While you kids were wisely investing your money in Jello shots, iTunes downloads and the latest Xbox games, your parents were foolishly gambling in the Wall Street Casino, where we‘ve lost thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands in the last few weeks on our 401Ks and other retirement plans.
If you‘ve been too busy playing Guitar Hero to keep up, here‘s the deal: The stock market has dropped by 40 percent of its value in the past year, with a wild roller coaster ride, spiralling ever downward.
And this time around, there hasn‘t been any inspiring leader at the helm to calm the sense of panic that‘s sweeping the world, as was the case in 1932, when presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.“
To put things in perspective, those were fearful days: some 9,000 banks failed in the Great Depression and stocks lost 90 percent of their value. It took decades for the stock market to climb out of that hole. Meanwhile, America‘s gross domestic product fell by 32 percent, and unemployment hit 23 percent.
President Bush has an historic moment to step into Roosevelt‘s shoes and make a zinger of a statement to comfort people about the economy. Something along the lines of his moment rallying Americans at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks. It‘s time to break out that bullhorn.
One thing we can take comfort in is the fact that the average American investor seems to be “keeping a grip“ and not succumbing to panic. This is no small thing: by one estimate, 60 percent of Americans own stock -- not just wealthy people, but also many members of the so-called “working poor,“ who are enrolled in their companies‘ retirement plans.
Across the Web and the lunch counters of America, it‘s comforting to hear that many are refusing to panic. Most Americans seem to be standing fast in the hope that the stock market will rebound.
The action that made the Great Depression even deeper was the panic that led millions of Americans to pull their savings out of banks, ensuring their failure. We need to hold the line on that sort of panic now because for most Americans, the modern “bank“ is the stock market in which we have deposited our 401Ks and other retirement savings.
So, 20somethings, take note, with stocks hitting new lows, this is a great time to buy. As for us oldies, we‘ll do what we can to hold on to what‘s left of your inheritance...
With all this talk about “Maverick“ lately, I can‘t help thinking about my favorite episode from the 1957 series starring wheelin‘-dealin‘, gamblin‘ man, James Garner.
Maverick didn‘t have a derringer on his belt buckle like the guy on the “Bat Masterson“ show, or a sawed-off shotgun like “Johnny Yuma,“ or a pistol with a two-foot barrel like “Wyatt Earp“ or a rapid-fire Winchester like “The Rifleman“ (TV shows in the ‘50s had a gun fetish that bordered on perversion). But he did have a pack of cards and a few tricks up his sleeve.
In one episode, Maverick and two women travelers came upon a frontier fort in the old west, where all of the soldiers were dead inside. Then, wouldn‘t you know it -- Indians attacked the fort again.
But Maverick was a smart guy: during the night, he put a bunch of dead soldiers up in the stockade and stuck their guns out of the turrets. Then I believe he set off some firecrackers and let loose with some soldierly yells to fool the Indians into believing the fort was fully staffed. They vamoosed.
Too bad he didn‘t have a talking parrot like the current maverick to help out in that jam.
Speaking of which, that “fool ‘em with fake troops“ strategy has worked well all through history.
In August, 1812, for instance, American General William Hull surrendered the fort at Detroit without firing a shot after being fooled by the Indians and the British.
All day long, a few hundred Indian warriors filed past the fort. Then, they ran behind a low hill and filed past again and again. Hull thought he was going to be massacred by thousands of well-armed warriors and surrendered the fort and his 2,000-man army. He was court-martialed for cowardice after the war, but pardoned by President James Madison.
This has nothing to do with anything, but I thought it might help take your mind off this ugly old election.
Speaking of Which...
I dread the month of October which settles like a low, black cloud on America every four years. The cartoonists in the Express seem to lose their sense of humor, the letters to the editor get ugly, people steal election signs and write in ALL CAPS!!! The political commercials on TV get so ugly that a pig must have more dignity than the people behind them. Generally, we all misbehave like a bad family Thanksgiving gathering where there‘s a divorce, a funeral, and an earthshaking argument over religion and politics going on at the same time.
So thanks for those small moments of refuge from the election.
I‘m thankful that I limited my cable TV to 12 channels this summer, and can‘t be tortured by the nattering political talk shows. I‘m thankful for the fall colors, the bravery of fellow Americans in the face of the financial crisis... and for identical twin grandsons born last week, which are all the talk in our family. Anything to avoid that nasty thought virus that comes around every four years at election time.