Jewish World Review August 5, 2002 /27 Menachem-Av, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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Consumer Reports

Bigger boom means, alas, a bigger bust | If someone falls out the window of a one-story building, the damage will be slight. With each new floor, the fall will be more damaging. At a certain point, the damage can be very great. Beyond that - you know.

That is exactly where we are now. Our trouble with Wall Street and with just about anything else at this time in our nation's history is caused by the extraordinary growth that has taken place in the arena of business and communications. There are mom-and-pop operations, sure. But the kind of massive corporation that was invented by Andrew Carnegie when he got his grip on the steel industry more than 100 years ago is now the norm.

This is how it happened: The consumer base continued to expand, and businesses had to grow ever larger to satiate the public's appetites, both those that were normal and those that were created. After World War I, for example, American women were convinced by a razor blade company that they should shave under their arms. An appetite was created, and who can say how many millions of razor blades for women have been sold since?

We are not going back. Our country will not become some version of a Third World economy in which small business is the norm and big business is exotic.

We also will not see a time when it will be absolutely safe to invest in the world of business. In certain cases, one's broker might be right about some stock being 9-1 in your favor. But there will always be that one stock, and on the very worst day, that one could tear apart your finances and send you out with the squirrels looking for dinner among the nuts.

The bust this time is bigger in every way because not only have more customers enriched ever-larger businesses, but unprecedented numbers of people have invested. Recently, we have seen the portfolios of average people disappear in a few days, making a tragic mockery of all their solid planning and all their hopes for a retirement of more than relative ease. Their futures fell from very high floors and now lie still on the ground.

We have heard terrible things about the nature of capitalism and have heard demands that something be done about the rascals in executive suites or in elected public office - no matter how high up! They must be brought on the carpet first, thrown out second and jailed third.

Bravo. We cannot expect more than anarchic cynicism from ordinary citizens as long as someone spends more time in prison for a $1,000 robbery than does someone who's guilty of a multimillion-dollar crime in the suites.

Of course, we can make the laws good and strong enough to be considered fair, but we will still have a hell of a time with the human species. After all, if strong laws were the only factor, we would have no crime at all.

Even so, let's see if we can get to fair first.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.


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