Five Lessons of the Great Recession We Probably Won’t Learn

As I wrote on Friday, lists of lessons we have learned from the current economic troubles have been enjoying a vogue lately. A dim view of my fellow humans prevents me from being so optimistic as to believe that we are going to emerge from this fiasco meaningfully wiser. But I do have a list of lessons that we could learn from recent experience. But probably won’t.

Attrb Binary Ape In the best case scenario, regulators are just as smart and capable as the people they regulate. And, just to be clear, best case scenarios are rare. Many of the complaints about how the Fed, SEC, et al. blew it by not foreseeing and preventing the Wall Street meltdown are unfair. If the thousands of people making seven figures at meltdown ground zero didn’t see it coming, why would we expect the hundreds of government employees watching them from the outside to pick up on it?

25 years is not forever. Amongst my many brilliant theories is this: especially in the realm of culturally significant business phenomena, if something has been going on for more than 25 years people will mistake it for a permanent always-has-been-always-will-be thing.

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Non-Lessons Not Learned

The Great Recession began, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, on December 1, 2007. But it didn’t become Great until September 15, 2008. That’s the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and when what might have been a garden variety slowdown became an all-out panic on Wall Lehman HQ David Shankbone Street.

Now that the GR seems to be abating, and on the occasion of the first anniversary of the meltdown, journalists, pundits, and even bloggers have spent a lot of time lately summarizing the lessons we have learned from the experience.

Phillip Moeller at US News & World Report gave us 6 Money Lessons of the Great Recession. The first is that "the experts are often wrong." Apparently many used to think that the term expert meant an omniscient seer of the future. Moeller also tells us that "everything is negotiable."

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Cash is Not King

I still don’t get the debit card thing. But according to the WSJ, there is a new trend I do understand: establishments accepting cards but not cash.

Slips of paper and metal disks are an inefficient and archaic form of money. Chicklet-currencyYou have to go to an ATM to get some, and often pay a fee. To use it, you have to wait for the clerk to make change. You have to carry it around. And then there is the growing pile of coins most of us have at home.

And don’t get me started on parking meters. Offering me a nice parking space for half an hour in exchange for a quarter, and only in exchange for a quarter, is more scavenger hunt than transaction.

Plastic pushing out paper has been a long brewing trend. I can remember when grocery stores didn’t take cards. I still feel a little funny charging things there. Today we take for granted that we can use plastic just about anywhere, even in places, like taxicabs, that a generation ago would have seemed implausible as potential users of cards.

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If Taxes Were Going Up

The Wall Street Journal has been running a series modestly entitled "The New Rules of Personal Finance". The most recent installment is on what to do differently now that you know that taxes will be going up.1040

As readers of this blog know, I’m not all that convinced taxes are on the way up anytime soon. Yes, the deficit and debt are heart-poundingly frighteningly large. And yes, any reasonable observer can see that something has to be done. That doesn’t mean it will be.

I am sure that the Administration and its supporters would, if they had their druthers, raise taxes significantly to get the deficit under control. But I am also sure they are aware enough to see that they just don’t have the political capital right now. And when would they? Next year, during the mid-term election season? In 2011 and 2012, when Obama will be facing what is looking like a tough reelection?

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The Difference Between Food and Money

From some spam I got yesterday:

Dear Amazon.com Customer,

As someone who has shown interest in books and magazines on cooking, you might like to know that you can get a $5.00 instant discount on SmartMoney this month.

Ice Cream Lotus Head

I’m not entirely sure what is going on here. It’s possible that it’s just a mail-merge typo, that the text "cooking" was accidentally put in where Amazon meant to write "finance and investing." I like eating as much as the next guy, but describing me as somebody "who has shown interest in books and magazines on cooking" is quite a reach. On the other hand, I do keep buying books about finance, so flogging SmartMoney to me makes some sense.

But there is another, less likely, explanation that I would rather was true. I would rather that the algorithms at Amazon that tell them that people who bought A might like to buy B have found that personal finance and cooking/nutrition/dieting are similar topics with similar audiences.

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