The ongoing economic decline isn’t without some benefits, among them all the freshly paved roads and rebuilt bridges and other make-work projects that were designed to inject billions of dollars of money (debt) into our moribund economy. The other important contribution is the plethora of interesting new language and terminology making its mark on our culture and into our dictionaries. If you have wondered if “QE” is shorthand for Queen Elizabeth, you are very yesterday and in need of an update. So, here is a short list of currently vogue terms and then some suggested new ones to help us quickly identify a trend or condition we’d not seen before:
QE: This stands for Qualitative Easing, a term we apparently borrowed from Japan when its economy was going sideways. The injection of billions of dollars in borrowed money (US taxpayer debt) into roads and bridges is one way to understand this modern form of “trickle-down.” I personally don’t understand how the construction traffic keeping me from work is helping my personal economy, but these things take time, apparently. Another form of this would be if the Fed decided to buy billions of dollars worth of bonds from a bank, let’s say, and overpay for those bonds, the bank now has billions of dollars in liquidity and can make business and mortgage loans that will create jobs, increase consumer spending, etc. Or it can leave the money in its vaults.
Robo-signing (or rubber-stamping): Turns out that some of the banks we bailed didn’t have enough money left over to hire actual people to review your pending home foreclosure. So rather than make sure that the worst economic calamity of your lifetime was properly documented, robots posing as humans just kept moving that paperwork right on through. It’s the robot’s fault.
Bailout: An old fashion bailout was like a small rowboat with a few inches of water that would have to madly scoop water from to keep it afloat. The modern bailout is like the QE2 (not quantitative easing) with vast amounts of ocean water pouring into its engine room and an ear-splitting horn signaling grave danger. That was Wall Street and Detroit, both of which seem to be doing much better although it is hard to fathom how Wall Street is doing so well with our money while our economy is still sputtering.
Stimulus Package: Think about that hospital show where a middle-aged guy is flat lining in the ER and the doctors are revving up a device and rubbing these two paddles together before shocking this technically dead guy with a zillion volts. These guys usually come back to life on TV, but we’ve got trillions of dollars trying to shock this economy back to life and so far we’ve got the faintest of heartbeats.
Chronically Unemployed: Could the news be worse if you are already unemployed? How about being unemployed for the rest of your life? There are millions of people out there looking for work, getting interviews, but no job. Why? Employers don’t want to hire them… because they are unemployed! That’s right. The belief is that you were let go by your previous employer because you weren’t very good at your job, so why would anyone else want you? That begs the question: Who are they hiring if not the unemployed? Well, someone who is already employed! Stay-cations: Anybody who tells you that he or she has happily decided to stay home for their vacation this year because they want to stay local is both lying and broke.
Here are a couple of suggestions for some new terms to help us adjust to our new level of desperation:
Liquid Real Estate: It used to be that when your house was worth less than the mortgage, your house was considered “under water.” Now, with millions of homes being foreclosed on, the old term doesn’t quite describe just how liquid this industry has become. The only economy with more housing under water is Venice.
Decession: No one wants to say “Depression” to describe our economic woes, so we just say that this “recession” we are currently experiencing is the “worst economic decline since the Great Depression.” Let’s just split the difference if we can’t call it a depression or a recession.
Traffic Gap Index (TGI): If you want to measure economic activity, analyze the commute and ask yourself where all these cars went? The gap between cars is where another car used to be before the unemployment rate hit double digits. It’ll be good news finally when that gap tightens and you start pounding your steering wheel in frustration.