A New Year’s Remembrance of Things Past

            Three years ago this morning I poured the first cup of coffee of 2010, closed the door to my study, and wrote a melancholy reflection of the economic devastation we had witnessed the preceding year.  One year ago I republished the original post (Ringing in the New Year with Appropriate Punctuation) with a follow-up reflection titled The Sound of Chirping Birds.

             We’re coming back.  In this morning’s paper I read that a national homebuilder (Pulte Homes) is the S&P’s largest “gainer” for 2012, increasing its stock value 187%.  Rounding out the top five stocks for the year is Bank of America, both a cause and symbol of the economic collapse in late 2008.

             While I never know who my readers are, WordPress tells me each day which of my past posts have hits.  For reasons unknown, these two posts continue to be found and read.

             So . . . to start the New Year that we call Twenty Thirteen, I’ll republish both posts below.

 The Sound of Chirping Birds

             On a few occasions I’ve used this blog to comment on the economy that undergirds land development and growth.  Two years ago, I woke up on New Year’s Day and, reflecting on the economic carnage we all had witnessed during 2009, wrote a post that captured what it felt like to have been in a profession that was bloodied and bruised by an army we never saw coming over the hill.  After all, those of us with clients in the land development business seemed to carry more body bags than other industries did.

             I ended that post on a note of mild optimism with these words:

            “So today, January 1, step with me into 2010.  If you come through the door with me the brass section won’t play and the champagne won’t flow, but I can promise that the sun will come up, and if we wait awhile we’ll soon hear chirping birds.”

            Little did I know how long the night would last.  But I’m listening closely, and I think I hear the distant sound of birds chirping, although they aren’t yet here.  I’m looking hard and seeing hints of a sun about to rise.

             Economists can debate numbers on graphs, but I look at newspaper headlines, the upticks in numbers of filings for rezonings, new client activity, and smiles on realtors’ faces.  I notice local giving to nonprofits and gauge activities of new companies in town.

             You can talk about the Euro and GNP and the Dow Jones all you want, but I believe the sun is starting to rise.

             To read my January 1, 2010 post in the original, click here.  To read it without the extra click, read below:

 Ringing in the New Year with Appropriate Punctuation

             Happy New Year.

             I’m sure that’s the first time I’ve written that phrase without the usual and somewhat clichéd exclamation point.  New Year’s Eve celebrations have a sense of falsity about them anyway.  Mildly fake revelry.  A feeling that we’re required to stay awake two hours past normal bedtime although we’re really not sure why.

             Today I just want to ease open the door to 2010, pause quietly as I glance back at the worst economic year of my lifetime, and step unnoticed into the New Year.

             That quick, backward glance is not pretty.  It provides no reason to linger unless you’re the driver who rubbernecks at highway carnage. 

             This year we were reminded that a capitalist economy has contractions, but the tidal ebb was different this time because the root causes did not seem to be part of the natural order of things.  There was a feeling that those who controlled our banks and investment houses – folks who should have been on “our” team – betrayed us and became economic terrorists. 

             The aftermath left us bewildered and angry.  Bank failures.  Layoffs.  Personal and corporate bankruptcies.  Depleted retirement funds and crippled university endowments.

             Civil discourse was rare as the pundit class, followed by legions of letter-to-the-editor writers, flooded the streets. Republicans blamed Clinton and developed apoplexy at the Democratic spending spree that was supposed to right our ship.  Democrats viciously accused the Republicans who controlled all three branches of government for most of the preceding eight years. 

             If there ever was a year when the center did not hold, when the falcon broke from his master’s perch and W.B. Yeats’ beast slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, this was that year.

             We scoff at folks who make victimhood their walking screen saver, yet “victim” seems to be an appropriate adjective to capture the flavor of a year when millions of people who didn’t deserve what happened to them had to suffer through a crisis that thousands of Wharton grads and Harvard MBAs did not foresee, and, to a great extent, caused.

             Last night we shared New Year’s Eve with several friends, including one of the nicest guys I know who was informed in early December that his large law firm was downsizing again. His last day in the office was yesterday, but his mortgage and college tuition payments still come due.  In my perfect world, brains, kindness, honest dealings and a great work ethic should not be rewarded with a pink slip.

             The recession that we label “2009” really started in 2008 and will continue into 2010.  The date change makes a difference only to the extent that the economy is driven by the human psyche.  Our social myth – and a myth with great power – is that January 1 is more than just another day.  It’s a day we set aside for hope.  It’s an opportunity for a new start.  It’s that one moment on the calendar when we feel that our willpower can control our destiny.

             So today, January 1, step with me into 2010.  If you come through the door with me the brass section won’t play and the champagne won’t flow, but I can promise that the sun will come up, and if we wait awhile we’ll soon hear chirping birds.

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