A collection of distilled sarcastic wisdom, numerous photographs, discussions of books and stuff to learn and more stuff to think about from a retired economics professor turned blogger and photographer.
When I was in Ann Arbor during the winter of 1962-63 finishing up my doctoral dissertation in economics, I went by our LDS church on an errand one Saturday afternoon. As I was going up the walkway to the church door, I noticed a tall, good looking teen age boy standing by the big rock on the front lawn which displayed the bronze marker identifying the church. The young man walked over to me, extended his hand, and, with a big smile, said "Hi, I'm Mitt Romney." When I went home that day, I told my wife, "That young man is going some place, some day." Little did we know. He may not end up as President or even as the Republican nominee, but he has earned his place in political and business history.
When my wife and I were in Michigan, George Romney, Mitt's dad, was president of American Motors and also president of the Detroit Stake, equivalent to a diocese, where he was responsible for overseeing a group of wards in Detroit and outlying towns like Ann Arbor. Since Michigan was a school that fostered fairly liberal thinking, a few of the Ann Arbor Mormons some times had minds of their own when it came to wanting to spend their time taking care of all of the chores and details of a lay church. Besides, most of the LDS members in Ann Arbor were either Michigan faculty or students who were struggling to compete in finishing doctoral degrees, medical and dental specialties, and other graduate training in some of the most competitive and grueling academic programs in the nation. One of our LDS bishops while I was there was a medical student specializing in gastroenterology. I didn't see him again for nearly fifty years when we discovered him playing first violin in the Southwest Symphony in St. George, and learned that he was still practicing medicine. Another bishop was a faculty member in the Michigan law school who gave up the prestige of that job to help found and lead the Brigham Young University Law School. Finding time to do church work some times seemed impossible.
So George Romney came to Ann Arbor occasionally and set us straight in an understanding but definitive way. George Romney had one of the most commanding and charismatic presences of any one I had ever met. When he got through telling you that you needed to help out and do your share of the work you knew what you were supposed to do. After all, although he never brought this up, he managed to run a big automobile company and still spend many hours a week in lay church work. I was a bit nervous when his wife, Lenore, was in my Sunday School class the next day, but she charmingly participated just like everyone else. Mitt truly came from rare and incredibly outstanding parents who left an indelible imprint on Michigan, on the nation, and on many, many LDS Church members. I'll always remember the young man with the big smile who seemed to be running for President way before his time.
Last night my wife began analyzing the contents of the new J.C. Penney Catalog. The Penney catalog is a mere shadow of its former self and a minimal relic of bygone days. In the golden, olden days we would get massive Sears, Monkey Wards, Spiegel, and Penney catalogs. These tomes were large enough to use for door stops and for kids booster seats and many other practical uses which we needn't go into here.
What especially interested my wife was the imbalance between men's and women's clothing. In the first place, women's clothing pages take up 194 pages plus another 30 pages of "cute" shoes, or darn near 30 percent of the total 780 pages in the catalog counting the back cover. The men's pages occupied a mere 80 pages by comparison. What is more, as my wife pointed out, women's undies took up 49 pages, or nearly one-fourth of all the women's clothing pages. And, more astonishing, women's bras take up 30 of the 49 pages of undies. Who knew bras were such a blockbuster business? I guess that is why one has to walk through acres of bras in department stores before getting to the back of the store. I had no idea. I didn't study the bra pages quite as much as I might have done decades ago, but I was rather taken by the page that advertised "Fresh, Flirty, and Fun: so bright and cute you won't want to cover them up."
Now, friends and neighbors, contrast that opulent display with the men's underwear section which takes up a masculine 4 pages. Boxers or briefs. Tees or undershirts. That's about it. Quick and to the point. We men don't have to study 49 pages of undies to buy what we need, or 30 pages of bras to pick out a bra. Thank heaven. But, and here's the important point: Now I understand why women take so long to shop and can never make up their minds! It could take hours to pick out a bra! Women's undies take up half of a major department store's floor space, while men's undies take up a little back shelf in the back of the store. No one wants to gaze on these men's clothing items anyway so they might as well be hidden. Is there a message here? Now, to make things more indecipherable, some idiot has taken to calling women's undies "inner wear." How cute and stupid is that? Does that mean women's under garments will now be called "indies" instead of "undies?" Just wondered. I just wonder if anyone ever sells 2,000 varieties of bras or whether they are just there to attract attention in the stores and on the catalog pages. Even if you figure that half of all the women over thirteen or fourteen had three dozen of the things, that would hardly account for depleting the acres and acres of such unmentionables clogging department store floor displays and catalog pages. I'm not sure if new models keep coming out, like cars. New men's underwear fashions haven't changed for a century. We are so lucky.
