Market Problems Are Systemic and Chronic


Rather than allowing the market to "punish" those companies that have acted irresponsibly, could we be reinforcing bad behavior by propping up those companies financially?

It is capitalism's way of policing itself. When companies act poorly, people withdraw their money and support. The companies can change their behavior or risk further punitive actions by investors.

I had a medical doctor who taught me a lot about diagnosing problems one time. The first question one must ask, he said, is, "Is the problem localized and episodic, or systemic and chronic?"

That one question might be the most helpful tool I have ever seen in relationship to people or organizations. From time to time the market goes through "corrections," but you and I don't notice because we pay someone else to obsess about the market for us. When "corrections" are minor, I never hear about it. When they are localized and episodic, I trust that they will take the right actions.

But this downturn—or recession or depression, depending on how cynical you might be—feels different. Even after a big gain, something is not right.

Something doesn't feel right because something isn't right. We didn't get into this problem overnight. Credit has been a problem for a long time. Depending on whom you talk to, it has been a problem for 3 years or 30. Is it a recent problem or Jimmy Carter's fault?

Either way, the problem is systemic and chronic. And here is my main concern: We are sending mixed messages.

Rather than allowing the market to "punish" those companies that have acted irresponsibly, could we be reinforcing bad behavior by propping up those companies financially?

It is hard to ground a child that has misbehaved. As a parent we must always evaluate every scenario. Is my child's behavior a bad choice, or another in a series of bad decisions that is indicative of a larger problem?

Grace can be extended to children who behave well, and it might encourage even better behavior, but grace extended to children with serious issues might indeed be their undoing, not their salvation.

Don't get me wrong: I am cheering for the market. Another 11 percent increase would suit me just fine. But I still have three questions: Is the problem systemic and chronic, or is it localized and episodic? Is this the behavior of a teenager who had a bad day, or is it another example of a teen who is out of control? Are we prepared to take the steps necessary to fix the problem, or are we hoping that short-term solutions will fix long-term problems?

An old football cheer for my mighty Longview Lobos once went: Hit 'em again / Hit 'em again / Harder / Harder.

We should be the U.S. Ostriches: Bury our heads / Bury our heads / Deeper / Deeper.

Ed Hogan is pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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