Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting more desperate

For many years now, small businesses have be lauded as the heroes of the domestic economy—the job creators, the engines of growth.  Of course, this is mostly political horseshit.  Most small business have great difficulty creating an income stream that is above the minimum wage for one person.  Very few small businesses make enough to provide the principles with a large enough income to pay for health insurance.  Yet when these businesses fail, it is absolutely the last option available for the entrepreneur.  They have worked hideously long hours and probably sacrificed every cent of their savings—plus whatever they could scrape together from family and friends.  They have probably stiffed everyone they could—the state sales tax guys, the electrical company that cannot shut them off until spring, etc., all in the hopes of keeping the doors open just a little longer.

And when they finally go under, they discover a wonderful fact—any employees that they had will get unemployment payments but they won't.  In they eyes of the keepers of statistics, they won't even be counted as out of work.  So what you have are some of the most highly motivated, most hard-working, most intelligent people who through circumstances that are often far beyond their control, not only lose everything including their dreams, but become officially non-persons.  Not surprisingly, these business "failures" often suffer acute depression.

So here we see a story in the New York Times about the plight of some of the failed entrepreneurs of Europe.  I can only imagine how those who have lost their businesses here in USA must feel about the self-appointed "paper of record" that thinks it must go to Italy to report on a subject that is likely happening in their own back yard.

Increasingly in Europe, Suicides ‘by Economic Crisis’


TREVISO, Italy — On New Year’s Eve, Antonio Tamiozzo, 53, hanged himself in the warehouse of his construction business near Vicenza, after several debtors did not pay what they owed him.

Three weeks earlier, Giovanni Schiavon, 59, a contractor, shot himself in the head at the headquarters of his debt-ridden construction company on the outskirts of Padua. As he faced the bleak prospect of ordering Christmas layoffs at his family firm of two generations, he wrote a last message: “Sorry, I cannot take it anymore.”

The economic downturn that has shaken Europe for the last three years has also swept away the foundations of once-sturdy lives, leading to an alarming spike in suicide rates. Especially in the most fragile nations like Greece, Ireland and Italy, small-business owners and entrepreneurs are increasingly taking their own lives in a phenomenon some European newspapers have started calling “suicide by economic crisis.”

Many, like Mr. Tamiozzo and Mr. Schiavon, have died in obscurity. Others, like the desperate 77-year-old retiree who shot himself outside the Greek Parliament on April 4, have turned their personal despair into dramatic public expressions of anger at the leaders who have failed to soften the blows of the crisis.

A complete picture of the phenomenon across Europe is elusive, as some countries lag in reporting statistics and coroners are loath to classify deaths as suicides, to protect surviving family members. But it is clear that countries on the front line of the economic crisis are suffering the worst, and that suicides among men have increased the most.

In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24 percent from 2007 to 2009, government statistics show. In Ireland during the same period, suicides among men rose more than 16 percent. In Italy, suicides motivated by economic difficulties have increased 52 percent, to 187 in 2010 — the most recent year for which statistics were available — from 123 in 2005.

Researchers say the trend has intensified this year as government austerity measures took hold and compounded the hardships for many. While suicides often have many complex causes, researchers have found that severe economic stress corresponds to higher suicide rates.

“Financial crisis puts the lives of ordinary people at risk, but much more dangerous is when there are radical cuts to social protection,” said David Stuckler, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, who led a study published in The Lancet that found a sharp rise in suicides across Europe, particularly in seriously affected countries like Greece and Ireland from 2007 to 2009, years that coincided with the downturn.

“Austerity can turn a crisis into an epidemic,” Mr. Stuckler added.

Veneto, a region that was the engine of Italy’s economic growth in the 1990s, has been especially hard hit. In this part of the country, which includes the cities of Treviso, Vicenza and Padua, more than 30 small-business people have committed suicide in the last three years for reasons tied to their work as the area has been whipsawed by global trends including a drop in industrial orders, competition from China and tight bank credit. more
The then there is the hopelessness faced by the young.  They have discovered that they sold themselves into debt peonage for a degree that cannot even get them a decent job interview.  Of course, being young, there is a larger reservoir of hope that doesn't exist for a 55-year-old man who built a now failing business. Jim Kunstler believes they could turn their hopeless situations into a political movement that would bring down a lot of banksters.

Strange Jubilee

By James Howard Kunstler
April 9, 2012

Is there a Baby Boomer so dim in this land of rackets and swindles who thinks that he or she will escape the wrath of the Millennials rising? The developing story is so obvious that only an academic economist could fail to notice. Here's how it will go: some months from now, as the financial unwind worsens, and the mirage of gainful employment shimmers away to nothing, and the technocrats of Europe meet nervously by some Swiss lakeside (and are seen glumly shaking their heads), and Romney and Obama try to out-do each other peddling miracle cures for the tanking national self-esteem - a dangerous meme will go forth across the internet, and this meme will say: Millennials, renounce your college loans and set yourselves free!

