Another Perspective

Thirty Years Ago

Times were harder then -- except in one fundamental respect.

By 1.30.09

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Recently, I met a young woman at The River shopping center in Rancho Mirage. She was celebrating her 30th birthday. She was also lamenting the fact that she was now 30 and telling me how hard it was to be 30. Not so hard, I thought, for a man who is 64, but I patted her on her head and wished her well, and then I started to think about the passage of time and chance and thought about measuring what we've gained and what we've lost, to paraphrase a great songwriter.

Thirty years ago. Early 1979. If you think we have it bad economically now, with our bank crisis and our recession, think about 1979. Yes, unemployment was about one and half percentage points lower, but it was rising fast. We were well on our way to the worst recession in postwar history, far worse than the one we are in now, at least so far. But inflation -- that was the killer. On the heels of the radical revolution in Iran and a huge jump in oil prices, we had inflation in 1979 of over 13 percent. The misery index -- the total of unemployment and inflation -- was about 19.5 percent, compared with about 7.5 per cent now. Times were hard.

We got through it, and went on to record-shattering prosperity. We got through the bleak days to "it's morning in America." There is hope today, too.

Think the stock market is bad now? We thought it was bad in 1979. It has risen since then -- even with the recent crash -- by almost ten times. Not ten percent. Ten times. Think real estate has dropped now? It has but it is still about four times what it was in 1979 here in Southern California. Things look bleak now, and they are, but they are a lot better than they were in 1979 in many, many ways.

We will get through this. I wish I had bought more stock in 1979, and more real estate, too. But here's what I really miss about 1979: both of my parents were alive. I could have spent as much time as I wanted with them, I could have learned from them, shared with them. Loved them. Let them love me. I desperately wish it were 1979 again, not for Jimmy Carter and the bargain stock market, but for missing my parents, whom are both long gone now.

I don't know if it's a good time to buy stocks or real estate or what the inflation rate will be next year. I do know you won't have forever with the people you love. Be with them now. That's your best thirty-year investment. You cannot lose.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.