Thursday, April 02, 2009

Going Down...

In her recent letter, Amanda wrote about the effects of the economic crisis that she sees from her unique perspective in Indonesia. In my reply that's on the way, I wrote to her about how I see it here in Northern Virginia. The bottom line of both our observations, I think, is that the crisis is real, but that it affects various levels of society very differently: the poor people in Palembang don't notice it quite the same way, since they didn't have much to start with; in Virginia, where people are used to a higher standard of living, the effects are more pronounced.

With that as an introduction, I would refer you to this fascinating (and pun-filled) article by Dana Milbank I found in yesterday's Washington Post: Funeral Business Feeling Six Feet Under.

Yes, even the funeral industry is having a rough time in the current economic doldrums. You'd think that this would be the ultimate recession-proof industry...after all, people are always going to keep dying. Nevertheless, funeral directors around the country are suffering because people are economizing on everything - even funerals.

Patrick Lynch, a funeral director from Michigan, noted some of the ways people are cutting back on their funeral-related purchases: "People, rather than selecting a copper or a bronze casket, may choose a 20-gauge steel casket painted in a copper color," he said. "Instead of choosing a mahogany casket made of real mahogany, they may choose a poplar casket stained with a mahogany stain, which to most observers looks the same. Perhaps they would chose a crepe interior as opposed to a velvet interior in a casket. Perhaps they would choose a sheet-metal urn as opposed to a solid-bronze urn."

Such things clearly cut into the ... uh ... urnings of the funeral industry, and there was talk at a recent conference of funeral professionals about seeking - of course - a federal bailout. Mr John Fitch, Jr, a lobbyist for the National Funeral Directors Association, said, "We had some preliminary discussions about providing some stimulus payments to the states" for funerals. It didn't work, though, because funding funerals wasn't seen as an engine to drive economic growth.

Benjamin Franklin once said that in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes. Our federal taxes are going down, at least temporarily. But - at least here in Virginia - our local taxes are shooting up while county services are being slashed. So in the current economic climate, Mr Franklin, the only thing certain is ... death.

But the undertaker may need a federal bailout to help you on your way.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


P.S. - for more information on the funeral industry - without the puns - you can read Jessica Mitford's classic muckraking expose, The American Way of Death. It can't depress you any more than you probably are already.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

Dealt with funerals etc last year...don't want to think about funerals anymore, except to say it costs more to be dead than alive sometimes.

Amanda said...

The Mistress is right. It certainly costs a lot to be dead.

I recently met with a grand aunt who told me that she has explicitly informed her daughter that she wants to be cremated and then have her ashes scattered off the coast in Penang (where she lives). This is to save cost and also save her daughter the future 'hassle' of visiting her.

fiona said...

I'm donating my sorry carcass to medical research!

Mike said...

I thought you would have included the ending to the one article.

"At his funeral home, he added, "I'm cutting the grass this year." On the other hand, cutting grass beats pushing up daisies.

Wv: moptual - Cleaning up after the wedding.