Financial websites: A call to action

July 8, 2008, 5:17 PM UTC

I just spent a few minutes on a variety of websites. I’m not going to single them out, not because they’re not good (of course they are, they’re quite deft and professional and excellent in every way).

They just made me want to kill myself.

Now, as lachrymose as I may be at times, this is a solution to life’s problems that has rarely occurred to me since I was out of college and stopped reading Kafka for laughs. But I believe it would now be easy to make the case that this is the worst things have been since the Depression of the 1930s. Looking at the news, it’s possible to come to the conclusion that any light anybody sees at the end of this tunnel is an oncoming train.

The last time this happened to our economy, the public had one great solution to the challenge of keeping the national spirits up: stupid movies. This explains the entertainments that were popular between 1929 and World War II. Screwball comedies. Musicals featuring concentric circles of feathered women dancing, swimming. Horse operas.

The Internet now faces a similar opportunity which, if not taken at its crest, may lead to the demise of the medium. This is most true, I think, of financial websites, which may, if they are not careful, assume the role of the cranky old uncle at the wake who sits in a chair in the corner and refuses to get drunk with the rest of the mourners.

The job here is quite clear: to amuse as well as inform, and to give people something to think about while we all wait out this suicidal swoon brought about, in large part, by the same people who still control the message issued by the markets. Lehman Brothers (LEH), for instance, recently wrote down a staggering amount as a testament to its lack of overall comprehension in advance of current events. Yet Monday, when its analyst wrote down the entire media sector, Wall Street jumped off the ledge along with him. Go figure.

But the hell with that. That’s not going to change. What we can change is the agenda of what we’re putting into our heads. Do we need to hear about more layoffs? More writedowns? More end-of-the-world scenarios? I think not!

Instead, let’s consider the following:

  • Summertime brings with it great weather and a chance to relax… except for those who have to stay at home with a bunch of screaming kids and can’t go on that vacation away from it all because of the price of fuel driving the cost of travel through the roof…

No, wait. That’s not right. Sorry. Let’s start over.

  • There has never been a better time to buy an automobile! Prices are way down, incentives are up, and some companies are even paying for two years of free gasoline in order to get you into the showroom… because… well… hm.

Okay, then. Let’s try this:

  • The marketplace now offers a host of fabulously-priced securities that are quite literally trading at a fraction of their true value. If you believe in the system, and that this old economy of ours will come roaring back very soon, now is absolutely the time to pick up all those terrific properties that are hopefully trading at all time lows.
  • Homes, too, are now available that were once out of reach, as more and more people are forced to default on their mortgages and surrender their family abodes to the harsh gavel of foreclosure.
  • And puppies are still so darned cute!

See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?