Boring Adult Things, Politics

It’s About To Hit The Fan

Nobody may care, but there’s been a lot floating around my mind over these last few months and even years on the direction we’re headed as a world economy, and how we need to best prepare ourselves for an inevitable bubble burst.

I’m not an economist. I’m not a philosopher, or a professor. I’m not a politician. I am indeed the product of my doomsday-focused father; I don’t always expect the worst but I’m not exactly a Pollyanna.

I also think if you’re open to the signs, it’s clear the path we’re on economically cannot last. And this new administration is going to rush the explosion.

First, here are my predictions.

  • Our healthcare situation is going to revert to the way it was back in the early 2000’s, and continue to get worse from there. Baby Boomers are at the greatest risk for an implosion of the system as we see those in poverty and old age unable to afford private healthcare, and going to hospitals for expensive treatments they have no coverage for (we already saw this happening pre-ACA; not that ACA is the be-all-end-all of solutions, but its intention was to help quell that). Those costs will inherently be transitioned, as they were and have been, to those paying premiums on their own healthcare coverage. Put simply, the ant is bearing the burden of the grasshopper. Costs will continue to balloon. Boomers and lower classes will drain the middle class in both healthcare and social security. To me, the way out of that is to create policies that benefit everybody so costs aren’t hidden in their transition to the middle class but more evenly distributed between the supremely rich and the poor. That’s a big reason I’m a Democrat in spite of it seemingly being outside of my personal favor as an upper-middle class white person. It’s proven economic logic.
  •  Job losses will continue. I don’t say this because we’ve got Republicans in office (although that won’t especially help); I say this because the world is changing much in the same way we saw with the Industrial Revolution. Forcing companies to “keep jobs in America” (which is a ridiculous approach to begin with) is going to result in those companies automating the jobs they’re outsourcing – not paying premium prices to workers in the States. These companies will pay for robots. Machines. Code. The same kind of code Brandon implements that saved his company multiple jobs last year. You can look at that as cruel, heartless, callous. Companies will look at that as Capitalism. Cheaper labor than anything they’d get overseas. I’m sorry, America. Your jobs aren’t coming back, no matter who promises you the moon and stars.
  • We’re in a bubble. Like, a friggin’ huge bubble. Stocks are rising. Venture capital is outrageously pricing tech, to unfathomable and unsustainable degrees. Real estate has bubbled to nearly pre-recession levels, and brokers are giving the same kinds of crappy loans they always have, and calling them new names. Americans are over-extending themselves with the false security of a healthy economy. Banks are going basically unrestricted and our country’s debt, meanwhile, is high beyond the point of reasonable recovery due to the bailouts that saved us from our mini heart attack in 2007.

 

These shifts are, short-term (over the next decade), going to create a massive amount of unrest, joblessness, poverty, and class division like we’ve never seen in our lifetimes. Call me Chicken Little, but when this bubble blows, I anticipate a worse situation than the Depression. We’ll have the largest generation in history (Boomers) draining the resources of all those younger than them, coupled with crippling joblessness and national debt.

Long-term, this is actually a good thing. It will mean that by the time the Boomers die out, a large generation of Millennials and Gen Z will be able to replace them with new policies, new habits, and more spending power than they’d had when the bottom fell out. It will mean we adapt to fewer people working in general, and companies forced to pay premiums in taxes for those they no longer hire. It will likely, one day, mean a guaranteed minimum wage similar to welfare being implemented at larger levels, but companies also being taxed accordingly to pay for it. It will also mean a transition to significantly less consumption, stronger environmental effects that will help combat global warming, and the resetting of an over-inflated world economy that was destined to collapse.

But there isn’t avoiding the fact that we’ve got a rough decade ahead of us.

 

I can’t tell you what to do, or even what the smartest ideas are out there to prepare for this burst. Because I truly believe it’s not a matter of prevention (it’s going to happen), it’s a matter of preparation. All I can do is tell you what we are personally doing, or trying to do, to help offer some ideas as you plan for your approach to life. Will you be the grasshopper, who finds himself facing a cold winter unprepared, or the ant, who stockpiled his resources for the days to come? I can’t answer that for you, and I can’t guarantee we’ll come out unscathed. I’m sure, in fact, we won’t. But to bury your head in the sand is the one action we know won’t help in the event of something bad happening.

