December 5, 2008
“So far, fortunately, these are all fantasies. [. . .] It’s not a Depression, folks, and it wouldn’t be nearly as fun to think about if it were.”
“Yesterday put the nail in the coffin of a move from recession (small “r”) to Depression (capital “D). Two pieces of news that were absolutely essential came out – and no, neither one was that we’ve been in a recession since last year, or that last week’s stock market rally was yet another sucker rally. The first was the observation that McDonalds is now the second-largest merchant vendor on credit cards – that is, people are now buying their Big Macs on plastic – in part because they don’t have the cash. Credit card balances have risen enormously in the last few weeks, as people attempt to keep going through the holidays. [. . .] The second is the news that credit card companies are planning to pull 2 trillion dollars of personal and small business credit lines over the coming months, to reduce their risk.”
I’m no economist, and not even an armchair expert in anything relevant. I think that Postrel’s pith makes her point seem relevant; but Astyk isn’t having much fun thinking about it. I guess the way to put it is that my flippant side is behind Postrel, but I worry quite a bit that Astyk is right.
And here’s my opinion on pocketbooks/spending/recession/depression: I don’t really care whether or not it’s better on a macro-scale for the nation that we all keep racking up debt. There’s always the possibility that doesn’t work (something seems fishy about it to me, but again, I’m no economist), and even if it does, who’s to say I won’t be one of those who gets screwed regardless? Cutting back and living within means entails a much lower risk for an individual family, even if it dooms us all as “neo-Hooverites.” Which is to say, if I were a head-of-household and not a college student (albeit a stingy one), I’d be inclined to doom the nation to save my family. I also think I’ve just developed a better grasp on what Helen meant when she said, “I Love Justice, But I Love My Mother More.”
Of course, the question naturally follows: Is this good? I don’t pretend to know, but it does seem to steer a little closer to societal fragmentation than makes me feel comfortable. Though I may feel more loyalty to family than strangers, taken to enough of an extreme–or during hard enough times–you have the breakdown of whatever kind of post-polis we’re living in. (New question: in such a situation, is the contemporary “post-polis” worth saving? That is, I like the idea of the polis, at least in theory, but I recognize we’re not living in it, so I can’t treat the modern post-national state–which, let’s be honest, is a more accurate descriptor of America than nation-state–like I would the city-state if I were a 5th century BC Athenian.)
Somewhere in here, I think, is a case for decentralized local government and authority: loyalty within the modern city and sub-city, organized primarily at those levels, but with coordination on increasingly greater (county, state, national) scales. Just don’t ask me to make it, at least not right now.
I’ll close with a new and slightly tangential argument for vegetarianism: vegetables and protein-supplement vitamins are cheaper than meat. Especially meat that isn’t, you know, factory-farmed and tortured. Though I gotta come out and admit it–there are occassions when I crave me a good steak.