At Your Service: March 4, 2009

Suze Orman, Dr. Phil, Arianna Huffington and a host of other “experts” on almost every subject seem to agree on one thing: in order to survive the economic miasma, we (that’s you and me) must return to core values. It is sound advice for most of their audience. What it tells me is that none of those experts live here in the Catskills.

While there are many and plenty of aspects of the rural life that put us at a disadvantage, many of those same factors prove to our advantage in the tough times. As a local businessman phrased it recently, “We seem to fare better than the rest of the country during the hard times because we just don’t have as much to lose.”

Using common statistical measures, there are not enough of us to register as significant. There are no large manufacturers needing to lay off thousands of us; 600,000 jobs were lost nationwide in February (that is over 10 times the total population of Delaware County). There are no local megabanks failing because of bad subprime mortgages; small neighborhood banks prevail here and because they invest locally and pay attention to the details they have remained sound through the “crisis;” they also failed to give themselves million dollar bonuses, deserved or otherwise.

What this really means is that most of us scrape by working for or owning small businesses. We have never earned, saved and/or invested enough to lose everything in any one market downturn. That’s not to say that we are unaffected by the national economy (almost everyone I know is tightening their belt); it is to say that we just don’t have as far to fall.

Even more to the point, we never lost sight of those core values to which everyone else must return. A recent talk show guest suggested that people network by hosting potluck suppers; potluck suppers are so much the norm among us that the MARK Group raised substantial money this weekend selling off dishes made by local residents (people know who the good cooks are).

Another expert recommends turning your thermostat down to 70 degrees in order to save money; most of us would have to turn the thermostat up to maintain the same temperature.

The real advantage that we have is that our expectations are different. Very few local residents have an expectation that someone else is going to take care of them and their needs. Even those who are dependent upon some form of government assistance also work hard to supplement that income. The expectation of assistance is that neighbors will help one another.

What happens here is that people pay attention to what is going on and take steps to help those who need it from time to time. No national organization provides “help” on a non-emergency basis here so we have our own various “community projects “ to feed and cloth those in need.

Volunteers already provide most emergency services, so cost cutting on a national scale only hurts in terms of the need to match funds for equipment.

In order to survive the same emergency that the rest of the country is panicking about is to keep doing what we are already doing. Perhaps the experts should come here and learn how to live a life steeped in core values.