It was a few days before the lockdown, sometime in March it must have been. I was still working downtown several days a week, and as we often do, my editor and I walked a couple blocks to a fancy grocery store in search of lunch. Normally the place is pretty crowded at the noon hour, but there were maybe one-third as many people as you’d typically see.
I remembered that Quicken, the biggest downtown employer, was testing a work-from-home model ahead of an anticipated shutdown, still a few days away. I looked at the shelves of expensive cut fresh fruit, which would normally be walking out the door with well-paid office people, and got a glimpse of how these cascading dominoes would fall. No one buys the fruit, the fruit gets tossed, the order for more fruit cancelled.
Last weekend I thought I might try a new baking project: Bagels. But I’m running low on flour and the flour shelf at Kroger is as bare as the one for toilet paper. So no bagels this week. I recently read why I can’t get flour – because lots of people are baking now, and the flour supply chain isn’t set up for a flour surge in spring. In late fall, yes, during Christmas-cookie season, but not now. So no flour.
It turns out the American economy is like a spider web, and supply chains are the strands of the web, and you can’t mess with one without the whole web shaking. Or maybe it’s like an early Model T, back when you had to get out of the car to turn the crank starter, and if it wouldn’t catch you’d have to fiddle with the spark and the mix and if you didn’t get them all working right, you weren’t going anywhere.
I don’t have any great conclusion here, only that “restarting” the American economy isn’t going to be simple or easy. Every day I feel luckier to have a job. Every day I wonder what I’d know with the top economists in the world as close as the phone on my desk, and marvel at how one man who has that advantage could tweet about overflowing churches on Easter Sunday. Also, I’m interested in how things work, how cars are made, how the president can just demand that an automaker start turning out ventilators (because it’s so damn easy) how Big Flour sets up its own supply chains to get the wheat to the mills, etc. I suspect most people never even think of that stuff. I try to consider it from time to time.
I’ve been getting out more with the warmer weather. Everyone is still moving off the sidewalk when you pass, wearing masks and otherwise behaving as though their lives are on hold. This won’t go away quickly.
So, a little bloggage:
I stumbled across this podcast via the NYT’s “The Daily,” and was transfixed. Called “Rabbit Hole,” it traces one young man’s journey into the alt-right web, thanks to YouTube’s algorithm that kept feeding him more, leading him ever deeper. It’s really good. You want to know how radicalization happens? This is how it happens.
Also, this may amuse some of you students of bad writing. It’s a column by the former attorney general of Michigan, who ran unsuccessfully for governor last year. In it, he speculates that the reason the Detroit Lions suck and Tampa Bay can nab Tom Brady is? Anyone? Yes, state income taxes:
It is not too far afield to suggest Tampa was able to bag the “GOAT” because Brady’s nearly $60 million for the next two years will go yards farther in low-tax Florida than high-tax Massachusetts. Massachusetts income tax rate of 5.5% is one of the highest rates in America. They don’t call it “Tax-a-chusetts” for nothing. Florida has no income tax. Calling signals in Raymond James Field in Tampa, instead of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough could save Tom Brady a cool $3.3 million. Joining Florida in the zero income tax huddle are the states of Texas, Nevada, Washington, Tennessee, Alaska, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming. Other states in the Southeast and Southwest have low income tax rates and are in the game. But on the sideline, on the bench, are high tax states like Michigan.
Brady is not the only free agent to have presumably eyed the income tax rate landscape of NFL cities while planning for the future. The Miami Dolphins reportedly were able to snag Byron Jones, the top cornerback in free agency, partly because he favored Florida’s tax scheme over high-tax New York. The general manager of the newly coined Las Vegas Raiders, cited the move away from (Oakland) California’s sky-high income taxes as major incentive to recruit top talent due to Nevada’s zero income tax rate. Seattle’s rollicking, deafening and (zero income tax rate) crowd is often called the Seahawks 12th man. But, I’d wager low income taxes make for better touchdown dances in the end zone too. Just ask Brady’s favorite and newly acquired Tampa Bay receiver Robert Gronkowski.
What else does Massachusetts have, boys and girls? Excellent schools? Yes! A highly educated workforce and the businesses that depend on it? You betcha. How did they manage all this? Fairy dust, surely. That terrible sports wordplay – “joining Florida in the zero income tax huddle,” etc. – runs through the whole thing, too. Even a person who reads Albom regularly winced. Also, note how he suggests Brady went to Florida for the tax advantages, then just assumes it’s true in subsequent paragraph, where Brady “presumably eyed the income tax rate” in making his decision.
Oh, well. Wednesday awaits, and I have to get up early.