The Senate chamber is empty but for Senator Dick Sagness next to me and the voice of secretaries in the back rooms. Outside, spring froze and is again thawing.
It is Friday. The place emptied early. JFAC this morning was about the economy. How can anything not be. Or maybe for sanity we should all find something that is not. It is an oppressive force in here but more so as people around the state try to plan for next month or next year.
There is a danger in that hesitancy to plan. If we are employed and so save our wages and pay off debt, the businesses around us suffer. We don't go down to Jim's appliances to replace the refrigerator that is turning the milk sour, or decide to suffer with the clothes dryer that takes four hours to dry a pair of jeans. We wait, not knowing if we will have a job to pay off that credit card bill.
But in the long run, our savings, or more critically our lack of credit card debt, makes our families more stable. We pay less in interest and fees. This is very hard on Jim's Appliances. But if it and other businesses do OK with the help of those who are still spending, if the employed go to local shops where their dollars circulate better in the local economy, then when the clouds break a bit and we breathe again, less debt hanging over us, a bit of saving to buy that refrigerator with, the economy will rise with all that "pent up demand." We will all benefit as families across the nation end all that "waiting as long as we possibly can to buy what we really need to buy."
For those traditional economists who say we need to personally borrow more so we can spend more now. I say that will only perpetuate a problem at the root of our economic woes. Americans are smarter than that. We recognize that we can't keep running up personal debt at this rate and not fall off an edge some day. The minimum wage can not stay as out of whack with the cost of living as it has been.
Yes, millions are without jobs, hanging on by that thread of little unemployment checks. They may be lucky to pay for food and rent and doctor bills, and are not going to be the ones buying new refrigerators or saving money. But roughly ninety percent of American workers still have jobs. We will make this economy suffer while we save and pay down debts, but when we are ready, this revived middle class may again become a middle class that sets to work to fill and even create new jobs in manufacturing, energy efficiency and alternative power generation.
I sit at my desk in the empty Senate and I know this is an economic quandary of epic magnitude. Who will suffer and pay for the rearrangement of our economy? Will it be families spurred simply to borrow more to buy more things? Or will it be the box stores and restaurant chains we abandon for corner groceries and little diners? The banks and mortgage brokers? Importers of foreign made goods? The credit card companies? Someone will pay. Things will change. If our determination is to hunker down and support the little shops and growers and appliance stores right around us, then local places may not be the ones to go under. We may see a trend away from generic downtowns where the food and shopping is so nearly identical that one might be in New York, LA, San Francisco, Boise or Chicago and not even know it. We may see the rebirth of an era where cities have character and people take pride in what local people make and sell.
That could happen. But it depends on what we do.
Regardless, huge things are happening around us. Banks may go under. More stocks could fall to nothing. But eventually we all do have to replace the hot water heater, the furnace or the car. If we save or at least owe less, we may feel we can do more than that. Maybe we will even save enough to put dollars back into banks, some will start new businesses. The ground will thaw. As a nation we have huge resources, huge ingenuity. Millions work very hard and if we pay them enough to live on and ensure they don't fall behind every time they need a doctor; if we take the weight of providing health insurance off the shoulders of business and families, we will endure. I'd place a bet even, that if we do these things, pay off some personal debt, buy more locally, fix our health care system, invest as a nation in manufacturing and energy, we will thrive.