Things Are Not Normal

That dark blob in the center is a moose! It crossed the highway near our campsite. First time I've seen a moose in the wild.

Oh, yeah, we have news for you today. At our monthly Fireside Chat (retirement community name for CEO report to residents), we got the good news that our Social Security checks might go up as much as 6% in January. But then we got the news that labor costs for our community might go up as much as 19%. Gulp. The really good news is that we’re in relatively good financial shape, in large part because we haven’t been able to fill a lot of job openings. The really bad news is that we haven’t been able to fill a lot of job openings. 

Every retirement community offers meals to residents, but meal plans differ for each facility. Our new meal plan is called “Be Open to Change.” When the kitchen is down to two people and one calls in sick, the full menu is no longer an option. We get a limited buffet of (quite good) options, but none of that sit down, look at the menu, give your choices to a server bit. Nope. It’s walk through the line, take what you get, pick up dessert on the way to your table, and get your own coffee. For the time being, this will be our plan two days a week, and you know what? I can handle it.

Our meals are also being affected by a labor shortage in the trucking industry. Drivers for our biggest supplier are going on strike, and other companies don’t have enough drivers to pick up the slack. So we will be patient and flexible when half the menu items are not available.

As it turns out, there’s actually chaos in many parts of the food chain. At the outset of Covid, when we all had to start eating at home rather than going out for dinner, famers and ranchers were scrambling to shift their entire sales plans. Food provisioners were shifting their operations from a focus on restaurants to getting things to grocery stores. Now things are up in the air again because of the lack of truck drivers. Kinda makes the hunter-gatherer lifestyle more appealing, doesn’t it. 

The real challenge for us, though, is making sure we have enough caregivers on our assisted living floors. That’s where people need help with lots of “activities of daily living.” Some need a lot more help than others, but all need some help. We are a good employer; we offer a bit above average pay and benefits; and yet, where are the people who used to be looking for the jobs we offer? 

Our CEO offered some reasons for our open positions. Immigration restrictions are surely not helping. Cost of living is high in our area, and there are lots of jobs available in areas with more affordable housing. A few people are resisting our vaccine mandate. Workers are just enjoying the clout they have right now, the rare chance to be picky about which job offer to accept. I’m convinced the employment/unemployment stories of the Covid era will be instructive for years to come. Meanwhile, is it just cynical of me to look at the brand new high-rise view apartments our city is purchasing for the homeless and wonder why anyone would think a job is necessary in order to secure an apartment in a neighborhood that is walkable to everything (if you can tolerate the trash, drugs, and graffiti).

Food supply: not normal. Jobs: not normal. Let’s move on to politics. There is nothing normal on the horizon, and I find it more than frustrating to see politicians pretending it’s business as usual. I don’t think it is. I think the world has changed; we are in a new era. I don’t necessarily think the new scenario is “US declines; China rises.” China is perfectly capable of making its own messes. Rather, I foresee “new world disorder.” New Zealand seems governable. The rest of the world, not so much. 

Fifty years ago, we worried that the 20th century population explosion would result in mass starvation. Yet the famines of that century were political events unrelated to the food supply. What I see playing out instead is the dereliction of duty by “elites.” (Sorry, I hate that word, but it’s what’s being used to define a set of people in positions of authority who could help set things straight.) Elites are often elected officials who have succumbed to the temptations of their office and now care more about their personal wealth than their constituents, or even the viability of the democracies they serve. 

Meanwhile, the masses consist of regular people just trying to carry on their ordinary lives, the happy campers, so to speak, along with mischief makers intent on remaking society in one way or another. 

The question of the day is this: If the elites are busy managing their personal fortunes or just enjoying the game of politics, and if the mischief makers are busy making us ungovernable as a strategy to fix whatever axe they’re currently grinding, can the happy campers wake up soon enough to bail us out of this mess we’re in? My personal inclination toward depression leads me to fear that no solutions are in sight. Perhaps the world just has too many people to be governable. Perhaps the population time bomb was never that we couldn’t feed ourselves; perhaps it was that we could never find a way to peacefully govern seven billion people. 

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