Depression 2009
November 21, 2008 12:15 AM   Subscribe

Depression 2009: What would it look like? "Lines at the ER, a television boom, emptying suburbs. A catastrophic economic downturn would feel nothing like the last one." [Via]
posted by homunculus (48 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating. Many of the differences primarily reflect the fact that we are -- and will remain -- much, much wealthier than we were in the '30s. It's hard to measure because many of the gains come from technologies replace or augment the goods of the '30s, rather than simply as more cash. But we are.

The Japanese slump of the '90s (while not a depression?) teaches a similar lesson. It's a period talked about in baleful tones, but measured by most reasonable standards Japan was still (so I gather) a very good place to live.
posted by grobstein at 12:42 AM on November 21, 2008


"technologies that replace" . . . . is what I meant.
posted by grobstein at 12:43 AM on November 21, 2008


The article pretty much sums up my life right now, if you substitute Metafilter for TV.
posted by lekvar at 1:52 AM on November 21, 2008 [4 favorites]


Really though, as long as my interwebs are intact I won't notice the difference.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:55 AM on November 21, 2008


Would there be a television boom though? My understanding is that cable/satellite is very expensive (I don't have either but I believe friends have mentioned paying $50-100 a month). Same with internet usage. If budgets are tight I would think they would be cut (although if more people are living in one home the cost could be spread out). I know in the public library world we are preparing for an upswing in patrons borrowing books, dvds and using free internet (either with their own laptops or with our computers). Unfortunately during the last recession public libraries had their budgets slashed in Canada. I hope this doesn't happen this time because we are planning as many free job-searching, community-building, teen and child-focused activities as we can.
posted by saucysault at 2:03 AM on November 21, 2008


Would manufacturing really go downhill even faster? As employment rises and wages fall, mightn't factories become temporarily viable again? Mightn't call centres be reimported from India as native speakers become available at competitive rates?

Probably right about clothing not being such a problem this time round - although at the back of my mind I can hear a 20's economist saying 'Oh, that won't be a problem any more. Why, did you know the modern man can afford an average of six complete outfits, just for himself? And nine for his wife? I don't think we'll be seeing people in patched clothes again.'
posted by Phanx at 2:21 AM on November 21, 2008


...As UNemployment rises...
posted by Phanx at 2:22 AM on November 21, 2008


The cost of living hasn't affected its popularity.
posted by netbros at 3:11 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


It may also look like that.
posted by nicolin at 4:05 AM on November 21, 2008


Blogging boom. Decline in college education. (Unless we get free college under Comrade Obama.)
posted by DU at 4:12 AM on November 21, 2008


(Unless we get free college under Comrade Obama.)

That proposed service program that pays for college has the potential to be very, very expensive. If jobs are scarce, more people will be attracted to school, and if it just happens to come with a job with an effective wage of $40 / hr (tuition credit), all the better.

I suppose it's a kind of stimulus, but huge tuition payments are not what I usually think of when I think of consumption. (Isn't tuition mostly not consumption?)

Anyway, if we hit tough fiscal times, not sure what's going to happen to this stuff.
posted by grobstein at 4:26 AM on November 21, 2008


An interesting read. Thanks for posting it.

The point of "uprooting people who would rather stay where they are and trapping people who want to move." rings very true to me.
posted by slimepuppy at 4:46 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Hmmm, what would depression 2009 look like? Come with me on a journey and peer into the future...

Well for a start Tommy, the depression family of 2009 will have computers, and possibly one or more television sets in their future home, or "Dwellitron".

Look now, there's depression dad, reading all five pages of an article on the Internet. See how each page contains advertising and not very much content? That's the depression doing that.
posted by mattoxic at 4:46 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Interesting article, thank you. Our household has become far more mindful of the ways we spend money. I find myself growing more and more disgusted by the ways I have been a Sucker Consumer in the past, and I've vowed to henceforth develop an impenetrable resistance to marketing.

