December 22, 2012

Song: The Austerity Bomb

illustration by Susanna King
People keep talking about the "fiscal cliff," but Brian Beutler at TPM points out that that's not a very accurate metaphor. He coined the term "austerity bomb," and Paul Krugman picked up the term and ran with it. I agree that "austerity bomb" is much more descriptive, so I decided to see if I could write a catchy song to help popularize the phrase.

Quick caveat: I'm not so good at this recording thing, so please consider this a reference for the tune rather than something to listen to for enjoyment. This song is under a Creative Commons attribution non-commercial license, so I hope if you like it you'll record your own (better) version!

The Austerity Bomb

Red and blue just can't agree
How to fix the economy
So the standoff doesn't last too long
They went and built the austerity bomb

CHORUS: Who's gonna stop the bomb-ba-bom-bom?
                 Who's gonna stop the bomb-ba-bom-bom?
                 Who's gonna stop the bomb-ba-bom-bom?
                 Who's gonna stop the bomb-ba-bom-bom?

If the bomb goes boom, will it seal our doom?
Hope we don't have to find out soon
Something must be very wrong
If they think they've gotta use the austerity bomb


Speak up now, this is our hour
Make your voice heard by the ones in pow'r
Can't sit still, it's hard to stay calm
Thinking about the austerity bomb


Lyrics with chords (PDF)

December 17, 2012

My Attempt at No-Bake Cookie Bars

Right now, my kitchen looks like this:

I was invited to a cookie exchange this past weekend. I wanted to go, but baking was not an option, and I'm too honest to try & pass off goods from the Publix bakery as my own. So I scoured Pinterest for no-bake cookie recipes.

Most of them involved peanut butter, which I know is not universally beloved. Some of them also required too much actual kitchen equipment, despite the "no bake" moniker. I currently have access to a microwave, a toaster oven, a coffee maker, a wok, (all conveniently located in the dining room) and a refrigerator (pictured above). My "counter top" is one of the doors off our old kitchen cupboards sitting on the corner of the dining room table. So I needed a recipe that was dead simple.

Photo from Cookies and Cups
No-Bake Cookie Bars seemed to fit the bill. They were made of chocolate and Oreos and sweetened condensed milk. I could make them in the microwave and the fridge, and even if I screwed them up they would probably still taste good.

And they did taste good, even though I did screw them up. My boys had fun smashing the Oreos inside ziploc bags, first with their fists, then with the can of sweetened condensed milk, then with a rubber mallet my husband brought from the garage (It's not real baking unless tools are involved; just ask Alton Brown.).

The problem arose when it came time to stir the semi-sweet chips into the white chocolate-cookie-milk mixture. Even though I let it cool for over 5 minutes, it was still too warm and the chocolate chips melted. I tried to fold them in gently, but the mixture was tough and sticky and it was hard to incorporate the chips without letting them melt completely.

Of course, I made them only a couple of hours before the cookie exchange, so the cookies didn't have enough time to sit in the fridge and set. The ones in the middle were still a little gooey when I tried to cut them apart. If I were an organized sort of person, this probably wouldn't have been a problem. But then, if I were an organized sort of person, I would have baked and frozen three dozen cookies before we tore our kitchen apart.

My considerably less photogenic cookie bars, accented by festive greenery.
I wonder where I went wrong. Should I have used a food processor to crush the Oreos instead of children wielding mallets? Should I have mixed the ingredients in a glass bowl instead of aluminum? Did I add too much white chocolate? (I couldn't find the scale to measure 10oz. precisely, so I eyeballed it.) I may never know.

Oh well. At least they tasted good. And I was able to exchange them for two dozen other delicious cookies of every variety imaginable. Not bad for someone without a kitchen!

December 5, 2012

My Presentation to the CEO Roundtable

Today, President Obama and House Speaker Boehner are making presentations to an organization called the Business Roundtable. According to their web site, they are "an association of chief executive officers of leading U.S. companies." They wield a lot of political and economic influence, so getting these CEOs behind one's deficit-reduction plan would be a coup.

I'm sure Obama and Boehner will each present their plans to avoid the austerity bomb (fiscal cliff), and make the same arguments we've all already heard. But if I had the opportunity to address this group, here's what I would say. I'm not an economist, so I'm kind of talking out of my ear on this, but it would be interesting to see their reaction.

My Imaginary Presentation to the Business Roundtable

Look at this chart:

The red line is the percentage of GDP represented by corporate profits. The blue line is the percent of GDP represented by wages. These days, the word among VC's is that consumer-focused startups are out, enterprise-focused startups are in. You can see why: the enterprise is where the money is.

The only problem is, that blue line represents your customers. 

Take a look at this:

Look at the red line. It shows the change in available disposable income for your customers. It's recovered since the recession ended, but it's still down from the pre-recession high, and on a recent downward trend.

Think about this: Your employees (pointing at random guy in front row) are your customers (pointing at another random guy), and vice versa. If your customers don't have enough disposable income, they will not buy your products. Profits will suffer. Share prices will drop.

There are two solutions to this: the government solution, and the free-market solution. In the government solution, the government raises taxes on your income and your companies' income. The government subsidizes your employees' basic needs, like food and health care, that they can't afford. 

The other solution, the free-market solution, is for you to choose to raise your hourly wages in the U.S. and give people who want to work full-time the opportunity to do so. Your employees will have more disposable income, they will be able to take care of themselves, and the government doesn't have to get involved. As a matter of fact, that would increase taxable revenue while decreasing entitlement spending. And the potential increase in demand would ensure that all of you still have customers who can afford your products five, ten, fifteen years from now.

Either way, you're going to be losing money in the short term. But will that money go towards increased government entitlement spending, or will you allow your hard-working employees to earn it the old-fashioned way? It's your choice.