As summer draws to a close in New York, what’s most remarkable is what hasn’t happened. A year ago, the U.S. appeared to be on the brink as budget disputes forced a downgrade in the country’s credit rating, stock markets zoomed wildly up and down and every day brought new drama in Europe.
In August 2012, the world seems a less dire place. Greece is still in the euro zone and, while headlines warn of credit troubles to come, somehow there’s a sense that the world is getting back to rationality. Okay, the U.S. presidential campaign has a couple months to go and there’s bound to be more silliness, but at least the candidates running aren’t talking about being able to see Russia from their front porches.
Meanwhile, the stock market continues to defy experts. The Dow Jones Industrial Index is regularly closing above 13,000 – a level it hadn’t seen since before the financial crisis hit in 2008. Has the market been slow in coming back? Definitely, yes. But come back it has and the health of most corporations, outside of the banks which have yet to adjust to new realities, seems in recovery mode.
Even the bad news on the corporate front looks good. Three of the Web darlings – Groupon, Facebook and Zynga -- that seemed like surefire bets before going public have lost major momentum in the stock market. For those who wondered about the value of a coupon company with a repeatable business model (Groupon), another that links folks up for free so they can share photos of their pets (Facebook) and a third that traffics in virtual goods from online games (Zynga), the stock decline of these companies makes the world seem sane again.
Meanwhile, London pulled off a Summer Olympic games long on pageantry and sportsmanship and short on political drama. Athletics again was the focus and, thanks to clever design by the organizers and some cooperative British weather, a number of records were broken in swimming, track, and cycling. That the world could celebrate simple human achievement seemed a welcome relief to fiscal and economic worries.
Most significantly, the euro seems to have gained some backing. Italy’s successful mid-August sale of debt brought the currency to a higher level and even Bloomberg Television stopped pounding the drum for a euro zone breakup with on-air pundits admitting that the euro may actually survive in close to its current form.
At the same time the news organization released its list of the world’s healthiest countries to live in. The rankings tallied life expectancy at birth and at 65 years old, infant mortality, causes of death and survival rates to age 65 and averaged in risk factors such as obesity, smoking and alcohol use. Italy ranked second, Spain seventh, Greece sixteenth, Ireland nineteenth, the U.K. twenty-first and the U.S. thirty-third. All of which suggests that fiscal and economic health, as viewed by the markets, doesn’t buy happiness, physical health or a long life.
But that’s something Europeans have always known.