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Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive

        "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive. . . E-lim-in-ate the the negative. . . " wrote lyricist Johnny Mercer in 1944. Things were pretty gloomy at the time with a war being fought by the United States on two fronts. 

         Wall Street moguls, commentators, and traders are singing that song right now, directing it at anybody who happens to notice that the nation's economy is messed up and says so.   They got their knickers into a big twist when former Fed chief Alan Greenspan dared to suggest recently that  a recession might slide into view later this year.   They have rushed to their keyboards and microphones to point out he said "possible" not "probable."  How could he even mention the hated "R" word?  You must e-lim-in-ate the negative! 

          Real estate hustlers accented the positive so vigorously they created a phenomenal bubble that is now in the process of leaking air at a very fast rate.  They want us to buy their current line, which is - - "It is true there were some distortions in a few markets, but that's correcting itself and we're experiencing a leveling-off and stabilizing in real estate."  This is not true, of course.  There's a lot of air yet to escape from that bubble, and the screams of  the losers are being heard across the land.  They're discovering the down side of easy money and credit.  

         Is it negative to observe  reality and say something about it?  If you're on an excursion boat and you notice it's listing precariously are you being negative by suggesting that passengers climb to the high side and look around for life jackets?  Is it somehow un-patriotic  to criticize the administration and the U.S. Congress for running up a public debt that future generations must struggle with?  What's wrong with noticing that the stock market has sucked in tons of people's money and has positioned itself for a sharp correction because equities are grossly overvalued?  Can we forever keep stock gambling from correcting merely by saying over and over that the bulls are in charge and the only direction for prices is UP?  Is it negative to raise an eyebrow at the millions of dollars of bonuses that Wall Street operatives walked away with last year and wonder how this benefits stock gamblers across the country?  We're not talking salaries and commissions - we're talking bonuses! 

        "Eat, drink and be merry!" seems to me to be extremely negative advice, while "Save for a rainy day" blooms with a positive message.  Today you'll encounter lots of TV commercials that will tell you to have fun, spend money, and be happy.  You'll not hear one that will suggest you cut down on the flashy nights on the town and stick some money away as insurance against the inevitable day you'll hit a rough spot in the road of life. That line of thinking is "too negative" in 2007.

        We professional curmudgeons have developed a habit of looking at the world as it is.  We don't buy this business of looking the other way when our political leaders drain the treasury dry and tell us the world will be a happy place if we fork over just a few more tax dollars so they can straighten things out.  If the politicos are robbing us we want their game stopped.  If the mob is pushing for ruinous socialized medicine we want to push back and take the road marked Privatized Medicine.  If a train is barreling down the track toward our stalled vehicle we want to get out and avoid personal disaster.  What's negative about that?

        Let's demand that the chattering classes on radio and television knock off the cheerleading and just deliver the facts to us.  We're grown up and can take it.  If the United States is the world's biggest debtor nation (it is!) just say so and knock off the puffery about "the world's wealthiest nation with the highest standard of living on the globe."  No nation can borrow itself rich, although borrowing a couple of billion dollars a day can certainly postpone the day of reckoning.  

        With the confusion about the definition of "positive" I suggest a small revision to Johnny Mercer's sixty-three year old lyric;   "Ac-cent-tchu-ate reality...pro-mote more morality...Latch on to ac-tchu-ality, and don't mess with Mister In-between."   There, Mr. Mercer!  How does that sound?  

March 2nd, 2007

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