End of an Era? Well … maybe

I was listening to this week’s New York Times Sunday Business podcast coming home from work tonight. Its speakers confidently predicted that the upheaval in Finance heralds the end of an era – the end of Wall Street as a cultural icon, and snuffing of the flame to which all moths have been drawn.

Well, maybe. But we’ve heard this before.

… as when Wall Street crashed in Sept. 1987 – much more sharply, in percentage terms, than last week’s 7% drop. This came just as Oliver Stone released Wall Street and made Gordon Gekko our new archetypal business villain. The 1987 crash supposedly would bring sobriety back to a Street that was just starting to feel  its oats. That didn’t happen.

… or when the Asian markets crashed in the late ’90s and some derivatives traders were caught short. That didn’t happen.

… or when the dot coms became dot bombs in 2000. That didn’t happen.

… or on 9/11. Supposedly, America would never be the same again. It had a lasting impact, but not nearly to the extent many (including me) thought.

Rising gas prices have made an impact – so far. SUVs are dead weights on car lots. A real estate broker told me recently that she can’t give away homes heated by oil. But it’s still early, and gas prices are already falling. Let’s see.

The speakers in the Times podcast predicted that the 25-year era of the big, swinging $%^ (in Michael Lewis’ famous phrase) was ending. There are many good reasons why this may be true. But just because it feels different right now, in the moment, doesn’t make it so. Before we pronounce a shift in cultural trade winds, it’s best to watch and wait.

We’ve been proven wrong before; with tragic results.