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Bringing Things Into Perspective

I recently met someone who had a very compelling story to tell, and in some ways could be considered a metaphor for today’s economy.

Let’s call him Joe.

Joe had been a manager at a fast food restaurant, it doesn’t really matter which one. Long before the economy started to go south, Joe found himself at his doctor’s office getting bad news. He needed to reduce the stress in his life or it wasn’t going to last much longer. Joe turned in his notice with nothing to go to. Maybe not a stress reliever, but his choice.

Fast forward an undisclosed amount of time. Joe bought a hot dog cart, got a vendor's license, and set up shop working the lunch trade in an area with a high concentration of offices and hotels. He now earns, he told me, nearly as much as he did when he was working for someone else. He sets his own hours, talks to people who are happy to see him, and has a sunny attitude that most of us would envy.

Joe is all about customer service. When I mentioned I enjoyed cheese on my hotdog, even though it wasn’t out on the table, he dug through his supplies until he found some shredded cheddar. No extra charge.

Joe has done what so many others have done, either out of necessity or by design. He is an entrepreneur, not waiting for the government to create a job for him. When the economy went sour, Joe was able to continue to sell hot dogs, as he offered something which people wanted, an inexpensive lunch, and there were still enough people streaming out of the office buildings at lunchtime to keep him going.

But it was his attitude which impressed me most. I met Joe at an event for which he had been hired to provide food for those attending, and he handed out hot dogs for a little over two hours. He always wore a big smile, and talked with the people who visited his cart in the friendliest manner possible.

Joe doesn’t show up in unemployment statistics, because he’s not unemployed. Whether he might be considered underemployed could be open to interpretation, though I imagine if you asked him, he’d say no.

So how is Joe a metaphor for the economy? He certainly represents what is best about America. Joe has made his own way in difficult times and has done reasonably well. He did not sit back and say “someone should do something.” Faced with adversity and challenge, he did what he could to make things better for himself. As we move towards economic recovery, it’s imperative that we don’t get in the way of the Joes among us who are facing their challenges head-on and not looking for a government bailout at any level.

Thanks, Joe, for helping bring some things into perspective.

On a somewhat related note, the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research announced recently that the recession officially ended in June of 2009, over a year ago. At that point, the committee said the economy reached a “trough” … bottomed out if you will … and began an expansion. Any new recession, said the committee, would be a “new” recession.

The only place this seems to make any difference is in the statistics. If there is a double-dip recession, which many economists predict, it won’t go into the record books as an extended period of recession.

But jobs are still hard to come by. Cessna aircraft, as an example, recently announced the elimination of some 400 positions in Wichita. Unemployment in Florida is stubbornly stuck in the double digits.

Here on the ground, the recession will only be over when people feel confident about the state of the economy, and their own jobs.

2 Responses »

  1. And why don't people feel confident?

    The government tried giving money to every person - didn't work.

    The government tried bailing out failing banks/insurance companies - marginally worked.

    The government tried "stimulating" the economy by funding "shovel ready" projects - didn't work.

    What's the common thread here? The government.

    The events of the past 2-3 years should teach us that the government cannot create jobs, only the private sector can.

    What government can, and should, do is to GET OUT OF THE WAY of the private sector. If our leaders truly wanted our country (and economy) to grow, they would get their boot off of the collective neck of the private sector.

    Governments role in fixing the economy is to create and foster economic conditions that encourage the private sector to expand. This is a concept that, unfortunately, our current leaders either don't understand or refuse to believe (the latter, I'm afraid).

    We won't be prosperous as a country until our government learns, and acts, its proper role in our economy.

  2. Nice story and I am glad for him. But what about those millions of out of women that have children and can't leave them to start a business because child care is hammpering them? I do agree with the comment about government geting out of the way of the private sector. If Joe had gone under would the government bailed him out so he could stay in business? No I think not. We live in a capitalist nation. That means if you go belly up because of bad investments or business practices you go belly up. Close Bank of America and you bank someplace else. Mongomery Wards closed years ago without help and people shopped someplace else. The two party system has bankrupted this company and their only option is to throw more money at it. Let's try third party candidates for a change. Listen to what they have to say. Break the headlock the D's & R's have on this country.