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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let's Do the Fifties Over Again




I'm old enough to remember the Fabulous Fifties with some degree of clarity. My advice to President Obama: Let's do the Fifties Over Again.

When I was a little kid attending the Mountain View Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colorado (Denver suburb), kids were the silent savers that helped secure America's future. Every week, year in and year out, every kid was asked to buy a savings stamp. The stamps were sold by our teacher in denominations of 10 cents and 25 cents. A thrifty kid like me would buy as many as he or she could. The kids would lick the stamps and put them in their private Savings Stamp Album. When there were $18.75 worth of stamps in the album, it could be exchanged for an official United States Savings Bond. When the bond matured it would be worth $25. And it was guaranteed by the United States Treasury. So you knew your investment was safe.

The government got little kids to give up part of their allowances (maybe) to help finance our way out of the debt carried over from World War II. We didn't borrow from China, Japan, England, France, or any other country. All the countries were recovering on their own from the war. (In fact the United States helped finance some of the recovery in Europe through the Marshall Plan.) So the incremental contributions of millions of kids on a weekly basis really did add up.

I remember my mother taking me to Empire Savings at the Lakeside Mall to open a savings account in my name. I'm sure I wasn't older than twelve at the time. When I made money, I'd always put part of it in my savings account. Believe it or not, I've still got money from that account today. I never stopped saving.

When my mother went grocery shopping she'd always take the Green Stamps home and I got the job of licking them and putting them in the album. Then we'd go to the Green Stamp store and look for something to "buy" with the stamps. Sounds hokey now, I guess. But millions of families did it in the Fifties. We were all about the same back then. Regular people who worked for a living and had houses in the suburbs of cities across the country. Just regular people without fancy European cars or European cabinets in our granite and stainless steel kitchens. We had one TV and one phone. Most families had just one car. Two at most. Thrift and saving was the norm. Indulgence was showy.

My parents were newly married at the beginning of the Depression. I came along unexpectedly 17 years later. I learned Depression-era frugality, and I was taught to save money and to spend it wisely. I put myself through college and law school. I did get some scholarships, but no money from home. None! So what I have achieved in life is from hard work, saving, and maybe a few good investments.

Kids that grew up in the Fifties learned that there was a permanent record of every deed they did. Bad deeds would indeed be put on your Permanent Record. Bad deeds got punished. Achievement got rewarded. I was never a super achiever, but I was never an evil-doer. George Bush would have been proud of me.

Fast forward fifty years. There is little savings and lots of credit. We buy things we can't afford--on credit. Banks lend money the shouldn't and reward the bankers who lent the money with big bonuses. When the whole economy starts to implode, the government steps in and gives more money to the morons that got us into the mess. Big banks and big businesses are too big to fail we are told. So the government borrows money from the Chinese (remember when we called them "the Red Chinese"?). That moniker kinda faded away real quietly.

My suggestion Mr. President: stop borrowing money from China and start borrowing it from our kids. Re-institute the savings stamp program in schools. Teach kids about thrift and savings. Teach them to plan for tomorrow and not to just borrow money. Teach them them to buy what they can afford. And while your at it Mr. President, tell the few American companies that actually manufacture things to start producing items the old fashioned way. You remember, I'm sure. Items that were built to last beyond their warranty expiration period.

One final suggestion, Mr. President: take the morons that created this frigging mess to the woodshed. Give them the old fashioned licking kids used to get before lickings became politically incorrect and socially intolerable. Let the Wizards of Wall Street get their fannies spanked. Let those bozos know that their greed and incompetence is going on their permanent record. No deals for morons. No get out of jail cards for the really big swindlers like Bernard Madoff. I can just see it coming, Mr. President. He's gonna work a deal to keep his sorry ass out of jail by agreeing to get some money back. Send that creep to the prison were common felons go. Let the guys on the inside do to him what judges and polite society won't do. That will send a message louder than you can imagine to every crook out there. No bonuses this year to the guys on Wall Street either.

8 comments:

flipper said...

