The financial crisis: ask a taxi driver

The financial crisis has hit pretty heavily over the last year. There are people losing their jobs, their homes, going out of business all over the place in the world. I could have told you more than a year and a half ago that it was going to happen. Not because I can see the future, nor because I have a crystal ball, but because I take the taxi once in a while.

Smart talk
Taxi drivers love to talk. They spend the whole day working alone in a car so they need to exchange with their clients on different subjects. Ask about the temperature and you’ll get them started. Some friends hate to talk with taxi drivers but I just love it. I always ask those guys how the taxi driving business is doing, if they make any money, etc. When the weather is bad, they’ll always tell you that it’s good for them. It’s the same thing just before Christmas time, on weekend nights, when there are big events in the city or at peak hours. Those factors have an influence on the immediate money they’re making and if you ask them in that situation, you’ll get a somewhat deformed vision of the big picture.

If you want the truth, ask those guys during working hours on a sunny weekday. In that situation, they’re not distracted by short-time factors and that’s when you’ll learn more about the global context. Almost two years ago, cab drivers started to tell me that the business wasn’t good. Regular clients had begun to use the city transportation system instead of the taxi. Those who used to take the taxi to the metro station would take the bus instead. The old lady who used to go to the store a couple of times a week in a cab now started to plan ahead and go just once a week. Those little details, little changes in people’s habits were signs that something bigger was coming. When people stop using services and start saving on things that don’t cost a lot of money, it’s a sign that the economy will inevitably slow down.

Wearing blinkers
Why did I see it coming and not the financial analysts and the managers of big companies? In a way, I think they wear blinkers. It’s not their fault: they live a life of opulence where money is no object. They don’t mix with normal people, they don’t see people saving to be able to buy food, they don’t fear the end of the month wondering if they’ll make ends meet. They’re part of a reality where money is placed in columns and they think that they work in a purely rational domain, which we know it is not. Even if everybody knows that withdrawing all your money is the worst thing to do when the market goes down, investors keep doing it.

If those finance guys could walk in the street from time to time, they would probably detect the future of heavy movements in the economy by observing small details. But it would require them to leave the Mercedes at home and get in contact with real people in the real world, and they’re just not ready to take a taxi drive.

Photography by woowoowoo

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