How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Fiscal Cliff

By Sara Glakas
December 07, 2012

When I landed in Amman, Jordan on June 25, 2010, I could speak exactly two words of Arabic: shukran (thank you) and momtaz (awesome).

Speeding down the highway in the back of a sweltering taxi, I learned my third: ghebara (dust).

Clouds of dust stretched to the horizon. The wind blew relentlessly. Sad trees, probably planted as part of a misguided beautification program, leaned at a worrisome 30-degree angle. Like me, they seemed ill-suited for life in that part of the world.

With only three words of Arabic in my vocabulary, I started to feel isolated and more than a little scared.

We lived in a basement apartment on the outskirts of the city -- far away from the hotel district where the other Westerners stayed.

And even though everyone I met was friendly and curious about the new Americans in the neighborhood, all I could do was smile and nod as my husband translated.

I needed a strategy to deal with my new situation -- and I needed it fast. The alternative was to become a hermit, throwing away a chance for an amazing adventure.

My first challenge: Learning how to cross the street.

When I was 16 and learning how to drive, my mom used to say, "The most important rule of the parking lot is that there are no rules." Expand that concept to every street in a city the size of Chicago, and you'll get the idea of what traffic is like in Amman.

I don't know if this is true, but a cab driver told us that the Jordanian government tried to put up stoplights in the city, but they caused such confusion that they were taken down after a few months.

So with no reason to stop, traffic moves continuously, like blood flowing through arteries.

The system works, at least for the drivers. I never saw an accident. Even though I couldn't tell what the rules are, they must have been there.

But as a pedestrian, I was afraid. There were no stoplights and, therefore, no crosswalks. Crossing the street looked like a suicide mission.

My friend, Scott, finally demonstrated the correct technique. Step into the street, making eye contact with the driver until he slows down. Look for an opening in the next lane of traffic and repeat the process until you've froggered all the way to the other side.

It seems insane, but it worked every single time. (It's actually kind of exhilarating once you get the hang of it.)

Essentially, it's a game of chicken.

My point -- and I do have one -- is this:

In every game of chicken, the thrill is wondering who will be the first to yield, you or your opponent, all while knowing that if neither does... you can expect the worst.

But 99.9 times out of 100, we will not actually collide head-on with our opponents.

Case in point: The "fiscal cliff" drama that is playing out in Washington, D.C., is just another game of chicken between Democrats and Republicans.

I tried to stay out of politics in 2012. And if I thought it would benefit my readers, I'd continue to do so.

Unfortunately, "fiscal cliff" mania is spiraling out of control, and as you probably know by now, there are only two settings in the financial world -- maximum fear and maximum greed. At the moment, the dial is turned to maximum fear.

The fiscal cliff already sounds scary. And the financial media certainly doesn't help. They seem to publish a different doomsday prophesy every day.

But the fiscal cliff is nothing more than a series of spending cuts and tax increases.

And guess what? The stock market has lived through spending cuts and tax increases before. This time is no different.

If you're in the stock market, remember that political dramas come and go. They are nothing more than noise. The U.S. economy is surprisingly resilient, and the global economy even more so.

The Investing Answer: Luckily, short-term fear gives us buying opportunities.

America's irrational fear of the fiscal cliff has already pushed down share prices for many reliable companies: Even large blue-chips like Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Stryker (NYSE: SYK) have seen share prices drop in the last few months.

Right now, investors are distracted by politics. Many of the companies that have seen their share prices fall are great business, and business always trumps politics -- always. Once the fiscal cliff drama is over, I expect shares to rebound back to their pre-fiscal cliff prices or higher.