11 June 2012

They Wanted To Pump Us Up

I am either quite the dolt or just a complete outlier, because today's story in the NYTimes about the drop in people's net value back to the 1990s is not news to me at all.

Long ago, when I worked out a real body building gym (because it was close to work not because I was a body builder myself), it was hard to avoid learning about steroid use.  Many pros used them to enhance their results and the magazines showed the result - men and women with startlingly huge physiques, well beyond what had been seen in the years before.  But the price they paid was also the stuff of gym talk - liver problems, shrunken testes, enlarged internal organs, and more. When they stopped using, they lost their massive size and strength, even if their health overall was better than when they felt and looked strong.  

I believe the era from 1998 to 2008 (roughly) was a time of national financial steroid use.  Cheap money and easy rules pumped up the economy rapidly, making us feel big and strong.  But in actuality we were getting sicker not healthier.  When the supply finally ran out in 2008, we went into withdrawal and our steroid fed economic muscles shrank and shriveled.  

What seems like a loss, the big beefy prosperity of cheap borrowed money that artificially pumped up housing prices and made us feel strong, was not real.  What we are now is where we would have been in 1999, if we had not given in to the promises of easy wealth and gain.  Like the body builder or athlete who returns to normal size.  

The real shame is that we spent most of 15 years on an economic steroid binge and forgot what reality looked like.  And like the body builder who had to quit when the supply ran out, we may only be this way until the next supply of false prosperity comes along.  After all, isn't looking big and powerful really what matters?

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