An irreverent Wall Street Blog
by Bill Singer
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Slouching Towards Wall Street
Written: September 30, 2008
In listening to the ongoing debate about how to best revive our failing economy, I keep hearing pundits blaming Bush, Paulson, Pelosi, and others for failing to sell the deal to Main Street. Frankly, that complaint gives me pause.
Seems to me that among the most pernicious problems with our society is the persistent patter of salespersons and their sales pitches. We can't sit down anywhere anymore in peace. You turn on your computer, there are ads. You sit down for dinner, and your phone rings with unwanted solicitations. You try to relax in your living room and watch a sporting event or movie on television, and every few minutes you are being bombarded with advertisements. And it gets worse. It's on the buses. It's on the trains and subways. It's on the taxis. It's on the billboards. It's in the mail. It is unending and unstoppable and seeks you out with unyielding persistence.
Much of what we see is an effort to fabricate demand. If you really think about it, how many new-and-improved products are either new or improved? And how many of these must-have products do we even need, but for the imagery of the advertisement? Will my life be worse off if I don't have a gadget that plugs into an electrical outlet in my home and sprays a chemical fragrance? Is there a reason to couple the launch of a new automobile model with a commercial with skimpily clad young women who swim in million-dollar pools with designer dresses on or dance with abandon in some underground club? Is our economic system so questionably constructed that it requires endless worship at the altar of advertising? Buy. Buy. Buy. Sell. Sell. Sell. No rest. No pause.
Perhaps some rough beast, it's hour come at last, has awakened among the American people (with all due attribution to Yeats). Maybe the reason the politicos failed to sell the Wall Street bail-out to Main Street is because folks are just burned out and tired of buying everything that's sold to them. Maybe the consumer is just fed up with the hard sell -- especially since much of the present economic crisis was foisted upon us by the fast-talking salespersons from the very brokerage firms that are now freefalling into the dark unknown. Perhaps this is not a failure of the White House or Treasury or even Congress to sell the American taxpayer on the inherent wisdom of the plan. Quite possibly, this deal couldn't be sold because too many just aren't buying it, and aren't buying much of anything anymore. One of the unintended lessons of skyrocketing fuel prices and plummeting home values is that we learned to make due with less, much less. And if we stopped the extra weekend driving and sat in our homes with a sweater against the chill and opened the windows against the heat and didn't buy the $8 cup of coffee or the $200 pair of sneakers, then maybe, just maybe, some of those brokerage firms and banks can go by the wayside and we can button up against the impact. Who knows? Maybe all it took was one glimpse of the ersatz Wizard of Oz and for all the pulling shut of the curtain, the image and its reality are forever revealed.
Sadly, I fear with every fiber of my intellect that an ignorance and a hardening of the heart has hit our country, and that our nation's failure to prepare contingency plans against this crisis and the failure to timely respond with a substantive solution augers a frightening future. However, I also accept the fact that the inability to sell and the unwillingness to buy may be an equally valid explanation. It may be that we no longer believe what we're being told by those doing the telling, and that we have crossed over an unseen but still historic line: we are willing to make more of less. If that be the case, perhaps it is not all doom and gloom. Still, I am uneasy.
Which reminds me of yet another ominous line of Yeats.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.