Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why Minimalists Need a Recession

Sebastian Joe's and Mancini's

Allow me to tell you about Sebastian Joe's.

If you ever come to the Twin Cities, like most sheep you're going to want to go to the Mall of America.  This is fine and I understand this because 1) you've been programmed to and 2) there isn't much else to see in the Twin Cities.  Oh yes, I'm sure they'll tell you to see either a Twins or Vikings game.  Yes, I'm sure the locals will insist you check out our incredibly mediocre downtowns.  And the truly delusional Twin Citians will perhaps fool you into going to the worthless and talentless Walker Art "Museum."  But all in all the Twin Cities suck and I cannot recommend you come here for much of anything.

However, if you still insist on visiting the Twin Cities there are only two places worth visiting before I'd advise you to move along to the Black Hills or catch a flight to Chicago:

Mancini's and Sebastian Joe's.

Mancini's is one of the few remaining classical 60's steakhouse joints in the Twin Cities.  It's worth attending and you can find it in St. Paul.  The Captain has had many o' grand and drunken times at Mancini's and you do not get "drinks" as much as you get "copious vats o' booze" poured for dirt cheap because (unlike the flash in the pan night clubs that come and go) Mr. Mancini paid off his mortgage long ago and those overhead costs no longer exist.

But even more of a staple than that is Sebastian Joe's which is hands down, easily, by a mile, and without a doubt, the world's greatest ice cream parlour ever.

Oh roll your eyes if you must, but I am deadly serious.  In part because there is nothing else to do in the Twin Cities and in part because the ice cream is just that good, Sebastian Joe's is simply the #1 thing people MUST DO when visiting the Twin Cities.  And to show you my intellectual honesty, ask any out of town visitors I've chaperoned where I took them and they will confirm it was Sebastian Joe's.

Now I am fortunate enough to live relatively close to Sebastian Joe's.  And it happens to be near "the lakes" region of Minneapolis which is one of my favorite running haunts.  So while the rest of Twin Citians are at their cubes, stuck in traffic, paying for a masters degree, or doing whatever it is the Fraternal Order of Normie-Conformies of Minnesota do with their day, I'm banging out a run around Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, with a convenient stop off for a treat at Sebastian Joe's.  I walk in, I get my ice cream, maybe a double scoop, get in my car, and high-tail it out of town before the sheep clog the highways again come the afternoon rush hour. 

This has been a weekly past time in the Ole Captain's life for the past decade.  I look forward to running around MY lakes and getting MY Sebastian Joe's ice cream, relatively unhindered and without the morons that normally barf out onto the lakes and clog it up during fair-weather weekends.  But the past three times I went in to claim my Sebastian Joe's ice cream after a long run there was something that should not have been there.

A line.

A line so long, it was enough of a deterrent to make me forego my precious Sebastian Joe's ice cream.  And while "once" is to be expected and "twice" is a coincidence, "thrice" is a trend.  And this "trend" has an evil genesis.

Though slow and sclerotic, the US economy has recovered from the housing crash/financial crisis.  It took a decade, an experiment with a socialist affirmative action president, and a doubling of our national debt, but inevitably we recovered.  And I even hate to use the word "recovered" because economic growth has been so paltry "professional" economists in Washington and New York practically cum their pants if GDP grows above 3%.  But let there be no doubt about it, we've recovered.  Unemployment is now officially below 4% making it a VERY TIGHT labor market.  Even the labor force participation rate has bottomed out, indicating that, yes, even Millennials are starting to look for work.  And if you have Millennials looking for work (and lining up for ice cream), that means, yes, the economic good times are here again.

A Generation of Minimalists

But "good for who?"

We normally assume economic growth is good for everybody, and booming economic times good for everyone.  But the last recession was so harsh and so long that it permanently changed the behaviors of millions of people.  And not that these people would want to deny America a booming economy, but a booming economy is now incredibly inconvenient to these "economic adapters" who changed their lives over the past 10 years.

These people, I contend, are a generation of minimalists that were forged through the nuclear hot economic fires of the Great Recession, some going so far back that their forging started during the Dotcom bubble.  Predominantly Gen Xer's, these people were also lied to by their parents, overpaid for college degrees, were dumped out into a recession, maybe gained some traction in the 00's, only to have the housing crash wipe out any progress.  So taxing and depleting were their decades-long experiences, one could argue that the entire conventional wisdom of how to succeed in America was reversed in this sole, single generation going from:

"Go to college, earn a degree, get a job, and start a family, the future of America is great, everything is awesome!!!"


