Updates for Tuesday, May 18th [2004]

Never spend your money before you have it.


Dear Friends,

Daniel and I went out to town, me to pick up some food for Mr. Capitalism, my turtle, who sits at home in his jar, and Daniel to finally look for work, or so I thought. James had convinced him to go to this place to apply for a "credit card" to relieve his debt, I naturally assumed incorrectly that this meant work.

Me: So, you mean to say, you are going to get a loan?

Daniel: No, it's not really a loan. Well, it kinda is. It's a card I can get cash out of.

Me: You can get cash from a card? I don't understand.

Daniel: You see Tommy-boy, I apply for the credit card at the bank, and using it I can borrow as much as I want, up to my limit. Of course, I have to pay back a little more than I take out.

Me: So how is that different from a usual loan?

Daniel: Well, it's instant and I can use it anywhere at anytime I want!

Me: Oh my, how terrible.

Daniel: What's wrong with that?

Me: Well, how easy it would be to get yourself deep into debt using such a thing. The easier it is to borrow, the easier it is to spend into debt, and the harder it is to save.

Daniel: Don't worry about it. I have a plan. You see, I'm going to go to this other credit union, and apply for their card. Then, if one bill becomes due and I can't pay it, I'll pass it to the other card, then back again. So long as I pay the interest, I've got the money for free!

Me: That doesn't seem like a good idea. It's like the discounting of bank notes. You can't pass from one bank with the note from another, then back again, it leads to financial ruin. It's in contempt of being fraud, whether you are a businessman, a layman, or a politician. Debt should be paid back if you want security for any distance of time.

Daniel: Why are you always a pessimist about everything? Don't you ever relax?

I have a feeling that this "credit card" will only breed trouble. Someone borrowing to pay for what they borrow? How can any body borrow, into debt, only to repay their own hand with additional debt, without leading to ruin? Regardless, we continued down the streets and I pressed Daniel to go apply at some of the local stores, and notwithstanding his stubborness, he did listen to reason.

We stopped first at the store of a butcher. His meat stand had some fine pork and beef sausage displayed, I noticed, and I told Daniel he would make for a good hand at cutting or perhaps being a clerk. Daniel, skeptical, followed me in, as we were greeted by a older, grizzly meat peddler.

Butcher: Well hello boys. Could I interest you in quality fresh sausages?

Daniel: No, sorry, I was actually just wondering if you were hiring or had any applications.

Butcher: Oh, I'm afraid not. Just had to cut a few people from staff the other day. With prices going up, I can't manage as many customers as before. Without as many sales, I haven't been able to draw in the kind of staff to do much expanding, either.

Me: Why such the troubles? Your selection of meats is fine, finer than any I've seen in this town.

Butcher: Well thank you son, but simply put, minimum wage keeps going up in this town and I can't find the kind of hands I want. I'd pay a young lad to come in and sweep up, but there are labor laws after all. With the high minimum wage, I have to hire people that can multi-task, entrust my whole shop to one or two people at any time instead of a few who can concentrate on their own tasks. Doesn't give me much room to give raises to the people that really deserve it either. It's easier to work it myself. We've been a mom & pop shop for over 75 years now, household name since 1912. Smoked meats, smoked sausages, assorted ethnic foods, canned and cut, we make it all right here. Been dying to expand but simply put, we can hardly manage the customers here, let alone raise the kind of capital to open up new shops. Gotta settle for distribution deals with Pacific Valley Foods, even though I'd love to get out of the Northwest and make Zenner's a name in sausages throughout the world. Sponsoring PGE Park is fine, great people there, but there are other parks that would stand to benefit from Zenner's sausages and franks for their hot dogs.

Daniel: Well, if you're not hiring, let's just go. Tommy-boy, c'mon.

Me: Wait, I do have a question. So what you are saying is, the reason you are constrained is the laws on labor? This beef you have on display surely looks good, especially the chicken sausage. Your business is poor?

Butcher: Oh, well, I'm not saying that. We make enough to get by. But you can't think that perhaps it's a little of the American dream to make it big. If I can save some money to lobby with some of the local and state officials, maybe I can get some subsidy like the big distributors, tax breaks or favors. That's the way to make it big in this place. Can't rely on quality produce or honorable contracts with your employees anymore. It's sad but true. If you guys are looking for work, a friend of mine runs a bakery, over on 5th, . They're usually busy, why not go over there?

