Okay, time to be worried

Who is John Galt?

It’s nice that they made a movie out of the first part of Atlas Shrugged. I don’t know how many people actually saw it, but maybe that means that when I’m moved to ask the question I’ll get a few less blank stares. I love the expression, how its meaning in the book so clearly says what I want to say when I want to use it. I used to have a “Who is John Galt?” license plate frame on my car, but this really just resulted in people asking me for an answer, which is either very complicated, or a simple answer of “a fictional character from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand” which is pretty meaningless. So when it broke I didn’t replace it.

You know what other fiction line is in my head a lot? It’s that line from Pretty Woman. Vivian says it, but it’s more when Edward says it, when he sort of gets it and he tells Phil, “We don’t make anything.” Phil says, “We make money, Edward.”

That’s where we seem to be now. Not a whole lot of widget-making going on. Not a whole lot of people building stuff. For years the country has just seemed to be turning into one big service industry, serving itself, income generated going to suits who have no idea what their company is about because they were brought in from some other company in a totally unrelated field. They weren’t brought in to help the company do what it does better, they were brought in to make more money. They’re not invested in better, just in more. They’re not invested in the company, just their own resume, and they make decisions that make other suits happy, until they’re not, and then they go on to some other headquarters.

I have a feeling that anyone who’s spent quantity time in retail over the past few decades knows exactly what I’m talking about. As an employee and as a customer, it’s hard to feel a sense of loyalty to a company when the people running it don’t seem to have any such devotion to its standards or the people who support it.

So of course when Walmart’s telling us we can “live better” by shopping there, buying foreign-made widgets at lower prices, why shouldn’t we? Times are hard and who can afford to pay more for what they need when they can get something perfectly serviceable at a lower price? I totally get that. It’s hard to condemn people for making those choices, especially when inflation is such that it becomes, really, about what they can afford and it’s not much of a choice at all. Why should anyone buy higher-priced, American made products–going out of their way to even find them!–and have to deny themselves some of the extras in life when they could get similar stuff cheaper and have more?

So I get it. I get why we are where we are. It just scares the crap out me.

And boy did it scare the crap of me last week at Disney World. My six-year-old daughter and I drove down there for her spring break. I find myself at Disney probably a bit more than the average person. It’s not a multi-thousand dollar, once in a lifetime trip for me. I’ve got family to stay with down there and we try to keep it on the cheap as much as possible. So part of what I know about Disney is that it just doesn’t have an off season. There’s no time you can go when it’s not crowded, when you don’t have to wait for everything, etc.

Um, except right now. The last week of April was lovely. The temperatures were great. There were two days when it was quite sunny and in 90s (hey, it’s Florida), but even those didn’t seem bad at all. No pouring rainstorms in the middle of the afternoon. Overall, a really nice time to go down.

Wow, I’ve never moved so freely around the Magic Kingdom. Seriously. I don’t think we waited an hour for anything. Tons of the rides were listing 5 minute wait times. I didn’t use Fastpass (the special ticketing thing where you get a reserved time to come back and don’t have to wait the standby line) once this trip. There was really no point. It generally would have been more hassle to remember the Fastpass return time and hike back over to the ride than to just wait out the relatively short line.

It’s not like it was totally dead, but damn, I have never seen it like that.

It’s sort of easy for me to be in denial about how things are going. I know that my husband’s business is home-construction related, that it has suffered big-time, that they’re barely keeping their heads above water and barely getting enough orders to keep the lights on and to keep the few employees they have left in hours and paychecks. But he’s a strong, silent type, isn’t one to talk about it much, and we go on hoping the whole housing thing will pick up.

Somehow it’s easier for me to be in denial about what’s going on in our area, with the business that pays for my groceries, but 5 minute wait times at Disney World I can’t ignore. Go figure.

Yeah, this is what I take away from a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. I’m just angsty like that. While sitting around waiting for the Electrical Parade I started thinking about how Joss and Dylan had never been to Disney. Got all maudlin and shit and almost cried. But, you know, I decided that James Patterson probably felt this about his bird kids too (I forget if that was book 2 or book 3 of Maximum Ride) and was thereby excused.

I guess the bright side type message is that if you can possibly afford to make the trip, now seems like a great time for a Disney vacation.


Filed under Laws of the Universe, Signs

8 responses to “Okay, time to be worried

  1. Claire

    Yeah, when Disney’s a relative ghost town, you know shiz ain’t right.

    HOWEVER. I’m going to ignore the depressing things in this post (because, like you, I tend to fixate and get into those bad-thoughts-feeding-upon-bad-thoughts cycles), and instead will just say how much fun it would be to go to Disney with you. WOULDN’T THAT BE FUN? Think of the shenanigans we could get up to, the rides that would be ridden, the pink that would be worn. I bet we could find a unicorn there. You KNOW Disney’s got a stash of unicorns. Maybe we could FREE them.


    • They probably have the unicorns in the effing vault where they hide the movies so we can’t buy them. I hate that vault. Freeing those unicorns is a moral imperative. Do plan it.

  2. I’m planning on going to Disney World in October. My friends always go then because it’s not crowded (and now my book sales money will allow me to go with them!) I can’t imagine Disney not being crowded in April. Although, all spring breaks aren’t at the same time, so maybe a lot of people are still in school. Yeah, it’s just like me to always look on the bright side.

    You seriously have a point, though. Things aren’t looking good for a lot of businesses. Although, our business here at work is really doing well. And we are getting a few new big companies, including Amazon, moving into our area which will create new jobs. So locally, I’m seeing better things. Over the entire country…I’m not sure. Right now I just want to stick my head in the sand and not worry about it.

    • Speaking of on the bright side, the tornadoes and storms were horrible. But I went to knitting today and heard about everyone’s damaged roofs, torn siding, etc. Everyone’s waiting for the insurance adjuster. And I realized that so many of those businesses and tradespeople who have suffered the damaged economy for so long are finally going to see some work. Maybe there will be some new hires for a bit. Maybe it will be the saving some people and their homes. I dunno, that’s just what I was thinking today after I got some of this yuck out of my system.

      • There will definitely be more work for carpenters and other workers for the repairs and cleanup. It’s really weird to go to work every day and see spaces where trees used to be. And vehicles smashed flat where trees have fallen on them. And houses destroyed. It’s really bad for those people, but will create work for others. It’s kind of a bittersweet thing, you know? I just hope this year gets better. Between my mom’s heart attack and staph infection, devastating tornadoes, my son’s divorce, and now my friend’s death, this has been a bad year so far. And yet, I’m still optimistic girl. I must be a little crazy.

  3. Joe

    We definitely need to be concerned about the economy, and I agree with a lot of things in your post here. However, the juxtaposition of Rand’s work and the current economic crisis is pretty jarring to me. The current crisis was not caused by inflation, foreign manufacturing, or outsourcing jobs–it was caused by the burst of a housing bubble that was in turn created by a massive deregulation of lending institutions, compounded by the investment banking community’s clever dodge of banking rules by turning the financial instruments involved into credit default swaps, thus spreading the toxic assets around so much that nobody was sure who owned which bad investment. This triggered massive insecurity about any new investment, and the flow of capital stopped. Voila–instant recession.

    In other words, the current crisis–the reason there’s very little money moving anywhere–was caused by unrestrained, unregulated capitalism, the exact thing Rand advocated. I think she would also be dismayed by the ideas that bringing people in to run a business to make more money is somehow a bad thing, that buying a more expensive thing when a cheaper substitute of identical quality is available (that sounds like charity!), and that services are not worth consideration as economically valuable.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned about these things–I think we need to think about them very carefully as a society. I just think Ayn Rand’s ideas go in the opposite direction of the solutions.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Joe. Obviously economics is not my field of study, nor is this generally a blog devoted to such topics.

      But actually, while I haven’t read much of Rand’s non-fiction, what I got out of books like Atlas was that capitalism, the capitalism she believed in, was about trading value for value. I don’t think the corporate practices we’re seeing so much of in recent years are about that. They’re about finding ways to generate more money without increasing value. It seems much the same as the way the characters in Atlas were always running around not really caring about what was going on with their own companies but looking to make a quick buck by investing in other things or by tearing down their competitors. It’s hard for me, having read the exquisite detail of what she built in Atlas Shrugged several times (though it’s been years since my last read), to get my brain around the idea that she was in favor of simply making money for the sake of making money no matter what. That’s not what I read.

      It seemed to me that part of what she advocated in her fiction was people actually having some guiding principles in making their decisions, in caring about and having pride in running their businesses, and not giving up decision making power to boards and stockholders.

      It’s hard for me to see the current situation as being only about the housing industry troubles, though I’m sure they were a big last push.

      So I think what I said, or at least intended to say, was that I think bringing people in just to generate profit without providing increased value is a bad thing, long-term, for everyone; I think I talked about similar products rather than identical ones; and that an economy with such an imbalance of services over manufactured goods concerns me. I hope that’s more clear.

      • Joe

        You know, I think you and I are in almost total agreement on every point but our interpretation of Rand’s work! I got something different from her books than you did, but that’s cool. 🙂

        Thanks for the clarification!

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