Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Commentary September 21, 2008

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I think we live in a pretty amazing world in pretty amazing times.

This past week has been no exception with all sorts of anxiety being generated about what is going on in our economy. While unemployment rises Wall Street sinks only to rise Phoenix-like at the end of last week with a government intervention that has no historical comparison. The worries floating around Washington DC that we may be heading into another depression period similar to or perhaps much worse than the crisis of 1929 are palpable. The Secretary of the Treasury along with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve are doing their best to head off that eventuality and they seem to be the ones calling the shots at the moment in terms of our economic policy. Articles are appearing this week that our form of US capitalism has been forever changed. These two economic gurus have fundamentally shifted their strategy from attacking the issues on a case-by-case basis, for example the bailout of AIG, and forcing a shot-gun marriage of Bear Sterns to trying to get at the root causes of the instability that we are experiencing. In order to do that they are trying to get congress to approve funds to buy up all the bad mortgages that have been made over the last decade so they can be taken off the books of the banks that made them.

To an average guy like me it sort of feels like the bankers are being rewarded for their folly which was originally driven by the demands of Wall Street itself (other bankers, the investment-types) to continually show growth in their company’s performance so that the bankers can continue to earn the extraordinary incomes they are so used to. I can’t help but wonder if after the bailout all these bankers will pat themselves on the back and go right on earning huge incomes, now at taxpayer expense.  I am not sure we have all that much choice at this point as these free-wheeling types have dug us a hole as a nation that literally puts us all at economic risk. Forget the lack of regulation or oversight of that behavior, how come actions that put the whole of the nation at economic risk, having the potential to destroy hundreds of thousands of lives, throwing perhaps millions out of work, unable to support their families, how come behavior like that is not a crime? I get the feeling that my grandchildren will be paying off the bills we are incurring now for the majority of their lives.

I was up early this morning, went downstairs and flipped on the TV. I wanted to catch up on any overnight news but first I had to make my way through all the early-morning Sunday shows attempting to sell me products and services that I did not need, including some kid who looked to be no more than 25 and certainly younger than 30 years of age, who had found the secret to success in today’s market, but you had to act fast because the window of opportunity is limited and closing fast. I really wanted someone to ask the kid why he was wasting his time on TV, why wasn’t he out there making so much money on the secret that he uncovered that he wouldn’t have to make sleazy TV ads. Maybe he felt he owed it to humanity to spread his knowledge.

I flipped through a few more channels on my way to the news. It really annoys my wife that I just don’t punch in the news channel station but rather flip until I get there. But if I did not flip, I could not linger for a moment on the channel showing the fabulously fit women doing their early morning exercises. I finally made it to the news but it was the kind of news that only gets shown at 5:00am or earlier. You know human interest and interviews of people who are only slightly or less famous. This one clip had a law professor telling his business students to stay in school, go to graduate school was his advice and perhaps by the time you are done the job situation will have improved. Now where did I hear that before? Oh yeah, 1979 I was sitting in class, I think it was a psychology class and the professor was telling us that we should go to graduate school because it was so difficult to get a job out there. I was experiencing déjà vu big time. I think the X-generation, or is it the D-generation, I can’t remember, but the latest generational designation, the one that wants more out of life than just a job (of course none of us older folks wanted more out of life than just a job), the one that hops from place to place in their quest for happiness,  (which was always much more of a fallacy than reality anyway), well that generation has just left the stage, and a new generation, let’s call them the R-generation, for Retro, for they get to worry about all the things that their older parents or perhaps grand-parents worried about, was just created.

There was another interview of a guy who said that based on what was happening to his retirement funds that he was now anticipating that he would have to work longer and spend less in retirement. He said he did not think there was anything wrong about working until you were 80 or so. My mom who just turned 83 and is still working part-time called me this weekend and was asking me questions about what all this turmoil meant to her and her retirement. I had to ask her when she thought she was going to retire. She told me in a few years. I told her not to worry about it. I have not been able to look at my retirement account this week, after all that would mean that I would have to dig up that box I buried in the backyard, and if I opened the box I would be worried that I would find less money in there now then what I put in. There is a lot of anxiety out there.