Amen. And speaking of kids, what scares the hell out of me is that this mentality of indulgence, which everyone would have to agree is at the root of our problem, is even more pronounced in our children who will soon move into key roles in society, government and business. Of course there are exceptions but I see far too many young people who want it all, and want it right friggin now. My, how times have changed. A new baseball glove, or bicycle, or trip to the ice cream store just doesn’t cut it anymore. Modeled to some extent by their parents and driven by relentless marketing through traditional channels (television, movies, magazines) as well as the ever expanding non traditional channels (music videos, internet and networking sites, text messages, etc., etc.) the basic “needs” of kids today have become absolutely ridiculous. Designer T-shirts and jeans (300 bucks for a pair of ripped jeans??), cell phones and ipods, only the latest versions of which will do because the status they convey is as important as the purpose they were designed for, Xboxes and the like that are obsolete within weeks of purchase, the list goes on and on. You see this in all regions and socioeconomic groups. And the worst part of all is that this is now really pushing the boundary of indulgence into something even worse; entitlement. So while only the newest and best will do, it better also be damn easy to obtain. Maybe I’m just getting old and have become snarky and pessimistic, but it seems to me that we now live in a society that enables, maybe even promotes, the type of behaviour that is typical of despicable losers such as Madoff and his wall street cronies. Pretty scary indeed.

Anonymous said...

excellent post - well said flipper. I completely agree.

Gary Thomas said...

I can't wait to meet you flipper!



Gary

Anonymous said...

Gary you are brilliant - I remember everything like it was yesterday and I wish it was! Great blog! I look forward to reading every post and this is truly a gem. Keep it up and keep us informed.

Anonymous said...

The Captain says:

Come on guys, you're really starting to date yourselves. Don't you sound just a little like your own parents who complained about your long hair and rock music, how it would be the end of civilization? Do you really want the 50s with the racial prejudice and anti-gay discrimination, among other things?

Unfortunately, savings are not what will get us out of this economic mess. In fact, savings deposits are up while the public attempts to shore up against further economic malaise. This is precisely part of the problem. We need consumer spending and a loosening of credit for this economy to start kicking again. Let's look to the future people, not to the past.

Captain out........

flipper said...

Captain you are right, and although I’m actually not that old I AM starting to sound like my father. I’ll give you that but think you missed my point. Of course generational differences are inevitable when it comes to preference and prejudice, and trends will constantly evolve with fashion, grooming, religion, etc. That’s great, groovy, cool, right on, or even “sick” depending on your age and frame of reference. I’m with you and doubt that a person’s hair length or choice of music will have much influence on the health of our economy in the years ahead. However, I would submit that values such as a desire to contribute to society rather than an expectation to take from it are very important. I’ll leave it at that because alas my dear Captain I’m afraid I have drifted off course. This is, after all, a blog about real estate and I am getting far too philosophical. I’ll blame Gary for starting this. Take care

Anonymous said...

So Captain, we are to spend like there is no tomorrow and give up on the idea of working towards a goal by saving for it instead of instant gratification? How do you think we got into this mess to begin with? Alas, I had hoped for a new administration to get us out of this economic mess but the change promised was just an empty promise. Entitlements and endowments with no real economic stimulus to help us out of our dire situation. No, nothing new with our new leader that the past leader didn't enforce. I think Pete Townshend of The Who said it best (and here I go again showing my age): "meet the new boss...same as the old boss". It's a shame we were all bamboozled by the media's love for this darling new leader ... just all puff, no substance.

Gary Thomas said...

Savings will not get us out of this economic mess. But it won't hurt. And what I said about getting kids to save is a good thing, not a bad one.

Holding people accountable for their actions won't turn the economy around, but it would be a step in a different direction than the way we are going right now. People and businesses that screw up should not be rewarded. An employee who doesn't follow a rule gets sacked. A wizard of Wall Street gets millions in bonuses. A guy that steals a wallet gets years in prison. A guy that swindles millions or billions hires a media consultant and an "A List Lawyer" and does soft time at a country club prison.

We are now using taxpayer money we don't have to prop up businesses that failed in large part due to their business plan. Put those executives on a reality show and see how long they stay in the game. Success creates winners and winners get rewarded. Losers get sent off the show with nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Gary

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I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.