(UPDATED 4:05 p.m. ET) -- Here's something to chew on: If stocks had fallen today -- and they were down big most of the day before squeezing out a small gain in the closing minutes -- it would have been the longest losing streak in 33 years. 

What's going on?

The correct answer: Who knows? The market is never predictable.

What seems likely, though, is that the recent debt-ceiling charade caused real damage to the economy.

Consider: Consumer confidence in July fell to the lowest level since March 2009 -- a time when the Dow bottomed out in the 6,000s and the economy was losing 700,000 jobs a month. The best explanation for the plunge in confidence is that businesses and consumers stood in shocked disbelief as Washington literally threatened to default on the nation's debt to make a political point.

That fear has real consequences. Businesses that had planned on expanding last month likely shelved projects, opting to wait for more clarity. The focus of corporate boards probably shifted from "What do we need to do to expand?" to "Let's make emergency plans in case the Treasury defaults."

Such a shift in sentiment reverberates quickly. Economic data in recent days has been pitiful -- new orders, factory production, consumer spending? All down. That's likely what's causing so much market misery.

It will be interesting to see whether the recent data is a temporary blip caused by a short-term hunkering down during the debt-ceiling debate, or more of a prolonged shift back toward a recessionary mind-set. My bet's on the former.

What's an investor to do? Don't panic. Turn off CNBC. Maybe do some bargain hunting. This, too, will pass, and the ones who keep their cool will win. That's always how it works.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own any of the companies mentioned in this article. Follow him on Twitter @TMFHousel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.