For those of you who haven’t noticed, the Keys – hey, the entire globe – are going through tough economic times. The technical term economists use is “OH-MY-GOD-EVERYTHING-I-OWN-ISN’T-WORTH-ANYTHING-ANYMORE!” Property values have fallen like a drunk off of his barstool, chaos rules financial markets, jobs are the new endangered species, and the Federal government has had to “bail out” institutions that were “too big to fail.” Some of those “too-big-but-failed-anyway” institutions were stalwart companies like General Motors, AIG, and Bernie Madoff’s investment fund. Let me be clear here: even though Madoff is guaranteed three squares a day and government-run healthcare for the rest of his life, his financial “institution” was not the recipient of government bailout funds. Keeping up with economic news is enough to make a person’s head spin like the racing numbers on the gas pump as you try to afford a fill-up. Actual newspaper headlines like, “U.S. Economy on Mend But Recovery Still Slow,” give a person as much comfort as Charmin made from sandpaper. That’s why we’re going to present the first in a possible series of Keys Disease’s Guide to the Collapse – OOPS! I mean Guide to the Economy. The funny thing is, we wouldn’t be having any problems at all if it weren’t for two things: first, the future is just so damn hard to predict; second, some damn long-deceased economist years ago declared that the economy was cyclical. That’s just a fancy way of saying that there are ups and downs. Why didn’t, instead, the deceased number-cruncher just say that everything always gets better all the time? Then, we really would have had “surpluses as far as the eye can see.” Enough of looking backwards – let’s define some economic terms that we might find in the pages of respected (hah!) financial publications. Recession – that is an economic condition that exists when your friends are out of work and can’t afford to go out with you. Depression – a condition that exists when YOU are out of work and can’t afford to go out. Bailout – the use of taxpayer dollars to “rescue” and “shore up” the finances of large corporations that made incredibly stupid financial decisions. Not available to actual taxpayers. Interest – the cost of borrowing money. Currently, large financial institutions that have been bailed out can borrow vast sums of money at interest rates at or slightly above zero percent (0%). They then turn around and charge you, the taxpayer who bailed them out, twenty-one point six percent (21.6%) or more on your credit card balances. Insurance (see “Scam”) – a “service” provided by insurance companies that used to make reasonable profits based upon actuarial data. Most insurance companies (now investment firms) today reap huge profits based upon shareholder expectations instead of sound actuarial data. Mortgage – formerly a way for people to pay down a debt usually tied to real property, but now something people who are “under water” walk away from in droves. Under Water – formerly a term used to describe scuba divers, it now signifies someone who owes more money on a piece of property than it is now worth. I’m not making this next part up: respected financial advisors actually tell people to just walk away from their underwater mortgages today. Value – something that seems to diminish with each passing day. Small Business Loan – a financial arrangement rendered extinct by the current economic crisis. Deficit Spending – a government accounting practice that allows the government to spend money is doesn’t have. If you apply this practice to your personal checking account, you will be arrested. Financial Market Regulations – nonexistent laws that theoretically could prevent another Wall Street meltdown like the kind we had in late 2008. Or not. Recovery – the current financial pain we all seem to be experiencing as the talking heads keep telling us that things really are getting better. Well, that’s about enough of this for one day. Let’s try and console ourselves with the thought that no matter how bad things seem, they probably could get a lot worse. Good Luck.