Many residents of the small Blue Ridge Mountain community that I call home in Southwestern Virginia work at the Volvo truck plant in nearby Pulaski.
Or at least they used to. Too many of them now eat breakfast at the restaurant near my office and scan the want ads, looking for work to replace the jobs they lost just as Christmas approaches.
A vendor who supplies my web hosting data center in Blacksburg, Virginia, told me the other day that our local telephone cooperative is so slow in paying its bills that his company now demands cash on delivery (C.O.D.). A city in Georgia that I did some work for several months ago still owes me money from the job.
America is caught in a paradox.
Too many with mortgages now owe more than their homes are worth. Too many worry if they can put food on the table to feed their families. They look at billions of their tax dollars going to mismanaged banks and auto companies and wonder if they can scrape together enough to buy a few Christmas presents for the kids.
Yet polls show they have hope in President-elect Obama and feel the future will be better than the immediate past.
For too many, hope in an uncertain future is all they have left.
America is at a crossroads and the next turn is neither certain or a guarantee of a cure for the future.
Some say let the auto industry fail and declare bankruptcy. Others say we can’t let that happen because it could put up to 2 million Americans out of work. But even if the government comes to the rescue, at least 1 million will lose their jobs in a mandated reorganization.
Still others say America’s role as a major economic power in the world is over and, in the end, we have only ourselves to blame. The government, business and most consumers live on credit they can’t afford and mortgage the future on a reckless gamble that the future will bring salvation.
At a store the other day, I watched a young mother use four different credit cards to pay for $2500 worth of Christmas gifts. Each of the cards were too close to their credit limits to pay for the items by themselves so she spread the cost over four cards.
Businesses that exist on lines of credit find themselves cash-strapped as banks clamp down.
The government deficit stands at an all-time high and will get worse if proposed economic recovery programs percolating within the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress become law.
Can we spend our way out of trouble? People with PhDs after their names claim we can. I’m not an economist but it seems to me that what Uncle Sam wants to do is use several new Visa cards to pay the bill on a bunch of other maxed-out Visa cards. It’s smoke and mirrors.
So what do we do when the smoke clears and the mirrors break?
I’m not sure what the future holds for America. I’m not sure anyone else really knows either.