Friday, June 26, 2009

Keynote Speech at Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 3 June 2009

"Rebounding from Leveraged Asset Bubbles"
By Robert E. Wright, Nef Family Chair of Political Economy, Augustana College

I have good news, bad news, devastating news, and hopeful news. The good news is that the recession will end. The bad news is that I can’t predict when it will do so and I don’t think anyone else can either. The devastating news is that the economy may improve for a short time before plunging again into recession. The hopeful news is that the nation’s long-term economic outlook remains very good indeed.

Thank you!

Thank you!

Just kidding. That was my opening joke. I’m sure you’d like to know how I came to those conclusions. I know the recession will end eventually because they always do. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research or NBER, the United States since 1857 has suffered through 32 recessions including the one that began in December 2007. The longest to date lasted from October 1873 until March 1879, a total of 65 months. The Great Depression proper lasted a mere 43 months, from August 1929 until March 1933, but was quite deep. Since World War II the American economy has contracted 10 times and never for more than 16 months, as in the 1973-75 and 1981-82 downturns.

Well, until the current recession that is. Fact is, recessions differ considerably in ferocity and duration due to their underlying causes. Recessions caused by small, one-off shocks, temporary inventory gluts, and unleveraged asset bubbles tend to come and go quickly. Recessions stemming from leveraged asset bubbles, by contrast, tend to be long and nasty and until last year the United States hadn’t faced one since the early 1930s.

Bubbles originate in a soapy mixture of new technology and expected future demand of unprecedented proportions. Sometimes they are puffed up by the child’s breath of cheap credit, sometimes not. By their very nature they are unstable, sparkling and glistening as they magically float upward. Then they suddenly pop, leaving only toxins behind.

If a bubble is unleveraged, if in other words buyers of the inflated asset used their own money to speculate, the cleanup is relatively easy. In China’s Yunnan province a bubble in a special type of tea called Pu’er recently burst. The local farmers’ aspirations were shattered and their cash flows crimped but their balance sheets remained intact. They complain, for example, of owning fancy automobiles that they cannot afford to put gasoline into and having to shift production to corn and rice. Because they were largely free of debt, however, they still have their farms, much improved during the boom, and can sell their fuel-less cars for cash. By the way, I don’t mean to pick on the Chinese here; American farmers did not invent the agricultural bubble – and neither did the Dutch with their tulip mania – but they have concocted more than their fair share of them. I detail an early U.S. beet sugar bubble in my book One Nation Under Debt.

In any event, what saved the farmers was that they did not have access to easy, cheap credit. Low interest rate loans on easy terms can turn run of the mill asset bubbles into dangerous leveraged ones by decreasing the total cost of assets. To borrow $10,000 for a year to buy a car at 10% simple interest will cost $1,000, raising the total cost of the car to $11,000. At 1%, the same loan will cost only $100, making the car’s total cost, excluding taxes and so forth, only $10,100. Lower total cost, in turn, raises the quantity demanded.

Interest rates affect the total cost of some assets more than others. They have very little direct effect on toothpaste, food, and other inexpensive items but they deeply influence the total cost of more expensive goods, things that people typically borrow to purchase. They have an especially powerful effect on real estate, which is relatively fixed in supply. Low interest rates bring down the total cost of owning land, increasing demand, but the supply does not change appreciably. That means prices can only go in one direction, up. The same analysis applies to real estate improvements, like houses and strip malls, although their supply will eventually increase as new construction projects are completed. Of course if interest rates increase the process reverses and real estate prices sag, all else constant.

If investors believe that interest rates will remain low for an extended period, or if they think that some new technology or change in market conditions will make an asset permanently more valuable, they begin to get very excited. They will start to borrow money to buy the asset with the sole intention of reselling it soon afterward at a profit. In other words, they increase leverage to engage in speculation. Some people call this greed but it is really just business, trying to buy low and sell high, or in the case of bubbles to buy high and sell yet higher.
What makes speculation dangerous is the leverage or borrowing part. Playing with leverage is like playing with fire. If all goes well, fire is a great friend that helps us to stay warm, cook our food, and frighten away dangerous critters. If it gets out of control, however, it can burn both speculators and their lenders and, it seems, the entire economic forest.

Speculators employ leverage to increase their returns by risking other people’s money. That is fantastic on the way up but when asset prices begin to slide, as they always eventually do, lenders get nervous and begin to ask for their money back and limit further lending. Most borrowers can repay only by selling the asset they borrowed to buy. They desperately try to unload but buyers are few because prices are no longer soaring and easy loans are no longer to be had. That realization causes a panic, a moment when everybody must sell and few can or want to buy. Prices then plummet, triggering additional calls, and yet more selling. Speculators cannot sell assets quickly enough, or for a high enough price, to repay their loans so banks and other lenders begin to suffer defaults. In turn their lenders -- other banks, depositors, holders of commercial paper -- begin to wonder if financial institutions are still creditworthy and call or restrict their lending. That is what brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG and other seemingly invincible financial giants.

Some financial economists, of the rational expectations/efficient markets ilk, argue that asset bubbles are impossible. In their models, which is to say in their minds, they are correct: speculators do not overpay for assets on the expectation of selling out to a bigger sucker and sophisticated financial institutions do not make loans to such speculators. But in the real world, bubbles clearly do occur. Another group of financial economists, the behavioralists, attribute bubbles to human irrationality. People tend to launch themselves over cliffs like legendary lemmings and to make decisions based on emotions instead of cold, hard logic. It is difficult to dispute the existence of excitable morons, even -- or should I say especially? -- on Wall Street. The efficient markets proponents counter that the presence of irrational traders does not mean that markets, which aggregate the individual decisions of many participants, will be irrational. In the limit, one rational trader will ensure proper prices.

The sanguine expectations of the efficient markets crowd, however, meet a difficult reception in many real world markets. Key to their belief that one smart uber-trader can drive prices to their rational value is the ability to “short” the asset or, in other words, to profit at the expense of investors who pay too much for it. In many markets regularly troubled by bubbles, including agricultural, real estate, and mortgage markets, shorting is impossible or at least very expensive. Proponents of efficient markets also fail to see that what is rational for corporations’ stockholders and what is rational for their hired managers can be very different things.

Regardless of their position on bubbles, most economists agree that the economy is in quite a pickle at present. The largest financial institutions lost most of their capital making bad loans of various types. That put the economy into recession, which made it difficult for the banks to recapitalize and also pressured marginal industries, like automobile manufacturing, consumer electronics retailing, and others. Unable to obtain private sector loans, companies in those industries have been going bankrupt. Additional bad loans hurt already crippled financial institutions and layoffs decrease consumption, further deepening the recession.
That is the same sort of nasty downward spiral that helped to make the Depression so depressing, culminating in Rose of Sharon Joad’s suckling of a starving man. (That, by the way, refers to the final scene in Steinbeck’s book The Grapes of Wrath, not the Henry Fonda movie version.) Thankfully for us, we have thus far avoided the worst part of the Depression, a bout of serious sustained deflation. When the prices of everything decrease month after month, quarter after quarter, and year after year, businesses find it difficult to make long term investments. Nobody wants to buy high and sell low.

Currently, prices are holding pretty steady and the economy is clearly trying to reverse course. Leading economic indicators, including initial jobless claims, new manufacturing orders, building permits, consumer sentiment, the spread between 10-year Treasuries and the federal funds rate, and the growth of the money supply have improved in recent months, in the sense of being less bad, but they are still giving signals that are far from unequivocal. Moreover, an unexpected economic shock like the resurgence of the swine flu or the failure of a major depository institution could quickly nip any tentative recovery in the bud.

If we’re lucky and no shocks strike, the rapid expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet to over $2.2 trillion will eventually stimulate economic activity. As Milton Friedman once famously pointed out, however, monetary policy works only with “long and variable lags.” In other words, nobody knows when more money will lead to more output and, again, any number of unexpected shocks could further delay recovery.
Even more disturbing, the recovery, when it comes, might be short-lived. America has suffered through at least five double-dip recessions, in 1837-39, 1890-93, 1910-13, 1929-37, and 1980-81. All stemmed from the same basic cause, government meddling. Our time, my voice, and your patience preclude a detailed examination of each of those episodes but I would like to take a few minutes to describe how the federal government snuffed the life out of the recovery that began in April 1933. By April 1937, the economy was almost back to its 1929 highs but a balanced federal budget and several unexpected increases in the reserves that the Federal Reserve required banks to hold sent it spiraling back into recession. It recovered in just 13 months this time, over a year before Hitler invaded Poland I might add, but later conflation of the two recessions in the American psyche extended the Great Depression over the entire 1930s and created the pernicious myth that Hitler and Tojo saved capitalism.

