Let Your Worries Crash Right Along With The Market

Some people — annoyingly happy people — believe in the power of positive thinking.  They are glad to be here, wherever here is, and believe that everything happens for a reason.  Most strangely, they believe the reason is certainly good.  This separates them only narrowly from conspiracy theorists, who believe that everything happens for a reason and that reason is bad (and quite possibly Jewish).

Personally, I’m a big believer in the power of negative thinking.  Every morning I wake up and think “something bad is going to happen today.” By the time I’m dressed, I’ve decided what the daily danger is and start planning to avert it, or at least hide it from management.  I then fight doom until I feel good enough about my prospects for survival that I lose interest in the world and begin playing on the internet or talking to distracting people that can’t really help me.

In the broad context of human history, my personality type is clearly an evolutionary advantage in hard times, when our constant worry allows us to avoid surprise attack by Mongols, freak snowstorms, or the neighbors we believe will poison our well water if not watched closely.  Such baseless, involuntary vigilance allows us to survive long enough to reproduce, and develop acid-reflux disorders — long after happy carefree people would have carelessly whistled “Zippity Doo Dah” around the next bend in the trail and right into a nest of rabid beavers.  Yeah, avoiding those beavers never occurred to them, because they lack the power of negative thinking.

For negative thinkers, though, the worst of all possibilities is to not know what bad thing is going to happen today.  We know disaster is out there: so if we can’t see it, it’s probably because it has already stalked within pouncing distance.  The scariest scenes in a good horror movie, after all, are the ones in which you can’t yet see the monster.  I mean, if you can see him, you could always throw rocks at him.

That’s why I am just giddy with the stock market right now.  No hidden disaster there!  The end isn’t near; it’s here!  So we can stop worrying about it now and just deal with things.  I woke up Friday and thought, “Something bad is going to happen today – Oh, wait!  It’s the stock market!”  Man what a relief.  I know what it is and I’m not even dressed yet.  Plus, it’s really not that bad.  Nobody has cancer.  Nobody stopped loving me.  I didn’t leave anyone strapped in their car seat overnight.  

It’s just that some bozo optimists on Wall Street went nuts borrowing money to leverage their assumed success in an inevitably bright future and got caught by surprise when rabid beavers burst an obvious housing bubble, ruined consumer confidence, caused a credit contraction, and began a chain reaction of fear, margin calls, political opportunism and panic selling.

I mean, who didn’t see that coming?  I’ll tell you who: optimists.  Optimists get adjustable rate, balloon payment, 110% mortgages at a time of historically low lending rates and high property values.  Optimists offer to insure subprime-mortgage-backed second derivative call option futures against loss and expiry.  Positive thinkers think the direction of the market is always going to be… positive.

And congenital optimists break easily when things don’t turn out their way.  Baseless optimism is a sense of entitlement that often engenders an absence of contingency planning.  Look at the selling on Wall Street this last week.  Who there has a plan?  

I’ll tell you who: negative thinkers.  Already heavy in cash (because they were worried something bad might happen), they are setting upon the ruins of extreme optimism.  Panic selling so widespread that oil and gas trusts are yielding 20%?  Pfizer at 15?  Debt-free tobacco companies at multi-year lows, due to a credit crisis?  Unthinkable — unless you constantly think about the possibility of bad things, in which case you’re not in shock, you’re easing your reserves into cherry-picked stocks like the rest of us depressives.

This whole thing can justly be described as a crisis of positive thinking.  For lack of a few party poopers over at Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers and AIG, we are now in the midst of The Optimists’ Club Financial Debacle.  Curmudgeons, worrywarts, disaster planners, and millenarians: your country ignores you at its own peril.  You’re the ones who are there to say: “But what if values go down?”  “Not everyone deserves a loan.”  “Leverage works both ways.”  Unchecked, optimists will drive straight for a cliff and just assume a bridge will appear by the time they get there.

As a matter of fact, lemmings are really just optimists at heart.  They look at the horizon and think: “What’s over there?  I bet it’s good!  Let’s all race over there in a group to get it.  Weeeeeeeeee!   HOLY CRAP!  WHO KNEW HOUSING PRICES COULD GO DOWN?”  Splat!   Then the bipolar meadow voles, who always imagined that the horizon might be a dreadful cliff, move into the lemmings’ foreclosed burrows.  It’s not schadenfreude, it’s just nature.   

Lemmings are big on “Hope” and short on details.  ACORN should register them to vote.  

Remember: no matter how bad things are, they could be worse.  That’s the power of negative thinking.  It’s strangely comforting at times. Relax people.  This too will pass — and then something else bad will happen.  Worry about that, you can still safeguard against it.

Hmmm, I wonder if pumping a trillion dollars into the money supply in the name of liquidity might have an unintended consequence a year from now?   Oh well, I’m sure it will turn out for the best!