And finally, as a transportation and tax economist I never in the world ever expected to be analyzing the merchandising and sales of women's under garments, or inner garments, or whatever the heck they are supposed to be called. But then I never knew this stuff was such big business, so as part of the Gross Domestic Product, that makes the under garment business a necessary component of our economy and, therefore, one that must be analyzed. Who knew economics could be so depressing?
According to marriage and family therapy experts, lack of spousal communication, or errors in spousal communication, are a major cause of family friction and breakups. Though I am not a marriage and family professional expert, I have been married to the same woman for over 55 years, so I know something about the subject that maybe hadn't even occurred to the experts.
To talk about spousal communication, we must first identify the methods by which spouses communicate with each other, as follows:
(1) Extra-sensory perception, or ESP. By this method, we are supposed to divine what is on our spouse's mind before we blunder and make a huge mistake in saying something that we shouldn't have said.
(2) Body language. By watching body language, we can discern various moods without anyone saying a word. If spouses look stiff and tense, they are about ready to let you have it, and probably for good cause. If, on the other hand, spouses look relaxed and cheerful, you are probably in good graces.
(3) Eye movements. When my wife has a fit over something I have said or done, she generally rolls her eyes. This is a dangerous phase of our communications. There also is the blank stare that could have various meanings, none of them favorable. Worst of all is the evil eye, which penetrates your psyche and warns you to knock it off and behave yourself.
(4) Head movements. When I ask my wife a question, as I may have written about before, I have to look at her for her answer. She will either shake her had back and forth, meaning, I think, no; or up and down, which at best, means yes; or just do a shoulder shrug and maybe a blank stare which could mean a variety of things such as, who knows, who cares, how stupid, or many other possible reactions.
(5) Pained expressions, which often result after you have done something offensive or really stupid that you should immediately repent of and never, never do it again.
(6) The clam-up, or total lack of any form or mode of communication, which usually occurs when you have done something extraordinary, or may have even just thought of doing but never actually did, but get penalized for it nonetheless, because your spouse knew you were about to do it, and usually results in a period of stony and frigid silence which could, under some circumstances, actually be welcome.
(7) Then there are actual verbal and vocal communications. These methods of communication can be classified as follows: (1) Loud and angry; (2) soft and sweet; (3) Pained and disgusted; (4) cheerful and happy.
(8) Written communications such as notes, emails, cards, and such. My wife always leaves notes for me in the most prominent place she can think of where I can't help but see them but, of course, I never do see them.
(9) Various other electronic communications such as cell phones, regular phones, text messages, camera phones, and who knows what else is being invented today. You need never be separated from your spouse for more than a second or two so that you can continue your hassle indefinitely if you didn't have it resolved when you left the house.
(10) Complete your spouses sentences by interrupting them halfway through what they are saying and finishing it off with exactly what they were thinking. You have lived together for so long that no one ever comes up with anything original anyway and you already know what they are going to say long before they ever start. Thus, you don't really care what they are going to say anyway because you already know it verbatim.
(11) Keep your spouse off guard by saying things frequently like "I know just what you are thinking", or "I already knew what you are going to do, and you had better not do it", or "Such and such is going to happen to you of dire consequences unless you forget about what you may have been thinking about doing." These tactics, since the Bush Administration attack on Baghdad, are known as preemptive strikes. Preemptive strikes can vary from blockbuster gazillion ton bombs or just little petty warnings. Whether you initiate insurgent retaliatory strikes is something you had better consider carefully since you are probably in the wrong anyway, if not actually in the wrong, or even just potentially in the wrong, based on a large repetitive sample of your past behavior patterns.
I am sure I have not even touched the surface on communication methods between spouses. I will think about this topic some more and see what else I can come up with. I will also write later on how you can improve communications with your spouse. Basically this latter topic can be summed up rather quickly: Avoid all the negative stuff, just listed; behave yourself; be nice; actually try speaking pleasantly; don't criticize, carp, or find fault; don't punch buttons you know will wreak havoc; be kind; take home roses; and just knock off your habitual bad habits that can lead to communications impasses and breakdowns. Life is so much more pleasant that way. Although I can hold a grudge indefinitely. While my wife is over whatever transpired in ten minutes and is pleasant and cheerful. How can she do that? Surely our tiff was worth a two or three hour or maybe even overnight freeze.
