Saturday, January 17, 2009

An Omen?

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble...
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes

-from William Shakespeare's Macbeth: Act 4, Scene 1

It is quite remarkable to experience what is going on in Washington D.C. because of the Presidential Inauguration. Shopkeepers everywhere are selling Obama memorabilia. And there is a flow of people that are already coming into the city for the event, days early. One way that you can spot the out of towners is by the way they tend to stand smack dab right in front of Metro car doors when the train arrives, rather than standing a bit to the side to let passengers off.

The memorabilia in the shops runs from an Official Souvenir Program ($13.95) to "I Luv Michelle" and "He Has Arrived" T-Shirts.

Did somebody mix up last year's visit by the Pope with the inaguration? This T-shirt carries the words, "And He Shall Be Called". It is available in a variety of colors and is sold at Union Station.

The inauguration, so far, has already impacted me in two small ways. There is a Fed Ex drop box at Union Station that I occasionally use to mail packages. I attempted to mail a package there today, but the government removed the Fed Ex drop box, for security reasons, which resulted in my having to hunt in freezing cold weather to find another. In Union Station, while the peaceful sign of commerce, the drop box, was gone, I did see a new sign, uniformed men in black walking with cloth covered sniper rifles.

There's a great franchise sandwich shop in DC called Potbelly Sandwich Works (They are are in Chicago, also). Subway doesn't even belong in the same sentence with them. Their sandwiches are awesome. I have been a meatball sandwich aficionado since about the age of nine. Potbelly wins the "My Favorite" meatball sandwich in the Best in Franchise category, easily.

But, I couldn't get one today.

Because of the crush of people expected in the city for the inauguration, Potbelly has drastically cut back the sandwiches they are offering, in all their shops throughout the district. I guess for the duration. The meatball sandwich didn't make the cut, but they are raising the prices of the remaining sandwiches by 50 cents (From $4.50 to $5.00). And, they gave their their bowl of chili a name, "Obama Chili".

Potbelly employees putting up the new limited menu.It's called the "Inauguration Celebration" menu.

Without conducting anything close to an official poll, there seems to be two groups coming into the city at this early stage. Middle class black families and college age white girls. Those buying the memorabilia, at this point, seem to be over 90% black.

The political heavies are also starting to come in. I saw James Carvillie at Union Station. He was recognized by many, like a movie star. Some waved, some called out his name and some reached to shake his hand.

But my thoughts keep coming back to the missing Fed Ex drop box and the reduced sandwich menu at Potbelly (with higher prices). Often, when the standard of living drops in a country, it does so slowly. One regulation changes and some small thing that was part of a routine is no longer, then another reg changes and another routine gone, and so on. And on the inflation front, a central bank starts printing money and, at first, there is a small hike in prices and then larger ones come along, and then even larger ones.

The minor inconveniences because of the inauguration will probably be gone by Wednesday. The Fed Ex drop box will be back in Union Station and Potbelly will be back to its regular menu. But, everything that I have read about President-elect Obama gives me the sense that he is a regulator, unaware of the consequences of even minor increases in regulation. And, despite the fact that Ben Bernanke is now printing money at near 20% annualized rates, Obama has not said a word about this.

And so, it's like in a Shakespearean play, while the masses party and slap on the "He Has Arrived" T-shirts, I am tempted to look at these minor inauguration inconveniences as the stirring of the witches brew and an omen of many more inconveniences, big and small, to come.


  1. Good morning Robert. This is Cheryl Troy from The World Bank. We met during lunch at the AFP Annual Conference in LA. I read your website a couple of times a week, and find that I really do enjoy your pieces. This morning, after reading your piece "An Omen", it finally came to me why I enjoy reading your website - because you often draw parallels between the topic and an 'average' persons every day life, which makes the sometimes dry topic of economics easier to digest.

  2. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    I am going to be at the Feb. 4 AFP Happy Hour at indeblue. Hope to see you there.