  • We’re living beneath our means. Duh, not everyone can do this. But we tried doing this early on in our careers so we could maintain a similar standard as we worked our way up over time. We own a home that cost 1/5 of what a bank told us we could “afford,” and we invested in a neighborhood that was on the low starter end of its bell curve. We didn’t over-extend ourselves to maximize equity. Our home has risen in value over the years and even if the economy bottoms out to pre-recession levels, we don’t anticipate we could go underwater. But regardless, this approach also means we can afford to keep our home in the event that one of us loses a job. At the time, we planned that way because we are both in a tenuous industry (ad agencies). Now, we’re grateful we did in the event of larger-scale economic redundancy. Don’t get me wrong: we’re not perfect at this, and not by a long shot. We take a lot of damn vacations. We travel. We spend a lot of money renovating the house. We have roughly 6 million pets we feed. But we’re trying our best to save our pennies and live below our means.
  • I’ve stopped investing in my 401k this year. WHAT?! That might sound stupid, but hear me out. Brandon gets a company match, which we maximize, because we’re leaving money on the table otherwise. I get no match as a self-employed person, outside of what I match with my own S-Corp umbrella (a long, complicated conversation that may lead to me eventually investing again for tax reasons, but there’s a balance to be struck). The stock market peaked in mid 2015 and has been slowly sliding ever since. The money you invest in your 401k today has a reasonable chance, in my prediction, of being worth substantially less in the next year or two. My theory is I’ll wait, save my money in a low-earning but “safe” bank account, and buy up bottomed-out stocks when they are at their lowest values. Timing is hard to predict, but it seems to make more sense to me than investing in a stock market at the top of its game. Now, this does nothing for us in the case of the dollar losing its inherent value. Which is why…
  • We’re considering diversification. That’s an easy statement to make and much harder to confidently implement. I don’t see real estate (at least in America) as a safe bet. What is the commodity that will thrive in a down economy, though? Specific international bets in either money or property? Gold? Gasoline (ha)? Bitcoin? Weed? This is the kind of research we need to do to ensure all our eggs aren’t in the American Dollar Basket. This might sound extreme, but by at least diversifying some of what we have, we’ll hedge our bets against everything going down the tubes.

That’s a short summary of standard things we’re doing to try and brace for the impact of a possible collapse. It doesn’t mean we’re changing our entire lifestyle or burying a bunker in our backyard, but it’s better to try and be safe than sorry, watching the patterns of history repeat themselves. What are you doing to secure yourself against the gravy train ending soon?

Boring Adult Things, Politics

Turn Your Frown Upside Down

I’ve been in a pretty significant funk for the last few weeks, like many of us have. I don’t see coming out of it anytime soon. And I don’t frankly care about being called over-sensitive or a whiny Millennial or whatever kinds of insults people think are warranted these days, because my opinion of those lobbing them is below most pond scum.

But for my own sanity, I have to find silver linings, and I need to lift my spirits. I have to remember how much there is to be grateful for today, the day of one of two baby showers being planned for our little one, who is in his seventh month of gestation. Very soon, Brandon and I will be a family with a baby, and he will turn our lives upside down.

I can’t wait to take him to the zoo and watch him grow, read books with him and teach him how to talk. I look forward to his hugs and cuddles, and to taking him on trips with us so he, too, can become a citizen of the world. I look forward to watching him love all over our animals, and learn to ride a bike.

I’m hoping that by doing our small part to bring a beautiful, considerate, race and diversity-conscious little boy into the world, we will be giving something back and not just taking away from the planet. We are so lucky to have that opportunity.

Today, I am thankful for my growing business, and the supportive people I work with, who are as happy as I am that I’m expanding my family. I’m thankful for my clients and the ease of this transition into self-employment – because even though there’s been a lot of effort, I can’t complain about where things stand.

I am thankful for a family who loves and understands me, supports me, and holds the same core values I do. I am thankful for a husband who is the kindest man I know.

I am thankful for a world that is full of hope, and different kinds of people. I am thankful for whiny Millennials who won’t let a wrinkle in time permanently crease the future. I am thankful to be part of a moment in history in which my actions will truly be for the good of others, I can put my money where my mouth is, and schoolchildren will one day read about right and wrong – and I will be able to say I have no regrets.

I am thankful for my pets, who are blissfully ignorant of anything other than our love, and the occasional fallen piece of turkey.

Today, I am thankful for life. And tomorrow, I’ll try to be thankful for the future.

Politics

To the people in my hometown who voted for Trump

Hey.

It’s been a while since I spoke with you. It’s intentional.

I lived among you in a small Georgia town during a highly charged time in my life, my teenage years. During my time with all of you, I felt marginalized, pushed to the fringes, and completely unheard. I was told regularly that I was going to hell, my beliefs in tolerance and acceptance of others were naive and unholy, that had I dated a black man I would be socially rejected, and that all the things I’d been raised to hold dear were patently unsupported.