When I used to teach college classes, I used to describe the wonders of going to K-Mart on Saturday mornings. I warned my students never to do this unless they wished to be punished or have their lives placed in danger. Hordes of mothers with anywhere from one to six children were roaming the aisles. Screams of babies could be heard across the store the entire time you were in there. Frantic mothers could be heard yelling "Jared, Elmo, and Utahetta, I told you (fill in the blank) kids not to mess with that stack of motor oil cans. Or, no you can't have that armload of toys that you appear to have already broken; go put them back. No, you can't have candy, gum, cookies, or whatever else you have taken off the shelves. And, if you don't stop doing that and don't stop whining and yelling, I'll never bring you to K-Mart again. A dreaded fate, indeed, sure to bring the whiniest, nastiest child into a state of perfect behavior.
Now I focus my attention on Wal*Mart. Yesterday I accompanied my wife to Wal*Mart. Big mistake. Actually, the store wasn't too crowded and the danger of hostile and aggressive shopping cart bargers and pushers was limited, for a change. We didn't see one single group of polygamists roaming the aisles with three shopping carts apiece. So we happily loaded our cart with stuff we wanted and, as usual, I added a few items from the grocery aisles that my wife would otherwise never have approved while she was at the other end of the store. To get stuff you want, you have to sneak it in the cart or just go by yourself, which is an even worse fate. There were no screaming babies, no undisciplined sweet children running wild or using the aisles to race on their little wheel rollies or whatever you call those stupid things that some idiot started putting in the heels of kid's shoes. So we were in Wal*Mart heaven.
Until we came to the check-out counter. Besides the self-checkout stations, which we had too much stuff to try and use, one checkout counter in the long row of checkout counters was open. As a manager roamed the area, I asked why Wal*Mart couldn't ever open any of their checkout lanes when long lines were waiting to check out. I was told that they were opening one more, which they did. I told the young lady behind me, who was struggling to hold a large baby and who had a huge cartload of Wal*Mart goodies to check out to go over there quickly, an offer she gratefully accepted. Then I was doomed. I waited 25 minutes to check out. I have left cartloads of stuff at Wal*Mart before before in total disgust without paying for it, but neither my wife nor I wanted to come back here on another trip. The checker was as frustrated as I was because she had to contend with all of the pressure and all of the complaints. I felt even sorrier for her than I did for myself.
After I had paid for my stuff, which, I must admit, was mostly cheaper than I could have bought it anywhere else, I headed for the Consumer Service desk. I explained, none too cheerfully, that I had waited in line for 25 minutes before I could check out. She said, in a rather pained voice, "We just don't have enough Associates." Associates? I thought they were checker-outers. She said she had pulled in all of the people available in the store to open two more lines. I said, "Well, I guess I can take my choice, go somewhere else, or spend 25 minutes in your lines here." She ignored this comment, and I left, without receiving either a kind word or an apology of any kind.
Now here's the question. In a huge super Wal*Mart which covers acres and acres and has a larger inventory of stuff than an entire small town shopping area, why can't Wal*Mart figure out how to hire enough Associates? Everyone else, all of the large grocery super markets and other large stores like Target, always seem to have enough help and you don't have to wait forever to check out. If this were an isolated instance, it might be excused, but it happens almost every time I go to Wal*Mart. And members of my family scattered around the country say they avoid Wal*Mart at all possible costs for the same reason: poor customer service.
Now here's another question: Does Wal*Mart have a mathematical management model that estimates the absolute minimal amount of help that can push the largest possible tonnage of stuff out the door without having riots in the aisles? I have a suggestion for the folks in Bentonville: Wake up and spend some of your billions of dollars you have amassed and do whatever you have to do to spruce up your customer service, attract sufficient numbers of employees, and make your customers happy instead of chronically grouchy and angry. Why do you put 30 checkout stations across the front of your mega stores and then find that you can only staff one cash register? Perhaps I am missing something here, but someone has failed Business Management 101. Plus 102, 103, 104, and a few others.
