Signage of the Times
By James Sandrolini, April 29, 2009
One needn’t peruse the shrinking daily paper, watch cable news or log into their favorite website to receive the gut-punch that is today’s stark, economic end-times. Possibly the best way to experience our deeply sobering financial zeitgeist is simply to drive around the ever haunted streets of American cities and towns. On this side of the street, signs informing dead-eyed consumers that Everything Must Go!, Prices Slashed! or simply For Lease in place of For Sale. Over there, an optimistic Coming Soon! sign for a business that, like Godot, never arrives. All around us, we know the Big Party of the Reagan/Bush, Sr./Clinton era has crashed to a halt; the hangover is excruciating and the massive bill has come due.
Only a year or so ago, it seemed like pretty much everything was for sale in the Land of the Free. Super-sized retail chains, giant, monolith condos and thrusting, Freudian skyscrapers pierced U.S. town and city skylines. Gordon Gekko-style, Wall Street uber-capitalism was unquenchable and unstoppable. That was then. These days, with 12 million Americans unemployed, house foreclosures up 81% since early '08 and 1 in 10 Americans on food stamps, few are buying much of anything. Even fewer seem to be buying the hopeful promise of the government economic stimulus package put forth by the hundred-day-old Obama Administration. Meanwhile, the paleolithic Republican Party has no real plan or ideas to counter Team Obama … but that certainly hasn’t stopped the right-wing online juggernaut from barreling full steam ahead like the careening bulls of Pamplona to Obama's dazed toreador.
Back on Wall Street, Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo are quietly boasting of actual “record profits.” After trillions of no-strings-attached taxpayer dollars have been funneled into the failing U.S. banks – with little if any of that treasure being returned to the public in the form of loans – it’s no great mystery that the Goliath-like banking industry would eventually creep back into the black.
All of this while American businesses continue to hemorrhage jobs and benefits at a frightening clip. More than a few are starting to feel as if their collective collars are being yanked, once again, by the titans of industry and commerce. And considering the very individuals entrusted to steward the economy and government back to its former glory themselves are barely veterans of Wall Street profligacy, there seems to be no irony left to squeeze from the hoary cliché of ‘foxes guarding the chicken coop.’
According to Bloomberg.com and numerous other business news sources, our current deep-recession actually took root around December of 2007. Although there are "sprouts" of positive greening on the periphery of the American economy, the mountain of misery is not yet at its peak. The reason for this is that, unlike previous American recessions in the early ‘70’s, ‘80’s, ‘90’s and 2000's, this one is global. This time there's no rich, foreign daddy to bail us out. It's every nation for itself.
The American Midwest, Deep South and Eastern Seaboard have been particularly decimated by massive job loss, record business failure and heart-breaking home foreclosures. The few U.S. states successfully weathering the financial storm are almost all Southwestern states - oil-rich states that learned the cruel lessons of 'boom and bust' cycles from the 1970s and 80's. George W. Bush's 'lone star' state continues to do unusually well during these drastic days (perhaps providing ever more grist for Governor Rick Perry's secessionist mill).
And across the empty city streets, the Dust Bowl of once-thriving commerce swirls up like ghosts of prosperity past. Welcome to the new boulevards of broken dreams. And their posted-signs of desolate desperation. Buddy, can ya spare a low-interest loan?