a few short weeks ago, newspapers, radio announcements, TV newscasts and Internet headlines couldn't seem to stop reminding audiences that the United States is in a financial crisis. Now, headlines are considerably more benign.Gone are the dire predictions of worldwide financial disaster. Gone are the urgent instructions to politicians to "bail out" or "rescue." Gone are the pressing recommendations to the public to save or spend or do whatever else economists suggest might benefit the situation.Gone, too, are the anxious expressions on students' faces and the repeated resolutions to learn more about the economy "to understand the financial crisis."The rapid return to seeming normalcy, in fact, almost makes it seem as though there was never a crisis at all.But there was, of course. Foreclosed homes signaled its start. Then the mortgage crisis found further expression in the near-bankruptcy of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Other businesses -- including Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG and Goldman Sachs -- faced financial turmoil, too.For longer than economists would have liked, politicians debated a $700 billion bailout for financial firms. As they debated, the Dow Jones dropped 778 points in a single day, and world markets plummeted, too. Finally, a weary Congress passed the rescue package.Not enough time has passed since the first days of October, when the Senate and House sealed the bill, to know what impact the bailout will ultimately have on the global economy, but enough time has passed to know the financial crisis didn't end the day Congress confided untold power in the Treasury.The United States is still in a financial crisis, even if news about the crisis isn't as easily unearthed as it was a month ago, and the U.S. financial crisis is just one aspect of its global equivalent. This crisis is driving the European Union toward recession, Agence France-Presse reported Nov. 3. "Factory closings, dire corporate earnings reports and stock market losses" in China are mounting, according to a Nov. 4 article on the Washington Post Web site. And in the U.S., consumer spending is down.
Yes, the U.S. is surely still in a financial crisis if consumer spending is down.These words - "crisis," "recession," "losses" -- they all sound so, well, depressing."The Great Depression" sounds most depressing of all, and the phrase has not been completely absent from reports to do with the current financial crisis.But economists insist this crisis will not become another Great Depression; government intervention prevented that, according to a Nov. 4 article on the USA Today Web site.Still, though, this same article suggests, something needs to be done about low levels of consumer confidence."Low level of consumer confidence" -- what another depressing phrase!But what if -- just what if -- a financial crisis is not a depressing reality?If there is a reason to remember the U.S. is in a financial crisis, it is not to return again to a state of anxiety and fretfulness, but, instead, to remember that money need not determine the dignity, decency and joy of human beings.Maybe a drop in consumer confidence isn't a downer at all.The Great Depression produced the Greatest Generation, after all. In the midst of financial stress, ordinary citizens discovered their own resourcefulness, generosity and capacity for compassion. Potato sack dresses. Pudding made with old milk. Pennies stowed in piggy banks to purchase Christmas presents.In the midst of the current financial stress, U.S. citizens can do the same - indeed, have already done so. To save money, some families have started staying home for dinner -- and, in the process, they have rediscovered the pleasures of an old-fashioned meal and thoughtful conversation. To save money, some students have started riding bikes instead of driving cars -- and, in the process, they've realized the attitude-boosting effects of xercise endorphins. To save money, some students have decided to give friends and family homemade Christmas presents -- and, in the process, they've remembered "it's the thought that counts."And it is true. Thought. Effort. Connection. These count more than a dollar does. These count more than the points the Dow Jones drops. These count more than the mind-boggling figure associated with the bailout.Remember the financial crisis if only to remember what really counts.