Truth is, the government’s policies not only caused the Roosevelt Recession of 1937-38, they postponed the recovery and diminished its vigor. Myths that Herbert Hoover believed in laissez faire to the contrary notwithstanding, the government actively interfered with market mechanisms in the early 1930s, prompting FDR of all people to claim that Hoover was “leading the country down the path to socialism.”
The first Hoover bailout attempt was called the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. Enacted in June 1930, the act imposed the highest tariffs, or taxes on imported goods, in U.S. history. It was named after the two jokers, who happened to be U.S. legislators, who concocted it. Republican Willis Hawley hailed from Oregon’s 1st Congressional District, which he had served in the House of Representatives since 1907. Ironically, before turning to politics Hawley had taught history and economics at Willamette for about 16 years. Apparently, he knew little of either subject. Ridiculously persistent legends to the contrary notwithstanding, America’s industrial revolution began late in the eighteenth century, not after the Civil War, and owed little to tariff protection. Reed Smoot was a Republican from Utah and, judging from the photographs I’ve seen of him, a total nerd. By the 1930s, however, he was a powerful nerd, having served in the Senate since 1903. He almost wasn’t allowed his seat because he was a Mormon, and an apostle of the Latter Day Saints at that. He was eventually allowed in, however, because he had only one wife and purportedly did not take the Mormon “oath of vengeance” against the U.S. government, which had treated Mormons rather roughly in the 1840s and 1850s. Whether he took the oath or not, the tariff he co-sponsored did take a terrible toll on America. Not that he was solely responsible for the economic carnage that followed. It was the entire government’s call, and it made the wrong one.

Reed Smoot and Willis Hawley got their just desserts in 1932, when they both lost re-election bids. Although many Americans thought the act would be beneficial, 1,028 economists had opposed it, as had Henry Ford, who called it “an economic stupidity,” GM director Graeme Howard, who predicted it would cause the “most severe depression ever experienced,” and investment banker Thomas W. Lamott, who termed it, and I quote: “asinine.”

In 1932, Hoover attempted yet another major bailout, this time of distressed banks, by creating the Reconstruction Finance Corporation or RFC. Unlike the tariff hike, the RFC was not outright destructive and after a rocky start may have marginally helped the recovery by speeding up the resolution of failed banks. Nevertheless, it did not stem the waves of bank failures that repeatedly shocked the economy and further decreased the all-important money supply.

Opinions regarding subsequent bailouts, generally termed “the New Deal,” were also mixed. Some economists and businesses opposed all or most of them but others, followers of John Maynard Keynes and kindred spirits, supported them. The basic notion was that the government could increase output almost at will by borrowing and spending. Government spending, proponents hoped, would stop the cycle of unemployment, default, and bank failure plaguing the economy.

Did the rash of government spending programs cooked up by the Roosevelt administration pull the economy out of recession? The timing is right: Roosevelt took office in late March 1933 and in his first 100 days he induced Congress to pass numerous spending measures. Even more spending came in subsequent years. Government deficit spending, however, was simply too small to have had much effect. The economy recovered because the money supply grew after Roosevelt devalued the dollar. That decreased real wages and real interest rates, which increased investment by making some businesses profitable again.

Some economists argue that increasing government spending cannot really help the economy, Keynes and his many minions to the contrary notwithstanding. Remember the tax rebate checks the government sent you in 2001 and 2008? What did they do for the economy, as opposed to your wallet? Exactly zero. Oh, I was happy to cash both checks and spend the manna, as I am sure you were too. And businesses were happy to serve us meals, sell us televisions, and so forth. Knowing that the windfall was temporary, however, none of them invested in new facilities or hired new employees. And most people realized that government borrowing today means higher taxes tomorrow, which of course mutes the effects of the stimulus. The rebate checks were therefore little more than a fart in a bottle. They didn’t last very long or smell very good.

