Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finance and Freak Outs

The Common Man, like most of you, has been following the economic news in the wake of the recovery plan passed by Congress, signed by President Bush, and enacted by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. And like most of you, he's incredibly curious (and hopeful) to see whether it will work. After all, The Common Man would like to not have to ride the rails, eating beans from a can, grifting his way across the nation. Frankly, his grifting skills are in steep decline and he doesn't like beans all that much. Trains are cool though.

As he's checked back to, he's been incredibly amused to follow the headlines associated with the bailout. Indeed, when stocks fell on Monday, reported that investors had no confidence in the bailout plan. But on Tuesday, when the Dow rallied in the morning, the headline suggested something like the international economic relief plan had made investors confident in the solvency of their system. Indeed, whenever the stock market rises and falls, financial journalists seem to switch their narrative. If the market is up, the measures proposed by the FED are working; if the market is down, they aren't. Sometimes the narrative shifts a couple of times a day, as though everyone on Wall Street loses their shit at exactly the same time. (Currently, is talking about a "Wall Street Whipsaw: Stocks turn mixed as investors consider recession talk, lower oil prices.")

Meanwhile, regular Americans are watching this rollercoaster and are getting nauseous and nervous. The volatility, not just of the market, but of the narrative makes it difficult to know who to trust and what exactly is happening. It's like re-reading a comic strip, but finding that the panels keep changing, and it's never how you remember it. It's disorienting and is promoting panic, and The Common Man can't help but think it's counterproductive.

Is it possible to separate the narrative of the Dow's rise and fall from the narrative of the economic recovery plan at this point? The Common Man doesn't know. The two are so intrinsically tied in America's mind right now that it will be incredibly difficult to parsel them out. Yet, The Common Man thinks that's absolutely necessary, to give the recovery plan the time it needs to work without constant speculation about whether it's working or not. Give the damn thing a couple of months, dammit before you pronounce, once and for all, how things are going. In the mean time, tell Americans how best to protect their assets and reassure them that, probably, things will eventually be ok again. Stop promoting the provoking the greatest fears of Americans who believe that a new depression is likely.

If recent history has taught The Common Man anything, its that you can't judge the effectiveness of a policy by the first few days after it's implemented. The Iraq War went great for a few weeks and everyone in Washington seemed to love No Child Left Behind when it was initially passed. Be calm, be reasoned, and let the recovery plan do it's job why don't you. Leave the editorializing for later. That goes for the media as well as for the individual.

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