The global economy is receiving a lot of attention these days.  Something must be going on…

In addition to the articles and news story about the stimulus package and other more technical parts of the economy, there are articles and news stories focusing on the quirky personal stories, experiences, and trends in the economy.  For example, this week I saw a story that being frugal has actually become the trendy new thing to do.  In fact, some shoppers at the mall in King of Prussia are going so far as asking stores to place their goods in unmarked bags to conceal their luxurious spending.  Apparently, being comfortable during these dire financial times is turning into something to be ashamed of (I can’t find the link to that specific article, but I did find a similar article exploring the idea that frugal is cool).

With that in mind, here are a news stories I think we’ll soon be seeing with regards to the economic crisis:

1. Frugality will become more popular at weddings and bar mitzvahs. I used to cater and run a novelty photography business, so I am very familiar with the business of Bar Mitzvahs.  I also got married in August 2008 and have several friends who either recently were married or are about to get married, so I have had many discussions about the wedding planning and the costs.  These two industries are served by countless service providers and vendors with one primary focus: to convince you to spend as much money as possible for their service or product.  It isn’t too hard, either, since many parents and engaged couples view their event as the most significant day of their lives (or their child’s life) and therefore feel there is no price tag too big when it comes to planning their event

I can tell you from being on both sides of the event process (as a vendor and as a groom planning his wedding) that it is not necessary to overspend in order to plan a classy, memorable event.  For example, a recently married friend shared that his bride’s wedding gown cost more than my entire wedding did, and the reason they spent this much money on a gown was because it was their special day. While his bride looked beautiful, she did not look any more beautiful than my bride did in a more reasonably-priced dress, nor was their wedding any more fun than ours because of the loftier price tag.  Similary, another friend spent a lot of money on a DJ and said, “At that price, they must be fun!”   I can tell you from seeing many DJs at many parties that a DJ is not necessarily good or fun just because he charges a lot of money, just as a cheap price does not mean a DJ is boring or inferior.  In fact, It Takes 2 is a company that I have seen at many events (camp events, bar mitzvahs, and weddings).  Their prices are very affordable, and their events are some of the most fun that I have ever attended — either as a guest or as a vendor.

Since luxury is becoming loathsome and practical is becoming popular, it seems natural that this change in mentality will affect the wedding and bar mitzvah industries.  But, I don’t think we’ll see the economy’s impact on weddings and bar mitzvahs until the 2010 or 2011 season, since most of this year’s events were planned as long ago as 2006 and the economy was in better shape at that time.  Looking forward, will wedding and bar mitzvah planning become more practical because parents and engaged couples cut back on their spending, or will service providers and vendors lower their prices in an effort to still make the day special without being excessive?

2. How will the economy affect our commutes to and from work? I live in Philadelphia but work about 20 minutes outside of the city, and my commute to and from work requires about 10 miles spent on I-76 and I-476 each way.  Fortunately, I drive against the majority of traffic during both rush hours but my commute still has moments of a slow crawl, and these make the trip take twice as long as it does during non-peak hours.  Traffic in the other direction, however, is usually at a standstill during both the morning and evening rush hours.  That’s what happens when a lot of people are presumably heading to their 9 to 5 jobs in the big city.

One morning, however, I heard that almost 600,00 people lost their jobs in January 2009.  That’s a lot of people who are no longer commuting to work every day, and I am afraid to say that the number will probably be higher in February.  I wonder when a local news guy, looking for “The Lighter Side of the Economy” story, like Bruce in Bruce Almighty, will decide to report on this ‘advantage’ of our current economic crisis.  You know, kinda like how some media outlets were reporting that an advantage of the economic crisis is that fuel costs were dropping back to somewhat acceptable levels?  On one hand, I will enjoy a shorter commute to work every day and we won’t have to endure any more movies starring Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. On the other hand, it is terrifying to comprehend what empty roads during rush hour means.  Not to mention I will have less time to listen to Preston & Steve in the morning.  I kid, but the thought is really scary.

3. How will textbooks used in economics classes be rewritten? I have only taken ECON 101: Introduction to MacroEconomics (summary: Everything is dictated by Supply and Demand, just like the Wendy’s commercials ‘teach’ us), so I am not familiar with the curriculum employed by professors of economics.  At the same time, a big part of me truly hopes that the curriculum for every student majoring in economics since the 1930s includes a detailed, in-depth study of The Great Depression (TGD) (and yes, I am aware that TGD started in 1929 and did not end until the 1940s, but I hope our best minds were studying this event even before it was resolved).  Not just one week or one section, but one or several classes dedicated to studying the factors leading up to TGD, the pivotal cause of it, initial responses (or lacks thereof) and failures, and, finally, the responses and actions that worked.  Again, I don’t know if this is the case, but I hope it is considering how disastrous TGD was.  Looking forward, I wonder how our current economic crisis will be reviewed, analyzed, reported, and studied to educate future generations of economists, all of whom should help to prevent or respond to another economic crisis.

There are my three pressing questions about the economy.  What about you? What questions or observations do you have when it comes to the topic dominating our headlines?  What answers or responses can you provide to my questions?

I just left the poll, having cast my votes for the various officials hoping to be elected today.  I feel that I was well-informed regarding the different candidates for whom I could vote: President, state treasurer, attorney general, representative, etc.

I am quite bothered, however, by the referendums/items that appear on the ballot.  There were four in my district — one about the commonwealth borrowing $400 million for utilities, one about combining the Fairmount Park Commission and Department of Recreation, one about the city incurring a debt of $53 million for capital improvements, and one about giving preferential treatment for civil service jobs to people who have lived in Philly for at least one year prior to their civil service examination.

What bothers me is that the only item I had even heard of prior to just now is the item proposing the formation of a new Department of Parks and Recreation.  I am a pretty plugged in person who reads the newspaper every day and otherwise is able to get information promptly and accurately.  If I know nothing about these items, then I am going to assume that neither do the majority of voters in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania — and I’m sure there are similar items on the ballot today in cities and states throughout the US.

My decisions and vote about each item were based on reading the difficult language on the ballot and trying to figure out the Pros and Cons of each, doing so uninformed and while under pressure to expedite my turn in the voting booth.  Since I assume most of Philly and Pennsylvania is in a similar situation in terms of familiarity with these items, this means that $453 million dollars, employment decisions, and management of the largest park system in the world (as well as recreation sites) are being decided based on…nothing!

Individual candidates spend a lot of money on advertisements to make sure their messages are heard and their faces are seen.  It is understandable that a ballot item cannot raise money, but there has to be some other way to make sure voters are aware of the items and their issues.  I saw only the aforementioned Parks and Recreation item even mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, but no information about other than “Mayor Nutter says we should vote ‘yes’ on this question.”

Does this bother anyone else?

I finally found a resource with more information for those in Philly.  The Committee of Seventy, which describes itself as “Political watchdog group and nonpartisan research and election information source for the Philadelphia metropolitan area,” offers a resource on the different Philadelphia ballot questions.