Monday, February 10, 2014

Ain't It Awful, Inc.

A majority of Americans, it seems, are depressed most of the time.

The stock market is down again, as a result of lower earnings reports and news that the Fed is reducing its "quantitative easing" program.  As I noted at the end of 2013, it was a stellar year for the stock market, and in fact, the market has been on a tear since February 2009 - one of the longest bull markets in recent history.  As I noted in an earlier posting, one should expect the market to go down, after such a prolonged rise, particularly in November and December.  Every rise in prices is followed by a pull-back.

And quantitative easing had to end some time - people expected this.  Many predicted that doom-and-gloom, and claimed the market would "Crash" the moment the Fed stopped pumping money into it.   Well, the market went down 1%.   Is that a "crash"?  Hardly.

In reality, our economy has been chugging along pretty well for some time now.  But to hear some people tell it, it is just the opposite.   The economy, according to some, is still "in the tank" and everyone is "suffering" and unemployed.  When you read a story about the Stock market online, go to the comments section below that story, and see what I mean.

And sadly, these same Sad Sacks of Shit have been saying this, well, since the day I was born.   Some folks are born pessimists and like to look at the dark side of everything.   Even when things are going like gangbusters, they will say, "Sure, things are going great now, but what happens when it stops?  And what about that homeless guy over there?  Things aren't going well for him, buddy!"

What is going on here?  And why do people see life in such negative terms - as if everything is going horrifically wrong, all the time?  Why does it seem there is an Army of Negative Thinkers in the United States?  Are they in a Union?  Is it some sort of Corporation?   Ain't It Awful, Inc. seems to have a franchise in every neighborhood.  They are more ubiquitous than McDonald's and Starbucks, combined.

What causes people to think like this?  There are a number of reasons, I think:

1.  Mental Depression:  Despite the fact we are one of the wealthiest (if not the wealthiest) countries in the world**, a lot of people in the USA are depressed.   We are over-fed, drink too much, have cheap gas, fancy cars, the latest cell phones, and 500 channels of cable TV, but we still think we have it tough in the USA.

2.  Externalizing:  One way to feel better about yourself is to blame your problems on others.  So, if you are unemployed, the reason is "the economy" which is "bad" in your mind, even when it is going well.   It's not your fault, right?

3.  Feels Good to Feel Bad:  Let's face it, it is fun sometimes to wallow in your own crapulence.  To feel bad is to feel good.  Why try hard, when being helpless and a victim is so much easier?

4.  Commiserating:  Misery loves company, and on these comment pages you see a lot of people sharing the "ain't it awful" mindset - and they get pissed off if you try to tell them otherwise!   The world is going to hell, buddy, and don't try that Miss Mary Sunshine crap on me!   That is their attitude.

5.  Pot:  People who smoke pot are never happy.   Sorry, but it is true.  They sit around all day doing bong hits and exchanging idiotic conspiracy theories, complaining about their ex-girlfriends or ex-wives, and bitching about how their boss (or ex-boss) was a jerk.  They don't feel optimistic about life - they never do.   Smoking pot is a dead-end, but of course, you can't tell them that!

Yes, sometimes things really are awful - but never as awful as they might seem.   September 11th, 2001 wasn't a very good day.    But I recall, at the time, thinking, "We will get through this, and if someone things taking down a couple of buildings is going to cause the United States to crumble, they are really mistaken."

February of 2009 wasn't a fun time, either.   Most folks portfolios dropped in value by as much as a half.   At the time, I thought, "Well, we are all in the same boat here, and there is little point in selling now, as I'd just be locking in my losses.   These stocks are not worthless, despite the drop in the market.  People will still need to buy good, gasoline, and cigarettes - things will continue to soldier on."

And so on.   Even "earth-shattering" events are hardly earth-shattering - shy of a devastating asteroid impact.   What we tend to think of as natural disasters are usually more of the man-made variety.

When I was 17, I was sent to a program put on by the American Management Association, that was given to young people at a summer camp.   The folks giving the presentations were managers of factories or officers of corporations.   And one question they asked was, "do you think our system is going to fail?"

Now bear in mind the era in which this question was being asked.  The price of gas was shooting up dramatically, and being sold only on alternate days (if the gas station wasn't in fact, just out of gas for days at a time).   Inflation was in the double-digits, unemployment was also.  And interest rates, even for home mortgages, were pushing 14%.   It was a bleak time in America.

Anyway, I answered, "No" and the manager giving the presentation asked why.   "People have too much invested in our current system - there is too much inertia."    And it turns out, that was the correct answer.   While economic conditions were down, no one was ready to start an armed revolution or throw away the current system.   What people wanted, were conditions to get better.   And in terms of global wealth and prosperity, conditions were hardly extreme.

But back then, as there are today, there were a few shrill voices decrying doom-and-gloom.   And they were annoying voices then, and annoying voices today.   They exaggerate conditions and fail to take into account how our lives match up compared to the global norm.   I lost a few thousand dollars today in the stock market.   On the other side of the planet, someone just lost their life in a terrorist attack, or in the basement of a Syrian jail.   You have to put things into perspective and realize how lucky you are.

Looking at the world through shit-colored glasses does not give you a realistic view of what is really going on in the world.  And as I have noted time and time again, the way to get ahead in the USA is to perceive reality as it really is and thus have a leg-up on the majority of Americans, who live in a fantasy land of perpetual debt and depression.

Depressed people end up making poor financial choices.  These are the idiots who are buying gold - convinced the end of the world is nigh (or building bunkers under their homes - and other idiotic investment in the future).   Depressed people are the ones who say "fuck the future, I'm buying a jet ski today!" and thus chain themselves to finance payments all their lives.

They do not perceive real opportunities when they exist.   They eschew buying a home in 1993, when they were being sold at foreclosure prices.   Instead, they buy in 2005, when the market has peaked.  Why?  Because it takes a mountain of market euphoria to break through their layers of depression.   And by the time they do act, it is too late.   And their poor choices end up feeding their cycle of depression further.  And it never ends.

* * * 

** One comment I get from Sad Sacks of Shit, when I mention that the USA is the wealthiest country in the world, is some asinine statement like, "Well, per-capita income in Sweden is higher!"   But of course, the tax rates in Sweden start at 70% and go up from there.   IN REALITY, the USA has provided the highest standard of living for the largest number of people more than any country on the planet, bar none (in the history of the world!).   So please, no comments about how the Swiss are doing or some nonsense like that.   And frankly, the Swiss and Swedes are not having such of a go of it, these days.