Economic cycles are determined by seasons to a great extent, and may even be influenced by lunar and astrological cycles (there is a lot of evidence to support that), but what surrounded me yesterday was quite terrifying. I was at a West Point Grey cafe on the main shopping avenue of Westside Vancouver and found myself the only customer sitting there, while three baristas milled around. It was at this cafe months ago that I went a number of times and had difficulty locating a seat, and now every day it is dead – and so are the surrounding businesses. I overheard gossip about acquaintances going through unrest in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia, and also a global trekker who flew out of Japan ASAP when the radiation soared in March (“it’s coming over here, man”). When other people finally did filter in occasionally an hour later, there were no attempts at add-on sales or chatting up the people to boost their morale and encourage them to spend more. Vancouver is being hit by a high sales tax to cover the expenses of the poorly attended 2010 Winter Olympics, but also people are being squeezed as their credit cards max out and mortgages sap their savings away. However, no one seems to be trying to counteract these trends. Pleasant but minimal service.
Meanwhile, as was the case in the States a few years ago when things were first and continuing to get really bad economically, I do not see any evidence of people stepping up their efforts to make money and to inspire others to spend it. I wish I have my digital camera available when I regularly see customers being treated poorly or ignored because the employee of a place wants to “teach them a lesson” by not being overly responsive. A friend of mine who is Canadian who comes to Canada only once every few years was completely taken aback in March 2010 when she visited Vancouver and the cashier attendant would not watch her bags for five minutes while she went to the restroom. She told the girl, truthfully, that if she wanted to and if the girl were a persuasive salesperson, she could drop $1000 on the spot if so inspired, but because of this laziness, Canada (and the US) are doomed to failure. A few days before when she had her hair cut for $22, the male hairdresser had a fit when she asked to have her hair blown dry (who wants to walk outside in the Pacific Northwest/Lower Mainland with wet hair?). Furthermore, a Parisian American expatriate friend and client of mine just today did a video on YouTube about how she sent an $83 check and special letter to a museum of art in New York to send a book to her mother, and the museum sent her check back to France with a letter that said they cannot accept checks (even though it was through Chase-Manhattan bank) and directed her to their website.
If we want things to recover, we have to step it up. “Socialism” as what we have as an economic system now is highly counterproductive. I do not believe in total market-driven situations, because that is very dangerous and unreliable as well, but when people believe that the state has a lot of power and at the same time there is no chance of economic upward mobility, there is this pervasive apathy. It is a spirituality matter. Money is spiritual. Its origin is not, but the manner it circulates says a lot about our collective state of mind. Even if a place that we work has bad pay or prospects are bad, we have to do our best performance for the honor of work itself. We have to make it valuable, we have to make it interesting. We don’t have to become our jobs, but we do need to revere efficiency in this sector of our lives, or the value of labor will never go up again.
Another step from a spiritual perspective is that we do need to put a halt on some of our technological involvement. We do not need to take any steps backwards, but we do need to limit our technological intake, because it is devaluing our market value. Though we should never reward mediocrity, at the same time, the higher we push ourselves to hit a certain technological threshold in order to work, the more of our productive years are taken away from us in training and zero/negative income. Therefore, spend money on the things that are labor/service intensive or that are real assets, rather than technological investments that send your assets to one institution. Google supposedly has 26,000 employees, and none of these precise jobs existed 15 years ago, but you can bet that at least 250,000 jobs (minimum!) were eliminated across the globe as the capital shifted to that organization (nothing against them).
In the meantime, money will flow to the places that are convivial, fun, and seem busy. Where are the buzz spots in your town that are keeping commerce afloat?
– John Lett (Readings), author of Value$: A Mixed Economy