Thursday, September 18, 2008

It Matters

No one would ever describe me as rich. I make a decent income and thanks to a small inheritance a few years ago, I have a very small investment portfolio made up of a few stocks and mutual funds, plus the remnants of a 401(k) that I got from a company I worked for ten years ago. In other words, J.P. Morgan I’m not. But it was still a bit of a shock to come home yesterday, update my Quicken account, and see that my portfolio had lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 20% of its value.

Now I know that I don’t need to rely on that money right now to get by. It’s an investment, and I have other sources of retirement income when I finally do retire. And I know that long-term investments ride the roller coaster — up one quarter, down the next — and that historically the stock market has grown and will continue to do so. But I can’t help but wonder how many other people came home yesterday and did what I did — the people who are relying on their investments to pay for their retirement, put their kids through college, or stand as collateral — and not come to the conclusion that what happens on Wall Street does have an impact on everyone. All of a sudden the stories on the nightly news about the failures of Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, Lehman Brothers, AIG, and now Washington Mutual teetering on the brink have stopped being the average viewer’s excuse to get up and go to the bathroom. It’s one thing to hear about large investment firms going under or being rescued with your tax dollars — and who can get their brain around a number like $85 billion? — but it’s quite another when they see the money trickling out of their own account, even if it’s only on paper.

These people vote. And they tend to vote for the people who can get them out of the mess they’re in, not the ones who abetted those who got us into it. I seriously hope there’s no one in the Obama campaign who is gloating about the financial problems, but at last we are talking about the issues that really do matter.