Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Party's Over

By Alan Caruba

We all see the world through the prism of where we live. Most of us live in the cities and suburbs. From the early 1940s when my parents moved to the picture postcard town of Maplewood, N.J. that is where I grew up and have spent most of my life.

Maplewood is a quick half hour train trip into downtown Manhattan and is a bedroom community for many executives that work there. It is famous for its many tree lined streets, manicured lawns, and homes, many of which were built starting around the 1920s after the Erie Lackawanna made it a regular stop. Its school system was renowned. It’s still a beautiful town and its village shopping area was the setting for scenes in the film “One True Thing.”

When the property taxes on my home there continued to rise, myself and many other senior citizens who had lived in the township elected to move. My older brother had already set up house in Florida, God’s waiting room, but I elected to move one town over into a swanky new apartment complex, allowing me to make the short drive into the “village” of town every day to purchase sundries and get what, for me, passes for exercise.

What struck me today was the way the small office building in which my CPA’s firm is headquartered is bereft of any other firms. It used to house a photographer’s business and one that sold insurance. I left off my 2010 tax records. Across the street a take-out food store had closed its doors. The town’s pet store had departed not long ago.

As I walked toward my car I realized that yet another gift shop had bit the dust. Other shops, too. One of the town’s busiest real estate firms had a window filled with pictures and descriptions of homes for sale. My former home where I had lived for more than sixty years had changed owners twice in seven years.

The short drive back to my apartment complex included passing homes with for-sale signs, too numerous to ignore.

When the phone rings these days it’s usually one of a small circle of longtime friends. One of them runs a longtime, successful enterprise that matches people of differing expertise with reporters needing some quick information and insight, a quote on some subject. Talk radio and TV producers use it to find guests.

Over the twenty-seven years I have known my friend he went from running the business from his apartment to a large office with a full staff. He now runs it from his apartment and it is a virtual business. His directory of experts is print-on-demand for those who request a copy and many of the computer and web services he uses are provided from Bangalore, India.

Like a fish in water, it occurred to me that I haven’t met face to face with any of my clients in years. We communicate mostly via email or occasionally on the phone. I am trying to remember when I last put on a suit and tie. I can’t.

When I turn on the television news or listen to it on the radio, what I really hear is that everyone is waiting for the megalith we call the federal government to come up with a budget and to fund its function for another two weeks!

When a nation cannot operate in a predictable, rational way, it forces people to put a lot of ordinary decisions on hold.

That’s why a great swath of businesses is just waiting for someone to buy something. The ones that provide goods that are essential, food, toilet paper, things to keep the house clean, medications, are okay, but anything that is non-essential is moving far more slowly. Even the catalog operations that depend on moving all manner of household items are slashing their prices. The $10 “rehab exercise ball” is now $6.00. The $14 “ratchet pruner” is now $8.00.

I used to go to a nearby mall to purchase things. Now I go on the Internet and they are delivered in two or three days at most. The most extraordinary business in America is the delivery business, whether it’s Fedex or UPS.

As the price of gasoline goes up, reflecting the turmoil throughout the Middle East as it recedes further into its dark ages people are going to travel less. Visiting grandma will be by iphone. The huge business of trade conferences will be hard hit. In turn, hotels, airlines, and tourism will feel the affect.

Nobody has any idea how America will pay off the huge debt it has acquired—the bulk of it in just the last two years—and still Congress critters argue over cutting pitifully small pieces of it.

We have huge government departments and agencies that should simply be shuttered, along with their matrix of duplicated and overlapping programs that suck up millions, if not billions, annually. It won’t happen.

There is a lull in the life of the nation. Shops are closing. Homes are going unsold or foreclosed or both. Everything looks “normal”, but it isn’t. The party’s over.

© Alan Caruba, 2011


Ronbo said...


Have you read ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand?

A best seller in 1957 in which a super depression happens as the logical result of American socialism.

In 2011 we are living ATLAS SHRUGGED, and waiting metaphorically speaking for John Galt to make his famous speech on the Media that will remove the blinders from our eyes.

The truth will set America free once again - but first it's gonna hurt.

ATLAS SHRUGGED the movie will finally premier this year on April 15th...but I predict most of us will only see it by way of DVD since it pulls no punches concerning AMSOC - American Socialism.

