How Low Can You Go?



According to The Economist, PaineWebber has created an index of "happiness" for bonds that goes up when unemployment rises.

If others would only follow this example and strike a blow against hypocrisy, we could have a series of more accurate social indicators: an index of happiness for hospitals that jumps when epidemics hit; one for journalists that goes up when scandals break out; another for lawyers and accountants that climbs whenever a company goes bankrupt.

Ninety years ago, Ambrose Bierce defined happiness as "an agreeable sensation arising from contemplating the misery of another." Nothing has changed, except the Federal Reserve has turned Bierce's observation into national policy. If you get fired these days, you can at least take comfort in this consoling thought: You did your part to keep interest rates down, and to make bonds happy.



"If Bob Dole were a stock, I would be buying the hell out of it," the Washington Post columnist James Glassman wrote on September 24. In fact, Glassman could have invested in Dole on the Iowa Electronic Market, which was then offering futures contracts on a Dole victory on highly favorable terms. For just 9.5 cents that day—we've checked the market's records—Glassman could have bought contracts that would have paid a dollar if Dole had won. Pity that he seems to have missed his chance.

A month later, Glassman was warning his readers about the nasty effects on the stock market if Clinton were to win a second term. But the market seems to have weathered the news at least for a while, as the Dow Jones Industrials hit 12 all-time record highs in the three weeks after the election. Since we wouldn't want to think political preferences were coloring Glassman's investment advice, we trust he unloaded his portfolio and went short on November 6.



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Predictions of Clinton's defeat and disgrace have also been a regular staple of columnist William Safire, who does not only forecast doom for the President—he goes the extra column inch to make it come true. A couple of years ago, Safire said Republicans didn't want to use Whitewater to impeach the President because they had Clinton right where they wanted him in 1996. Oh, well. Earlier this year, he predicted the "endgame" for the Clintons was about to unfold. When the game didn't end on schedule, Safire kept at it. Down to the very end of the campaign, he was hammering the President on his Indonesian connections, explaining that unlike other conservative columnists, he would "rather light a scandal than curse the darkness." Actually, Safire was doing better than that: He was burning the scandal at both ends, using his column to make unsupported allegations that wouldn't pass the scrutiny of the paper's news editors. But before he fires his last shot, he may well be able to carve a notch in his puns.

—Paul Starr

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