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Friday, January 16, 2009

Capital & Labor

I took the family to Iowa a couple of weeks ago for my nephew Joe's wedding. The held the wedding and the reception in the lobby of the newly restored Orpheum Theater. I look at this place, or any other old, ornate, edifice, and I wonder why don't we build buildings like this anymore? The answer always comes back that it costs too much. Now, how can that be? Our country is richer than ever, we have all this fancy schmancy hi-tech equipment at our beck and call, and all we can build is tilt up concrete boxes and glass sided office buildings? Something is wrong with this picture.

I was talking to my Uncle Ed a few years ago before he passed away and he was talking about his early years in the baking business. He would change jobs at the drop of a hat. It could be something as little as he didn't like the way the boss looked at him that morning, or even for no reason at all, he would walk out at lunch and not look back. Of course, he told me, back in those days (the 40's and 50's) you could walk across the street and get another job.

One of the things you hear on the news and sometimes see in police dramas on TV (and I hear about from my wife), is people worried about their jobs or careers. This is a sad state of affairs. Maybe it comes from being married, but I think it is more about the times we live in. People put up with a whole lot more (horse manure) from their bosses these days than they used to. Everybody is worried about their stupid job. This is a really rotten situation.

So I am trying to figure out why things are like they are and not like they were? Why can't we afford to build fancy buildings anymore? Why is everyone so concerned about losing their job now? What has changed in the last 100 years?

One thing is productivity, or efficiency, which led to a real increase in wages for a quite a while. Hasn't been true for the last 20 or 30 years, but for most of the 20th century in America, it was. Better tools, better materials, better training, better planning allow people to get more done, which means they can earn more money.

Problem with more money is people like to spend it. Instead of saving for a rainy day they go out and buy the new ski boat or house or vacation. If you had socked away half of what you brought home for the last, say, five years, how upset would you be about possibly losing your job? It might not be good, but it wouldn't be an eff-ing disaster like it is for most people.

Of course, you have to be careful where you sock that money away. There are always people looking to make off with your money. Right now I don't know that there are really any safe places to store your money. Saving accounts are not much better than stuffing your cash under your mattress. Stocks are always iffy, as has been recently demonstrated. US Government I-Bonds, maybe. I've got my money in mutual funds and I took a big hit this fall. I think maybe the way to deal with this is hope for the best and expect for the worst. That way if anything short of disaster happens, you are still happy.

Update December 2016 replaced missing image.

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