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Where Have All The Doomsayers Gone?

July 19, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ Ominously absent from the economic mood of the 1990s is a quality that sustained Americans during the 1980s, that being the ever-present warnings that doomsday was nearing.

So pervasive were the doleful messages of the financial evangelists - ``listen to me or face financial disaster″ - that they simply became part of the scene, familiar and accepted as any other necessary nuisance.

In a sense, even comforting. As the economy expanded and jobs became more plentiful and interest rates and inflation sank, people were doubly grateful, in the first instance for simply having averted the promised disaster.

It is different today, not completely but significantly. The evangelists seem to have taken their business elsewhere. Scare books, best sellers in the 1980s, have disappeared from the lists. Disaster warnings get no headlines.

As certainly as low expectations oft lead to big surprises, great expectations oft lead to great disappointments. Such as sharp declines in stocks, as on Wednesday, when all eye’s are raised to sky-high prices.

Having raced from 4,000 Dow Jones points in February to 4700 in July, the expectation became 5000. In the 1980s, a rise of that sort would have aroused fears. In the 1990s, good news seemed to generate bigger expectations.

Inflation seems under control. Corporate profits remain strong. More than 200,000 new jobs were created in June, twice the consensus expectation. Such news in the 1980s would bring on the warnings. Not today.

Instead, a well-known forecaster has told clients that the next target for the Dow Jones average is 7,000 points, the reason being that we are in a classic bull market. In short, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Such talk in the 1980s was grist for people such as Joseph Granville, who warned readers to listen and believe in him and his message that it was time to get out of the market. Disaster was imminent, he said.

But where are the Granvilles and the Holts today? And all those authors who had discovered that fear sold and so entitled their books ``The Coming ...,″ the omitted word to be filled in by the particular disaster.

The writer of the Holt Report desperately sought to save his readers from a stock-market plunge by confiding he had been informed straight from above, and those who believed in him lost out on the biggest bull market ever.

Terror was very much an element in the 1980s economy, and those who endured it can verify that overcoming terror produces a wonderful sense of relief. Expect little and you enjoy what you get.

Attitudes are different today. Rather than giving thanks for good news it is accepted as deserved, whetting the appetite for still more good news. When it comes it brings no sense of relief. Maybe insecurity instead.

It raises that eternal question: Is it better to expect bad times and receive good times instead? Or better to hope for the world and run the risk of getting hell instead?

Perhaps the antidote for today’s mood is to think of all the things that are wrong: The trade deficit, budget problems, the national debt, personal debt, foreign competition, social ills, medical costs, the dollar ...

But no, this is not the 1980s. People actually expect the federal budget to be balanced soon, and the Dow Jones average rise to the sky. Could a sharp drop in the Dow Jones average bring back a sense of reality?

End Adv AMs Friday, July 21.

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