Tag Archives: economic downturn

Peregrine peddler: a job for hard times?

Peregrine: adj. wandering, roving

Peddler: n. one who travels about selling wares

I think these terms are redundant, but heck, they both begin with P and describe a business opportunity for this economic downturn.

Running a bricks and mortar store is expensive. You have to keep an inventory and pay for rent, utilities, insurance, and a sales staff. Because sales are down, many people have closed their shops and are attempting to conduct their business online – some successfully, some not so much (yet, anyway).

An acquaintance of mine, a jeweler, was one of those who shut his shop. This was unfortunate because at a charity auction some months earlier I had  bid on a $50 gift certificate towards a piece of jewelry or a repair at his store.

I consoled myself that at least the charity had gotten the $50.

But then last week he called to say he’d be in my neighborhood and could swing by and take a look at  repair work. From his old-fashioned doctor’s bag emerged all sorts of tools and spare parts. On the spot he fixed a broken earring, measured my finger for the ring that needed to be bigger, dated, appraised and gave me some history on my grandmother’s watch, and helped me decide how best to convert an old pin into a pendant.  He put all my bits that needed bench work  into those carefully labeled little envelopes jewelers use for repair orders.

My jeweler is forging a new life as a mobile craftsman. (He already had a loyal clientele who trusted him – he’s also bonded – and he’s listed his service on the web.) Now twice a week  he makes the rounds of our county picking up and delivering jewelry from people’s homes.  On the weekends he completes the work in his studio.

Until he gets his mobile business more established he’s gone back to work for a major jewelry chain.  Meanwhile, I sure appreciated the convenience and undivided attention of the house call. And he says he likes getting out too.

Is this the wave of the future?

Prices plummeting – even for recyclables

Prices: n. amount charged to purchase or sell something.

Plummet: v. to drop sharply and abruptly

The stock market plummets. Real estate values plummet. Employment plummets. And now the price of recycled materials.

Visions of Wall-E: a planet buried in waste.

One of my small pleasures these days, since I can’t afford to acquire stuff, is getting rid of stuff. Much of that stuff is paper, which gets picked up once a week, hauled off someplace, then converted into something new and useful.  I’ve also become such a skillful recycler of plastics, cans, glass (and composter of plant materials) that I need only one garbage pickup a month.

However, according to today’s paper, the recycling pipeline has hit a major snag:

The economic downturn has decimated the market for recycled materials like cardboard, plastic, newspaper and metals. Across the country, this junk is accumulating by the ton in the yards and warehouses of recycling contractors, which are unable to find buyers or are unwilling to sell at rock-bottom prices.

Ordinarily the material would be turned into products like car parts, book covers and boxes for electronics. But with the slump in the scrap market, a trickle is starting to head for landfills instead of a second life.

Mixed paper (my specialty!) which sold for $105 a ton on the West Coast in October now goes for about $25. Prices are much much lower in other parts of the country, which leaves the collection facilities with heaps that look like this:

08recyclelarge2

There are no signs yet of a nationwide abandonment of recycling programs. But industry executives say that after years of growth, the whole system is facing an abrupt slowdown.

Many large recyclers now say they are accumulating tons of material, either because they have contracts with big cities to continue to take the scrap or because they are banking on a price rebound in the next six months to a year.

China, once a big buyer of our crap, is also in an economic slump so they don’t want it any more. For quite awhile recycling was profitable for cities and businesses – a little extra income on the side.  No more – all that recycling infrastructure is expensive to maintain if the profit disappears.

We’ve got two possible paths:

  • Dramatically reduce packaging, as well as production of stuff that will need to be disposed of
  • Come up with some brilliant new uses for, and processes to convert efficiently, all the crap we’ve accumulated and no longer wish to keep

If you’ve ever been to a third world country where they lack the infrastructure to process waste, you know what a dismal mess our world could become if we don’t figure this one out. Scary shit.

Presidents: how many do we have? Ask Barney Frank.

President: n. CEO of the USA.
Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), ever ready with the pithy quip says, “[Obama’s] going to have to be more assertive than he’s been. At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time. I’m afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He’s got to remedy that situation.”