"Trust no one, invest in nothing, STEM or die, independence, entrepreneurship, kids are too expensive, spend as little as possible, prepare for the worst."

Nor is it purely relegated to age.  Gen X'ers may comprise the majority of these neo-minimalists, but Millennials and Baby Boomers aren't blind, nor unscathed either.  Millions of Millennials are finally getting "woke" to the fact there were just completely raped by Big Education for worthless degrees, and Baby Boomers who were either laid off during the Great Recession or are looking at their pensions being underfunded have also abandoned hopes of Viarga-commerial-esque retirement plans replete with Floridian beaches, svelte wives, and sail boats.  So when the decade-long totality of economic pain, suffering, pressure, lies, deceit, and misery is finally lifted from these people, they are not the same people they were 10 years ago.  They have changed, and changed permanently.  They are minimalists and are not only accustomed to bad economics times, but thrive in them.

One would think such a contrarian approach to one's economic life would not be possible, or at least doesn't make sense.  How would minimalists NOT benefit from a booming economy?  How would minimalists NOT benefit from higher wages?  And you are certainly correct especially if you view it through the lens of traditional economics and what was considered "traditional success" in America.  But if you look at it in terms of lifestyle and the enjoyment of life, a booming economy does not necessarily equate to a better life for this new generation of "perma-minimalists."  And while many of these "drawbacks" may be tongue and cheek (the lines at Sebastian Joe's did not send me off a cliff), there are some that certainly lessen the standard of living that minimalists have conditioned themselves to enjoy today.

Minimalist Purchasing Power

Foremost among these is purchasing power.  The primary goal and motivation of a minimalist is freedom from financial dependence.  This is not possible since everybody needs some money to live on, but after watching millions of Americans (or perhaps themselves) enslave themselves to student loans, McMansion mortgages, and Range Rover loans, minimalists make the obvious and easy decision to simply do without.  We don't need fancy cars.  We don't need more bedrooms than heads in our household.  We don't need worthless masters degrees.  And we sure as hell don't need some psychopathic boss ruining our mental lives 8 hours a day in the process.

So we set off to a race, the finish line of which is to be debt free.  For once we are free of debt, with no mortgage, car loan, or student loan to pay for, we answer to no one and effectively maximize our freedom.  We can work some paltry part time job and survive in relatively luxury the rest of our days.  Ideally we are self employed, working from a laptop that doesn't anchor us down anywhere.  But even if we're not, that's still OK, because the second our boss gives us the slightest bit of lip, we quit because we don't need the money.  We aren't living paycheck to paycheck and wifey-poo won't divorce us if we can't make her car payment and Little Suzie's tuition bill at Princelysum Liberal Arts College.  Our expenses are so low a mere $5,000 can last us a year.  Matter of fact, more commonly you'll find minimalists returning to work out of pure boredom because even freedom and frolicking loses its novelty.

However, there is one major drawback to this lifestyle once the economy starts booming - prices go up.

Now keep in mind us minimalists aren't affected by prices anywhere near you debt-addicted-sheep herders.  We have more disposable income than you do, we have effectively no living expenses, and unlike you we have little to no debts.  Plus, you normies can't wait to line up to pay $7 for a mocha or $1,000 for a piece of crap Apple device or $20 for an assigned seat at a movie theater.  You'll just simply borrow the money you don't have to pay for those things.  So not only will you bend over and pay whatever corporations are charging you, you'll enslave yourself further to them by borrowing to pay them, tripling the price you effectively pay and tripling the amount of time you have to spend in a commute and cubicle.   So we are nowhere near as price-sensitive as you.

But still, in being minimalists we don't like spending money we don't have to.  And what little disposable income we have (which, once again is more than you) is incredibly impaired when prices go up.  This cuts deeply into our fun and enjoyment budget, which really starts to get annoying.

For example in the depths of the recession I was able to find a motel for 3 months, during summer, in the Black Hills for $600.  Not for one summer, but three!  Now you can't even find a hotel in the Black Hills during summer for less than $60 a NIGHT.

Closely related is transportation.  I remember the days when you could rent cars for $8 a day, and get upgraded to convertibles or sports cars for $15!  And this was assuming you were renting.  In the depths of the recession I bought a truck with less than 50,000 miles on it for $4,500 and an effectively brand new cruiser bike (repossessed of course) for under $5,000.  You can still get a decent car with low miles for around $5,000 but it isn't going to be as nice or as low mileage today.

