The Only Funny Column on the Economy
By Marvin Payne

I just don’t write about the economy enough.

From a note to my missionary in-laws in Pig’s Crossing, Germany:

“Some guy called from India this morning, representing someone in the Midwest (of the United States) that we owe money to, and in the course of the conversation he asked the scripted question, ‘Is there a reason for the delay in this payment?’.

[This question is calculated to embarrass the debtor, and isn’t entirely nice. Though I have been tempted to ask if there was a checkbox on the screen for “None of your beeswax” (a phrase last used upon me by my eight-year-old son, John) I have usually answered instead with something like “Slow Receivables” or “Outstanding Invoices” or even “Pending Capital Investment.” This is the language used by businesses that are, or appear to be, solvent. It’s language that’s respected and readily accepted. On one level, what the language means is, “Try to embarrass me , will ya? I been t’ college!” On another level, what the language means is, “There’s flat nothing in my pocket but lint.” But this time, when asked why the delay.]

“.I just answered ‘How ’bout that we live on planet Earth in 2009?’ He got it, utterly, and went right on to the next question, even though there was no checkbox for it on his screen. At the end of it all, he sincerely wished me good luck on getting my business back in shape and I sincerely wished him good luck on his. My reward was his immediate and understanding laugh, unscripted, from the other end of the globe. The current economic trouble serves as a great leveler. In good times, the powerful and corporate can intimidate the weak and private. In these times, there is a bond of shared vulnerability that actually is a good thing.” 

Not long ago, I could look at any Latter-day Saint and think, “That guy’s reading the Book of Mormon through by the end of the year, just like me.” It felt good. Somehow the benefit from that simple request by President Hinckley went way beyond our being reminded that there’s more than one Nephi in there. It made us feel like we all belonged to the same church. Imagine that.

Until recently, I could look at any US citizen (you Meridian readers who live in France, Abu Dhabi, Alpha Centauri, or Betelgeuse ((which my wife taught me just the other night how to find in the upper corner of Orion, where there are, the Meridian Editors assure me, 5,648,931,014 regular readers of my column)), please forgive me for any appearance of ethnocentrism, or speciescentrism, here) and, if he (the US citizen) were not behind the tinted windows of either a corner office or a stretch limo, I could think, “That guy’s answering phone calls from India, just like me.”

There was “us” and there was “them.” And, as in any such division of people, the “us-all” felt a certain emotional distance from the “them-all,” and vice-versa. (I was once told that people were easily divisible into two groups, those who divided people into two groups, and those who didn’t.)

Now there’s just “us.” Because the people behind the tinted glass are getting calls from India, too. And cabinet nominees are having trouble paying their taxes (just like us-all!). Even the Federal Government is getting calls from foreign places, except theirs are coming from China. The fundamental difference here is that the Indian callers are employed by our creditors in Omaha, whereas the Chinese callers are employed by our creditors in Beijing.

[Oops, the phone’s ringing. (walk, walk) The caller ID reads “Capital One.” (walk back, walk back) I would answer, but I have trouble unraveling the accent of callers from Swaziland, and I don’t want to embarrass anybody. Plus I have a column to write. Hmm, only rang three times. That means they haven’t left a message. That’s too bad-even though I wouldn’t understand it, I kind of enjoy the Swatian lilt (Swati being the language spoken in Swaziland, just as Swizi is the language spoken in Switzerland-and the language spoken in Burkina Faso? Well, French).

Orionites! Are you recognizing the potential employment bonanza, here? Know anybody in Virginia? A lot of this out-sourcing originates in Virginia.]

One of the blessings of these times is that we can now get off our scripts and have real conversations with these folks. (Be sure always to say something nice about trainers and supervisors, because these are the people who may be listening in for “quality or training purposes.”) We could take this one step further. We could be proactive and call up our multi-national corporate creditors, offering our sympathy and volunteering to extend our contracts. We could ask them if there’s some reason for the delay in getting solvent and again offering credit, and we could promise to respect and accept any answer they give, no matter how comically implausible.

