Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bulls and Bears

The New York Stock Exchange was formed on this day in 1792. Located on Wall Street, the stock exchange became a place of wild ups and downs, frequent panics and frauds. It remained so until 1934 when FDR formed the S.E.C. Since then the American economy has enjoyed a steady, mildly fluctuating prosperity, with no great panics and only occasional frauds, unless you consider Market Capitalism a fraud. Roosevelt put Joseph Kennedy, one of the greatest of Wall Street's buccaneers, in charge of cleaning the street up. Kennedy did a remarkable job and kept a straight face enforcing the rules that would have prevented him from acquiring his fortune. You could say FDR and Joe Kennedy were mother and father to the American middle class

Left to its own devices, life is a rollercoaster, and A Book of Ages reads like one. Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Thomas Paine, Ulysses S. Grant, Alfred Nobel, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Dickens, Georg Friderich Handel, and Philo T. Farnsworth (the man who invented television) all experienced bankruptcy firsthand. Churchill lost everything in the Crash of '29 and had to write his way back to properity. John D. Rockefeller lost half of his fortune in 1929, but he still had enough left over to restore colonial Williamsburg, create Grand Teton National Park, build Rockefeller Center and found the Museum of Modern Art. Being rich insulates you from life's troubles. John Steinbeck wrote about the other 99% of us in The Grapes of Wrath, which I also mention. I sometimes think a book is a better monument.

“The world is the house of the strong. I shall not know until the end what I have lost or won in this place, in this vast gambling den where I have spent more than sixty years, dicebox in hand, shaking the dice.” Denis Diderot, Elements of Physiology (1774-1780)

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