Economic Depression Meets Clinical Depression
I started writing about depression 25 years ago, a different kind of depression.
In 1983, one year out of law school, I began what I thought would be a very brief stint as a financial journalist. I stayed in the field till 1992. My career involved two countries (New Zealand and Australia), two editorships of two financial journals, a business editorship of a Sunday national newspaper, a feature writer position for a daily paper, various freelance gigs, and three books.
These days, we are hearing that the US is facing the gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. No one seems to be disputing that. But then the dialogue immediately breaks down.
I do not purport to be an expert in the fine points of banking and finance, much less understand what is going on, much less possess a knowledge of even a casual follower of today's markets. But I did take away a few guiding principles from time served in my past life, namely:
1. There is no one single cause to any economic or financial crisis. Instead, we are talking about a perfect storm of converging events and trends. Invariably, these involve a culture of greed, highly irresponsible borrowing and lending, market values that bear no relationship to true asset values, misplaced faith in the ability of the markets to govern themselves, a government treasury of some sort hovering on insolvency, lack of political leadership, and regulatory authorities asleep at the switch. Add to that a host of complicating factors - such as loss of white (to add to blue) collar jobs overseas, rising oil prices, a financially squeezed middle-class, and the historic reliability of humans to act unpredictably - and we're talking chaos theory meets Heisenberg uncertainty principle.
2. Everything works fine until reality sets in. In other words, it is possible to run an economy where bird seed is legal tender - but not forever. Eventually, someone thinks things through, and when too much of that goes on panic sets in.
3. Systems tend to self-regulate. Complex systems - be it the 100 billion neurons in the brain, the biosphere, or the economy - may fluctuate, but all have a way of resetting to normal. Proponents of free markets sensibly understand this principle.
4. Every system, nevertheless, has its melting point. Leave ice cream at room temperature long enough, and it is no longer ice cream. It is soup. It is incapable of returning to ice cream, even if it is refrozen. The ice cream needs to be returned to the freezer while it is still ice cream. And someone needs to keep an eye on the ice cream. Proponents of free markets are incredibly stupid to this principle.
5. Various dynamics of smart vs stupid come into play. For instance, the people on Wall Street are incredibly smart, but their activities often serve spectacularly stupid purposes. Only a genius could have come up with the marvel of financial instruments used to generate credit based on over-extended consumer mortgage debt. Only institutional stupidity could have put these instruments into practice.
6. Following from #5 above, we celebrate a culture of stupid. For instance, most of the US doesn't believe in evolution, or - to put it another way - think the Flintstones is reality TV. Stupid populations are easily manipulated, ironically into voting against their own best interests.
7.More with less is smart. Various interest groups would have you believe that taking six people to change a lightbulb is good. But - keeping with electrical analogies - an amped up economy needs circuit breakers and surge protectors, especially economies in transition.
So, how does a financial/economic crisis apply to you? Our population tends to live on the economic waterline. Thus:
- If you are working in a crappy job, your employer is probably caught in a major credit crunch combined with rising costs and declining sales. As your employer takes on more water, you will find yourself enjoying the singular privilege of being the first tossed overboard.
- If you are looking for a crappy job, you are now in the market for openings that don't exist, in competition with workers who have just been laid off.
- If you are collecting disability or some kind of government assistance, you may already be undergoing a rigorous reevaluation process regarding your eligibility. Even if you are eligible, you are likely to be denied benefits as a matter of course, just to weed you out.
Wait, there's more:
You can forget about a newly-elected President and Congress coming up with universal health care, more funding for mental health treatment and research, decent housing, and whatever else is needed to assist you with your recovery. There is no money in the kitty. It has been diverted to stanch the economic bleeding.
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to connect the dots between economic depression and clinical depression. Nearly everyone, in days to come, will have ample reason to feel depressed.
But before you get angry: Where were you last election day? Chances are you were in bed. That tends to be our unfortunate track record. Politicians know this, which is one good reason they don't listen to us.
So before you blame a Republican President, a Democratic Congress, Wall Street, the SEC, the media, or the person who came up with the word acidophilus, take a good long hard look at yourself. If you have a habit of sitting out elections, you are part of the problem. I will forgive you this time, but if you neglect your civic duty this November - seriously - I don't want to hear from you.
Your illness is an excuse only if you are in crisis or just getting over one. Otherwise, you have till 8:30 PM to get out of bed and drag yourself to the nearest polling place before it closes at 9 PM. If that appears problematic to you, you can cast an absentee ballot right now.
Make your own decision, but vote as if your life and the lives of those you care about depend on it. It does ...