling the drain, so I find it more productive to focus on changing my own thought process, making changes in my own habits and choices to do things differently, and trying to root out some of my more materialistic tendencies and trade them in for useful skills and better awareness of the world around me.

The entirety of the above leaves me feeling somewhat isolated; no one among my friends thinks or cares about stuff like this, and in fact, some of my friends would even think me a little off my rocker if they got too good a look into my thoughts. I take refuge in sharing in discussions on the internet and writing some stuff out privately. So, the blogging hiatus is pretty directly linked to that same sense of isolation. By writing this out, I am hoping to crack the door that I have slammed tight in self-censorship, and hopefully get my word count up and flowing again.

Maybe next time, I will even have real knitting to talk about!

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