I have never felt more alone than I did among all of you.

I have had so much anger and resentment over 2016’s election. I can’t fathom how anyone with a heart or a head could have voted for a monster. But I forget that 14 years erases many memories. I forget I’ve been living among my people since I ran away from all of you.

I realize in this moment, though, that in the same way I felt so ostracized and erased by you, you’ve felt the same way for years about the city folk I find my home with. Your way of life has not only been threatened, it’s been all but erased for years, and you are desperate.

I believe many of you were racist, xenophobic, and homophobic when I lived with you. I also believe, and hope, that most of you have evolved in the past two decades. I have watched many of you fork away into lives of your own outside of our country town, choosing to expose yourself to a point of view other than your own. I have also watched your town begrudgingly welcome “some gays” who renovated plantation homes near the church – and then, much to your shock, join your Baptist church. (“They’re actually very nice; we were concerned they were heathens but they’re actually normal people.”)

I have seen the race gap closing by micro-inches at a time, as your Millennials marry each other and give birth to some of the most beautiful, race-ambiguous children you’ve ever seen. I can see the stigmas falling away, albeit 30 years behind the rest of the world.

I am furious at you. But I don’t believe most of you voted Trump out of hate.

We elitist liberals, particularly those of us who have the inherent benefit of being straight and white, have the privilege to denounce you and scream, “How can you care about your taxes when my rights, and the rights of my neighbors, are at stake?”

I forget quickly that if I’d asked, your response might have been, “How can you care about your neighbors’ rights when my family can’t eat?”

I get it. I get it. You needed a system shake-up and you voted for the man who promised it. Your jobs are disappearing and your town is dying. The Town Square is a shell of its former self and the church is rapidly losing members. Half the county is on welfare and you struggle between needing to enroll yourself and chastising those who milk the system, because you’re proud of how hard you work to support your family, even when tough times make your paycheck meager. Washington hasn’t given a shit about you for years, and even though I believe he tried his damndest to pass legislation to help you and was often stopped by dissenters from the opposite party, Obama has indeed largely failed on his promise of change for you.

Your desperation urged you to miss the hint that Trump (and I say this with no quiver in my voice) will fail you, spectactularly. He has only ever demonstrated one consistent value in his life: pure and total self-interest. I suspect you see this, too. But you also knew for sure (and I’m apt to agree) the alternative would fail you as well. At least this guy screamed, “Fuck the system.”

Here’s where I can’t go: I can’t accept that we’ve landed here. I don’t actually believe that in this long ideology war between you and me since I lived with you, that I lost and you “finally won.” I don’t think it’s about winning and losing right now. It’s about fixing this terrible mistake.

Let’s all agree on a few things, if we can.

  • The system has failed you, and we failed to notice.
  • The person coming into power will not save you and now has no incentive to care.
  • This awful moment has presented us an opportunity to change the system for the better. Because for all the awfulness that came out this week, we liberals now have an incentive to listen to you – and we wouldn’t have otherwise.

 

But I need you to understand the side that is so passionately protesting right now as well. For our fault in ignoring you, you have also adamantly chosen to insulate yourselves from our side. Let’s be clear: this is not an issue of sour grapes, it’s actually an issue of the same Christian values you yourselves promote. Tolerance and love of others, inclusiveness and making people feel safe, finding the common humanity in others. And on Tuesday, everyone who wasn’t a straight white man felt as marginalized as you have for years… and even worse, they lost all sense of personal safety. WWJD?

We have to fix this for them, too. The easy road is to live inside of a bubble and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. But this road will end. You have the choice now to embrace another path, and to get outside of your comfort zone to recognize the hate wrought upon this world because the same system-shaker you supported is also tacitly encouraging a civil war. You must do the hard thing, the uncomfortable thing, and open your minds and hearts to your fellow man. Wear your safety pin knowing you voted with your heart but need to change your mind. Our country depends on you right now, because without your support, in four years, we will oust this president and return to status quo. Without mutually working on empathy, we will continue to fight each other.

I am angry with you. Against all the values I was raised with, I dance on the precipice of hate. But I am trying to understand your fucking side, because I know there is one. I just need to hear that you’re going to work with me to fix this disaster we’re in, so some of this anger can dissipate and you won’t feel pushed back to the fringes the next time around. So that as we ride this roller coaster of horror for the next four years, we agree that we’re all going to fix it and truly not let love trump hate… on either side.