Sunday, September 28, 2008

Lessons learned from another economic collapse are worth remembering

While most Americans feel numb and disoriented by the shocking economic news flowing out of Washington, D.C., these days, we Texans only need search our memories back 20 years for first-hand knowledge of what such turmoil can produce.

After rising at the time to unfathomable heights, in the mid-1980s oil prices—our state's key economic base then—stumbled dramatically. Then Black October 1987 occurred; this sent the U.S. stock market crashing down. While we tried to digest these serious blows to our state's economy, the savings-and-loan crisis unfolded beneath us. This sent the commercial and residential real-estate markets in Texas and nearby Oklahoma plummeting dramatically. Suddenly unemployment in Texas leaped to 11 percent. Large numbers of houses across both states went into foreclosure. Daily prominent citizens filed for bankruptcy while leading state bankers headed off to jail. "Quite a mess" only begins to describe that situation. Most of the nation remembers those times as a "mild" recession. Except for a few Pollyannas, most Texans remember the late 1980s as our version of the Great Depression. We also remember how so many outside of the state refused to understand our intense pain at the time.

Our family was impacted economically, socially, physically, and spiritually by all the turmoil swirling around us and eventually engulfing us. Lessons we learned extended far beyond just how to invest wisely and how to manage money in the midst of a wild economic hurricane. You can read more about that in my new book, Witness to the Truth, published by Hannibal Books in June. Chapters 18 and 19 (pages 204-238) focus on those tumultuous years.

Today--two decades later--I am glad now that I have those memories to guide me and my family during the current economic difficulties our country faces.  Here are some lessons for survival we learned during those economically tough times:

1. God is still at work around us even when every thing appears to be falling apart. Our faith needs to remain in God, not money or the things money will buy.

2. Out of economic turmoil God can help us change, stretch and grow for our long-term good and His ultimate purposes for our lives. Sometimes painful economic situations help us make choices we've been needing to make but haven't for one reason or the other.

3. Remember that God's timetable is not ours. Unless some unexpected miracle occurs,  the economic shocks of the past few weeks will linger for at least several more years. Despite the $700-billion bailout now before Congress, times ahead will probably be tough. When the Texas collapse occurred in the 1980s, too many of us thought incorrectly that things would get back to normal quickly. Instead, the fix took nearly a decade. 

4. Be prepared for economic turmoil to spin off other social, physical, and spiritual problems. Friends, including church friends, find it easier to provide a casserole when you're sick than to minister when unemployment knocks. You can't always rely on friends and fellow school alums to help you find new employment, especially when their own work situations are shaky. Unstable family finances produce more divorces and marital difficulties than do adultery or other attacks on marriage. Avoid compartmentalizing economic issues as if they are somehow separate from the rest of life. Expect that these economic issues will impact other aspects of your life (both for good and for evil).

5. As Annie sang in the musical by the same name, "The sun will come out tomorrow". With all the gloom and doom political leaders and media representatives are spreading right now, remember that  barring a nuclear holocaust (very unlikely) life will go on and eventually become "normal" again. That's how God created the Earth--for the sun to rise, seasons to occur, and life to go on until He alone calls a halt to it.

Twenty years after Texas' Great Depression, my family and I have stretched, grown, matured, and in so many other ways benefited from lessons learned during those difficult years. We can look back and be thankful, as the old saying goes, for burnt toast.

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