Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections in the Times of Hysteria

VICTOR DAVIS HANSON'S insights on post-modern poverty in this time of recession:
"And for the less fortunate? Here is southern Fresno County, at ground zero of the illegal immigration explosion, where unemployment reaches 14%, agriculture is in the doldrums and construction and manufacturing fare worse, the depression among the poor is still ambiguous, at least in historical terms.

I went into the local Food 4-Less again the other day, a cut-rate, bulk-buy chain food store. The parking lot was full of late model trucks and cars—not the sort I prefer, but those V-8 monsters, loaded up with high-priced rims, wide tires, custom paint, tinted windows, oversized trailer hitches, the whole American shebang so to speak that tops out at around $40,000. The customers may have been out of work, but I counted nine, just nine, of some 100 (this was a research trip for this blog posting), who did not have one of the following four appurtencies visible—cell phone, Bluetooth, blackberry-like device, I-pod. On the way out of the parking lot, the car radio was blaring with three sorts of ads: get out of credit card debt, get out of mortgage debt, get out of back IRS payments—now! Easy! Little cash upfront! This is not Bleak House as we are led to believe.

We are hurting, but not in 1933 fashion, due both to expanded government entitlements; Chinese-made cheap consumer goods; the fumes of past easy credit; black market, untaxed temporary cash and carry jobs (a vastly underestimated source of enormous income); and a culture that absolves one of the shame of reneging on debt (or perhaps even admires the possibility of a phoenix-like resurgence from loser to winner, and has a grudging admiration for the machinations involved in such rebirth).

I’m not sure this is even the 1979-83 recession where finally we got 10%-plus unemployment, 18% interest, and 12% inflation—a topic I once devoted a book to, Fields Without Dreams. Then I remember seeing Cryolite bags go up 10% every six months. I remember raisin prices going down from $1400 a ton to about $450. I remember vineyard prices falling from $15,000 an acre to $3500. I remember taking out Federal Land Bank loans at 13%, and short-term Bank of America crop loans at 15%. And I remember pickers getting 22 cents a grape tray in 1980—and 11 cents in 1983. I bought a used Pontiac Grand Prix (a fixer-upper that had been totaled) for 12% interest. So, I am sorry. This is not quite yet the early eighties recession, and I am not yet convinced that the baby-boomer generation that has come of age cannot ride this out without adopting European-socialism as a cure."
Let's certainly hope there is enough good sense left in this republic to steer clear of European-socialism, because if not, our past prosperity will become a remembrance rather than a prelude to our future prosperity.

But, alas, the recent election of a President-as-savior for so many, combined with the rationally ignorant and the rationally irrational, may well mean there is not enough good sense left in this republic.

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