Sunday, March 27, 2011

Zombie Economics, is that like Voodoo Economics? No.

For the first time, I understand why the notion of a zombie apocalypse is so popular. In an irrational world, when everything we know has turned upside down and constants are suddenly variables, zombies make as much sense as anything else. I got this message by reading a new personal finance book called Zombie Economics*. By Lisa Desjardins and Rick Emerson, names familiar from CNN and other broadcasting, this primer is a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. The fiction is the gripping tale of a lone survivor of the zombie apocalypse who, chapter by chapter, is seen desperately seeking ammunition, supplies, medical care, and most of all, safety from the lifeless attacking hordes. The nonfiction is money advice taking off on the concept of a zombie invasion, such as the prologue, entitled “No One is Coming to Save You.”

The beauty of likening protective personal finance to self-defense during a zombie apocalypse is we completely skip over the concept of blame. A lot of us get hung up over blame, either blaming Wall Street, the banks, or the credit card companies. Closer to home, we tend to blame ourselves, our untrustworthy family members, or our lousy employers. Or ex-employers. But blaming entangles us in unprofitable historical research or quarrels. Does it matter if our financial boat started taking on water with that $50,000 entertainment center we had installed, or the fifty pairs of designer shoes we bought at $1,000 a pop? In a zombie apocalypse, there’s no time for blame. We’ve got to lock the doors and protect ourselves from the onslaught. Right now.

Desjardins and Emerson hand out straightforward advice skewed to the age range 18-35 (or perhaps older), people who don’t have children demanding their own cell phones or college tuition. The target of the authors’ admonitions are people who have jobs, have bills, and who need to act defensively to make sure inattention, poor choices, and sheer bad luck don’t destroy their world.

Sure, the authors are stretching it a bit with their zombie similes. The action scenes of shooting or whacking zombies and the descriptions of squishy zombie parts are a little gruesome, too. But this is the era in which personal finance counselors often throw people into homeless shelters for a week in order to get them to wake up to how dire their financial situation is. What’s a few scenes of zombie guts by comparison? Something has to mobilize us to fight to save ourselves, because no one is coming to save us. The younger we are, the truer that is. A lot of unemployed Baby Boomers are currently thinking if they can just hold out until Social Security kicks in, maybe they can make a dignified exit from the world of fruitless job hunting. Maybe they can even keep the house, or sell it and move somewhere cheap. For the young, the future may have more potential, because unemployed young people will probably find jobs eventually. But there is no lifelong pension about to come due. Instead, there are zombies.

If you’ve avoided personal finance books before, or are sick of their typical clich├ęs, try this one. Go for the advice, and enjoy the blood and guts.

*Not to be confused with the book of the same name by John Quiggin, which is about dead economic ideas that walk among us.

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