But all of this Wall Street action and economic concern is pulling our attention away from other notable events in the news. Did you know that 12 pristine parcels have just gone up for sale in the Adirondacks? They range in size from 30 acres to about 1000 acres. Apparently a wood-products company needs to raise some cash and is selling off the land. An acre in the Adirondacks these days is going for about $1000 if it is not on a desirable lake, about $350,000 or more if it is. I have to admit that the one tract on the Saranac River looks very interesting as does the one on Wolf Pond – but that is the hermit in me coming out. Did you know that Hooters is looking for active or passive participants in the restaurant’s rollout across the UK? You know where I live there is a Hooters on every corner, you can’t cross the street without running into one, they are just so fabulously successful. Here is a chance to get in on the ground floor on their UK unveiling. The new Super-collider at CERN needs to shut down for a few weeks for repairs, one week after it was first turned on. (So I guess we don’t have to worry about a black hole eating the earth for a few more weeks – that would be one way to end the Wall Street crisis). One of the super-cooled magnets shorted out and it lost a lot of helium that was at something like 4 degrees Kelvin, just above absolute zero. I guess you can’t run down to True-Value Hardware and pick up some helium that is at close to absolute zero so they are going to have to special order it from the frigid helium store.

We went to a crafts show on the grounds of the Lyndhurst estate yesterday afternoon. Lyndhurst is a mansion on the banks of the Hudson River, built by a traditional-type robber baron, Jay Gould, who made his fortune in the railroad business. The mansion is built out of wood, but all of the wood was painted to look like stone. Jay could certainly afford to build his house out of stone if he wanted, but at the time the really wealthy (instead of buying houses in Vail or the Bitterroot Valley or perhaps anchoring a yacht off of Manhattan) would build a house out of wood and then hire very skilled artists to make it look like stone. The better the artist the more you had to pay them and the more your wood house looked like stone. If people had a hard time telling that your wood house was not actually stone you must have been really wealthy. The things we do sometimes! Call me a contrarian, but I think I would have just built it out of stone, tell everyone it was wood and dare them to tell the difference. Anyway, I had a number of conversations with the artisans at the show, some of whom I have talked to a number of times over the years, about how business was. In general these fiercely independent people, some of whom represent the best of their respective crafts in the nation, told me that business was good. The weather was spectacular, but more than good weather simply bringing out crowds, almost all of them told me that people were buying, a sign of economic hope from the folks in the trenches.

The really big news of the week though was, no not the presidential election or whether Sarah Palin could eat a moose before actually killing it (as the author of “A Moose in the Distance” that is something I take offense to), but rather the big news was something equally regal, my colonoscopy. After putting it off for about a year beyond when I was supposed to, I headed to my doctors office for my second ever colonoscopy exam. I don’t know if the worst part is the stuff you have to drink beforehand to get ready, or the exam itself. But there I was being prepped in the outpatient examination room. A really nice nurse was getting me ready for the exam (I have to say that I am a terrible patient). It took a few tries to get the I.V. in me and then the anesthesiologist came in and ran through a game of 40 questions with me, asking me about my medical conditions. The day before I was reading about a surgeon who had operated on the wrong knee of a patient and I was worried about what would happen if the proctologist became confused and examined the wrong…wait a minute contrary to what some people think I only have one of those. The proctologist came in and we exchanged some pleasantries. And then in a matter of fact tone, he said “role on your side, bend your knees and stick your rear-end out towards me.” As I assumed the “position” I paused and said to the proctologist, “Oren, is this the point where I can call you Oren?” Since you don’t have any dignity during a colonoscopy you might as well have a sense of humor.  Just before drifting off, as the anesthesiologist was injecting something that knocked me out, I asked the proctologist “how’s business, is the end of the economic crisis in sight?” He said, “I think I can see the end now.”

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2009 at 7:46 am

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