Friday, November 14, 2008

Shocked, shocked, I'm sure

Hello darlings! Pretty Lady has not fallen off the earth; she has not been celebrating, she has not been mourning, she has merely been Silent. Silence may, indeed, be one of the most underrated luxuries of human existence.

But Pretty Lady was veritably shocked yesterday, when she heard on NPR that a group of International Economics Experts had concluded that the global economy is, in fact, in a recession. Really? How can they tell? What a daring pronouncement!

(This is the sound of Pretty Lady being ponderously sarcastic.)

Because the fact is, Pretty Lady and her Gentleman Friend have been well and personally aware of the global economic situation, for lo these many months. Pretty Lady is in a couple of Luxury Industries, and her GF runs hardware systems for the Corporate Financial World. At least, both of them used to do these things, back when there were people and corporations who could afford to pay for them.

Now, Pretty Lady and her GF do whatever they can do, whenever they can do it, to cover each bill before the interest rate goes up, the service gets disconnected, the policy is cancelled, the late fee kicks in, the car dies, or they are evicted for non-payment of rent. She is pleased to report that the lights are still on.

This is due, in no small part, to the fact that Pretty Lady and her GF are not living in a stoic, individualistic vacuum. What is currently keeping them afloat is their immersion in Community. Not as parasites of the Welfare State--as contributing members in a network of human beings with diverse skills, assets and liabilities.

Pretty Lady, being enciente, avails herself of the services of a doula, a Life Coach, an acupuncturist, a prenatal massage therapist, and a network chiropractor, by virtue of the Barter System. (See her Wellness Review for details.) Her hip new pair of glasses comes courtesy of the Blogher Network. Prenatal nutrition is ensured at reasonable cost by membership in the Park Slope Food Co-op, plus a lot of cooking. She has just finished setting up a darling Infant Bedroom, three months in advance, courtesy of generous friends with toddlers who have outgrown their Pack N Play, their Baby Bjorn, their high chair and their catchall bibs. And she is forever grateful to those friends and relatives who hit her Rent Fund button, unsolicited.

Her Gentleman Friend, meanwhile, runs around town fixing people's computers, installing their electrical systems, assembling their furniture, managing their events, and generally being a godsend. Week by week, task by task, bankruptcy is kept at bay.

This, friends, is what Pretty Lady means when she thinks of the Fundamentals of an Economy. Healthy economies involve human beings at work on physical things. They do not necessarily involve manipulation of abstract derivative on top of abstract derivative, clever bet on top of clever bet, or making up imaginary numbers and adding them to one's government balance sheet. 'We are all in this together' does not mean Socialism. It means that we look out for ourselves by looking out for one another.

So although Pretty Lady is deeply pleased by the fact that the American electorate has finally appointed a sensible leader who listens to people besides his ideological cronies, values competence over ideology, organizes from the grassroots up rather than the top down, and who enlists the services of experts when addressing problems, she is not waiting for a Messiah to solve anything. She is living the change she wants to see in the world, and hoping for the best.


Spatula said...

"Healthy economies involve human beings at work on physical things. They do not necessarily involve manipulation of abstract derivative on top of abstract derivative, clever bet on top of clever bet, or making up imaginary numbers and adding them to one's government balance sheet."

This part has always bothered me about our societies. I feel a lot more sure of things when you count productivity in darned socks and milk-bearing goats.

Pretty Lady said...

Let's hear it for goats! They eat anything, and make incredible cheese.

Anonymous said...

One of the libertarian arguments against welfare is that if people knew for certain that the government was not going to mitigate peoples' financial woes, neighbors and friends would step up to help each other in exactly the way you describe. The libertarians have been proven right about all things financial these days, and I tend to think that they're right about this as well. Not incidentally, they think the bailout is a hellaciously bad idea.

And yes, goats make great cheese! Although they need some help.

Pretty Lady said...

Franklin, the problem with the libertarian argument is the problem of social stratification, ghettoization, and the Evils of Suburbia. I, personally, am probably not going to starve or become homeless, because I am related to stable, solvent middle-class people who are sane and who care about me. People who are not so fortunate--who are born into families of histrionic narcissists, schizophrenics, and alcoholics--have much greater difficulty in forging that sort of safety net. Welfare has its obvious drawbacks, but for many people it really is the only option.

Not to mention people who are so unfortunate as to live in suburban tract housing without sidewalks, porches, or plazas, and WITH air conditioning and cable TV. The xenophobia and social isolation produced by this wretched travesty of city planning has to be experienced, then fled from, in order to be believed.

Anonymous said...

If people relied on their neighborhood networks as a first resort rather than the last, suburban social isolation would probably not come into being, and I wonder whether the richer and poorer neighborhoods would separate out like they do.

We would have to put an end to welfare gradually, or we would really would be throwing people onto the trash heap. Too, it doesn't make sense to end welfare while spending $435 million a day on an unconstitutional foreign war of choice, bailing out failed business enterprises with taxpayer money (which really is socialism), and inflating the currency by fiat (which is what happens when Bernanke "injects liquidity into the market"). First things first.

Pretty Lady said...

Franklin, I think people DO rely on their neighborhood networks first, if they've GOT them. I've certainly never applied for government benefits--I was brought up to believe that this was truly a last resort, and the system is set up with horrendous bureaucratic obstacles in order to torment, shame and humiliate its beneficiaries. This pervasive shaming process in itself helps ensure that the poor are ever more effectively separated from everyone else.

One of my primary complaints is that too many cities have been physically built so as to foster extreme social isolation, at the same time as a cultural shift has separated most people from their extended families. Statistically speaking, the number of close friends an individual has, has plummeted in recent decades. Wealthy neighborhoods are surrounded by security gates, and there is no affordable housing within miles, sometimes within the city limits. There are few free public gathering places, such as parks, cafes and plazas, and people don't habitually hang out in places where they have a lot of random social contacts. There is a dearth of safe public bike paths and sidewalks, making people far more likely to use their cars.

Simply put, architecture and city planning can either promote community or squelch it, and for the last 50 years at least, squelching has been the norm. It's been the norm for so long that the majority of people don't even understand what a real community is, and actively defend against it. They socialize in their own enclaves, with people just like themselves. It's going to take something drastic, like a major depression, to alter this. Whoops.