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Words from Winterbilt

The future looks good…

Shannon Bohrer

(9/2011) The talking heads seem to think we are in for some tough times. Almost every day someone is talking about uncertainty. It is frequently reported that large corporations have billions of dollars sitting on the side and they will not invest nor will they hire until the "uncertainty" diminishes. Maybe it is not as bad as it seems. Just because money is tight, energy is expected to be scarce, jobs are also expected to be scarce and the price of everything is expected to go up, does not mean the future does not have some bright spots. Sure, we can focus on the "uncertainties" and what the experts think the future will be, but we should also be aware that change sometimes brings opportunity.

Several years ago one of my coworkers, who was an English major in college, had a hobby of collecting movies. This particular co-worker, Carl, was such a movie buff that he often quoted lines from movies, many of which for some reason I had never seen. Several other workers were also movie buffs and they often quoted lines and then the others would guess what movie the line was from. One day, Carl said, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The response from a co-worker was, Star Trek, and Carl responded with a nod and a smile. I then remarked that the line, "it was the best of times; it was the worst of times," was from A tale of Two Cities. With that, Carl, the English major, responded that it was also from Star Trek. Carl was a good person but I think he spent too much time watching movies. Carl was in his mid-forties when this occurred and maybe he forgot what he learned in college. This country is not that old, but maybe we have all forgotten what it was like to live before we had everything. Maybe an economic downturn could be a good thing.

Think of it like this – maybe the country is spoiled. We have over-indulged ourselves for many years and we have built up a national debt and borrowed and spent part of our future. It is time to go on a diet, want less, use less and just be more frugal. Taking charge of our own future instead of looking to the government for security could be challenging and rewarding. You always hear the words of individual responsibility. Well, we could have individual responsibility along with corporate/ business responsibility and government responsibility. Well, maybe two out of three… maybe?

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living.
The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

            Mark Twain

In many ways we should not fear an economic downturn and/or adversity. We should welcome it as a challenge. Without government safety nets, we will not have a choice. You either become responsible or you don’t eat. While this may sound harsh, many would say it is like tough love. If you spoil the child, they will never learn to provide for themselves. For business and industry, lack of a safety net will probably mean more business failures. In a poor economy, if you are too big to fail and you fail, then you could become too big to exist. Too bad the economy did not fail before we have the financial failures. If you recall, we bailed out the financial industry to keep the current economic problems from occurring. Maybe it was a good idea, but from my perspective the only thing that was saved were the executive bonuses. The talking heads and business leaders are always talking about the market forces and free markets being the most productive and yet when they failed congress had no problem coming up with the money! Maybe the economy will be so bad that the corporate subsidies and tax loopholes will have to stop and then we could really enjoy a free market system.

More than 20 years ago, an individual running for congress promised that if elected, he would only serve two terms because he believed in term limits. He also said he would only take half his pay because we had so much debt, and he promised to balance the budget. I would suggest that we vote him out in the next election. Being responsible could include voting everyone out. We have the power of term limits and we should use them to show the congress that we are responsible.

Bad times are not new to this country. In 1933, at the peak of the previous great recession, unemployment was 25 percent, and the numbers were supposed to be greatly underreported. By 1937, however, the unemployment rate was reduced to 10 percent and it was widely reported that the good times were returning. If our economy does turn around in a few years and our unemployment is 10 percent or less, we may think it is a good number. Of course, if you are one of the individuals without work, you might have a different perspective.

Because of the tough economic times there is one very positive fact. It is well-known and documented that individuals who work longer and are productive often live longer. Since many of us will be working more years than we planned, we could be living longer. Of course, we may be working several part-time jobs just to make ends meet. If we should be sick, we could be in trouble. A downside to this is that since so many older individuals will be looking for work, even the part-time jobs that pay less than minimum wage could be hard to find. Thank goodness we have Social Security - well maybe.

Even with all the positives of an economic downturn we can hope that one day the good economy does return. Having a lot of money in "uncertain times" is probably very stressful on business people. However, we should remember that we have been through uncertain times before. On Dec. 7, 1941 half our pacific fleet was damaged or lost, our standing army was very small and we found ourselves at war. We did not know if we were going to be invaded - it was considered a real threat. And then in the 50’s and 60’s we had air raid shelters and air raid drills in schools because of the possibility of a nuclear attack, which was also considered a real threat. I wonder how long the current uncertainty will last.

Experts often possess more data than judgment.
              Colin Powell

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer