August 8th, 2009
Those of us attempting to live on what was a shoestring budget even before the Great Unending Recession/Depression have probably been watching the large insanity of vacationing Congresscritters attempting to hold Town Hall meetings with their constituents back home with some bemusement. It’s no secret that the WingNut Network [a.k.a. Fox] and Hate Radio pundits have been inciting their faithful dummies to riot, since this has been ongoing ever since they lost the election last November in a big way. Between the clueless idiots who can’t believe a black man is a real American citizen (or that exotic Hawaii is actually a state) and the Bermuda shorts and gray hair crowd shouting “Keep the government OUT of my Medicare!” one really does have to wonder if maybe there’s something in the water making people lose what few IQ points they might have had back in kindergarten.
Some of us also know that going to a doctor regularly if you aren’t actually sick is not wise, thus are probably better off if we don’t suffer some chronic condition with our very limited access to the health care system than we might be if we had annual check-ups and the ability to demand whatever drug is advertised on television nightly. While it’s a sad truth that ~50 million Americans have no access to the health care system – and that’s an insurance issue – I haven’t seen anybody talking much lately about the health care system itself, which just happens to be the third leading cause of death in the United States.Conscious Living, Economic Recession, Elitism, Health Care, Inflation, Nutrition, Politics, Prescription Drugs, Surviving | Comment (0)
April 9th, 2009
For a great many regular hard-working, tax-paying American citizens the way money works in the modern world is very much a mystery. This is not surprising, considering that money has always been a mystery shrouded in mythical associations, psychological phobias and religious overtones. And designed to be thus by those who do know how money works. When the US Federal Reserve was established in 1913, it was not actually made a National Bank under the control of the government, it was established by and for the wealthiest bankers and Wall Street barons as an independent entity with only ceremonial ties to the federal government.
In a critique of the ancient psychological “money complex” in his book Life Against Death, Norman O. Brown explored the debt-guilt association in the essay Filthy Lucre. Brown wrote, “Whatever the ultimate explanation of guilt may be, we put forward the hypothesis that the whole money complex is rooted in the psychology of guilt.”
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that a development in late June of 2008 that rocked the American financial world went largely unreported in this country. It appeared in an article of Spiegel Online on June 26, 2008, entitled The Shrinking Influence of the US Federal Reserve.Economic Depression, Economic Recession, Government Bailouts, Inflation | Comment (0)
January 22nd, 2009
Even way back last August, before the economy was officially in terminal free fall, the issues surrounding a college education were in the news. CNN Money asked, Is college still worth the price?
Most of us have come to understand how necessary a college degree – in anything – is to being able to ‘successfully’ compete in today’s complicated modern world. Yet the costs of a degree – any degree – is soaring up to four times the rate of inflation even as both jobs and salaries for college graduates are shrinking. How much sense does it really make for families (or students, via loans) to pay $200,000 for a degree so s/he can get a job that pays $30,000 a year or less?
In a rational economy the rapid inflation of college tuition would slow, stop or even reverse as consumers – the pool of applying students – shrank in response to the spiraling costs. But for this particular commodity, there can be no shortage of applicants due to the recognized importance of said degree to the entire future of the prospective student. It is much easier to replace light bulbs and take public transportation to work in order to save on electric bills and gasoline than it is to forego a college education because it costs more than a graduating student can expect to earn.Back to School, Debt, Economic Recession, Education, Inflation | Comment (0)
October 7th, 2008
Food: Eating What You Can Get
World markets continue to take dramatic hits and the Dow has fallen below 10,000 for the first time in four years. Seems a lot of banks and other players are unhappy with the trillion dollar bailout package passed last Friday because it limits their personal golden parachutes and stock option scams. Awwww. Should we call the waaaaambulance for these whiners? Nope. If they didn’t need our money they shouldn’t have begged for a handout in the first place. In the meantime, regular people are having a much harder time putting food on the table as prices rise dramatically and more and more find themselves out of work. This post is a beginner’s primer on how to get food if you can’t afford it.
