Not-so-great depression

IUS Horizon

Finally there is a topic that is enveloping the national news that is capturing “Joe Sixpack’s” attention. The economy is going down the toilet.

This is not the first time, of course, but few of us are left who can recall the Great Depression of the 1930s and ’40s. The stock market is seeing a similar plunge. On Oct. 10 the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 8,451 points, briefly sliding below the 8,000 mark, a low that hasn’t been seen since April of 2003. At a 20 percent drop from the market’s previous high, we’ve officially achieved a crash.

After watching countless 8-minute segments on television and several hours listening to National Public Radio, one’s brain cannot possibly absorb anymore information about this crisis, or can it? Yes, if the media can find a sensationalistic angle. Enter AIG and their elaborate corporate getaways costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will be interesting to see how upset taxpayers become over the next few years as they keep a closer eye on their portfolios and CEO expense accounts.

When America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. The horrible side effect of this materialistic American culture and the crash it has caused is that the rest of the world is made to suffer as well. “In a day of major panic selling, the Dow Jones index fell as much as 5 percent in the US before ending down 1.5 percent. The fear is that the financial crisis will tip the world into a recession,” BBC World News reported Oct. 10.

Britain also has a bank rescue package in effect, which UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is trying to push on other countries as well. The general consensus is that it is going to take a few years for things to get back to “normal.” If an inflated market is normal, then perhaps investors and home buyers should re-evaluate their situations. It isn’t clear if that is actually happening yet, or if people are trying to maintain the lifestyles they can’t, or shouldn’t be able to, afford.

Like it or no, part of the blame does indeed rest on “Joe Sixpack.” American culture has trained us to want things bigger, better and NOW- whether we can realistically afford it or not. Why bother evaluating our income level to cost ratio for that $300,000 house when the nice banker will do it for us? We can worry about the details later.

Which is about as well thought out as the $700 billion “rescue” (previously known as “bailout”) package was. It’s a shame this bill was being written just before election time- we probably could have avoided a great deal of the pork it included otherwise. The Anne Northup ads running recently dogging John Yarmuth for voting “Yes” on the bill are pretty amusing, as though she wouldn’t have done so herself if she hadn’t been beaten in the last congressional election.

So while we’re all worrying about our tax dollars assisting the transition to socialism in these United States, it may be helpful to include some self-evaluation in the process. What do we want, and what do we really need? Do we really need a huge house? Two new cars? The latest and greatest computer/cell phone/mp3 player on the market? $150 hair and manicure appointments every month?  Probably not. At least gas prices are down a few cents.

By MARY Q. BURTON
Managing Editor
mqburton@ius.edu