Dear Mr. Bernanke,
First of all, I’m sorry to butt in. I know you’re really busy trying to figure out how to massage the economy back to life. There is no amount of money that you could pay me to do your job. But I was thinking about how I could use a little help around the house these days and how even Santa has elves. So, in the spirit of the season, I thought maybe I could offer you a hand. I know you have endless organizations out there tracking non-farm payrolls and sniffing out inflation and whatnot, but I thought I’d give you a fly-on-the-wall view of what’s happening in my town.
I live in a small town outside of New York City. We’ve got one or two Wall Street types among us. OK, to be honest, you can’t throw a snowball around here without hitting a One Percenter. True story: Back in the spring of 2007, I was at a party and listened to a woman recount the mishaps of her family’s trip home from the Caribbean. She said these words: “It was awful! I’m never flying commercial with my children again!” I know. I should have called you then. Those words signaled a turning point, the beginning of the end.
That was the beginning of the Great Financial Enema of 2008. I’m sure you remember it. People in my town hunkered down. One friend’s husband famously admonished her, “If you can’t eat it, don’t buy it.” And that mentality has gripped many of us for years. I waver between buying the organic chicken that costs $2 more per pound and the equally friendly-looking hormone-infused chicken. I even file my own nails. But I’m writing to report that I see some green shoots around here. I’m not saying it’s 2006 again. Or even the misguided months of late 2007. But I am saying there are a few data points that your guys might have missed.
Babysitters are now making between $15 and $20 per hour. And I don’t mean the kind of babysitters that drive and know CPR. Or even the kind that throw away the pizza box after dinner. I just mean a teen-ager who is there to watch TV with your kids so that you can say someone was there watching them. I recently had a babysitter tell me that she charges $17 per hour. (Who wants to come home after a night out and multiply 17 times 6?) That compares to my salary at Goldman Sachs in 1991 of $26,000 per year, which works out to $8.33 per hour for a 60-hour week. Pre-tax.
My street has been under construction for three years straight. The day they finished construction to my right, they broke ground to my left. I know it’s eight o’clock every morning because of the beep, beep, beep of a truck in reverse. Some might find this annoying, but to me a jackhammer is like the sound of a cash register ringing. It’s the sound of progress, industry, and prosperity. I’ll send you an audio recording separately, you’ll love it!
There has been a measurable uptick in the quantity and quality of holiday cards I’ve received this year. People are using a higher quality paper stock and maybe even attaching the separate glossy photo. Many are once again springing for the envelope liner ($135 extra per 200 cards) and the printed return address ($50). But not the large grosgrain bow that costs a bundle and requires extra postage. Again, this is not 2006.
I have been invited to SIX holiday parties this year. That is two more than the total number of holiday parties I have been invited to for the past four years (I could graph this if it helps). I think we can take this to mean that people are starting to feel better, that they don’t mind springing for a caterer with passed hors d’oeuvres. Or at least they are feeling more open to drinking in the company of others. Of course, I haven’t been to any of these parties yet, but if there’s shrimp I’ll let you know ASAP. Everyone knows shrimp is a bull market indicator. If prosperity sounds like a jackhammer, it tastes like cocktail sauce.
Durable Goods Orders
My husband has asked me what I’d like for Christmas this year. The comparison is subtle, but for the past four years he has worded his question: “You don’t want anything for Christmas this year, do you?” I’m still stunned by this new wording, and this year, I’m actually going to take him up on it. I would like a gift — a real gift, the kind that comes in a box too small to contain slippers.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to share with Treasury Secretary Geithner or the Prez. I’ll keep my ear to the ground around here, and you just keep doing what you’re doing.
And no need to thank me. I’m happy to help.