Stanley Bing

Confidence game

Think times are tough now? When would you rather have lived? We all need to worry less and spend more.

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(Fortune Magazine) -- You can feel it. Like air hissing out of a tire. Like a banana shrinking and turning black as it goes bad. The shiny, can-do engine of consumer confidence is running down. We're losing it. And with it goes the last shred of hope that the spiral to the center of this vortex is not inexorable.

We've got to keep what confidence we have left, no doubt about it. And even regain the stuff we've lost.

It won't be easy. I don't have to tell you why. With the price of fuel, the value of our homes declining, and the raft of daily bad news we are now addicted to shoving into our faces every day, it's tough to be hopeful.

I don't care what you say about the reality of the situation, though. Part of this is psychological. Go on a little mind vacation with me. Think back to the days when we didn't have cable news, online updates, or cell phone alerts. Remember? You woke up. The birdies were singing in the trees. You had breakfast. The morning paper gave you some news about what was going on, mostly stuff you already sort of knew. Its main function was to reassure you that the world was still turning in spite of everything. Maybe you read the funnies.

Now flip forward to today. The CNBC crawl is an addiction. TV stations blare BREAKING NEWS about stuff that isn't breaking one bit. Trends are played like forest fires. Buttheads opine like giant flaming gasbags 24/7. Newspapers compete with bloggers to see who can catch the public's attention for the next five minutes. So much of what we see and hear is hype, spin, or baloney. Is it any wonder we're freaked out?

I know what you're thinking: that there is a rational, solid reality that moves the numbers. Personally, I think that assumption is a huge part of the problem. I think economics is about as rational as any other human enterprise, which means not very.

But let's just say that there is a reality, and that, currently, it bites. Doesn't reality always kind of stink? If you lived during the Crusades and were forced to march to the Middle East to kill strangers because they were not Christian, would that have been better? If you were kicking around in the 1950s and had to offer loyalty pledges at your job, wondering when the big mushroom cloud would blossom over the city around you, would that have been better? Or the '90s, when a fine mist of greed was in the air, and working people had to watch as their companies were gobbled up by guys who are now widely perceived as philanthropists?

Look. Throughout the course of human history, life on earth has been a struggle, a disappointment to most, a tragedy to some, a triumph to a few. But for most of us, the small things in life make it worthwhile. People managed to live through the plague years in Europe 500 years ago. Aren't things better than that now? We have iPhones.

There is still every reason to have confidence, if we don't lose our heads. Here's my recipe:

Gas costs too much. So drive less. Stop driving cars that cost more than $64.50 to fill up. Take a bus. Relax.

House prices down? Keep your home until it regains its value. Where do you think you're going, anyhow?

Unemployment up? Stay in your job and try to be as happy as possible.

Stock market stinks? Don't buy stocks.

Get out there every goddamn weekend and pump as much money as you can back into the economy.

Limit the viewing of financial news outlets to 45 minutes a day, and get off the blogs. The Internet is supposed to be fun, dammit. Have you seen how cheap area rugs are on eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500)?

Three-quarters of our economy is built upon our willingness to part with our money in exchange for goods and services. We can affect that metric. But only if we have the confidence to do so.

So get some. Now, I think, would be a good time to start.

Stanley Bing's new book is "Executricks, or How to Retire While You're Still Working" (Collins), available at finer bookstores everywhere. For more Bingstuff, go to his Web site,  To top of page

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