Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Paul Krugman and The Paradox of Thrift

For a long time I resisted reading any economists for this very reason. Why do I want to read books by guys who tell me I am ruining the economy. Well, since I started writing The Nifty Thrifty, I began to wonder what all the things I was saying meant, and if I didn’t have a better intuitive grasp intuitively on the economy that I thought. Turns out, Paul Krugman addresses my very question in his 1997 essay Vulgar Keynesians. Krugman addresses, among other things, the "paradox of thrift"; an element of econo-god John Maynard Keynes' teachings which states in simple terms that if everyone saves we all lose. Krugman points out though, that this virtue turned vice relationship is not such a straightforward one, especially since we now have a Federal Reserve bank that can raise and lower interest rates to offset the vicious cycle of recession.

But Krugman wrote Vulgar Keynesians in 1997. Who was in recession then? Not us, yet. So now, here we are in 2008, nearly 2009, and we get to see what happens. Krugman's most recent op-ed on the topic, he states that major policy changes and a stimulus package that doesn't put the onus on the already over-committed consumer is what we need. I think the truth is, no one knows what we need, but I think Krugman is moving in the right direction. That was just a little Freshman Economics for you so that you don't have to feel bad if you can't spend money. In fact you will feel bad if you can't spend money and you do.

More on the topic:

Consumers Don't Cause Recessions by Robert P. Murphy. I have commented on this blog post for clarification, as Prof. Murphy seems to state that Krugman erroneously perpetuates the Paradox of Thrift. We await his response.



Bee Thrifty: Bartering and Handmade...

Well, folks, it looks like thrift is in fashion these days and I am happy to bring you more news about cheap stuff. I heard a story on NPR last weekend about bartering.

It features a company called Barter Business Unlimited, which exchanges goods and services for credit. I think it’s interesting to see our economy start to move toward basics. I know that for years folks like me and my sprawling Irish Catholic family have been in the minority in their spending habits, and for years I have heard economists tell me that if I spend money I am good for the economy, if I encourage others to be cheap like me, to buy second hand, to save their funds, well then I am free market enemy #1 (*see more on the paradox of thrift here).

Well, folks, this is a very creative time for our economy and I think us thrifties should lead the way. Here are a couple of suggestion as to how....

Looking for a New Year's Resolution?

Suggestion #1:
I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

Why don't you buy handmade as often as you can? And if you want you can even sign the nifty pledge. I wish I had gotten this on to you before the holiday shopping rush, but alas, I did not. Nevertheless, anytime is a good time to buy handmade.

Buy Handmade Video from Etsy on Vimeo.

Also check out their resources for handmade products, and much information on why it is good for the world!

Suggestion #2:

Why not pledge not just to BUY handmade, but to MAKE handmade? My mother sewed all my dresses for every formal I went to in high school (except one, which was a polyester forest green number that I got at the Salvo), and she stands at the ready to make my wedding dress. So, I am lucky, I grew up with a crafty woman, and this helps take the fear out of crafting things. I have to tell you though, crafts are always easier than you think!

Check out ReadyMade.com, and while you're at it get yourself a subscription to the mag. It comes out six times a year, and it is the perfect addition to the craft room I know you are going to build in 2009!

Also good for instructions on almost anything is Instructables. Want to make a Flintstone car, or a mini light saber? They've got it.

Finally, I am sure you are all thinking what the heck should I do for New Year's Eve? I'll leave the big parties to our nightlife specialist Nick McGlynn , and I will tell you to chill out. It's just another day. Do take the time and think about what you did, what you didn't, and how you want another year to go by. But, don't stress yourselves much. 2009 promises to be a good year. But every year promises that on New Year's Eve. Can you tell me this though? Will they be there in the morning? That's up to you. Treat your life right and it will get you back.

Next time, I promise to get back into the cheap events, for now enjoy the cozy family time, and don't spend too much on your cousin, she won't wear that sweater anyway.

Cousin Maggie and the Ugly Sweater



Monday, December 22, 2008

Shameless Self...

Promotion here. I read some of my fiction at Freddy's backroom last week. Paul Handler, famous assistant to Brooklyn-based artist Mara Sprafkin, came with Mara, and the event made his blog. Awesomeness.

I'll let you know when the next reading is, in the meantime, if you need to spend money for Christmas, might I recommend buying books, because the publishing industry needs you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The New Rules of Marketing, the Air Force, and Dropout/Postgrad gets an A+

My most recent subway read is The New Rules of Marketing by David Meerman Scott.

Being that I have been so critical of the media lately, I thought I would read some behind the scenes stuff and see what tactic marketing will take next. I think Mr Scott has a lot of good points and of course he tells the story from the point of view of the consumer as well as the marketing exec.

(Important note: this book was recommended to me by Dropout/Postgrad, who is a genius, and just dropped an A+ in his marketing class at Columbia University. 'Sup Dropout /Postgrad!)

