The Great Depression Online

Great Depression Online Archive Issue:

The Useful Fool - Part 1 of 2

Inside This Issue You Will Discover…

*** Lin Yutang Quote
*** The Best Comedies and Tragedies of Life
*** The Greatest Collection of Useful Fools on Earth
*** And More

The Useful Fool – Part 1 of 2

“Against the old contention … that we must all be useful, be efficient, become officials and have power, the old reply is that there are always enough fools left in the world who are willing to be useful, be busy and enjoy power, and so somehow the business of life can and will be carried on.”  –Lin Yutang

Sentiment is indifferent to logic or reason.  Like the direction the wind blows, it can shift in an instance.  Yet sentiment has the power to change the world.  It can whoop up a war or crash a market as quickly as a sporting event can turn to a riot. 

Politics and markets are driven by sentiment.  And the spectacles it generates are some of the best comedies and tragedies of life.  If you watch from the cheap seats there is much to be learned without being caught up in the circus.

Here is one example of sentiment you may be familiar with.  In fact, you may have participated in it. 

For the first five years of the 21st Century it said, ‘You cannot go wrong with real estate.  House prices always go up’.  It was great.  To get rich all you had to do was buy a house.  Then, when you need money, just refinance, because ‘house prices always go up’.

People loved the sentiment, and followed it with gusto – buying houses they could not afford, with money they could not repay.  But it did not matter, because ‘house prices always go up’. 

Some nice and otherwise intelligent people bought two or three – or five – houses because, you guessed it, ‘house prices always go up’. 

The sentiment became so ingrained in the minds of most everyone that few bothered to ask: Can we all really get rich buying and selling houses to each other? 

But by mid-2006, the tide was starting to recede.  The wind was shifting.  The sentiment was running out of gas.  The pool of buyers had dried up just as the tidal wave of sellers had crested.  And then something truly amazing happened – brace yourself… 

House prices didn’t go up; they went down.

The intent of this work is not to harp on the housing market collapse.  That is just one example of sentiment too rich to ignore – the fun of pointing a finger and blowing a little gas could not be resisted. 

But taking this notion of sentiment let us turn our attention to the public spectacle of politics.  For it is here that you find the greatest collection of useful fools on earth.  And in this instance, let us yak about one useful fool – The Useful Fool.

To be continued…


M.N. Gordon
Great Depression Online

P.S.  Part 2 of this essay will arrive in your Inbox in several days.


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