We are living through a time of anxiety. With autumn now upon us, the warmly confident breeze of the late '90s has turned truly chilly and a sense of gloom and pessimism in markets across the globe has set in.
Anxiety is an unhelpful phenomenon in business - it leads to doubt, lack of confidence and paralysis. When you should be looking forward you are for ever peering warily over your shoulder.
A couple of days before the terrible September events in the US, when the FTSE index took another plunge, one strategist at a large investment bank in London said: 'This is caused by the view that fear dominates. Just as last year, when the markets were dominated by irrational greed, they are now dominated by irrational fear.' Well, that fear now has a real face as, with the collapse of those twin towers on the south of Manhattan island, something inside all of us went numb with shock. We are all left with a deep unease.
This anxiety is now leading to deeper cutbacks as confidence seeps away and we watch a retreat behind the stockade. The true destructiveness of the events of 11 September are spreading far and wide across the globe.
They will cause wider hurt to individuals and families thousands of miles way from the New York epicentre. For good or ill, that is precisely what globalism is about. We are all in this together. One can only hope that a collective economic defiance will brace us all, a refusal to be cowed by those who have sought to destroy our well-being.
How do we deal with this? Business can be an impressive world when things are on the up. Well-earned, creative success can be a pleasure to observe as its benefits spread wide. When things cut up rough, however, it has tended to show us its ugly side. Although the scale of what we are now living through has no modern precedent, capitalism has historically responded to downturns with little subtlety or aplomb. One can only hope that some of the lessons of the recession of the early '90s, for example, have been taken to heart. Belt-tightening is one thing, but a ruthless and ill-thought-out slashing of operations and personnel can cause grave long-term harm for companies. However severe the catastophe, thinking ahead to the upturn and making sure you are ready to take up the slack remain necessary ...
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