The sight of any of the above words, the more the merrier, is enough to induce groans, sighs, and instantaneous changes in the flow of conversation. It is as scary a thing as the Black Plague, and is the same in many ways. Its spread is mysterious no matter how many times the experts explain it, most people know someone who has suffered from it, and it makes many of us feel at once both like isolating ourselves in a place of safety and like reaching out to anyone and sharing sadness, like gold-sifters shuffling restlessly through silt wishing someone would find a glimmer of hope.
Also like the plague: the next generation will probably invent a nursery rhyme to deal with their parents’ calamity.
There is, on occasion, a strange thing that happens all throughout a nation: everyone suddenly will know what’s going on. It may be monosyllabic: “vegetative state,” “gay cowbow movie,” “octomom.” But there is some public awareness of a thing, not only by the Political Science majors and journalists who keep their ears to the ground. They say word of mouth spreads like wildfire.
On rare occasions, there is good news, many of them more recently inaugural in nature. More recently still, and fare more commonly as a whole, there is bad news. The rest is simply “news,” a tidbit thrown around like a hackeysack into a directionless conversation. The first two always carry a clear weight or lightness. And since the economc downturn began in late 2007, the mere mention of money can make people’s brows droop like an invisible baseball cap that’s turned to lead and drawn their eyes downwards with it.
The news stories tend to be crisp, factual bad news– with the exception of television and morning radio news reporters, who feel obligated to express opinions on things, and to crack unscripted jokes about it if a skinny news anchor woman is in the vicinity. It’s society that gives it the dreary weight it has. The blame for the situation, the nostalgia and simultaneous disdain for former economic ignorance, the loudly-voiced despair and belief that this is truly the end, they are all the voices of a few people who have dutifully been copied until most of us feel the same way.
The above statement may make me a hypocrite if I am just another voice, but fortunately I know (more than I even intended or shall ever find it practical to know) on the subject. This is the blessing of a choose-your-own-essay assignment. If you have stumbled upon a similar accidental plethora of knowledge, more power to you.
This is the entire series of events in brief.
From 2000 to 2007, housing prices doubled. This was awesome. All a person had to do was, at their bank’s prompting, take out a mortgage on their house: asking for a portion of the money they would later get by selling the house. And $100,000’s appeared seemingly out of thin air! (It was a tad thicker than that, but the point was, it was an expletive-load of money.) Trillions of dollars were given to homeowners in advance. The homeowner would sell the house someday now, paying off those gigantic loans.
Companies began to do the same thing in a much larger scale: everything was growing, everyone was spending, so why not invest? The money was sure to expand, like a marshmallow in the microwave. Loans were the same, and even more so: “Can you fork me 100 thou? Yeah, sure I’ll pay you back; the people borrowing from me will pay me back, so that’s when I’ll pay you back.”
The extra company money allowed them to offer more to prospective homeowners, and since homes practically grew $2 bills in the lawns, they could be sold for more, this making them grow, thus making homwoeners spend more, thus making companies more confident (and giving them richer customers), thus allowing them to lend their excess to one another, and to lend to people who buy homes, thus completing the crazy cycle.
And then– have you ever watched a marshmallow in a microwave? It pops like a bubble in a fat grilling tortilla. One little person must have realized they were living on borrowed money and stopped lending.
That’s when everyone discovered how little they had. Companies, each depending on others to pay them back, were unable to pay each other back, and a handful have gone broke. Homeowners would have to sell their homes to pay off their mortgages– but most of the homeowners had that idea. So, with more selling than buying, Supply is higher than Demand, and like all unwanted goods, it has to be cheap again before anyone else would ever want to buy one.
So: big scary number here. We spent and lent $6.8 trillion dollars. The U.S. makes less than twice that much in a year. Now we’re steadily realizing just how much of our money never existed. The once-great housing bubble turned to crusty white slop in the microwave.
Normally, we would feel a pessimism of almost civilization-destroying proportions at this point. But was money ever what made life great in the first place? Was it the affordable deals on whatsit that made us take in a deep breath of fresh air and smile for more seconds than usual? Was it the thousands of dollars in living room improvements, replacements and modifications that made visiting others’ houses more often (as the kids scurried off to play video games)? Was the sense of endless possibilities a direct result of the sheer abundance of what we could afford?
The market has dropped to 1990’s levels; if a recession is on its way, it’s somewhere out there. But the words “the wost is yet to come” don’t summarize the financial state of affairs. The scary idea of “roughing it” means not doing and spending with completel disregard of monetary consequences. It doesn’t always mean eviction and life in a warm sleeping bag, but if it does, count the stars when businesses stat turning off their lights after midnight.
They won’t be uninstalled any time soon.