Monday, May 4, 2009

Who Should We Believe

The stock market was up big today, over two hundred points. Many of the economic indicators are showing signs of bottoming. The rates of decline in housing and unemployment seem to be slowing. Consumer sentiment is improving. Is this the beginning of a recovery or just a period of calm before an even bigger downturn? The truth is no one knows for sure.

Why is that? With all our technological wizardy, advanced mathematical thinking, and ability to create economic models that consider thousands of variables why is it that we don't really know what our situation will be three months from now. I believe that there are those who do know but they're not talking and if they are no one is listening to them.

The ones whose opinion we do listen to are those who have an agenda to promote. The stock market bulls tell us that the market will be going up, probably to 10,000 before year's end. The bears tell us we will retest the lows and may even go lower than that. The politicians in power are optimistic and believe that we have turned the corner. The out of power politicians warn us about an upcoming inflationary spiral fueled by the out of control spending of the existing administration. The historians tell us that we have always had these cyclical downturns and that they are always followed by significant booms. Futurists believe that the world is entering a new paradigm in which the old patterns no longer apply.

What are we to do amidst all these confusing and contradictory opinions ? How are we to live our lives? First of all we can't take any of it too seriously. We can look to some of our philsophers and poets to gain some perspective. Einstein tells us that "reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one."

Joni Mitchell sings, "I've looked at life from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow. It's life illusions I recall. I still don't know life at all."

Mark Twain gave this advice over a hundred years ago. I think it still applies. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail off from the safe harbor. Explore. Dream. Discover"

How about Robert Frost's comment about life. "In three words I can sum up everything I learned about life. It goes on."

Will Rogers adds his two cents. "Half our life is spent finding something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save."

We do have some choice in the matter about who and what to believe. We can listen to those with an axe to grind with a desire to convince us that they know or we can follow those whose goal was to find the truth. If we look in that direction we see that it is not important to predict what will happen tomorrow but learn how to live today.

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