The American people, fortified by the protections of the "insured society" they have gradually embraced since the advent of the New Deal, appear to be more and more panic proof.
There could hardly be a better example of this growing confidence than the public's relatively unruffled reaction to the recent spate of headlines about the swooning stock market, the collapsing dollar and soaring inflation. The great majority of Americans have taken it all pretty much in stride - concerned but not staggered.
Their poise contrasts welcomely with the nervous, almost shrill, way many politicians, bankers and economic prophets have responded, some of whom openly warn that a recession, if not depression, is just around the corner.
Apparently many in Wall Street can't forget that another steep October stock-market dive triggered the Great Depression. But times have changed, and the general public appears to sense it.
Compare what happened almost 50 years ago with the events of recent weeks. In 1929, the collapse of the stock market, wildly inflated by uncontrolled margin, naturally shook the country, for in those days there were almost no effective built-in shock absorbers to stabilize the economy. In that climate of fear, people began to hoard their savings and cut back on buying, with predictable results.
Just the opposite has now occurred. In the last month or so, the market lost $133 billion in value - dropping 105 points in one 12-day period - but Federal Reserve Board figures, just released, show an unflustered public spending at a high rate.
Furthermore, it is borrowing at a fast pace, with outstanding consumer installment credit, at the close of the third quarter, totaling $246 billion, up 18.7 percent from a year earlier, and the signs are that in the last quarter the total could be still larger.
Some economists fear consumers may be taking on more debts than they can handle, but a still optimistic public obviously disagrees. Apocalyptic talk might once have sent the customers to the storm cellars, but nowadays they take to the beaches instead.
Recreational spending on travel, sports and entertainment is going on at a rate of $180 billion this year, a jump of 12.5 per cent over 1977. Attendance at major sports events will top 260 million before this year is out, or 10 million over last year.
Every poll shows that the public is not obvious to inflation, but it is not intimidated by it, either, as can be seen in the way people keep right on buying expensive houses in the face of ever-higher mortgage rates.
Are they living in a fool's paradise, as some experts direly predict? Pollster Robert Teeter finds that "there is a great common sense out there in the country." And other pollsters agree that, despite the public's chronic griping about politicians and government and taxes and prices, it nevertheless has a strong underlying confidence in the "system."
According to Gallup, Americans are happier today than they were in 1973, or even 10 years ago. He says 64 percent say they are satisfied with the future facing their families. The Harris Poll also finds that confidence in major U.S. institutions is on the upswing.
That was confirmed by a Potomac Institute survey conducted at a time when it was widely believed that faith in the country was declining. Americans, the survey discovered, felt they personally were doing better than they had five years earlier, and that they would be doing better five years from now. Moreover, they expressed similar beliefs about the country as a whole.
Well, as a matter of fact, a great majority of Americans are doing better than ever before. Even though take-home pay, after inflation, has not increased much for some workers, nearly everybody is enjoying better health care, longer life, improved environment, bigger pensions, more job security, shorter working hours, longer paid vacations, and the prospect of additional benefits in the future.
It is the progressive development, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, of what I like to call an "insured society" that is responsible for removing many of the old fears and anxieties that used to make our people susceptible to panic.
There was a time when nothing made people so uneasy as bank failures, but the creation of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has eliminated that concern. Likewise, unemployment insurance and federal job programs have greatly cushioned the fear of being fired.
Social Security insurance has relieved millions of the dread of old age. Farm subsidies protect our food growers from the disastrous whims of weather and the marketplace. We even have government-backed insurance now against various kinds of catastrophes.
The "insured society" is clearly one that most Americans find compatible, for it is protective, comforting and stabilizing. Doubtless, that is why our people face the future with more aplomb than some of the seers.