human behavior

Peace and Prosperity: What We Hope for in the Long Run

photo shows a pink and purple and blue sunrise over rolling hills

Nearly 150 years ago, Jules Verne wrote about the colorful adventures of an ambitious globetrotter in Around the World in Eighty Days. During the American leg of his journey, the traveler Phileas Fogg is attacked when he is caught in a riot that breaks out between two competing political rallies.

The punchline of the story comes when Fogg asks one of the locals what office the opposing politicians are running for. Was it a very important position? The answer: “No, sir; justice of the peace.”

Like many of the episodes in Verne’s book, the local color is exaggerated for dramatic effect. But it still makes one thing clear: American politics have a longstanding reputation for rowdiness.

We have the good fortune to be living in relatively peaceful times. When riots and protests broke out in cities across the country over the summer, it was alarming to many of us—but not unprecedented. We have been here before, even within many of our lifetimes. Adjusted for inflation, the damage surrounding the riots reacting to George Floyd’s death was roughly similar on a per capita basis to the 1992 riots over the Rodney King incident.

Such violence is tragic. It was regrettable then, and it is regrettable now. At some point in the future it will happen again, and it will be regrettable in the future too. Do not mistake our comparisons here as explanations for or resignation to violence. We offer the comparisons to seek some perspective.

Generally, we think of ourselves as optimists. We look forward to better things for our children and grandchildren than we had for ourselves. But healthy optimists move in a real world. We can hope that we will know less unrest in the future, but it will never be gone entirely.

In six years, our nation will celebrate its 250th birthday. In two-and-a-half centuries of existence it has seen civil war, two world wars, droughts, famines, and many pandemics. Every year it sees wildfires and hurricanes far more damaging than any riot in our history. It has seen the sun set on imperialism, defeated fascism, and outlasted communism. Come what may, it’s poised to survive the next presidential term, and the next, and the next.

We look forward to 2026 and celebrating the U.S. Semiquincentennial. Our crystal ball is a little fuzzier further out, but we still think the Republic will be here in 2076 for the Tricentennial, too.

And who knows? Maybe we have a chance to provide writers from around the world more uplifting episodes to write about.

Clients, when you have any thoughts or questions, please give us a call.

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Who Controls Your Destiny?

© Can Stock Photo / photocreo

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
-C.S. Lewis

When we came across this quotation from novelist and academic C.S. Lewis, it made us realize one other trait tends to set you, our clients, apart from others. We have long believed you form a niche market of the mind, sharing certain beliefs about investing and life. Our understanding of your uniqueness is deepening as we go along.

Successful planning—our work–requires all of us to believe that we have some control over our outcomes—that we can start where we are and change the ending. But not everyone believes that.

Do people have control over how things turn out, or do external factors, things beyond our control, govern? Psychologists refer to this dimension of personality as the locus of control. We humans vary in this respect.

Much is beyond our control. Accidents happen, markets move randomly in the short run, others sometimes make decisions we do not like. Yet we try to make the most of what we have to work with. We expect that we can make the future better with the actions we take today.

At one extreme, some believe nothing they do can make a difference. If planning is fruitless, we cannot be of service. At the other extreme, some believe that everything can be controlled. This is a problem too—we do not control the stock market!

We are grateful for your balanced outlook: willing to take action to make a better future, knowing that stuff happens, always looking to make the best of it.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else on your agenda, please email us or call.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

Animal Spirits

© Can Stock Photo / cynoclub

More than eighty years ago, economist and thinker John Maynard Keynes wrote that “most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive…can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction…”1

The term animal spirits dates back to the Middle Ages as a way to refer to the vagaries of human activity. Keynes used it to describe concepts such as consumer confidence and the willingness of businesses to invest capital.

In recessions, animal spirits are subdued; during economic expansions, they are said to be stirring. The idea of animal spirits helps explain the booms and busts of the markets and economy.

As contrarians, we seek to discern when the dominant trend has gone too far, either from excess optimism or an overabundance of pessimism. A simpler way to say this is that we seek to avoid stampedes. We believe these things run in cycles.

More recently, we found another use for the concept of animal spirits. History suggests that rising tariffs and trade barriers around the world are a detriment to economic growth and prosperity. These kinds of trade troubles could emerge from the current discourse among nations. And there are differences of opinion on the economic impact here in the U.S.

Some analysts have calculated that the actual amount of goods and services directly affected by proposed trade actions is some very tiny percentage of the overall economy. Their conclusion is that the potential for economic mischief from trade issues is small.

At the same time, business leaders are becoming concerned about the possibility of reduced export sales and lower incomes and sales in the U.S. due to these same trade issues2. These concerns could dampen the animal spirits. Facility expansions, hiring, orders for inventory or raw material…all these things could be affected.

If business activity declines, jobs and personal incomes will not be far behind. The economic impact would be negative. You see, the effect on animal spirits, a second-order effect of trade disputes, could have a much larger impact than the direct effects.

We do not change our principles or strategies based on headlines of the day. Of course, we are always looking for ways to improve our tactics. If you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Notes and references:
1John Maynard Keynes. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, 1936.
2Business Roundtable, CEO Economic Outlook Survey Q2 2018.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.

The economic forecasts set forth in this material may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.