Thursday, February 21, 2008

(These photos are mostly of the various closets in my home)

Spending more money, buying less stuff: The new "Stealth" recession

"What is the difference between a Recession and a Depression?" I asked an economist friend of mine recently.

"Public relations," she replied. "A recession doesn't sound quite as fierce." Okay. Next question. Why is everyone is talking about America being in a recession right now? I look around me at my neighbors and friends and they all still have jobs. They all still have places to live. No one is living out on the streets. No one is unemployed. Then how come everyone is still talking about us being in a recession?

"This is a STEALTH recession, Jane," replied my economist friend. "Unlike the huge stock market crash of 1929, this one is sneaking up on us gradually. Americans still trudge off to work every morning. They still come home to the kiddies each night. But now you have nothing extra to spend and worrying about money is replacing baseball as the national pastime."

According to a recent article in the Portland Oregonian, "Consumers are cash and credit constrained. They're out of purchasing power.... Retailers across the sector have been laying off staff and closing stores as consumers cut back on discretionary spending."

Oh, I get it. You used to go shopping at the supermarket, spend $200 - $300 a week and come home with lots and lots of grocery bags filled with salmon and steak. Now you still spend $200 - $300 a week on groceries but now you don't even need a courtesy clerk or a shopping cart to get your bags to the car. In fact, to save on gas, you don't even drive your car to the store any more. You walk. Hey, walking is healthy. Nothing wrong with that?

You used to do what is called "Recreational Shopping". Now you shop victoriously at the flea market. You used to go to the movies at night. Now you just go to matinees. And you used to have cable.

There used to be cute little gourmet shops down the street from you. Now you just have dollar stores and Wal-Mart. Your kids used to go to private schools. You used to go on vacations. You used to donate to charity, take in the symphony, get a massage.

And now? You still have a roof over your head. You still have food on the table. You still can afford clothes from the Good Will. Stop complaining. There are starving children in Africa. You still got it good.

But what happened? When did everything change? One day our economy was strong and then one day it wasn't. One day even those of us on the fringe of the American economy could still live off crumbs falling from America's economic table -- work a job here, stay with relatives there, panhandle when desperate, sell stuff on eBay. But now you can't find any crumbs left anywhere.

"Stealth recession."

PS: Why am I writing about this? Because it is effecting me too. I need money like I never did before. I can't remember ever having been this strapped for cash. I need to sell a whole bunch of stuff.

"What kind of stuff?"

Household stuff. Knick-knacks. Old bicycles. Some oil paintings of flowers that my mother left me. An out-of-date globe. Nothing special. Day-to-day stuff. But I don't have a clue as to how to sell it. What should I do? Any suggestions?

If any of you yard-sale junkies out there want to stop by, cart this stuff off, sell it at the flea market and give me 30% of the profit, please let me know. I live in Berkeley. The Ashby Flea Market is just three blocks away.

Yes, I know that money is tight right now. But it is about to get a hecka lot tighter. So I need to get rid of my stuff NOW -- and avoid the rush.


How humiliating! Now I'm being forced to work it on eBay to pay for my reporting jaunts. Here's the listing for my father's antique Japanese Samurai sword so that I can help pay for my next trip to Iraq, my trip to Cleveland for the primary election, my trip to North Korea in April and my trip to Burma in December.

And here's my eBay listing for an oil painting I inherited from my mom.

Good grief! Do New York Times reporters have to do stuff like this too? Are Paul Krugman, Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd being forced to hold garage sales in order to cover their beats also?