Happy New Year.
I’m sure that’s the first time I’ve written that phrase without the usual and somewhat cliched exclamation point. New Year’s Eve celebrations have a sense of insincerity about them anyway. Mildly fake revelry. A feeling that we’re required to stay awake two hours past normal bedtime although we’re really not sure why.
Today I just want to ease open the door to 2010, pause quietly as I glance back at the worst economic year in my lifetime, and step unnoticed into the new year.
That quick, backward glance is not pretty. It provides no reason to linger unless you’re the driver who rubbernecks at highway carnage.
This year we were reminded that a capitalist economy has contractions, but the tidal ebb was different this time because the root causes did not seem to be part of the natural order of things. There was a feeling that those who controlled our banks and investment houses – folks who should have been on “our” team – betrayed us.
The aftermath left us bewildered and angry. Bank failures. Layoffs. Personal and corporate bankruptcies. Depleted retirement funds and crippled university endowments.
Civil discourse was rare as the pundit class, followed by legions of letter-to-the-editor writers, flooded the streets. Republicans blamed Clinton and developed apoplexy at the Democratic spending spree that was supposed to right our ship. Democrats viciously accused the Republicans who controlled all three branches of government for most of the preceding eight years.
If there ever was a year when the center did not hold, when the falcon broke from his master’s perch and W.B. Yeats’ beast slouched towards Bethlehem to be born, this was that year.
We scoff at folks who make victimhood their walking screen saver, yet “victim” seems to be an appropriate adjective to capture the flavor of a year when millions of people who didn’t deserve what happened to them had to suffer through a crisis that thousands of Wharton grads and Harvard MBAs did not foresee, and, to a great extent, either caused or negligently allowed to happen, depending upon their employment.
Last night we shared New Year’s Eve with several friends, including one of the nicest guys I know who was informed in early December that his large law firm was downsizing again. His last day in the office was yesterday, but his mortgage and college tuition payments still come due. In my perfect world, brains, kindness, honest dealings and a great work ethic should not be rewarded with a pink slip.
The recession that we label “2009” really started in 2008 and will continue into 2010. The date change makes a difference only to the extent that the economy is driven by the human psyche. Our social myth – and a myth with great power – is that January 1 is more than just another day. It’s a day we set aside for hope. It’s an opportunity for a new start. It’s that one moment on the calendar when we feel that our willpower can control our destiny.
So today, January 1, step with me into 2010. If you come through the door with me the brass section won’t play and the champagne won’t flow, but I can promise that the sun will come up, and if we wait awhile we’ll soon hear chirping birds.
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