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November 7, 1997

Last week, amid news of troubled Asian economies, the U.S. stock market plummeted 554 points. Panic ensued. Was this the beginning of a dreaded and much-overdue correction? It seems not. Just days later traders and brokers were once again feeling bullish.

Atlantic writers have in the past few decades periodically been prompted by the stock market's leaps and falls to comment on the state of Wall Street. Given recent events, a look into the archives seems worthwhile.

In "The 1929 Parallel" (January, 1987), John Kenneth Galbraith compared the circumstances that led to the stock-market crash of 1929 to those of the present day -- and found alarming similarities. His analysis seemed particularly prescient later in the year, on October's "Black Monday." Galbraith concluded his essay with the following:
History may not repeat itself, but some of its lessons are inescapable. One is that in the world of high and confident finance little is ever really new. The controlling fact is not the tendency to brilliant invention; the controlling fact is the shortness of the public memory, especially when it contends with euphoric desire to forget.
In "Another Unbelievable Year in the Stock Market" (January, 1972), the pseudonymous Brutus takes a decidedly lighter approach to stock-market commentary. "The key to the stock market in 1972," one of Brutus's characters notes, "is that it's the year of the rat who mates with the ox. Love is the secret." Brutus's contemporaries may not have appreciated his sense of humor, but after the recent frenzy on Wall Street, such a perspective may be appreciated -- and necessary.


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