Thursday, October 28, 2004

WAYBACK MACHINE: Cognitive Dissonance

This ASZ blog post was originally written as a two-part posting on 7/21 & 7/22/04, and was selected by the author for the ASZ Wayback Machine project. All text is exactly as originally posted. Formatting has been updated to fit current Blogger templates, and in many cases, original links may no longer work.

The Roots of Cognitive Dissonance - Part I (7/21/04)

I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday. And now I understand why folks at the middle-high / high end are going, "Bad economy? What bad economy?"

Here's the story. A recent acquaintance of mine is somewhat of a bigshot for a marine electronics supply company. This particular company sells boating electronic equipment to a fairly high end clientele - we're not talking 18 foot SunRay boats here. Their primary niche is a customer base who own 25 to 75 foot pleasure boats - what you would generally refer to as "yachts" if you saw them docked at a local marina.

As we were wrapping up our conversation (after being interrupted several times by phone sales and inquiries), he closed with this:

"Business has never been better. I keep hearing all of this stuff about a bad economy, well, I'm not seeing it here. Yesterday, I was talking with one of our suppliers, and even this deep into July, they're having a hard time keeping up with demand. So, where's the disconnect? I can't see where things are that bad."

Obviously, a hard core Republican. Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to set him straight at that particular time.

But I hope you get my drift. One thing we've clearly seen over the past several years (and I'll go as far as to indict the conservative Democratic Party administration that preceded the current business-friendly neoclowns) is that the rich have most certainly gotten richer. So, someone catering to that clientele clearly isn't going to see ongoing problems with the economy. They're not selling to the guy that's working two jobs just to pay the rent.

Like anything in life, your perspective is skewed by the lenses with which you view your immediate surroundings. When your station in life is working trade booths at sold-out boat shows, of course you're not going to see the soft underbelly of the country, which is getting softer by the day.

You can google the stats yourself; I don't have the time today to get into a long discussion on the widening gap between the "haves" and the "have nots". It's disheartening to note that the company my acquaintance works for pays the folks that push the product out the door to their high end customers $9 or $10 per hour.

And they're grateful for that.

The Roots of Cognitive Dissonance - Part II (7/22/04)

In the first half of this piece, I described a conversation with an acquaintance of mine at a marine electronics shop, and his personal view that there are no problems with the U.S. economy. As I pointed out, it all depends on the lense through which you view the world.

Kate Storm (rightly) commented that "Cognitive dissonance happens when one's perception of the world around one collides with another reality, when attitude and belief begin to get tweaked by the handwriting on the wall." And I fully concur. The question then becomes, how do we facilitate a national case of cognitive dissonance at the high end of the economic spectrum?

Let me offer the following as an example: at the same time that I was writing Part I yesterday, I was also crewing the set up and staffing of "hot dog day" at a local inner city food bank (I'm a helluva multi-tasker). It's a fun event that's held once per year, and has kind of a carnival atmosphere - games, waterslides, dunk tanks, hoop contests, local celebrities, and of course, food. The kids that you seen in the picture to the right (part of a crowd of about 500 that attended) are not wastrels who just wandered in off the street from the inner city neighborhood that surrounds the food bank. Each one is a client of a social service agency served by the food bank (food pantries, churches, shelters, etc.) - a child who, if not for the services of the food bank, wouldn't be eating very well or very regularly.

Demand for services at food banks throughout the country is booming, yet operational funding is hard to come by (more about this in a future post). But you know what? Donated food is not hard to come by, both from food outlets (stores and food processing plants) and private donations. It's even perplexing to the president of the food bank where the picture above was taken. She recently noted that she's never seen anything like the conditions that exist today - a crappy economic situation at the low end; bountiful food donations from the high end.

So, does the opportunity for cognitive dissonance lay somewhere between the children who attended hot dog day and the sale of a $25,000 fish-finding sonar unit?

Perhaps if my boating acquaintance spent a Saturday morning passing out food at a local food pantry, and ran into one of his $10 per hour employees, he could be persuaded that the economy isn't as good as his own business would indicate. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for him to rub elbows with the unwashed lower caste.

I'm pretty sure that food pantry operating hours would conflict with teeoff times at the club on Saturday morning.