Flight anyone?

This hasn't affected me as much because I'm still willing to slum it with the commoners by flying Spirit or Frontier.  But if you're like most normies and "just can't fly Spirit" because it's beneath you, you're definitely paying the price at the non-discount airlines.  In the "Grand Ole Days of the Great Recession" planes were half full and you could bump yourself up to first class for a nickel (well...maybe not a nickel, but cheap).  This was in addition to the $50 you paid round trip to a flight to Denver, assuming you didn't get it cheaper by flying standby.  And even if you didn't bump yourself up to first class, there were so many empty seats on the plane you could just throw your luggage in the seat next to you and stretch your legs out into the aisle.  The recession almost made every seat first class!

And dinner.

Oh dear lord, dinner!

Going out to eat is almost the antithesis of being a minimalist.  It takes time, gas, and money.  Certainly more time and money than if you just made the meal at home.  But not necessarily if there's a major recession going on, and you're whizbanging it up traveling across the country enjoying the dirt cheap prices you're getting everywhere.  Not only did it actually pay to go out and eat most times (anybody remember when $5 footlongs came out?), it essentially allowed you to travel the country ne'er having to store or travel with food.  Admittedly, this wasn't an option for minimalists with families, but if you were one of the many minimalists who realized you could barely take care of yourself, let alone a child from the 1990's on, you were sitting child-free-pretty and the world was your oyster.  You could get drinks for under $3 in small American towns and great meals for under $10 if you just poked around a bit.  Now, $15 cheeseburgers are standard in Las Vegas, a town once known for its borderline-free food.

In short, as economies boom and grow, the price of "fun" goes up.  Be it travel, hospitality, food, even national parks passes, they go up and they go up by a lot.  This cuts directly into the budget, and thus the amount of fun minimalists will allow themselves to have.  But let us be clear about why the price of fun is going up - you normies are borrowing again and driving those prices up.  But don't worry, I assure you it is a temporary phenomenon.  Once the economy hiccups and a mere fraction of you lose your jobs, the borrowing binge will come to an end and prices will drop to their glorious recessionary levels once more.


You might laugh at this, even scoff at it, but do not take the easy bait and mock me for claiming that lines are a serious problem minimalists face in a post-recession world.  For it should be the world laughing at you while you stand in line waiting...

an hour for a table at Apples
45 minutes for scoop of Sebastian Joe's ice cream
2 hours to see a new release movie (with assigned sheeping seating)
or 2 days for a new iPhone 192083CDX-5

Let us be clear what lines are and who they are for.  Lines are a waste of time.  Lines ARE death.  When you see a line you should see the grim reaper asking you to "make an advance payment" before he comes for you permanently because you are literally "killing time."  Lines are also for people who have such horribly boring and empty lives the best use of their time is literally to stand in a line and do nothing.  The minimalists forged in the past 20 years simply will not abide that.  Our time is too valuable, our lives too precious.  We know that life will end and we need to spend the maximum amount of it with family, friends, and loved ones

But the importance of lines goes well beyond what the normie's eye has been trained to see as a line.  For a line is not you schmucks standing there with your vibrating coasters waiting to get a seat at some brunch place.  Nor is it a veritable line cuing up to buy an Apple product.  It is any point in time you are being prevented from achieving your goals, reaching your destinations, or doing what you want to do.

Commutes for example.

I cannot think of a more damaging, destructive, and harmful societal scourge than commuting.  Just like iPhones, Applebee's tables, and Sebastian Joe's ice cream, you guys line up, every day, by the MILLIONS, all so you can inevitably park your asses in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day.  And if it wasn't bad enough, you guys DO IT AGAIN come 5 o'clock when you all go home at the exact same time.  Never mind going to work early/late and leave early/late would solve this problem.  Never mind pushing for telecommuting policies would end commutes tomorrow.  The average conformie can't even think enough to go to lunch at 11AM or 1PM to save him/herself an hour of their lives each day.  Ergo commutes are going to be with us forever and are only going to get worse as the economy continues to grow.

But what is a commute if not a line?

It may be fun to dismiss this rant as a fool who believes "lines" are a "societal scourge," but you just ask those up and coming tech go getters in Silicon Valley or Seattle as to how much their standard of living is improved with the traffic of those liberal utopias.

Another line?  Try your national parks.  I remember the "Glorious Days of the Great Recession" where you could pull up to Badlands National Park, out in the middle of nowhere South Dakota, be the first in line, pay your fee, and ride freely through the national park.

