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June 19, 2010

A Needed Corrective

I met an old friend for lunch a few days back. I hadn't seen this friend in a couple of years, and it was grand catch up with him, learning about his wife and kids and career. It's always a pleasure to re-establish links with old friends. My friend used to work in the banking industry, though he doesn't any more, and so the talk over lunch turned to the financial straits we and the rest of the world find ourselves in.

As we were leaving, my friend said, "You know, ten years ago this kind of talk would have bored the shit out of you. You never seemed to give a damn about money in any larger sense. Now look at you! Mr. Gloom! You really don't think things are that bad,do you?"

I passed the comment off with a shrug and a laugh as I paid the bill. I didn't want to spoil the reunion by going into full sturm und drang mode. But his question gnawed at me a little bit, and made me wonder: do I really think we are doomed? Am I focusing on the bad news and ignoring or downplaying the good? Have I let my dislike of the Obama Administration infect my view of the economy as well? My God, have I become one of those people? The eternal doom-crier, the wet blanket, the perma-bear, the sour cynical old cuss with never a good word?

Dear God, I hope not. The world is beautiful as well as terrible. Focusing on the bad to the point of ignoring the good is a grievous character flaw. People like that often take a perverse pleasure in being angry and gloomy. One gets the sense sometimes that they actually wish for the crash to come, if only to be proven right.

Our government is being run by colossally incompetent people, but this is hardly a new development. Incompetents, as usual, have created problems that have redounded to everyone's misfortune. Hubris has been brought low by Nemesis, as it always is, and we are all sharing in the punishment.

So this post is meant mainly as a corrective, and a reminder not to let ourselves be too beaten down by bad news. I am one of those tedious wingnuts who believes that Americans are indeed a special breed -- that there is a storehouse of strength and purpose in us that will survive the stupidity and perfidy so apparent in our institutions: government, business, education. Our national character is such that we wait for a problem to reach a crisis before we act decisively, but that once we act, we prevail.

I do believe that we face a highly uncertain financial future. We -- not just Americans, but the entire developed world -- have been living a dream of false wealth and prosperity. Waking up from that dream is not going to be pretty, and will require all of us to accept many years of sacrifice and reduced circumstances. There is no other way. We really don't have a choice in the matter, and if we keep delaying the day of reckoning the ultimate price will only be higher. Paying the price of our profligacy will never be any cheaper than it is right now.

So our future is a long and thankless chain of toil and reduced circumstances, then? Is this what we have to look forward to?

Well...in some ways, I suppose the answer is yes. But this viewpoint is needlessly pessimistic. We will continue as we always have to live our lives, to marry and raise children, to read books and listen to music and enjoy the company of friends. This is what life is. We work to live, not the other way around.

Beauty and wonderfulness exist, and will continue to exist, come what may. Life is always worth living, and enjoying. If it is human nature to be venal and weak, then it is also human nature to strive, to achieve, and to persist. Future history is not written; it is dependent on the choices we make along the way. We choose.

Always prepare for the worst. A person who ignores danger is not long for the world. But don't let the bad blind you to the beauty of the world. (I will be back to my gloomy self on Monday, however, so no need to fear that I have been transformed into Deepak Chopra.)


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posted by Monty at 10:05 AM

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