So Little Orphan Annie was right: the New Deal was more political bunk than economic funk. Rather than depicting the New Deal as the economy’s savior in the mid-1930s, it’s more accurate to say that the economy managed to bounce back despite the bungling interference of the Roosevelt and Hoover administrations. That is not to say, of course, that the New Deal’s relief programs should not have been implemented. If anything, they should have been extended. Relief redistributes resources rather than increasing the size of the economy but it is the right thing to do during systemic downturns, when people are laid low through no fault of their own. Too bad the government botched many of its relief efforts by waging turf and ideology wars against state and private relief organizations like the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the nation’s schools of philanthropy.

New Deal programs that created public goods also should be immune from imputation. Public goods are things of value that the government must produce if society is to enjoy them because no individual or business would have an incentive to create them. Technically, pure public goods are non-excludable and non-rivalrous, meaning that no one can be excluded from using the good and consumption of the good by one person does not reduce its availability for others. National defense is the classic example, as is protection of life, liberty, and property more generally.

Most New Deal programs, however, did not supply public goods. Worse, they hurt the economy by unwisely allocating resources. Some of the New Deal dollars that did not merely redistribute wealth, in other words, may have actually destroyed wealth by using real resources to create goods that nobody at the time wanted for what they cost to create. To the extent that the programs used resources that would have been wasted due to the uncertain business climate, they were better than nothing. Of course the government itself helped to create, perpetuate, and even amplify the uncertainty that plagued the business environment.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or FDIC, which insured the retail deposits of solvent banks beginning in 1934, was a great boon even before it began operations because its mere announcement induced depositors to stop running on their banks. That helped to keep the money supply from disintegrating and hence was crucial to the recovery that began in April 1933. Ever since, the FDIC has effectively prevented classic bank runs, like that in It’s a Wonderful Life. It has not, however, stemmed the tide of so-called silent bank runs, where creditors simply refuse to roll over short term loans to banks. It also lulls depositors to sleep, which allows bankers to take on additional risks without fearing the wrath of depositors. The FDIC’s twin, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC), was one of the key causes of the Savings and Loan crisis of the 1980s for precisely that reason. Most economists agree that aside from its initial success in stabilizing the banking system in the 1930s, the FDIC’s net contribution to the economy has been approximately zero. Due to the existence of the insurance, bank runs are less likely but bank risk taking is higher.

Given the initial effectiveness of the FDIC, it is ironic that the Roosevelt administration opposed its creation. Its intransigence led to a great compromise of dubious merit. The advocates of deposit insurance, led by Henry B. Steagall, a Democratic congressman from Alabama, joined forces with advocates of the separation of commercial from investment banking, led by Virginia Democratic Senator Carter Glass. The compromise, officially known as the Banking Act of 1933, created the FDIC and also, in a section colloquially known as Glass-Steagall, forbade banks from engaging in both investment banking activities, like issuing securities, and commercial banking activities such as accepting deposits and making loans. The major fear was that risky investment banking activities endangered the safety of deposits and hence the solvency of the insurance fund. Of course that potential problem would have been mitigated if the FDIC had charged risk-based premiums, to wit if it charged riskier banks proportionally more to insure their deposits. It would later do so but not effectively, likely because the intricacies involved boggled its staff. For a variety of reasons, government regulators have been slow to use market based signals of financial institution risk-taking.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 officially repealed the Glass-Steagall prohibition, about a decade after the Federal Reserve had rendered it a dead letter by allowing bank holding companies to acquire investment bank subsidiaries and about four decades after financial innovations and regulatory arbitrage had greatly weakened the “Chinese Wall” separating the two types of banking activity. The law never made much sense because commercial bankers who want to take big risks can do so in numerous ways regardless of their ability or inability to underwrite securities. Glass-Steagall was thus akin to trying to reduce the murder rate by banning baseball bats but allowing an open trade in assault rifles. Tellingly, few other countries adopted similar prohibitions and many actually encouraged the development of so-called universal banks that engaged in securities underwriting, loan making, and deposit taking. Some commentators blamed the Panic of 2008 on the repeal of Glass-Steagall but when pressed most admitted that they invoked the law merely as an example of the need for re-regulation. In other words, they did not know what they were talking about.

