As the Dow dips below 10,000, one might identify a personal need for (1) a strong anti-depressant, (2) a very strong drink, or (3) a big hug. While all 3 have their places, it’s also useful to exhale (deeply, my friends), and reflect back on some history.

The last time the Dow was at 10,000 was 2004. Let’s inventory some events from that year: the last Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly line, Ronald Reagan died, the Statue of Liberty re-opened with enhanced security, Martha began to serve five months in jail, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Kydland and Prescott for their work on business cycles in macroeconomics, and Munch’s The Scream was stolen from its Oslo home (in addition to partaking in items (1) through (3) agove, screaming does seem like a rational activity at the moment).

Take a look at some of the most popular business books of the year 2004, and how they ‘feel’ given the current market and investment climate…

Bull’s Eye Investing by John Mauldin. The tagline for this book is, “Targeting Real Returns in a Smoke & Mirrors Market.” This book was sold as, “the new bible for investors for the next decade and beyond, and one of the best business books of all time!” In the book, Mauldin recommends portfolio diversification (a good thing), but Mauldin was in the hedge fund business. Hedge funds were a key component of the “bull’s eye” target in this book.

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. The theory of this book is timely. We’ve entered the era of The New Frugality. He talks about “satisficing” and not “maximizing.” Assuming that it’s going to be a lighter, cheaper, more frugal holiday season and 2009, the lessons in this book are well-timed to check out.

The Coming Generational Storm
by Laurence Kotlikoff and Scott Burns. When Congress passed the rescue bill for credit markets, they added hugely to the debt burden of our kids, and their kids. These past several years of both government spending excesses and Wall Street greed have compromised fiscal policy and risked the economic health of future generations. Kotlikoff’s and Burns’s solutions are bold. When they were first published in 2004, they were controversial. Re-read this book today and see how much further we’ve fiscally sunk, and how we’ll have to consider such bold tactics to deal with our very tough choices.

And, finally…

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers by Lois Frankel. I take the following book description directly from the editorial description of the book from Amazon: “When overlooked for that special assignment or promotion, many women point the finger outwardly, looking for someone else to blame. Now, Lois P. Frankel presents a different view in her empowering career primer that helps women identify ingrained habits they learned as girls that may be holding them back, such as couching statements in a question, smiling inappropriately, tilting the head while speaking, and others.”

Might one of those ‘ingrained habits holding women back’ including, say, winking while on national TV during a Vice Presidential debate?

Health Populi’s Hot Points: “Health care has to compete in a crowded issue environment,” Drew Altman, President of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told a conference call last week. He talked about the current economic shocks that will wave through the economy, saying that health reform efforts may result in, “something more incremental and less comprehensive” than he had originally hoped.
In these very financially troubled times, there is a competition for ideas: look back to 2004 and the popular books sold that year. Some of the ideas were prophetic, some now read rather ironic, and some are just, well, silly.

Like deers caught in the headlights, here some of us (er, you), waving the white flag of surrender to health reform. But, in fact health reform does have to compete in a crowded field of ideas, and compete it must. Understanding Congress’s difficulty in multi-tasking, the health reformers who really want to reform the system need to think very creatively about how to stem costs. We’re not going to do that in the current chaotic architecture of American health care.

A new report from Peter Orszag, savant of the Congressional Budget Office, will be out later in 2008 discussing many options for smartly changing our health system. He recently told an audience at the Stanford Center for Public Health on September 16, “Embedded in the nation’s central long-term fiscal challenge appears to be a substantial opportunity” to manage costs. Amen, Dr. Orszag!