As a follow-up to Michael Pollan’s line that farming is trendy the final bit of Maria Baritomo’s interview of not-George Soros, but the other one, Jim Rogers leapt out at me:
But I really think agriculture is going to be the best place to be. Agriculture’s been a horrible business for 30 years. For decades the money shufflers, the paper shufflers, have been the captains of the universe. That is now changing. The people who produce real things [will be on top]. You’re going to see stockbrokers driving taxis. The smart ones will learn to drive tractors, because they’ll be working for the farmers. It’s going to be the 29-year-old farmers who have the Lamborghinis. So you should find yourself a nice farmer and hook up with him or her, because that’s where the money’s going to be in the next couple of decades.
The Farmer as Rockstar. What a new old world we live in.
Oh, and speaking of future rockstars, the monthly Rumpus rocked out yesterday with one of my favorite local artists, Thao Nguyen.
The unsurprising announcements from Chrysler and GM that they plan to collectively shutter (or rather cut off the supply of cars) to around 2,000 dealerships has lodged this question in my head, “What can we do with this space?”
When I picture a car dealership, I picture a giant lot, sitting next to a noisy freeway (usually on an ugly strip of multiple dealerships called “Auto Row”). While it’s a substantial amount of space, it’s location doesn’t make it prime residential development, but these are still relatively big tracks of land.
Along with foreclosed McMansions, these dealerships represent ugly bits of space and are a legacy of our decade-long credit binge. They force me to wonder, “How can we prettify the land? How can we make these plots/showrooms useful?”
Perhaps like another 1990’s failed business model, the Metreon*, they can be turned into suburban farmers’ markets? Imagine if each dealership could somehow be turned into slow food show rooms in communities all across America (my memory from the Michael Pollan talk is hazy — did he propose this at his talk? My notes show that he referred to “Farmers markets as the new public square.”). If we can turn parking spaces into parks, this could be a possibility, no?
Just a thought.
I like this snippet from Margaret Atwood (who I haven’t read since the 8th grade, what a shame):
“Debt is part of the human condition,” she said in an interview. “Civilization is based on exchanges — on gifts, trades, loans — and the revenges and insults that come when they are not paid back.
I’m trying to recall, when was the last historical era when we had DEBT DEBT DEBT on our minds? Certainly, this was a prevalent idea in Dickens’s age and scores later, during the deflationary 1890s, but is this the first modern First World DEBT DEBT DEBT moment?
Even though I refuse to be entirely pessimistic about the economy (part of me, wants to believe that it’s not that bad, a la NY Mag’s #DownTurnaround posts), but there are a two things in addition to the lay off news that have me a little worried:
- I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I see very few commercials (I have no idea what happened commercial wise at the Superbowl). I am, however, aware of two current advertising campaigns. The first is innocuous (the eTrade talking babies), and the second, Cash 4 Gold demonstrates that we are in dire straits. A mail-in pawn shop for gold is blasting the airwaves and ripping people off. (Cash 4 Gold re-entered my consciousness this week because they tried to bribe a blogger to take down his “Cash 4 Gold is a scam” post. He didn’t cave, and blogged about the bribery.)
- A friend needed some company revenue info and IM’d me to see if I knew any bankers who could run some queries for her since all of her Hong Kong banking friends had been laid off. I could think of one I-banker, but I consulted another friend with a broader finance network. Between the three of us (1 Kellogg MBA, 1 money honey who has worked at banks or hedge funds since college, and me), we could only think of one friend who was still in banking. This is like saying, I used to know 15 lawyers, but their field went kaput.
The incredible shrinking economy has dominated the chatter at this week’s social outings. Among my age cohort (those born during the Carter Administration), I feel that these conversations evolve in one of two directions, but are both peppered by an extreme sense of Daily Show-sized irony:
- What are your plans for the post-apocalypse? Are you buying gold bars? Silver dimes because they are easier to trade for goods? Have you been out to Jackson Arms to practice your shot? Will we be useless with our white collar skills when civilization collapses? (It’s funny, how we all sound like Peak Oilers now.)
- The interest rate is at or near zero? Our very own lost decade? How did Japan get out of it? Really, 10 years of this? Nah, I think only 3 years, but that may be long enough for Obama to lose his reelection campaign because the people are impatient.
The reason why I think age is so important is because a good number of my friends are embarking on our prime decade, our 30s. So, for this to coincide with a lost decade, we cannot decide if we are blessed or cursed to have populated the last generation of i-banking associates.
