March 11, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES III • Page 17 coffee would cover the whole month’s pay. The destabilization of the dollar by calling in all gold coins in the 1930s and replacing all silver coins with fake silver coins in the 1960s has been such that the interest on bank accounts has had a lot of trouble keeping with inflation. One of the cure-alls for the Great Depression was to try to get scared people to start spending again. With the interest rate unable to keep up with inflation, the incentive to save was drastically reduced. With the purchasing power of money in negative free fall, and thrift undermined as far as most younger people are concerned, people with a spirit of adventure rediscovered Wall Street – in very bad repute twice in the 20th century, once due to the investment background of World War I, the second time due to the Great Depression, the Crash of 1929, and its dozen-year aftermath. People who never should have played the market got involved with the bulls and the bears, to such an extent that a man who was once president suggested that we should tie Social Security to the stock market. Some of the people then on Social Security when that idea was broached actually remembered Great Depression, and some of the others had read about it in the days when not every history teacher was a sports coach. That plan was dumped, and the older I get, the happier I am about it being dumped. With so many easily frightened amateurs invested, it was only a matter of time until something triggered a panic, which is where we are now. The same thing happened in 1873, 1893, and 1929. Each of these depressions lasted multiple years. The second trigger, of course, was relaxed mortgage borrowing standards. People whose incomes or habits doomed them to be life-long renters finally bought their own homes and high-rollers bought mansions they could not afford because they assumed real estate values would go up for a few more years before reality set in. When the collapse of tech was followed by the banking follies and the mortgage catastrophe, the whole thing fell apart like a house of cards. The single greatest underlying cause, of course, is outsourcing: Light manufacturing and electronics have now shifted to China, automobiles and other electronics to Japan and Korea, and, if you call to order a printer cartridge or ask for advice about your computer, the person who answers is probably in India or the Philippines. The managers who wanted to out-fox the unions and impress their stockholders outsmarted the rest of us – and themselves – by putting the lower quadrant of steadily employed Americans out of business. The factories that enabled “soots” to make a living shuffling papers and secretaries to make a living covering for the “soots” are gradually becoming extinct. But we all know that. We have to anticipate, and thwart, a mad rush to publicsector jobs supported, for the most part, by those government printing presses that keep churning out money without regard to the real worth of the paper, which is nil unless it is backed with precious metals or confidence in the economy. A lot of people will kill to get their son or daughter or nephew or niece or best friend a job with some branch of the government. Let’s not let them kill what is left of the economic vitality of the United States. Not only do exorbitant numbers of public-sector personnel replicate one another’s functions -- they also drain the tax money from retirees and from those newly, or perennially, unemployed or underemployed. This may be a fantasy, but I have a hunch that millions of people with Social Security now in sight would retire early and leave their jobs to younger people if they could be sure that constant tax increases to feed more public-sector jobs were not going to eat them alive. People who are already retired and having money issues, or those who can rely on mass transit to get to work, should consider a move that is Draconian and immensely constructive: Get rid of the car. The cost of owning and operating a car even when it is paid for – gasoline, insurance, repairs – is a big whack out of a Social Security check. Cars can be dangerous in the hands of older drivers, and vehicles contribute to greenhouse gases that contaminate the atmosphere and contribute to global warming. People associate cars with “freedom,” when they actually contribute to economic bondage. They also associate cars with “convenience.” I got stuck 15 miles from home in a situation where it took four hours to get me a tow truck on a cold night. It was anything but convenient. Once I don’t need a car for employment, I’m taking the plates off Old Paint and going it Shank’s mare. Last but not least: Plant a Victory Garden. The relaxation and exercise of gardening, the ability to grow at least some of your own food, and the satisfaction of being able to share your home-grown vegetables with friends and neighbors will be augmented by one more plot of earth that is not subject to noisy lawnmowers and chemical fertilizers. The Rutgers Agricultural Extension for Bergen County can tell you just what seeds will produce useful crops, and you can find the seeds and get advice at local stores. Agriculture, after all, is one of America’s strongest surviving assets – even when it’s in your own back yard. Last Saturday I saw something I never thought I would see in real life, although it was a familiar sight in documentaries about the Great Depression or life in the bombed-out cities of post-war Europe. I saw a woman rooting through the food store dumpster in search of something to eat. She had come up with a wrapped container of broccoli and some bananas when she saw me, and she quickly got into a car and drove away. I tried to pretend I had not noticed her. I was sorry to have disturbed her and said a prayer for her before I got back to my own concerns. On the way to my destination, I passed storefronts that have been empty for many months – in some cases, since well before the present catastrophe. These shops change hands all the time, but they usually reopen within a few months. When I got to my next venue, the math tutor who works with me told me she was down to a single student, down from five this time last year. Nobody disparaged her ability to drive up her students’ SATs in math 100 points or more. They told her they were out of money. I suspect they were telling the truth. I decided to pass up gourmet coffee for the foreseeable future and bring coffee from home. When the weather gets a little warmer I think I’ll walk to places I now drive. When I reached one of the tutorial sessions I need a car to reach, my student asked when I thought the economy was going to get better. I said that once the fear wears off, there should be a stabilization period and perhaps a mild upturn. I also said I did not expect whatever measures the government took to be especially effective because government attempts to cope with recession by use of the printing press in the mint are doomed to failure. The feds can keep printing money until they are blue in the face, but paper money is not backed by anything except confidence in the government. Right now, there isn’t any confidence in the government. When the real money was metal, gold or silver, and the paper money allowed anyone to redeem it for gold or silver coins, the purchase value of money remained very stable. Soldiers during the Civil War were paid $16 a month, and a lot of people enlisted because that was more money, considering food and clothing thrown in, than they were making in civilian life. Hiring a substitute to die in your place cost a whopping $300. Add two zeroes for the modern equivalent. During the Indian Wars, not exactly popular with fans of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, a soldier’s pay dropped to $13 a month. A considerable number of the soldiers who “won the West” were Irishmen who did not have skilled trades or Germans who may have had trades but could not speak English. Soldiers drafted in 1940, the nation’s first peacetime conscription, were paid, as an old song said “$21 a day, once a month.” Those who did not have families probably spent most of it on payday weekends, but most people today have to exercise considerable imagination to have a riotous good time on what would, in this day and age, constitute an hour’s wages or less. Fast food for two and some designer Saving America is up to all of us Servants of safety At a recent AAA North Jersey Traffic Safety Luncheon, Waldwick Police officials were presented with an AAA Special Recognition Award. The award is presented to communities for their outstanding traffic safety program activities. The Waldwick police Department combats aggresive driving and other dangerous traffic offenses through enforcement and educational activities in the community. Child passenger safety seat inspections are conducted in addition to DWI checkpoints on a regular basis. Pictured are Chief Mark Messner, Waldwick Mayor Russell Litchult, Executive Vice President of AAA North Jersey David L. Hughes and Lieutenant Ed Webber.