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  September 14, 2012
Are We Better Off Today?


2012 is a presidential election year and with that comes all of the rhetoric associated with campaigns, conventions and debates.      

During this election season, there is one question that is being asked (by both parties) that has caused me to stop a moment and think...

"Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

I’ve found myself pondering this question more and more these last few weeks.

It’s really a hard question to answer because it’s primarily based on our own individual perceptions, contexts, and personal situations.

(NOTE: this blog is in no way trying to endorse any candidate or party so please don’t try to read more into this week blog than what is ... a non-partisan examination of the original question "are you better off").

I suspect the original question was raised in order to bring light to the state of the economy and the fact that many people have been hurt financially by the "Great Recession".  Make no mistakes; trillions of dollars have been lost to depressed markets, loss of asset values, and unemployment (and underemployment).

I am fortunate that I have been spared, thus far, from the unemployment line.

Some of my good fortune stems from the fact that I operate my own business but I also am consoled by the fact that I hold a technical degree (BSEE) and have many years of practical design experience. The world’s demand for my skills has not diminished but rather has increased over the last four years so I don’t feel the angst that others have about their future employment... but I am definitely the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, there are others in similar situations as me... where the demand for their particular skills outstrips the supply, therefore employment opportunities for them abound. Some of these professions include healthcare providers, geologists, biologists, chemists, geneticists, and most engineering disciplines - especially those involved with factory automation, robotics, and new product design.

For so many other people, this is simply not the case.  Their jobs have been permanently eliminated due to factory automation, new technology, outsourcing, and overall efficiencies.  For these people, their only hope is to be retrained to learn new skills where employment opportunism are abundant. 

Adding to their financial woes was the bursting of the real estate bubble.  This event wiped out trillions of equity that people had amassed in their homes and nearly bankrupted the financial markets.

It’s probably a safe assumption that both the loss of jobs and the bursting of the real estate bubble were bound to occur regardless of which politely party occupied congress and the presidency. 

There is some good news that has come from this mess.  Personal debt continues to fall, savings are growing, and inflation is mostly non-existent.  These trends will help us to build wealth needed to fuel business investment in the upcoming future.  Hopefully we’ve learned a valuable lesson about debt and bubbles.

Personally, I’ve significantly pared my expenses and paid down my debt so I am indeed a bit better off financially than I was four years ago financially even though my income has remained the same (actually slightly lower).

I can therefore positively state that I am indeed slightly better off today than I was four years ago.

Beyond financial, there are many other areas of people’s lives that can be examined to determine if our lives are a bit better or worse.

After a careful assessment of my own life these past four years, I can offer a quick accounting of my personal balance sheet. 

Everyone’s lives are self-evidently individual so everyone’s results will vary from mine but I offer my own review as one example:


I am four years older so I am inching forward toward my eventual intersection with mortality. I have attempted to forestall the aging process by living a healthy lifestyle but with each year I grow closer to the end. In this way, I am definitely not better than I was four years ago.

Experience and Wisdom

I was having lunch with my twenty-something year old daughter this past week. She is in the midst of beginning a new career, starting new relationships, and potentially finding a new location in which to live.

I’ve been doing my best to impart some great wisdom upon her as to how to hopefully avoid some mistakes and pitfalls that I encountered when I was her age. However, in the end, it does not matter how much fatherly advice I offer her, she will ultimately make her own choices and make her own mistakes. This will provide her with her own unique experiences that she will hopefully use to make better in her future.

I continue to learn new things every day. I make my share of mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Today I make fewer mistakes than I did yesterday and in this way I am categorically better off than I was four years ago.

Security vs. Freedom

I detest the fact that I need to be inconvenienced by security measures employed to increase my personal safety but this is the reality of the society that we live in. Deranged and/or fanatical people now have the means and the opportunity to do innocent civilians great harm. No longer are wars waged upon battlefields but rather they are fought all around us each and every day.

As a response to these threats of harm, our protectors have now created restrictions to our personal liberty, freedom and privacy. In this area, I am sadly worse off than I was four years ago.


While some people may disagree, I believe that we are living in an era of opportunity never experienced before. Opportunity not only is knocking at the door but it is trying to kick the door down.

Recent advances in technology, education and communication have lowered the barriers of entry allowing people with good ideas to prosper. Access to micro-capital, free-lance services, and low-cost, easy-to-use business tools, allow people to develop their ideas into products and services that are easily marketed to potential customers using a variety of communication conduits.

No longer is the world beholden to the gatekeepers who historically have restricted access to capital, development, and markets.

Society, as a whole, is better off these last four years due to the opportunities that continue to increase for its population.

Overall, I believe that we are better off in some areas and worse off in others... most of which are not affected by what happens in Washington, DC and/or who happens to be residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Government does not control our ability to live happy and fulfilled lives, we alone make that determination.

On behalf of all of us at OptiFuse, we are so thankful that your support has helped us to be much better off today than we were four years ago.


Jim Kalb

www.optifuse.blogspot.com (blog archive)

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