Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Losers, The Winners

Lawlor Family in Virginia (Casey Templeton - NYT, 10/14/09)

Goldman-Sachs to pay $23 Billion Dollars in bonuses this year.

This article in today's online New York Times caught my eye: Brian Lawlor, an airline pilot, in an 'economy move' by his employer, was demoted (along with a large number of other pilots, all of whom had low seniority in the airline) from Captain to First Officer. This slashed their salaries in half -- for Lawlor, to $34,000 a year.

This isn't an unfamiliar scenario in the job market. I guess the airline should be given credit for wanting to retain employees and not fire them outright. But, then, this paragraph mentioning Lawlor's wife made me sit up a bit more:

The demotion, the loss of command, the cut in pay to less than his wife, Tracy, makes as a fourth-grade teacher, have diminished Mr. Lawlor, 34, in his own eyes... “I don’t want to be a 50-year-old pilot earning $40,000 a year,” he said, adding that his wife does not want to be married to a pilot with so little earning power.

There's probably more in the dynamics of this couple than the NYT reports, and you can read that between the lines -- but, Gosh. 'Till Death or Downgrade do us part, eh?

[Mrs. Lawlor] had considered giving up teaching to be a stay-at-home mom. “We felt we had some breathing room for the first time in our 11 years of marriage,” she said, “and that went out the window with the downgrade.”

Little Bernie and Ruth Madoff, Some Of Our One-Per-Centers, 2007

My cynical side says that this is human nature -- people will stand by you only until the going is too tough, then it's hasta, baby. But the reality isn't that simple. In a culture dominated by -- well, things humans have always used to define themselves: Money; profession; possessions, quality of life -- human relationships are stressed when the basis for all these things (money) falls apart.

Try and imagine what it was like in Germany in 1923 -- before the Depression, before the nazis -- when the value of their currency, relative to the rest of the world's, collapsed. People received their paychecks -- a wheelbarrow full of worthless paper scrip, and rushed out at noon to buy food before the Mark was devalued, again, and the prices doubled.

Eventually, they printed currency denominated in the tens of Billions, because by November, 1923, a loaf of bread in Berlin cost 201,000,000,000 Marks and they had run out of wheelbarrows.

Germany crawled out of that nightmare by 1928; the crisis of war and defeat and hunger looked as if they might finally be over... then, the American Stock Market crashed. The Mark was worth something again, but now there weren't enough jobs to earn it with: Germans suffered with 25% unemployment, and worse, on into the early 30's... and after 1933, you know the rest.

A Number Of These Will Get You A "Happy Meal" In Zimbabwe

Starving Zimbabweans in Robert Mugabe's psychotic Potemkin paradise have even been using notes with a face value of 1 Trillion Zimbabwean dollars -- but stores have no goods or food in them to buy. Mugabe and his cronies, by comparison, continue to live very well.

In the meantime, here in Downtown Regular America, no one knows what will happen next. Perhaps the Great Recession could be over, and perhaps not. Perhaps having an economy based on something other than The Intertubes, or property sales, or the snake oil of slice-n-dice loans -- in other words, something real -- might help.

For the Lawlors, it's been something more than adventure, but slightly less than having their faces removed with a fork. And, whatever does happen, they are facing that future with some fear, and some, uh, restraint:

[Mrs. Lawlor] was sitting at her kitchen table, and her husband, across from her, winced... Even if his captain’s rank and pay are restored she will continue to teach, she said. His pay could be cut again. They are convinced of that and, in preparation, they made certain there would be no more children. Their fourth, Jackson, was just 4 months old when the downgrade came, and soon after, Mr. Lawlor underwent a vasectomy.

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