It’s June 29, 2022. No newsletter next week, I’ll be thinking about independence. Here’s the rundown:
Consumers are feeling blue
Our future of fighting battles from the past
Numbers, links, and more
Consumers are feeling blue like never before
Consumer sentiment reaches a record low.
Y’all are feeling blue.
Consumer sentiment is at record lows, according to the latest readings from the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment index. UM surveys consumers to try and get a gauge of how people are feeling about the economy, and for June 2022, respondents weren’t feeling very good. In fact, sentiment fell 14.4% in June and is down 41.5% from a year ago.
The biggest reason that consumers are feeling down is because of the relentless rise in prices seen over the past year. People are feeling the crunch, and UM economist Joanne Hsu, the director of the consumer sentiment surveys, says that people are coming to terms with the fact that they’ll need to make some changes.
“While consumers still appear relatively optimistic about the stability of their incomes, their perceptions of the economy are much more strongly influenced by concerns over inflation…As higher prices become harder to avoid, consumers may feel they have no choice but to adjust their spending patterns, whether through substitution of goods or foregoing purchases altogether. The speed and intensity at which these adjustments occur will be critical for the trajectory of the economy.”
As many as 47% of all households said that rising prices are the main reason that their living standards have declined over the past year. And to think, not too long ago, we were dumping money into GameStop stock and Dogecoin — we’re clearly coming back down to Earth.
So, what does this all mean?
The economy is, in large part, driven by feelings. If people are feeling optimistic, they’ll spend money, invest more, etc. If they’re feeling that things are dicey, they’ll cut back on their spending, which reduces demand, slows businesses down, leads to layoffs, and so on.
So, even if the economy is in good shape — and I’m not saying that it is — it’s all about perception. Feelz over realz, as they say.
This latest consumer sentiment data is yet more evidence that we’re likely headed into a recession. If so? Well, it’s been a long time coming. But I’d say that it’s important to keep in mind that everything is transitory (except inflation, right Jerome Powell?) and that the recession will end at some point. I’d also say that it’s a good thing that we are doing the hard thing now: Getting the economy back on track. It may not be fun, and there will be pain, but it’s necessary for long-term stability.
The medium-term goal, after we manage to get back into a good place with the economy, would be to not get too far over our skis again. But we’ll just have to wait a decade to see how that works out.
Our future of fighting battles from the past
The Supreme Court’s recent decisions assure that we’ll spend the future fighting battles from the past.
I don’t like to write directly about politics much, as I feel all it does is get people riled up. And when they’re riled up, you can’t have much of a discussion. It gets emotional and unproductive. You end up talking in circles.
But thinking about the recent Supreme Court rulings, which sucked all of the oxygen out of the room, has me really dismayed for a few reasons. A big one is that we’re now assured to spend a ton of resources — mental, monetary, political — on fighting battles that were hashed out by previous generations. And I don’t think we have those resources to expend, not when we’re facing existential threats in climate change, a coming recession, political unrest, and more.
As such, the following is a bit of a stream of consciousness as I talk through it all — it’s a little disjointed, but I appreciate it as you bear with me while I try and sort this all out in my brain. The main point? We’re going backward, we can’t afford to go backward, and it’s to the detriment of us all — even those who feel like they’ve won.
Last week, the dog caught the proverbial car, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I didn’t actually think they’d ever do it — I always kind of assumed that overturning that decision was used as a carrot-and-stick measure to get people to vote. You know, get ‘em riled up, and they’ll show up at the polls.
They did it, though. And made some other decisions.
Roe also appears to be the first domino in a series of other precedents that the Court, or members of it, evidently want to overturn, such as rights to contraception, and same-sex marriage.
I know — you’ve all heard about this non-stop for a week now. But I want to try and get to the overarching thing here, which is that we’re actively seeing the country regress. We’re taking people’s rights away. We’re rehashing ideological battles from half a century ago. And above all, we’re hurting people. People will die because of this past week’s rulings.
