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2008: Can we get a do-over?

It might just be me —never underestimate a columnist’s proficiency at subjectivity — but I can’t recall the last time the transition from the old year to the new felt so downbeat.

It might just be me —never underestimate a columnist’s proficiency at subjectivity — but I can’t recall the last time the transition from the old year to the new felt so downbeat.

My memories aren’t exactly long — I can’t speak authoritatively about any New Year during the Great Depression, or the last night of 1939, when a new world war was just getting under steam, and I’ve got to assume that they were pretty glum affairs.

The transition from 1963 to 1964, when the assassination of John F. Kennedy was still recent and raw, was probably a somber affair, but it happened just before I was born.

I’ve lived through Watergate and the OPEC oil crisis, and at least two major recessions after the ‘70s, though, so I can claim some modest long view on history’s recent dark patches.

I was a freelancer during the recession following Black Monday — Oct. 19, 1987 — and lost over half of my clients in the six subsequent months, but I know that the mood in general was far more festive when 1988 hove into view.

The consensus is pretty dire; a series of interviews with financial giants that’s run in the National Post for the last few weeks has been depressing reading. “I think it’s tough. I think it’s going to get tougher,” said Jim Treliving, CEO of Boston Pizza and Dragon’s Den star.

“It sounds trite but it’s a very complex and very dangerous situation,” warned banking analyst Anthony Boekh.

Asked whether he’s seen a worse situation, philanthropist and Barrick Gold CEO Peter Munk was succinct: “No. But then again, I’m only 81. If I was 120, I probably would have.”

It’s no wonder, then, that we’re acting like we’re facing dust bowls and bread lines even when the worst we’ve seen is mostly cruel justice — housing foreclosures on people who couldn’t afford their homes to begin with, and the collapse of banking institutions who played a risky game badly and lost.

As for the crisis in the auto industry, that’s been brewing for years —decades, actually — and there have been Bernie Madoffs at regular intervals since the first man traded his goat for a shiny bauble.

It’s half real crisis and half coincidence, and it’s rather inevitable that my industry — the media we keep hearing is at an all-time low in public trust —has managed to make it all seem like a financial perfect storm about to break over your leaky trawler.

It might be true — I make no claims as an oracle — but it’s just as likely that we’re being told to panic because nobody wants to look like Pollyanna if the worst comes to pass.

Perhaps we should take advantage of this somber but fortuitous mood and begin the New Year like jilted lovers; skeptical of everyone, whether they’re peddling optimism or doom, and especially skeptical of our own judgment, which got us into this mess in the first place.

 
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