Reasons to be Cheerful

NEW YORK - It's the end of the world as we know it and, while I can't
say I exactly feel fine, it's all too easy to dwell on the downward
spiral of our job prospects and 401(k)s. Even in the midst of economic
collapse (possibly presaging political disintegration and ultimately
social chaos), there's cause for optimism. And so, in the same spirit
of contrarianism that drove me to declare the boom economy of the late
1990s a sham we'd all live to regret, here are nine good reasons not to
kill yourself over the economic meltdown:

1. Bushies Will Pay.
President Obama is inclined to "look forward as opposed to looking
backwards" when it comes to investigating Bush and his minions for
torture, war crimes and spying on Americans. Fortunately, one of
Obama's first acts as president ensures the bastards will probably get
what they deserve.

Obama has ordered government agencies to
revitalize the Freedom of Information Act, which requires that
declassified government records be released to the public. Under Bush,
the flow of documents slowed to a trickle. New FOIA requests will enjoy
"a clear presumption" that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails."
Investigative journalists will now be able to use FOIA to uncover Bush
Administration officials' nefarious deeds, forcing Obama's Justice
Department to prosecute.

Should they waterboard Rumsfeld? Only if it's on pay-per-view.

2. Conservatives Are Discredited.
Your fat chain-smoking doctor may give you good advice, but will you
heed it? So it is with Republicans. They're right about Obama's fiscal
stimulus plan: it won't do much to help the economy and will drive the
deficit even higher. But no one's listening. "Most of the people who
are complaining about Obama's fiscal irresponsibility today uttered not
a peep of complaint about Bush," writes John Chait in The New Republic. America needs a loyal opposition.

But the Republicans aren't cut out for that role. The collapse of
free-market capitalism calls for a dramatic realignment. This new
political landscape should place Obama's ideas on the right, with new
parties emerging to his left. The Republican Party, obsessed with gay
marriage and flag burning and school prayer, was always an irrelevant
distraction. Now everyone knows.

3. Heck of a Job, Barry.
After three insanely wasteful false starts, Obama is finally on the
right track vis-a-vis the mortgage crisis. His economic team still
doesn't get that what we need is "trickle up"--bailing out homeowners
means banks get paid and toxic assets get revalued--but they're getting

God, it's finally possible for squeezed homeowners to refinance their
mortgages before getting foreclosed upon or, as was required
previously, messing up their credit by missing two payments. "If you
can illustrate that your income is no longer enough to meet your
mortgage payment--because your paycheck shrunk, your expenses rose or
your mortgage is about to reset to a higher payment--you may qualify,"
reports The New York Times. About time.

4. Retail is dead. Long live retail.
Big retail outlets like Circuit City and Virgin Megastore are going out
of business, leaving tens of millions of square feet of commercial
space vacant and tens of thousands of workers unemployed. Granted, the
reasons for some of these closures are kind of dumb. Virgin's store in
New York's Times Square, the highest-volume music outlet in the nation,
earned $6 million a year in profit. But because Virgin only paid $54 a
square foot at a location where the going rate was $700, they were
kicked out in favor of a women's clothier, Forever 21, that analysts
say probably won't last either. Stupid.

this nascent Depression will no doubt repeat the historical formula
that favors smaller stores over big ones. Those of us who mourned the
loss of mom-and-pop hardware stores and their individualized service
and community ties may live to see them again.

5. Small Big-City Newspapers. When there's talk of losing an iconic powerhouse like The San Francisco Chronicle,
you know the model of the traditional big-city paper, employing
hundreds of union-represented reporters working out of a big hulk smack
in the middle of downtown, is in trouble. But there's still a future in
print. Why? Because that's still where the money--subscribers willing
to pay for news and advertisers eager to reach them--are. And because
people need reliable originally-reported info (yes, I'm talking about
you, bloggers).

Look for new, lean and mean dailies to spring from the ashes, mixing the stripped-down content of free commuter dailies like The Washington Examiner
with the low-budget staffing of alternative weeklies. Hire 30 or 40
people (most of whom type their stories at home), buy a lot of
syndicated and wire service content, rent a tiny editorial office in
the slums, and voila! The rebirth of print.

6. Culture Gets Cool Again.
American fiction peaked in the 1930s, rock music while riding the
economic rollercoaster of the 1970s. The roaring 1990s weren't so
awesome. Historians say there's an inverse relationship between the
vitality of popular culture--movies, music, literature--and the
economy. (So the Bush years were fiscally sound. Hm.) Rising
unemployment, furloughs and decreased business activity give people
more time to be creative. Where stability ossifies, uncertainty
inspires. Even contemporary art, competing with the fashion industry
for the title of most vacuous, could conceivably stage a comeback.

7. Tough Times Are Interesting.
My mom grew up in Nazi-occupied France. As you'd expect, it sucked--a
fact that she constantly reminded me of via incessant hair-raising
stories over the years. Recently, however, she had an epiphany. "It was
hard," she said, "but they were exciting times." If you survive the meltdown, you'll dine out on your tales of fear and deprivation for the rest of your life.

8. Rich People Still Have Money.
Where would you invest your money if you were rich? Savings accounts
are a joke. The stock market has lost over 50 percent of its mid-2008
value. Foreign markets are worse off than ours. Real estate? Don't even
start. If you had money, there'd be only one logical place to park it:
in a new business. Venture capital will plant the seeds for the next
wave of employers.

9. Everything Could Go To Hell.
If all else fails and numbers one through eight fail to materialize,
Rush Limbaugh could get his way. Obama could fail. The United States
could collapse. Our economy could evaporate. Which would be OK, too.
Because if everything goes to hell, we will enjoy a rare opportunity to
transform our society and economic system from one that works for a few
to one that benefits everyone.

©2023 Ted Rall