Essays by Carl Nelson

Trail of Money

The Money Comes in Big Wads, or Not at All

 

This Mid-Ohio river valley town is a hard place to turn a buck.  As a salesperson you don’t have to make many phone calls to figure this out.  As I work my way down the Chamber of Commerce lists of local businesses I follow a lot of hardscrabble efforts and read a lot of unique business names.  I call and get a busy signal, a number disconnected, or a voicemail from six months previous.  Lots of pre-recorded voicemails predominate as the owner themselves are missing while out presumably massaging some other prospects themselves.  It often seems the selling around here involves a lot of sniffing of each other’s skat.  In short in this area, as in a lot of the rust belt and increasingly more coastal areas of the country, the hunting is getting scarce.  In these business pages you can certainly see people trying  …everything.  Pet salons, beauty salons, pawn shops, barber shops, chemical cigarettes, lawn services, clean-up services, insurance services, financial services, tax assistance…  Even the professionals such as accountants and lawyers are having to jog pretty fast just to get by, and they seem to go out of business nearly as fast as anyone else.  In my mind the local employment solutions remind me of when as children we tried to catch a bird or a squirrel with a box held up by a stick with a string attached to it with some yummy bait inside.  We used to wait a long time and rarely had any luck.  So also with fishing with string and a safety pin.

Most of the small business around here has been run out by the franchises.  The dime stores, the cafes, the hardware and clothing stores have been replaced by the Wal Marts, MacDonalds and Home Depots.  They take the money here, but their purchasing is done elsewhere.  The mines and oil companies pull the resources out, pay some pretty good blue collar wages, but they purchase elsewhere and take the money elsewhere also.  The chemical plants up and down the river are not as thriving as once, but they still pay some pretty good blue collar wages – but here again purchase and use the money elsewhere.  The government brings in some money in terms of schools and federal services.  There is a bit of farming and logging.  The industries with the most profitable looking presence around here are the hospitals, funeral homes, and tort law.  Just driving around you get the impression that the common activity is to die.  The most common posted historical photo is of some devastating flood.

Oddly there are some very good teachers and individual contractors around, as these seem to be relatively good paying jobs which allow some to the best people to remain in the area.  The majority of the service jobs remaining, however, barely afford a life.  And if you are a youngster trying to break into an occupation around here, there is not much job mobility and few openings.  Maybe every twenty years something will come along to rock the economy and a few job holders are lured from the safety of their sure employment into something else to create a vacancy.  Otherwise the suppliers and customers are as attached and committed to one another as an embryo to its placenta.

But, here, more and more it doesn’t appear as if we are alone out here in the woods of Appalachia.  Even in the metropolitan area of Seattle, where I once called home, and all around our nation people are talking about the hollowing out of the middle class.  At the dealership where we once worked in Seattle they demanded an extreme work ethic.  You could work extremely hard and earn quite a bit more money that we needed.  We could have also worked just a normal week taken home $150,000/year, gone to see all of our child’s games and made it home for dinner by 6 every evening.  Except that the latter was not an option.  The company needed $500,000/year from that territory.  Otherwise they’d get someone else.

I see this all around the United States.  The big game like an elephant, a whale or a rhino are still around.  And if you are equipped to hunt them, you will have more food than you can possibly need.  But most the deer, rabbits, squirrels, possum, fish, etc. are gone.  Normal people with normal skills need not apply.  You have been replaced by better software and robots.

Then, just the other day, this caught my eye.  It was an article written for “The Seattle Globalist” by Sahid Maxad, an immigrant who, after twenty years repatriated to Somalia.  Sahid writes:

“But I was also getting away from a mostly stagnant and unfulfilling life in Seattle — White Center to be specific.

I was tired of working dead end jobs just to pay the bills. I felt trapped in a vicious cycle, where I always ended up at the same starting point, with no end in sight. I felt as if I was living a real life version of the movie Groundhog Day.”

What Sahid found in Somalia was a very poor country, and yet one with “many continuous years of improved safety and infrastructure development.”  And the time seemed to be right.  “More and more people are choosing to take their savings and invest in startup businesses and NGOs in Somalia to help rebuild the nation on a grassroots level.”

“Returning diaspora members are positioning themselves for success beyond their wildest imaginations — especially compared to their prospects in the States. I’ve seen people come here with a modest amount of savings and leverage it into entire hotel chains and various other lucrative entrepreneurial enterprises.”

In other words, the game hunting is good there in Somalia for the burgeoning middle class.

I wonder if we might not see more and more of your own middle class heading for the poorer regions of the world in the coming years also, as they search out a better life.

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