So it was me and Daniel took a stroll through downtown, I had been through the area several times. I stopped by a pet shop to pick up the food for Mr. Capitalism, thinking of the turtle's misfortune of being home with James, who despises him. He's slow and steady, but he's reliable on his recovery from neglect. James doesn't think so, says we need to stop domesticating him, Capitalism isn't welcome in any house he's in, he tells me.

So we arrived at the bustling shop, which was roaring and busy, employees shouting at each other and moving about like bees in a hive. Baking, a fine profession, fine breads and pastries being something desirous even in my day, Daniel could make a fine baker. There weren't that many customers, so I wondered exactly what the cause of the commotion was. A woman stopped to address us as we approached the counter, as she shouted orders to some of her workers.

Me: Hi, excuse me?

Baker: Welcome to Three Lion's Bakery, I can help you in just one moment.

Daniel: Oh, well, I was just going to ask for an application...

Baker: Oh! Well, sorry, we're busy right now, could you come back in a bit? We've had a lot of people come by asking for applications, we're out, and I can't print any out this second.

Me: If you don't mind me asking, why is this place so busy? People are cleaning the walls, rubbing the sinks, on ladders wiping ledges, rubbing down glass and in all matter of hustle. (it was at this point, there was a loud crash from the back)

Baker: Clean that up! We need this in order before the inspector gets here!

Me: Inspector?

Baker: Yeah, of course, state health inspection is scheduled for today. We had a last minute notice so I called in as many as I could to get the place in order. They look everywhere at everything, we have lots of different types of equipment in back, for catering, our baking equipment, our deli rack, espresso bar, it all needs to be up to spec. We do things from scratch here, that's many phases and many regulations of health standards we have to be careful about. If not, we could get fined for each infraction, heavy fines. They inspect everything, and if that's not bad enough, we have a fire safety inspection tomorrow, so we're getting ready for that too.

Worker #1: (holding a big red canister the likes I haven't seen before, as well as some electric cables) Where do you want this fire extinguisher and these extension cords?

Baker: Well, we need to get all the extension cords out, they are all fire hazards and we don't need fines. Put that fire extinguisher at the doorway, opposite the other fire extinguisher. That way there's one for the back room and the front.

Me: Hmm. So these inspections are something the state does?

Baker: Someone has to, after all! Without the regulations I could get careless and have an accident, and that'd be bad for our customers.

Me: So you are not clean or healthy otherwise?

Baker: No, I didn't mean that. Of course we're clean here, we have to be, you can't make good pastries from scratch without being very clean and efficient through every step of the process. That's not the point, the law is there to protect the customers from neglect, and who knows? If we weren't the fine institution we are, hold on... (another worker interrupts, with some things in their hands)

Worker #2: Where do you need these thermostats and boxes of gloves?

Baker: Put the thermostat near the baking tables in a very visible spot in that cup with the ice, so it looks like it's being calibrated. The boxes of gloves need to come out of the cupboards and onto the counters so the health inspectors can see them when they walk around. (she returns her attention to us) As I was saying, we produce hot foods, cold foods, salads, pastries, many different services to keep our customers happy and healthy. Without these inspections, who could say if we are keeping them happy and healthy?

Me: Well, couldn't the customers themselves tell from the fineness of your foods?

Daniel: Let's just get out of here, we might come back some other day. They don't have any applications and I'm not gonna wait for them to print more.

Baker: Sorry guys, I'd love to chat, but if you aren't ordering anything, you ought to go. I don't know where there are people hiring, perhaps go check out the area? They've been bustling with business over in the Pearl District, my friend got hired over there. Big city redevelopment program for the last several years, millions of dollars spent by the city.

So it was that we set off, Daniel knew the way. When we arrived, I saw many fine, very well constructed brick-laden buildings. We passed by some restaurants, and some other shops and it seemed to be more of a residential than a commercial area of the city. I assumed, due to the name and large buildings, there would be a brewery around somewhere that may be hiring. There was no smell of hops, barley or malt and the buildings seemed quiet. A sign on the main building said "Blitz-Weinhard Brewery, 1856-1999". There seemed to be no brewing, most of the other signs of the tenants said "Portland Energy Solutions", "Tyco" and "Whole Foods Market", amongst other things.

