Cartoon Law I.

“Any body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation.” If the economy steps off a cliff even as we spend countless hours listening to educated bankers and economists tell us that the near future looks fine, you can expect the following to happen. The President takes the microphone and declares, while loitering midair, offering such tidbits of wisdom about the beneficial effects his stimulus package this or his tax cut that, until he chances to look down. And you know what happens next.

Cartoon Law II.

“Any body in motion will tend to remain in motion until solid matter intervenes suddenly.” Our banks and financial institutions have experienced this law firsthand, Lehman Brothers Holdings among the latest. Hitting the cartoon telephone pole at full speed is, as this Law II suggests, the only way to stop forward motion with any success. There is the comic slide down the pool immediately following the impact which can only mean two things: financial institutions will see stars whirling around their collective heads for the near future and, the pole is now ready for the next hapless character to crash into it.

Cartoon Law III.

“Any body passing through solid matter will leave a perforation conforming to its perimeter.” Each time oil prices spike, they leave major corporations running for the exits, creating their own cookie-cutter holes as they try to get ahead of the problem that no one is sure is a problem. So instead of leaving by the door, they exit through a wall, evidently not a solid enough surface to allow Cartoon Law II to come into play because the easy solutions have long since been kicked to the curb. Now we are at the mercy of speculators who apparently have little regard for laws of supply and demand.

Cartoon Law IV.

“The time required for an object to fall twenty stories is greater than or equal to the time it takes for whoever knocked it off the ledge to spiral down twenty flights to attempt to capture it unbroken.” This is my favorite axiom of all. Who among us has not seen the Federal Reserve do this with each rate cut? And now as Fed chairman Ben Bernanke wonders if inflation is worth controlling even if there is no wage-price spiral evident (an inflationary benchmark that suggests the worker will have the ability to demand higher pay because things cost more and the employer, reluctantly will give this wage to the worker creating a spiral downward dragging the whole of the economy with it) as he races down the stairs. Only Cartoon Law IV is a waste of time. The priceless nature of the economy, the object hurtling through space in this instance, falls victim to the inevitable comic result: the attempt to catch it is unsuccessful.

Cartoon Law V.

“All principles of gravity are negated by fear.” I offer last week’s trading as proof that investors can spin their feet so quickly that they do not touch the ground while any news good or bad propels most of them straight up a flag pole. These days many traders are left scratching their heads as they realize that just the sound of the unknown can change the direction of the market dramatically.

Cartoon Law VI.

“As speed increases, objects can be in several places at once.” You know this one as the cloud of dust and debris brawl, to be witnessed as the candidates begin their battle for the White House. With the economy hanging in the balance, the next five months should provide numerous occasions of spinning and throttling as neither candidate can pinpoint where the nation is right now and offer a plan of where we should be.

Cartoon Law VII.

“Certain bodies can pass through solid walls painted to resemble tunnel entrances; others cannot. This trompe l'oeil inconsistency” has played itself out to great effect in housing. Instead of the imaginary tunnel, the economy has painted a door and allowed millions of Americans to pass through but when it attempted to follow, the surface was once again solid. This trick surface has left many wondering why so few pockets of economic malaise can have effected so many. Many neighborhoods have been devastated but far more are hanging on, albeit with some difficulty and still more are doing just fine. But the problem we face relies on the ability to balance savings and spending, neither of which evidently can occur at the same time.

Cartoon Law VIII.

“Cartoon cats have more than the traditional nine lives.” They become like water snapping back to whatever they were prior to their mishap, even assuming the shape of the container if they happen to find themselves in one. Henry Paulson believes this to be true and no matter how many times the economy can be “decimated, spliced, splayed, accordion-pleated, spindled, or disassembled, it cannot be destroyed.” Mr. Paulson knows what the economy needs: more self-regulation and perhaps a little agency consolidation. Then, after regaining its shape, the economy can shake off these minor set-backs (weak dollar, global slowdowns, and commodity speculation) and it is back to business as usual.

Cartoon Law IX.

“Necessity plus Will provokes spontaneous generation.” Look in the mail. First, you receive the notice of when the stimulus check will arrive – giving you an opportunity to plan how and where or even if you will spend it. This opens the door to the “controversial pocket theory” which, “suggests these objects are drawn from unseen recesses of a character's costume, or from a storehouse immediately off-screen” or borrowed directly from what you will owe at some point in the future, taxes that will need to repaid. And then, as if by magic, the check shows up that “merely defers the question of how any absolutely apt object is instantaneously available”.

Cartoon Law X

“For every vengeance there is an equal and opposite re-vengeance. This is the one law of animated cartoon motion that also applies to the physical world at large. For that reason, we need the relief of watching it happen to a duck instead.” Only now, so many more people are affected by the unbridled capitalism of the few that when revenge is eventually enacted, it often comes too late to matter.

These laws were borrowed liberally from “Elementary Education” by Mark O'Donnell (Knopf (1985) in the hope that when you encounter these situations, you may fall on the right side of cartoon law.