If you're like most Americans, you're becoming increasingly anxious these days about a major concern facing our nation: Will there be another naked fat guy on Survivor 2, and if so, will the network do a better job of concealing his big butt behind strategically placed palm trees than it did the first time around? And furthermore, does Australia even have any palm trees?
Actually, while these questions may be valid concerns for some, another important issue that concerns many Americans these days is the economy.
A recent poll by the Associated Press shows that public confidence in the nation's economy is weakening. Fewer than 10 percent of those polled expect their finances to be better a year from now - quite a change from a similar poll last spring, when three-quarters of the respondents handed the pollsters large-denomination bills simply because they had too darned much money taking up space in their wallets.
But with unemployment on the rise, a weak Christmas shopping season for retailers, and savings rates lower than they've been in years, people who spend a lot of time thinking about such things are beginning to suspect that we might be on the brink of a recession.
As more sophisticated readers of this column already know, however, the Federal Reserve Board recently cut short-term interest rates by half a percentage point. This dramatic gesture was designed in part to bolster consumer confidence and in part to recapture a fickle public's attention, which has been diverted in recent months by certain headline-grabbing federal agencies such as the Electoral College, the Supreme Court, and the Postal Rate Commission.
While market watchers initially were taken aback by the board's bold move, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan took great pains to explain the reasoning behind it. Unfortunately, his explanation, as always, was delivered in his famous “economic Morse code,” which few people from this dimension are able to comprehend.
“People of Earth,” Greenspan said. “Stupid is as stupid does. My name's Alan Gumpspan. People call me Forrest Gumpspan. And there's an awful lot you can tell 'bout a person by their shoes - where they goin', where they been ... I've worn lots of shoes.”
As is customary, major banks responded to the Fed's action by immediately declaring a bank “holiday.” This brings the current number of holidays that federally chartered banks will be closed each year to 147, but senior industry officials assured banking customers that they will continue to have access to their favorite ATM machines whenever they want, with fees remaining at a quite-reasonable $6.95 per transaction.
Financially na ve people who don't fully comprehend the complicated workings of the nation's economy may think that the Fed's interest rate cuts don't mean much to them. But of course, that's wrong. When the Fed cuts rates, within just a few months those lower rates are reflected in reduced consumer interest rates, such as those charged by credit card companies, banks, and Brickhead Sal, the loan shark who works out of the back room of that little bar over on the East Side. Even consumers at the lower end of the economic ladder could be pleasantly surprised at some point when the Fed's action means they end up paying only $11.50 a week instead of $11.75 for that nice floral couch and matching love seat at the rent-to-own furniture store.
But even though help is on the way, many Americans remain nervous. The same poll mentioned above also indicated that fewer than 3 in 10 Americans have any confidence that the new Bush administration will be able to manage the nation's economy. President-elect George W. Bush has tried to reassure the country with promises that he plans to keep the economy on a steady course once he moves into the White House this weekend.
“Life is like a box of chocolibilates,” he said. “You never know what you're gonna get. At least I never do.”
As you can tell, he's already been briefed by Mr. Greenspan. And that's a comforting thought.
Mike Kelly is a Blade columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.