Perhaps this is a tad pessimistic, but I’m at the tail end of Gen X, and I feel that we invented pessimism, or at least coated it with irony.
I had a late lunch with Evil K and a couple of his B-school friends today over at SPQR, and we lingered over the wine list since they were all Italian wines with which we lacked familiarity. Evil K asked if we wanted to split a bottle of champagne, because no one is ordering champagne now, and it would be “quite contrarian.” My response was, “That’s something out of a decline of the British empire novel. Ooh, let’s have champagne before the Germans start bombing us.”
Later, during lunch, we turned to the horrible job market for MBA second years, since banking jobs have all but disappeared. Once again, the word, “contrarian” resurfaced because Evil K said that his favorite hard question for candidates was, “Give me an investment suggestion that is both fundamental, but contrarian.” He said the only satisfactory answer he received (post-price plunge) was, “Oil.”
Afterwards, we did the Fillmore stroll up towards Jackson, and back towards Harputs. His friends asked us, “Where’s Harputs?” and our answers represented the degrees of separation in our snobbery (Me: “It’s on the wrong side of Geary.” Evil K: “It’s on the wrong side of California. What? At least I didn’t say the wrong side of Washington.”)
At the end of our afternoon, we toted our recent acquisitions around (Me: my standard Kiehl’s stable of lotions; Evil K: a second hand Navy cashmere sweater) and returned again to the ugliness of the economic meltdown. He compared it those industrial British towns that suffered under Thatcher, “Finance, gone; the American auto industry, poof, gone!”), and there was nothing to do, but sigh.
While I was in Baltimore last last weekend, I went into a mid-range purse shop with an old college friend, who is currently posting this link as her status message with glee (she’s midday through a PhD program). Everything in the shop was 30% off, and she thought that they were great bargains, since the $600+ bags were marked down. That’s when I turned to her and said, “But T, no one is buying $600 bags right now. That’s why everything is on sale.”
When I got to NYC, I did a little bit of shopping, but I was more restrained than on past trips. I walked into Takashimaya and ignored the call of $100 candles, which are my weakness. In a lot of ways, I’ve always been fiscally sober, but as someone who saw her future destiny as a yuppie since high school, this sure doesn’t feel like the good life.
Then, I remind myself that I am truly blessed: family, friends, food, and art.
These excerpts are from the current NYT top headline about the bailout impasse (there’s something about the second passage that sounds like amazing theatre):
“If money isn’t loosened up, this sucker could go down,” President Bush declared Thursday as he watched the $700 billion bailout package fall apart before his eyes, according to one person in the room.
In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to “blow it up” by withdrawing her party’s support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as a Republican betrayal.
“I didn’t know you were Catholic,” Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson’s kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: “It’s not me blowing this up, it’s the Republicans.”
Mr. Paulson sighed. “I know. I know.”
Well, if the debate goes forward tomorrow, Jim Lehrer confirms, it won’t be limited to foreign policy:
“I am not restrained from asking questions about the financial crisis,” Mr. Lehrer said in an e-mail message. “Stay tuned!”
Finally, if you haven’t watched the Couric-Palin interview footage yet, the last part just kills me (I hope that reenergizes Couric’s journalistic career):
Couric: You’ve said, quote, “John McCain will reform the way Wall Street does business.” Other than supporting stricter regulations of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac two years ago, can you give us any more example of his leading the charge for more oversight?
Palin: I think that the example that you just cited, with his warnings two years ago about Fannie and Freddie – that, that’s paramount. That’s more than a heck of a lot of other senators and representatives did for us.
Couric: But he’s been in Congress for 26 years. He’s been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee. And he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.
Palin: He’s also known as the maverick though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party. Trying to get people to understand what he’s been talking about – the need to reform government.
Couric: But can you give me any other concrete examples? Because I know you’ve said Barack Obama is a lot of talk and no action. Can you give me any other examples in his 26 years of John McCain truly taking a stand on this?
Palin: I can give you examples of things that John McCain has done, that has shown his foresight, his pragmatism, and his leadership abilities. And that is what America needs today.
Couric: I’m just going to ask you one more time – not to belabor the point. Specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation.
Palin: I’ll try to find you some and I’ll bring them to you.
If you got this far in the post, then you deserve a bonus. From the government takeover of WaMu coverage, we learn that WaMu’s new (now former?) CEO is walking away with nearly $20 million (signing bonus + severance), “Mr. Fishman, who has been on the job for less than three weeks, is eligible for $11.6 million in cash severance and will get to keep his $7.5 million signing bonus.” Now, that’s executive compensation.