Monday, November 3, 2008
A Guest Economist
About a week and half ago, my mother sent me her thoughts on the current economic crisis, and I asked her if I could post it here. She agreed. The first line of it read, "How my parents will save the world's economic problems," and it seemed to me a perfect title. Enjoy.
(Pictured above are my grandmother and grandfather, or Babcia and Dziadek, as we called them. On Dziadek's lap is me on the left, and my cousin Amanda on the right. The picture was taken at their home in San Antonio.)
How My Parents Will Save the World's Economic Problems
Just read the New Yorker article about the 30-year-old who brought down the French trading house, Société Générale. Then I heard the author of The Black Swan talking about the impending world economic collapse. While I was reading the New Yorker article, I was struck by the understanding that the people in charge had no idea what was going on.
So let me tell you about my parents. Simple peasants from the Polish Ukraine who survived Hitler’s “work study” program during the Second World War, which was a better option than being killed by the Ukrainians or going to Siberia with the Russians. They arrived in Texas with three children and a bag of dried bread crusts and a feather bed, which my mother had gotten for her dowry. We were supposed to go to Kansas, but when we arrived in New Orleans in December 1949, we were reassigned to Texas. Others took our place in Kansas. On the train trip to San Antonio, by mother kept remembering all the stories she had read about Indians and the uncivilized conditions in the West—which included Texas in European mythology.
The uncivilized conditions proved to be true, but not because of Indians.
So they arrived, they raised their children, and we thrived. We are all solvent, self-sufficient American taxpayers. Quite a feat when you start out making $.25 per hour, work 16-hour days and are paid for 8. My father left that job to work at a non-union foundry at $1 per hour. To support us he also moonlighted cleaning the parochial school my siblings and I attended for 3 years.
So what did I learn from these people about economics? If you don’t understand it, don’t do it. It’s a simple concept, but it would have kept us out of a world of trouble. They understood interest—we saved and would go downtown to put money in the bank weekly. To celebrate the deposit we would go to Joske’s and buy cheese, salami and hard rolls, which we would eat on the way home. At first we ate on the bus, then we continued the tradition in our first car—a ‘49 Ford.
After I got out of college and married, my parents were there to advance a loan for my first car—and they extended this policy to my sister and later to my children. Their rates were great, and our rates were better than the banks were offering. Everyone was happy. They died rich and happy and surrounded by family.
So now the world is in a world of trouble. Who would have thought that making bets on derivatives wouldn’t turn out well for all of us? My mom and dad would have said, What do you mean you don’t know whom you’re lending money to? Why can’t you explain it to me so I understand? Are these good people who have these loans on those houses and when can you show me?
It seems like a simple life, but we sure would be a lot more secure if we would have listened to them.
--Virginia Bowen, who runs a small business, Seattle Yarn, and who can be found on the web offering yarn and advice in her Ask The Yarn Lady column. She also has a blog. And she is a mighty fine mama and babcia in her own right.