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Corn: It’s time to return to economic reality

POSTED: January 9, 2009 1:00 a.m.

All is stopped, and with the economy in this state of paralysis, I feel compelled to outline the current situation and comment on what will be necessary to resolve the stalemate.

The fact is that in August of 2008 a rare event occurred, and you may have heard it happen. The air quickly let out of a very large credit bubble, which had been slowly building since the 1980s. Easy credit has disappeared, and everyone seems to be in agreement that it will take some time to reverse the sad state of affairs.

What is most disturbing, yet surely predictable, is that those with most to lose from the collapse of credit are in a state of denial. It is disturbing because the economy cannot recover until denial has given way to acceptance of the new reality. Allow me to outline some notable cases of the affected, or I might say afflicted.

The nonstop shopper is our first victim. For the past several years, he has been in an all-out frenzy of spending. There has been an incredible abundance of money available to him, from credit cards to his own house. Everyone seemed to want to give him cash. Surely such easy money was put toward productive ends, right?

I am afraid not. To be fair, advertising (in his car, television, computer and even blasted in his face while pumping gas) directed most of his energies. Ads can be blamed for directing him, but they are not the cause of the shopper's dreadful descent into obsession, indulgence, and luxury-seeking through consumerism.

In fact, now that his credit has been halted, one can see a tangible relief in his weary visage. He no longer has to worry over how he will spend the next loan. He must pay them all back. The sad reality is that he may bear a hopeless burden, and have nothing to show for all the electric dollars that have passed through his fingers than a plastic house full of Chinese junk and a 10-ton Panzer tank in the driveway. He will not be on normal footing again until he is free of the interest payments that now haunt his evening rest.

Another point of tension is found in real estate. On no other subject are people more deluded than on the value of their homes. Who could have imagined 10 years ago that a three-bedroom home in Gainesville could be worth half a million dollars? Yet today it seems commonplace.

Home prices have reportedly fallen 10.5 percent in the last year. Yet the volumes sold continue to decline, because buyers know they are still grossly inflated. The fact is that prices were only so high because buyers didn't have to actually pay them; they could borrow it all and then the banks passed these loans on to unsuspecting investors, e.g. the government of Belgium. The government of Belgium has been thrown out and the new boys running the country are not likely to invest in any more American real estate loans. Homeowners and developers will have to own up to this fact before houses start to sell regularly again.

The last person worthy of our attention is the speculator. The speculator, and even the rascal, has a rightful place in any society. His methods have been questionable throughout history, but his devil-may-care attitude to life and risk-can-profit-all when he stumbles onto something truly beneficial and sees it to completion.

The trouble with this most recent period is that he has sought and gained respectability. He has put on airs of the upstanding bourgeois merchant, donned dark suits and seduced the public with pseudo intellectual shams, with names like risk management, financial analysis, and forecasting. They have thus become professionals.

The truth is that someone who predicts future earnings of companies and recommends their stocks is no more a professional than a fortune teller or an Elvis impersonator, all of whom are entertaining but not to be taken too seriously, and certainly not to be trusted with one's life savings!

To get back to the subject, the trouble is not that all this has happened, it is that we are slow to let go of such silliness. Perhaps the truth is too dull compared to the thrilling foolishness of life; however it remains the truth. If we are to get back to normal, we have to get used to it again.

Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and a North Georgia resident.


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