Things upon which I have spent money in the past week.
A pint of coconut lime gelato from the local gelato coffeeshop, run by two brothers out of a tiny store front in my neighborhood.
Books for me and my kids, from one of the local independent bookstores.
Memberships at the Oregon Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, both of which are closed to visitors, but still feeding the critters.
Sara Gideon’s campaign for Senator from Maine, running to replace toxic gaslighting hellspawn Susan Collins.
Given that I have the economic privilege to actually spend money, you’d think I’d feel like I was doing my part, supporting small family owned businesses, engaging in charitable giving and social activism, blahblahwoofwoof. The best I can say is I’m doing more than doing fuck-all. But the math shows that’s precious little and inefficientAF.
Let’s start with the ice cream. A pint of small batch handmade gelato from AffogatoPDX costs $8.50. And I add a buck tip. Note that I am usually the person who won’t even buy HaagenDaz at Safeway because I don’t want to pay $4.99 for an undersized pint, so I wait and see if Grocery Outlet has some off brand or flavor for $1.99. But Nate and Simon are good guys who are always nice to my kids, they make the neighborhood better, and have hella tasty product.
After I buy my dessert at a price that most people can’t reasonably be expected to pay for ice cream, and pat myself on the head for supporting the local economy, what next? Now I’m thinking about math. Always a dicey proposition for a history major. Long story short, a thousand other anxious, guilty, middleclass folks stuck at home (and close enough to pick up in St. Johns NoPo) have to do the same thing *this month* to make a difference. Here’s how I’m getting there:
1000 x $8.50 = $8500
$8500 / 2 = 4250 for each brother per month.
Now net out costs for tasty high quality ingredients, rent at their tiny storefront, utilities, business operating costs like licensure and taxes. I have no idea how much bulk commercial cream, eggs, coconut milk and the like cost, but I’m betting rent, etc is at least $2000 a month.
So, if you have to sell 1000 pints a month, and you’re open 12 hours a week for socially distanced pickups of online orders, you have to sell 20 pints an hour when you’re open. I am not seeing a line like that outside their shop. It would be nice, but I’m not. (Yes, I know they also sell whole bean coffee, but don’t complicate things)
Working this very imprecise math from the other direction: average rent in Portland is $1500 (median is closer to $2000). Cost of living is about 29% higher than national average. To live a “middle class life” in Portland you have to make $60–80,000 a year. And when I say “middle class” I mean keeping a roof over your head, driving a car when you need to, having basic health insurance, being food secure, and maybe going to the movies sometimes, back when that was a thing. It doesn’t include fancy stuff like a time share in Bend or kids who you have to pay someone else to care for while you’re making those big bucks.
$70,000 year is about $5800 a month before taxes. Even if you assume that two grown ass men who operate a small business are also living together and are the sole members of their household, this isn’t going well and I stop doing the math because I’m geting anxious.
Multiply this by every haircutter ($20-$200 a pop x 6–8 time slots a day, 5–6 days), tattoo artist, barista (Nate and Simon had a barista working til the bitter end before everything locked down), bar tender, florist, bookseller, nail tech, and boutique owner and you begin to see that guilt spending by people with disposable income is not going to do much for the economic apocalypse.
I’m going to do Different Math now.
Mark Zuckerberg has a net worth in excess of $70 billion dollars. He “makes” roughly $15bn a year. Using very broad brush numbers, if he had “only” 1 billion, he could afford to live in Portland Oregon for over 14,000 YEARS. Let’s assume we take away 69 of those billions. Further assume he lives another 60 years (to the age of 96). He and his wife and two tiny kids have to make do with roughly 17 million dollars PER YEAR that whole entire time. (not counting interest. I’ll leave the mortgage cost of the house in SFO size of a city block to your imagination).
69 billion dollars would keep approximately 985,700 people going for a year at 70,000. Alternatively, it would give everyone of the nearly 40,000,000 unemployed Americans $1725 right now. As shown above, $1725 won’t go far, but nonetheless Zucky could pretty much duplicate the “relief package” of the frikkin United States government right now and not even notice. Note that Jeff Bezos’ net worth is more than twice that of Mark Zuckerberg (I’m gonna pause that math now too because it makes me queasy).
We have more than enough resources in this country to support the people struggling through this crisis. Whatever anyone says, there is no shortage of resources. What we lack is the will to use them. We shouldn’t have to worry about whether our barbershops, coffee roasters, shoe repair shops, and florists will survive without our particular $100. Or $8.50.
Which brings me to Sara Gideon. Right now, the United States Senate is doing worse than nothing. That’s a rant for another day, but if we flip the Senate in 2020, it is conceivable the nation could pass legislation and implement structural measures to do some good. I’m not delusional, so I don’t think even a Democratic Senate would pass a Eisenhoweresque marginal tax rate and roll back the subsidy to the ultra wealthy we’ve seen in the last 60 years, but we might at least approach the economic crisis with a policy motivated by economics of scale. Even if I don’t do math, I will still be anxious and nauseous when I think about how effed we all are on the sweet cocktail of oligarchy, ignorance, and racism that we’ve decanted for ourselves, but that’s the best I can do this week.