Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Depressing Void

Welcome to the New Year. Talk about a cleansing! Anything and everything, whether a 401K, stocks, funds you name it, they all got soaked by the giant wave that swept through and gave a whole new meaning to Tashlikh.

While we cast our sins into the water during Rosh Hashanah, a tsunami hit Wall Street taking with it icons of strength and stability. Meanwhile the ripple effects on Main Street still haven’t fully hit and what’s most disconcerting is wondering, how low is low? Or, as Betty Davis famously quipped, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

No one knows how far down the river our collective sins will have to go until they disappear. But when will we ever see the Dow at 14,000 again?

Of course, we’ve been through burst bubbles before. The difference now is the media sensation gets amplified and because this latest one keeps getting compared to The Great Depression, everywhere you turn, a more profound sense of doom accompanies it.

While the talking heads debated whether we are in a recession, the ticker running underneath was a whole lot less ambiguous. Most everyone was already using the “D” word. What’s worse, every time they’d make the analogy, they’d feed into the cycle of fear. Then they’d follow up, by saying the markets decline is all based on fear. If I said to you, “Don’t think of knives falling from the sky”, what are you going to think of? Exactly.

Granted, none of us under the age of 70 ever thought they’d see such a precipitous dive. That was something that happened back in The Great Depression. These days we have protections against that ever happening again. Right? Well…

As a boy I heard the stories and my generation thought we were immune.

My parents grew up in the Depression (mom’ll be 90 next month) and they always tried to instill in me some sense of its magnitude. They knew something that I never did. They wore the Depression on them like some Jews wear the chai or a mezuzah around their necks. They were scarred by its fearsome force. They lived to tell about it and would tell it to me many times.

Their stories were of saving everything they could and placing a value on whatever they got their hands on; string, candy, a nickel, you name it. To compare their lives with our own is comical. We have so much and if we want more, we charge it.

How this latest episode will turn out, no one knows, but I haven’t heard anyone saying it’s going to be a fast turnaround and recovery.

And when historians look back at this decade it will have, ironically, symbolically, ended where it began.

A few weeks ago I was in lower Manhattan on the site of the World Trade Center and where a gaping hole, from what literally was a meltdown, still rests.

When I lived in Manhattan and would look up at the towers, especially at night, I would see the lights on and get some comfort (sometimes even goosebumps) knowing that the work of capitalism was being conducted around the globe.

Staring into that pit, I had to wonder, why. Not why it happened, but why hardly anything has taken place to fill the void.

Now with that literal crash of the symbols of finance, this past month’s financial meltdown closes the last chapter of Bush’s Presidency.

It is time for a new era. It’s time for us to start building again and on strong, sturdy foundations.

It is time to bury the ephemeral nothingness, the void of the past several years. The void in ideas. The void in competence. The void that’s been like that hole, that abyss where time has stood still.

This desire for change is palpable and that is why Obama will be elected next week.