My grandmother was into superstitions. It wasn't just that she stayed out of the way of black cats and ladders; she collected eccentric practices from other cultures and parts of the world as a way of compounding her luck.
Every New Year's, there was a battery of things everyone in the family was instructed to do, from having a bite of herring after midnight to burning a bayberry candle all the way down during the course of New Year's Day. We put the candle in the bathtub to keep it clear of drafts because if the candle went out before extinguishing itself, you could kiss your chances for the next 12 months good-bye.
Another of Grandma's favorite New Year's rituals involved munching on some cabbage. This came right after that bite of herring I mentioned. The herring, I think, was for health or good luck; at any rate, it apparently wasn't enough to cover personal finances.
For that, you needed cabbage.
So every New Year's Eve, we dutifully gobbled a leaf of raw cabbage, the better to assure our financial futures.
Well, I have to admit that it's been many years since I've eaten my New Year's cabbage. Truth be told, I can't stand the stuff. Back in the '90s, this didn't seem to matter much. Times were good, the economy seemed like it could only get better and better. Why, when Bill Clinton left office, the Federal budget was actually balanced. Imagine that.
Lately, though, I've been reconsidering my aversion to cabbage. I've been wondering if skipping the cabbage on New Year's Eve is why our country's economy has been so lousy.
I know this sounds crazy. But I've also been listening to what the politicians have to say about the mess we're in - from President Barack Obama to that gaggle of geese otherwise known as the Republicans who would have Obama's job - and it seems like all of them are sending the same message: People like you and me are what's wrong with the economy. It's the working stiffs who are to blame.
President Obama, of course, would deny this. But look at what he's done since being elected in 2008. He started by appointing people like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to be his top economic advisors. These guys had their fingerprints all over the financial crisis that started under Bush. Obama could have used his election to change course, but he went with "too big to fail" - which really meant too big to change - instead.
So the country's financial services industry, from mega banks to Wall Street, is flush today. But people are still losing their homes to foreclosure, many of us have given up trying to find jobs and those who are lucky enough to be employed are being told that, in many cases, we have to make less money, have fewer benefits, or both. How else are we going to compete in the Global Marketplace?
A lot of people say Obama's mistake was focusing his energies on reforming health care. Not true. Health care costs are dragging down employers, making goods and services more expensive and draining peoples' take-home pay. Real health care reform would have been a boon to our economic well-being. Obama's mistake was that instead of health care reform, we got a plan designed to protect health insurers and pharmaceutical companies who, like the financial services industries, are doing just fine.
Who's been punished by Obama's policies? You and me. Those of us, in other words, who haven't been eating our cabbage.
Republicans are down with this. They keep talking about how important it is to protect the most well off among us from having to pay their fair share of taxes. Having to pay taxes comparable to what they were, say, during Clinton's administration will, the Republicans claim, inhibit these so-called "job creators."
Job creators? What Republicans forget is that no one is in business to create jobs. You'd think Republicans, of all people, would understand this. People go into business to make profits. That's why so many of our tycoons have shipped as many jobs as possible overseas, where wages are lower. And if they haven't been able to do that, they've used technology to simply eliminate jobs altogether. Many observers have pointed out that, to the extent the American economy has rebounded since the 2008 crash, this has been thanks to businesses finding ways to be more productive with fewer hands on deck.
Job creation, in other words, has never been high on any capitalist's list of priorities. Workers are a necessary impertinence to be disposed of whenever possible. That's why every boss dreams of a world without unions.
What neither Democrats nor Republicans are willing to say out loud is that America's economy is now based on creating goods and services with as few workers as possible. It seems we - you and me - have become a hassle, a drag on the country's bottom line. So we get pep talks instead of policies, and nothing really changes.
The next thing you know, the government will send us all a head of raw cabbage. It will arrive with a note saying: "Take a big bite."