The day the terrorists came to Manhattan is branded in the minds of
everyone who saw it. Visions of a hell that will live on long after the
pall of acrid dust has cleared and the wreckage of the most recognisable
symbols of global commercial activity have been cleared away.
While the clear-up will be a gigantic task in physical terms, it is as
nothing compared with the psychological damage inflicted on people who
experienced the mass slaughter either first hand or via television
screens across the world.
It may not seem so now, but getting the US economy up and running again
will be the easy part. It has always proved astonishingly resilient and
President Bush will want to ensure this happens quickly, if only to show
the men of evil that their strike on the country's financial heart has
failed to destroy its resolve. Co-ordinated rounds of interest rate cuts
by other countries and the determination of central bankers to sustain
the world's engine-room economy at any cost should help prevent it going
But after the vital and practical steps have been taken, we move into
unknown territory where many intangibles come into play. Are businesses
located in the right place?
Will people continue to want to work in the city of New York? And, if
they do, should they be asked to work in skyscrapers?
The success of any economy is always limited by the extent of the
feelgood factor among consumers - and the feelgood factor has never
taken a bigger hit. From now on, companies will be hesitant about when
and where to invest and may simply run for cover. At home, consumers
face new limits to their personal freedom. Abroad, they see a world
growing more politically unstable and the threat of an oil crisis that
would end all hopes of avoiding a recession.
Until now, the corporate confidence crisis has not spilled over into the
consumer area. Unemployment remains low and the buoyant housing market
shows no sign of sinking. And, although it seems an insensitive and
trivial thing to say at this time, a strong retail sector attests to
advertising's importance and effectiveness.
At the moment it seems almost inconceivable that anything good can
emerge from all the devastation, pain and suffering. One hope is that it
will concentrate minds on working together to preserve the economic
stability that ought to be the mark of a civilised society.