With psychology playing such a major role in the deepening world economic crisis, it is more urgent than ever for those assigned with trying to find a way out to at least display a stiff upper lip. Yet politicians can’t resist doing what they do best, shooting off their mouths and producing dire consequences.
Take the other day for instance when the Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher Dodd, breathed the word nationalization in regards to the bailout of the country’s leading financial institutions. It took the bat-like ears of Wall Street only a few seconds to pick up that sound and to react violently, kicking the stuffing out of the stock of already beleaguered Bank of America and Citi Bank and forcing the new White House to deny about as quickly any such intentions. It issued a statement saying that President Obama has the utmost faith in the private ownership of these necessary institutions no matter how much money the taxpayers pony up to save them . . . well, for the time being.
One might wonder on whose side the Connecticut Democrat Dodd is. There is no reason to suspect any lack of loyalty to the leader of his party, just a slightly careless disregard for the obvious probable impact of his words. And anyway, Obama himself has been accused of not being as positive as he should be in his daily assessments of what is going to become of us. No less an expert than former President Clinton said the other day that the chief executive should try harder to stay upbeat, even as the figures of disaster bombard us unrelentingly and he wrestles with how to bring the nation back to life economically.
The stock market is a volatile creature that reacts irresponsibly to almost every sneeze. More accurately, it seems, to most of us amateurs, a psychotic entity that is full of false bravado one moment and open cowardice the next. It sends more mixed messages than a confused lover. Alan Greenspan, who’s every word it hung on for years, used to be able to send it soaring upward or spiraling downward with one simple — albeit almost unintelligible — phrase. That alone should have told the small time bettors, which includes most Americans, to stay the hell away from it and to urge the institutions they count on such as pension fund managers to do the same.
But it is too late for that advice and even if it weren’t it would be unheard by the large majority of us who planned elaborate retirements based on all that money we had made or hope to make from steady investing in our 401 K. Hello, 1929.
So now it behooves all the motor mouths on Capitol Hill and the hundreds if not thousands of experts who populate the Internet and television to be just a little prudent in their predictions. The evidence of self-fulfilling prophecy is everywhere as unemployment increases because consumers won’t spend and banks won’t lend based on those forecasts. Dodd or some other highly visible public official burps or blurts and the panic increases. The trumpeters of doom surround us.
If ever there was a time when we should be on the same page in predicting that America still is a vibrant, strong nation and that we will come through all this, even with the differences that are endemic to democracy, in good fashion. That attitude by Franklin Roosevelt as much as anything was what sustained us through the Great Depression, even when it was obvious that many New Deal programs didn’t work. We are not even close to that despair yet and it is the message that should be sent by everyone.
Most importantly those who will help determine our success or failure should understand that too much careless candor can cause pandemonium and set us back even further. Loose lips do sink ships and all kinds of other things too.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)