Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ouch: Learning from the Amish

Another series of layoffs, this time close to home... my old firm, which has been cutting people since last summer {raises hand}, laid off 45 more people yesterday, despite it being the crunch time of busy season, including a really close friend, another friend and neighbor, and a lot of other Jews, especially Orthodox Jews (15 in total, which is really amazing when you think about it - and right before Pesach, which is smart on the company's part). They haven't even let anyone in tax go yet - this is just from their audit section. Two weeks from now will probably see a lot more cuts. When I told DGEsq the news, including who was let go, he screamed "NO!" - one of his friends and neighbors, with 3 kids, who'd just bought a house, was one of the casualties.

Certainly, the disappearance of large numbers of hedge funds played a role, but mostly, this was simply a measure of how poorly the firm itself was doing. Last busy season, I was arguing to my bosses why the way they were doing things (incredibly inefficient use of resources and people, poor attention to spreading good ideas to the firm as a whole, etc.) was bringing down the firm when it had an opportunity to challenge even the Big Four in some regards.

But in terms of the Jewish community, this is going to be very messy. Perhaps more than any other segment of American society, the Jewish community is very tightly connected with the financial services industry. A somewhat connected figure in the Jewish community related to me at a sheva brachos tonight that as much as 25% of the Jewish community in Passaic is unemployed right now. Even if he means 1 in 4 households, and even if the number is inflated... that's an incredibly large number. Queens is not faring much better at the moment. Those who still have jobs are watching people around them get sent home every couple of months. The rest are looking in vain.

As a community, we need to take a lot of steps back so we can start looking at the big picture. Even in the boom years, we were a community skating on the edge, relying on the boom to keep us ahead. Now that that bubble has burst, we need to reshape how we function as individuals, as families, and as a community when it comes to our finances.

I was CCed on an e-mail exchange earlier today, and one of the people commented only somewhat jokingly that it is difficult to change attitudes, as
They'll say that we survived for centuries in Europe under dire poverty, why can't we cut back on our luxuries today and live without a car, constant electricity, new clothes, etc.
I noted in response that housing in Europe was a lot cheaper than housing in Cleveland, let alone Brooklyn. They also caught their own fish, raised their own livestock, and skinned their own furs. I then noted that I saw a piece about Chassidim leading Amish around Crown Heights this week. While people like to criticize the Amish as living somewhat of a backwards life, they seem to be eons ahead of the Jewish community when it comes to communal economics. As a community, they keep costs low, they provide and create almost everything they consume, and they export at large profit (hand-crafted furniture) while importing almost nothing into the community. Meanwhile, the frum community imports far more than it exports, spends more than it produces, and as a community, drives prices up for one another, whether it be housing, tuition, food, or anything else.

Perhaps instead of hosting the Amish and teaching them about Jewish life in the city, we should visit them and learn about Amish life in the country.