There was a wonderfully scary article in the business section of the
New York Times last month, in which a financial analyst predicted that
were in for the biggest stock market crash in 300 years.
Market forecaster Robert Prechter bases his warning on the theories of
accountant Ralph Nelson Elliott, whose Elliott Wave theory predicted
the fluctuations of the stock market in the 1930s and 40s. According
to this theory, we may be in for the biggest crash since the collapse
of the South Sea Bubble in 1720 (look it up in your old college econ
book), a financial disaster that was so devastating that people were
fearful of buying stocks for 100 years. Prechter says the Dow Jones
average is likely to sink below 1,000 points (its currently hovering
around 10,000) and stay there for years. This would put us back into
the economy of the Stone Age.
Yet in the same business section, you could also read happy talk about
the stock market poised to rebound at any moment. This chirpy optimism
mixed with apocalyptic gloom pervades every financial publication,
going round and round on opposite pages, as if the most knowledgeable
market forecasters in the world are no better than witch doctors
poking at the steaming entrails of a goat.
In fact, you might be wise to put more faith in goat guts.
It all gets back to this being the great Age of What to Do? since
there seem to be no sure-fire investments to safeguard your savings
(assuming you have any): stocks, bonds, real estate -- all are rather
iffy and uncertain. In recent months the Dow Jones average has been
bobbing up and down like a cork in a flushing toilet.
This might give a lift to the hearts of those whod like to stick it
to the rich, except that the ramifications of the Age of What to Do?
are far worse for those who are lower on the economic ladder.
Just last week, another business writer claimed that you can forget
about the value of your house steadily increasing through the years to
provide a retirement nest egg as it did during the second half of the
20th century. More than likely, that era is gone for good, the
Elsewhere, the 30% of students who drop out of high school in America
must be wondering what job can they hope to find these days that will
take them to the other side of 20 grand in the pay scale?
Then there are the choices confronting todays college students. What
can you major in that will assure youll be able to pay back the
$60,000 or so that you owe in student loans? Adding insult to injury,
a huge student loan may make you less desirable as a marriage partner.
Young adults also have the nemesis of outsourcing and job-eating
technology to deal with (ie. Americas much-touted productivity).
Soon, for instance, the institution of the DVD rental store may
disappear from your neighborhood, replaced by Netflix and the online
streaming of movies. This is already the case in some parts of the
country. Result? More thousands of jobs lost to digital technology.
This uncertainty extends to the unemployed, who are going back for job
retraining, financed by our empty State treasury. But how many air
conditioning repairmen or solar panel installers will we be able to
hire in the future?
You can even see this concern over what to do reflected in the music
played by a number of jam bands at festivals this summer. The new
trend is to bolt several off-the-mark genres together, like East
European klezmer music and hip-hop. Soon, musicians will be aping
Lady Ga-Ga to the accompaniment of bagpipes and Masai cowbells.
Were living through a time that newsman Tom Brokaw compares to the
Deep Horizon gusher in the Gulf of Mexico: an out-of-control economic
disaster that seems to have no easy fix. If, as predicted, the
Republicans sweep back into power this November, they too will be
confronted with the specter of a permanent jobless economy, taking
their own turn at the whipping post once voters discover that it takes
more than just tax cuts to generate jobs.
What are the antidotes for the Age of What to Do? As in the Great
Depression, courage, imagination and the willpower to keep on keeping
on. Plus, the hope that the green energy movement with all of its
electric cars, windmills, bullet trains and batteries will energize
our economy -- sooner than later.
Its interesting to note that there are growing fears that our country
may be veering towards socialism. Its as if the nations collective
subconscious has begun talking about this half-forgotten economic
system, foreshadowing what may be inevitable in a digital, jobless
economy. At what point will we decide that public works jobs for the
permanently unemployed is our only recourse? At what point will we --
as in the Great Depression -- decide that government must fund jobs
for artists, road workers and CCC-style public works projects, if only
to keep jobless people from standing around idle on street corners and
in bread lines?