Friday, September 16, 2011

What’s Next? Staying Put?

Once again, I read so much that I can’t remember where I’ve read stuff. But I don’t want you to think I’m an original thinker. These two thought struck me almost at the same time the other day and I think (and can envision) that they might be connected.

The first thought is, what is next for driving the economy? Whatever I read before had Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher betting on the banking sector. In other words, “the Next Big Thing” would be the financial sector. Innovations in computational capabilities would give rise to new “financial instruments”. That probably sounded pretty cool in 1980. In 2010, derivatives, mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps don’t sound quite as sexy. They just sound like greed spreading at warp speed. The clarity of hindsight is remarkable isn’t it? (If I’m going too fast for you, here’s a previous post -- with an original thinker -- to put you in the right frame of mind.)

We’ve been through farming, logging, mining, oil, manufacturing, chemicals, aviation and computing. What’s next? What’s the “Next Big Thing”?

I think President Obama is betting on “green energy”. It’s too soon to tell if that will pay off -- even if it looks a little less promising this week.

The other thought that hit me was a little more personal. I still want to move to the mountains (it’s a lifelong dream) but it seems to be getting tougher. You may have heard that the housing crisis is limiting mobility but it’s easier to understand when it’s personal.

I own my home free and clear, so whatever the true value of a home may be (housing prices have fallen sharply since the Great Recession started) these days I own one and that’s how I think about it. I need a one-for-one swap. Whether my house is worth $100,000, $200,000 or $300,000 isn’t relevant to my situation as long as the rest of the housing markets remain in their relative positions. I sell mine and buy one in the mountains. Except nothing is selling.

And that’s the rub, of course. I could buy one in the mountains (people are selling) but I’m not sure I could sell mine. And if I’m stuck with two houses for months and months while I’m paying a mortgage on one and the value of both houses continues to decline while that mortgage doesn’t... You get the picture. So, like millions of Americans right now, I don’t move.

I assume other people have other reasons but the fact remains that home “owners” can’t move. Even to take a new (and supposedly better paying) job. If you can’t sell your house you can’t afford to move. And that brings a whole new dynamic to America’s society.

I’ve moved so many times that I’ve lost count. And while there are still some places and some communities that seem stable, Americans are very much modern-day nomads. It is a rare, rare thing to meet a native Atlantan. The last time I was in Colorado there were jokes about so many refugees from California. The southern half of Florida has more Yankees than Southerners.

What if all that stops? Even if it only stops for a decade or two it will have significant implications. I had always planned to get the kids through school, retire and move to the mountains. As it turned out I retired, I’ve almost got the kids through school (HOPE scholarship in case you’re curious why we’re staying) and now it’s almost time to move. Except it’s not likely to happen now.

© Don Brown 2011 (Click on the picture to enlarge)

You might want to think about how this plays out for yourself. If you’ve always thought your skills were transferable...they might be but you might not be. If you lose your job it will be hard to sell your house to move to “where the jobs are”. If your neighborhood goes downhill -- if squatters move into the empty foreclosure down the block -- you can’t run away. And as soon as your boss realizes that you’re stuck he’ll try to take advantage of it. Of course, it probably won’t dawn on him he’s stuck too. You may not be able to move to a better job but neither can anyone move in to take your job. Unless, of course, they rent. Hmmm, might we become a nation of renters? Or might we set down roots? Might the town you live in become “your town”?

Instead of modern-day nomads seeking greener pastures, maybe we’ll become settlers that make a stand and make a place our own. Instead of running from our social problems maybe -- just maybe -- we’ll become a little more civic minded and fix them. Maybe.

Don Brown
September 16, 2011


Kevin said...

Beautiful photo! Any enhancements made to it or is this just as you saw it?

Don Brown said...

Thanks Kevin. The sky was a little "hot" so I used a 2-stop graduated neutral density filter on it. Those aren't supposed to do anything to the color but the sky took on that tobacco color you see.

I don't know if it was the filter (it's kind of old) or if it was the color balance sensor on the camera. The picture was taken before I learned that digital cameras automatically balance color temperatures (white balance)...and I turned it off. :)


bob said...

Welcome to Europe. A significant portion of the population does not or will not relocate to find work. Some countries have it worse (Greece, Italy) then others, and their are fairly large variations even within countries. Additionally there is the language barrier, and other local barriers that help to keep movement down. The young seem more inclined to move. But all in all a great many European try to keep pretty close to home. Housing prices are pretty steep, and the buyers need to bring a large down payment.

Air Traffic Mike said...

Don, two of my former coworkers returned from ATL primarily because they couldn't sell their homes in the Memphis area.

I wouldn't want to be a seller or buyer right now.