So, I come to this question: Why? What are we doing? What’s the point of all of this?
I understand that the initial reaction, for some, is that these rulings are something to celebrate. But think of the long-term implications. This doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t solve a problem. It creates more.
I can understand that some people don’t like abortion. But we need to come to terms with the fact that there are times when it’s absolutely necessary, and that we — you, me, whoever — don’t necessarily get a say in it.
This newsletter is about doing things the hard way — or at least taking a sober look at reality, and trying to think about solutions to the problems we face. Especially if those solutions require some hard work.
Again, in the case of Roe, I think this is what truly bothers me: We’re not trying to reduce the number of abortions by, say, beefing up sexual education initiatives and making contraceptives easier to access, a combination of which led to a 26% decrease in abortion rates nationally between 2006 and 2015. Instead, we’re running an end-around to simply change the rules to make some people feel better about it.
This doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to get abortions. It just means that they’ll do so in an unsafe manner.
Okay, again, this is nothing you haven’t heard before. But what this all really comes down to is three main things: The Roe decision (and some of the others, to a lesser extent) creates more problems, it serves to further polarize a society that is already splintering, and it is out of step with the views of a majority of Americans.
What we’re likely to see, as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent decision(s), are fights between the states — it’ll be “total chaos,” as one law professor recently told the Washington Post. There will be growing and lasting frustration and anger among our fellow Americans, directed at each other —as if there isn’t enough of that.
And it’ll be yet another issue on which the minority in this country get their way. A CBS News poll found that “by more than a 20-point margin, Americans call [the Roe decision] a step backward rather than forward for America.”
We see the minority getting their way on other issues, too, such as gun control. While we did just pass some gun control legislation for the first time in forever, 88% of Americans support universal background checks for prospective gun owners — but we still can’t seem to move the needle on making legislation to reflect that support.
And let’s imagine that the Supreme Court does move to strike down same-sex marriage. Such a move wouldn’t make same-sex marriage illegal, but it would let the states decide what to do (just like Roe). But if they did so, it would go against the 71% of Americans who support it.
So, this all comes back to the key question: What are we doing? The focus on short-term and unpopular partisan victories that are stripping people of their rights isn’t going to improve anything or solve any problems. There’s real work to do, and big problems to solve. Instead of sending people to Mars, or trying to spare parts of the planet from becoming completely uninhabitable within a matter of decades, we’re going to go back and argue issues from 50 years ago?
We’re at a point where we’re not focused on finding solutions, but rather, tearing other people down. That’s what really worries me. We’re settling into a tit-for-tat scramble of score-settling and shit-slinging that’s dragging us backward. I don’t know that there’s a way to break that cycle, and put the toothpaste back in the tube.
I think it’s worth re-reading Adam Serwer’s 2018 essay “The Cruelty is the Point” when thinking about all of this. I think that his thesis — that acts of cruelty among ingroups can act as a bonding mechanism — rings true in recent weeks. Again, we’re not solving problems or improving outcomes. Instead, we’re giving a portion of the population something that they think they want, and many of them are giddy that the people who disagree with them are distraught about it.
It’s short-term euphoria for some, in exchange for long-term complications for all.
Numbers, links, and more
5: Fewer refineries operating now than before the pandemic, a big reason gas prices are high. (NPR)
58%: Share of American workers who can work remotely at least part of the time. (Axios)
$2 trillion: The amount of value wiped out during the crypto crash. (Pitchbook)
18: Ways the Supreme Court just changed America. (Politico)
A slam dunk?: Sports appear to be recession-proof, as leagues keep signing huge deals despite the deteriorating economy. (Front Office Sports)
Why don’t Americans care about the opioid crisis?: A good question, and here’s a potential answer (The Neighborhood Sociologist)
Frowny Face: I don’t want to include any more bad news.
Smiley Face: A frozen baby mammoth was discovered in the Klondike, and it’s wild. (BBC)