Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me
Other times, I can barely see
Lately, it occurs to me
What a long, strange trip it’s been.
— “Truckin” by the Grateful Dead
Songwriters: Jerome J. Garcia/Philip Lesh/Robert C. Christie Hunter/Robert Hall Weir
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the ugly 2022 stock market returns thus far in this month’s column, but first, please abide with me still and let’s travel a little story-telling path to give us some perspective and (hopefully) a little entertainment.
I just recently finished reading Atlas Shrugged, by (of course) Ayn Rand (it’s pronounced eye-n, (I looked it up).
This is probably not critical knowledge for you because I doubt many of us know many (any?) Ayn, and the one that wrote the book of which we speak is long since in the cold, cold ground so she won’t answer you regardless of how you pronounce her name.
What a slog!
Ms. Rand was clearly not a person to use one word when ten would do, or oft-times a hundred or more in her case.
I thought Moby Dick was wordy (it was).
Who among us landlubbers really needs to know the identifying characteristics of two dozen species of the order “Cetacea.” I suggest most of us could lead a full and satisfying life without ever hearing the word “Cetacea,” but Mr. Melville and I are here just in case it isn’t so.
I have never understood how Moby Dick attained the “Great American Novel” moniker but I admit my tastes certainly run to the more plebian than your typical Master of Arts in English (or other) Literature. Here’s my review of Moby Dick to save you time on Google: There’s a great story hidden among the 210,000 words of this book.
It (the great story) is about 70,000 words long, I imagine. If you are not a native of the New England whaling towns, nor a student tasked with writing an essay, do yourself the favor by putting aside any obsessive/compulsive tendencies and read an abridged version. After that, you can watch the 1956 version with Gregory Peck and Richard Baseheart. John Huston directs and some guy named Ray Bradbury wrote the screenplay. 83% & 73% on the Tomatometer. How can you go wrong?
But I was telling you about Atlas Shrugged.
I referenced Moby Dick at 210,000 words to give you a benchmark to consider Atlas Shrugged coming in at 561,996 words. I can’t even tell you that there was a good story in there somewhere. Many, many people clearly disagree. Atlas Shrugged has sold over 9 million copies (Wikipedia) since its publication in 1957. Somebody out there likes it. I was recently motivated to give it a read after finding it on the recommended reading list of my favorite economist to follow, Brian Wesbury. You can find that list here.
While I can’t say I enjoyed the book, I did find some thoroughly intriguing ideas.
I also found that truth I first read in the book of Ecclesiastes. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Atlas Shrugged was written as the Cold War was ramping up and the ideology of communism was making its way into American society and politics. Topics like Wealth Distribution, Corporations are Evil, From Each According to His Abilities / To Each According to His Needs, The Rich Are Not Paying Their Fair Share, Corporations Must Be Regulated to Ensure Fairness dominate the novel, much like they dominate today’s political discourse. Ayn Rand was clearly a laissez-faire capitalist in the “give no quarter” camp. She also has a lot to say about her philosophy of Objectivism, and the intimate interactions between men and women. We will just simply note that I disagree with her on those latter two topics and move on.
I, too, however, am a stronger believer in free-market capitalism, but I reluctantly admit that I believe unfettered capitalism brings us child labor, 80-hr work weeks, unsafe working conditions and toxic by-products.
There is so much food for thought in both Atlas Shrugged and Moby Dick, but rather than droning on for another 20,000 words (like I really want to do), I will show you, the reader, a little respect and re-emphasize this point: There is nothing new under the sun. Not with the ideas we hear in today’s news, nor with the events we read about. We have seen it all before, and if we read a little history or even novels, we can put today’s events into perspective.
Politicians that espouse socialism, wring their hands over runaway inflation, bemoan oil shortages and oil gluts, cannot resist involving our country in wars localized and those worldwide, and yes even you I that are so distressed with even sharp stock market downturns; all these distressing events are echoes of history come and gone. My Compliance Officer reminds me that I cannot promise you this downturn in the market will pass – because no one can predict the future. I can, however, tell you that the downturns of the past have always given way to recovery. Those that love to tell us that this time is different? Please, spare us that fallacy; we have no time for those who cannot, will not, read.
You know me well enough by now, to anticipate that I will return to my endless harping on having a financial plan, and a life plan. I believe it is so very important to think about it where you are going, and plan for good times and bad so that you will have options when faced with hardship. Bear markets are very unpleasant (unless you are sitting on a cache of cash waiting for that very opportunity), but they should be trivial if we have allocated our resources wisely. Count me among those that look at balance daily when stock markets are reaching all-time highs, and one that doesn’t look at account balances at all when the market is entering bear territory. Highs or lows, I have done my best to position my finances with the knowledge that there is nothing new under the sun, and that Great Metaphorical White Whale that inspires fear and obsession can be dealt with using planning, sobriety and patience. I often remind my family members how to eat an elephant: One bite at a time. I think the same is true of how to survive a bear market: one patient day at a time.
Be safe out there. Take care of mind, body and soul. It is a long, strange trip.