Given the turmoil on Wall Street, the amazing thing is that two men actually want to become president and inherit the mess. Monday was an indication that the nation's economic troubles aren't going away quickly.
But then, things could be worse. In the eyes of many, they should be worse.
The American economy has remained remarkably resilient despite a tech-stock meltdown, the collapse of Enron, an unprecedented attack on the nation by terrorists, skyrocketing oil prices and a subprime mortgage crisis that just won't go away.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the economy appears to still be growing during the third quarter of the year, which will end soon. Unemployment is up, but the nation lost more jobs during the market troubles in 2001 than it has this year.
All of that may change, of course. The uncertainty on Wall Street right now seems overwhelming.
Monday was a rare day in financial markets. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Bank of America purchased Merrill Lynch, and the insurance giant AIG tried desperately to raise cash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 4.4 percent. And yet the market did not seem to be in a panic. And the news that the government did not intend to bail out Lehman Brothers was a good sign that the market will be allowed to punish bad behavior in a way that will be good for future investors.
Some analysts say Wall Street now has pushed aside its weakest links and soon may begin to regain its footing. But the effects of the mortgage crisis, fueled by outrageously leveraged bets on securities that were tied to risky home loans, will linger. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Credit is bound to tighten. Banks are looking for money, which means they will be reluctant to lend any of it. Loans won't come as easily as they have in recent years, especially for people with no collateral or who can't demonstrate an ability to pay. The sage wisdom to stay out of debt, repeated often during the roaring years that are now beginning to echo in the past, will be forced on many Americans. Some will face the harsh reality of having to pay off loans without the ability to borrow endlessly against appreciating assets.
That will ripple through the economy, but it will be a necessary correction and, ultimately, a good thing for personal discipline. And in the meantime, oil prices continue to drop. That is the result of another investment bubble bursting. But it will mean cheaper prices on a variety of goods, including gasoline.
Presidents and members of Congress can make things worse by trying to intervene or by bailing out people whose behavior caused the crisis. The best course now appears to let Wall Street take care of its own while the mortgage crisis tries to bottom out.