What he is talking about is how the internet and in particular, the blogosphere, is changing the marketing game. I am so glad to hear this, as I think that the normal tactic of marketing is getting so lame. It's too lame even for words. I could write a post a day about the stupid commercials I see. The old ways just aren't working anymore. I am happy to say that while sometimes it seems like we are getting stupider, I think we may actually be getting smarter. The consumer review system is where it's at. The educated consumer has always subscribed to Consumer Reports, but lately these reviews are more accessible than ever. Interested in that new device that lets you forgo the phone bill and make calls through your internet connection (it's called the Ooma, and I am looking at buying one, stay tuned for a review....). Well, just do a google search and find out what other customers think. Obsessables seems like a pretty good place for this, but as always, Consumer Reports is your go to gal.

What's the catch? Marketing has picked up on this trend, as they often do with trends, and frankly should if they want to sell stuff to their new customers. What the consumer would hope this would achieve is a focus on quality, so that a product stands up to the consumer review system, and largely this is the case. However, if you check back with my last post, I mentioned Wyeth and the load of trouble they are in by hiring ghostwriters to write journal articles that paint their products in a favorable light, you'll get an idea of the direction this can lead consumers. My fear is that we will have fake bloggers all over the internet. In fact, I think we already do. In my search for part time work to make money while I work on my MFA, I have come across unlimited opportunities to write for a blog that highlights a particular product. That's right. You can get paid to fake the consumer review. Not to mention that some blog sites are hiring bloggers to write about widely searched material in order to increase their searchability (their googleability if you will), thus increasing their hits, thus increasing their advertising income, or their sales. What this means for the internet surfer is you have to wade your way through a bunch of crap articles to get to the good ones. I actually read a post on how to get freelance writing gigs that takes you through a step by step guide to searching on craigslist (step 1. go to craigslist.org, step 2. pick your city, step 3. click on jobs, step 3...). Now certainly, this post might be helpful to someone who has never used the internet before, but are they likely to be on the internet at all if this is the case, and if they do get on will they even know how to go to google to get this post? And further if they do learn how to use craigslist, isn't it likely to be from their grandchildren?

Now, I have resisted these opportunities, because I am morally opposed to such fakery, and I get more and more annoyed by the tripe you have to wade through to get to the good stuff, but be on the look out for this. Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and a member of the blogosphere, posted this piece on recognizing the not-so-authentic consumer review.

David Meerman Scott also has some interesting posts on his blog, largely directed towards businesses who are learning the new ropes of marketing, but interesting nonetheless, especially if you want to know how the internet is being used. Particularly disturbing to me is his post on the Air Force using the internet for recruiting and PR.

Now, I want to be clear: I highly respect the Armed Forces and the risks they take for the protection of our country, and there is no doubt that marketing and PR have always been part of the game for the military, but I think the public should be aware of how corporations and institutions are using the internet. Knowing is half the battle.

Meantime, Check out their flowchart.

I guess, in the end, in the spirit of the rest of this blog, I want you to know what marketing is all about. There are companies out there who use the internet for good, and some who use it for bad. You have a say in this market and you should use it. Keep it real, keep it informed, and stay strong.

Next on my reading list. Paul Krugman. He's a baller.



Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who knew?

Did you know there was an Office of Thrift Supervision in our United States government? Did you know that they are behind the new rule to end unfair credit practices? That's great news, but what I want to know is...

Where the f*&^k have these guys been?

Maybe I should send them my resume.

Also, why the heck is it going to take a year to implement a regulation that should have happened 10 years ago?

In other news, have you heard about Wyeth getting busted for Ghostwriting their medical journal entries. As my lawyer roommate states, this seriously violates the "peer review system." Just further proof that we have very little unbiased information available, and that even when we think we are reading "news" or "journalism" we are often reading an advert.

For more about the pharmaceutical industries and how they perpetuate this, check out The Truth About the Drug Companies.

Also, check out Selling Sickness which details how the pharma industry doesn't really sell drugs to its audience; it sells disease.

Disturbing stuff.

A little bit of old news, but a still un-debunked myth in the majority of the world, if you ask me.

Off for now.



Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bee Thrifty: It's getting serious

REPOST FROM Neighborbeeblog.com

Hi Folks,

I have a few things to tell you about this week. First off, let me just say for all my snarkiness about Black Friday, I was absolutely horrified to see the news that day and find out about Jdimytai Damour being trampled to death at the pre-dawn opening of a Long Island Walmart. I am not going to vilify Walmart, or the people who did the trampling. That is not my job, but I do want to clarify that being thrifty is an attitude, a lifestyle that values the beautiful and not the expensive. One of the basic tenets of being thrifty is tossing away the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. You live with what you need and if you can get some pretty things and enjoy nourishing food while being good to the world, well that is the best deal in town. Being thrifty is the absolute opposite of stampeding at Walmart.

