How Many Ways can you say the Economy is Rotten?

Written by admin on March 27, 2009 – 12:21 pm -

No one is happy about the world’s financial situation. If we’re not experiencing a depression, it’s certainly one hell of a recession. Economists can call it what they like, but unemployment rates are spiraling out of control and even though we’re allegedly not experiencing inflation, certain necessities feel as if they’re more expensive. Perhaps it’s because people have less disposable income. Expats have to deal with the situation in the old country as well as where they are living at the moment—and realize there’s no place to run. 

A trip to my local grocery store has me looking at the receipt more than once. Why did it cost so much to buy so little? There was less of a sting last year and the only really good buy that appears to be left are bottles of wine at Ed, the discount grocer at the end of my block. For less than three euros, I can buy bottle of wine good enough to serve to company and drink it with a baguette. The French are still buying bread because it’s part of their religion as well as tradition. And perhaps it’s because the cost of a baguette (not specialty breads) is price-fixed by the government.  

Americans are used to clipping coupons and trying to make the most of their purchasing power. But as long as I’ve lived in France, I’ve never received a brochure before now telling me that Franprix (a medium sized grocer with numerous stores in every quartier) was going to be open on a Friday night between 8 and 11 pm. It was a nocturne exceptionnelle (which is not the same as a Chopin composition) and six euros would be deducted from clients’ bills if they spent more than 30 euros.  

My neighborhood store wasn’t mobbed and the salesclerks looked bored silly. Perhaps people who live in the more upscale areas of Paris would rather dedicate a Friday evening to going to the movies. What might have been a huge success appeared to fall flat. 

However, you’d have to be blind not to see that deep-discounted “promotions” are taking place in many stores in Paris. It may not be sale time, but when there’s a will, there’s a way to persuade customers to buy—or die trying. 

Each time I turn on CNN, it is clear that things are worse in the U.S. and that it’s time for banks and financial institutions to be regulated. If you weren’t feeling nervous enough, the constant re-looping of the same bad news story is enough to make people not want to leave home — if they still have one. This isn’t to minimize the severity of the crisis; my friends in the U.S. send emails filled with doom and gloom scenarios.  

How could things go so awry with AIG, one the world’s largest multi-national companies? As for Bernard Madoff, it’s hard to imagine that so many people could have been snookered by the king of Ponzi schemes. Where was the SEC in spite of numerous warnings? 

The French aren’t happy at all when it comes to their present and future security. On May 19th, more than a million people throughout France went on strike. Employees of the private sector joined traditional public sector strikers such as teachers, transport workers and hospital staff. People were protesting President Sarkozy’s cuts to the public sector and to France’s welfare system and are holding him accountable for failing to protect workers from the economic crisis.  

Ironically, even though there were so many people striking, people who live in or were visiting Paris didn’t feel much of a disruption unless they were near the Place de la République where the demonstration took place. Because of a recent regulation, buses and metros are required to operate in Paris – with less frequency – but people could still get around.  

Unemployment is on the rise and the French are scared for their futures. All of this has a familiar ring. But contrasted with the French, Americans rarely take to the streets over economic conditions since most labor unions, such as the AFL-CIO, are substantially less powerful than they were in the 1950s. 

All we can do is hope for the best — and that the hard times won’t last too long. But as the man in the White House said, we didn’t get into this mess overnight and we won’t get out of any quicker.

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