It was perfect weather for gardening in Saratoga Springs this week–cool and sunny–perfect weather for getting the pinks away from the burgundies and the talls away from the smalls. Except that it was no time to be thinking about gardening.
It was time for reading the business news obsessively, every hour watching for breaking news and mulling over the really pressing questions:
1. What is happening when countries all over the world have been privatizing state-run enterprises right and left in recent decades, yet our government has just bought 80% of property-casualty insurer A.I.G.? Remind me quick, where are we living and under what political system?
2. Is Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson the Leader of the Free World? Because our president has been peculiarly absent while the financial system as I understood it collapsed in the last two weeks. Henry Paulson, the same person who as late as July of 2007 was fatuously proclaiming this the best global economy he’d seen in his lifetime.
3. Are our granite countertops and fancy backyard grills really to blame for this global financial panic? Is the world falling apart because we foolhardy Americans borrowed too much in some fantasy of what hearth and home should be like? Should we blame the entire debacle on HGTV? Or is it that financial firms all over the world have largely subsisted in recent years on selling air to each other–and each taking their bit in terms of fees?
4. What about that other completely unexpected twist on world events, the return of evangelical conservatives to the political stage in the eerily attractive form of Sarah Palin?
5. And what does this all mean for the gardeners? Will we all be turning into backyard farmers out of dire necessity in extremely short order?
All I can say is that as investors flee to safety and our retirement accounts crash into nothingness and we all lose our jobs and vote for one of two seemingly idea-free presidential candidates–it’s important to remember that there is no market, anywhere on earth, that delivers the returns of a vegetable garden.
A packet of organic seed of my favorite pole beans, Blue Coco, costs $1.20 at Fedco. I devote two sides of an arch to said beans–two patches two feet long and one foot wide. I expend exactly as much forefinger labor as is necessary to push about two dozen beans into an inch of soil. In return, I harvest about $30 worth of beans a week, every week for at least eight weeks. That’s a 20,000 percent return in a few short months. No hedge fund ever delivered anything like it.
Or is the vegetable garden overheated and showing signs of becoming the next great bubble?