Originally published April 9
We are told that the economy is in recovery. Things are getting better. Facts and figures bolster the argument: Lower unemployment figures. Higher GDP numbers. Affordable health care for all.
I look at my personal world and it doesn’t reconcile with the narrative.
Is it just me?
I expand the circle and take at those around me.
They don’t seem to be doing so well either.
Local oil companies, (the majors, anyway, which aren’t the majors that come to mind), continue to operate, but everyone knows the current price of crude does not come anywhere near the cost of exploration and exploitation.
The large outfits lay off a portion of the help and speak of hedged oil prices that allow them to continue for six more months.
The little guys did not hedge their oil. So, they lay everybody off, aside from perhaps a skeleton crew to keep remaining assets from being stolen. The service companies don’t get paid.
Hotels, recently booked two years in advance, sport vacancies, and even more soon-to-be-new hotels have yet to open their doors.
The truck that sold tacos to passing oil field trucks quit coming.
Pickup truck salesmen watch nervously through shiny glass windows for non-existent buyers, worrying about bills at home, knowing their only income is derived from commissions; the trucks don’t sell.
Farmers plant crops, hoping government subsidy programs bridge the widening gap between production costs and the current price of grain, knowing that without this assistance, they lose money for their efforts.
Bankers watch accounts dwindle as clients pilfer retirement reserves to pay bills; the day arrives when the retirement account is retired and those bills go unpaid.
Then it’s, I can’t pay you because he didn’t pay me, only hetells the same story about another.
A scene from the movie, Cinderella Man, comes to mind: The Depression era boxer Jim Braddock, (played by Russell Crowe), arrives at an upscale apartment of a believed-to-be wealthy associate, looking for a loan, only to discover a cold, empty home, devoid of furniture, sold to maintain the appearance of wealth.
Cattle are high. But many places no longer have cows, which were sold during the droughts. Truth be known, just about everyone raising cattle has a day job to support the habit, and it has been this way for the last 40 years.
Today’s beef prices are necessary to break even, not to make a profit, just to pay expenses.
There’s no way in hell this endeavor justifies the supposed value of the land those cattle are raised on.
Meanwhile, meat has become inaccessible for many consumers due to current prices.
A few years back, I received a windfall.
I distrust and dislike banks and lending institutions.
So, rather than place money in a bank account, which would then be lent out to others, others not of my choosing, I decided to lend money to friends and associates I thought had viable enterprises in need of funding.
The recipients covered a wide array, from farmers and ranchers, here and abroad, to musicians and even a start-up insurance salesmen. There was a flower salesman and even a medical marijuana guy in a state where such is legal.
One guy trained race horses.
My wife opened a business, built from scratch from raw land.
We restored an old store from ruins.
Bought a small irrigated farm in West Texas.
And, bought way too many fine Thoroughbred horses.
None of the people I loaned money to were able to pay me back. All are decent, hard-working people; all made honest efforts, yet none could repay their loan, aside from one of minimal value and he sold a house his grandfather gave him before dying to do so.
Most of these people continue to work, vigorously. Some have a few remaining assets; most don’t.
Those assets could not be sold for a fraction of the money it cost to buy them.
I can’t throw a rock at anyone, because my personal situation is similar.
While I don’t owe money to any institution, I have borrowed money and goods from my father and have been unable to repay him.
Both of us are in essence, broke. Not yet insolvent, but broke. We got no cash. Or maybe we are insolvent and don’t yet know it.
What happens when the value of assets becomes zero?
Nearly all the horses I bought were acquired at pennies on the dollar from their previous value, some of which arrived from other failing operations—high scale operations.
To this day I receive calls from yet others, offering to sell me horses, good horses, cheap.
And there’s no shortage of decent mares to be had for free.
I’m already overstocked.
For those that advise selling the horses I own to fix my own situation, I ask: To whom?
It’s not like there are people lined up at my door with money waiting to buy a horse.
Aside from that, they’re worth more than money to me.
They’re living creatures. They know me. They trust me.
They cost money to maintain.
I’ve made mistakes for lack of money I needed to provide proper care.
Recently I fed hay we grew containing Klein grass, good for cattle, but potentially dangerous to a horse. Times past, I got away with this.
This year, I lost three foals. I suspect Klein grass was the culprit.
We had the hay and I didn’t have money to buy something better without allowing some other obligation to go unmet.
In river bottoms, the shit encroaches from places upstream, whether you plant it or not.
Try explaining this to an anxious mare watching over a foal that won’t get up to eat because it died.
And if I sell the horses to someone else that can’t care for them (whether they realize it or not), or send them to slaughter, then where do the people in my employ that care for these animals go?
These are tough times.
To any and all that owe me money:
Your debt is forgiven.
Circumstances beyond your control created your demise.
I know you tried. I’ve been watching. Struggling alongside you.
Lord, have mercy.
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