Thursday, 20 November 2008

Is it just me?

Is it just me, or are other people finding themselves transfixed by the falling price of oil and the stock markets? I check on the current price/level of these things many times a day. And kind Is that strange?

I feel bad about smiling...sort of. But I've been hoping for something to shake and wake people up to the fact that the world is changing, and a stock market crash seems like a perfect way to get this done, in the Western world. It hits us right where we feel it most - in the bank account. Ice storms, fires, tornadoes and other natural disasters are other types of 'wake up' events, but they generally involve terrible physical harm and suffering for people and animals. And in the long run they are just seen as anomalies anyway, not as wake up calls to the reality of global climate change and to the damage we are inflicting on the earth. Sadly, the rich and powerful nations only consider something a true emergency if it damages the uber-precious 'economy.'

I realize however that you have to be careful what you wish for. Sure, I'm glad now that the price of oil is tanking, and that the bitumen upgrader scheduled to be build on prime farmland just a few miles from me is now on hold indefinitely. And I'm glad also that people may be waking up to the fact that true wealth is not found in a stock portfolio or a savings account. But I haven't lost my job, and no one I know has lost their job, at least not yet. This can, and probably will change. So in the meantime, I will keep learning how to grow and store my own food, pay down my debt, build up the wood pile, and get better at making do with less. And try and encourage others to do these things too, even if they think I'm kind of weird for harping on and on about it. Although, with each drop in the stock market those things are looking less and less weird.

As I type this, crude oil is down to $49.94 USD. The TSX is at 8087 and the Dow is at 7904.


Heather @ SGF said...

These are the days I'm thankful that we planned ahead. With the house and car paid off, it won't be so hard on us and in the meantime, we're in a position to help a few others along. Not to mention, all this bread-baking, buying in bulk, and (now) growing our own food is really paying off :)

Liz said...

Hi Theresa. I'm so thankful to all of the bloggers that I've found over the last year who have put the idea in my head that we need to take a look at our lives and cut back, prepare and live more simply. I'm no where near where we need to be but I'm more aware and I've been taking steps to change things.

My husband works in the hated auto-industry. In the last year, we've gone from ratifying a new contract, to loss of a shift and next year, truck plant closure. Right now he works one week a month. He has enough seniority to move to the car plant - if GM survives.

It's been a little stressful this year but there is a silver lining. Because he's home now, we brought in enough wood to keep the fireplace going this winter and we haven't turned on the oil furnace yet. We've stockpiled homegrown and store bought food. We have been working towards paying off our mortgage (three years left!), we have no credit card debt and we live within our means. And young Nolan gets to stay home with Daddy.

Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is, even though we're faced with all this gloom, part of me is (sort of) glad it's happening. People do need to wake up - including us. This just might do it.

Anonymous said...

I make my living, in part, in the stock market, so I find the drop very painful. It is not just about the wealthy. The funds that fiscally responsible average folks have saved, many who may only make $30,000 or $40,000 per year, have dropped in value. Most of the folks it affects are not worth millions, but those who have been saving their money a little at a time for their retirement or their children’s education. These folks do not value money over community or people or the environment. In many cases, the folks who have lost part of their retirement security are those who make their living working hard to help those with needs greater than their own.

While I may have the space to grow my own food, I have two family members who live in small condos without enough sun on their patio for growing anything, and don't have the space for stocking up much of anything. However, they, by their small space living, are using less energy and resources than I am. Who is more responsible?

Is it possible to teach those worth multi-millions the lessons needed without punishing those who are being responsible?

Theresa said...

Heather, I'm really thankful too that we've been doing some planning and preparation when things still seemed 'good' on the surface. Mostly I'm thankful for the lead time to get used to the idea of things going this way, so I don't feel panicked, just determined.

Theresa said...

Hi Liz. I'm nowhere where I need to be either, but I'm glad to be heading in the right direction.

My husband is in the almost-as-hated trucking industry. We have been weaning off his salary over teh past five years. The trucking industry has not been profitable for a long time, with the increases in fuel prices. A full time trucker barely breaks even these days. It just wasn't worth it anymore - it made way more sense to have him home. He does some local driving once a week, and also picks up the odd shift driving the local handicapped bus to special events, but that's it. We're used to living on just one salary now, and I'm glad for it.

I hope your family's transition to a non-car based economy continues to go as well as can be expected - sounds like you guys have really planned things out well!

Theresa said...

