In matters of money, moderation is the message


POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Do you get the stock market? I sure don't.

Admittedly, I'm a dummy when it comes to high finance and the economy. I read the news stories about the Dow Jones industrial average and basically understand that the index reflects the prices of shares on the stock exchange, that if the Dow is up, it's good news, and that if it is down, it's bad news.

But the stock market seems a contrary beast. For example, when the government reports that unemployment figures aren't as dreadful as anticipated, the market falls. When jobless numbers turn out to be as awful as predicted, the market still takes a dive. Even when the economic news is good, the market tumbles.

I mean what do these market people - whoever the heck they are - want? I suppose I could devote about a zillion nonwork hours to trying to understand the subject, but I've come to the conclusion that it's better for my mental health to spend my time reading George Pelecanos novels.

I suspect there are at least a few million other people who are similarly bewildered. Even those who put “;economic expert”; on their resumes seem to play guessing games when it comes to explaining how we ended up in this financial predicament and what we are to do to cut loose.

Maybe Phil Gramm was right. Back in July, during the heat of the presidential campaign, the ex-Texas senator, Swiss bank rich guy and John McCain adviser had his candidate tap dancing to explain away Gramm's observation that the dismal attitude of Americans was weighing down the economy.

Gramm's take was that we were experiencing a “;mental recession”; instead of a real one. The recession was genuine, but he was on target about the public state of mind. He, of course, blamed the news media for the pessimistic outlook, saying had newspapers and networks not reported on the faltering economy, people wouldn't be so gloomy.

He disregarded the fact that while the hoi polloi might not grasp the intricate warps and wefts of the financial fabric, they were aware that the economy was unraveling. If they themselves had not lost their jobs, their saw their friends and relatives out of work. They watched as homes in their neighborhoods went into foreclosure. They noted that their paychecks didn't go as far as prices for gasoline, food and almost everything else crept higher.

They became mindful that living high on credit through years of free-spending - encouraged by leaders of the free world after 9/11 as an expression of patriotism - was drawing to an end, and they began to hold on tight to their wallets. They tucked away cash, bought fewer nonessentials, put off new cars, and cut back on eating out and, most hurtful for Hawaii, traveling to tropical islands.

Some experts contend that the economic jam can be traced, in part, to these extremes in behavior. If so, the message is that in matters of money, moderation is best. That's something all of us can get and it's good for mental and economic well-being.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)