Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bring in the Clowns

There it was, right on the front page of my morning paper, a direct quote from one of our brilliant Utah politicians commenting on a proposed bailout of national financial institutions:

"I don't believe this crisis has been caused by an unregulated market. In fact, the free market probably hasn't been given enough of a chance to perform."--Congressman Rob Bishop

No wonder we so often are the laughingstock of the Nation.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Crisis, For Sure

A whole lot of disagreement has been swirling around regarding the state of the U.S. economy. It's been a little hard to really know who's doing what to whom. For some time our president was claiming that the fundamentals of our economy were sound, but even he lately agreed we have some big problems.

Just yesterday, I encountered indisputable evidence that we are in an economic crisis of the most desperate kind.

During my 26 years in the U.S. Forest Service, we often referred to the outfit as the "Forest Service family." That was not a corporate invention of some public relations practitioner. There really was a family spirit throughout the organization.

Employees at all levels did what they could to help each other out. It was almost a requirement to invite visitors from other locations home for a meal with one's "real" family. Supervisors often hosted their subordinates at group dinners or parties as a kind of "thank you" for good work, especially around the holidays. Groups of employees frequently socialized after hours at restaurants or taverns. For some, the organization was the hub of their social as well as working lives.

Part of the mutual help was sharing knowledge of where to get the best bargains on just about anything. If you wanted to find the most inexpensive place to get decent restaurant food in almost any city, you could tap into the Forest Service underground network and the favored spot was described for you very quickly. We were known widely as tightwads. I will admit to that, although I like "careful spender" better.

Some years ago as a combined birthday and Christmas present, I took Sandy along when I had to make a week-long business trip to San Francisco. While I was in meetings, she had a great time taking the various tours available in that wonderful city. One was with a prominent chef who took a small group to lunch at favorite restaurants over several days. Sandy then took me to the best places for evening meals.

The first time we did that, she extolled the virtues of one Chinese restaurant that her host chef had proclaimed the best value in a city famous for that type of food. When we got there for dinner, there was a line waiting to get in that stretched about halfway around a city block. We had to pass all the waiting diners to take our place at the end of the line. Every single Forest Service man and women who had been in my meeting that afternoon was in that line. All had tapped into the value network.

What does that have to do with confirming that our economy is in the toilet? Yesterday, I had coffee with a group of Forest Service retirees in North Ogden. They have been meeting for years on Wednesday mornings in McDonalds, because the purveyors of Big Macs and other health food would sell a cup of coffee to a mature adult for 27 cents. Unlimited free refills were available. These guys knew a good deal when they saw one.

We were horrified to learn that next week McDonalds is increasing the price of a senior coffee to 40 cents. We old Forest Service family members were in total agreement that failed financial institutions and rising gas prices were indicators of problems, but a 60 percent increase in the price of our McDonalds coffee was conclusive evidence of an economic calamity.