Monday, March 17, 2008

The Little Picture

The papers and TV networks and online news sources are filled with stories about the current economic crisis in this great land of ours. They are focused on some variation of what it all means from a big picture point of view:

Are other investment banks about to go in the toilet like Bear Stearns did?
Is the dollar going to continue to fall?
How will the overseas markets react?
Is the Fed doing enough? Too little? The wrong thing?
Will we go into a recession? Are we already in one?

I must say, this last one is like wondering whether to call the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in Darfur, or the Congo, or wherever – genocide. Call it whatever you want, but just do something about it.

What’s missing is talk about the little picture. What’s missing is talk about our personal concerns: How does this mess affect me, and what should I do?

Most of us are not investment bankers or hedge fund managers or CEOs of major corporations. We’re small fish in a big financial ocean over which we have no control. And we’re worried about it.

If I’m in the market, should I get out of it?
Is there anything I can or should do about my 401(k)?
Are there any safe havens for my savings?
Should I just do nothing and wait for the storm to blow over?
Who can I go to for advice?

These are important and valid questions for those of us in no immediate peril. But if our home is now worth less than the mortgage, or we can’t pay our bills, or we’ve lost our job, we don’t have the luxury of wondering what we should do sometime – our crisis is now and won’t wait for a big picture answer.

I’m lucky. I’m not facing an immediate financial threat. My thinking during past downturns has been to be philosophical and rely on history to bail me out. History has shown that if you hold tight and don’t panic the market will recover and come back stronger than ever. It may take a while, but it will happen.

Will history repeat itself again this time? Probably, but what if it doesn’t? Then, I guess, my little picture and yours will look very much the same. And in that case we can only hope that eventually the big picture people get it right.

You know what? This conclusion doesn’t console me very much.


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