Did you know that Sustainable Development (Agenda 21) is 20 years old this year?
I originally thought I wanted to present to you, as many proud parents do of their children, tales of the successes and achievements of our birthday boy. Sort of my present to you.
If you look over government reports, which I admit, I am loathe to do, you can see that industrial production and GDP growth rates seem to slip on a downward slide over the last twenty years. Now I’m no economist, but a slide is a slide, yes?
But that’s not enough, is it? Not for me, not for us. We need some rock-solid data, hard evidence. So, with vigor and intensity, I hit the web looking to pull graphs, charts, papers and studies. My tickler file is packed. But, alas, after much analysis, yawns and Visine to get the red out, I was forced to dump it all. Not that I couldn’t build a case, mind you. No, no, no. The data is there, if you can machete your way through the scrub brush. The problem is me.
I don’t put much stock in most presentations, reports, or studies. Far too many, when you dig deep enough, are prepared, or worse, paid for, by an entity that may or does have an agenda. I don’t trust them. Nor should you. Sure, they sound official and authoritative but what the hell are they really saying? Here’s a real sample. This guy, Scott Winship, in a piece called, Inequality, Living Standards, and the Middle Class, Part 2, is arguing that things aren’t as bad as they seem:
How much did things go south? Well, in 2008 the median was $50,303. That’s right—about $5,000 higher (after adjusting for changes in the cost of living). This improvement understates things because households also became smaller over time, and because the inflation-adjustment here probably overstates inflation. For instance, if one uses the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s Personal Consumption Expenditures deflator, the increase from 1973 to 2008 was about $7,700, or 18 percent. Not only does that still not adjust for declining household size, it also doesn’t include changes in taxes, non-cash benefits, the value of health insurance, and capital gains. Incorporating these adjustments shows an increase in living standards that is more like 40 percent.
Tough read? Yes. Agenda? Probably. Bullshit? Most likely.
I call these Free Agency reports. They work like this: say I’m trying to get my ball player a new contract. The team I’m negotiating with is on the west coast.
Now Mr. Owner, I know you have a report that says my player’s actual batting average was .236 last year. But, when you look a little deeper, which we have done for you, we think you’ll see a different story. This new report shows you that while on the west coast he hit .287. Nice, eh? Further, here’s a report that shows against teams in your division he hit .301. And finally, Mr. Owner, look at this: in your stadium, at night, against teams in your division, after 8:15PM, between the 5th and 8th innings, he hit .367, outstanding, yes? Imagine what he’ll do for your club. Clearly, I’m offering you more than a .236 hitter.
See my point? Numbers can, and are, routinely manipulated to present a perspective that is slanted the way the preparer wants. I don’t care what letters come after these folks’ name, whether it’s Ph. D, C.P.A or A.S.S, you know you’re in for a brutal read when phrases like “taking into account” and “adjust for” and “factor in” show themselves like pop up windows. These reports instantly become advertisements, sales pitches or propaganda. So, to me, no thanks, I’m trying to cut down.
I’ll rely on myself and my ability to observe. I’ll ask the street-level questions, the ones that government and institute reports often skip over. We all know, during any window of time, things ebb and flow, rise and fall, sometimes dramatically but most often over a span of years. It’s the waves of life, so to speak, like ripples on a pond. So, we need to take that into account. Better to look at 10, 15 or 20 years than just two or three. For example, is my financial condition the same, worse or better today than in 1998? 2002? 2006? Do I feel I can absorb a hit, say a car accident, more effectively today than 2004? 2000? What about my possessions? Is my car new? Used? Used up? Can I fix a major breakdown easier now than in 2006? 2000? What about the house? Did I ever get to that upgrade? If not, why not? Was it time, lack of will or was it money that held me back?
You can expand this, too. Look at your neighborhood. Has there been some turn-over? And what of the new folks compared to the original ones? Do they make more money, less, or about the same? Have the properties been improved? Or remained about the same? Or deteriorated? How about the cars they own? Or the jobs they have? Are they similar to the original residents? Better? Worse? You can expand this to the country, too. It’s not rocket science.
And after having done this myself, in the final analysis, when the rubber meets the road, I am forced to conclude things are not better, say, from 1990′s. Sure, I’ll concede that minor aspects may have improved here and there but, as a big picture, the general state of America, to me, has deteriorated. In my eyes, America isn’t what she used to be. She’s still a much better looking babe than the rest of the world’s countries. But the radiance seems a little diminished, the sheen a bit dulled. There’s now blemishes and some that are pretty obvious.
And I can’t help but wonder if our birthday boy has something to do with this?
Happy f%#!!! birthday.