I can envision, “Shut down the dance floor. This party’s over.” “Shut down the trading floor. The trading day is done.”. The only metaphor that comes to mind for shutting down a ceiling are the climatic scenes where the heroes are about to be crushed in some trap. “Shut down all the garbage smashers on the detention level!” Our nation’s metaphor is mixed. The shutdown may mean we run into a ceiling: the debt ceiling. The results can get messy. In this bit of reality, we have to shutdown the shutdown if we don’t want to be squeezed. The shutdown affects millions. Crashing into the debt ceiling will affect almost everyone. Some are screaming into their communicators. Others are trying to brace the walls. Many are finding their own way out.
There’s an amazing amount of talent out there on the Internet. I knew if I waited long enough that someone would create a great entertaining video that does a very good, non-partisan job describing the shutdown. Thank you vlogbrothers. In fine fashion they point out that the root of the shutdown is the bizarre redistricting that ensures incumbents maintain their positions, and that emphasizes extremism. Politicians don’t represent districts. They represent factions, and will redraw the district lines and define party lines that make sure they and the factions are protected.
From my largely apolitical perspective (i.e. not D or R). the shutdown looks like the sort of dysfunctional institution that should be dramatically re-organized. (Bring in the organizational consultants!) The main motivation is no longer managing the country, but rather defending ideologies while preserving careers and power. We have become accustomed to such actions to the point that one defense I’ve heard repeated is that, “It’s always been this way to various extents.” Just because we have bad habits doesn’t mean we get to keep them, or that we get to inflict them upon others.
Remember personal finance? (Mine’s improving, and I thank you for your support.) One of the keys to improving personal finance is to understand the basics: spend less than you make, and invest the rest. It is also a sound business practice. It seems that it should make for sound governance, especially in a government that encourages a (relatively) free market. Yet, while many people and businesses follow those two rules, our government of the people by the people and for the people rarely runs a surplus and is rather lopsided in the way it invests. We spend more on shortening lives than we do on lengthening lives.
The shutdown comes perilously close to the debt ceiling. We’re received many lessons in raising the debt ceiling because we continue to bump up against our national credit limit. We already ran out of money, and now we are borrowing to pay the bills. In a couple of weeks we’ll run into our credit limit. Luckily, we can reset the credit limit, but only if the government is functioning well enough. The shutdown is evidence that well enough isn’t happening.
Government press releases are typically uninspired, accurate, require post-analysis, and ignored except by analysts and interpreters. The US Treasury released a bit of press earlier this week that broke that mold. They very clearly stated that,
“In the event of a default, the U.S. economy could be plunged into a recession worse than any seen since the Great Depression.”
Gulp. But we already knew that, right?
Maybe a public outcry will shift the Congress into action, but representatives are motivated by the votes from their districts. Of course, they aren’t motivated by well-funded interests from outside their districts because that might lead to corruption and we’d never have that. No. No. No. Without a change in motivation or incentives, behaviours don’t change. I suspect there’ll eventually be a resolution that minimizes the political impact and that leaves most of those involved in their positions – oh yeah, and restores the basic supports that millions rely on.
My concern is more on the personal level. So is the BBC’s. They even have a spot on their news page where they are asking to hear from Americans about the effects of the shutdown. I had fun filling that out that form. What are the personal consequences? For me, the shutdown has done little. The debt ceiling is much more likely to have a personal finance effect. (I also pointed out that people living in an earthquake/tsunami zone surrounded by volcanoes are better prepared to cope with disasters, from whatever source.)
The Treasury release mentioned,
“credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, and U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, ”
On a personal level:
- credit markets could freeze – If it was hard getting credit a few years ago, it could be harder now.
- the value of the dollar could plummet – Imports, including fuel, become more expensive. Exports sell better. It is a mixed blessing but one that usually balances against those relying most on the basics of life; because ironically, it is cheaper to live in America if you don’t buy American.
- U.S. interest rates could skyrocket – Want a shock? Go back and look at a newspaper from 1980. Mortgage rates of 13% capped at 16%. Great if you are loaning money. Lousy if you are borrowing it. Also a time when those with money can make more money, and those without are left out. Our inequities become less equitable.
Such times are good times to be frugal, and to not tie your emotions to your money. I can certainly attest to the emotional trauma of massive monetary swings, but throughout it I know that I am not my money. I lamented not being able to pay my bills. I’m now on the cusp of celebrating paying everything, including the mortgage again (as soon as we reach an agreement). Those pains and joys were real, but I keep in mind that my self-worth has been more stable than my net worth. Personal responsibility is key to personal finance, but the financial world is not in our direct control. If it seems like things are rough and a bit irrational, it might be because things are a bit rough and irrational. The best sailor can’t expect smooth sailing when caught in a storm.
I’m continuing to work seven days a week (ala Rule of 7). Thankfully, my two biggest clients account for 39 hours of work each week. The other aspects of my business are gaining traction at the same time. Some of that work will be kept. Some not. As in any transition there is chaos and a bit of stress, which is where I am as I redefine my work life while trying to maintain the rest of my life. Amidst the national turmoil, I am working as hard as possible to reduce my debt, live within my means, and appreciate what life has provided. That’s what I can do. It doesn’t restart the government. It doesn’t move the government’s debt ceiling. But maybe enough of us living responsibly can succeed by providing examples that our representational government can follow. We’ll succeed because we didn’t shut down, and we made sure we stayed as far away from our ceilings as possible. And if they don’t listen, well, at least we appreciate our self-worth.