Sunday, December 07, 2008

Changing a few lyrics in this year's tune

Cutting through the financial market commentary here throughout this year are a number of repeated themes that remain a focus and to some extent an obsession. There's one, however, that is somewhat troubling. Those issues, not to be explained again here, have been:

1. reinstating the uptick rule in short selling
2. the SEC's need to actively enforce existing rules against naked short selling
3. the unequivocal flaws in current mark to market accounting rules
4. the need for hedge fund regulation and oversight
5. unless securitization markets for consumer debt begin to function banks will be unable to meaningfully extend credit
6. a Congress that, in general(meaning not everyone), is so politicized and untalented that it is embarrassingly dysfunctional
7. an American public with short sighted views focused more on payback than solutions
Numbers 1-6 are issues that are absolutes here, but number 7 is the troubling one.

Obviously not included above are what could be a very lengthy list of the reasons and scapegoats that led up to the mess we are in such as the regulation,structure and function of the securities industry over the last umpteen years, the excesses in the mortgage markets, the low/no consumer savings rate coupled with record credit card debt, the ever widening gap between the wealthiest and everyone else, the list could go on and on. This list, if it were fully developed, would be why we are where we are. The numbers 1-7 issues of focus have been viewed as areas to fix or improve to stop the bleeding.

Somewhere along the way I obviously never learned to write a good formal essay with a solid opening thesis paragraph, so arriving at the real purpose of this post has taken some time and that purpose is, trumpets blare, that issue number 7 just needs to be accepted, not obsessed about, and not seen as something that can be immediately changed or voted out of office. The American public will make up their own minds with or without a rationale that is appreciated here.

It is a fact that there has been an, at times, overwhelmingly negative public view of the various efforts to react to the problems in the credit markets. The so-called "bailouts" have been met with a gut reaction NO from much of the American public. The frustration here has been that this reaction has slowed down and at times prevented actions that were needed as fast as possible to restore global financial confidence. That said, the frustration voiced here could be seen as condescending or patronizing or out of touch. Maybe it has been, but it has not been intended as such.

What is going on may be a bigger deal than is generally thought. There are no natural limits to swings in opinion. Not to make too wild of a comparison, but epoch changing events have had as a catalysts severe economic downturns that unleashed pent up popular opinion, little events like the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution. Acceptance of the existing paradigm gets thrown out, chaos ensues, and ultimately a new order is in place. That comparison is way too far fetched, of course, but all of the seeds for change being sowed today are not just coming from President-elect Obama. Whether or not recent events lead to a groundswell of populism in the next few years and what shape that takes is unknown, but "something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear..", take it away Buffalo Springfield.

Different times, different issues, could be the same feeling.


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