I should actually bill Wal*Mart for this consultant report, which should be worth tens of thousands of dollars to them, but that would defeat their current statement of goals and objectives. By the way, since I talked about Wal*Mart so much when I was teaching, I told my classes that after I retired I intended to become a Wal*Mart greeter. So on my very last day of teaching, my class gave me my very own Wal*Mart greeter's apron. I haven't pursued this line of work. Actually, I have rarely seen a Wal*Mart greeter greet anyone. Or, if they do, their greeting is rather anemic, making you feel less than joyful about coming to enrich the Walton family coffers with a few more coins. Happy Wal*Mart shopping. Maybe your store is run better than this one or others in which I have had similar experiences.
Occasionally you may be tempted to go shopping with your wife. This possibility is not often an issue if you are not retired, unless you want to join the Saturday shopping throngs. But after retirement you may think it would be nice to get out of the house for awhile after sitting around doing nothing for days on end. Rethink this inclination carefully. I went shopping with my wife today. The first principles of successfully negotiating these treacherous shoals are as follows:
(1) Remember that wives never have anything to wear. It doesn't matter how crammed their closets are, none of the clothes hanging there are wearable. So wives always need something new to wear. So don't even question them on this matter.
(2) Wives, and women generally, think that everything is so cute. "Oh, that's so cute," with the word cute emphasized and drawn out is a frequent expression. Shoes, particularly, appear cute to them although, to me, shoes are shoes and something to wear on your feet to walk around on. Pants are cute. Tops are cute. I think it's fine if wives and women find everything cute. Men don't go around saying, "Oh, that pair of Dockers is so cute," or, that new polo shirt is "just darling." But if women think everything is cute, this is not an issue worth pursuing even though you may be baffled by what cute means.
(3) You cannot rush women while they are shopping or they get extremely irritated. I asked my wife today what would happen if I griped about how long she was taking in the store, and she informed me sharply that she would send me to the car. I can shop an entire 100 store mall in about 20 minutes flat, and the men's department of a major department store in no more than 5 minutes. All I need is about three new pair of Dockers, a couple of new polo shirts, and a few pair of socks every year and my clothing shopping is finished. All of this can be accomplished in a few minutes. What do women see that takes them so long to figure out that they aren't likely to find anything they want anyway?
(4) If you arrange to meet a wife at a prearranged time and place, this schedule rarely works out. What would be desirable is if you could attach a Global Positioning device to your spouse so you could find them after you have waited an interminable amount of time. Clerks are always asking me if they can help me, and I reply, "Yes, you can help me find my wife." Occasionally someone volunteers that they would be happy to page them over the loud speaker system. My wife always blames me for getting lost, even after I have walked up and down every aisle in the store three or four times looking for her.
(5) My wife does not enjoy shopping unless she can start out with an item with an original price tag of $80 to $100 and then ultimately buy it for $4.98 after several markdowns, a senior discount, and an additional special clearance discount. She would like it better if the store would give it to her free, but she recognizes that fair is fair and she should pay something for it.
(6) The proper role of men who foolishly accompanied their wives to the store is to hang out by the front door and mind their business or find a place to sit down. As we entered one department store today, I commented to a man pacing by the door that "I see here's another poor guy waiting for his wife to get out of the store," to which he said that he had no idea how much longer he had to hang out and wait for her. Especially in a town like St. George where you have lots of older retired couples, you will see many poor, tired men waiting patiently for their dear wives to finish "shopping", whatever that means, so they can go home, wondering why they ever thought it would be a good idea to come in the first place.
(7) All things considered, I guess the final conclusion is that we should probably be thankful that we have someone to go shopping with in the first place. And if our wives can find something new that they like, that they think is "cute", and that they will enjoy, then that just makes life all around more pleasant and enjoyable.
As a follow up to Jack's comment. Bob and I made a "quick" stop at F.M. for him to pick up shave cream. I was sent to check out 2 major household items and we would meet back at the main door. With a short stop at the baby clothes to see what was available for the newest grandbaby, I made a dash for the other 2 departments, made my purchase and was back at the appointed door. No husband. I began crusing the isles. Where did I find him? The store had put up a Super Bowl display: TV (on), lounge chairs, chips, the works.
So I am good as long as the display is there. Judy
Posted by: Judy | January 31, 2008 at 09:50 AM
Professor DMB, If you cannot get your wife a GPS implant, you need to get his and her cell phones. Then you can always contact/find her (if she wants you too). Even if you don't give out your cell number to anyone else it is worth the cost. I know!