Ronbo said...

I have linked my comments to your article.

"Who is John Galt?" Asks Ayn Rand in ATLAS SHRUGGED.

I believe he or she is out there somewhere waiting for the MOMENT.

joetote said...


As I've pointed out in a few other postings. 7 businesses went belly up on the route I drive to work here in Vegas every day. 7 in one week. And yet, we're being told not to worry, it's only temporary. Same goes for the near hyper rise in prices for fuel and food. It's bad enough as you note above that our very core is disappearing in front of our eyes, but it's so much worse when you consider the people causing this are content to lie and mislead the electorate whether it be ideological as in the case of our Leftist leader or corrupt graft as is the case of so many entrenched politicians Either way, our way of life is vanishing and the powers that be don't seem to care one bit.

Alan Caruba said...

@Ronbo: In truth I have not read Atlas Shrugged, but I have read other things Rand wrote. I am not surprised that my article reflects her book.

Ronbo said...


It is well said that "great minds think alike."

Keep up the good work!

Your articles inspire many in these dark days.

Guy in Ohio said...

Alan, I'm shocked that you haven't read Atlas Shrugged. It is truly a prophesy, and we are living through the book's early chapters right now ...

With that book in mind, and if Rush's statement yesterday is correct, and 35% of the American public is now on the dole, then consider this ...

That leaves 65% of us classified as "working". Now, they say that 50% of the working population works for some form of government, either federal, state, city, county, or local. By my math, that means that only half of that 65%, or roughly 33%, of the American public actually producing anything. It is their efforts alone that are supporting the entire country.

When you consider that a large percentage of that 33% is now employed in the SERVICE sector, as opposed to MANUFACTURING, the number of people whose jobs are actually generating wealth could be as low as 10 or 20%.

We're sitting on a thin branch, over a very deep chasm in my opinion. All it's going to take is one more hiccup in our economy to bring the whole thing crashing down ...

Alan Caruba said...

@Guy: Don't be shocked. If you have read even half the books I have as a reviewer for fifty years, you would understand why I may have missed Atlas Shrugged.

Guy in Ohio said...

Alan, I can imagine there are a lot of difficult choices you have to make in that field ... the volume of published material is overwhelming.

If you can find the time some day, I don't think you'll be disappointed. I found it to be a rather difficult book to get started on, but once I got going on it, I devoured it ...

Unknown said...

"Atlas Shrugged" would not suffer at all if the folks who do the condensed book thing for Reader's Digest had ever worked it over.

Rand never used one word when two hundred would do. I read the book in 1958--or, more accurately, struggled through. I masochistically have gone through it twice more--but I do skim rapidly through much of it.

That something along the lines of today's fiscal situation would come about was fairly obvious some twenty years ago. A society cannot go on a giant spending spree and incur unrepayable debts and expect to not have a severe case of the miseries.

Granted that when you've been an engineering cost estimator in the day job and a bullion trader on your own time, some stuff is more obvious.

Alan Caruba said...

@Desertrat: You just made my case for me regarding Atlas Shrugged. I actually have the book in my liberary here, but it is turgid, slow reading at best. I passed on it a long time ago.

Unknown said...

I think Atlas Shrugged, as good as it was, misses the point of what is being seen. I run a staffing company and computer support company. I can interview you over Skype as can my client. I need 1 person where I used to need 5 to source and recruit because of technological improvements. The computer support side can support 100 servers and 400 Pc's with 2 people because of technology. With VOIP it doesn't matter if the people on eiter side of the business are in South Dakota or Banglore, In.


Guy in Ohio said...

Rebecca, are you implying that our current problems are caused by technology, and not oversized, overbearing government and Socialism? If so, I would have to beg to differ.

Regardless, the "point" of Atlas Shrugged is that when the people who "take" outnumber those who produce, and continue to demand that the producers support them, the producers get will tired of it, and tell the "takers" to step off. Producers don't have a moral obligation to support those who don't, and if forced to, they will simply quit and walk away.

Yes, technology has made it possible to do more with less, and some jobs have been eliminated in some sectors, but jobs have been created in other sectors to replace them. Yes, some people have been displaced, but in no case does an individual's inability to find a job in their field justify TAKING anything from somebody else.