A Parable for Hard Times

There once were some people who came to a land that was vast and abundantly endowed in natural riches. Through hard work, enthusiasm and a unique mojo called “Yankee Ingenuity,” the people spread out across the land (sometimes booting out other folks already living there) and put down roots.
They built great cities, cultivated bountiful farms and generally prospered at a speed — and to a depth of the population — that was unprecidented in the history of humankind. In fact, in the time it takes most people just to develop a monetary system and design a flag, these people became the political, military and economic super-power of the whole world.


There once were some people who came to a land that was vast and abundantly endowed in natural riches. Through hard work, enthusiasm and a unique mojo called “Yankee Ingenuity,” the people spread out across the land (sometimes booting out other folks already living there) and put down roots.

They built great cities, cultivated bountiful farms and generally prospered at a speed — and to a depth of the population — that was unprecidented in the history of humankind.

In fact, in the time it takes most people just to develop a monetary system and design a flag, these people became the political, military and economic super-power of the whole world.

By their third century, life — materially speaking — was about as good as it gets. Folks who called themselves “Middle Class” lived in big, fine houses and bought (or leased) vehicles that cost twice as much money as many “Lower Class” folks (a.k.a. “the working poor”) earned in an entire year.

The houses held equally fine furniture and accessories, from cappuccino makers and giant-screen TVs to handpainted dinnerware and computers that let everyone (even the kids) make snappy looking movies of themselves. Once-in-a- lifetime vacations were taken every year.

Of course, without a thin little rectangle of plastic, lots of these people could not take such trips or acquire such fine furniture and fun gadgets. And without a nation-wide system of legalized gambling known as “The Stock Market, ” many would not have acquired their houses or cars. At least not such big, fine ones.

The Stock Market was a relatively recent phenomenon in the short history of these people. In only two generations, participation had grown from about 5 percent of the people to more than half. For many, the way into The Stock Market had been through their offices and factories, through a door marked, “401K.”

Everyone loved the 401K. The people’s employers no longer had to set up “Conventional Pensions” (money for employees to live on when they got old) and employees got an annual “Tax Break” on all income they socked away in a 401K.

Meanwhile, The Stock Market grew like some gargantuan tick with an endless supply of dogs. People without 401Ks felt compelled to join in — or else be thought “Schlumps.” A large number actually used their thin little plastic rectangles to gamble when their “Real Money” ran out.

For a few years, it was one big party. The standard of living rose beyond anyone’s wildest dream. All but the bottom of the barrel acquired more things than folks in many nations would need 10 lifetimes to collect. Luxuries, such as cellular phones and clothes with “Tommy Hilfiger” on them, became overnight necessities.

Even the Lower Class/Working Poor got caught up in the fever. Shut out of The Stock Market, they had no trouble getting hold of the thin little rectangles of plastic. The government even let them pay their Taxes with the cards.

Were the people of the vast, young land the happiest on the face of the Earth? Ha.

But nothing made them stop. Experts and amateurs warned that perpetual expansion of anything, including an economy, is impossible. They pointed to all the unpaid plastic rectangle bills and to the tangible worthlessness of new companies that drew stock investors like ants to a Tootsie Roll.

The Stock Market answered, “New Paradigm,” “Old Economy.”

Everyone said “the bubble has to burst,” but they kept living as though it never would. And, the truth is, it didn’t. It just started to dissolve: $2.5 trillion-worth in eight weeks.

The people were scared. They cried and moaned and counted their losses (on paper and in Real Money). They spoke gravely about bad times ahead. They had no idea.

Author: Stephanie Salter

News Service: San Francisco Chronicle

URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2001/03/18/ED199647.DTL