There’s really some truth to the old saw of how it’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job, a depression when you do.
I’ve enjoyed a very rewarding job. Just check out the typical industry success story here. [As an aside, while this may seem like a completely-over-the-top parody, you'd be shocked to see how successfully it skewers the underlying reality of my bizarre occupation, an artifact created by federal prescription drug laws.]
For twelve years I surfed the wave of this industry bubble with this in mind and was smart enough to avoid filling my personal income bubble with bubble-sized bills.
That foresight is about to pay off.
I wrote previously about the difficulty we all face at the end of the Bubble Era. Certainly, for nearly 30 years, and arguably for much longer debasement of the currency, artificial tax pressures, and myriad other coercive interventions in economic matters have constructed a veritable mirage palace in the capital structure of our world.
How much demand really exists for sail boats or houses or refined sugar or a hundred million other goods and services? With all the subsidies, excise taxes, tax loopholes, regulations, permit requirements, and varying levels of erosion of money’s purchasing power, there’s absolutely no way to know.
The existence of the FDA, of medical licensing laws, and of third-party payment for medical treatments warps demand for and production of diagnostic and therapeutic medical services. Entire industries employing millions of people may well be part of that mirage palace. Some of us rented rooms in that palace, some of them quite nice, but they exist only as long as the shared delusions hold together.
Knowing this, I prepared for the day that the people making decisions at my employing firm realized my job was no longer viable.
That day has arrived.
I’m currently sitting on music hold for the conference call. Of the 971 people from my division on the call, some have one code to hear one message, the others have a different code for another message. One group keeps their jobs (for now), the other group’s members will have to find other employment.
Here we go… it’s the VP of sales and marketing. Blah, blah, blah. Business challenges, industry challenges, patent losses, delayed new products, facing health care reform, …
"I regret to inform you that you are displaced." [I learned later that 479 of us heard those words.]
I knew it was coming but it seems that inflection points in life are emotionally stirring events.
I guess Mr. Depression had a key to the front door because he let himself in and is sitting at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee now.
The good news is that I’ve prepared for his arrival. I’ve saved a lot, gotten completely out of debt, and so far haven’t let Mr. Market rip me off too much. My soon-to-be-rolled-over or liquidated 401(k) still starts with a "4" and not the "2" everyone else is griping about. As long as the clowns in Congress don’t change the rules too fast, if I want the money in my hands the company’s past matching contributions will just about pay the taxes and penalties for early withdrawal.
I want as much as I can get in my own control, not in a custodial account. All of us know that those kleptocrats in the District of Criminals are wildly flailing their arms, introducing historic levels of chaos into our money, banking, and manufacturing systems. I need to have the flexibility to move my savings to the safest harbor I can find while this cyclone smashes everything that’s vulnerable into matchsticks.
The challenges of this nascent depression moved from academic and theoretical levels to the practical level for me on April 7, 2009.
PS: I’m open to suggestions for where next to apply my skills, which include reasonably successful economic forecasting, money management & technical market analysis, selling, writing, & backhoe operation, truck driving, firearm marksmanship, child rearing, & 26 years of successful marriage. I also keep my word. [See "Specialization is for insects"]
April 9, 2009