Or we could offer them a deal on something! This isn’t a perfect example, because it’s not a creditor, but a health insurance salesman (with a script that had in its preamble the assurance that he wasn’t a health insurance salesman) phoned one day from Baton Rouge (they don’t outsource much from Louisiana) and after a couple of canned questions, I asked if he was musical. He said he was, kind of, and I nearly had him scheduled to come in for a recording session, until we both realized that coming to Utah to get a couple of rap tunes down wasn’t entirely feasible, even with the discount I offered him.

Supply and Demand

No treatise on the economy would be comprehensive without a discussion of the two words, “Supply” and “Demand.” The theory is that when Supply is greater than Demand, prices go down-and the converse of that. This is called a “theory” because there are many who do not accept it as proven fact. Among these are the makers and sellers of gasoline. (This would be “petrol” for Meridian readers in the British Commonwealth, and “grz?u8kkkz-z-z-ka-put-put-vr88888m” for Meridian readers on Betelgeuse.)

Many articulate “Supply” and “Demand” zealots have tried to explain to me how the theory holds true for gas prices, as well as everything else, but they have not succeeded. I do not harden my heart against their words, I have desired to believe and let this desire work in me sufficient to arouse my faculties and experiment on their words, but the seed is, IMHO, not a good seed.

(You may not think I am qualified to address these issues, but I voted for Sarah Palin and so did some of you, so pipe down. And FWIW ((and in this economy, anything that’s Worth anything ought to hoarded and gloated over)), I can see Juab County from my house.)

Constancy Amid Change

Elder Marvin J. Ashton used to counsel us on the subject of “Constancy amid Change.” My response to the economic maelstrom is constant as the moon. In good times, I had no job. In bad times, I have no job. Instead, I engage in the arts. During the Great Depression, one industry that flourished was the movie industry. No matter what it cost people to enter the theatre, they wanted to escape into a world of hope. I’m counting on that happening again. So far in the current crisis, the surest evidence that this desire is still alive in people is the singular flourishing of the politics industry. It cost us nothing to enter the polling place, and we elected a president who offers that same hope. We would have elected him even if we’d been charged admission. No kidding, if the President (whom I like every bit as much as I like Fred Astaire) succeeds only as well as those old movies, life will be good.

Finished Christmas Book

In pursuit of that good life for everybody, I finished my Christmas book yesterday. I think. It’s hard to tell. The publisher hasn’t fully determined that the last book I wrote is finished yet. The book before that went something like this:

5 September 2007

“Last night I rocketed up the canyon through thunder and wind to my mother-in-law’s family cabin-I’m looking for sixteen thousand words by Friday so I can hand in a first draft of the novel, ‘Hammy and Boam In the Utah War.’ But the power on the mountain was out. I stumbled in, built a fire, spent the night and came home.”

7 September 2007

“Locked myself in a hotel room in Lehi with a few bananas, some orange juice, a carton of chocolate milk and three donuts and came out two days later with a novel. There’s always mopping up and loose ends with everything you do, and the novel will be revisited, but in every substantial way, tonight I am done.”

Note particularly the length of the interim between the previous entry and the following entry.

10 January 2008

“Finished ‘Hammy and Boam in the Utah War.’ Again.”

11 January 2008

“Finished ‘Hammy and Boam in the Utah War.’ Again.”

I couldn’t find the journal entry several months later where I recorded my conversation with the publisher in which he suggested, over burgers, that the book was nowhere near being finished, even though all the white space was entirely filled with words. But looking for that entry, I found this one, instead.

27 April 2008

“Melody Welch (lovely young member of my ward speaking in church) says ‘Witholding forgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. If it’s hard to forgive, let the Savior show you how it feels to be forgiven.'”

Okay then, forget everything I just wrote here (Sarah who? Can see what from her house? See how easily we can forget?) and remember what Sister Welch said in church. Maybe the spirit of her words will move us all to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” And neither we nor the other person will die. That’s good economy.

Visit marvinpayne.com!

“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)

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