Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Boom, Bust, Bubble, Burst & the Ten Commandments

Several years ago I wrote a couple of articles about why the economy’s long, slow, steady growth during the Obama era was good for the nation.  It established a strong foundation for economic prosperity less prone to the volatility of boom and bust, bubble and burst.  It turns out I was naive.   

People, it seems, like booms and bubbles.  Maybe it’s the same psychology that makes casinos popular and profitable.  The fantasy of making it big, the thrilling headlines about those who have, the heady optimism that one might ride it up and never come down, because busts and bursts are far off and may never happen.  What a high!  Unlike street drugs, it’s not only legal, it’s enthusiastically endorsed by politicians, stock brokers, and the guy next door.

When the boom busts, the bubble bursts, as they must, it seems that almost everyone is surprised, shocked.  Why didn’t anyone tell us this was going to happen?  Why didn’t we get advance warning, something like a severe weather alert, but for the market?  Most important, whose fault is it?  It must be somebody’s fault; the fed, the president, Wall Street, my financial advisor, the guy next door.  The previous administration is always a safe bet.   People who pride themselves on the self responsibility of rugged individualism leap every which way to discover where, other than in their own ignorance and greed, the fault lies.  

It remains to be seen if we are in such a boom and bubble cycle now, though my Magic 8 Ball says the signs are favorable.  The current president seems fixated on the stock market rather than the economy.  News media headlines celebrate the acceleration of economic growth as an improvement over the previous eight years of slow, steady growth.  Giant corporations and billionaires get celebrity coverage over the deals they make.  Advertisements entice us to not lose out, but get our piece of it.  News of extraordinary prosperity, never quite ours, but always nearby, dangle like bait before schools of hungry fish.  There are warning signs.  Financially savvy news organizations report on them every day, but nobody knows how to time the market, so nobody knows exactly when or what will happen.

It’s a curious thing that the greater part of the population, with little in savings, and not much stake in the market, get right into it along with investors.  Anticipating better paying jobs with more opportunity, they take on more debt, increase spending, and ride the good times express.  Why shouldn’t they?  Haven’t they been told the good times are here?  As one person has been known to say: It’s America first, and we’re making America great again.  If that’s not enough, several popular religious leaders have generated huge followings by promising that the right kind of faith coupled with the right kind of prayer results in God’s personal favor bringing prosperity into each believer’s life. 

Well, there you go, I’ve brought God into it.  As long as he’s here, those who attend a liturgical church this Sunday, March 4, are going to hear the Ten Commandments (Exodus version) as the first lesson.  Many of us know the first four, given the most intensive coverage by the writers, are all about there being only one God, and that one is to worship no other god.  It’s good in theory but, you know, when the god of booms and bubbles promises good times, it might be a good idea to hedge your bets.  OK, that might be a little touchy, so let’s go on to the other six that are laid out in short pithy sentences that I will mangle for your benefit.

Honor the generations that have bequeathed to us the best of all they had, including the hard lessons of what they did not do well.  Learn from them that you may bequeath a better world to those that follow.

Don’t murder others, in whole or in part.  The body and soul can be killed a bit at a time by cruelty, oppression, and injustice.  Don’t do it.

Don’t undermine the integrity of things or relationships.  Not just spouses, but all relationships, and all things you offer on which others depend.

Don’t acquire, by whatever means, what you have no moral right to acquire.  It means more than the usual understanding of what it means not to steal.

Knock off lying, false testimony, hurtful gossip, and those little shadings of truth used to manipulate others.

Greed and envy lead only to trouble.  Learn to be content, which means learn to not let what others have get under your skin.


Pay attention to these.  Do your best to live into them, always striving to improve.  When you fail, get up and start again.  Do that, and the gods of booms and bubbles will begin to fade away, not without a fight, but the real power lies in these Ten Commandments.

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