Fighting the Urge to Panic

Panic ButtonThe government is coming to your rescue. This morning President Bush gave a non-detailed statement about how the government will help stave off the coming economic crisis.

“The package must be big enough to make a difference in an economy as large as ours,” Bush said. “By passing a growth package quickly, we can provide a shot in the arm to keep a fundamentally strong economy healthy, and it will help keep economic sectors that are going through adjustments, such as the housing market, from adversely affecting other parts of our economy.” (link)

But wait, the Los Angeles Times reports that no consensus exists that a recession awaits the American economy.

But some analysts say the action in stocks and bonds is overstating the chances of grave trouble in the economy. And they contend that the Federal Reserve, Congress and the Bush administration are being goaded by markets to take economic-stimulus measures that may be costly, excessive and even unnecessary. “The administration, Congress, the Fed and the day traders on Wall Street all seem to be in panic mode,” said Allan Meltzer, a veteran economist and Fed watcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Uncomfortable with Bumpiness

Ah, yes. Panic. A sensation that seems to grip individuals, groups, and countries for sometimes inexplicable reasons. These events make an excellent case study of sorts for how unaccustomed we are to bumpiness in our lives. For many individuals, particularly in the Western world, their biggest crisis during a day can involve getting the blue screen of death. However, for other individuals, say for example the people trying to survive the current turmoil in Kenya, actual survival is a daily concern.

We’re spoiled. As danah boyd points out:

Part of why people are so shocked about what is going on in Kenya right now is because Kenya was so stable. (I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if Gore supporters would’ve taken to the streets after my country’s corrupt election rather than be so complacent.) (link)

What would have happened if there had been riots in the street after the 2000 election? We take our general, day to day stability for granted, giving little to thought to how often unrest impacts other countries. So when the media types start talking about how the American economy is taking a dive, and the general population gets caught up in the hubbub, I wonder about our ability to avoid panic-induced behavior.

Panic Incited by Government

Going back to the post I wrote yesterday, we’re being told a story about the economy. Yes, some people are losing their homes, some people are losing their jobs. For comparison, consider these little facts: the jobless rate in 1930, prior to the Great Depression was 8.7% and topped out at 24.9% in 1933. Today’s unemployment rate? 5.0%.

Without questions, things aren’t as happy and carefree as they were back in the late 90s and during the last few years. They’re is more volatility in the markets and in the world, but the sky isn’t falling (yet), so don’t let panic rule your decisions. Pay attention to the words you’re hearing from government officials. Pay attention to how quickly the economy became a central news topic. This story is being told for a reason.

Panic Incited by Business

Panic also makes an appearance courtesy of certain business practices. We’re told that we NEED certain products or services. Consider how many things we consider necessities that previous generations managed quite ably without: television, computers, iPods, cell phones, and automobiles. On top of what we now consider necessities, we allow ourselves to be goaded into panicking if we don’t have the latest and greatest. (What? My iPod only holds 40GB! I must have the 80GB version.)

Panic is an emotion that groups have taken advantage of throughout the ages to accomplish their goals. Keep this fact in mind the next time someone tries to make you feel uptight and worried about events. Take a deep breath, step back, and ask yourself, “Who stands to gain if I panic?” I promise that the person who benefits isn’t you.


(Image courtesy of Isaac Schlueter. Some rights reserved.)


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January 2008
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