I used to feel like a fool for not being rich.
I'd see friends taking great vacations, hiring nannies, buying fabulous cars and wearing expensive jewelry.
And I'd wonder, what's wrong with me that I'm not rich? During the dot.com bubble in the '90s, especially, it seemed like everyone else knew a money secret.
But not now.
Right now, I'm feeling rich - not so much for what I have but for what I don't have.
I don't have a subprime mortgage. I don't have any credit card debt, either. And I don't owe more on my house than I can sell it for.
With our economy tanking big-time now, that makes me part of the nouveau riche.
In fact, I was made for the coming recession. I'm so used to not being rich, I'm hardly going to notice. I stopped buying things I couldn't pay for a long time ago because I couldn't stand the pain in my stomach when I'd open a credit card bill.
In fact, if my household economy were in the same shape as America's right now, I'd be sitting on the edge of the bathtub holding my gut and rocking back and forth because I'd be on the verge of puking.
Bush inherited a robust economy and a $127 billion surplus - and he's squandered it all like he was playing the slots in Atlantic City, betting the rent, the food, the furniture and our grandchildren's future in the process.
He lost it all and racked up a record $5 trillion debt in the process. China owns us.
Consider what my own household economy would be like if I ran it like Bush has run America. The facts and figures are from Joseph
Stiglitz, an economics professor at Columbia:
- He gave multi-trillion-dollar tax breaks to the rich. (I could go on a spending spree if I didn't pay taxes! Like, I could buy a really cool-looking, expensive toilet with the money I saved by not helping the village maintain the sewer system.)
- He engaged in a ruinous war of choice in Iraq - a trillion-dollar war that's being "paid for" off-budget. (I know! I could start a fire on the lawn of some guy my father hated and feed the flames with borrowed money.)
- He failed to invest in our decaying infrastructure, like levees in New Orleans and bridges in Minneapolis. (So what if the roof is leaking! My husband does a heck of a job bailing water with a bucket.)
- He failed to invest in basic technological research and failed to fund the education of engineers and scientists to compete with the new world brain trust in China and India. (I could create an empty slogan for my kids, kind of like "No Child Left Behind"! Much cheaper than helping them pay for college and med school.)
We're just now opening the bill for all this prolifigate spending. And we're starting to feel the pain.
Some are losing their homes in mortgage defaults; many are thinking twice about the price of gas before taking a road trip; the poor are showing up in greater numbers at the food pantry.
And it's going to get much worse - for a long time. The gap between the middle and upper classes has become a chasm.
But me, I'm rich. At least for the moment. I can afford Rimadyl for my dog Huck's arthritis, I've got food in the freezer, and my 10-year-old car is paid for and running.
All the rest might be stuff I want, but it's not stuff I need.
During the Great Depression, my mother's family ate dandelion greens for salad with their dinner. Sometimes, dandelions were their dinner. They're a little bitter, but they go down well with oil and vinegar. And they're very nourishing.
That's just a little tip to keep in mind should the day come when the cost of lettuce is too dear in your household, too.
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There are 365 days 'til Jan. 20, 2009.
Beth's column appears on Monday. email@example.com
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