Monday, March 23, 2009

Hang Together

Jean Strouse in today's New York Times compares today's economic crisis with the collapse of 1907, when J. P. Morgan stepped in to support the market:

Moreover, Mr. [Warren] Buffett said he could “guarantee” that in five years or so “our great economic machine” will be running a lot faster than it is now, with the government playing an enormous role in how quickly it recovers. Last fall he declared that we had just been through an “economic Pearl Harbor.” Last week he said that in order to fight this economic war the country has to unite behind President Obama, the government has to deliver “very, very” clear messages and we all have to focus on three jobs:

Job 1: win the economic war.

Job 2: win the economic war.

Job 3: win the economic war.
This is an interesting passage, because it not only calls on President Obama to employ a clear and forceful rhetoric, but it also calls on all the rest of us to unite and support the president. That challenge may remind us how very much in this crisis we have all enjoyed the luxuries of spectatorship -- indignation, fear, outrage, worry, distraction. We have asked President Obama and his administration to "restore confidence."

Whose confidence? Those other people? Or you and me? And are not you and I responsible, in part, for our own confidence, for prudence and good sense?

On the other hand, calling on us to give the president our support, and pointing out that we'll fail if we don't, could develop into an implicit set of loyalty tests, with suspicions that critics are defeatists who are actually contributing to our economic insecurity -- we've seen that before in our American rhetorical history, too.

What an interesting time.

Where's your nest egg?

"Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." Benjamin Franklin

[image: Benjamin Franklin in 1783, from an engraving at the Library of Congress, based on a painting by Joseph Duplessis].

Jean Strouse, "When the Economy Really Did Fall Off a Cliff," New York Times, 23 March 2009.

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