The last time I visited?

30 minute wait and this is after they jacked up prices.  And sure enough every slowpoke normie from Iowa and New York had to drive super slow, often times stopping in the middle of the road, to hold everybody up in the park.  Beforehand you could zip through the park in about 35 minutes.  Now, expect it to take an hour.

And finally, the restaurant/service industry.

I'll admit, I got accustomed to eating out.  It was fast, convenient, and often the only option when traveling about.  And while I adamantly refuse to wait in line to get a table at a restaurant, the service in the US has been getting noticeably slower since the recovery began.  In the Glorious Days of the Great Recession only the BEST waiters, waitresses and bartenders had jobs.  You could expect your meal to be served in under 10 minutes, accurately, and with a smile.  Now, with you normies breaking out the credit card again, you're flooding the service industry with your orders and swamping the kitchen.  Staff can barely keep up and now it takes around 30 minutes to get a meal with the accuracy of a Jimmy John's sandwich.  Nowhere is this more pronounced in Las Vegas where it is STANDARD to wait about 40 minutes to get your food and you can expect them to goof up at least one thing with your order.  I'd say this is not so much the fault of the service industry, but Vegas is STARVING for competent server staff to keep up with demand, once again due to a good economy.

I could go on, but the point is if every aspect of life - be it traffic, waiting in a line, cuing up for gas, lining up at a national park, waiting for your food - is taking longer and longer to get basic things done, that leaves less and less free time for all of us to enjoy.  And if you tally it up, especially when considering your commute, it takes a DRASTIC toll on your free time and enjoyment of life. The only difference I'd argue is that we minimalists did not sign up for it, while you conformists did.  Unfortunately, your booming economy is spilling over into the enjoyment of our lives.

Suffering the Return of You Arrogant Posers

I remember, and I remember it starkly, right up to the bursting of the housing bubble every (then) mid-50's baby boomer, aged, dudebro wantrapreneur walking into my banking office swinging their gray pubed dicks around acting like they were all "successful businessmen."  I knew they weren't successful businessmen because if you were coming to my bank for a loan you were desperate, not to mention I had their tax returns and balance sheets and SAW they had no positive net worth.

A $2 million McMansion home, with a $2.4 million mortgage.
A $70,000 "Kompressor Mercedes" with a $75,000 car loan.
His wife's Range Rover...which was of course leased.
And a boat they'd transfer between Lake Havasu and Lake Minnetonka, which is why they couldn't make that month's loan payment because they could barely afford the gas.

It was so bad at the peak of the housing bubble I remember one "wealthy" family that had built their dream home in a coveted neighborhood of the Twin Cities.  They invited all the neighbors and local dignitaries for the house warming party, but were in an odd and worried rush to get their new furniture in so the house was furnished in time for the party.  Through a grapevine I shan't mention, the very next day after the party the moving truck was hauling the furniture out of the house.


Because this "wealthy" family couldn't afford the furniture.  They had merely rented it for one evening and were returning it to the furniture outlet.

This is the burr that sits in my, and every other minimalists' saddle when an economy booms.  You laughably inferior people who are so vain and desperate to make it seem like you're rich, go out of your way to put up the facade, because it's painfully obvious you're simply not capable of actually doing it.  This would be alright, but you posers always insist on acting like superior, better people than those of us who actually have positive networth's, produce things of value, spend within our means, and don't rely on ever-increasing asset prices as a "business model."  And it doesn't even have to be the "egregious" posers such as the "wealthy" family that rented their furniture.  Every time the economy booms here come the:

30 year old dudebro 30,000dollarnaires and their used BMW's.
Douchebags who wear sun glasses indoors.
Get quick real estate investment schemes and seminars.
IPO's, ICO's, and venture capitalists.
"Top 40 Under 40" articles of going nowhere "local business leaders"
Outright scammers and fraudsters who fake being rich 3 months before being caught.
Morons that order bottle service and Vegas night clubs.
Soccer moms who insist they trade in a perfectly good starter homes an overpriced McMansion in a "good school district."
And let's not forget the legions of gold diggers who are so dumb they don't know the difference between debt and equity spending...because they don't have to.

Please, for the love of god stop.  You're not fooling any one.  We knew you were posers from the beginning.  The smart people know you're posers now.  Any moron with a credit score above 500 can get himself a Beemer, wear a suit without a tie, and act like he's King Dick.  Like nightclubs you are cliche and common, please just stop.  And please, don't you dare think you're better or somehow "made it" as a successful businessman just because you formed an LLC with $1 million in assets and $1.5 million debts or bought a used German car.

