Everything changes, ages and transforms itself.
We think of our own life.
We got married in the 1970s. We had nothing but an old rusted-out sports car and a job that paid about $39,000 a year. One day, driving home from work, we went over a bump; the floor of the car gave way and the seat fell through to the road.
We were young and energetic. We bought an old farmhouse and fixed it up ourselves. Building materials were expensive, so we often went to the dump to find things we could recycle. We saved our pennies. We worked hard.
By the early 80s, we were probably entering the basement of the middle class. But then, misfortune! We got divorced and were broke again.
That didn’t set us back for long. We remarried and started again. At the time, the assets page of the Bonner family accounts could be reduced to an index card: one blue Datsun pickup truck with the door falling off, and one very small publishing business that lost money every year.
Baltimore was cheap back then. The city was so desperate for taxpayers, it gave away buildings to anyone who was fool enough to move into them. Our office was bought for $1. Our house cost $27,000, purchased on credit from the seller. Ignoring the gunshots and crack dealers, we went to work.
Once again, we did everything ourselves, by hand, scavenging materials wherever we could find them. And once again, our fortunes improved. But as life grew more comfortable, gradually the habits of thrift were cast off.
We were appalled when Elizabeth wanted another car…used, of course. But now, we have four new ones.
We were indignant when she wanted to call in a professional cabinetmaker. Weren’t our homemade cabinets good enough for her?
We were actually alarmed when she wanted to move into a real house, in a good neighborhood — it would cost real money. Where would we get it, we wondered? But, we soon yielded, and then we had a bigger house to heat. This new house required more serious — more expensive — furniture.
It also required more insurance.
There was a boom in America throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and we boomed along with it. By the mid-90s, we were ready to head for new challenges. We pulled up our roots, moved to Europe, and found them. But, we had to leave at home, like an old pet, a whole new set of thrifty inhibitions. In our new life, we needed more new furniture, more expenses, and more help. We bought a large house in the country, but we discovered that we needed to rent an apartment in the city, too.
The children had to go to a proper school and we had to work in a proper office. Proper school? What was wrong with the public school? It had been good enough for us, hadn’t it?
“Times have changed,” we were told. Now the public schools — even in France — are said to be violent and incompetent.
And since we now had two residences, we needed help to take care of them. We needed a cleaning lady. Oh, and a gardener, too. One thing leads to another. One old habit falls like a Baltimore row house. The next thing you know, the whole block has been taken down and replaced with upscale condos and coffee shops. Jobs that used to be done out of happy necessity are taken up grudgingly…out of a lingering sense of duty or nostalgia.
“Why do we have to do this?” groan the boys, when we get them out to fix a wall or clear some brush. “Why don’t you just call someone who knows what he is doing?”
On family vacations, we remember, we used to crowd everyone into the van and drive up to Canada. In the early 90s, we rented a house on a small lake in Nova Scotia. Mice ran around in the corners; the place smelled like kerosene. But, it was $230 for a week. We couldn’t beat it.
“This is horrible,” said Elizabeth.
And it was horrible, but we enjoyed it just the same.
Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century and Empire of Debt: The Rise Of An Epic Financial Crisis.