March 11, 2009 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: It all went ker-plunk

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington State University professor George Mount spent six years on a climate-research project only to watch it perish when the satellite carrying it crashed into the Indian Ocean.

“I couldn’t believe it. Then I went into shock, and then I felt numb,” Mount said.

Six years down the drain. Imagine that. It would be like workers giving back all of the raises they’ve earned, investment gains being erased and home values plummeting. That’s not to say everything has been reset to 2003. Some things are even worse. The stock market has raced back to 1996. Pensions are being cut off for younger workers or eliminated altogether. Matching 401(k)s are destined to become museum pieces. In fact, worker benefits are getting so bad that health coverage for government workers that would’ve seemed chintzy 20 years ago is now called “gold-plated.” It’s like slapping a Cadillac nameplate on a Plymouth Reliant.

This didn’t happen all at once, but it’s no less shocking to watch it disappear into a rising sea of uncertainty.

Sure thing. Those who hold forth with dead-solid certainty on the economy, the markets and federal stimulus package are condemned to repeat history. My advice is to run the other way when confronted by them. If you can’t escape, fight back with some questions.

Did you predict the meltdown from the savings and loan crisis? What actions did you take to protect yourself from the high-tech bubble? How about the housing bubble? Saw that coming, too? What have you done with your copy of “Dow 30,000 by 2008 – Why It’s Different This Time”?

I mention this because the financial analysts on TV have not wavered in their certitude. Jim Cramer screamed at viewers to hold onto their Bear Stearns stock six days before the firm folded. When the Dow Jones index dropped from 14,000 to 12,000, Lawrence Kudlow told us the worst of the subprime mess was over. A fawning CNBC interviewer marveled at Allen Stanford’s ability to avoid the mortgage-backed meltdown, asking him if it really is fun to be a billionaire. Now regulators say Stanford Group ran a Ponzi scheme.

All of this was preserved on video by Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.” Yes, the nation’s foremost financial cheerleaders taken down by a comedian. Now these analysts are just as certain that President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan will not work.

And we should listen to them because … ?

The reckoning. Joel Lovell is a financial analyst who gets it. In his Washington Post column, he noted: “And when I think back on the advice I’ve given and realize that my readers would have been far better off if each month I’d said, ‘You know what, let’s stick with Plan A and just stuff our money into a satchel and bury it beneath the swing set’ – well, it makes me feel like a bit of a fraud.”

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.

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