Five Themes for 2009: The Final Reckoning
When all is said and done, perhaps the best thing that will be said of 2009 is that it only lasted a year.
Ye gods, it's finally almost over. If there's one thing I got right about 2009 it was this: "When all is said and done, perhaps the best thing that will be said of 2009 is that it only lasted a year."
That alone deserves high marks because, at the time, few believed 2009 could possibly be as bad as the horror show that unfolded in 2008, let alone worse. But there it is. Not only was it worse, but here we are, only hours away from the purported end to the thing, and it feels weirdly incomplete; like a grim medical procedure gone wrong that will require several more procedures just to dial it back down to the original pain.
The numbers alone don't hardly do the thing justice, but they come close:
- Unemployment Rate: 10%
- Number of Metropolitan Areas where unemployment is higher than a year ago: 372
- Number of Metropolitan Areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 372
- Total consumer bankruptcy filings through November 2009: 1,300,000
- Total consumer bankruptcy filings in 2008: 1,095,344
- Homes currently in foreclosure: more than 1,000,000
- Home Home Equity Loans and lines of credit extended through third quarter, 2009: $40 billion
- Home Home Equity Loans and lines of credit extended in 2006: $430 billion
- Profits earned by Wall Street firms collectively through third quarter 2009: $49.7 billion
- Amount lost by Wall Street firms collectively in 2008: $42.6 billion
- Total corporate profits, third quarter 2009: $132.4 billion
- Financial services profits, third quarter 2009: $82.8 billion
- Goldman Sachs earnings, 2008: $2.8 billion
- Goldman Sachs taxes paid, 2008: $14 million
- Wall Street Bonuses 2009(1): $149 billion
- Wall Street Bonuses 2008: $140 billion
- Total Lobbying spending 2009: $3.33 billion*
- Lobbying spending by finance industry to influence regulatory reform: more than $300 million
- Finance industry lobbyists per member of Congress: 5
- Federal government share of GDP 2009: 26%
- Federal government share of GDP 2000: 18.4%
- Size of Federal Reserve balance sheet: $2.2 trillion
*Expected. The record, set in 2008, was $3.30 billion.
(1) Six largest banks: Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), JPMorgan (JPM), Goldman Sachs (GS), Wells Fargo (WFC), Morgan Stanley (MS).
Yes, at least it lasted only a year.
But enough of that, let's get to the Five Themes for 2009 report card.
1. The Point of Recognition
"If there is one theme that stands above all else in 2009, it will be this: The despair that unfolds as the point of recognition emphasizes the "de-" in deflation. The fat is in the fire."
Sure, when you scan through the numbers posted above, it's hard to get much of a sense of optimism (unless you work at one of the big six banks), but this isn't how it feels at THE point of recognition.
Think of it this way:
"In my hour of darkness, in my time of need, O Lord grant me vision, O Lord grant me speed."
- Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, "In My Hour of Darkness"
It's a warm summer night and you're driving a 1976 Cadillac Sedan De Ville, alone, on a dark interstate highway, halfway between towns and just past the decent side of midnight.
The windows are down and the car stereo is on, but not too loud, the warm breeze whipping around through the wide open, sprawling car interior and mixing with an old Brewer & Shipley tune: "One toke over the line, Sweet Jesus, one toke over the line. Sitting downtown in a railway station, one toke over the...," twelve-point mule deer slumped sideways across your shattered windshield, the entire weight of your body pressing the brake pedal to the floor, the interior of the car filling with the smell of burning rubber tossed with the hideous, sickly sweet smell of radiator fluid.
There's really no accurate way to describe the sound a vintage, American luxury automobile makes when it hits a 250-pound mammal at 75 miles pe hour, but so what? The point -- the point of recognition -- is that split-second prior to impact when the dumb beast's eyes meet your own, and the electricity of the moment jangles up the spine and registers in your brain as absolute, in-the-moment truth and clarity.
For some of us, that feeling -- the moment where speed and vision meet just before the point of recognition -- is pure, king-high living. And once we get a taste of it we'll waste a lifetime trying to recreate it.
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