The new Securities and Exchange Commission or SEC also had a dubious impact on the U.S. financial system and economy, one that I will spare you today. Suffice it to say that someone had to take the fall for the Depression and the government was not about to blame itself or its creature, the Federal Reserve. Securities market participants were the best scapegoats because few people understood what they did but most maintained deep prejudices against them. Americans, nay all human beings, innately distrust and envy great wealth. Likely a residue of life in poor, zero sum economies, where the rich truly became so at the expense of their neighbors, our instinctive repulsion has largely been overcome by education in the rich, positive sum economies of North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. People in those places, in other words, realize that wealthy individuals and large corporations usually create new wealth, not steal existing property. In a crisis, however, people often revert to emotion or instinct and back politicians and policies that they wouldn’t under normal circumstances.

Thus emboldened, the Roosevelt administration forged ahead and created another federal bureaucracy that does little more than lull investors to sleep. Chronically short of funds, the SEC was a nearsighted and nearly toothless securities market policeman. Unfortunately, investors believed the SEC was bigger, stronger, and smarter than it actually was. So, much like the FDIC, the SEC’s biggest effect was to reduce private monitoring. Investors began to act like people who leave their doors unlocked when they vacation because they believe the town cop will watch their house and automobile as if they were his own. When they return home to all of their property, they attribute it to police vigilance rather than blind luck. If robbed, they are shocked and wonder how anything like that could ever happen.
Finally, some New Deal bailouts were simply wrongheaded, attacking the wrong problems in the right way, or methodologically flawed, attacking the right problems in the wrong way. One doesn’t kill zombies with a stake to the heart or sunlight – well, except I Am Legend zombies -- or destroy vamps with a bullet to the brain. But that didn’t stop the government from trying to support farm prices, which had dropped precipitously in the latter half of the 1920s, from $1.30 to $.44 per bushel of wheat and $113 to $29 per bale of cotton. Initially, the government’s policy was the height of economic and political folly, destroying crops in the field and six million young pigs fattening for market. The correct policy, of course, would have been for the government to buy the food with borrowed or new money and distribute it to the needy. In subsequent years, U.S. agricultural policy was made only slightly less destructive by paying farmers not to grow crops or raise livestock in the first place. Farmers gladly took animals and acres out of production, cashed their government checks, and increased yields per acre on the rest of their farms by investing more heavily in tractors, fertilizer, better seeds, and so forth. That kept output high and prices low, a fact that even cocksure Agricultural Adjustment Administration bureaucrats eventually conceded. Soon, farmers captured the AAA, turning their ostensible regulators into prisoners who did their bidding in Congress. Unsurprisingly, agricultural subsidies remain with us to this day.

Perhaps the worst of the New Deal’s bailouts was the National Industrial Recovery Act. In July 1933, Roosevelt announced the new program, noting that it was designed to increase hourly wages and keep prices up by means of the collusion of government-sanctioned cartels. To induce companies and consumers to join the effort, the administration created a Blue Eagle emblem, a spread winged raptor clutching an industrial cog in one claw and three lightening bolts in the other, over the phrase “We Do Our Part.” Roosevelt explained that “in war in the gloom of attack, soldiers wear a bright badge to be sure that comrades do not fire on comrades. Those who cooperate in this program must know each other at a glance. That bright badge is the Blue Eagle.” After the beloved president’s speech, the Blue Eagle emblem quickly gained notoriety. Hollywood hotties Martha Virginia “Toby” Wing and Frances Drake, for example, sunburned the emblem onto their backs, though of course not in blue.
Due to the government’s call for consumers to boycott firms that refused to join the NIRA, companies at first clamored to join to enjoy the right to put the eagle on their advertising and products and thus avoid their customers’ wrath. The government, however, announced the program before enough emblems were available so it had to outsource their printing to private companies. It also had to allow exempt companies, like sole proprietorships, to display the emblem so they would not be mistakenly boycotted. It allowed companies that were noncompliant to join and at first did not have a compliance division. Even after its establishment, the compliance division took only 564 cases to court out of the 155,102 complaints it received. Soon, the Lincoln, Nebraska compliance board quit in disgust. Only about a third of the businesses under its jurisdiction sporting the Blue Eagle faced complaints but it lacked the resources to force the businesses to comply or to give up their emblems. Soon after, most of the Lowell, Massachusetts board quit for the same reasons.

