Friday, September 26, 2008

The American Economic Crisis is a Mirror and When I Look Into it I See The Overprivileged Young Person I Am

Hey. What's the economy? I don't fucking know. My AP US History teacher attempted to explain it to me once when I was 16, I think because we were learning about Ronald Reagan and his fucking "trickle down" theory. She got really angry because no matter how slowly she spoke or how many times she repeated phrases like "GDP per capita" and "rate of inflation" I just couldn't seem to wrap my head around all these seemingly hypothetical concepts. What I did know was this: I worked at a paint your own pottery studio helping little rich children and their big rich parents slap some "glaze" onto a ceramic bust of Elvis before he was fat or a napkin holder that would be inevitably broken by the Annoying Cousin sometime around Thanksgiving, and I got paid and I put that money in something called a "checking account" where I could then "withdraw cash" or "use my debit card" to purchase necessities such as poetry anthologies from Borders or a collection of bracelets from Target that jangled on my wrist when I smoked cigarettes in the parking lot on breaks during my aforementioned horrifying job.

I've tried to read articles on it in The Economist and I've tried to have my Dad - a former AP Government teacher - explain it to me, and I read and absolutely adored Freakonomics, but I still don't understand the basic tenets of economic function. And do you know why? It's because I've never had to before. The economy has never impacted me in a way that would force me to educate myself about it. I mean, it's the same reason I don't know shit about football: I've never dated a football player.

It's quite easy to bitch about how I'm broke, to say that I will be forever in debt due to student loans, to live paycheck to paycheck from my $10/hour job that I got fired from for "breaching privacy" because god Facebook what the fuck? But it's quite another thing to actually understand the implications of these things, not just economically speaking, but also in the context of wow I'm a spoiled college brat. Not that I was ever in denial concerning that whole viewpoint, but it's easy to forget when your brain has a penchant to synthesize everything in the saddest ways possible and make a bowl of ice cream look like a bowl of (quite literal) shit.

Yesterday Sam wrote a very eloquent post about our generation's general apathy concerning the political process, and I'm sure this transitions easily into apathy in terms of economic status. At 20, I've only known three different presidents, two of which grew on the same tree. In the 90's I lived through a budget surplus and a boom of major technological advancements but was too young to care. Now I'm living through one of the greatest economic depressions our nation has seen in decades and 1) I'm in a different country and feel subsequently unaffected by it, despite the fact that when I withdraw 700 Euros for my rent the exchange rate means that's more than $1,000 and 2) I know so little about the economy that when people say my bank failed (which it did, no more woohooing eh, Wamu?) my first reaction is: Wait, so am I gonna get to keep the $30 I have in there?

According to those more informed than I am, the answer is yes, I will, because of "buyouts," which is a term I heard the Stern kid who sits next to me in French class discussing while reading the WSJ off of his Blackberry. So maybe this won't effect me in any profound way except that I will have to have a new debit card mailed to me in Paris and my parents will grimace deeper when I bring up future travel plans that I am throwing money at while they are at home trying to figure out how they're going to stretch their paychecks to keep the hot water turned on. So maybe all those Olds are right when they say youth culture is too busy Twittering about their latest make out sesh (my date went really well, BTW) to worry about the big stuff like the fact that my Mom has been frantically IMing me saying that everyone in the US is in a general state of panic and that there's some crazy hick from Alaska only a few steps away from executive office.

I'm not sure if my general nonchalance and emotional remove are due to the fact that I am currently in a foreign country with one of the strongest currencies in the world, or if "my generation" has left me so spoiled that I'd rather sit in bed and wonder if, on average, Samantha Ronson goes down on Lindsay Lohan first or vice versa, than actually conquer concrete problems. Either way, I'm calling my Dad right now and making him explain to me at the very least how a "GDP" works.



Charlotte said...

very nice.

Anna Apocalypse said...

Longtime reader, first time commenter. I felt exactly the same way as you when I was in college. I knew the economy was fucked up, but I was young and since it didn't directly effect my life, I didn't really care that much.

Now that I've been out of college since spring 2007, I can see just how messed up things that they're effecting me personally. For example, everyone talks about the decrease of available jobs in this country, something I can definitely vouche for now as I cannot, for the life of me, find a decent job. It doesn't matter that I have a journalism degree from a decent major university in this country or that I'm an intelligent individual or that I happen to live in a major city (Chicago), the economy is fucked, and that pretty much means we're all fucked too.

Marshall said...

Realizing you weren't really alive for Reagan makes me feel 1000 years old. We sure could use a man like him!

nora said...

Hi! Ok, besides the fact that I totally get where you're coming from and that's why I'm taking/failing econ 101 and the whole world is slowly but surely starting to make more sense, I just have something quick to say. The words "tenant" and "tenet" are completely different. There are basic tenets of economics - "tenants" refers specifically to the meaning associated with where one lives. As a word geek I just felt the need to say that.
But I really like what you guys write, and am glad that I found it. Oh, and I totally don't do the blog thing, so I don't know if this is proper etiquette or not, and I couldn't care less if nobody but you sees this ever. I just wanted to say that. Kthanksbye.