I haven’t known a month’s financial confidence in my whole adult life.
The first president I was aware of was Richard Nixon. When I graduated from high school in 1980, gasoline had just spiked beyond a dollar a gallon, and inflation continued its double-digit riptide. Within a couple of years, the hottest movie around would be Wall Street, festooned with characters whose money and clothes I, even then, somehow knew I’d never have.
So over-confidence was never my burden. Nor is it a problem in our financial system today, which not long ago ran on confidence as much as my mother’s Plymouth Valiant ran on $1.10 a gallon. “You’re living through amazing times, Ned,” I told my seven-year-old a while ago as we sat together one night on the couch, while CNN wrapped up its coverage of AIG.
The talking heads started in on then-still-wobbling Washington Mutual. Their talk dragged on. "Why are we watching this?" Ned asked.
"Because Washington Mutual is our bank, Ned!"
"Really?" Pause while Ned remembered that he himself has a $100 starter bank account. "Is my money in Washington Mutual?"
"Take it out! Take it out! Take it out!" he shouted, hammering the couch cushions with his little butt and probably joining at that moment hundreds of thousands of depositors on couches across the nation.
"What happened to WaMu?" Ned wanted to know.
Even after a life of being bullied by Wall Street and hearing, for the first time in my life, outside of It’s a Wonderful Life, the term “bank run,” I still couldn’t tell Ned for sure. I see today, however, that WaMu’s loan department once resembled the trading floor in another movie, Boiler Room, in which there was no such thing as a bad deal.
"Ned," I replied, "if you have 10 friends and they all owe you a dollar, do you have $10?"
"Yeah!" he said, eyes brightening.
"Well, suppose five of your friends move away and never pay you? Do you still have $10? And suppose you owe somebody $9?" Never too early to start in on somebody’s confidence.
Confidence is what erodes in a prolonged time of unceasing sour news, cascading from on high, as it has done throughout this year. The environment. Gas prices. Wall Street implosion. Your bank in trouble, your butt hammering the couch. This is how your clients feel.
Or felt until last night, maybe, when at about 11 Eastern time, the streets of my East Harlem neighborhood in New York went wild as Obama captured the White House.
When you start with Nixon and through your adulthood watch a parade of candidates who never quite speak your language, you’re taken aback by Barack, as he stands before the millions and the flashbulbs and the flags and talks to you, not down to you, and somehow makes you feel better about yourself. More conviction in yourself whether you love him or hate him. More confidence that at least a few of those 10 friends may now pay you the dollar.
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