Sep 192008

Today, while running an errand, I passed a sight which gave me some pause. I’m not sure why I noticed, and I’m not sure why I am drawing the assumptions I’m drawing, but I’ll tell the story anyway. Some years back, to make ends meet, I worked a part time job for a lot of years. For several of those years, I sold shoes at a Florsheim shoe store right in the main corner of the largest mall in Greensboro, NC. To pass the time when we were slow, I would often pick out someone walking by, and just based on what I could see, I’d make up the person’s current life situation. If that person came in the store, and any sort of chat developed, I was often astounded by how accurate my story had been, and so, from that perspective, I tell another story. I have no clue how accurate it is, but it illustrates a point about the recent economic downturn.

We were driving up Dale Mabry Highway, the main north-south road here in Tampa. Walking north (going south would eventually run you into the water of the bay) was two men. One of them was maybe near my age in his late 40s or early 50s. The other person was a bit younger, probably in his late 20s. (I don’t think they were related.) They both had backpacks and were carrying more bags by hand. They had the look of people moving on to somewhere else taking along just what they could carry. I didn’t get the idea from their appearance they had been homeless, more like people who had been displaced.

I had only a passing look, but was able to see the younger man’s face best, as he was on the side closest to the street. But in just that fleeting moment, I saw a sense of profound sadness and resignation. He carried a bit of the dazed look one often sees on people walking out of disaster areas. The story I took from these two was that they were possibly construction workers who had just run out of work, and had no or very little money left. Maybe they’d heard from a friend that there was work to be had somewhere else…in another town…and they were headed there in hopes of finding work.

walking.jpgIn my mind’s eye I saw the old black and white photos of the people loading all they had on a truck or in a car, and heading out of the dust bowls. Taking with them this idea of going elsewhere with the hope of just finding a way to survive. I was overcome with an almost overwhelming sense of sadness for these two guys, and for our country as a whole.

A friend I know through his blog and our email exchanges has coincidentally written about people trying to make it in the face of today’s economic downturn. I have written myself in just the past couple of days about all the businesses I’ve noticed closed here in South Tampa. Today’s errand took us to the northern part of town, and there I noticed a number of closed restaurants and other business along this main road. The government is bailing out failing company after failing company. There is a report today on which says that Florida’s unemployment rate hit 6.5% last month, the highest rate in 13 years. The Progress Report reports that, Homeless advocacy groups and city agencies across the country are “reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.”    

There is plenty of blame to go around for the current state of affairs. Individuals, myself included, have been spending beyond our means, corporate executives have been living the good life as fat cats, the current administration has yet to meet a regulation it didn’t disdain. And now our chickens have come home to roost.

During lunch, a co-worker called me, and after we discussed some business, he was on a tear like I’ve never heard about all the free market people who had, previously, been all about smaller government, less regulation, and allowing the free market to take care of everything. “Just get the government off the back of business, and all will be well.” I have to agree with my friend. Now when the shit hits the fan, the free marketeers are the first ones in line to feed at the public teat.

I understand the executives of AIG, being taken over by the government, are walking away with packages worth somewhere near $20 million dollars. These are the very people who decried government regulation and involvement in the private sector, yet today are roundly applauding the government takeover, and laughing all the way to a, hopefully, solvent bank. Dumas’ Musketeers were challenged to creatively solve the situations in which they found themselves as they were impoverished. Today’s Marketeers just run to Cardinal Richelieu (the public teat) for money and protection.

I don’t pretend to have the macro-economic view necessary to know if these government takeovers are appropriate or ill-advised. There seems general agreement they are probably necessary. That being said, how can we continue to spend billions each month in Iraq, and still prop up the economy back here at home.

It’s interesting that Dick Cheney has sooo disappeared recently, but some how, I’m sure he and his Haliburton friends continue to do well, while average Americans slip through the cracks more and more. In some ways, we reap as we’ve sewn, but it’s been like a Svengali that Karl Rove and his minions have managed to lead millions of Americans to join them in their “culture war,” and actually vote against their own economic interests. Maybe it takes such an extreme situation as we’ve come to now for people to realize they’ve been snookered. We can only hope.

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