Artby, thank you for your thoughtful and respectful comments. These things are hard. We are not rich and have lost tens of thousands of dollars in our investments so far. We got out of the riskier stuff last year, much to our financial adviser's puzzlement, or we would have lost much more. My husband has made RRSP contributions since he was 16 years old, and it is hard to see the money you scraped aside diligently over 25+ years disappear in two months.

As to your last question, many responsible people will be unfairly punished by this. It is sickening. We will have to pull together and help each other through. It is not fair at all. But yet I can't help but be glad that something, at last, is happening to jar society at large out of the stupor of complacency. I may regret saying that at some point. But I blogged about it today for the same reason I blog about everything: to work things out in my head a bit, clarify my thoughts, ponder, and get some feedback. Thanks to you and everyone for taking the time to help me as I mull these things over.

May all sentient beings be delivered from suffering.

Amber said...

I wish I understood more about the markets and economy so I can make better sense of what is going on.

I have a feeling that there is, on one hand, a lot of fear mongering in the media, but also some downplaying of the situation as well. It's hard to know what to believe.

I was talking to the guy who handles my RRSPs, which I only just started last year and isn't very large, and he said that he's seen market fluctuations before and I need to think long term and keep my money in until things get better again. Hmmm....I kept my thoughts to myself on that one, because he's the expert so 'he knows best'.

Sometimes I worry that not enough people are being shaken out of their complacency and more importantly are not making the vital connections between what is happening in the economy and how it is tied to energy, resources and consumption.

Many of my (home owning, mortgage paying, child raising, stock investing, tech gadget buying, credit card spending) friends don't seem to be at all concerned about what is happening, certainly not enough to make changes in their behaviour.

I think there is still a strong feeling that in Canada we are immune to the tanking economy.

The parking lot of the mall near where I work is always full, the people keep coming out of the stores with their plastic bags full of stuff, the roads are as full as ever with single car drivers...

I wonder if it's a generational thing. People in their mid 40's and up have been through hard times before and know what to expect and how to prepare. The younger generation, those of us in our 30's and younger, haven't really ever had to cope with major downturns. For many people in this age range I don't think they are yet aware that the party is over.

Apologies for the long comment! I've been thinking a lot about this lately, so I'm grateful for your post and a chance to express my ponderings on the topic!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

I feel the same way - it is fascinating to me to watch the ups and downs - though at the same time, I know that people are suffering from all these problems. This is a time that I am thankful that I have enough - so as to still be able to buy food and pay my rent - but also that I don't have more than enough, I have no investments in the stock market, a mortgage, or even a car, so at this point, I have been watching the situation like a bystander.

But at the same time, it is starting to get a little scary. The university system I work for has issued a hiring freeze, and one of the campuses has instituted a travel freeze. Some colleges are having to go on "furlows" where the university is shut down and the employees go without pay. Salaries and wages is where most of the money at a university goes, so they save money this way. I haven't heard anything about layoffs.

Regardless, if I got laid off, I would have a place to go and alternative employment ideas. We are lucky to have family (that owns a few houses they rent) in the fertile areas of Illinois. Shit hits the fan, and that is where we are going.

But I do worry, I worry for other people, my family, and where this is going to end. This is an opportunity, though not a cakewalk for many people of course, but it is an opportunity for us to begin to live in a more appropriate way. The chance is here, if we choose to take it.

Theresa said...

Amber - no need to apologize for the long comment; I like those!

I don't understand the workings of the convoluted financial system and the economy either. My financial adviser always refers back to that big graph that shows the market always rebounds eventually too, but lately I've been responding that those rebounds were based on the availability of cheap, easily accessible energy (for wars, infrastructure build-outs and such) and no worries about climate change. We are constrained by both of those things this time, and so I think, in my simplistic manner, that the same old stock market just can't rebound in the same old way.

I see people loading up their big-box store carts with plastic encased in plastic too. Especially here in Alberta where the sh%* hasn't really hit the fan yet. I think most people just keep doing what they've always done until they somehow gain insight into a different way, or they are shocked into it by an external event of some kind. I agree with you about the age/generational thing: those old enough to remember tough times may be easier to enlighten/shock, but those who don't, aren't.

I'm in my early 40's and remember being scared, very scared, of a nuclear war when I was 16 - 18 back in the '80s. Back then I was all ready, in my dramatically teenage way, to swallow my cyanide pill if it ever came to that. Now I'm older and scrappier, and I'm going to dig in and do what it takes to survive,and even thrive, in as Taoist/Buddhist manner as I can manage.