It is well known that no matter what physical condition a husband is in, following his wife around shopping will turn disks in his lower spine to jelly within 15 minute allowing the L5-L6 verebra to compress the nerve trunks to his lower back and legs causing great pain and bad temper. As an Economist, Dr. Blood you could provide a great service to your fellow men if you were to use your knowledge to develop an economic model to show store owners the vast amount of profit they would make if they were to cordon off a small alcove for husbands and equip it with a few comfortable chairs and stock it with a TV set, a newspaper or two and a few good magazines,etc.,so the wives could shop longer and spend more.
Much of mankind and certainly your fellow male retires would rise up and call you blessed. Jack
Never have digital cameras been cheaper, more loaded with features, easier to use, and more capable of producing photos that will absolutely amaze you. If you haven't already figured it out, one of the Laws of Modern Technology is that new stuff is always cheaper and better than the old stuff. As I have written in an earlier post, my second digital camera was a Nikon Coolpix 4300 which was rated at the top of the heap when I bought it. I paid $500 for it and took 2-3000 pictures with it. The camera had 4 mega pixels which, though low by today's standards, produced photos of startling clarity even when enlarged. But the camera had an extremely annoying 4 1/2 second shutter lag which drove everyone nuts when trying to hold groups of people still to take several shots, and it lacked many other features now standard on today's cameras. When looking for a pocket-sized camera to take with me everywhere a few months ago, I settled on the Canon SD 850IS, which retailed at $400 and which I bought for $225 at Staples. The SD 850 IS has 8 megapixels and a variety of advanced features including image stabilization which is critical for me since I have a slight tremor in my right hand. I have now taken over 3000 photos with this camera, and over 2000 have been worth saving. Even if the camera disappeared forever, I would still feel my $225 was a bargain since the pictures themselves are priceless.
In today's issue (January 30 2008) USA Today has a useful article for camera bugs, and especially for those who have been waiting to buy one because they weren't sure what to buy. In the article titled Consumers can get more camera for less money, you can see just how far prices have fallen and how much quality and features have increased. The new Nikon Coolpix S550 due out in February has 10 mega pixels and a new "anti-blink" feature which alerts you to shoot again if someone blinks! Imagine that. No more cussing when you look at your photos and find Aunt Mabel kept blinking. Best of all, the camera is priced at $230. Check out the article linked above to see what else is in store.
If you haven't already entered the digital photo era, there has never been a better time to do so than now in terms of price and advanced features. Ignore the fact that a year from now, we will be able to repeat this same statement since who knows what camera techies will come up with next. So here are some reasons why you should buy and use a digital camera:
(1) Cameras are obviously cheaper than they have ever been.
(2) Film is free, so you will save from $10-$15 a roll, more or less. If you take 3600 photos, that's equivalent to 100 rolls of films to buy and develop at a cost of somewhere around $1000, give or take.
(3) Don't postpone taking lots of photos, the more the better. You will always regret not taking more photos now, especially of your family and your activities. Today's common ordinary scenes and photos are tomorrow's treasures for the next generation.
(4) There are an incredible number of options for using and printing your photos, including digital frames which hold and cycle several photos, fabrics, photo books, online photo sharing sites, place mats, cups, and about anything else you can think of.
(5) Cameras today are virtually fool proof so anyone can get great photos with the camera set on automatic, and can have even more fun learning to use some of the camera's advanced features.
If you don't have a computer, you can take the camera's memory card to a photo-processing place like Costco, WalMart, Walgreen's, or numerous other places to print photos and make CD's of your photos. If you take lots of photos and have made a hobby out of your camera, you will want to invest in a computer if you don't already have one. Adequate computers can be bought for $500-$800, more or less, with more features than computers had that cost several thousand dollars just a few years ago. With a computer, you can perform basic editing tasks like cropping, altering exposure, removing shadows, straightening, adjusting tint, and many other enhancements. You can store thousands of photos on your hard drive, but you should also remember that your hard drive can crash so you should always back up your photos on CDs, DVDs, and, in addition, preferably on an external hard drive as well. Nothing can be more traumatic than losing a treasure trove of family photos because of a hard drive crash. So make sure you have hard copies and plenty of options for storage.
