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Jewish World Review Jan. 5, 2001 / 10 Teves, 5761

James Lileks

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Consumer Reports

The low-down on the coming recession (What those snooty economists won't tell you) -- OF COURSE we're having a recession! And it's about time; a little fear is good for the economy. Puts starch in a businessman's soul. Reminds the help not to snarl at the customers. The only question is why we're having one, and there are several possibilities.

1. Alan Greenspan went insane a year or so ago, and has become determined to wreck the economy so people can't afford those mind-reading dishes that EVERYONE is putting on the side of their houses.

2. Bush, Cheney et. al. are "talking down the economy." What mighty power these men have! Merely by suggesting that we might be heading into a recession, markets crash, fortunes evaporate, wise men scramble to stuff the mattress with money. Odd, this newfound power; since the media has insisted that Bush is about as sharp as a cube of wet cork, pundits must be stunned that investors world-wide heed his words. Be grateful that he didn't use his awesome Recession-Summoning Voice at the height of the Clinton Boom; he would have brought the entire world economy crashing around our ears.

3. The Internet stocks are starting to alarm investors. Look at the stats: The number of profitable internet companies has dropped from two out of 194,923 to one out of 194,923. That's a fifty-percent decline!

A short history: The internet supposedly "changed everything." It made for "frictionless" commerce where "B2C" companies lost huge amounts of "money" providing services that no "sensible" person wanted. For example: three dorks in San Francisco would dress in black, put on Matrix-style sunglasses and adopt razor-thin beards, thereby transforming themselves from undesirable "dorks" to hot, hip "geeks." This enabled them to extract $500 million from venture capitalists for their brilliant idea: - a vendor of bank vaults over the internet. The trick? Free overnight shipping! The problem: small market. Bigger problem: if anyone actually bought anything, it would bankrupt the company.

But no matter: the geeks set up an office, rented all of Cape Canaveral for a "launch" party (over $357 million alone was spent renting the shuttle to send people up to Mir so they could photocopy their butts IN SPACE!) and sat back to roll in the money. The stock's P/E ratio was longer than pi carried out to the penultimate digit, but no matter. They owned the selling-bank-vaults-online market. The convenience store in their office lobby had more money in the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish - but hey, that's short-term thinking.

Then the crash: last spring the NASDAQ began to soften. Stupid ideas such as "" (mail us your dead pet - we'll handle the funeral!) began to bring down good, solid firms such as "" This caused a slowdown in companies that provided the technological necessities of the Internet (i.e., makers of really cool-looking chairs, wrap-around sunglasses, and oh yeah, smoothie machine! Gotta have a smoothie machine in the lobby, totally.) Everyone realized that the Internet economy means "a lot of offices with young people talking on the phone with serious expressions, producing nothing." It's dead in the water. And it's behind rent on the boat.

The delicious irony, of course, is that this slowdown blotches the biggest gem in Clinton's crown: His Fabulous Economy. But it wasn't his in the first place - credit Reagan's tax cuts and Greenspan's stewardship for this long long boom. Clinton knows history won't give him credit. But he does care that people in his lifetime revere him as some sort of Super Elvis who can move economies and spread peace just by grinning and moving his hands.

Of course, there's one more possible cause for the recession: Political Upheaval. The markets were unnerved by all that political strife. The economy would still be roaring along if Bush had just simply conceded every time he won a Florida vote or a court ruling. So: in the interests of avoiding the Dreaded Recession, we can expect everyone to get along smoothly, and assure the people that our leaders are united as one, dedicated to putting partisan matters behind them.

So Ashcroft's a shoo-in for AG, right?

Of course. And you can buy the Brooklyn Bridge online at, too.

JWR contributor James Lileks is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


12/23/00: Memo to Dubya: Wanna show who is boss? Nuke 'em!
12/06/00: The Count of Carthage
At the Sore/Loserman Transition HQ
12/01/00: The Count of Carthage
11/28/00: Clinton knows history isn't written by the victors anymore
11/17/00: Chad's the word
11/08/00: The strangest political night
11/07/00: Get ready to return to the Dark Ages

© 2000, James Lileks