It’s going to be one of those Christmases. You know, that Charlie Brown kind where everything looks bleak and then some intellectual jerk who can’t leave the house without his blanket decides to lecture us about the “true meaning” of Christmas.
Peace on earth? Good will towards men? Give us a break. This Christmas sees our economy staggering like a man who’s been stabbed in an alley, the result of unmitigated greed and callous consumption. And nothing the Federal Reserve and company does seems to be stopping the bleeding. Since the announcement of a federal bailout for our nation’s banking system in October, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped about 30 percent. And the credit market remains frozen even though the $700 billion or so was supposed to thaw it out — many credit card companies are even lowering credit limits and raising interest on cardholders, seemingly oblivious or apathetic to the fact that the bailout money came directly from the American taxpayer. Last week the Fed dropped interest rates to a historic low: 0.25 percent, which means that money is now practically free. And despite a surge on the day of the announcement, the markets continue their downward trajectory; jobs are still disappearing; homes are still being foreclosed upon, even while more and more families are without adequate living spaces. As we sink deeper into recession, the blinders fall from the eyes of even the very rich, as an elite group of superinvestors that include hospitals, universities, charities, banks and less-muscular hedge funds got hustled in a gambit as old as the pigeon drop: a ponzi scheme, which unraveled as investors seeked to cash in some of their “earnings.” Economists warn that Bernie Madoff’s $50-billion opus is just the tip of the iceberg. The brightest spot in the downturn is that things are getting cheaper — specifically, the price of gas, which has returned to pre-Bush levels in the waning days of his administration, a development, it should be noted, rooted in conservation and responsibility by the American people who drove 100 billion fewer miles this year than last. But don’t get too comfortable: OPEC promises to curb production to right this grievous wrong and bring the price of a barrel of that light, sweet crude from its current nadir of about $43 up to a more respectable $80. No doubt, Exxon, which has posted record profits each successive year since 2005, would approve. Merry Christmas indeed. But maybe Linus has the right idea here. One thing we’re seeing is that this economy is indiscriminate in the choosing of its victims, and we will all have fewer presents under the Christmas tree this year. Perhaps that’s just what we need in this time of economic crisis: a reminder of what’s really important in life. Hint: It’s not the value of your portfolio. Maybe this year, after the fire burns down and the last of the gifts have been opened, we’ll gather our loved ones and take joy in the fact that they are happy and healthy, and that, for this one day at least, we are all together. Maybe we’ll put aside our financial anxieties and fears of the future and remember that Christmas — and life — is about the love. Merry Christmas indeed.
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The brightest spot in the downturn is that things are getting cheaper.