Anybody else find the phrase “toxic assets” strange?

Asset is a good thing.  Right?  You’re supposed to accumulate them.  They are a point of pride.  You show them off.  You can take them to the bank.  People require them for loans — ok, for a while they didn’t  — which leads us to the “toxic” part.

Toxic.  Not good.  Don’t drink.  Stay away.  Will kill.  Or if not kill, at least send to the emergency room.  And you’ll have some disease that only Dr. House can cure.

So how can there be toxic assets?

This, I believe, is the topic of the iceberg of economic schizophrenia that has begun to bleed its way through American society.

Things are awful.  But they’re also ok.  You need to conserve, scrimp and save.  But not too much.  This is all terrible.  But it is all good.  We’re going broke.  But we’re going back to old fashioned values.

We’re losing hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, home values continue to drop with no end in site.  Meanwhile the President’s approval rating is high and there’s been a sharp increase in consumer confidence.

I remember a quote that a cultural anthropologist friend of mine used to cite from an interview he did with a housewife during the recession of the early 1980s …

“Things are getting better … sometimes for the worse!”

Now people are saying the same thing in reverse.

“Things are getting worse … sometimes for the better!”