The Breakfast Table

All’s Not Right With the World

Dear Fareed:

Reading the New York Times put me on edge. I have a Y2K-everything-is-not-right-with-the-world feeling on this rainy Tuesday. I know what you mean about the Dow; 24 trading days after it hit 10,000, it has reached 11,000. Yet on the Op-Ed page, an economist at Dresdner Bank explains that America’s tiny savings rate (0.8 per cent in 1997) is not a problem at all–because so many people have a large portion of their assets in the market.

But this very combination–an inflated stock market and low savings–could make for a brutal crash. For the first time in history, stocks have become a consumer product. In 1990, 12 percent of American household assets were in stocks, and today that number is 28 percent. If you look at the percentage of the population that has money in stocks, the numbers are even more dramatic. When a correction comes, it will hit those who came last to the stock party the hardest. And that’s the only savings they have.

And, I hate to admit it, but Columbine is starting to get to me. When I was in eighth grade in Cambridge, Mass., there was a shooting at the public high school. The national press swooped in and declared why it happened–both kids came from violent families–and what the school would do about it (I can’t remember that part). With Columbine, everyone seems to agree that the problems are much more vague: If you go to high school in America, have working parents, access to the (now evil) Internet, and exposure to cruel jocks and nasty cliques, this could happen to you. So there’s no special reason, just life in America. Maybe it’s just that I’m five weeks away from being a mother, but it worries me.

And there’s Kosovo. It seems like we are at war but not a war that we have entered in order to win. Then why did we start it? I know this is a little clichéd but I just feel that we’re not doing things right anywhere. Maybe it’s just the weather getting me down. Or pregnancy hormones.