Monday, October 23rd 2017

What’s the difference between the stock market and a drunk?

Sorry, no punch line. But the similarities are striking

BY JOHN S.  — As I’ve been watching “live” coverage of the brutal second-by-second collapse of the stock market — broken only by occasional reprieves — I have found myself thinking that I was witnessing a surreal representation of a drunk spiraling to his demise.

Cable TV’s cheerleader of capitalism, CNBC, plasters banners across the screen constantly: “When will we reach a bottom?” . . . “Is the bottom near?” . . . “Still no clear bottom.” The flashing numbers are bright red, the graphical charts all diving towards the gutter — down 340 points one moment, down 780 the next.

Will it ever end?

The Alcoholics Anonymous book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, states clearly in the first step that, “Every A.A. must hit bottom.” For some, that means living on the streets and dinning at the dumpster. (Think, Great Depression). For others, it seems not quite so desperate — more akin to a brief bear market.

But either way, a bottom must be reached — for drunks . . . and for stocks.

Then, the drunk can begin his recovery — a period of reflection and internal house cleaning. Wall Street writ-large needs this desperately. How in the world did the collective investor/speculator/trader let himself make so many destructive decisions? What happened to the power of reason?

The recovering alcoholic knows there is no answer — he has an affliction, a disease. He behaves this way: His mind knows he should not drink, that it makes him sick, that it gets him in trouble. Yet he continually reaches for the bottle. Logic and reason succumb to his body’s obsession for booze. Left to his own devices, it’s a losing battle.

The Wall Street professional? He knows that he is selling derivatives and financial instruments ultimately worth no more than vapor. Yet his obsession with quick money — the financial bottle? — outweigh what he understands in his mind. He behaves like a drunk.

For the drunk to recover, as A.A. has shown, he must admit he is powerless over alcohol (pay attention Wall Street trader and angst-ridden home investor; you hold no power over the market overall). Admitting powerlessness, in fact, gives one power.  The next key part of an alcoholic’s recovery is laid out in Step Two, which says that we must, “Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

This part trips up many an alcoholic. What? argues the willful drunk. You want me to believe in God? No way. Fortunately, the A.A. book tells people to believe in “God as we understood him.” In that sense, God can be anything that gives you strength and comfort. Many A.A. members find their own meaning for God, or devise acronyms that make them comfortable with the word “God.”

One of the most common: Good Orderly Direction. Who can argue with that notion? May the market and all its players, as well as struggling alcoholics, find it soon.

John S. is a San Francisco-based writer and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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4 Comments on “What’s the difference between the stock market and a drunk?”

  1. John, What a brilliant and insightful parallel between the addict's obsession, and Wall Street's addiction to mad money -- and how both are called to hit bottom before they can begin recovery.

    I love the added dimension of the video you choose: way to join the dots with the infamous Texas fundraiser where Bush is surreptitiously caught on tape saying:

    "Wall Street got drunk . . . It got drunk, and now it's got a hangover."

    As the world's most famous recovering alcoholic, the president makes an ironic arbiter -- especially given that it was his administration's nepotism, log-rolling and lack of oversight that drove the economy to this breaking point.

  2. Excellent piece, now if they'll only get to the premise of the 3rd step -- turning it over to the care of a power greater than themselves.

    That would be, Obama. :)

  3. interesting juxtaposition of ideas...we all need to find something to believe in that is external to ourselves, whether that be the traditional "god" or "love" or a feeling that there is more to this life than we will ever know. we need to submit to the understanding that we don't have control over everything in our recover from addiction we need to take the compulsive behavior and move it elsewhere...hence why so many aa members are smokers and coffee addicts! good luck with your quest to be sober.

  4. Over time the symptoms of depression got easier to handle as I developed an understanding of the disease, and tireless work on my self from a bunch of angles reaped enormous benefits. Would you agree with this approach?

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