The NIRA’s laughable execution was surpassed only by the inanely insane economic theory underlying the program. The poor little eagle and the program it symbolized were doomed from the start. As noted previously, the biggest problem facing the economy was that wages were already too high. Driving them higher would simply create more unemployment, a far cry from Roosevelt’s claim that the Blue Eagle was a “badge of honor … in the great summer offensive against unemployment.” The government’s reasoning was backwards. It believed that high wages created prosperity but in reality, as banker Albert Wiggin noted, “it is not true that high wages make for prosperity. Instead, prosperity makes high wages.” Moreover, the price level was almost entirely a function of the money supply, not of market structure. Instead of supporting prices across the board, in other words, the NIRA’s cartels merely caused relative prices to change. They also injured consumers dull witted or patriotic enough to shop only where the Blue Eagle kept prices of specific goods artificially high.

Thankfully, most American consumers and businesses were not so daft. Especially given the program’s well known enforcement difficulties, the public soon felt justified ignoring emblems and seeking the best bargains. After the initial flurry of activity, the Blue Eagle died quickly and painlessly. The Supreme Court drove the final nails into its little coffin by declaring it unconstitutional.
Auto manufacturer Henry Ford was the first major public critic of the NIRA, refusing to sign the industry code in August although his company had long since far exceeded the guidelines. Ford was an advocate of efficiency wages, or paying workers extremely well but expecting much from them in return, so he already paid much more than the guideline minimum wage. Apparently, however, he disliked the code’s recognition of workers’ right to unionize. He called the eagle a “Roosevelt buzzard” and ignored a cartoon showing him cutting off his own nose with a pair of scissors labeled “non-participation.” Tellingly, the government continued to buy his company’s automobiles anyway. American citizens must have followed their Uncle Sam because Ford lost no market share during the Blue Eagle’s brief life. Smaller fry began to take heart and stand up to the big blue buzzard too. In Hagerstown, Maryland, for example, gasoline station owner Herman Mills publicly fought the NIRA, vowing to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court on the grounds that it eliminated legitimate competition.

The government was astute enough to sidestep Mr. Mills but soon fell afoul the Schechter Brothers, purveyors of kosher chickens in Brooklyn. They bought the birds wholesale, alive, and kept them alive until a customer picked one for dinner, at which point a shochtim would ritually slaughter it if he believed it fit for human consumption. The brothers were also fierce competitors, eager to hold their own against larger rivals by cutting prices when necessary. Those practices, however, ran contrary to the NIRA codes and unusually vigilant inspectors let the Schechters know it. Eventually, the NIRA dragged them into court. Fearful that their very Jewishness was on trial, the chicken men fought like the dickens. They made it to the Supreme Court and won by showing the codes were as un-American as they were unconstitutional.

The short of all this is that another major threat to recovery is the Obama administration and the Democratically-controlled Congress. An attempt to reform healthcare, Social Security, or the tax system could energize our nation’s latent entrepreneurial talents or it could turn into our generation’s NIRA. Regulatory reformation could be salutary but could also spark a “strike of capital” the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930s. Massive fiscal stimulus added to aggressive money supply growth may spur growth but could just as easily unleash inflationary pressures too intense for the Fed to combat.

The biggest threat of all, though, may be something much more prosaic, UNCERTAINTY. We don’t fear fear itself, we sweat what schemes our politicians might concoct to win the next election. The natural response to uncertainty is timidity. Better to hold onto what one already has than to aim for the stars, most people conclude. That’s exactly what makes uncertainty so economically dangerous. I’m going to counter that, however, and propose that small business owners in Sioux Falls do not have as much to worry about as they may think. Where ever governments adequately protect life, liberty, and property economies trend upward over time. America’s long-term prosperity rests on the solid foundation of relatively non-predatory government, a modern financial system, open access entrepreneurship, and capable corporate management. We still have property rights in this country, a judicial system that for all its faults will protect us from government encroachments, and arguably the best system of federalism in the world. You may not trust the politicos in Washington – I sure as heck don’t – but the men and women in “Peer” provide us with a buffer. Their power is limited but thankfully we’re not facing a Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot in Washington.

And we’re not facing the antichrist either, as some bloggers contend. Maybe I’m wrong about that but if I am then nothing matters anyway. So you might as well attend the conference today and formulate safe ways to improve or expand your business tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Don’t wait for the economy to improve … collectively, you ARE the economy. Instead, have faith in your country and its ability to rebound. Due to its roots in a leveraged asset bubble the current recession is a formidable foe. But we’ve been through worse before, far worse in fact.

So let’s get back to work!

This time I’m really done. Thank you.

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