After the fall: Boomers take stock after market crash
Seven trillion dollars have been lost in the stock market debacle. Hard to comprehend? That’s the equivalent of $70,000 for every American household. I know people who have lost half or more of their retirement savings. This at a time when the reality of recouping that money is slipping away, because now they’re at the short end of their earning years.
It’is made me give some serious thought to the state of this “new economy.” Look at all the hype about the Internet, the Information Superhighway. Information would be king, we were told. Whoever had the best information would rule the world. And we swallowed it. Internet dot coms sprang forth like the dew that watered the Garden of Eden. Everyone had one, was starting one, or investing in one. The old was out, and the new was in.
But information has no value unless you’re using it to produce something tangible, a product, which the “new economy” had no interest in. Production was passe, expensive “old economy” nonsense. So even more people bought into the hype, and the market continued to shoot up like a junkie who’d just scored an eight-ball.
But after every high there’s a crash. And there is something about this crash that interests me.
If you’re a baby boomer like me, or retired, you’ve probably noticed it, too. As you get older, you get a lot less interested in things – material things. I started to realize it when we began remodeling ourhouse after the kids moved out. At first, I was going to add a new master bedroom, have a home movie theater, expand the kitchen, do this, get that, and as time went by, so did all those things. My kids kept asking what kind of new furniture we were getting, and when I said all we really needed was a couch, they were appalled. “You mean you’re keeping all this old stuff?” They still shake their heads when they come visit.
Ten years or so ago, the idea of having new things would have been really exciting. And maybe the reason is that when you’re raising a family and finances are tight, the things you can’t have are always the most appealing. But they don’t appeal to me now. I look around, and I think the more stuff I have the more of a nuisance it is.
And, if I’m normal in any way (highly debatable, although the few people I’ve discussed this with agree with me), that spells a very different sort of economy ahead.
We baby boomers formed a unique economic bubble which I believe has now burst. We were the generation that drove this economy through sheer multitude of numbers. We were also the first generation that didn’t have to suffer deprivation of any sort, and the first generation to contribute to and benefit from the technological advances that have taken place in the last 50 years. We were consumerism personified.
But now we’re not.
Every time I go to Sacramento, I look at all the retail development and wonder how there could possibly be enough demand for all that stuff. The generations coming behind us are much smaller and their buying power is much reduced through excessive taxation. Even though they’re still in acquisition mode, their capability to acquire is nowhere near what ours was, or would be if most of us still had the desire.
So what might this mean to the economy we know? Technology for home and business has pretty much outpaced itself. Unless you’re mapping the human genome in your basement, how fast does your computer need to be? If you have to replace your hardware every time you upgrade your software (pretty much the case), there’s a finite return. At some point, it has all the features and speed you need, and that’s that.
Not too many people I know are panting for HDTV, and even if you had it, there’s nothing worth watching anyway.
Cars are a necessary evil, and that zero percent financing is pretty seductive, I guess. But mine still takes me wherever I need to go in comfort, and it’s pretty nice-looking, too, for a 7-year-old. So whaddaya think?
If this “new economy” could just get a patent on the fountain of youth, we baby boomers would shoot that stock market back to the moon.
Melinda Monaghan, a resident of Rough and Ready, writes a monthly column.
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