Before I get to the list of good links readers may find helpful depending on their particular situations, readers should know that many states, such as the one where I live (NC) have budgetary caps on how much relief in the form of food stamps they are able to provide. This can mean that even as increasing numbers of people find themselves going hungry, fewer people will have access to the standard governmental relief. Thus more people must turn to other providers. A good overview of those providers supported by the USDA commodity program is provided at Amber Waves. If your family is in danger of ‘food insecurity’ be sure to familiarize yourself with emergency providers in your area. Cities generally have soup kitchens, places where you can go for a hot meal. Most smaller cities and many towns or counties also have food banks, check into what you will need to provide to qualify.Alternative economics, Alternatives, Barter, Economic Depression, Family Projects, Foraging, Grow Your Own, Inflation, Staple Foods, Surviving, Wild Harvest | Comments (2)
September 24th, 2008
Roadblocks and Interference
As Congress meets today and tomorrow to grill the principals before Friday’s vote on the $700 billion “emergency” Wall Street bailout plan (which has been in the works for months but strategically dumped on us all as an “emergency”), oil companies have instituted “rolling shortages” all over the Southeast. Some areas have been out of gas for more than a week and a half, and the situation is not expected to ease until Monday at the latest. Some gas – a single tanker at a time – is being delivered to stations along the Interstates and is being strictly rationed unless it’s diesel, one station per county.
State police are managing the gas lines to prevent violence, which did break out last week in the Nashville, Tennessee area when people started cutting in line. Food prices are rising so fast the stock boys at the grocery stores can’t mark up the goods fast enough, and the specter of looming fuel shortages for winter heat – or price increases that will force people to do without – is beginning to look very scary.
Bailout or no bailout – and despite the launch of FBI investigations of Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, Lehman Brothers and AIG – the United States may well be fully in the clutches of major economic depression before winter even hits. Whether or not that translates to global recession isn’t much of an issue to regular people, as we here in our own homes wonder how we will survive. This post and several following posts in a new series will take a look at the steps citizens should take as soon as possible to ensure their families will make it through the next 6 months. If depression goes on longer than that, additional strategies will be necessary, some already compiled as series in this blog and available under the “Our Most Popular” header on the left side of the page.Alternative economics, Alternatives, Bank Failures, Economic Depression, Energy, Fuel, Government Bailouts, Inflation, Surviving | Comment (1)
September 8th, 2008
That’s what Angry Bear says about the government bailout of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, announced on Sunday, September 7. It will cost the American taxpayers tens of billions of dollars we don’t have. Why? Because more than 1.3 trillion dollars’ worth of those mortgage bonds are held by foreign countries, primarily China, Japan, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg and Belgium, and they want to know if their holdings are any good.
Now, you might be struck by some of those listed ‘foreigners’. Cayman Islands? Luxembourg? Belgium? Well known for hosting questionably legal accounts for some questionable characters, I suspect we’d find a lot of Americans on those lists. Americans don’t count as “foreigners.” Unfortunately, we’d also find a lot of Russian front companies and Middle Eastern Sheiks as well.
We’ve once again been robbed blind by wanton corporate and individual greed, and we are expected once again to bail out the wealthy speculators whose greed led to the failures.
Predictions for what happens now aren’t pretty. The dollar will plunge, inflation will zoom, regular Americans will have an even more difficult time keeping up. While the richest 1% will have their taxes cut and get their bad investments paid off so they can go speculate on other nifty things like food and water.
So buckle up, fellow shoestring budget enthusiasts! We’re going to get our chance to put all our alternative survival strategies to work. If we do it right, what will arise from the ashes of the late, once-great American economy might be strong enough to last awhile.
Links:Economic Depression, Government Bailouts, Housing, Income Inequality, Inflation, Surviving | Comment (0)
September 3rd, 2008
While those of us in the less-than 95th percentile of the American income scale celebrated a long Labor Day weekend with family and friends, the 2008 Presidential race heated up, took a bizarre turn, and looks more like a “North Country”-like sit-com every day. The New York Times published some Labor Day editorials that are as remarkably honest as they are politically timely in this era of double-digit inflation for basics like food and fuel, the mortgage crisis tossing millions of families out on the streets, and ever-faster distancing between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ that can positively cause major depression if you think too much about it.
Why? Because things are getting worse, not better. Our shoestring budgets can no longer be thought of a a temporary condition, but something we’ll have to work with all our lives. This is what op-ed contributor Dalton Conley commented on Tuesday in his opinion piece, Rich Man’s Burden.Economic Prognostication, Education, Holidays, Income Inequality, Inflation, Politics | Comment (0)
August 27th, 2008
A very interesting piece of economic research appeared this week in ScienceDaily news service from the department of economics at Kansas State University, entitled Consumers Can Predict Inflation as Well as Professional Economists. This of course will come as no surprise to regular people, for whom economist’s double-talk is often seen as deliberately vague and couched in jargon that has no application to those in the lower echelons of economic stratification in this society.
Turns out that the actual price of milk and bread and gasoline can alert the average citizen of increasing inflation rates quickly and surely, and their predictions will then translate into how the family budgets their spending. Apparently one doesn’t need an Ivy League degree and a 5-figure Wall Street income to figure out that things cost more today than they did yesterday. Who would have thought such a thing?Debt, Economic Prognostication, Inflation | Comment (0)
August 4th, 2008
Transportation Costs Hit the ‘New World Order’
The Sunday New York Times offered an in-depth analysis on August 3 by Larry Rohter entitled, Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization.
A decade ago oil was going for $10 a barrel and “outsourcing” manufacturing facilities and jobs to low-wage regions of the Third World began to hit American labor hard. We were all told we must simply adjust to a whole new, world-wide way of doing things, and damn the torpedoes that were decimating labor unions and sending millions of skilled Americans into the minimum wage ranks of burger-flippers and WalMart greeters just to (not quite) get by.
Oil is trading today [Aug. 4] for just over $121 a barrel, down quite a bit from just a month ago when speculators bid it up to $138. The drop is attributed to falling demand as conservation kicks in on the user front. $4 a gallon gasoline and $5 a gallon diesel has cut into fuel consumption big time this summer as regular people choose not to drive if they don’t have to, and transportation fleets pool schedules to ensure their trucks, trains and ships aren’t wasting a drop. According to Rohter the big ocean-going container fleets have slowed down 20% to save on fuel costs, which translates into substantially slower turnaround on the goods.
We all recognize that greatly increased shipping costs as reflected in the upside-down cost of diesel fuel (remember when diesel was always a dollar LESS than gasoline?) must translate into an increase in the price of everything that moves by means of diesel fuel. This means inflation in every sector, at a time of stagnant wages, joblessness and increasing costs of basic transportation, heating and cooling for the average citizen.Bank Failures, Economic Prognostication, Economic Recession, Fuel, Inflation, Transportation | Comment (0)
June 26th, 2008
As the ever-rising price of fuel puts a serious dent in consumer budgets (and summertime vacations), it’s a good time for remembering good advice from the past as well as new advice for the present on how to keep your shoestring budget from being hopelessly busted.
1. Mass Transiting
If you live in a city or suburb with access to mass transit, USE IT. The cost of bus, train or subway fare is less than the cost of gasoline plus wear-and-tear on your vehicle for those same miles. Plus, if you can test on the means criteria, you can get subsidy for mass transit to and from work every day.
Plus many cities offer “express” transit from suburban hubs to the inner city (bus main depot and transfer station). This means the bus doesn’t stop every 4 blocks along the way, and you can get to work or home often in about the same time it takes to commute in your car during peak traffic hours (the express buses generally use less congested routes).
Carpool to and from work if you can. Big employers often have bulletin boards in the break room where people can request for carpooling, and many metropolitan areas provide relatively ‘safe’ long-term parking lots along freeway entrances reserved for carpoolers or express mass transit. This means the people you’re pooling with don’t have to pick everyone up at their homes, but can just pick up and drop off the participants at one location. Regular buses stop at these locations as well, so you can bus to the pick-up and home again.
Carpooling requires out-of-pocket expense just like mass transit does (unless your employer happens to provide the van and gas). It is as cheap or cheaper than driving yourself, as everyone shares the costs. Even if you share a ride with a single co-worker living nearby your costs go down by half.
This requires firm work-scheduling so your participation doesn’t get screwed by your petty tyrant middle-management boss, but many workplaces are beginning to understand that unless they want to give employees a big enough raise to cover transportation inflation, they’d better be accommodating. Some localities offer municipal bulletin boards on the ‘net that allow you to hook up with others who live and work in your area (but not the same place) for carpooling.Alternatives, Farmer's Markets, Fuel, Inflation, Transportation | Comment (0)