A day at home with Mr. quietalittlewild making lasagna (with store brand cheese) and playing chess (set from thrift store) in front of the fire (to avoid increasing the thermostat) has scintillating allure. Take that, O evil marketers!
posted by quietalittlewild at 4:50 AM on November 21, 2008


Look now, there's depression dad, reading all five pages of an article on the Internet. See how each page contains advertising and not very much content? That's the depression doing that.

I learned that in the future there will be nationwide used clothing chains, which makes me wonder what the Salvation Army and Goodwill are doing now.

I wonder what this reporter will be doing when he is back living with his parents... or she, Drake Bennett: who names their child Drake?

I take it back, ducks are nice.
posted by geos at 5:41 AM on November 21, 2008


One thing to remember is that though we are wealthier now than in 1930, we are less resourceful. Many more people lived on farms in that era and so could live a self-sufficient life. People in cities and the dust bowl, though, were obviously worse off. And there wasn't this expectation that things would turn around in 2 months or 2 years. They basically kept giving Roosevelt a chance because they liked him and trusted him, not because Roosevelt turned around the economy quickly. But people back then were patient and had grown up through some tough times, so they rolled with it better than we will.

So, you know, maybe in the New Depression we can diddle around on the intertubes and read about how tough people were back in the day.
posted by billysumday at 5:46 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


That proposed service program that pays for college has the potential to be very, very expensive. If jobs are scarce, more people will be attracted to school, and if it just happens to come with a job with an effective wage of $40 / hr (tuition credit), all the better.

You are only looking at half the equation. Here's your half: Jobs are scarce so kids just out of high school take a "guaranteed" service job that comes with college education. The government pays their tuition, effectively.

Here's the other half: The government gets a LOT of service done, from infrastructure rebuilding to teaching assistance to elder care. And a wave of well-educated youth traveling up the demographics.

It's going to cost money to get those things done anyway. Why not also get a higher average education rate and an engaged electorate at the same time?
posted by DU at 5:52 AM on November 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


who names their child Drake?

I was at a bbq the other day (where house prices and the looming depression was discussed) and there was a kid there named "Blade" No shit.
posted by mattoxic at 5:55 AM on November 21, 2008


...makes me wonder what the Salvation Army and Goodwill are doing now.

My 100% anecdotal experience says they are shrinking. The big Goodwill in the city near me, where I used to take old clothes and stuff, closed a few years ago. Now you have to call them and arrange for a pickup.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:27 AM on November 21, 2008


But people back then were patient and had grown up through some tough times, so they rolled with it better than we will.

Evidence? The patience thing seems like one of those rose-colored glasses type impressions that people have of "the good old days." As for people being used to hard times, it's all relative. You could also argue that today's 40-year-olds grew up during the economically-tough 70s, entered the workforce during the tough recession of the early 90s, and had to explain to their three year old why people would want to fly a plane into a building, so they have also seen some "tough times."
posted by lunasol at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2008 [3 favorites]


Two weeks ago, I had my house broken into. Given the option to get out of the lease on my nice suburban place in a safe neighborhood, I chose to get a cheap apartment a five minute walk from where I work. It's not as nice a neighborhood, but hey, I don't have any stuff to steal, so what the hell.

And given that I don't have much in the way of stuff right now, I chose to spend a while being really frugal. Keeping my place spartan, limiting my tech purchases, and making sure I'm as mobile as possible.

From the article, it looks like I behaved exactly as the author expects people to behave in a depression.

This is scary.

I keep thinking that two years ago, anyone ambitious and organized enough to go around efficiently robbing houses as thoroughly as these burglars are doing would have had a job. The consequences of the current economic crisis are vast, and various.
posted by MrVisible at 7:09 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


.makes me wonder what the Salvation Army and Goodwill are doing now.

in my area, they're opening chain stores - as are a couple of more commercially owned ventures in the second hand business

a depression in 2009 may look a lot like an increasingly desperate government trying to appease an increasingly demanding populace - even during the great depression, a lot of people weren't meekly submitting to starvation and eviction - no, stores were looted and often when the sheriff's department put someone's stuff on the curb the neighbors were right there to put it back the second they were gone

i expect to see a LOT more of that this time around - people don't have the same respect for authority they did in those days - nor is authority as respectable as it was back then
posted by pyramid termite at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do we get to have jazz and cabarets back?
posted by The Whelk at 7:42 AM on November 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I find it odd that experts can comment on what a depression would be like when they can't define it, and follow their analysis with saying it can’t happen. It is possible I am too cynical, but when I hear people constantly discussing recession/depression and not economic turn around I have a hard time deciding who is deluding themselves.
posted by hexxed at 7:44 AM on November 21, 2008


Is there a word for when someone is spinning a doom scenario that more or less describes your life?

I live in an apartment, I have some hand-me-downs, I shop second hand, I use the librabry for books and some DVDs, I cook at home a lot, I help out with a friend's rooftop garden and get veggies for doing so, I don't have health insurance, most of entertainment comes from the internet, I haven't bought any major purchases in 2 years (my last one was tailoring an old suit and before that I got a cheapo knock-off mp3 player that just died today) and my biggest non-rental expense is drinkin' at the local bar and groceries.

I feel like I have no idea who the author supposed to be talking to.
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 AM on November 21, 2008 [11 favorites]




One thing to remember is that though we are wealthier now than in 1930, we are less resourceful.


I dunno. A lot of people I know have some kind of DIY skillset that they're always looking to expand. Gardening, beer-making, woodworking, sewing, ect. Many of them learned it from the internet and kept with it because of the feedback and community and ect ect. Belt-tightening may just fuel the desire to be handy.
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 AM on November 21, 2008


Huh. Can't we all just move into abandoned warehouses, drink cheap booze, fuck each other copiously, make great art, and write witty things?

I mean, what the hell is poverty good for if not bohemianism?
posted by Afroblanco at 8:20 AM on November 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


What will Depression 2.0 look like?

Eighty to a hundred front page posts a day on MetaFilter, 15% of which will be any good.

"Mom's basement" stops being a pejorative and becomes a legitimate, mainstream lifestyle.

BIG, BIG fucking spikes in traffic all throughout the internet.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:47 AM on November 21, 2008


I feel like I have no idea who the author supposed to be talking to.

People who are terrified at the thought of living within their means.
posted by Harkins_ at 8:50 AM on November 21, 2008 [9 favorites]


Perhaps the most accurate model for what the US and much of the industrialized world will face is Japan's lost decade?

is it possible that manufacturing in the rust belt could see, if not a renaissance, then at least a halt of the slide as desperate workers will come close to parity (when transportation costs are factored in) to what it would cost to outsource manufacturing? But then again no demand.
posted by xetere at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2008


Depression 2009: What would it look like?

pirates... Kunstler told me there would be pirates and I won't be satisfied till there are pirates

oh wait a minute... shit
posted by slickvaguely at 9:11 AM on November 21, 2008


It's odd to hear this conversation. I don't have any idea whether a depression is going to happen or not, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. So many Americans seem to think it's essentially impossible, but my experiences tell me that it's exactly that sensibility that allows these things to happen . . . the "Oh, people are too educated / we have safeguards / we've learned from the past" line of thought. Just a year or two ago, people were quoting those lines to explain why a "serious collapse" in the housing or financial markets was "almost impossible." And it's the same stuff I heard to explain why war would never reach Sarajevo. I don't trust this thinking much at all; it hasn't turned out to be very accurate for me. And it obliterates what I feel is one of the truisms of human existence, which is that some bad crazy shit is going to happen before too long . . .

Americans aren't ready at all for bad times. I smirked a bit when I read The Whelk's slight disagreement that we are less resourceful than in the 1930. I agree that belt-tightening may fuel the desire to be handy, and it seems like The Whelk is better-prepared than most Americans, but coming from Eastern Europe (which I do in general, plus also I've just returned from a two-month trip there) it's astonishing how inept most Americans are at basic belt-tightening stuff. We're a lot less resourceful than 1930's Americans must have been. I don't know any Eastern Europeans who don't sew, who don't cook 99% of their own meals from scratch, who don't make (in some fashion) some percentage of their own alcohol, who don't have basic construction and tool-using skills and much, much more. By comparison, Americans suffer greatly from a general lack of these skills.

In Romania, I stayed with a prosperous family who pickled an entire winter's worth of vegetables and who keep enough basic food in their cellar to make it through six months without going to the store. This is pretty normal. Cities and towns there are designed so that cars are basically unnecessary, and a much larger percentage of the population lives without worrying about losing their homes (for several reasons: people aren't transient and have inherited their living space, people were granted ownership of their homes after Communism, rent is state-controlled and ridiculously cheap - I know someone who pays $11 a month for a two-bedroom flat, and so on.) Property taxes don't exist in many places or are almost nothing. Nearly everyone has a substantial vegetable garden and contacts in the "country" (often within walking distance) from whom they can get eggs or smoked meat or honey or extra vegetables. They'll have a hard time without their cell phones, but that's about it.

They're worried about the crisis there, but for them it'll be a headache which will mean not going to the cinema, selling the Dacia and a postponement of external travel plans. But most day-to-day life won't change much.

I think the article misses a lot, especially the panic and hysteria which will ensue in America from a real collapse of the economy. I witnessed this in Sarajevo, despite it not being on anyone's radar beforehand. We were - just like the Americans! - too comfortable, classy and kind to turn on each other. Don't believe that.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:16 AM on November 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


I know in the public library world we are preparing for an upswing in patrons borrowing books, dvds and using free internet (either with their own laptops or with our computers).

That's already happened here in New York. The other day, I was looking at the huge lines at my local branch and thinking "Damn. Looks like the mainstream has found out about my little secret."


I live in an apartment, I have some hand-me-downs, I shop second hand, I use the librabry for books and some DVDs, I cook at home a lot, I help out with a friend's rooftop garden and get veggies for doing so, I don't have health insurance, most of entertainment comes from the internet, I haven't bought any major purchases in 2 years (my last one was tailoring an old suit and before that I got a cheapo knock-off mp3 player that just died today) and my biggest non-rental expense is drinkin' at the local bar and groceries.


Hey, me too! That's pretty much my lifestyle too. Just think of yourself as a trendsetter. The mainstream is catching up to you.

Would there be a television boom though? My understanding is that cable/satellite is very expensive (I don't have either but I believe friends have mentioned paying $50-100 a month). Same with internet usage.


Hmmmm . . . I wonder if the government might wind up subsidizing these media, if only to keep the restless and bored off the streets. Bread and Circuses, y'know?
posted by jason's_planet at 9:21 AM on November 21, 2008


And just to add to what Dee Xtrovert said:

If you want to see what neo-Depression culture will be like, look at the North American ghettos, look at the newly impoverished countries of the former Soviet bloc.

They've been living in depression conditions for years.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:23 AM on November 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


My local Goodwill and Salvation Army are much busier this fall than last.
posted by zippy at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2008


DU, what role is there for a Thomas Barnett-type "Sysadmin Force" of non-private employees with higher education and greater skills in the employ of the governement?

It would offer good training to the unskilled and good work to the skilled-but-unemployed, and it would certainly get a lot done. Improvement of .gov services & processes (who wants to do the BPA for the Veterans Administration with me? Anyone?), centralization of certain functions that are now distributed (does every office need its own $insert_role_here?), and the ability to offer the same to other nations and groups (thereby shrinking the global wealth gap).
posted by wenestvedt at 10:21 AM on November 21, 2008


I know in the public library world we are preparing for an upswing in patrons borrowing books, dvds and using free internet (either with their own laptops or with our computers).

Yeah, it sucks that public library use in so many places seems to be tied to economic up- and downturns, as opposed to their inherent educational and cultural value. A couple months ago here in Cincinnati, a windstorm knocked power out for a half million people, most for a few days. Traffic and circulation in our (small-town, fairly affluent) library went way up during that period, for the reasons you mention plus just having a place to use a working phone, sit in a lighted space, and drink the free hot beverages we provided.

As for a depression scenario, it'd be a weird feeling to be thrilled at having so many visitors to the library, but to be scared about why.
posted by Rykey at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2008


I've been on the fence, watching all this economic chaos unwinding. On one hand, I'm sad to see my friends with 401Ks and middle-class lifestyles suffering, even if it's the price paid for watching the dinosaurs of a dead economy come crashing down. On the other hand, though, I'm feeling pretty justified in how I've lived for my entire adult life.

I live in a two room apartment, same one I've been in for twenty years, and went from being family of the owner to working as building super for the owner that bought the place when my family's business disintegrated to being building super and general contractor for the friend I talked into buying the building when it went back on the market five years ago. I don't aspire to more space or more fanciness because it's just doesn't tip the balance between expense and reward—I've got room for my books and all the furniture I need and my musical instruments and all the little odd things I've collected (with the Harold & Maude proviso that things I collect are incidental, not integral, to my life). I get these occasional twinges of object lust, but they're tamed by the simple fact that I've lived very well, and very comfortably, on a pretty meager income for a long, long time, and I just have built an aesthetic of simple pleasures into the core of who I am.

I'm no ascetic, though. I've got twenty-five beautiful old manual typewriters, thousands of books, mountains of vinyl, and a wall of antique electric fans, and I'm perfectly happy to accept my status as a materialistic sybarite, in a roundabout way. It's just that I choose to adapt, and to celebrate things that are not commonly celebrated as my route to that status. I've also cultivated the ability to set a boundary and then live by it. I said I'd stop buying manual typewriters when I found a really nice Olympia SG3, and I did, except for a few times since, when I've picked up good machines cheaply, fixed them up, and gave them to people who needed a proper writing instrument.

The word "enough" just doesn't seem to exist in the American mind. There's this bizarre cult of ascendancy in our media and our group consciousness, and it tells us to just always buy at the edge of what we can afford, and to relentlessly "move up" when we get ahead. The old Datsun we drove in college gets replaced by a less old Toyota Corolla, and suddenly we're in a good job and making good money, and the less old Toyota gets replaced by a Camry, and then by a BMW, or a Volvo or something else, because we're supposed to "advance." The Corolla was a fine car, though, and simple and practical and reliable, but because we could afford to "move up," we felt like we had to, and traded off a nice little surplus of cash that could have been saved or invested for a brief feeling of validation and a new plateau from which we can't back down without feeling depressed at the step "backward."

Housing is even worse. Why can't you buy a one bedroom house anymore? Why can't you buy a small house, for that matter? We have kids, and somehow it's become impossible for a family of four to share a bathroom. We have money, so naturally we need garages and great rooms and five bathrooms and all this empty space that has to be cooled and heated. I'd be content to watch it all from a distance, except for how the perverted gestalt of the market and the marketers have actually exterminated the very idea of practical, reasonable, and even humble homes. Did everyone really buy into the conceit that the economy would rise and rise forever, without change, hesitation, or evolution?

I get a little old-man crotchety about it all, for one really key reason—no one knows how to do anything. It's good for me, of course. My skill set is pretty recession-proof. I worked in IT for years, but bailed out for a career as a handyman, contractor, and general-purpose Joe, and so I'm ready to fill in fixing toilets and patching roofs and such, but I wonder what most people will do. It's shocking, how little people can do, though I'm happy with the movement, fed by Make and Instructables and the like, to go back to actually doing things. There's a misguided belief in natural talent that makes us think that we're not capable of nuts and bolts craftsmanship unless we're born to it, but I'm a perfect example of a klutzy, impatient, unfocused schlub who's come into his own through discipline, study, and lots and lots of practice, so there's no reason why the rest of the country can't actually learn a trade, a craft, or an art form of their own, something other than the aimless ninny work of the press-ganged sailors on the cubicle seas.

My optimism may seem a little forced, I know, or cultivated, as I'd rather say it, but if things really fall apart, after we've eaten all the realtors, marketing executives, and account representatives, there's a good chance people might be forced to realize that they've been wearing ruby slippers all along. Just take a breath, click, and find out what you can really do. You can be afraid or anxious or you can be realistic, and fully aware of how much is enough, and focused on things that matter, like people and stories and simple (and sublime, but inexpensive) delights. It's all there, right out in the open, but no one seems to pursue it or even investigate what's possible. Maybe this cash quake will open people's eyes, once the panic dies down, and make change that really means something.

It just requires a little focus, to not confuse self-sufficiency with fortress-like survivalism, and to stay connected to each other instead of to the silicon teat of TV and its ilk.

An interesting few years are ahead of us.
posted by sonascope at 10:32 AM on November 21, 2008 [17 favorites]


I want to be clear, I don't think this is a depression. But I would like to contribute to the discussion - I live in Saskatchewan, Canada and the 10% + unemployment discussed theoretically in this article was a reality here for many years and had a big impact on my early working life.

This used to be an agricultural province, and 80's saw us transition from this economy and gave us a drought. I think this approximates a reasonable example of what a modern north american depression may look like, based on some of the predicted economic indicators people are putting forward.

Ten percent unemployment did not make society crumble but it has some bad effects. Jobs become hard to find, I can remember 700 people here lining up when Costco built a new store - on a cold, miserable day. Teenagers had trouble getting getting jobs even at places like McDonalds, and will mostly migrate to more prosperous places when they get a bit older - a lot of people feel sad and alienated when their children leave (as a kid, over a couple of years, all of my old friends were gone). You'll walk downtown and all the small old shops which used to be full of boutique-type stores end up closing - I can recall walking to the comic shop down a block (currently full) which didn't seem to have any active businesses; it is very discouraging when everything around you seems to be dying. All the big national chain stores close or threaten to close. U-Hauls become surrealistically expensive to rent, since so many of the trailers leave the location and so few come back. You don't know what the new cars are like, because you don't know anyone who has one. The family vacations disappear. Bosses push around employees because they are so replaceable, labour standards become essentially nothing. The government ensures that all its benefits programs are as humiliating as possible to collect, and kids are coached on what to say to any unknown person on the telephone since it could be UI checking up on a person.

This of course impacts culture. There is a lot of angst and hand-wringing as the national media and late-night joke tellers like to rail on how useless, backwater and stupid you must be. My blood boils when I see the media doing this to other people, honourable people do not kick others when they are down. Our local CFL team, which is one of the oldest and best supported in professional football had to hold a telethon to raise money so they wouldn't fold (by comparison they sold out every game this year). Nearby Winnipeg lost its NHL team, and nearly lost its symphony orchestra. I don't think Winnipeg ever recovered from losing the Jets.

The provincial government took stupid gambles which they almost always lost. They tried to stimulate construction (not a bad idea on public infrastructure, but our gov't did it with individuals and homes) and this policy was very beneficial to grifters, scammers and bad ideas - so you get more depressing news on how the great rescue plans fail - and shady contractors and crooked businessmen benefit. The presence of so many scammers and desperate people leads to corruption - a few years later most of these government officials were literally led away in handcuffs, and the party which formed government in those years disbanded. The federal government saw a great opportunity to screw a marginalized region and did things like cut railway service for both those empty grain trains and passengers (fast forward to today and Regina, SK has one of the better economies in Canada, but no passenger train service) - this put pressure on the roads and highways, which turned to shit due to more traffic and less maintenance. People and projects with money (like American movie crews) get to block off streets and basically run the city since we need their dollars so badly. Populist movements emerge, and during this point - the Reform Party of Canada, the most socially conservative party Canada had ever seen found its legs in a region which was the birthplace of Canadian socialism.

Moms who used to stay home take jobs, kids show up at school with housekeys on a string around their neck - a practice the school and teachers endlessly moralize about. Hard on parents, no doubt. Good schools and teachers implement after-school sports (or would show cartoon films in the gym - this was before cable tv was widespread and cartoons were more rare) to help those kids stay out of trouble until their parents come home. Good programs, such as scouting tended to look the other way when it came to dues and membership fees.

Fairly bleak stuff. Not unliveable. Not forever. No need for panic or hysteria. I still had my friends and family, as well as some cheap entertainment - I don't recall any problems eating (not saying it didn't happen to some people). I came out of this cautious and distrustful towards anyone who claimed to have all the answers, and since there were no jobs I hung out in school and received a degree and a good education. I've been scared to change jobs, and collapsed a bit too easily on things like salary negotiations ever since - but I actually recall the floor hockey games and my dad taking us fishing quite fondly.

The lessons learned? Be modest, and honest. Don't kick people when they are down and try to treasure fiends and family. Always remember that your banker is not your friend. The lands we live in, have supported populations for thousands of years, and we will survive.
posted by Deep Dish at 12:06 PM on November 21, 2008 [12 favorites]


This would be better with zombies.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:33 PM on November 21, 2008


I treasure my fiends.
posted by agregoli at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2008


This would be better with zombies.

Huh? The Pirates aren't good enough?
posted by delmoi at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2008


@Smedleyman: Funny you should say that. In the new game Left 4 Dead, most of the streetside ads are for payday loans... Hmm...
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:18 PM on November 21, 2008


Lines at the ER? My first thought was that the author meant they were going to take away the chairs that we already wait in for hours...
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:24 PM on November 21, 2008


Depression? Guess I'd have to quit drinking Belgian ale and switch to local craft brews.
posted by fixedgear at 7:23 PM on November 21, 2008


The Japanese slump of the '90s (while not a depression?) teaches a similar lesson. It's a period talked about in baleful tones, but measured by most reasonable standards Japan was still (so I gather) a very good place to live.

I lived in Japan from 1994 to 2004, and experienced the "Lost Decade" (ten years of negative or zero growth) first-hand.

I would say that the past 18 years have been extremely stressful for most Japanese. Stagnant wages, declining bonuses and economic uncertainty tend to take some of the joy out of life. Economically speaking, things were sill pretty good in 94, but the years 2000 to 2004 got steadily worse and worse and worse. Money just evaporated.

Two economies have developed - the rich cities, particularly Tokyo and Nagoya (but not Osaka), and the poor ruralities. It was pretty striking to me. In 2002 or 2003 my wife was taking distant learning courses at a university in Nagoya, so we would travel there (about an hour down the highway from the north coast) once a month. Nagoya was booming. Lots of infrastructure projects. Thanks to Toyota and Honda, there was a lot of money in that town. We would go for dinner at the new department store at the station, and there would be families lined up to buy expensive dinners. Meanwhile, back in Fukui, people were lining up to eat out at the equivalent of Denny's.

In rural Japan (and Kansai), a number of regional banks failed, especially in Hokkaido, meaning there is very little access to capital for SMEs, or projects for those SMEs. A friend's father runs a small fabrication business with six employees, and finding the next contract is always a grind.

And there have been major societal changes in Japan. Wages have stagnated, and have stayed the same for at least ten years (although, thanks to chronic deflation, the cost of food and consumer goods, but not gasoline, has declined). A twenty-something woman working a clerical job can expect to take home about $1200 a month now, meaning that, for most young women, their choices and autonomy have declined since 1990. I would suspect that pornography and prostitution are fairly lucrative career options now, further eroding the status of women.

The concept of lifetime employment has disappeared, but it has not been replaced by a spirit of entrepreneuralism or labour mobility (people are not expected to switch companies throughout their career). There are more term or contract positions that pay poorly, and the horrible terms "katchi-gumi" (Winners) to describe an educated, entrepreneurial elite who know how to prosper, and a "make-gumi" (Losers), who cannot and will not thrive, but must instead stack boxes or pour tea for the Winners.

I don't know how nice a place Japan is for the make-gumi. Japan is a great country, but it's not like North America, where you can leave society, upgrade at university, and then come back and get hired at a higher salary.

Although the United States is probably in for a prolonged economic downturn, it's not as though there will be an emergence of Winners and Losers, because those two groups already exist in America. The lesson the US can get from Japan is that prolonged economic turmoil will most likely cause significant social change, and not for the better.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:40 AM on November 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Studs Terkel
posted by homunculus at 12:46 PM on November 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now if my mom would just turn off Suzie F'in Orman, the world would be a better place. If she tells me one more time "Suzie Orman says..." and gives me a doom and gloom lecture, I"m going to throw her tv out a window.
posted by dasheekeejones at 10:50 AM on November 25, 2008


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