The White Lily Blog

What’s a Girl to Do?

The paperwork to escape the stock market lies on the dining room table, waiting for a signature. Next to the file is my old wooden rosary. It is not presently waiting for anything; I already prayed it still in my pajamas, while the sun came up and revealed a windy Monday morning.

I just have to sign the paperwork and send it to my broker. The broker will cut a check to my credit union and the remainder of my nest egg will go into IRA– CDs that will earn a very modest amount. I will never make back the $40,000 I just lost. But I won’t lose any more until the whole country fails and goes up for bidding on eBay, like Iceland.

All the pundits on television are telling me this is not the time to bail.

Of course they are the same pundits who admit at least once at the end of every CNN special that everything depends upon perception, and that the only thing the market needs is confidence.

I used to think, when I heard that — and you hear it everywhere — that they were joking. I thought that the truth about the way money was actually made on the stock market was simply too complicated to explain in the soundbites that are usually allocated even experts today. So they used this stupid shorthand. That’s what I thought.

It was almost as painful as losing the money to learn through all the television specials and newspaper analyses and conversations overheard on the subway that, no, in fact, the way that money is actually made on the stock market is that we all believe that the assets upon which growth is based are appreciating in some magical way. For example, that two-bedroom, bath-and-a-half apartments in old Chicago brownstones are actually worth the quarter of a million they go for these days. (Or went for!)

We don’t question whether there is any factual basis for that assessment. We just have to believe it, and when we stop believing it — because we can no longer afford the bill to believe it or the mortgage that comes with it — suddenly those houses are no longer worth a quarter of a million bucks. Suddenly the entire world is in a crisis, market by market.

Well, that sucks. It’s not technically a Ponzi scheme. It’s even more tribal than that. And I know, deep down, that it’s immoral, in the way that all ignorance is immoral. We can’t wish the sun to burn hotter or colder, and we can’t wish a brownstone into a palace by adding a Jacuzzi and granite countertops.

I also know — I might as well say ‘I know it’ because I’m at least as much an expert, apparently, as all those talking heads — that we may never recover. Even if I leave my money in the stock market while suspecting that it is immoral to make back my lost 40, 000, I believe I stand to lose the rest of it anyway.

That’s the question of the day, of course. The experts cite past recessions, past depressions, and bad cases of hiccoughs, as proof that we should get our confidence back, because we survived and came out of each one. Of course, somewhere in that discussion, someone will point out that this particular event has this or that suspicious element that seems to make our present crisis unique and which makes their conclusion questionable.

There is, for example, the one new aspect they always don’t mention: the birth rate. Europe has stumbled because of our stubbed toe, and Europe may not recover. This is because Europe is at the beginning of a profound market and labor contraction due to its birthrate, which is, if you have been asleep for the past 10 years, well below the mere replacement level. This birthrate problem, of course, would take an entire generation to fix, even if every man and woman in Europe abandoned the lifestyles upon which their childlessness is based. And there’s no indication that they recognize the precipice over which they are now tumbling in slow motion. They don’t have the generation they’d need, time-wise, even if they woke up. Europe is done.

There have been predictions — in fact I linked one in an earlier post, Catholics Save Wall Street — that when Europe failed, as economists say it must surely fail, using Russia (whose population will be smaller than tiny Yemen’s by 2050) as an example, it would leave the United States the last man standing, since our birthrate is presently just holding on at replacement levels (but, forget the word birth rate; read market). That would seem to indicate that our own American Ponzi — I mean stock market– scheme could reignite. So if I left my money there, there is the possibility that over time I’d regain what I lost, along with my friends and neighbors. If birthrate were the only issue.

But our own situation has a different problem that is not being addressed and that will bring us down anyway. And that problem is that our population is impoverished, and no amount of sharing the wealth will cure it. For it is not wealth that must be shared, but ownership. Ownership of capital, ownership of real collateral that gives access to intelligently rendered credit, and of course that old standby, ownership of land and home. Ownership is so concentrated in the US that taxpayers were forced to save the failing few banks, lest the country collapse. Did you hear them say, over and over, ‘we have no choice’? They meant it! Those are the conditions that exist when ownership is too concentrated, a natural development of capitalism that even Pius XI knew had to be controlled.

Neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party has addressed the issue of ownership (although you will see, in an earlier post, that the American Revolutionary party does address ownership, without, unfortunately, adequately addressing the moral dimension that backs capitalism up, muzzles it, keeps it safe and respectful of human dignity and in all ways inoculates economic schemes against the stupidity of socialism).

And don’t the Republicrats’ little stimulus packages, their tiny attempts to fix things, make you laugh? Don’t their little tax cut proposals make you just howl? How many $600 checks do you think would make it possible for a typical American family of four to be able to buy a quarter of a million dollar brownstone? And keep up those payments for 30 years? Face it, we’re a sub-prime population! We’re so poor, working for the man from paycheck to paycheck, 40% of us already don’t pay taxes!

No, even the talking heads agree that the present package does not ‘address the fundamentals,’ so that, while the present problem might be sort of fixed, we stand every chance of repeating it in five years, and ten years, and after that I’ll probably be dead — speaking of my nest egg, I mean. And I don’t even want to think about my children and their zero economic prospects. A girl can only take so much.

And well before then our markets — no, I mean to say birthrates, but it keeps getting mixed up, because it’s the same thing, only we don’t realize that, and we keep the abortion debate, and the gay lifestyle debate, and the feminism debate completely separate from the economic debate — our markets will have tanked just like Europe’s. Because Mexicans will stop reproducing, too, and they’re the only reason our birthrate is barely holding on. The birthrate is already only at replacement levels in Mexico itself, and abortion is only just newly legal there.

So I have to say, me, expert in my own little blog, based on this un-expert rudimentary understanding, I’m going to sign the paper. ‘Cause we’re cooked. The well is poisoned. I’m going to get up from the computer and sit down at the table and take my money out of the market. It is almost an act of war. It is distinctly unsocial. At least my broker will think so.

It would feel different if there were any voice raised in United States that put together the number one need to base our growth on real assets with the number two need for the kind of moral values that are required for the functioning of a just capitalist society. You only have to read ‘sustainable market growth’ for ‘sustainable birthrate growth,’ to understand why I pair those two elements.  And yet they are not paired by the parties. They are instead split between the two parties here and in Europe. There is no single candidate who says ‘Yes, spread the ownership, not just the wealth, here’s how, and by the way, get married and have kids, no abortion, and please, keep your gay life in the closet if you have to have one, because it’s just economically unfeasible under present market conditions. Brother, you need to reproduce!  And go to church now and then. And quit cheating and lying. Or go to hell.’

So I have to commit this unsocial act and save the rest of my small funds with only a hope and a prayer that any real change will come that will truly affect the prospects of a peaceful life followed by heaven for me and for my family.

That’s where the rosary comes in.

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You may enjoy this post on Catholic economics:

Comment by Matt Raft

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