Sunday, February 22, 2009

Boats Against the Current

Nick Carraway, narrator, musing at the end of The Great Gatsby:

"And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes- a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees . . . had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent . . . face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."

"And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."

"Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning---"

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

The Old World may be about to carry America back to the 1930s. Every day brings more evidence that a major financial crisis is underway in Old Europe, otherwise known to Donald Rumsfeld as New Europe, more accurately known as Eastern Europe. An orgy of currency speculation occurred there, also related to mortgages and business-to-business transactions, and the Eastern Europeans are unable to make good on their debts now that their currencies have lost much of their value relative to the "hard" currencies in which their debts are denominated.

There's something about Europe east of Austria and Switzerland. America intervened militarily in the Balkans twice while Bill Clinton was President. World War I originated there. The Great Crash of the stock market of 1931-32 began with a banking disaster there. (Few know that from the stock market peak around Labor Day 1929, the Dow Jones was "only" down about 50% one and a half years later. Over the next year and a quarter, another 80% or so drop occurred, triggered by the collapse of the Creditanstalt Bank of Austria. That was the real financial disaster.)

The orgiastic America as evidenced by the doubling of the NASDAQ in 1999 and the alleged easy riches from real estate "investing" in this decade has found, like Gatsby, that there was no there there when it got there.

As Benjamin Franklin said to his fellow revolutionaries in a different context, an unprepared world had better hang together.

Individually and closer to home, people more and more need to forget about irrelevancies such as show business drug addicts and discuss more serious matters with friends and families.

Financially, the stock market is running on fumes. Debt deflation is the order of the day. The cost of living is manifestly dropping. Barron's almost approvingly quotes Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive as boasting that they will not contribute to the alleged evil of deflation by lowering prices. Ha! Most of their products that they sell for dollars cost pennies or dimes to produce. Consumer prices allegedly rose in January because of allegedly rising costs of housing and automobiles. If you believe that, I've got a bridge etc. . . .

Money in the bank is risky enough. Gatsby's orgiastic future, the green light of unattainable success, was once my generation's dream, but it's time or past time to go with the flow of the current, not fight it as Gatsby (unknowingly) did.

To mix a metaphor, someday it will be springtime in America again, but right now, baby it's cold outside.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2009

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