Besides everything discussed above, a camera can become your window to the world. You will see and appreciate things you have never noticed or that you have just glossed over before. The beauties of the world will become more enjoyable. Your appreciation for the people you photograph will be enhanced as you provide a means for yourself and for others to become better acquainted with them through photography. Just be sure that you make your treasure trove of photos safe by having numerous backups through a variety of methods. Oh, and by the way, buy a memory card with at least 1G of storage and preferably 2G since most cameras come with a piddly little storage card. Have fun!
I have always had a problem remembering the date of our wedding anniversary. You would think that after fifty-five years of marriage, I would have figured out whether it was December 18 or December 22. But somehow I have a mental block on which day it is. Some years I remember the day of the anniversary and rush off to the stores to see what presents I can rustle up to stay in good graces. If the time is late in the afternoon, then my attempts to make up for my inattention are less appreciated, I'm sure, than if I had thought about the day ahead of time and actually gone out and got some remembrance.
The all-time disgrace I fell into on our wedding anniversary was the year I bought my wife a Dust Buster. I actually thought it was a practical and considerate gift that would make her housekeeping easier and more convenient. Moreover, it wasn't cheap. I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me that a Dust Buster had limited romantic and nostalgic appeal. As a result, I have tried to stick to flowers and other personal gifts since that time. But everyone in the family continues to persecute me and make me feel bad for my errant stupidity in buying a Dust Buster as a wedding anniversary present.
Men, never forget your wedding anniversary. Find out whether it is paper, or tin, or gold or whatever. Take your wife out to lunch or dinner without having to be reminded with a "do you know what day it is, dear?" about halfway through the six o'clock news. Such neglect and forgetfulness and thoughtlessness could easily persuade your dear wife that you don't care about her and it doesn't matter to you what day you actually got married, since she talked you into it in the first place. There may come a day when you may wish that you had paid more attention to her while you had a chance.
When I was a fledgling doctoral student in economics at the University of Michigan in the mid-1950s, I was first introduced to the nebulous art of economic forecasting. I was a research assistant in the Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics and since I was a neophyte, I was assigned to collect the data on the agricultural sector to plug into the Michigan economic forecasting model. The model itself contained about 27 equations with a whole batch of different variables in each equation. These equations were supposed to represent different economic sectors like automobile manufacturing, housing, steel, agriculture, and all of the other major economic sectors. Then, the idea was that since everything is supposedly interrelated with everything else, all you had to do was to solve a multivariable mathematical equation simultaneously, in the days before computers would do it for you. When all was said and done and the wondrous results calculated, then you were more or less prepared to say that such and such an expected result was likely to occur with such and such a margin of error. Since multiple equations couldn't account for everything, an error term hung on to the end like an offending relative which represented "noise" or the stuff that couldn't be explained.
There are several methods of economic forecasting, namely: (1) hunches, informed or otherwise; (2) mathematical models such as the Michigan model; (3) take an average of the forecasts of 50 economists; (4) ask ten Democrats; (5) ask ten Republicans; (6) ask five talk-show hosts, who have unbounded knowledge about everything; (7) ask the President of the United States; (8) see how much your own personal outgo exceeds your own personal income; (9) ask the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; (10) ask the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board; (11) ask fifteen Presidential candidates; (12) look around for someone who feels about the same way you feel about the economy and hire them to be your own personal and private forecaster who will come up with the results you want. I imagine I have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities.
Over the years, one of the most annoying aspects of being an economist was that people were always asking me what was going to happen to the economy and what stock should they invest in. I would always explain that economists talk in theories and not in practical facts and they know how to predict what will happen but we're better at such predicting over the very long run. Long-run forecasts are always safer than short-run forecasts. That way you may pass away without having to confront the fallout from your forecasting error.
Harry Truman became so exasperated with economists telling him "on the one hand," but "on the other hand," that he said he wanted a one-armed economist who could make up his mind. The problem with economic forecasting is that no one can accurately predict the emergence of unexpected surprises. Another problem is that people may behave one way during one set of circumstances and another way later on during the same set of circumstances. As one of my professors used to say, "You can't put people in test tubes." Then, the data may not be accurate to begin with. Or the forecasting method may have flaws and provide embarrassingly inaccurate results. Or the people who want the forecast to come out a certain way blast the forecast as erroneous and misleading if it doesn't match the desired result.
