While Congress debates President Bush’s FY09 budget and tries to find the responsible middle ground between hopeless optimism and criminal self-delusion, economists are looking at the current fiscal crisis to determine whether the economy is:
a) at the beginning of a recession,
b) experiencing a mid-course correction, or
c) caught in a raging river of financial despair without a paddle, a life preserver or, for that matter, a Life Saver. (Not that fruit-flavored candy would help in a time like this, but I’ve found that eating a red one can turn a frown upside down. It’s my Happy Color.)
Many of you are already convinced this country is in recession, given that you’ve lost your job, or your home, or your savings. But I remind you that yours is merely anecdotal evidence of a downturn, and hardly germane to the broader economic conversation. You can’t just up and use the “r” word without proper credentials. That’s for the financial experts, who know what they’re talking about—since they talk about it all the time on television. And attractive people on television are never wrong.
According to these people—who, to their credit, live in at least one of the houses they own—a recession is only recognizable after it’s ended. I mention this only to reassure you that, as hard as things are for you right now, you really don’t have to worry. The experts will be just fine. Because they’re rich.
BUT RESPONSIBLE Americans need to get their economic house in order (those who still have a house), cut back, roll up their sleeves (those who haven’t sold their sleeves for food), and generally be more responsible with their spending.
Hahahaha! Just kidding. We couldn’t possibly do those things! We don’t know how. They didn’t teach that stuff in school, although I can’t be sure, since I nodded off most days after saying the Pledge of Allegiance. (I usually woke up again in health class, when they were showing driving safety films, which taught us that in life you have two choices: Drive hard or die trying.)
I personally have looked closely at my spending habits to find places to cut back. Unfortunately, all I could come up with was my nighttime cleansing ritual using a brand-name lotion. (It has Ultra Calming™ emollients.) Some would call this an indulgence, but others would quickly and forcefully defend it as a necessity. Because, after all, I’m worth it.
Turns out, though, during a recession I’m not worth it. So now I just use joint compound. At two bucks a gallon, it’s a great value. (What’s a little dry skin when you’re getting that kind of a deal?)
Fortunately, such steps may become unnecessary, since our government has devised a plan to provide both jobs and money for struggling Americans. On the jobs side, the State Department has announced hundreds of immediate openings in its Baghdad embassy, no experience required. (THAT’ll teach those career diplomats who refuse to go!) Yes, the jobs are in a war zone, and the new building has been plagued by faulty construction and declared unfit for occupancy. But if you can put two sentences together—and maybe know how to hook up a toilet—you qualify. (Early-bird hiring bonus: Mail your résumé today and receive free body armor and a list of which outlets you can use without fear of electrocution.)
On the money side, Congress is working on a stimulus package, which includes a rebate of as much as $600 per person. Spent wisely, this money could help grow the economy. And by wisely, I don’t mean paying bills or putting it in savings. Please. How unpatriotic can you be? You need to buy things, new things, to get this economy up and running on empty again.
I’m thinking of spending my own rebate on a new futon because, scientists tell us, “it’s a pillow for your whole body!” Unfortunately, the best ones are from Sweden, a nation whose economy doesn’t need stimulating, what with universal health care, full employment, and a high quality of life. (Poor Swedes.)
So maybe I’ll buy a new sump pump instead. But not just any sump pump—a high-end BJM Submersible, with a cast-iron impeller that can empty a flooded basement before you can say “Honey, have you seen the cat?” It’s like having a jet engine in your house: A little drainage problem and then WOOOSH, it’s gone! (Manufacturer’s Warning: May also expel loose garden tools, poorly installed ceiling tiles, and other unsecured objects.) (“Fluffy!”)
On second thought, maybe I’ll just go with the futon. After laying on it for a while, I’ll sink down so deep that I won’t see the television, with its constant crawl of bad news. A couple more days and I won’t be able to get up for the newspaper, either. “What recession?” I’ll ask, as I lay in my comfortable cotton trough, separated from the outside world by cushiony, double-stitched walls. And if I need something to read, there’s always the manufacturer’s warning label: “Caution: May include industrial foam from China. Avoid contact with skin. Or pajamas.”)s
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.