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Economic Boom Hard To Spot At Ground Zero
Published on Friday, August 11, 2000 in the St Petersburg Times
Economic Boom Hard To Spot At Ground Zero
by Jan Glidewell
 
I'm getting a little weary of hearing all of this rah-rah stuff about the economy.

President Clinton says the economy is good and takes credit for it. George W. Bush says the economy is good and gives the credit to his father and a Republican Congress.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan keeps doing (thanks, Al) little things that he hopes will slow down the economy because we all know we don't want it to get too good. And I am getting a funny feeling that all the numbers the experts keep throwing around have to do with people other than me.

I remember someone saying back in 1974 that government experts had an easy job. All they had to do was convince an out-of-work airline pilot waiting in a gas line with $70 worth of groceries going bad in his glove compartment that he never had it so good.

Okay, so things aren't quite that bad now. I can look at the prices in the meat department of my grocery store without thinking second mortgage (okay, in the interest of truthfulness, third mortgage. I'm still paying for my former meat habit). I seem to have adequate credit, if not money, to pay for the weekly car repair bills from my American-built Japanese truck. And belonging to a PPO (sort of like an HMO but not quite as irritating) keeps me from fainting every time I have to count the number of zeroes on a medical bill.

But I don't feel a whole lot richer now than I ever did.

Although I have decided not to vote in this year's presidential election (or any other until they give us a real choice of candidates) I found myself, almost out of habit, arguing with a conservative friend the other night that the economy did seem pretty good.

"Give me one indication that it is," she said.

"Okay," I said."Unemployment is at almost an all-time low."

"That is because everyone is working two jobs," she said.

I thought that was a low, although very witty, blow.

But it was fair in a way.

The government folks use things they call "indicators" to tell us how good we have it.

Low unemployment, with fast-food joints paying sign-on bonuses to burger flippers, is supposedly a good indicator that things are going well.

Of course, if the shortage continues and the bonus and salary offers go up, then the price of hamburgers will go up and I will demand more money from my boss (who will tell me to go fly a kite) so I can buy more -- or the same number of -- hamburgers.

That is called inflation, and low inflation is supposedly another good indicator that we have it good, which is why the Fed kicks up interest rates once in a while to make sure we don't borrow too much of our hamburger money at affordable interest. That seems to me to have an effect on me, but not on gazillionaires who already can afford all the burgers they want.

Then there is productivity.

Supposedly high productivity (which I think means bosses get more bang for their labor buck) is a good thing, until there are too many widgets, or whatever we wage-slaves are producing on the market, and prices go down.

When that happens, capitalists get nervous because most of them are tied into high-cost labor contracts that won't support lower prices on their products, so they have to go to unions and ask for a break and union people laugh at them and call them bad names and it's all they can do to get to the safe harbor of their country clubs for the early-bird special.

The answer seems to be providing less service, shoddier merchandise and making it more difficult to afford either one, which, again, seems to have more effect on folks at my end of the income spectrum than, say, Bill Gates -- or Alan Greenspan, for that matter.

It makes me want to hurry and be productive and write as many columns as I can before the price goes down and quality begins to suffer.

What's that?

That was unkind.

Copyright 2000 St. Petersburg Times.

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