December 27, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Society

Last August, my 24-year-old son went to the bank to renew his one-year CD, money his grandfather had given him on his 21st birthday.  It wasn’t a huge amount of money.  Still, several thousand dollars.  When Elia sat down with the bank officer to discuss the details, the sales pitch began.

It was the opinion of the officer, the strong opinion of the officer, that Elia invest in the stock market, allowing the officer to make recommendations on which Chase vehicles to buy.  The officer felt certain that Chase could wisely invest his money in stocks that would certainly, quickly increase in value.

Elia experienced and expressed confusion.  He wanted to purchase another CD.  The officer suggested not.

They say a stopped clock is right twice every 24 hours.  You don’t have to be right to be right.  Eventually, every opinion is supported by circumstances that reflect the conditions that make that opinion make sense.  I grew more than queasy in the 1980s when the disengagement of financial regulations picked up momentum with the Reagan Administration.  Then began the appointment of industry representatives to the very agencies that were designed to regulate their activities.  Transparency was legislated out of market management.  In 1999, banks were allowed to hawk investments.  Finally, the nascent derivatives market exploded when it was discovered that the adults had abandoned the premises and free markets were really free.  Risk had been legislated out of finance.

Or so it seemed.

Somehow the vanishing of the risk of capitalists being confronted with engaging in inappropriate behavior was correlated with the disappearance of risk when making money.  It’s as if the parents of two-year-olds went on vacation, with both the parents and toddlers certain that the little ones were more secure without parents around.

The stopped clock being right twice every 24 hours is a metaphor that has often, during this twenty-year stretch, come to my mind.  Over twenty years, I felt this crisis ever present.  I came to believe that eventually, my predictions would be true because just about everything becomes true at some point.  Reality seemed separated from logic.  The economy seemed balanced on a fiction.  Year after year after year the fiction exhibited so much strength that I considered myself the stopped clock, waiting for the real hour to fit my stalled and broken point of view.

I figure if something can be true evolutionarily, it probably is true somewhere or some when.  Evolution, characterized by an almost infinite creativity, leaves little out when inventing interesting solutions.  The same could be said of humans.  If it’s possible, somewhere, at some time, someone is playing with that thing to see what happens.  We’ve now spent a couple decades exploring a myth called free markets, formerly called Social Darwinism.  The free market proponents argue that allowing elites to serve themselves results in deep and long lasting benefits to society.

Well, they’re wrong.

I wasn’t the stopped clock being right on rare occasions.  I was a digital clock blinking because the power had gone off.  No one noticed that the electricity had ceased.  No one was paying attention to the fact that there was no power.  All three branches of government abandoned us decades ago.  Only now are we noting that the clock has been blinking midnight.

When a young person in our culture, a new adult, goes to the bank to save his money and is told by the bank to let the bank invest that money in the stock market…..  Well, it’s time for change.  Let’s see what 12:01 a.m. and a new day brings.


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