To paraphrase the late senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen, who spoke of excesses in federal spending, a thousand points here and a thousand points there and pretty soon you have a bear market.
The Dow Jones industrial average shed 512 points on Monday to finish at 7,539. That's about a 19 percent decline from its high set just in July (though it seems like a decade ago).
And it's a mere percentage point or two from the widely accepted definition of a bear market in stocks: a 20 percent decline from its high.
The DJIA now stands below the level at which it closed 1997: 7,908. And other indexes, including the Nasdaq composite index, suffered on Monday in more excruciating fashion than the Dow industrials.
In its perverse fashion, the U.S. stock market never capitulates the same way twice. We are used to one-day massacres, the 500-plus-point drops experienced in October 1987 and October 1997 (the former, of course, much more significant in percentage terms and representing a bear market in one day).
Monday's fall may or may not be the culmination of selling, but it certainly did not stand alone. The stock market already was in a full-bore correction, off 14 percent from its highs, before Monday's trading even began.
Optimists will find solace in the rapidity of the collapse. The DJIA shed some 350 points in the final couple of hours of trading. There seems to be real fear among many investors: professional and individual. Typically it is in such signs of real collapse and fear that many market seers find the needed ingredients of a bottom.
Certainly a lot of Monday's decline was driven by fear, by a momentum operating strongly in reverse. Psychology has turned hugely negative in the face of worldwide economic gloom from Russia to Japan to the other beleaguered nations of Asia.
But there is more than psychology at work. The economic outlook has worsened for the United States and for U.S. corporate profits because of the economic problems afflicting other nations.
The market decline has all but shut down the market for initial stock offerings. Ditto for the other areas where Wall Street firms make their money, including mergers and acquisitions.
The near-term outlook on the economic scene holds nothing to be optimistic about. September marks the final month of the calendar third quarter. Look for companies of varied sizes and varied industries to "pre-announce" negative outlooks for their own third quarter earn-ings.
Already, analysts have sharply reduced their expectations for third-quarter earnings. According to First Call Corp., which surveys Wall Street analysts, the average expectation for third quarter earnings growth for companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index is now 3.6 percent from a year ago, broadly in line with actual results in the first and second quarters.