"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Those green and red arrows rule our psyche

It's Sunday (8/14) so I don't need to pay attention to those little green arrows or red arrows. But even on Sundays, the media are beginning to pay attention to when the Asian markets open.
Early risers can check right away how the "futures" are doing. If the S&P futures are up, say, 4.20, we can feel good that the Dow will have a decent day.
There's an irony here. Even the people who tout stocks will say "don't pay attention to day-to-day fluctuations in the stock market."
The knee-jerk wisdom is to stay in for the long haul. People who sell this stuff always talk about the long-term upward trend in stocks.
But the behavior of the media suggests that the day-to-day movements are important or at least ought to be of interest for most people.
I find the interest in these "arrows" to be perverse.
People who might be cynical in many things don't seem to extend this distrust to stocks. Even though, American history suggests that people can be hurt mightily by woes in the stock market or so-called free market.
People love to talk about freedom and the ownership society.
I'm writing this after listening to days of Republican rhetoric leading up to the Republican straw poll in Iowa.
We can still laugh at Stephen Colbert's parodies. That's because the storm clouds hovering over our economy haven't really scared us yet. The stock market goes down like a bungee jumper and then comes back.
We always depend on the Federal Reserve to make some sort of statement talking the market back up. It happened last week, even though it was previously reported that the Fed was "out of bullets." The Fed has a trace of magic left.
The Fed can apply a Band-Aid to our economy here and there but it was never meant to be some sort of fountain of prosperity. I don't want my financial future resting on Ben Bernanke sitting at a microphone, slightly bent forward.
Who would want their prosperity resting on anything that is shaky and unpredictable? Americans have seemed content being mesmerized by those daily green arrows and red arrows.
The market could have crashed in 2008 but the government patched things over. The government can always apply patches but it comes with a cost. The government can apply stability as it apparently did with TARP, yet so many politicians tell us the government must simply get out of the way.
We should be so lucky as to have the Republicans' core principles be a good guide. It would be nice if a totally unfettered economy served us all. It would be nice if, as Mitt Romney said, "corporations are people too."
History is full of fractures in the stock market that left people suffering. How can people put faith in the markets when no one is completely sure why they fluctuate the way they do?
The media cover them in a disingenuous way. The experts line up to go on TV, people whose careers benefit from the exposure, and they talk as if they really know.
The media want to cover all this stuff because Americans have bought into 401Ks and the market in general. So the self-interested experts give us analysis.
I know all the jargon so I could go on TV and sound as credible.
The market was in total manic-depressive mode last week. The Fed gave us a little rescue net. What will the futures say Monday morning? Or what will the Asian markets tell us later today (Sunday)?
If we want this information, the media will make sure we get it. There is no real moral or principled component to what the media does.
Much of the stock market coverage comes from media properties supported by advertising from companies that seek to tout the market. I can see this but apparently many others, who should know better, cannot.
Republicans are riding this big wave of sentiment toward having the government get out of our lives. Wipe out regulations.
"Reform entitlements" which might mean having people work to a more advanced age.
The fundamental problem with putting faith in the stock market is that profits absolutely rule. They come ahead of virtually all human considerations. If you're 65 you might not be allowed to "limp" to retirement at 70. If the numbers dictate, you'll be gone.
A prominent Republican was recently asked about jobs that might be too demanding for people who are getting up in years. The answer was "there might be waivers."
This was a huge admission but the moderator of the discussion just moved on. A system for granting waivers might be a bureaucratic monstrosity unto itself. Lawyers will be busy.
The vast majority of jobs nowadays might be classified as high-stress. Technology has eliminated a lot of the tedious or "boring" work. What's left is stuff that requires analysis and sharpness. A lot of people aren't going to be able to cut it.
But the empowered Republicans are pushing us toward their Utopian, free market-centered universe. Their hatred of the whole concept of taxes makes me wonder if they'll just criminalize any system that imposes them.
They are empowered right now because the public seems to like this talk.
Will the Democrats be frozen as a permanent minority party? Will Americans buy into the rhetoric of the impulsive far right politicians of the Deep South, like Jim DeMint, Newt Gingrich or even Rick Perry, people whose dislike for Barack Obama might be motivated by considerations outside standard political issues?
How clueless can the mass citizenry be? Well, how can our Minnesota, which put the likes of Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Paul Wellstone on the national stage, now be the home base of Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty? If either got elected president, would they even shake hands with Obama at the time of transition?
Update: Pawlenty dropped out of the race today.
The level of animosity is worrisome.
I remember when there was worry that the Republican party might get frozen as a permanent minority at the end of Watergate. So these things can change.
Republicans try, when given the chance, to put up barriers to voting. Their approach these days is scorched earth.
This recent status quo will continue if the stock market can find its legs again.
If the stock market crashes this coming week, which no one can rule out, a new paradigm might set in. Maybe we'll decide that people are important again. Maybe we'll decide to start judging things again by criteria that don't involve how much has been "invested" in it.
Maybe a bare bones church will be seen as having just as much to offer as an opulent megachurch. Maybe a plain-jane school with a gym built in the mid-20th Century will be seen as just as practical and attractive as our amenity-drenched Morris Area School.
Maybe it would be healthy for us in the long run, to have an economic calamity on a scale that causes us not to want to follow those "green arrows" and "red arrows" all the live-long day.
And when will the Republicans become isolationists again?
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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