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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Study in Valley Economics…

Rolling stock

Please bear with this post as The Ripple strays briefly beyond the Valley into the realm of personal finances. I trust it will wander back before too long, but I’m afraid I can’t make any promises.

Far be it from me to spearhead an Occupy the Valley protest, but I’m ever vigilant these days about what I call “fee creep,” the “incoming” fee surge targeting us consumers. The most flagrant of this creepiness of late is the bold announcement by Bank of America that starting January 1, Big City Bank of America will charge its clients a five dollar a month fee for using their debit cards to pay charges and bills with their own money. I’m not running for public office, so I’m not required to disclose my personal finances but I don’t mind sharing the fact that just the other day I learned I now have to pay my bank to keep my money there.

Long gone are the days when the public schoolroom taught schoolchildren the importance of saving and the role The Bank plays in fostering this good habit. The Bank, we learned, kept our money safe—and paid us to do so: “interest,” it was called because The Bank rewarded us for our “interest” in Them as a place to keep our money safe. Once a week was bank day (Fridays, maybe?). I would slip a dime or a dime and a nickel in my pocket and head for the bus stop. At some designated time our teacher would distribute the little banking envelopes with the two plastic discs around which we wrapped a waxed piece of string figure eight fashion to secure our weekly deposit for safe transit to The Bank. Filling out the deposit slip and checking the subsequent balance weekly involved us in what today’s modern classroom would term “consumer math.”And we could see, young as we were, our savings grow weekly, monthly, and at school year’s end, what we had saved—plus the interest.

Yes, now I have to pay to keep my money safe. Our last month’s checkings statement showed a two dollar service charge, The Bank’s gentle exhortation for us to “go green,” forego paper statements and bank online (where we’ll really be at their mercy). Jokingly I used to ask the bank tellers if they’d please give me a call when The Bank began charging me to keep my money there. Last month my little nest egg at The Bank yielded seventy-nine cents interest. Hmmmm… they pay me $.79…I pay them two dollars. No joke there, yet I’m not about to gather up my camping gear, head for The Bank’s parking lot and pitch a tent.

I don’t know if there’s a more potent concoction than a brew made of government and Wall Street. The government suddenly limits the amount of money banks can charge retailers to accept bank cards. Now Big City Bank has to recover this lost revenue and suddenly we find ourselves paying The Bank for the privilege of doing business with them.The Barrell Store

With the help of the Barrell Man let me wander back to the Valley. Back in August I posted about inflation here and expressed my outrage at the fifty % increase in the price of a barrell (“Inflation Strikes the Valley…,” 8/5). I notice the Barrell Man’s inventory is flush these days. For a while this summer nothing but weeds flourished in the space. A few days ago I saw him gathering the walnuts from his driveway. His sight has dimmed and these days the Barrell Man finds most of the mast with the tip of his cane. He will be ninety come February, the Barrell Man tells me, and when he goes about his chores, he relies on a portable oxygen pack to help him get around. He is still active, up and out, completing what needs to be done about his place. I was curious about the big stack of rolling stock he had for sale at $15 apiece, where he had found a new supplier. I learn the Barrell Man’s wife had come across an ad in the paper. Some business in Seattle had barrells for sale at two dollars a unit. Two trips to north Seattle at the cost of nearly a day’s travel—plus the two dollar per drum outlay--yielded that big stack of barrells neatly piled along his fence. 

Now here’s the economics of doing business in the Valley. I noticed the “zero” had been smudged out and replaced with a “2.” Twelve dollars a barrell. The two dollar cost passed on to the consumer. The Barrell Man went on to explain his supplier offered to deliver the barrells for five dollars a unit. He figured—and who could blame him—his time would be better spent harvesting his walnut crop than chaperoning barrells out to the Valley. Out came the paint again. The “2”smudge became  a “5,” and it now costs us $15 for a colorful metal drum, a fifty per cent increase to those of us who desire to do a little outdoor incinerating. The Barrell Man still nets his ten dollars profit. His extra cost is passed along to us…Valley economics pure and simple.

But I don’t have to buy a barrell, and if I want one, I much prefer my money stays in the Valley than fund the lifestyle of some Big City Bank CEO. There’s value in a barrell; none whatsoever in a service charge, especially when there’s no change in the amount or quality of the service rendered. The Barrell Man’s economics I can understand. Not so The Bank’s; and I appreciate them even less.

Breaking news! Just in to The Ripple. Big City Bank of America has decided to abandon its plan to charge a five dollar monthly fee to its customers. You don’t suppose the ten thousand B of A’s clients (in our state alone) who jumped ship and defected to a credit union might be responsible for this change of heart? Apparently it was only a joke in the first place. Don’t you just love it when the consumer has the last laugh!

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