Thursday, October 16, 2008

The only thing we have to fear is.... ourselves...the consequences of our past actions

At his first inaugural address in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously opined, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Admirers of FDR find solace in the view- unreasoning, unjustified terror was the cause of the national paralysis, and, by virtue thereof, reason would banish fear, and the paralysis would cease. Ironically, the national paralysis was ended by fear- fear of a global Axis victory, which finally put US manufacturing overcapacity to profitable use, almost a decade later.

Leaders today, as then, are pushing the same view.

President Bush avers, Over the past few days we have witnessed a startling drop in the stock market, much of it driven by uncertainty and fear.....This is an anxious time. But the American people can be confident in our economic future. We know what the problems are. We have the tools to fix them. And we're working swiftly to do so.

While Bush's articulation wasn't as elegant as FDR's the view is the same. Fear not. Be confident. We have the tools.

I'm reminded of a scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High wherein, after crashing a car, Surfer Dude Spicoli, trying to calm his passenger's unreasoning fear of retribution, says, Relax, all right? My old man is a television repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.

See the video.

Neither the passenger in the car, people in the 30s or people today, who fear the future are, in my view, being unreasonable, or lack justification. Spicoli's lack of fear of the possible consequences of his joy ride is akin to the Bush administration's lack of fear of the possible consequences of their economic joy ride. Spicoli's "don't hassle it" retort reminds me of Dick Cheney's "deficits don't matter" retort.

Cars can crash. Deficits do matter. The previous lack of fear of consequences, once exposed as unreasoning, inspires an even greater fear- of the consequences we didn't fear before.

Money, like a car, is a tool. Used wisely they can facilitate commerce or transportation alternatively. Used recklessly, they can impede commerce or transportation, and, in extreme cases, cause injury and death.

Children, beginning to drive, often lack the fear of a crash their parents have learned. Parents of these children hope that the fear can be learned without too much pain. Fear serves a purpose. It keeps us from doing something stupid, like crashing a car or borrowing more than we can hope to repay.

Man, to quote Mr. Spicoli, has got this ultimate set of tools. Fear of their misuse seems to me a good thing, and a sound platform upon which to rebuild.