Some factors never change. Politicians have a better pulpit to preach from than economists generally have, and they all obviously think they have a better knowledge of economics than do economists. Economists predict what is likely to happen under given circumstances, not what people want to happen to make them happy. Thus, economists fulfill their mission in practicing the "dismal science" as prophets of gloom and doom.
When all is said and done, the economy may go up, it may go down, or it may stagnate for awhile and run sideways. Mostly people don't worry too much about the economy as long as they can get no-money-down mortgages at minimal interest rates to buy houses several hundred thousand dollars more than they should even think of buying. But when the mortgage gets foreclosed when the rates go up, then its time for the government to bail them out. They had no idea that they might have figured out what they could afford in the first place. When the economy starts to sink a bit, then the experts all parade to the news conferences and the lecture halls to say whether they think it will sink a little, a lot, or a whole lot. Perhaps the most interesting thing about economic forecasting is that everyone has access to the same numbers in reams of federal, state, and local government data. Everything depends on how these data are evaluated and massaged. Like the blind men and the elephant, people tend to look for data that support their own biases and wishes, and discount other data. Few people ask the relevant question "what other way is there to look at this, or what data have we left out?"
And, to top it all off, USA Today tells us in its article of January 29 that Economists rate chance of recession as a 'coin flip'. But at least, according to the article, the recession, if it does occur, "will likely be short and shallow." Who knows? Banks and investment firms all hire their own economic gurus, and newspapers seek them out to tell them what they think is going to happen. The general rule here is to sound like you really do know what is going to happen and not waffle around too much. You can always say later on that too many unexpected surprises occurred. Actually, we won't know whether we are in a recession until after the fact, since about six months of declining output have to occur before a recession becomes official. So there you are, flip a coin or take a nap. Wake up tomorrow and see what the experts have to say in the morning.
When I studied public finance, I learned that there are two methods of evaluating the cost of public goods and services: (1) the ability to pay, and (2) the amount of benefits received. For a century, most people outside of the metropolitan areas and places where toll roads have long existed have assumed and expected that driving on highways is "free." People paid for most of their non-fee based public services in a lump sum with their state, federal, and local taxes. But when the costs of public services outstrip the availability of public taxes to pay for them, other alternative sources of funding must be sought. For roads, the obvious means of financing is through tolls. While the public may feel betrayed in being required to pay tolls, they may face a more catastrophic form of reality if they must choose between tolls and deteriorating and inadequate existing roads and the inability of governments to provide necessary new roads and highways.
In its article Drivers to see increase in tolls: strapped states look to roads to raise cash,USA Today (January 28 2008) warns that financially lean times are going to necessitate major toll hikes for the nation's toll roads, bridges, and tunnels. The article points out that Congress has not raised the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993, leaving governments little choice but to ask users of roads, bridges, and tunnels to pay the costs of upkeep. The idea that we already pay enough taxes and that costs of roads and other transportation facilities should be financed out of these taxes often makes toll road financing a contentious issue. Sooner rather than later, the nation's motorists might as well face up to the idea that if you want to drive, you have to pay. If you don't want to pay, stay home.
One of the biggest surprises for many retired couples occurs when Ward Cleaver comes home with his briefcase for the last time and yells, "I'm ba-a-a-ck!" To which, June Cleaver says something like, "Oh, goody!", or, "Oh my heck, what am I going to do with him?" One would think that after twenty or thirty or forty years of marriage that couples would be relatively well acquainted with each other. Depending on the kind of employment and the kind of marriage, some couples may very well be closely acquainted and get along easily and well now that they have no choice but to live in close proximity on a 24/7 basis. Others may look for and find numerous points of conflict and friction and have a miserable and uncomfortable time adjusting to the fact that both spouses have, in reality, lost their independence that they have experienced for decades and really haven't paid much attention to the other spouse.
Women have been the Queen of the daytime household and have been pretty much free to plan their schedules and chores which, ordinarily, take up most of the day. At least until the precious teenagers leave home. No one is around to ask them what they are going to do next, why don't they do something else next, where are they going, what are they doing, when is lunch ready, what are we having for dinner, why do you have to watch that stupid soap opera, when can you iron my shirt, please be quiet while I take a nap, why are you doing that this way, why don't you do this that way, when are you going to quit having a nervous tic since I never noticed that until the day I retired.
