As the end of the year approaches, far too many reflect with top 10 lists, headline highlight reels, and even pictorial flashbacks at what was the past 12 months. Interestingly, what may top many a review has yet to fully unfold.
The “fiscal cliff,” I have been told, occurs when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. And, though no one can be certain of the ultimate outcome, one can be assured that the cliff and its lead-up are a stellar example of what is wrong with financial markets — and more importantly their participants — us. There is plenty of blame to go around. We can fault media, republicans, democrats, and more. But, those truly responsible are us — the market participants who let the crazy hype and partisanship impact our emotions and thus our decisions. If market participants ceased to gobble up the partisanship and 24-hour media coverage, the constant wrangling and reporting would stop. In our desire for more radical candidates and our ultra-connected 24/7 lifestyles that pour into our choices, we not only allow but aid and abet the politicians and the news.
The sick reality is: there is no cliff! Nothing dire happens at 12:01a.m. on New Year’s Day. Tax rates will broadly go up automatically, and government spending via sequestration will go down automatically. But the impact of such changes is anything other than guaranteed. Even a less-than-creative mind can imagine scenarios where stimulative consumer confidence, direct investment, consumer spending, corporate expansion, hiring, and the like occur despite an environment of higher rates and lower government consumption. The myriad predictions of what will happen to GDP or unemployment next year are quite simply hearsay and embarrassing to promote. There is simply no surety of where markets and trends will go next year. That is up to us — those that make up the economy and have the power to stimulate growth through a confidence in ourselves and our ability to innovate and create.
American pride does not mean being boisterous when we invade another country. It means having the guts to believe in ourselves and the power of our collective actions when we band together behind a common goal or cause. There is no cliff if we do not want there to be one. We have the power to let politicians and news steer the ship, or us to take the helm; we can continue to condone their actions by rewarding them with our media addiction and even more divisive voting patterns, or we can turn off the television a while and recommit ourselves to focusing our attention on production and advancement. In subscribing to their games, we are more than fueling their fire.
So, let us not “buckle our seatbelts,” as one of my contemporaries has warned. We should confidently put our foot assertively on the pedal, making the engine purr that is ours alone to operate. If we go off a cliff it will not be because Washington is filled with idiots nor that CNN secretly forced on us a disgusting addiction to an even more realistic version of reality TV. It will be because we voted with our ballot and our remote and caused this mess that is primed to become the new American dream — a society of individuals who do not know their neighbor’s names, blame anyone and everyone else, and ourselves lack the ability to compromise. What is seen occurring in our nation’s capital is only a mirror image of how we live our lives and merely represents a not-so-silent mandate for governing given though our own actions. We — not those in Washington or on our televisions — are more divided and less understanding, more polarized and less communicative, more opinionated and less humbled, quicker to respond and less cultured. Our window is fading, but if we put down our technology and our ideological hardheadedness for a while, we can focus on what can trump any legislation.
As a nation, we can continue our spiral toward many more self-inflicted cliffs yet to come or we can grow this economy with confidence in ourselves and a new outlook toward life and each other. The power is ours to yield. The choice is clearly ours. We can carry on in playing the blame game, through the faceless actors we elect. Or, we can immerse ourselves in the game of responsibility where each and every one of us pockets our ego for a moment as we collectively regain confidence in one another and in the things that made this a great country. The time is now. Come together and take responsibility, or eventually drive this car off a cliff whose fall is too steep and too drastic for borrowing and bickering to fix.