holy dismal science, batman!

Dick: “Gosh, Economics is sure a dull subject.”
Bruce: “Oh, you must be jesting, Dick. Economics dull? The glamour, the romance of commerce… Hmm. It’s the very lifeblood of our country’s society.”

– From the Batman TV series, Dick Grayson (Robin) speaking to Bruce Wayne (Batman)

If Batman was right – and let’s face it, he’s The Batman – then the lifeblood of our country seems to be pumping quite feebly these days. Tales of woe and tidings of Huns scurry across the (virtual) front pages of every (electronic) rag day after day.  Gas prices are exploding, house prices are falling, banks are collapsing and deficits are exploding.  The two major party candidates stumble over their own feet promising easy fixes that don’t require BOTH tax increases and spending cuts.  The US continues to slog forward in two wars and muttering about future conflicts across the world.  Major institutions are failing and unemployment, inflation and blood pressures are rising while real wages are falling.  Batman, where are you?

photo credit: Beard Papa
So what can The Batman tell us about the best ways to deal with an uncertain economic future?

1.  Believe in yourself.  Batman is always confident in his ability to combat chaos and evil.  He is aware of his own shortcomings, and works to make them strengths.  He doesn’t try to bluff – he knows what he can do and he uses those strengths to his own advantage.
2.  Innovate.  Batman knows that he’s fighting unpredictable villains.  He uses surprise and unusual approaches to foil them – just as we have to when considering the new economic challenges we face.  Don’t wait for the “inevitable” to happen – get out in front of it.
3.  Take aggressive action.  Batman is not one of those superheroes – like Spiderman – who spends a lot of time worrying about whether his action are justified.  He gets out there and gets started, pronto.  Don’t wait for the economic misery of the country as a whole to hit you directly.  Get out there and work around it first.
4.  Have firm guiding principles.  If one point is made over and over again in the Batman universe, it is that Batman doesn’t kill anyone.  No matter how angry he is, he keeps a guiding principle.  If you have a guiding principle, trust in it.  Don’t want to work for a big corporation?  Stick to your guns.  Don’t want to leave New York?  Move into someone’s closet and go out and make money to rent someone’s hamper.
5. Rely on technology.  One thing that’s clear about the economy of the future:  prized workers are not going to be tech-ignorant.  The days when you can sit back and tell people with pride that you know how to do The Google are over.  Just like Batman, you need to remember that the brute force of your personality isn’t going to save the day by itself.
6.  Remember that even loners can benefit from being part of a team.  Batman likes to project a loner image, but he has Alfred, his butler.  In some Batman stories, he has Robin.  Batman is willing to leverage a team when he needs to do so.  He is ready to take the plunge on his own, but he is unafraid of sharing the credit.
7.  Don’t give in to despair. Batman never gives up.  From day one, when his parents were murdered, he turned his despair towards improving the world, not shying away from it.  Even when economic times get tough, and you see that shiny 401(k) descending into a batcave, you need to focus on your guiding principles and efforts to achieve greatness.

4 Replies to “holy dismal science, batman!”

  1. Steve, are you really as discouraged as you sometimes sound? I could understand if you were retired or close to it, lost your job, or bought a house using a toxic mortgage in the last 2-3 years, but none of these things apply to you. Granted, there are many people who fall into one or more of these categories, but I certainly remember more uncertain economic times in my own lifetime, and the percentage of people who are facing difficult times today is relatively small compared to those in the past.

    I recognize that you believe that negative economic events over the last 20 years or so are having a cumulative effect on our lives and well-being. I guess I'd like to invite you to examine those beliefs and see if in fact there is objective evidence for them. I personally like my chances better today than at any time in the history of the US.

    1. Curmudgeon, I don't think of myself as discouraged – more as a pessimist… and I try not to be a pessimist, either. I'm a skeptic about almost everything, and that flows through to the state of our union. I think smart and motivated people will always find a way through and I just hope I'm one of those people. That having been said, there are a number of trends that I view as unfavorable these days. Foremost among them is the stupidity and greed of our political leadership – without significant change there nobody can feel safe. Nobody could've predicted FDR, of course, but do we have the next FDR out there? Dunno.

      All that having been said, part of my perception is due to being in the “belly of the beast” as an auditor in Fortune 50 NYC financial services companies, where the rotted heart is finally being exposed – it certainly leads one to extreme cynicism.

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