How was your week? Or, to put it a more topical way, how much money did you lose in the last five days?
If you’re lucky enough to have been able to invest a little in the stock market for your retirement, or for the next car, or that special holiday of a lifetime, you may find that you’re worth ten percent less than you were this time last Friday. My American broker tells me I’m down about six percent.
He rang to tell me not to worry. “Markets do go up and down,” he felt constrained to point out, apparently reading from a script prepared for his more doddery, panic-prone clients. “And don’t forget you’re twenty percent ahead over the past two years.”
He could have saved himself a transatlantic call (not that they cost much these days). I don’t get exercised about stock market slumps, having seen a few in my time. And anyway, as my broker patronizingly points out, they do always seem to be followed by a recovery that often regains most of the ground lost, and more.
I suppose all this sounds terribly complacent. It isn’t meant to. I realise that one day, perhaps soon, there may come a stock market plunge that is dangerously different – that is, one without the customary reassuring bounce. The western economies are collectively in a frightful mess right now, with not the slightest evidence that our political or financial leaders have the slightest idea how to clean it up. Obviously, that’s a mite worrying.
It’s all too easy to blame the politicians, though. Haven’t we, the affluent voting citizens of the western democracies, contributed mightily to the problem by enjoying a generation-long orgy of avaricious, self-indulgent, credit-driven profligacy? Yes, we have. And now, after the party, comes the cleanup.
I’ve no more idea than the politicos and economists what should happen next, but I’m damned if I’m going to lie awake at night wondering whether the end of western civilization is nigh. I’ll leave that to my wife, who tends to fret about such matters – but then she’s probably also fretting right now about what she’s going to serve for dinner tomorrow.
Millions in the Horn of Africa, I remind her, will not be wrestling with that dilemma. Now that’s genuinely tragic.