The CassandrasJANUARY 3, 2009
- Stock up on batteries while you can.
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- Peter Schiff Was Right 2006 - 2007
As we look ahead to 2009, one of the most pressing questions we ask is, will our economy will get better, or worse? And how do we find any answer that is anything but pure shoulder shrugging speculation? It's natural to turn to sources who predicted the economic disaster all along. You know, the bears. The doctors of doom. The Cassandras of Wall Street. You know the story of Cassandra - it's from Greek mythology. She could predict the future, but no one would believe her. Weekend America's Julia Barton wonders what the myth has to teach us now.
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There are many, many videos on YouTube under the title "Peter Schiff was right."
And just like Cassandra in Greek tragedies, Peter Schiff is surrounded by a chorus of skeptics on cable financial news shows.
"I think [the recession] is going to be pretty bad, and whether it starts in 07 or 08 is immaterial," Schiff predicts on an Aug. 28, 2006 edition of "Kudlow and Company" on CNBC.
His opponent, Art Laffer, jumps in: "I think Peter is totally off base, and I don't think it's gonna be, I mean, I just don't know where he's getting his stuff."
"Well, one of us is off base, but it's definitely not me," Schiff retorts.
Schiff is author of the 2007 book "Crash Proof" and an ardent believer that only the free market, not government, can solve our fiscal problems. So despite being the star of "Peter Schiff was Right," right now, Peter Schiff is not happy.
"You would think that somebody in government would want to say, 'Let's get this guy's opinion,'" he tells me. "Why don't we go to the guy that was warning us all along, right? Who everybody else was laughing at, why don't we see what he thinks? And that's what's frustrating, because I know exactly what needs to be done."
So, yes, Schiff says he feels like he has something in common with Cassandra. When she shows up as a character in the fifth-century B.C. tragedy "The Agamemnon," she also complains to the chorus that no one listens to her.
"And the first thing the chorus says after that is 'But we believe you!'" notes Whitman College professor of classics Dana Burgess (who also, you should know, co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Classical Mythology.") Burgess points out the paradox of the Cassandra story: the audience, of course, does believe her. They know she's right when she predicts the fall of her home town of Troy. In Aeschylus's "The Agamemnon," the chorus also gives her the benefit of the doubt. Until she starts talking about really, really bad things still to come: years of revenge, murder, misery for their world.
"The chorus is kind of freaked out by the whole thing," Burgess says. "They express some kind of dubiousness about prophets in general, and Cassandra in particular, and they don't like what she's saying. They don't really want to hear this stuff, so they're pretty discombobulated by Cassandra."
"So in 2009, I should be hiding under the covers most of the time?" I ask Peter Schiff.
"No, you should be hiding your money from the government. You should be hiding it from Ben Bernanke and getting out of the dollar."
"Should I be buying gold on my credit cards?"
"You should be buying gold with cash," Schiff laughs.
But I work in public radio, I don't have any.
"Well, you could stock up on things that don't perish," Schiff says. "You could buy batteries, you know, things that'll last for a while. Those things are going to cost a lot more in the future, so you might as well buy them now."
Batteries. Peter Schiff, the country's most popular prophet of doom, is telling me hyper-inflation is on the way and I need to stock up on batteries. So do I? Seriously. Do you?
Or do I look for a sign that he's not a true prophet?
Robert Prechter has been predicting economic trends for more than three decades, and is author of the 2002 book "Conquer the Crash."
"It's funny. When people don't like what you have to say or think you're completely wrong, it's difficult to enjoy that experience," he says. "And if suddenly they say, 'Oh, you're the smartest person that's come down the pike in a while,' anyone in this business should know better than to enjoy that either, because it simply means that you're about to be wrong."
Like Peter Schiff, Prechter's a libertarian, but he doesn't sound totally gloom and doom. He has a more cyclical view of our current crisis.
"There's a deep valley ahead, but we'll get to it fairly quickly and come out the other side, and a few years after it's over it'll be a distant memory for the history books," he predicts. "It's a sad thing, but it's also a natural thing. The ebb and flow of social mood from optimism and pessimism simply is part of the human experience."
To everything there is a season. It's an ancient, if not specifically Greek point of view. And professor Dana Burgess says the ancient Greeks actually distrusted prophets. As Cassandra sees the end of her life approaching in "The Agamemnon," she rips the tokens of her prophet-status from her robes and throws them on the ground.
"I think she recognizes that knowing what will be is not a good thing," Burgess muses. "And we might, you know, say well we want to know what's going to happen next week, is my boss going to give me a raise or whatever, but she, I think in that moment, sort of reveals that knowing the future is a kind of curse."
Only fools and the cursed are certain of what will come in that world. So maybe it's best to leave those batteries on the shelf and hope for the best.
If not, I say, nine-volts are the way to go. Who's going to think about nine-volts until it's too late?
- Music Bridge:
- The Golden Apple Pie
- Artist: Nonloc
- CD: Between Hemispheres (Strange Attractors Audio House)