Theresa said...

Jennifer - I too feel like a bystander for the most part. I just can't seem to tear my eyes away from the graphs and charts. It is an opportunity though, it really is. Change is coming. I really have to finish that review of Thich Nhat Hanh's book, because what he says in it has really helped me embrace and accept that change is coming, and to be less afraid. I'm glad to hear you have plans B and C already worked out!

Ryan said...

I'm also a wee bit upbeat about this news.

While I feel for those who have lost their money, I don't think that it was ever explained to them that a market downturn is always a possibility, and that the brokers & bankers have always banked on an economy of continuous growth outside the boom and bust cycle.

Perhaps we have to go back to the notion of regular ol' savings, rather than risky investments that are marketed as savings with no downside. Since our economy has gone on a pattern of insane growth built on imaginary money (aka debt) and unlimited growth and investment, we should learn from this and start building a "real" economy of sustainability, frugality and local community enterprise. Rather than an unrealistic model of perpetual plenty.

This might do us a lot of good in terms of individual character :)

Theresa said...

Hi Ryan, thanks for stopping by. I agree completely with your points. We've gone back to not buying something unless we've saved the money for it first, too. It helps break the cycle of immediate gratification, which can only be a good thing!

Heather @ SGF said...

Ryan - I totally agree, but then I've always been a savings account kind of girl. The idea that our "economic health" is measured by the abstract ups and downs of the stock market vs an honest day's work has never sat well with me.

SoapBoxTech said...

What a post to find myself reading at 4 am. Theresa, reading this one is like reading my own thoughts. For the first time in my 35 years, and with basically no investments of my own whatsoever, I have been watching the stock markets (along with all the other research I am fortunate? enough to have the time for) very closely. For those of us who have been going along in life with a gut feeling that humanity is heading in a dangerous direction, it can certainly be difficult to avoid a certain morbid satisfaction in being proved right. Having said that, I certainly do feel for those innocents who suffer for this through no fault of their own.

I have a ton I would love to say on this topic, but it is far too late right now.

Theresa said...

Oi! Soapbox! That is indeed very late...I would like to hear what else you have to say on the topic though, once you get a chance to have some sleep...

SoapBoxTech said...

For now, I will just say that I agree this is another opportunity for society to make some truly necessary changes but when have we ever taken advantage of such opportunities, as a society? Every empire has collapsed and while the western industrial/financial empire has been the most prolific in known history, it is also likely to lead to the harshest and most violent collapse.

I know this seems a very gloomy outlook, but I try to be as realistic as possible. This doesn't mean I will ever give in and stop trying to make a positive difference.

Theresa said...

It doesn't hurt to be prepared, that's for certain....

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Ryan that we had all become very complacent over the years. Mutual funds and anything in the market is a risk, but people have come to believe they almost have a right to expect it to earn them money. Old people, those close to retirement, should not have much of anything invested in this sort of thing and they or the people who manage their money are accountable, even if out of just plain ignorance. Things as important as pensions should not be in risky vehicles (and anything other than cash savings or GICs are risky), but again we all bought into this idea that gambling on the market was normal, sound fiscal management. Using debt to grow money is even more insane.

I, like Liz, am so grateful to the bloggers and authors who taught me the value of living frugally. And like you, Theresa, I can't help but feel a bit of satisfaction with the way things are moving. It is definitely time for a wake-up call, though lately I fear with all the talk of stimulus packages that we still haven't learned that economies cannot grow indefinitely. Borrowing trillions to prop up a diseased economy is no cure, not even a good band-aid. Anyways, I'm so glad we are in a good position to weather this storm, because had it happened a couple of years ago we'd be pretty scared right now!

Theresa said...

RA - ya, things would have been a lot different for us a couple years ago too. I am far from completely prepared, but I am at least in the head space of preparedness, and I know I can get by if I have to.

I keep wondering where all these trillions of dollars are coming from. If we're in a global recession, who has all this money to lend? And since when does it help to borrow money to get out of a financial crisis? I realize that things aren't this simple, but shouldn't the basics of sound fiscal management be the same on every level (ie., don't spend more than you make, save for a rainy day, keep good records)? Whyis borrowing money and running a deficit a good idea just because there are many more zeros at the end of the numbers? It makes no sense to me at all.