Neither do I...at least not very well. But there is one scene in particular that I remember rather vividly. Tommy Pickles, the brave and intrepid two year old baby, had once again been separated from his mother and was on an adventure of his own (why didn't anyone call Child Services on this woman?). This time, he was crawling his way through some type of corporate trading Wall-Street-type building. Being the ever-curious Rugrat that he was, he ended up in a back room surrounded with computers and complex machinery. So Tommy did what babies seem to do best: push buttons.
And something remarkable happened; every time that irrepressible rascal pressed a button, the scene cut to a crowded, loud room of stock traders, where Tommy's button pushing had caused a giant monitor to either show little green numbers with an arrow pointing up, or little red numbers with an arrow pointing down. Depending on the color of the numbers, the over excited traders picked up phones and began to yell: "BUY! BUY! BUY!", or "SELL! SELL! SELL!" I bring this up not to reminisce about 90s Nickelodeon television shows (although I often do), but to rather come clean on something. In the twelve or so years that that Rugrats's episode aired, my understanding of the economy has not changed in the slightest.
To me, Wall Street might as well be a place where men in suits panic or celebrate depending on the color of numbers produced by the fickle whims of an infant. So, traditionally, I have been one to avoid economic issues at all costs. The past couple of days, however, have brought such a bizarre whirlwind of economic performance that it has become impossible for even someone like me to ignore it.
Yesterday, I awoke from my nightly slumber and grabbed my laptop to catch up on what the world had been up to while I had slept. The world had been up to a lot apparently. Headlines shouted louder than any message of panic since Chicken Little that the Dow Jones's numbers had plummeted. Talking heads talked, reporters reported, all those men in suits presumably yelled "SELL! SELL! SELL!" into their phones and I went on with my life. Then this morning, as I am getting ready for a Precision Language quiz, I look on MSN.com and am greeted with the headline"Dow Jumps 410 on Hopes for Bank Rescue Plan" This intrigued me. Who is rescuing these banks, Bizarro Robin Hood? So being the curious soul that I am (not entirely unlike Tommy Pickles) I read on a little bit only to find that the banks's knight in shining armor is good old Uncle Sam! Yes, that's right, in a development that probably came as a surprise to no one other than me: The U.S Treasury Department is going to wipe "bad assets" off the books of several failing financial institutions (MSN credits CNBC with the first report).
Isn't that quite a concept? When a private company fails, the government will be there to pick up the tab. If only the government was feeling so charitable a week ago when I bombed my first college quiz so they could wipe that off the books too. Oh wait...they WERE this charitable a week ago when they brought Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under their safe wing instead of having to face the harsh reality of financial failure.
Is it just me, or does that interfere with this whole "laissez faire" thing we are so crazy about?And I don't want to come across as an ignorant grouch screaming "it's every man for himself" (too late, I know) so I will concede that I understand the need for government interference in extreme cases. But is this one of those cases? Of course, we are living through probably the worst financial credit situations since the Great Depression but is breathing life into select public and private institutions that should remain very, very dead the right way to intervene?Let me step behind my objective curtain to politely say: NOOOOO!
We are $9,648,996,263,984.36 in debt! I did not make that number up (www.brillig.com/debt_clock) Now is not the time for the federal government to be rescuing ANY institution financially. But maybe Uncle Sam's conscious simply got the best of him. I am going to go ahead and conjecture that the reason so many banks and financial institutions are failing is the federal government, itself. People are having a rough time paying back loans in a world where gas prices are flirting with $4.50 a gallon. And stock traders may be a little hesitant to invest in institutions with any public ties thanks to...well, that whole ten trillion dollar debt thing. But I sympathize, I really do. You know how it is, some of your friends trust you with their money so you go out, buy a little bit of this, buy a little bit of that and before you know it, you are ten trillion dollars in debt with their money. Happens all the time.
As I have said before, I do not really understand money or how the economy works per se'. But I do know people. And I know how they act when they live their lives knowing that they have a permanent safety net. A safety net in the presence of an ultimate authority who can correct your failures, make them as if they never were. When they don't feel there is any risk in their financial decisions, they begin to act like our friend Tommy Pickles: pushing buttons, taking out loans that can't be paid back, buying homes that are unaffordable. Don't worry, the federal government will cover the cost of all our failures, just like it rescues any innocent bank that needs help.
But if I were you, I would act now. Pretty soon there might not be any money left for the government to save you with.