Carter Redux

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I recently visited an old friend who’s been through some trouble in his personal life: a death in his family and the death of his marriage. One of the ways in which he’s coped has been to trade stocks actively. He says it gives him some sense of control in his life; and, he says, he’s been successful. So, even though active trading is usually a money-losing strategy in the long term, I didn’t hammer that point when I saw him. A wise man once told me not to interfere (in fact, he used a shorter and cruder verb) with people’s coping mechanisms.

Our plan was to get lunch. But my friend didn’t want to leave the TV news and the stock ticker. He was buying a drug company that makes a flu vaccine and wanted to hear what the president had to say about the possibility of the federal government stockpiling the drug in the wake of the swine flu scare.

My friend had a big high-def TV set up in his study and obsessed over the feed like the villain from a James Bond movie. We listened to the president talk. And talk. And talk. It occurred to me, while he blathered on about how people should wash their hands with hot water, that this was some serious micromanagement! Dan Ackroyd satirized Jimmy Carter for this kind of thing back in the early days of “Saturday Night Live.”

Why wasn’t the health secretary or a CDC spokesman say- ing this stuff? (In fact, one of the TV commentators eventually raised the same question.) After half an hour, I pried my friend out of his lair. The stock wasn’t moving much. We left the transformative micromanager, the Jimmy Carter of the 21st century, to drone on about flu vectors.

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