Praying: plz make it stop!

Pray: v. to entreat or implore, to address God with a request

Plz: v. LOLcat abbreviation for the word “please”

Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson have had better days. Better months. Better years. Obama’s team cannot come on too soon for them (or the rest of us!).

bernankepraysmore

Cats are cuter.

Pricking the prosperity pipe dream

Prosperity: the condition of being financially successful, flourishing

Pipe dream: illusion (orginally related to smoking opium)

“Oh, you’re just a bunch of whiners,” said a McCain advisor last month.  Everything’s great – just a little problem in the housing and mortgage end of things. Yeah, maybe gas is more expensive than it was, but drill a few more wells and we’ll be fine. Quitcher bitchin’.

Tell that to the people I know.  To a person, we’re feeling the pinch and we’re cutting back on all fronts.

According to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in Clinton’s administration:

…This isn’t a normal downturn. The problem lies deeper. Most Americans can no longer maintain their standard of living. The only lasting remedy is to improve their standard of living by widening the circle of prosperity.

The heart of the matter isn’t the collapse in housing prices or even the frenetic rise in oil and food prices. These are contributing to the mess, but they are not creating it directly. The basic reality is this: For most Americans, earnings have not kept up with the cost of living. This is not a new phenomenon, but it has finally caught up with the pocketbooks of average people. If you look at the earnings of nongovernment workers, especially the hourly workers who comprise 80 percent of the work force, you’ll find they are barely higher than they were in the mid-1970s, adjusted for inflation. The income of a man in his 30s is now 12 percent below that of a man his age three decades ago. Per-person productivity has grown considerably since then, but most Americans have not reaped the benefits of those productivity gains. They’ve gone largely to the top.

Inequality on this scale is bad for many reasons, but it is also bad for the economy. The wealthy devote a smaller percentage of their earnings to buying things than the rest of us because, after all, they’re rich. They already have most of what they want. Instead of buying, the very wealthy are more likely to invest their earnings wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

This underlying earnings problem has been masked for years as middle- and lower-income Americans found means to live beyond their paychecks. But they have now run out of such coping mechanisms.

Coping mechanisms we have used and outgrown include:

  • Women joining the workforce to augment family income
  • Working more hours
  • Borrowing. Big time. Credit cards, home refinancing.

Proper progressive that he is, Reich suggests:

…the long-term answer is for us to invest in the productivity of our working people — enabling families to afford health insurance and have access to good schools and higher education — while also rebuilding our infrastructure and investing in the clean energy technologies of the future. We must also adopt progressive taxes at the federal, state and local levels. In other words, we must rebuild the American economy from the bottom up. It cannot be rebuilt from the top down.

I’m with him on this. It’s a standard public health approach, with long term benefits to be reaped only after the pain of spending preventive money up front.  It’s the right thing to do, just as the right thing to do in Iraq and Afganistan is to build schools, roads, hospitals – ask Greg Mortenson hero of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.

Will we do it?? Not till the Republicans are in a much greater minority.

Meanwhile, I know that as I buy less, the folks who built the stuff I’m not buying have less to build, and the folks who own the factory where these folks are building less stuff are buying fewer raw materials, which means the folks who mine or ship or create those raw materials have to cut back too…. and pretty soon everyone is hurting.

Pimping my practice (of feng shui)

In late May I wrote an article about feng shui for the local newspaper which they liked so much they asked if I’d write one a month for their home & garden section.  This was great news because that first piece drove a really big turnout for my class at a home furnishings boutique in town.  I was hoping it would generate demand for folks to come to my class at Clark College later this year, lead readers to my website, which in turn would lead to more paying clients.

Easy come, easy go.

Just after I submitted my article for July, I get an email from the section editor telling me they’ve made another round of cuts at the paper – staff and content both – and the home & garden section has been greatly reduced and absorbed as a part of the features department under a different editor in the newsroom.

I have a call into her as I write, trying to convince her that feng shui is the perfect discipline for times of economic hardship, because most fixes cost little or nothing.  We’ll see.