riots

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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Same Old, Same Old

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From 1965 to 1967, more than a hundred US cities were convulsed with riots, another chapter in a long history of violence in America related to race. The promise of the recently passed Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act stood starkly against the poverty endemic to the segregated ghettos across the land.

President Lyndon Johnson set up the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in 1967, asking three questions. What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?

This commission released a report in February 1968. It noted that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” It faulted failed policies relating to housing, education, and social services, and noted that society’s institutions created the ghettos, which society condoned. It talked about racism as a factor in the violence.

The report recommended the hiring of more diverse and sensitive police forces, housing programs designed to break up racial segregation, and programs to bring needed social services. Americans purchased two million copies of the report; Martin Luther King said it was “a physician’s warning of approaching death, with a prescription for life.”

One month later, King lay dead, assassinated by a white supremacist. Rioting broke out again in a hundred cities. The recommendations in the report were forgotten.

The American miracle has produced so much for so many even as its blessings have been, and are, unevenly distributed. I’m convinced its foundation is the degree to which each of us is free to unlock the highest fraction of our own potential. We would be richer as a people if that freedom were more true for more people, if it extended more fully to each of us, and to our children, regardless of the zip code in which they grow up or the color of their skin or any of the other factors which so needlessly divide us.

Fifty years after the Kerner Report, we face the same old, same old. Our institutions are made of people; they reflect us; their failings are our failings. Fifty years from now, our progress will be measured by how much potential might be unlocked instead of untapped for how many people. Our actions in business and in life can make a difference, can have an impact – as people dealing with people, united in our humanity.

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