Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Phantastic World of the Great Depression 2.0

Every news story I see on the online and printed Press nowadays is about the economy. For the last four months, at least, every story has come up with superlatives about how bad the economy is. We are not even talking about tabloid Press. Serious papers and magazines like the New York Times, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and even the online liberal Huffington Post are full of negativity on the economy and how everything is depressed. Records of all things measurable are daily being broken and negative statistics became the modern day Armageddon that implodes readers' hopes for improvement into a massive black hole.

I tried to verify some of these stories via my local US source, my pal John in Atlanta, Georgia. Sad to say, he sounds even more depressed than the rest of them US reporters and bloggers. Apparently the evil is already happening in the US, big time! The stories sound... true. Scores of companies go out of business, banks use the bail out money for God knows what and continue to deny credit to normal businesses and the common man on Main Street. The remains of the Bush Administration are far from being capable to even keep an eye on how US taxpayer bailout money is being used. Talking about a monumental clusterf#ck! In less than three months the economy in the US imploded. How can that be?!

I have tried for months to experience the same symptoms inside the world I am living in... godforgotten Flanders, one of nine provinces in wee-tiny Belgium, a 'country' with one of the highest population densities on the planet. Is this a place of welfare and excellence? Is it a place where wise government cabinets manage the market conditions so well that we don't yet see or feel the recession, let alone depression? God no! We got the most incompetent cabinet and PM in living memory. It took the sob almost a year to form something that looked like a cabinet, and before his second year in power was over, he f@cked up so big that he had to resign with his entire team. Reason: he abused his position to sell out Fortis to the French. Even Bush wouldn't dare challenge the checks and balances in the US, despite Cheney and his other hawks! Well, our genius PM, Yves Leterme is his name, did just that. And when it came to light, he went cowardly to get his Justice Minister fired first, like Nixon did to Spiro Agnew, before he eventually had to resign himself, under the political pressure.

So, this government lot of ours is way incompetent to even spell the term 'economy' properly, let alone manage it. Nevertheless, despite this monumental lack of skilled steering of the economy, we are still looking for signs of a Depression Made-in-Belgium.

Let me give some examples. Fnac and Media Markt. Both of them being super retailers for all stuff electronics, music, and the like. Something like Best-Buy in the US. The last days before Xmas and the day after (yesterday) I happened to pay a visit to both shops in Ghent, East Flanders. I gave up even entering Fnac as the crowd was so big that people could walk on the heads of buyers to get to their department of choice. The queues in Media Markt were triple the size I am used from the past. Last Tuesday, I tried to enter the parking of the Shopping Center Basilique, West of Brussels. After half an hour of wasting time and queuing in the car, trying to find a parking spot, I made a U-Turn and got my ass out of there as fast as I could.

The entire highway, both ways, between Antwerp and Breda (Holland) was packed in a traffic jam yesterday and the Dutch were to blame. You see, Boxing day is a bank holiday there (not in Belgium though) and scores of them Dutch drove down to Antwerp for shopping. The day before Xmas there have been 10 million electronic payment transactions in the Netherlands alone (2 out of 3 Dutchmen used his/her bankcard to buy stuff), a record of all times. Belgium was not far behind that. All our highways are continuously jammed, on weekdays and weekends, by millions of cars driven by work goers, consumers and vacationers. The Benelux is booming! If you call that Depression, well, gimme more of it. I'll buy that any given day!

So, what's wrong? Many different reasons for that... that's my empirical (as opposed to scientific) cut on it.

1. Folks in the Benelux are real 'slow'. They don't get what happens to the rest of the planet and continue to live in prosperity without bothering. Crisis? What's that? Never heard of it!

2. Folks in the Benelux are great money savers. The liquidity available here is per capita probably one of the highest on the planet if not the highest. So, why have a crisis? Wanna buy something? Get out and buy it! Credit Cards? Who needs 'em! Pay like a Mafioso... cash!

3. There's a real recession, alright, which the known businesses feel more and more, especially in the US where it all started, and then, there is a (Depression) Myth that is continuously driven by the Economy gurus, and the Media Moguls, and their slave reporters, serving a purpose that I don't quite understand. Sounds like the low inflation Euro myth. Since we introduced the Euro as the common currency here, most day-to-day consumer articles tripled in price... bread, coffee, milk, beer; however, the officially stated inflation figures during all this time were less than 3 %. Explain to me that, please!

Based on these experiences, and fed up by the depressing articles of the specialized and the general press, I have a simple proposal to make: Let all News Agencies and News Media run their next edition with a front page looking like: "Folks, it's true, the economy is seriously f@cked up and there's nothing to do about it. Get on with life." And then, they'll have to make sure that they won't publish any single story anymore about nothing and nobody living in Depression, especially Joe the plumber having difficulties to cope with the freakin' crisis! I betsa (I missed her for sure, that Sarah Palin broad...) we'll get over the current recession easier than we ever thought!

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