The Dow is climbing! The Dow is climbing!
Yippee! I guess.
The truth is, like many Americans, I have no idea what to make of this news.
Sure, it can't be bad news, the fact that the Dow Jones industrial average is back to levels not seen since 2008, just before the housing bubble burst. (See "fool's gold" in the dictionary.)
So does that mean that it's good news?
Not necessarily. After all, next to The Times' headline about the stock market climb was this one: "Surging gas prices threaten to derail economic recovery." And this one: "Consumers feel less financially secure than a year ago, poll finds." Oh, and this one too: "How to survive an avalanche? Spit, expert says."
(Oops! Sorry, that doesn’t have anything to do with the Dow, or the economy. I just like to read stories of survival. Plus I've been a sucker for advice-type stories since childhood -- remember all the times your mom told you not to talk to strangers and what to do if someone tried to abduct you, and you waited and waited for that to happen because you knew just what to do, except it never did?)
But I digress. The stock market, to most of us, is like a roulette wheel in Vegas. We put our money down: We may win big; we may lose big. All we know for sure is that the house always wins, the house in this case being "them" -- the folks who work on "the Street" and who end up buying Ferraris with their end-of-year bonuses and vacationing in the Hamptons every summer, regardless of where the Dow finishes.
Honestly, I don't want to have to care about the Dow. I want the good old days, when "the street" was where we rode our bikes, "the market" was where mom went to buy groceries and a "hedge fund" was the money you got for taking care of the neighbor's yard.
Unfortunately, we have to care. Why? The 401(k).
Yes, in the name of "choice" and the "free market" and "individual responsibility" -- not to mention corporate greed -- we've lost the pensions that paid for our parents' retirements. In their place, we've been given 401(k) chips, which we place on the stock market roulette wheel -- and the Dow's rise or fall determines whether in retirement we eat steak or dog food.
Really, though, it's a great system -- for those who sell or manage 401(k) plans.
So on Tuesday (appropriately enough, Fat Tuesday, and where did I put those beads?) the Greeks got their bailout (sheesh, at this rate the Germans would've been better off buying Greece), and the "bulls" celebrated.
And tomorrow? Ah, that's when the wheel spins again.
Do you feel lucky?
-- Paul Whitefield
Photo: Getty Images