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The Nine Stages of Economic Calamity

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Let’s admit it: On some level, the meltdown has been—dare I say this?—exciting. We get a frisson out of the plummeting numbers, the charts on the front page every morning zigzagging like a heart-attack victim’s EKG. How low can it go? The stimulus package is stimulating. Media columnists are getting great copy out of their own self-coverage: Over at CNN, an exhausted-looking Maria Bartiromo had been up for 48 hours … We’re history, in a positive sense. Tell me about the Crash of ’08, Grandpa. And for the serotonin-deprived, emergencies are mood elevators. Depressives thrive during a crisis. The number of suicides dropped during World War II.

How much of these catastrophic losses are phantom, anyway? Say you’re in the enviable position of having a job, your mortgage is paid off, the children’s tuitions are paid, your mom is tucked away in assisted living, you just painted the kitchen … What difference does it make if you’ve lost a third of your net wealth? When the city’s flush, your co-op is worth a fortune; when there’s a budget deficit and garbage piled up on the sidewalk, it’s worth a lot less. So what? You’re still going to live there. When the market is up, you feel rich; when it’s down, you feel poor. Meanwhile, life goes on. “We’ll be working until we’re 90 anyway,” says a psychiatrist friend of mine.

Maybe the Dow will be back to 14,000 by then.


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