Aug 12, 2007

What it is ain't exactly clear

If you don't see any difference between history and current events, then perhaps like myself, you found yourself glued to the TV the past few days, watching the subprime mortgage industry collapse. To be sure, that market, and the great housing boom it created, has been imploding for some time, but 8/9/07 seems, to me, to be The Date.
I can't explain it, that's for the journalists & the economists to do; all I can do is watch. You may want to watch too as it may be something your grand-kids ask you about in the years to come. It may also provide some practical information for you to use right now, or in the coming months. At the moment it's like tracking a hurricane: maybe it will be incredibly destructive, maybe the damage will be moderate, or maybe it will just blow out to sea. Who knows? Remember the crash of '87? Scary at the time, but in the end it was no big deal.
I remember back around the turn of the century, when I'd accidentally fallen into the construction industry, how the old timers used to speculate on the boom and when it would end. According to those guys, construction was always a boom & bust industry and it always would be. The thing that had them puzzled back then, was why the good times were lasting so long. Many thought it would end when the Asian economy tanked back in the late 90's, or with the burst of the dot-com bubble a few years later. And most were sure it would end after 911, but the thing kept going. It was spooky. The only thing everybody agreed on was this: "when it busts, it's gonna bust big." Were they right? It's too early to tell.
One of the things both historians & history buffs love to hash over are "high tides." Was Gettysburg the high tide of the Confederacy, or was it Antietam? Was Taft/Hartley the high tide of Labor, or was it the PATCO strike? Even Hunter S. Thompson's rollicking "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," ruminates on the high tide of the Counter Culture.
Somehow, last week, I think we witnessed the high tide of something. Maybe it was just the high tide of certain financial practices - something for the economists to debate, over beers, in the next few decades. Or maybe it was bigger, maybe it was the high tide of American suburban life itself. Is somebody, right now, building the last subdivision? Not that it has to collapse overnight, mind you, it could just be a gentle rolling back, more like a Chesapeake Bay tide, than some stormy coastal surf. Even the ragtag Army of Northern Virginia fought on for a long time after whichever high tide you prefer to name.
Still, I wonder, will "urban exploration," the hobby of poking around abandoned sites in large cities, one day become suburban exploration? Will our kids, in 20 years, be spelunking old subdivisions and derelict shopping malls like we creep through abandoned steel mills today?

Of course, there is one difference between history and current events, and it's a big one: people I know & care for can be harmed by what's happening today. History is a lot safer than Now. I already know people who've been raked over the coals by the type of predatory lending that the subprime market created. I'm also sure that some of my old friends in the construction business will be losing their jobs soon, and that hurts.

All photos (except the 2nd to last one) courtesy of the Wikipedia


Penwrencher said...

Excellent commentary--well put and well reasoned. The thoughts I have been having lately about the state of the world tend towards the notion of whether those living in historic moments know it at the time. Are the dates cited in the history books of 50 years hence very different from the days we think, in the current moment, should resound with future generations?

falmanac said...

Perhaps it's like looking back on our own lives and realizing we were happier, or less happy, than we thought at the time? I don't know, but thank you for the comment.