What's the fix?

How the natural world deals with bears

Marketplace Staff Nov 18, 2008
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What's the fix?

How the natural world deals with bears

Marketplace Staff Nov 18, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Scott Jagow: Time for more of our seires “What’s the Fix” — we’re asking people what they think we should do to solve this financial crisis. Today, we turn to animal behavioralist Richard Conniff to get his take on how the natural world would respond to a bear.


Richard Conniff: Let’s take a herd of elk at Yellowstone National Park, for example. They really know what it means to have a bear threaten their security. So when they’re out grazing, somebody’s always popping his head up and keeping an eye out.

It’s an early warning system. When all the elk start to turn and stare in the same direction, it generally means there’s a grizzly bear out there.

So what’s that got to do with the stock market? A couple of lessons from the natural world can help. First, when a herd panics, animals just get trampled and become food for the bear. We need to calm down and look out for each other.

And we need real leaders to help. In the wild, strong animals sometimes walk straight toward the bear, as if to say, “I see you and you don’t scare me.” At Yellowstone, I’ve also seen mother elk band together and run interference to protect fawns from a charging bear.

That’s kind of what Warren Buffett’s been up to lately. But now we need other big-money types to get into the market with everything they’ve got and show some nerve defending the system that made them rich. It’s a chance for the golden parachute gang to redeem themselves. If you’re a CEO taking federal bailout, do your job for a dollar a year and be an American hero.

I saw forest fire ravage Yellowstone in 1988, and it looked like the end of the world then, too. But when I went back a few years later, the blackened areas were flourishing with new growth. The same thing happens when financial markets go up in flames. Buck up your courage, buy some stock, and the grass can be green again for us, too.

Jagow: Richard Conniff is author of the book “Natural History of the Rich.”

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