For reasons too complicated to explain and too boring to relate, I find myself at a meeting of the International Newspaper Group. (I know, I know - it makes no sense, but here I am). It is perhaps from the perspective of complete outsider (I felt like a wedding crasher at the cocktail reception this evening - even while loading up on some fantastic coconut shrimp thingies on a stick and chicken quesadillas) that I find my eyes opened to what the credit crunch means to folks who don't own rapidly appreciating assets like farmland.
Basically, credit for businesses has dried up. Even rock-solid business plans can't attract loans. And the newspaper industry is anything but that category.
I'm sure you've heard about the troubles newspapers are facing these days: ad revenues in free-fall, circulations plummeting, classifieds going to craigslist and the cost of newsprint going up because — and this is crazy — apparently more people are reading newspapers in India and China! Go figure.
Reporters and editors are dropping like flies. Just look what's happening at The Los Angeles Times. They fired so many reporters there, some of them finally got pissed off enough to sue their corporate owners for running the paper into the ground.
Connecticut's newspapers are in a world of hurt too, and could really use a lifeboat. The New Haven Register, the once-proud daily with a 200-year history, is poised to go belly up. Its delisted stock was trading at half a penny this week. What is that, a shilling? The Hartford Courant, the nation's oldest continuously published daily, lost a quarter of its newsroom staff in a single devastating round of buyouts. Even the beloved New London Day had to fire a bunch of reporters and editors to make ends meet. It's really that gloomy. [More]
Sooner or later - no wait, make that "sooner" - jobs are going to be shed wholesale. When businesses can't borrow to expand or upgrade or simply compete, they fail. Agriculture - or at least cash grain farming - has been floating along in a little bubble and may be somewhat detached from the angst of our fellow Americans. No longer.
The dream is dying for many. To be sure it was a fantasy to begin with, fueled by easy credit and unearned income. But it was that boom that underwrote the generous government largess we consider our patriotic right as farmers.
But if a free-spender like Sen Obama can grasp there will not be cash to toss around after this financial disaster grinds to an ugly halt, I think it is safe to say desperate petitioners for federal dollars will not be so eager to fork pork to me in the future. America is about to get fiscal religion, and we farmers are among the lost.
No touching picture of homespun goodenss will melt the hearts now being seared by job losses and retirement fund wipe-outs. No appeals to patriotic food will move resentful grocery shoppers. No bucolic simplicity will open their wallets again, I believe.
Worst of all, our bankers will be looking for proof of performance, not just proof of fortuitous asset selection. In short, we won't be partying while the rest of the nation shrivels. We will be connected by friends whose careers are ruined, children who become dependents again, and neighbors who no longer smile as much.
Mnay in our industry will shrug and say we went through the same in the '80's and it's "their turn". But few will vote to subsidize these fellow citizens like we were supported then.
Tonight I listened to the anxious voices of an industry which is shriveling. More farmers should.