A vagrant sat at the corner asked us for some change.

Vagrant: 'Cuse me sir, can you spare an old man some change?

Me: Certainly, sir, if you could do us a favor. We are searching these Brewery Blocks to see if a brewery is hiring nearby. My friend Daniel here, is looking for work. Finer work there wasn't, than the trade of brewing fine beers. Daniel, I've always said that beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.

Vagrant: Ha! There are no jobs here. This place closed long ago, bought out by Miller after bigwigs in Detroit couldn't figure out what to do with it. It was one of the oldest breweries in the west, it even survived prohibition. They said they'd keep brewing our brands, but they pawned it off after a couple of years. Ingrates. I used to be a brewer here, was never hired on anywhere else after this place closed. Most of us found the same line of work, I was one of the few that just got stuck looking at this old place.

Me: Prohibition? Well, that all is indeed very interesting. What happened to close this great factory? Why is there so much other business coming in?

Vagrant: Well, this shop closed in 1999. I worked here for nearly 20 years, hired back in the 70's when the heirs took over. Good times, we were always a profitable company.

Daniel: Well what went wrong then?

Vagrant: Some say it was bad advertisement. Others say it was the big businesses politicals. They're all right. I have a slightly different view, call me a cynic, but let me share it. Portland never truly cared about us. Now, that's not to say the people of Portland didn't. They did, they were our best customers. But the city of Portland, their officials were constant antagonizers. Zoners, developer commissions, they almost begged for us to close so they could sign their $200 million dollar redevelopment deal. For years we were antagonized. Silly things, too. Once we were told we didn't have enough parking spaces for our employees and patrons. Another time we were threatened to be closed over Oregon Liquor Control Commission standards and practices. The OLCC were constant antagonizers, regulating us, taxing us, every time we changed ownership we had to renew our license, and that was a circus in and of itself. The bigger corporations had sense - who would want to run the business of being a brewer in a state and city with officials that hated it's breweries?

Me: A challenging position, good sir. I'm afraid I haven't the best answer or perspective on this, I'm new to this place.

Vagrant: Well, you'd best move on then. Take whatever you do, move it somewhere else. Washington, perhaps? Or some podunk place like Hood River? Better things are here, in a half empty factory, in half empty buildings. Rustic and antique. Yeah right. I'm still out of a job, have been for 5 years. It's not getting any better for an old man like me.

Daniel: Well, we'd better go. It's getting late and I gotta get home to play some Counterstrike with some friends. This job business isn't worth the trouble.

So I left the man a dollar and we went on our way back. I couldn't help but think of all the world's honorable professions, and wondered if they ultimately shared the same fate as that downtown brewery. It's a question to beg, I suppose, of a beggar.

Your sincere friend and servant.

- TH. Jefferson

Editor's Notes:

This latest TeeJ update was fun for me, helped me get back into the mood of writing. Of course, I use the classic "butcher, baker and brewer" example comes from Adam Smith and free market theory, not to be confused with the "brewer, baker and the candlestick maker" from the old "Rub-A-Dub-Dub" nursery rhyme.

Taking in with Jefferson's good advice, as the title of this update reads, TeeJ gives us some advice regarding debt that can be applied to more than credit cards. The national debt represents borrowing that really is not typically paid by anything other than furthered borrowing. Debt doesn't generate new capital, it redistributes old capital. All the while we're stuck with the perpetual interest payments. TeeJ gives us sound financial advice when he says we shouldn't spend what we don't have.

The problems of the butcher, baker and brewer are problems all faced by real business today. The stores and shops are all real shops here in Portland, although their troubles, while typical, are fictional. Zenner's, for instance, is not to my knowledge a "mom and pop" shop, but it perhaps is a small local distributor, who, I'm sure, make fine sausages. The renovations of the Brewery Blocks are nearly finished, residential constructs and offices, mixed with city preservations. A high pricetag at $200 million, no doubt. The area is developing but it's uncertain if the city's huge investment is warranted (I'll wager not, but you know me).

The comment from TeeJ on beer, "beer, if drunk with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health", is an original Jefferson comment that ties into Jefferson's extensive knowledge and interest in brewing his own beer.

Wow, I'm afraid for all the research I've done for this entry, I have nothing left to add. Expect another update very soon.

Bringing Old American Truth to confront the New American Myth

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