Faces tell more about an economy than any number of market indices. Picture the face of a babushka in Moscow a half century ago. This is the face of a tired, hardened woman, void of hope.
This is the face of the Walmart shopper in Carson City, Nev. today. Smiles are rare, eye contact is rarer still and small talk is unfeasible. The only smiling person is that guy ringing a bell for the Salvation Army as you leave the store.
Why all the sullen faces? Could it be possible that in one short generation our land of opportunity has become a land of inequality?
Instinctively, I intruded upon an innocent bystander in the checkout line and asked for his thoughts on the economy. His observation was prompt and succinct. “Hey, unless my son can throw a football 60 yards in the air, I’ll be shopping at Walmart the rest of my days,” he said. “I’m just hoping he can get to college because, the way he eats, he will never get along on 10 dollars an hour.”
Despondency is something new to Americans, and anxiety is quietly positioning itself to displace despondency. Were I younger I would be scared, very scared. Walmart opened a couple stores in the nation’s capital last week. Twenty-three thousand people applied for 600 or so jobs at $8.25 an hour.
So what are we as a nation to do? We cannot turn to religion because religion has turned its attentions from helping the poor to helping vagarious political parties. Education can work miracles if we ever decide to support it. But the real tipping point will come when that hedge-fund manager building his second home on Lakeshore decides to put his considerable energies into improving the general welfare. The business community must embrace its society as well as its shareholders. Until that happens on a wide scale we will continue down the road toward a class-based society.
Bill Gates has set the bar. Warren Buffett has answered the call, as has Pope Francis. There’s a lot of good energy out there just sitting on the shelf. Fact is, the best medicine on the shelf is a charitable nature. Some of us have a charitable nature but don’t know it because our charitable nature is locked inside a safe deposit box. Now is the time to unlock that box and set free our ultimate worth.
All of this contemplation was going through my head while wandering down the electronics aisle of Walmart. A quick check of the stock market showed I could pick up one share of Berkshire Hathaway for $174,400, the value of which, incidentally, had increased $100 in the time it took me to find Newtons Fruit Thins.
We will find the impulse to readdress our moral compass and locate our honorable true north. About that I have no doubt. When? About that I have no idea. All I know is, that guy ringing a bell for the Salvation Army is smiling. I thank him for being out there in the cold, drop some currency into his cauldron and smile a smile myself. After all, it is the season of giving.
Learn more about McAvoy Layne at www.ghostoftwain.com.