Because the day is coming, my fine poser, normie conformie friends - oohhhh yes, the day is coming - that the banks will cut off your debt, you won't get that raise your wife already spent, or that contract won't come through and the economy will enter recession once again.  And when that happens the party is over.  You will have to return your toys to the dealership or the bank, sell your boat at a heavy discount, pay some lawyers fees as your spouse files for divorce, wait tables just like all the other law school graduates do, and cancel your weekly ice cream at Sebastian Joe's.  And when you do, me and all my minimalist friends will thank you very much because there won't be lines, there won't be commutes, gas will be cheap, and we can rent convertible Mustangs in Vegas at reasonable prices once again.
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Anonymous said...

No, don't stop, keep that spending up. Even though the lines do suck, our net worth will be better than their net worth .

Newman said...

This was a great piece of work, Aaron! Thank you! I´m gonna link to this from my Facebook account. I can say with a hundred percent certainty that exactly zero people are gonna read it ;-) even though I´m sure many of them need it and would benefit from it a lot!

Soon we will have to be minimalists even in Saudinavia, aka Sweden. Reality has a tendency of creeping up behind you in the end, and I think the decline will accelerate here soon. The welfare state is under pressure already, and I think the next recession will be really ugly in our country. There will be no more "refugees welcome" and "Sweden is a humanitarian super power....." People see the dick of reality* being shoved up the ass of Utopia, and all the political bs seems to provoke them. It will be ugly but interesting - stay tuned!

* Credit to you for that fantastic phrase :-)

All the best

Mark F Matis said...

I take it that you're entering Twin Cities in the competition to make a new song? They clearly won't be able to use the same tune. After all, "Saturday night in Twin Cities, Minnesota..." just doesn't quite have the same ring to it as Mr. Denver's melody...

Sigma Dave said...

One way to sum this up would be "good times bring long lines".

Over-simplified, I know, but that's what came to mind.

Franklin Kendrick Author said...

I'm going on my third year of building up my savings after clawing myself out of student debt. It's not easy at first, but it can be done. I didn't have nearly as much debt as some friends had (and still have), but boy, even a little is too much for my tastes.

This post does get a chuckle, but that chuckle doesn't last too long, because it's all true. So many people are living off borrowed money that they don't actually own. Everything's for show. When people gripe that they won't ever be able to afford a house, well, of course you won't when you're dropping $1000 every time a new iPhone comes out! I don't need that iPhone. My five-year-old Android is still rocking it. The goal isn't to show off with new possessions. It's to get out of debt, buy what makes you happy as far as technology goes, and then make that technology last for five years or more.

The whole "going out to eat" thing really got to me. I cringe when someone suggests going out. Can't we just order the food and pick it up, without waiting around all that time? An hour and a half for one meal is just too much time wasted, honestly.

Love your blog. Keep it up.

minuteman said...

I am a minimalist with a good job. I have no debts, and could retire tomorrow if I had to. I have a loving wife, and two fine sons. I never thought my life would be this good. I have about five times the income I did twenty years ago, but I haven't changed my lifestyle at all. That is the trick. Most of us a poor when we are young, but as we get older and our income increases, we change our lifestyle to match our income. Having fancy toys doesn't make you any happier. If you aren't happy, buying stuff isn't going to change you.

Anonymous said...

Tell it, Cappy, tell it! EXCELLENT post, and this is coming from an against-the-grain Baby Boomer.

Bill said...

Don't worry cappy, once the fuel prices have gotten high enough, people will stop spending cause they can't afford anything else. Just have patience.

Cheers! 🍻🏞

Mike said...

My wife is working on becoming a web developer now that all the kids are in school. A couple more years and we'll start nuking that debt. Happy worthless degree awareness month, Cappy! My kids are all about to start learning to code over summer vacation. You're a national treasure.

Anonymous said...

Problem is that savers and the financially responsible are being killed via inflation and central banking manipulation. I foresee a fourth round of quantitative easing and reversion to near zero % interest rates (if not negative).

woodenavaklu said...

Cappy, I was talking to someone who came from the old style communist countries a few years back. His opinion of lines at least so far as communism was concerned that by creating a necessity for lines the government can more easily keep track of where you are. If you're waiting in line for some necessity then you can't very well be anywhere else can you.