Common Cents & Routines on July 10, 2020

July 10, 2020, by John Norris

My wife and I have settled into a little routine since the start of the pandemic. After work, I read a book on one end of the couch and she watches CNN from the other. Unless the volume on the television is too loud, and it almost never is when she is in charge of the remote, I can normally block out Erin, Anderson, and Chris pretty easily. We never make it all the way to Don.

Last night, I was enjoying sipping on a Moscow mule and reading a book by Dan Simmons, part of his Hyperion Cantos. Admittedly, Moscow mules aren’t the most macho cocktails in the world, but I was relaxed and am well past the point of worrying about being macho. However, I apparently wasn’t relaxed enough, as an interview between Anderson Cooper and the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, caught my attention. Better put, Anderson Cooper’s very aggressive behavior towards his guest caught my attention, rude even.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Redfield had shown Cooper his IQ (or shoe size, one) and ended the interview prematurely. After all, the man IS the head of the Centers for Disease Control, which isn’t exactly a yo-yo position. Still, the manner of questioning, let alone the tone and body language of the questioner, suggested the man is nothing more than a political hack. So much so, I had to look up Redfield’s CV, while I watched him bat back the barbs Cooper threw at him, to see if he were legit.  On paper, the man looks qualified enough, I suppose.

However, Redfield has a reputation for being a somewhat controversial conservative. Couple that with the CDC’s less than perfect initial response to the pandemic and CNN’s mostly negative coverage of him already, and you have to wonder why the man agreed to do the show. Did the network pay him? I would suspect so, as I can’t imagine what Redfield thought would be his upside in appearing on Anderson Cooper’s program.

It had to have been money. Nothing else makes sense, and isn’t that pitiful?

To be sure, CNN and Anderson Cooper aren’t alone in attacking guests with whom they don’t agree. This has become pretty commonplace throughout the media and even society. The goal seems to be to make ‘the other side’ look as stupid as is possible. To dehumanize the opposition. If someone disagrees with you, they are not only stupid, they are evil and sub-human. Even if you happen to agree with your opposition on something, you can’t admit it. Doing so would make you as moronic and troglodytic (like that?) as they are!

Unfortunately, this has been the norm for quite a while, which suggests a prolonged drought of leadership across many layers of our country.

Interestingly, the markets either don’t seem to notice or they don’t care. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, as long as there is a buck to be made, right? That is what investments are all about: turning $1 into even more dollars by correctly guessing which investment will make the most money. Then, when you have all of that cash, you know what? You become smart. You become a person of distinction. People have to do what you say. They defer to you. That is the goal, and always has been, just as Tevye the Milkman sang in Fiddler on the Roof:

The most important men in town will come to fawn on me
They will ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise
“If you please, Reb Tevye?”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye?”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes
Ya va voy, ya va voy voy vum

And it won’t make one bit of difference
If I answer right or wrong
When you’re rich they think you really know.

 

So, the world wants for leadership? There is money to be made. So, civil discourse and meaningful debate have taken a backseat to demonizing and/or belittling those with whom you don’t agree? There is money to be made. So, our society is in dire need of a civics lesson, let alone one in civility? Again, there is money to be made. So, we are tearing ourselves asunder, questioning everything and answering nothing? Did I happen to mention there is money to be made? After all, what else is one to do when the adults leave the room?

Clearly, I am being both sarcastic and incredibly caustic today. However, there have been times this week when I have wanted to open a window and do my best Howard Beale impression: “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!” However, and here is the rub: change is coming and change is here. The shape that change takes depends on how we shape it. To be sure, I can shout out windows and be as mad as I want to be. That won’t solve or change anything. It would be a waste of time and effort.

As an old friend texted me a couple of weeks ago: “What is missing is hope. The status quo doesn’t work. What so many people have to fight through everyday would be exhausting and scary. I hope to be a small part of the solution. I’ve decided that not being part of the problem isn’t enough.” That are pretty wise words, all the more so when you consider how much he would have to lose from the destruction of the status quo.

Hmm.

I think most people would agree the last several months have been, um, interesting, to say the least. At times, it has felt as though we have fallen ‘through the looking glass’ or taken up residence in the Twilight Zone. For some, I imagine the recent events have been stimulating, refreshing even. Of course, there are those who have found them scary, if not terrifying. As it is just about any time there are two extremes, such as these, the truth is probably someplace in the vast middle. If we hope to ever get to it, the truth, the best first step we can take is to try to be civil to one another. It shouldn’t be that hard, all the more so when you realize we all want the same basic things: enough food to eat, enough water to drink, decent clothes to wear, a safe place to sleep, someone to care about, and someone that cares about us. As a result, the differences between us are really nothing more than ‘variations on a theme.’

As I have pointed out several times today, there is money to be made, and that is what they do. With that said, at some point, and I wish I could look into my crystal ball (which I actually have!) to determine when, the markets won’t be able to ignore the disquiet and lack of effective leadership we have endured for far too long…at some point. Until such time, whether it is seemly or not, the markets will continue on continuing on, because that is what they do. It is a routine of sorts, different is some ways and similar in others to having a Moscow mule, reading science fiction, and watching CNN.

Have a great weekend!

John Norris

Chief Economist

 

As always, nothing in this newsletter should be considered or otherwise construed as an offer to buy or sell investment services or securities of any type. Any individual action you might take from reading this newsletter is at your own risk. My opinion, as those of our investment committee, are subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the reset of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself.