Friday, February 26, 2010

Economic Spring Cleaning

I’m turning into the guy who talks about walking to school uphill in the snow both ways with lead boots and a backpack full of cinder blocks. Am I getting old? Maybe. I tried listening to Fly 92.3’s morning show the other day, and the two talking heads were like fingernails down a chalkboard. The music was white noise, and the commercials (all those commercials) were in no way directed at me. I don’t know the new songs or hit shows. Lil Wayne means nothing to me. These new cell phones that connect to the Internet, play music, and balance your checkbook, just feel so far over the top. Today I read an article about a 54-year-old man who was laid off from his job as a technology coach. What the heck’s a technology coach and why was such a position created anyway? It obviously wasn’t imperative (it was cut). Who needs all these weird toys, and weird jobs, and crazy extras? It seems all these advances in our society--technology and otherwise--are making more complications than they are conveniences.

What happened to the simple things in life?

When I was growing up things were straight forward. My father worked at GE and my mother gave out food stamps. The phone hung from the wall and the TV had forty channels. After school we played tackle football in the front yard. In the summer: basketball on the blacktop. Sometimes we built forts in the woods. The neighborhood dogs--Buddy, Bear, Shadow, King--would be running around the yard as well. There were no leash laws. Dogs were taught to stay close. It was understood. Every so often there was a dog fight to divert our attention. Nothing serious. Just those crazy mutts settling their differences with a quick tumble. Buddy vs. Bear was a reoccurring classic. Inside the house, there were no computer sites, or Wii systems, or I-Pods. Every parent in the neighborhood worked 9-to-5 and dinner was served at 6pm sharp. Life was simple. No extras.


A few years back my kid brother wanted a tree fort. I told him to score some wood and some scrap parts, build the thing with his buddies like we did. Instead my father went to Home Depot and bought pressure-treated wood. The fort was expertly designed and constructed with winter-ready windows. It was a palace. My brother never stepped foot inside the thing. There's no pride in that. A tree fort, even one with a shingled roof and sliding doors, couldn’t compete with the technology toys. My brother, like all of us, has global access to anything. A day playing in the yard is small potatoes. But it’s not just kids and their I-Pods. It’s everybody, all ages. There’s just too much stuff (cars, people, toys) at our disposal and too many people making their money by pushing this stuff on us. It's gluttony and greed and it ends civilizations. I'm not predicting that. But, I mean, a Blue Tooth. A shoe horn so you don’t even have to bend over to put your shoe on? What’re kidding me? It’s all too much, and slowly, it’s beginning to crack the core of this country.

Why am I saying this?

Simple. We’ve built up an economic system that has to somehow carve out enough niches for so many extras to operate. But now that we’re in the throes of this endless recession, all this gluttony that has defined our country for so many years is costing us the basics: economic and professional security. For every one job created there are six new firings. The truth: these jobs should’ve never been created in the first place. Who needs Lia Kia? I don’t even know what that is. All these state workers and county workers. Wow. Why do we need proficiency experts and corporate consultants? The other day my friend’s cousin tried explaining to me his “tech job” in Boston. I asked him every question I could think of, and this man couldn’t verbalize to me what he did for a living. “I just wouldn’t understand” he kept saying. When I pressed him he came up empty. A person should be able to say what he/she does for a living in two thoughts or less. I sell insurance. I’m a lawyer. I’m a doctor. Those things will never go away, regardless of economic conditions. They’re the bedrock of this country. But I promise in the next few years my friend’s cousin will lose his crazy tech job again, because he can’t even explain what his company role is.

The problem?

People are waiting for this economic downturn to pass. It’s never going to pass. What’s happening right now is the system is shaking away the extra jobs, extra companies, and extra stuff it doesn’t need to function. It’s economic spring cleaning. If you’re a cook, or a construction worker, or math teacher you’ll most likely survive. If you do some funky job you can’t even explain, you’ll likely be looking for work very soon. You can feel bad for the people losing these zany jobs, but also ask yourself if we actually need them to get by as a country. My greatest hope is that we will go back to buying our cars at the local Ford/Chevy store, getting bread from the neighborhood baker, and buying from local businesses before going over the Internet. But I won’t be totally happy till I drive by a backyard and see kids playing tackle football while two neighborhood dogs rumble somewhere to the side. Then I’ll know America’s made it all the way back. Until then . . .

Brian Huba

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