So, the big story today was the precipitous drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (a 512 point drop, or about a 4.3% decline in value), and everyone had an opinion about what caused it and who was to blame. A word of caution, though. I wouldn’t be too quick to assume any one thing (meaning, of course, the debt ceiling deal signed into law earlier this week) was the sole cause of today’s plunge. The world is far more complex than that, and, as Bloomberg explains this evening, markets all over the world have been on the decline lately; so it’s highly unlikely that today’s market plummet can be blamed on a single political decision by the U.S. Congress.
Regardless, I think I had a very different reaction to today’s news than most people. Because I wasn’t swooning at the news; I was thinking about millions of Americans who are simply not effected, directly at any rate, by fluctuations in the market because they have no meaningful investments to speak of. Now, I don’t want to see anybody’s retirement account wiped out, of course; but what about the millions of people whose only assets are the clothes on their back, a few dollars in the bank, and the handful of meager possessions in the apartment they can barely afford? What about the people who lack not only retirement accounts, but jobs? Or the people who are working, taking whatever job they can find in this godawful economy, but are woefully underemployed and barely holding on?
Because those people have more immediate concerns than the value of your 401(k).
That’s why, hearing the news about the market’s drop today, I thought of that guy in Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” a song that resonates more and more as the so-called “recovery” limps along:
Now I’ve been lookin’ for a job but it’s hard to find
Down here it’s just winners and losers and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line
Well, I’m tired of comin’ out on the losin’ end
So honey last night I met this guy and I’m gonna do a favor for him
Well, I guess everything dies baby that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back …
Honestly, that’s the guy I’m worrying about in this economy.
As an aside, “Atlantic City” has one of the best lyrics in the history of rock music – I got debts that no honest man can pay – because it says so much in so few words. It’s another line that really hit home today; and it was such a good lyric, Springsteen used it twice on Nebraska (1982):
“Johnny 99,” another unbelievably prescient song from that LP:
Now judge judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they was takin’ my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more ’n all this that put that gun in my hand …
That’s a great song all by itself, but if you’ve never heard the Johnny Cash version, do yourself a favor. Get your hands on it, now:
If it doesn’t give you chills, you’re not really paying attention to what’s going on.