Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May 2012: Rene III

I met a fellow earlier this month.  He is a young man about my son’s age making him around 30, I commented as he had on a Detroit Tigers cap a relatively rare sight in this land of Cubs and White Sox.  Not surprisingly, this young man was from Michigan.  I said "hey a Tigers fan."  He said, "Yep, I love my home state."  We stopped and chatted.  As we talked, I learned that he was from the UP, went to Central Michigan for his undergraduate degree, and then worked at a bank in Ann Arbor.  He was downsized out his job in the great recession and found the job that brought him to my neck of the woods in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago.
Since in every blog posting this month, the topic centered around someone I just met and had an interesting story.  This posting is definitely in that same theme.  In the other two cases, I never did get their names.  In the first case, the man was a philosopher so I named him Rene for Rene Descartes who both a philosopher and mathematician.  The second person, it was a lady who worked at the Hampton Inn in Youngstown, Ohio manning the breakfast buffet.  I never got her name either.  (It occurs to me that I may just be very bad at getting names.  I already know I am not very good at remembering them.)  I decided to call this woman Rene as well simply because Rene is both a man and woman's name.  There was a certain symmetry to it.  You can read about the other two Rene’s of May at:

The fellow from Michigan actually gave me his name.  I gave him a business card.  We have already exchanged emails.  I could use his name but he prefers I do not because he does not want his boss to know what he is up to.  It is nothing illegal, he just want to make a job move and prefers his boss does not read that in a blog posting.  So, I find myself naming this young man, oh what the heck, Rene III. 
What is Rene III's story?  He bought a house.  Big deal, lots of people buy houses.  He bought a foreclosure home.  OK, my new friend Rene is a savvy shopper.  The home he bought is in Inkster, MI.  Now, he really had my interest.  Young Rene III really got me when he asked, "Guess how much I paid the house?"  I guessed $30,000.  He floored my when he said he paid $6,000 for his two bedroom, one car detached garage home, in this modest suburb of Detroit.  He said, "I miss my state and want to move home.  I want to a job there and live in my own house that is paid for.  I can live in that house make as little as $30,000." 
Wow.  $6,000 for a house.  Amazing. 
He is doing what I have kind of dreamed about and even blogged about.  I said that if I bought a place in the Detroit area at the bargain basement prices and moved there I could retire today.  I was not even thinking of the kind of absurdly low price that Rene III paid for his house.   I, of course, only thought about it.  Rene III, loyal son of The Great State of Michigan, actually did it.
Rene III's new house is in Inkster, MI.  It is where Judy and I lived when we first got married.  Per the 2010 census, Inkster is 20.5% white and 73.2% black.  15.2% of families and 19.5% of the population were below the poverty line.
Rene's mother is concerned that he bought a house there.  She thinks he is moving into a high crime area and is worried about her son's safety.  Rene, it should be noted, is white.  He told his mother not to worry.  Rene told his mother that the people in his new neighborhood are just like him and trying to get by.  I have to admire his spirit and determination.  I really believe we are not giving his generation enough credit for their determination.
People my age tend to be a little naive about how this country has changed.  We think that the economy is going to recover.  As I have covered in previous postings, the Democrats and Republicans running the county also have it wrong.  The Democrats think we will get back to pre-2008 levels of prosperity by taxing and spending our way there.  The Republicans think we will get there by reducing taxes and stimulating growth.  The TEA Party folks are essentially Republicans in my humble opinion.  The Occupy Wall Street folks are still a mystery to me.   They for sure seem to be rallying against the disproportionate distribution of wealth.  The only comment I have on this is that this has been the case throughout history.  A small minority of people controlled the wealth and power. 
The recent history, the past 50 years in the US and Europe, has been an aberration.   The aberration was two-fold.  First and foremost is the concept of pensions and retirement.  Before 1900 people worked until they either died or were unable to work.  In the latter case, their family cared for them until they died.  That was the norm.  We may be headed for that scenario again here.  Many in my generation have postponed any plans for retirement.  The second part of the aberration was the existence of a fairly large and robust middle class.  This was the strength of the United States in years since World War II.  This large middle class defined the American dream:  the nuclear family, owning a home, and the ability to retire and enjoy the golden years.  That middle class has been compromised in both the United States and Europe. 
I remember growing up in Detroit.  Our neighborhood in the city was a tidy little section of the city.  Very few of the people my parents’ age had degrees.  Most held blue collar jobs and made very good livings.  There were a disproportionate number of folks that had cottages up north, boats, and other such luxuries.  I am not sure what the percentile range of median household income our neighborhood was then.  I am absolutely certain, that the same percentile range today is not as well off. 
We were staunchly anti-communist back then.  Yet, I remember thinking that we essentially had jobs guaranteed for life, had company paid health insurance, and pension plans and social security that assured us of a comfortable retirement.  It looked and felt very much like the socialist ideal with a capitalist assortment of goods and services.
I like Rene IIIs generation.  Those that I know are very realistic about the lot of their generation.  They are burdened with debt from college.  They often work in jobs with no benefits.  They for sure work in jobs with no pension plans and their 401k plans do not seem to hold much hope in the foreseeable future.  Collectively, they hold no hope that even social security will be around for them. 
The young people that I know are not afraid to work more than one job.  They have drive and perseverance.  They know the world has changed.  They do not expect anything from the system in terms of pensions or social security.  They have a self-reliance that may actually be the most American since before the New Deal.  They may believe that my generation the baby boomer, silver spoon in the mouth, me generation, screwed things up but they do not articulate it.  Maybe it was inevitable as the economy globalized and equilibrium forces decimated our middle class.  I believe assigning fault does not matter to them.  Things are how they are and they are more busy dealing with this reality than assigning cause or blame. 
Rene III bought a cheap house.  He bought it in an economically depressed place.  He will live in a town where he is a minority.  He will look for a humble job where has chosen to live.  He will have neither  rent nor mortgage.  His taxes will be very low.  Rene told me that he will not be so afraid of losing his job and still being burdened by rent or mortgage.  He is taking control of his life and living the lifestyle that I see in his generation.  I am impressed by those I see.
Did my generation screw things up?  Possibly we did.  We are used to getting our way.  We are spoiled and have always acted as if there were no impunity.   Because of being so coddled and having inflated levels of self-esteem, we came to expect it all and to expect it immediately.  This made us, some of us, incredibly greedy.  Combine this with the Midas Touch complex and the aforementioned sense of impunity and what do we get, what did we become?  The creators of financial schemes to make brought the economy crashing down around us. 
It is not all "my generation."  My generation was a contributing factor along with the inevitable equilibrium that globalization has brought forth.  It is a most serious time and I do not see the leadership able to change their paradigms enough to solve this issue.  The leaders came into power using skills to excel and succeed in a certain model.  That model has changed and our government leaders cannot effectively operate in the New Normal yet.  This is the same phenomenon we experienced when the Japanese overtook our consumer electronics and automotive sectors by a focus on quality and consumer focused innovations.  Our industrial leaders came up through a different business paradigm and they could not easily make the change. 
The world has changed

