Friday, July 11, 2008

Would you like some cheese... go with your WHINE?

As I've grown up, I've come to associate the act of "whining" with complaints about frivious problems or problems that were easily solved. I experienced a lot of this growing up. I spent more time whining about mowing the lawn than it actually took to complete the task, for example. I had several roommates in college that whined about not having enough time to do their schoolwork while they spent hours on the couch watching daytime television. That sort of thing.

In a macro sense, the right wing has been calling my side of the aisle "whiners" for a long time. They've made a whole lot of money out of doing so. The entire careers of the Coulters and the Limbaughs of the world have been made on this line of thought alone. I routinely get emails (like the ones that say Obama is a Muslim and that Germany didn't attack the United States in WWII) that lay out how whiny everyone is when they live in America and complain about problems here. (If you don't like it, shut up and leave, etc.)

Yes, I live in America, and I've got it pretty good when compared to residents of places like China, India, France and Sub-Saharan Africa and places like that. I know this, and I'm proud to live here.

But even here we have problems. Some are frivilous and most are not. What really is infuriating is that they are all fixable problems. Most of them would be readily solved if we had serious people taking them seriously.

What is additionally infuriating is when you call out that a serious problem exists, and people call you a "whiner" for doing so. I always thought that problem-solving was a skill to be valued, not insulted. (Maybe this is why we can't seem to solve our own problems these days?)

So what happens when former Sen. Phil Gramm gets a hold of the microphone and begins to address economic issues? He goes on to say that all the worry about the economy is a "mental recession" and that "we have sort of become a nation of whiners." I guess us Americans have just imagined ourselves into a tough situation, that when we complain about high gas prices or not being able to sell and buy homes, we're just whining like babies who don't get their way.

And it is all the media's fault? This argument from the right wing is one that is consistently losing steam. There are a lot of issues with the media, but they've been awful slow on the uptake for the current situation. The housing market, the gas prices and the restructuring of the American economy have been huge stories long before now - and the media's focus was more on the Paris Hiltons of the world.

While Sen. Gramm is right to say that we have tremendous natural advantages, the problem is making the most of those advantages. That's something we have seemed wholly unable to do in many sectors of the economy. I mean, how else can you explain all our advantages being turned into a dismal 1% growth rate? That's a real problem, and pointing it out isn't "whining," it is a legitimate concern.



DADvocate said...

Things were a lot tougher during the Depression and in the 1970s even. I gave up going out to eat lunch more than once a week to cover the increased cost of gasoline. Big deal.

I made an reasonably intelligent decision (I hope) when I bought my house 4 years ago, fixed 30 year loan and a house that I can afford on my salary. If I get layed off, then I'm in trouble.

When I watch cable news they certainly seem to focus on the economic slow down to the point of making it seem worse than it is.

I'm hoping we're in an economic adjustment period which won't take too long to rectify itself.

BTW - Phil Gramm has a Phd in Economics and taught at Texas A&M for 12 years.
And, I've had enough of your whining about Rush, Ann, Sean, etc. :-)

ruby said...

In a sense, all recessions (even the big ones) are "mental recessions". Our markets (and even our money) are a shared dream worth only what people believe they are worth. Thus, their solutions can be to some extent mental ones. I would hope that's what the congressman intended to convey, but it seems unlikely.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

I'm hoping we're in an economic adjustment period which won't take too long to rectify itself.

I think this is exactly what is happening. But how long it takes to rectify itself has a lot to do about how well certain parts of our economy adjust. This one's turning out to be rather bumpy because a lot of folks in leadership positions (both business and government) were not thinking long term in their decision making.

For example, there have been rumblings in the real estate/homeownership industry for years. A lot of real estate was overpriced, there was a boom in building to take advantage of those prices and banks were playing fast and loose with mortgages and investments. That sets up for a classic boom and bust cycle.

There are literally dozens of condos and lots on places like St. Simons Island that are vacant because of the bust. The developers and banks put their money into these projects based on the boom real estate prices, and now there is a bunch of investment that will not deliver a return. Many of these folks are going to take a loss in some way or another, and that makes it more difficult to pay back the banks that funded the development. That's a contraction any way you look at it, as a lot of banks were moving money based on return projections now proving to be fantasy.

While there were millions of responsible homeowners who made good choices, there are also too many folks who got caught in the bust. This affects even the responsible homeowners as real estate prices contract and the buyer pool becomes more limited. As the economy adjusts to rising gasoline prices (which we also knew were coming, even if we didn't realize how fast) and a weak dollar, even responsible homeowners are not able to respond to the adjustment because of the difficulty to sell their homes and take advantage of mobility to sounder markets.

It doesn't take a Ph.D. in economics to see that what has happened short term is locking a lot of our 'natural advantages' (IE our responsible human capital) into economic stasis, unable to adjust to economic changes with the rapidity we need to expand growth.

And while some aspects of this contraction may be mental in nature, there are very real problems underlying this contraction. The mental aspects only add an additional hurdle to get over it and adjust properly.

DADvocate said...

I agree with your comment completely. Lack of long term planning is a major culprit. Too many businesses focus on the quarterly balance sheets and politicians focus too much on what will get them re-elected rather than what it best for the nation.

People have been over buying real estate and loans being made that shouldn't have been for years. I can remember the nuns in grade school teaching us about limited gas/oil supplies in the early 1960s.

The one thing really bothering my about Obama's energy position is that he has made comments about this or that won't help until 5-10 years from now. Well, guess what, if someone had done something 5-10 years ago, we wouldn't be in this mess. We need long term and short term strategies. If Obama thinks a strategy is poor, let him say so. But, because it may take a 5-10 years is not a reasonable criticism if we have a short term strategy to take us through that 5-10 year period.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

To discuss the Obama energy plan's line (and the larger Democratic/Center-Left line) of "drilling now = results in 5-10 years," I would point out that this is traditionally (and weakly, I might opine) my side of the aisle's tactic in such debates: a response rather than action.

Here's the way it works: republican politicians and right-wing pundits advocate immediate additional drilling for oil in the United States in order to bring down gas prices. Democratic politicians and left-wing pundits respond to this specific item by saying it won't help for 5 to 10 years.

I don't think either are very helpful ideas, but these positions dominate the national debate. Both aren't even helpful short term and wasting time arguing about it aren't helpful long term.

The 'drill now' argument is a straw man because we are drilling now, unless "Black Gold" on TruTV has the greatest set construction personell on the planet. Add to this the fact that there are still millions of acres already leased for oil exploration that have not yet been tapped, and the argument can be seen for what it is: a political argument alone.

On the other side the "it won't help for 5-10 years" is useless, because 1) it is only response to the above useless argument and 2) we didn't predict energy prices correctly 12 months ago, who knows what will happen in 5 - 10 years.

Where the argument should be is how and where we drill. The Republican politicians and right-wing are already working the mythology angle in not-so-subtle ways, what with their claim that no oil was spilled during the 2005 hurricanes, and how they are using this fantasy to support their "drill now" argument.

The Democratic politicians and left-wing could really dominate this whole argument if they just hammered how badly oil drilling off the coast has harmed the state of Louisiana, and how few revenues are actually shared by the leases.

Because the question now isn't "should we drill" it is "how and where do we drill," "who makes the money," and "what options are we going to seriously explore so we don't have to face such a rough economic restructuring based on energy prices."