Whether you're a stock broker or Joe Six-pack, if you have a 401(k), a mutual fund or a college savings plan, tumbling stock markets and sagging home prices mean you've lost a whole lot of the money that was right there on your account statements just a few months ago.
But if you no longer have that money, who does? The fat cats on Wall Street? Some oil baron in Saudi Arabia? The government of China?
Or is it just — gone?
If you're looking to track down your missing money — figure out who has it now, maybe ask to have it back — you might be disappointed to learn that is was never really money in the first place.
Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, puts it bluntly: The notion that you lose a pile of money whenever the stock market tanks is a "fallacy." He says the price of a stock has never been the same thing as money — it's simply the "best guess" of what the stock is worth.