It’s raining again. Ah, that feels good. Rain means water for me, my garden, and for everyone else. I like rain. When I am hiking I prefer the endless sunny days people romanticize; but even then, I hope it’s rained or snowed enough so I can find drinking water. Yes, some of us who live in Western Washington actually like it wet and drizzly. I find clear blue skies a pleasant contrast, but when they go on for too long I begin to worry. A bit of a storm, occasionally, is a good and necessary thing – even when it involves thunder and lightning. I suspect a broad sectors of our economy expect eternal sunshine. They’d even abolish the night if they could manage it. I also suspect, there are storms headed their way, our way. At times like this, the frugal motto of ‘saving for a rainy day’ becomes more than just a good idea.
Western Washington has fewer lightning strikes than most of the lower 48 states. (Here’s a bad example of siting; Southern Florida, NASA’s main launch site, has more lightning strikes than most of the rest of the lower 48. Rockets filled with fuel, big electrical bolts; it’s a wonder nothing has gone boom. But hey, orbital mechanics favor Southern Florida, so there the rockets launch.) While many will complain about the fast changes in weather, the climate is fairly benign. The good news is that most long-term residents find simple ways to deal with the rain: better clothes, a good hat (skip the umbrella), good shoes, and an accepting attitude. I’ve been asked why Seattle inspires so many entrepreneurs. I think it is because the area requires pragmatism and perseverance. Other regions do, too; but, they tend to have either brutal winters or brutal summers that interrupt projects. Here in the land of the blue tarps, we can more easily accommodate the conditions and continue.
Some of my most thoughtful posts pull in the least traffic. I’ve been writing long enough to know that the things I consider important, others consider inconsequential. If you’re a writer, don’t be surprised that your most impassioned thoughts are dismissed, while seemingly trivial comments strike deep and wide chords. If you’re a reader, don’t worry about what I consider important. You have your own priorities. Respect them, regardless of what I write.
My previous post was about Assets Chasing Assets, the global money merry-go-round played by wealthy institutions and individuals as they seek the best return on their investments. The merry-go-round is revealing itself to be a game of musical chairs as wealth tries to find safe havens. For a while, quantitative easing and the resurgent stock market provided profitable homes for wealth. Keep dancing. Waltz the money around regardless of the asset as long as it grows. Money makes money without regard for providing a service to anyone except the owner. That can work, for a while. But, like any place that is predominantly sunny, a bit of rain can cause flash floods, and the rain doesn’t always come in as a drizzle. Cloudbursts happen. Bloomberg echoed the worry about one of the last havens for wealth, bonds; which are now increasingly likely to pay negative interest rates. The music continues to play, but the players are noticing the song isn’t the same.
Another news piece went by today. I didn’t catch the link, but I remember the essence of the article. When in doubt, grow a garden. Money worries are solved by money, but if you can feed yourself then you are rich in the most vital product. If everyone is worried about money, then your goods and services are in demand. Gardeners and farmers are aware of the figurative economic rains and the literal meteorological rains. Water from the sky is an opportunity to grow plants. Mild economic shifts are opportunities to adjust and adapt.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the majority are either unaware or expect that any financial storm we encounter will be manageable with little upset to daily routines, personal finances, or plans. For everyone who survived the Second Great Depression (aka the Great Recession), can survival prove resiliency. The good news is that Americans are more likely to concentrate on getting out of debt rather than assuming raises in wages or house prices will fund living on credit. America’s middle and lower classes were definitely aware of that storm blowing through. Personal finances have improved, or at least spending habits have changed enough that shopping malls are having to redefine themselves. People got wet, some were even underwater (or at least their houses were). People have learned. Not everyone, but enough to give me hope that they’ll adjust to whatever may happen.
The people who experience the greatest change may be the least ready to cope. If they’ve always been protected from the elements, have always been able to adjust the environment or shift to a better position, then their reaction can be much more dramatic when the rains come in with wind and thunder. These are also the people who are practiced at exercising power because they have the necessary resources to engage lawyers, lobbyists, and publicists. When the elephants dance, or even stomp around, the rest of the critters scatter – at least for a while.
There are a couple of TED Talks describing system analyses of the global economy (James B. Glattfelder: Who controls the world? & Didier Sornette: How we can predict the next financial crisis). In both cases, they found the economy is unstable. The instabilities are expected to grow. The markets and the economy have always gone through swings; but now they may be getting larger. One of the analyses suggested that the next downturn would be worse than the Great Recession (all the more reason to start numbering it, as in the Second Great Depression.) If that was bad, this will be worse.
For people who adapted and adjusted based on their experiences of the last decade, any subsequent upset will likely be more manageable because they aren’t expecting eternally sunny skies. It may still be a massive storm, but they’re more likely to weather it. For people who thought they were insulated from any upset, some will be right, but many may be traumatically surprised. I suspect that any recovery will be partly defined by their reactions and the leverage they’re established.
Whether a financial storm hits or not, it is a good time to remember to; “Spend less than you make. Invest the rest.” And to remember that the best investment may be in yourself, your garden, your community. If we’re lucky, instead of a storm we’ll just have a long period of steady drizzle with a few sunbreaks – just like living in Western Washington.
(As for Western Washington’s weather, let’s also keep in mind that there are pockets that are temperate rainforests with over 120 inches of annual rainfall within a hundred miles of places with only 16 inches. Generalities matter, and so do details.)