And then something truly marvelous will happen. They will at once disempower the swindling generation of their fathers, teachers, loan officers, and overlords and quite possibly bring on, at long last, the epochal collision of pervasive American control fraud with the hard hand of reality.

I think this will happen, and I would venture even to set the meme loose here and now and watch it go viral. The college loan racket has been an even more cynical enterprise than the mortgage racket was because so many people who ought to have known better, people of supposed intelligence such as college deans, cabinet secretaries, and think-tank Yodas, all colluded to support the false promise that the gigantic cargo cult of higher ed would keep churning out fresh careers forever - when the truth was that the entire groaning vessel of hopes and dreams was already under water and sinking into the eternal darkness.

And is there a Millennial so dim who believes that the promised package of lifetime goodies once called "a job with benefits" waits like a liveried servant to conduct them without friction through the ceremonies of career and family according to premises and promises of an obsolete American Dream? Dreams do die hard. As dreams go it was a pretty good one while it lasted, but like all dreams, it has vanished in the mists of a new morning leaving the dreamers half-sick, anxious, and drained. They have nothing to lose but their fears of the re-po man and the simulated dudgeon of telephone robot debt-collectors.

This idea should catch on as the election season heats up. Like the anti-war youth of August, 1968, burning their draft cards in the streets of Chicago, the Millennials should flock to Charlotte and Tampa this summer and fill the parking lots (there are no streets in these places) with the smoke of their burning loan contracts - and then proceed with the loud repudiation of party politics in its two current useless, lying, craven, feckless factions. The effrontery of these rogues, promising a hundred years of shale gas, and jobs, jobs, jobs, and a personal relationship with Jesus! Send them packing into the bowels of history, then go home and make it work locally, where it will have to happen in any case because the arc of events has a velocity of its own now and that is our certain destination. more


  1. Although Kunstler is one of my favorite pessimists, I think he has let his Boomer Schadenfreude run away from any rational thinking on this idea - your juxtaposition of the Desperate Small Business article was illuminating.

    The Banksters have already anticipated Kunstler's ploy and encourage our Universities to withhold transcripts to holders of defaulted loans. Simply put, walk away from your loan and you forego proof of your College Degree.

    Please see:

    Escaping a college loan does not eradicate the hopelessness of the "lost generation's" career prospects. I often joke with my 20-something friends that we could solve the Federal deficit and their job prospects with the Eskimo solution - take all Boomers & the remnants of the Greatest Generation, put them on icebergs, and push them out to sea....

    Just make sure that they put everything they know about how things work on a Flash Drive before getting on the iceberg!

    David Bauer

  2. Withholding transcripts, huh? Boy there's a threat with no teeth. I am 62 and have yet to have anyone even ask for proof I was ever educated in college anywhere—let alone wondering what sort of grades I got. And my guess that is normal for most people. OTOH, everyone I know has been told dozens of times that they were "overqualified" for some job or other. I know several people with degrees from Harvard who routinely leave that fact off their resumes / CVs. My guess is that far less than 20% of the jobs out there actually need a qualified graduate with a degree in some specialty. The threat of withheld resumes sounds like the old threat of excommunication from the mother church—which as the Protestants discovered, wasn't much of a threat at all.

    Now whether Kunstler is correct that some reasonable fraction of the kids in deep student loan debt will do anything except complain about their plight is another matter entirely. Only a tiny percentage of slaves ran away. Only a tiny fraction of the students who claimed they opposed the Vietnam War did anything more than apply for student deferments, etc. Notice this was the first time I have quoted Kunstler but then, I always get excited about the prospects of any manifestation of a debtors revolt—no matter how unlikely—so I made an exception.

    As for whether I could put everything I have learned in life on a flash drive—that is an interesting question. Let me think about that one for a while.

    1. Some of the stories I have heard about modern hiring practice.... There are HR consultants that specialize in "exhausting" all the local search requirements before a company can hire foreign technology workers. A missed deadline, any mistake on the resume, or any missing info gets your resume tossed in the wastebasket.

      John Adams said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

      A contract works only for parties that wish to abide by it.

      A company only hires locals when it really wants to - if they do, they will find a way, if not, they have experts to avoid it.

      Just think about the Classism of graduating from college debt-free, and then being able to move to an expensive city for an extended internship, before you ever see your first paycheck.

      Sadly, there are some incredible opportunity filters that help to keep us in our respective economic class.

      David Bauer

    2. When you see 500 applicants for one job, the filters used to winnow that herd are mostly ridiculous—drug testing, over qualified, over educated, too old, bad credit scores, unemployed, the look of a troublemaker, etc.

      This is why the unemployed should be so furious with the scum who preach that somehow unemployment is the fault of the unemployed. When there are literally millions more willing workers than there are jobs, this is a systemic failure. And MOST of the reasons given for rejecting a job applicant are utterly bogus.

      During WW II, this country discovered that it could find perfectly fine B-29 mechanics in a pool of malnourished kids with fourth-grade educations. I knew one of them—probably had a 150 IQ to go with his Depression-era misery. 22 weeks of training and he could keep flying the most advanced aircraft in the world.