Sidebar 1 - The name of the City of Inkster:  I grew up hearing that Inkster, MI got its name from Henry Ford who created the town for his black employees to live in.  The name Inkster was presumably given to reflect the racial make-up of the town.  I kind of believed that Henry Ford might have created a community segregated from his hometown of Dearborn.  It was somewhat believable as Inkster was very close to Dearborn but separated by the oddly shaped town of Dearborn Heights which lies mostly to the north of Inskter but also in the south of Inkster connected by a narrow quarter mile strip that lies between Dearborn and Inkster.
I had a harder time believing the name Inkster was given as a reference to skin color.  I was right.  An internet search shows that the city was named for Robert Inkster, an immigrant from Scotland who operated a steam saw mill in what is now the city bearing his name.

Sidebar 2 - Travelogues:  I love travelogues, the literary kind.  The people that author them travel around and write about where they visited.   Besides the history of where they went, the value of these writings is usually in descriptions and depictions of the people that they meet.  The people they write about are the common man, the Joe average citizen of wherever they were visiting.  They write about the salt of the earth people they meet giving insight into the uniqueness and sameness of their lives.  We pass these same people every day and ignore them.  Yet, when good traveloguers travel half-way around the world and meet people we would normally ignore, we are fascinated with these same people. 
I do not read enough of these.  In fact, I have read just four.  I have read and written about John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.  I have read In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin and Tribes with Flags by Charles Glass.  My favorite of all time was a travelogue called The Crossing Place by Phillip Marsden about his travels through Armenia in the early days of independence from the Soviet Union.  I really wished I had done what Phillip Marsden had done and so brilliantly wrote about.  I could not put the Marsden or Glass books down. 
I was assigned to read the Steinbeck book as a freshman at the University of Michigan.  The others were all read by choice and somehow randomly found their way into my hands.  I am amazed how these authors wrote about the history of where they travelled but more so how they got to know and capture the story of folks that they met.  .   I always thought about traveling around, meeting people, and writing about them.  I realized that I do not have to go far.  Interesting people are all around me... all I have to do is take a little time to talk to them.  That is apparently how I spent part of this month.


  1. Mark: your monthly e-letter got me to thinking about which might be the most interesting generation of people in the 20th century AND the most interesting decade. With respect to the former, its gotta be the generation that lived through the '50s, specifically those 20 yrs and above at the start of the decade. Why? Because of the polar extremes they had experienced in their short lives. This is the generation, after all, which grew up during the Great Depression and knew every kind of hardship/privation. And then you leap forward to the end of WWII when the US made up 85% of the world's GDP (due primarily to the devastation wrought on Europe) and thus enjoyed unbridled growth and prosperity during the '50s. [In fact, Europe was so beat up economically and we had such a need for foreign markets for our products that we enacted the Marshall Plan, which essentially re-built Europe to create demand for our industrial production.] And with respect to the latter, can anyone seriously argue with the decade of the '60s? This is the decade, at least in my opinion, which brought the greatest social upheavals/changes in our modern history. And some pretty darn colorful characters to boot! Cousin David

  2. Note for Side Bar 1...I believe it was during the depression and Henry Ford had just created the River Rouge plant and drove through The Village of Inkster seeing people out of work. So Henry Ford paid the bills of Inkster and employed the African-American Community that lived in Inkster. Henry Ford supplied food, paid utility bills and mortgage payments, supplied clothing, and built houses for the community. You can read about it in The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford by Bates. Google books has it in e-book form.

  3. Great comment and addition!
    I will definitely read the book.