Common Cents & Sloppiness

Would you bet $100 of your own money?

NOLA attire?

This past week, I made a presentation on the economy at a conference in New Orleans. Say what you will about the place, but people love to go to NOLA and have a good time. There is an overabundance of food and an even greater amount of booze. If anyone could figure out how to collect the data, I am quite certain NOLA would lead the country in both hangovers and stomach aches per capita.

Fortunately, I had neither on my short visit.

Part of the Big Easy’s charm to outsiders has always been its, dare I say, seediness. After all, it is possibly best known for its extensive Mardi Gras/Carnival season, which is little more than an excuse to commit as much sin as possible prior to Lent.

Basically, for all intents and purposes, New Orleans is a tourist and convention destination because of its moral ambiguity. What happens in NOLA stays in NOLA, and a lot happens in NOLA.

With that said, no one expects to see people in business suits or formal attire on Bourbon Street during an off week in March.

As I thought when passing an already very drunk tourist prior to lunch on Tuesday, the date or time just really doesn’t matter here. It is go time all the time.

Be that as it may, I was still somewhat shocked by the overall shabbiness of the place.

The streets were in poor condition and filthy. There were a large number of homeless, much more than I remember there being the last time I was in town. It was close to impossible to avoid the smell of marijuana and stale alcohol. Strike that last sentence, it was impossible.

To be sure, there has always been an element of that sort of stuff on Bourbon. Unfortunately, it seems to have migrated down to the river. Everywhere seems to have seen better days, and Hurricane Katrina was almost 18 years ago. So, you can use that excuse it you want.

However, it wasn’t just the increasingly decrepit nature of the French Quarter that struck me. So did the general sloppiness of everyone in it. Let me rephrase that a little. With the exception of the Asian tourists, most everyone I saw either looked like they had just rolled out of bed or had come from the gym.

Don’t get me wrong, I am far from stylish, as in two standard deviations to the left.

However, I was overdressed in Gap khakis and an untucked Southern Marsh polo shirt. For her part, Beth appeared as though she were putting on airs with her outfit. While quite nice, it didn’t make the runway in Paris or Milan this year.

Admittedly, I am running the risk of sounding priggish and misanthropic, maybe even a touch elitist.

However, I couldn’t help but wonder during the five-hour drive back to Birmingham if our society hasn’t become too casual for its own good. If I, in an untucked shirt and off-the-rack slacks, stand out in a crowd as being well-dressed, what does that really say?

Trust me, it isn’t just New Orleans. I saw the same things and smelled the same odors on a recent trip to New York. In fact, I would argue it is pretty much commonplace across the country. Everywhere you go, the proverbial “unwashed” masses really seem to be just that. Heck, you don’t have to go out of town to realize that. Just go to Walmart.

Why is this important in an economics newsletter?

Further, casting stones are you now, Norris?

I am. Even so, riddle me this: If someone doesn’t care about themselves enough and is too lazy to run a comb through their hair and put on clean clothes before going out in public, what is the likelihood they care about others?

How would you bet $100 of your own money? Now, what happens when it isn’t just one person, but throngs of them? What if this is the norm, rather than the exception? What does that say about our society if we can’t be bothered to show even a modicum of respect for ourselves?

How do we thrive in that sort of environment? Is it any wonder we seem to be tearing ourselves apart at the seams across the country? There is an old expression: you stand for what you allow. Taking that at least one standard deviation to the right: when you allow everything, then you stand for nothing. If you stand for nothing, you don’t have a moral compass to direct you.

To be sure, this might seem something of a stretch. So, I saw a number of slobs, a few drunks and some folks getting stoned in New Orleans. How can I possibly equate that to a broader societal collapse? I can only answer that by saying our collective ignorance of decorum is merely a symptom of the problem. It isn’t the problem itself. However, it is relatively easy to correct if only we were willing to do so.

Clearly, I am venting my spleen here today. Further, I am far from perfect and am quite possibly more flawed than most. However, we have all seen the same things, haven’t we? Many of you have probably wondered the same things I have. What is the endgame when we quit playing by the rules?

For this, let me give you two quotes, and I will let you choose which you prefer. The first is from Edward Gibbon, an 18th Century British historian best known for his work, “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” The second is from 20th Century engineer and author Robert A. Heinlein.

First, Gibbon:

“The five marks of the Roman decaying culture:

Concern with displaying affluence instead of building wealth;

Obsession with sex and perversions of sex;

Art becomes freakish and sensationalistic instead of creative and original;

Widening disparity between very rich and very poor;

Increased demand to live off the state.”

Now, Heinlein:

“Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named…but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness.

Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters.

A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

Ouch, is it possible to not like either of them? Gee, thanks a lot, NOLA.

Thank you for your continued support. As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well. May your blessings outweigh your sorrows on this and every day. Also, please be sure to tune into our podcast, Trading Perspectives, which is available on every platform.


John Norris

John Norris

Chief Economist