I love a good deal, but I have been horrified for some time by the society we have created. Don't let anyone tell you that we simply ARE monsters and that we act out of instinct in some sort of survival of the fittest nightmare. We are smart enough to understand what it is we are doing, and we were smart enough to intentionally create the system that is currently breaking our backs, and we should be smart enough to stop our own creation.

I am ALL about the free market, lest anyone mistake me for a commie, but I do want to point you in the direction of a post I wrote almost a year ago which points to a few other smartie pants who inspired me to say hey, what's going on? Why do I want that cashmere sweater so baaaad. And why doesn't that cashmere sweater make me happy once I have it?

Well, I won't rehash all the details here, but suffice to say that marketing was created by Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, and Edward knew that the libidinal drives that Freud pointed out in all those books he wrote were, for all intensive purposes, unfulfillable, and could drive people to buy, buy buy. Bernays not only used Freud's theories, but also crowd psychology and Pavlovian theories. So, I won't stay on the soapbox long, but are we surprised when we act like animals for things? No. Should we be shocked and ashamed? Yes. But now you know why you want things so bad, and knowing is half the battle.

Two more things before I get off my soapbox.

Verizon Wireless aired a commercial the weekend after Black Friday in which two women discussed going to get a Verizon phone. One woman says to the other "So, if there is only one phone left, which one of us gets it?" The other woman says, "Me," to which the first woman replies, "Wrong answer," and shoots her in the neck with a poison dart. So, we are surprised that even when we are bombarded with this kind advertising we can't respect life more than products. Are we surprised? Not exactly. Are we shocked and ashamed? We should be.

Next, is this beautiful speech given by Louis CK on Conan:

So, folks, let's get it together

Or we could get it together,

Or if you prefer we could get it together. One, Two Oh My God.

OK, off the soapbox, here's the thrifty news for the week.

Give a coat, get some gloves!

NY Cares Coat Drive: Giving coats to coat drives can be a lucrative ordeal. I mean, you should give your coat just because you are not wearing it and someone is cold, but New York Cares is giving back to its donors. Check it out here. The best of the bunch? Paragon sports will give you a free Marmot hat and gloves. Nice. There are lots of other deals too, but only until SUNDAY!!!! Check it out

A beer and a shot (in the ear), please

Also, I'd like to call your attention to Earshot's Holiday Fiesta which is taking place THIS FRIDAY in Williamsburg. Now, this reading series is not free, which, I know, makes you think, why are you recommending this one? Well, A) it's good, and B) your $5 admission fee gets you a free drink! Voila! Thrifty!!!


December 12 // 8 PM
$5 + one free drink
345 Grand Street (b/w Havemeyer & Marcy)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-0069

Nearby Train Stops: L (Lorimer/Bedford), G (Metropolitan/Grand), J/M/Z (Marcy Ave)


The One O'clock Poets (This Full Green Hour)
Guillermo Castro, Amy Lemmon, Katrinka Moore, Joan Lauri Poole, Elizabeth Poreba, and Sarah Stern
Tennessee Jones (Hunter College)
Michelle Brule (Brooklyn College)
Marina Kaganova (Columbia University)

You Feelin' Lucky?

Finally, I have a brainchild I'd like to share with you. When I was uptown at a deli near Columbia University, a casting director approached me and asked me if I would like to appear in Lucky Magazine's "My Foolproof Outfit." I, of course, was really flattered. Wearing my $5 skirt, my $10 sweater and my $25 boots, I thought, yeah, a magazine that wants to feature a girl with style and the smarts not to pay big bucks for it. Boy was I wrong. The people at Lucky were fantastic and fun and helped me find all kinds of pretty clothes from their rack to wear in the mag, they put makeup on me, they cut my bangs for free, and they fed me all day. Fun fun fun. However, it wasn't until the magazine printed that I knew how much every thing cost. AWWWOOOGA! I couldn't afford any of the stuff that they had me wearing! Apparently, I am not alone in this experience. Good news is, Glossed Over says Lucky Mag is lowering its standards.

I loved the look that Lucky Mag gave me though, and I am pretty sure I could create it for less. So as part of my dedication to thrift, I am accepting challenges from my audience for (Nearly)FreeStylin'. What does that mean? It means you send me an outfit you like, say from Vogue or Elle, or some other magazine and I will try and recreate it for you at bargain basement prices. If you'd like to participate, send me an email at NearlyFreeStylin@gmail.com with a picture of the outfit. I reserve the right to refuse outfits on the basis of taste.

In the meantime, please try and ignore the message from the media that you are not good enough until you have their stuff. I'm not saying don't buy the stuff, I'm saying don't buy the hype. But, Christine, you ask, how do I know whether I am buying the stuff or the hype? I ask myself a question every time I buy: How is this going to affect the direction of the life I am leading? Is this a direction I want my life to take?

It's a very personal question. Next week, I will touch on the worthy things I like to spend my money on (food, wine, art, clothes, gifts, etc.) and why it's important to think before you buy.

Abundance is possible. Excess should be avoided. Know the difference.

Your friend in thrift,