Yesterday I stumbled upon a blog brouhaha.
A certain Anonymous criticized a blogger for writing about a party thrown by some artistic friends. In addition to concluding that the vast majority of bloggers were self-absorbed and self-indulgent, Ms Anonymous contended that writing about parties was a slap in the face to struggling Americans. Do you people know there is a recession? wrote Anon.
Well, yes Anon; I think that we are all very much aware of the general economic decline around us. How could we not be? But perhaps -- and this is just a thought -- blogs are a place to get away from the front page and the sliding stock market?
I am the fretting sort, and I can't seem to stop myself from endless speculation and worry about it all. Just as the ancients scrutinized animal entrails for clues to the future, I listen to conversations and scan my own middle-class landscape for signs of economic health or sickness.
Although we know a mostly affluent group of people, the overwhelming majority of them are involved in finance and property -- two occupations which have suffered from a dizzying reversal of fortune. Nobody is talking -- well, not much -- but yesterday I was with a woman who burst into happy, relieved tears when she found out that her son had just won a major scholarship. (Her husband has been out of work for months.)
This weekend, when my husband and I endured a family bout of Monopoly, I couldn't help but draw parallels between the strategies of this game and the real-life financial world.
I taught my children to play Monopoly using Ganny's Rules -- as instituted by my game-loving grandmother. Perhaps Ganny was a trader at heart, because she liked to emphasize the elements of risk and reward. Wheeling and dealing were encouraged, and so was incentive -- in the form of a big pot of money. We always kept a $500 bill tucked under Free Parking, and any tax/penalty money got deposited there, too. If you were lucky enough to land there, you ended up with a fat bonus that could potentially save your bacon. We all speculated wildly, plowed all of our funds into development, and suffered from the dramatic windfalls and declines which made the game a tad more exciting. My brother ALWAYS wanted Park Place and Boardwalk -- the most expensive properties. He would trade for anything in order to get his hands on them. He often went broke trying to develop them, but if he succeeded, he would inevitably drive everyone else out of the game.
Sigmund wasn't having any of that. He made us play by the rules: no extra money; no borrowing; no trades. For most of the game we played in a state of boring gridlock. Everyone owned something that someone else needed, and all property development was thus stagnant. It reminded me our banking industry, frankly. I finally caved in and traded youngest daughter what she needed . . . in a deal that had no benefit to me. Although I had built up a sizeable fortune through the conservative investments of railroads and utilities, I eventually lost it all. There's always that one expensive hotel stay too many.
Our financial world has lurched, sickeningly rapidly, from the first "strategy" to the second -- and now we are in the widening gyre. (This famous phrase of Yeats' suddenly occurred to me, but a financial writer had already gotten there first.) Everyone's instincts are to rein back on spending and tuck any surplus under the mattress -- people are being criticized for having parties, for goodness sake -- but that will just drive more businesses into bankruptcy. (My friend whose husband lost his finance job? She's in catering: mostly weddings and parties.)
Who could possibly forget, even for an hour, about this strange, shaky new world we live in? There is never more than one degree of separation between a person who is still okay -- and a whole bunch of others who aren't. My list of friends and acquaintances read like News items. A friend of a friend lost all of her money with Madoff. A friend is stuck with buy-to-let tenants who are months behind on their rent. An acquaintance had to lay off nearly all of their employees when the Royal Bank of Scotland called in their loan. (Perhaps they needed the money for Sir Fred Goodwin's £703,000-a-year pension pay-out?)
Why shouldn't we occasionally want to read or think about something else?