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Tony Kornheiser

An Economy Cloaked in Enigma That Only One Man Can Decode

March 21, 2001|Tony Kornheiser

I don't want to be an alarmist, but I think the economy may be slowing down. The other day I saw Alan Greenspan standing on Pennsylvania Avenue with a sign that said, "Will lower rates for food."

I was watching TV the other night, and all the talk shows were wall-to-wall with economics experts. One of them was asked somewhat breathlessly: What should people do with their stocks now? And he harrumphed, "Hah! You should have gotten out a year ago."

A year ago? That's when I got in!

For many years I kept my money in the bank. My friends said I was an idiot. So I gave over all my money to a nationally recognized investment firm that I probably shouldn't name. Merrill Lynch. Each month it sends me a statement the approximate thickness of the Book of Kells.

It's impossible to decipher. There is writing on both sides of every page, and whichever page I turn to, it is marked as "page 3 of 18." All the stocks, bonds and mutual funds are abbreviated, so I've got absolutely no idea what I own, what I've bought or what I've sold.

The other day I called my guy at Merrill Lynch and said, "Tell me the truth, I can handle it. I keep seeing the headline 'Stocks Plunge!' I guess some of mine are down, huh?"

He said, "Amazingly, yours are all up, Tony."

"Really?" I said. "Great. OK, keep up the good work."

As I was hanging up, I heard something muffled that sounded like, "Of course he'll believe it. He's a dope. When I told him I was putting him in oil, he asked, 'Wesson or olive?' "

*

Nobody understands anything about his or her "portfolio." My friend Tom panicked when someone on the "Today Show" said, "Your mutual fund is only as good as the manager investing the money. If your fund changes money managers, you need to check out the new manager." Tom pointed out, "If I was smart enough to check out my money manager, I wouldn't need a money manager."

It's not that I mind being unable to retire until I'm 82. But it's so unexpected. Nobody ever tells you the stock market will go down like the Tower of Terror ride at Disney World. Oh, sure, they say it might go down a little. Then they show you a graph of the history of the market since 1897, and the line goes straight up like Lyle Lovett's hair. What about since October? People are getting killed by this bear market. My broker, for example, hasn't been able to fly down to Florida and play golf in weeks!

The problem is tech stocks. Tech stocks are not to be confused with dot-coms. Dot-coms went belly up about a year ago, taking a bunch of Beemer-driving zillionaire punks with them. No big loss. Tech stocks differ from dot-coms in one critical aspect: I own tech stocks. They're crushing me.

Personally, I blame Ameritrade. After watching their TV commercials, any moron with a few bucks and a laptop became convinced he could rule the world by Wednesday. Think about it: You're encouraging people who have nothing to do all day but sit and watch TV to become the driving force of the economy.

*

Alan Greenspan can get us out. And here is a story that may amuse you: A couple of years ago, Greenspan was at a New Year's Eve party with his wife, NBC's Andrea Mitchell. The television was tuned to ABC. When the dropping of the ball at Times Square was a minute away, Greenspan went to change the channel to NBC.

Now only he had the clicker in his hand and pressed this button and that button. Nothing changed. So he pressed some more buttons, and still nothing changed. (Psst, Fed Boy, press "enter.")

Greenspan had had enough with this freakin' clicker. He walked over to the TV and banged on it! This great man, this genius who must fix our disintegrating economy, attempted to change channels by slamming the TV set.

I love this guy. Bang away, Big Man.

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