Friday, October 10, 2008

Financial crisis and silence

A few days ago, I was sitting in the doctor's office, waiting for Sophie to come out of an appointment. As usual, I was perusing magazines. I flipped through a Vogue and then through a Martha Stewart Living, and then I had to put them both aside. While I usually channel Jane Austen and derive a great deal of amusement out of the vanities and foibles of the human race, I realized I was too heartsick to enjoy the articles. I was heartsick because of the financial crisis. It's hard to laugh at remodeling your home into a Shaker cottage for a vast amount of money or at panicked urgings to get "preventive" plastic surgery when you're 50 "at the latest," when all the money that supported such folly seems to have suddenly disappeared.

An odd thing about this crisis is that nobody, at least in my world, seems to be talking about it. I keep wondering why. The stock market is plunging, the credit market is frozen, we're meeting lows we haven't since 1931 (not a good year for finance), such as six consecutive days of larger than one percent losses on the stock exchange, and locally, the newspaper reports the layoff of 800 steelworkers near Wheeling, an area that can scarcely afford one layoff ... and everyone is silent. Occasionally, someone will make a passing joke about nobody having any assets anymore, but as far as sustained conversation ... it's as if the crisis didn't exist. It's like being caught in one of those 1930s movies where no hint of catastrophe exists. But this is real life.

Is it, as one columnist put it, that we're at the moment before the tsunami wave hits when everything gets still? Is it that life as usual is going on as usual in most of our worlds? Are we still somehow hoping the crisis will go away? (I know I am but I also know it probably won't.) Or are many of us feeling secure enough in our jobs or situations that it's really not a worry? Or are we too fearful to open our mouths? Or too busy calculating our worst case scenario? Is it something we have to ignore like a terrible faux pas, like someone spitting out a glob of chewed up food at a formal dinner? Or is that we just don't know what to say, because we don't know exactly how the wave isn't going to hit? Ot is it just massive denial or incomprehension that life as we know it really could change?

Maybe, as Sarah Palin would say, it's all of the above. But I find it strange that it seems socially unacceptable to discuss what appears to be a worldwide catastrophe.

I'm wondering what everybody else thinks. Are people talking about the crisis in your world? What are you thinking about it? Are you making any lifestyle changes? But of course, this is inviting a discussion about ... that which won't be named.


Anonymous said...

We haven't discussed this with anyone else either. We lost at least half of what we had saved for the children's college and our old age. I haven't really reacted to that news yet...perhaps because it is so awful, there is really nothing to say. We make dark jokes in private about the future, just to keep from getting too depressed. Or maybe just to mask our fear. In public, it seems too personal (maybe because it is about money?). And of course, one is always of aware of the majority of people who do not have a nest egg to lose in the first place, so it feels wrong to complain.
It is frightening to think of all the suffering this economic crisis will cause. I am wondering how I can help my neighbors and people in an even worse position than I am in to get through this terrible downturn in our economy.

Lisa S

Diane said...

Hi Lisa,

It is so good to hear from you! I hope you and Steve and the kids are well, beyond the economic pall that is hitting us all.

As I worry about things like paying for college next year (and I am having a heightened anxiety about this), I too worry about people who may not have a cushion and how to help and the importance of sticking together.

Bill Samuel said...

Yes, people are talking about it, but it isn't that real for many of us. If you have a secure job, you're able to pay your mortgage, and you don't expect to draw on your investments for years to come, it doesn't affect you directly.

I was talking at work with a woman who is going to retire at the end of the year. She is not an emotional person, but she was almost in tears as she noted that she had lost most of the money she had put in her retirement fund.

For people my age (I've been eligible for regular retirement from my job for a year, and am 5 years from my regular S.S. retirement age), it may well affect when we retire. I really need to wait until the markets recover and, if they don't, I may be working until I'm very old. My retirement system relies heavily on the 401(k) element.

Diane said...

Hi Bill,

Thanks for responding and it's wonderful to hear from you. I'm glad the stock market seems to be rebounding. Hardworking people unable to retire puts a human face on the situation.