The speech President Carter gave on the 15th of July, 1979, is commonly referred to as the "malaise" speech, although the word "malaise" actually appears nowhere in the text. The description, however, is reasonably accurate, given the presence of verbiage like this:
It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.
The cause of this erosion? Gas prices, which spiked at around a buck and a quarter that year.
We're coming up on three decades since then, and the price of gas, unadjusted for inflation, has gone up by a factor of three, and guess what? We've got malaise again:
I've never felt this nervous about The Economy. I was but a wee tyke in the late 70's, when this kind of thing happened before, and throughout my adult life so far I've felt relatively insulated from the peculiar ebbs and flows of The Economy. Now, though, I'm starting to get scared.
I've pumped entirely too many $40 tanks of gas, none of them particularly memorable well, maybe this one and while I have spates of fear, anger and depression, none of them seem to be related to fuel consumption.
But then, I don't stay up late worrying about stuff like this:
I know a lot of people have it much worse off than I do. I have pretty good job security, my own house, and no kids to worry about. Still, I'm scared. Last night, I lay awake worrying about the future. What if it gets worse? Will I ever be able to travel again, if only to some relatively remote part of the state? What if it gets so bad that we become one more family who can't afford their mortgage payment, and lose our house? What if [my husband] or I get really sick? The precariousness of our financial situation is clearer than it ever has been before. I'm not the sheltered little princess anymore. We really are one disaster away from homelessness. We don't have enough in savings to get us through any rough patches, and we already have too much credit card debt from our regrettable, irresponsible 20's, to even think about adding any more to it. We have no safety net whatsoever. No one to bail us out. We're completely and totally on our own.
Now I'm no more immune to these things than she is: by my own standards, and probably by Fair Isaac's, I'm overextended, and while I'm not completely devoid of reserves, I note with a certain level of incredulity that my last trip to the Emergency Room was billed at the equivalent of $36 per minute. That's almost a whole tank of gas every sixty seconds.
But if I'm not sleeping well, and I'm not, it's not because I'm afraid The Economy is going to tank. It is, after all, an election year, and it is mandatory during an election year for challengers, and even occasional incumbents, to complain incessantly about how badly things suck. Not being a political junkie, I tune out all those Chickens Little; if I watch the news at all, I watch it in Spanish, where I can pick out every second or third word at most. It's amazing how much better you feel when you don't have more than a perfunctory connection to the news cycle.
Besides, Jimmy Carter was right about one thing:
Little by little we can and we must rebuild our confidence. We can spend until we empty our treasuries, and we may summon all the wonders of science. But we can succeed only if we tap our greatest resources America's people, America's values, and America's confidence.
And it would help if our current crop of hack politicians would quit scaring America's people half to death.
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Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill