I’ve lived in at least four bubbles in the “bubble economy”. The Dot Com Bubble, The Housing Bubble, The Financial Toxic Waste Bubble and The Great Recession Bubble. I’ve observed people living in personal bubbles and I’ve created and popped my own. This last week I got to live in a different personal bubble than my usual Vulcan bubble while observing the impact of the bubble housing on people. It was interesting and it has briefly reconfigured my thinking.
When people talk about the bubble economy or people living in a bubble there is an underlying criticism that bubbles are a bad thing, and they often are. But I totally understand why people want them, create them and love them. Bubbles are GREAT — if they work for you. If there are no sanctions or consequences for the deleterious effects of bubbles when expanding rapidly or after popping, people will continue to create them as fast as they can. If they could, they would get a bubble gun.
All bubbles have winner and losers. Here in the future home of Star Fleet Academy I know some of the Dot Com Bubble winners and losers very well. For everyone who got stock options and the company went public there are 20 times more people who never hit the jack pot. The good news is that they might have left behind some infrastructure, IP or both. Those people might have had good paying jobs for years. But after the bubble popped could they get into bubble 2.0? Some of them did get in at the ground floor with their lips on the straw, puffing away. The 20 to 1 ratio of failures to success still holds true in the VC community but most the news will be about the winners. There used to be a website called F**kedCompany that documented the losers. It was fascinating, as well as funny, tragic and sad.
Mr. Hou$ing Bubble
I know some people who got into the real estate bubble before it popped. “Flip this house with no money down!” I remember being disgusted hearing the greed and desire of two agents talk about how they priced a 800 square foot house so they would get multiple offers and people would have to guess just how much over the asking price to bid. The winning bid was $75,000 over the asking price. The house went for $660,000. TThe winners were glad to get the house, the sellers and the sellers agents were glad they were on the winning side. I heard the sellers were looking at houses over a million because, there was ” a real softening in the 1.2 million dollar properties.” For many people the bubble was grand. Maybe even for the people who paid $660,000 for a 800 square foot house. Later, as the prices still rose, they could refinance and then “take money out of the house” with home equity loans. Of course now, they might be underwater or upside down, but they still have the value of having a place to live.
Maybe you, like a huge chuck of the country, got blown into the Great Recession bubble on the losing side. There are a lot of people who are on the winning side of the Great Recession and they will keep promoting their attitudes and “values” to the losers — holding out the hope that someday they will be part of the winning side.
If you created, benefited from or are still living in an active bubble you might ignore signs of collapse. If yours has collapsed and you benefited from living in it, you might try anything to recreate your old bubble. If that doesn’t work you might cast around for getting into a new bubble where you will once again be a winner. There are a handful of people in power who “get it” and let the world know the importance of regulation for bubbles. Surprisingly, the people who “get it” are often winners of a previous bubble, or maybe this is because the media likes to listen to the winners of a bubble more than the losers. That is why they flock around Warren Buffet and his call for fair taxes for millionaires. “He’s rich, yet he believes in paying his fair share of taxes! That’s just crazy, according to all the right wing talkers, rich people hate all taxes– but he’s richer than all of them! Maybe he knows more than they do. This makes no sense to my RW programmed mind, but it’s conflict and I love conflict! This is man bites dog! Roll tape!”
Seeing America’s Bubbles
I think I underestimated how powerful surrounding yourself with people who live in a different bubble can have on your attitudes. My friends and I often lament that the unemployed and underemployed aren’t really seen by the media and policy makers and politicians. My friend Mark Steckel even created a website with photos called Seeing America to help people see the reality of the economic situation of millions of Americans. He was looking for a place to showcase the modern equivalent of Dorothea Lang’s photos
I recently got do my civic duty as a juror. I won’t go into details, partly because every time we went off to recess and the judge admonished us to not talk to anyone about the trial and when she got to the, “No blogging” part I could swear she was looking right at me.
It was such a pleasure to hang out with a group of people with jobs (from an employer!) whose task was to focus on a specific legal conflict. I really enjoyed it. We didn’t have to fix the problems of the world, just answer a few questions and decide who was right based on some rules laid out for us. It was fun to watch two people arguing about something and a third party ruling on those arguments!
How many times have you wished to challenge some wing nut or RW media figure on their “facts?” Another nice thing was the whole, “testifying under oath” part. How many times do you wish that when you asked a question of a politician you could add. “Remember, you are under oath to tell the truth.” When they object that they are not under oath it would just highlight that they are under no obligation to tell you the truth. ( I think I’ll do that the next time I ask a politician a question. “Remember you are under oath.” He will ask, “What oath?” I’ll say, “You know, the oath you took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.“)
After the case was over I went back to my office at Star Fleet to read the daily stories of the millions of financially struggling unemployed and underemployed — all of us in The Great Recession bubble. I can see just how different my attitude was when I hung out in the court house with the lawyers in their $1,500 dollar suits and jurors with their iPhones making business calls during lunch.
This is a great bubble! What’s not to love? Why would you want to look at or expose yourself to a depressing Great Recession Bubble? Why would you want to look at photos of the unemployed, or read stories about people losing their homes? Depressing! If you spent a lot of time with the losing side of people in The Great Recession Bubble you could fall into despair of never having a real job again. You might think, this isn’t a soap bubble, this is a bubble made out of steel.
Is the Recession Bubble made of steel or soap?
If you are still on the winning side of the Great Recession Bubble you might avoid reading any news about it, or talking to people who are impacted with it because besides depressing you, it might force you to do something about it.
The people who decide how to keep the overall health of the country going are in their own bubble and they aren’t coming out. They don’t want to see the people outside their Bubble. They want to stay in it. I understand.
I’m tired of trying to get the politicians who are supposed to represent the people who elected them to see that they are in a bubble. Maybe we can invite some of the power people living in their bubbles to see how the rest of us live in the Great Recession Bubble. They might see how crappy it is and before retreating back into their bubble they can help pop this bubble first. Then they can go back to their bubble. Maybe if I’m lucky I can join them again for longer than a week.
If we are in a steel bubble we will need some serious power and heat to pop it. Power in the form of money and political will. Heat in the form of pressure, public pressure and media pressure.
I think we are going to have pop a few private bubbles first so people can see that they live in our bubble too. I know that I’d like this Great Recession bubble to pop, I’ll bet you do too. Time to pop some bubbles.