Men have to finesse the situation by pointing out that they were big and important men on their jobs running huge businesses or were a learned professor dispensing timeless knowledge and they weren't really trained to fix the toilet paper holder, and having a tight schedule, they aren't sure when they can get around to looking at it. Since they are around all day, they must listen to questions such as why can't you pick up your socks? Why do you leave your stuff laying around everywhere? When are you going to shave? Are you thinking about taking a shower sometime this week? Are you coming with me over to my mother's? Why can't you clean out the garage for the first time in fifteen years? When are you going to haul the junk out of the basement? No, I don't want you to come to the grocery store or the fabric store with me. No, I'm not letting you go to the store for a loaf of bread because you will spend $50 on stuff we don't need. Or, when are you going to quit that annoying habit or stop making those annoying noises? Or, don't you have any manners?
Then there is the arena of petty and creative bickering. My wife tends to correct every numerical number or estimate I make since she thrives on accuracy. I tend to round off numbers so they look better when they need to or worse when the occasion demands. If I say it was about 3:10, she will say, no, it was exactly 3:15. Next comes the matter of not pushing the buttons that each person knows will send the other dear spouse into orbit, causing great offense and extreme anger and asking one's self "why did I marry this troublemaker fifty years ago?"
Thus, the principles of successful retirement are contingent on getting carefully reacquainted with your spouse. This process may take a great deal of patience, and may have to be worked out slowly and with great consideration. Carefully avoid issues that have been hanging around for decades and ignore irritations. They will go away. I've taken over the vacuuming and the dishwasher and a few other chores which earns me credits for being excused for a few stupid or rude things. Always agree. Say thank you and please every time you can do so. Say I'm sorry a few extra times even if you don't think it's necessary. Ask not, as John F. Kennedy might say, what are you doing, but ask, what would you like to do? Ask if you can help even if you don't really mean it and are stuck with helping by doing so. If scattered socks are a thorn, pick up your stupid socks and underwear. Make the bed. Fix your own lunch. I haven't heard of any retired man whose wife makes lunch which, while I think this is a national disaster, I have learned to cope with by doing hot dogs and lunch meat gourmet lunches.
Watch retired couples. Some walk three yards apart from each other like they are carrying grudges as big as railroad ties. Others walk hand in hand or with one arm around the other. Some freeze up and barely speak; others chat away like they needed to spill everything they knew and that the other spouse was delighted to hear what they had to say.
Hang your wedding picture on your wall and look at it frequently, reminding yourself how much you were in love with your spouse all those years ago. If you have had some rocky spots in your marriage, it's time to forgive and forget. Best of all is when married couples after retirement can work together in harmony and love and not only be marriage partners but become the very best of friends. You will both need each other down the home stretch and in the process you will be thankful for each other, each day, and for the good lives you have lived.
Jerome Groopman's book The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness is a wonderful essay on the relationship between hope and medicine. Anyone who has confronted a serious illness or who suffers from chronic pain and disability or who is a caregiver for someone with a serious illness will appreciate this book. For that matter, people who are healthy can also gain an inspiring perspective on the role of hope in their lives.
Dr. Groopman takes us on his personal quest that has lasted over thirty years in which he went on ". . . a journey of discovery from a point where hope was absent to a place where it could not be lost." (p. xiii). As a hematologist and an oncologist, he was in constant contact with patients who faced discouragement and death. But through all of these years, he learned that "During the course of an illness, then, hope can be imagined to have a domino effect, a chain reaction in which each link makes improvement more likely. It changes us profoundly in spirit and in body." As a result, he states that now "Every day I look for hope, for my patients, for my loved ones, and for myself."
Recognizing that hope can be false hope, Groopman tells us about a patient who found a middle ground where both truth and hope could reside. In writing about the biology of hope, Groopman concludes that "Without hope, nothing could begin. . . Hope helps us overcome hurdles that we otherwise could not scale, and it moves us forward to a place where healing can occur." (p. 177) And finally, the author concludes that "I see hope as the very heart of healing. For those who have hope, it may help some to live longer, and it will help all to live better." (p. 212)
I found Groopman's preceding comment extremely important: Our hope may not lead us to recovery and health, but hope can help us all to live better while we are here. For those who are clinging to hope, who are seeking to understand why they are destined to suffer and endure frightening and debilitating diseases, Groopman's stories about "how people prevail in the face of illness" are stories that can be read over and over again as sources of inspiration and understanding.