POITOU, FRANCE – This week, we are talking about the perishable nature of gods.
Yesterday, the city fathers of our hometown of Baltimore let it be known that it was time to toss out the old deities. Reports the Associated Press:
After violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend in response to the city’s plan to remove a Robert E. Lee statue from a park there, Mayor Catherine Pugh has renewed efforts to remove similar Confederate imagery from Baltimore. […]
On Monday, Pugh released a statement saying that it is her intention to remove all of Baltimore’s Confederate-era monuments – Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway, the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell.
All across the country, the old gods become devils. New, gluten-free gods take their places.
Confused by Shadows
The statue of Taney (pronounced Tawney) will be particularly missed.
Roger Taney, like your correspondent, comes from the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
Like your editor, he grew up among the tobacco leaves. Like your editor, his teachers advised his parents that he was someone whose future lay beyond the green fields. And like your editor, he left the rich farms and oyster beds, went to college, and studied law.
This is where the similarity ends. Taney had a brilliant career; he took the high road to the top of the nation’s highest court. We never even took the bar exam…
The statue is less than a one-minute stroll from our office. Artfully done, it shows the Supreme Court jurist in his robes, bent forward in gloomy reflection.
The poor man had a lot to think about. Upon his shoulders fell the weight of contradictions over slavery.
America was supposed to be a free country. As chief justice of the Supreme Court, his main duty was to protect the freedom of its citizens against the power of the government. And yet a large part of the population was kept in chains, condoned and abetted by that very same government.
On a personal level, where he bent to his own bricks and tilled his own plants, he knew what to do. He freed his slaves and gave pensions to the older ones.
Taney said of slavery that it was “a blot on our national character.”
But the gods and myths misled him. In his chambers… wrestling with a complex legal issue by candlelight, the shadows confused him.
Before him was the plaintiff, Mr. Dred Scott, slave and lifelong resident of the United States of America, asking the highest court in the land to affirm that he had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… without being forced into a win-lose deal by his former slave master.
But instead of boring down to the bedrock of the issue, Taney let himself get distracted by the surface dirt.
The rights of the black slave, he seemed to think, were bound up with his race and limited by them — not by the Constitution of the United States of America. This from his decision:
They [slaves] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…
Apart from the iceberg, the voyage of the Titanic was a great success. And apart from Dred Scott, Roger Taney had nothing to be ashamed of.
After he died, a few statues of him were put up. Now it is time to take them down, says Baltimore’s mayor.
Age of Miracles
We live in an age of miracles, of course.
Negative interest rates… money out of the air… the election of Donald J. Trump to the highest office in the land – things that we took for absurd a few years ago we now take for granted.
We take for granted, too, that our officials are miracle workers… and that we live among the gods themselves in an economy that never takes a breather… a stock market that only goes up… and something for nothing until Hell freezes over.
President Trump seemed to wonder how we could be so ungrateful. He used the occasion of his condemnation of the violence in Charlottesville to remind Americans how lucky they are:
We are renegotiating trade deals and making them good for the American worker. And it’s about time. Our economy is now strong. The stock market continues to hit record highs, unemployment is at a 16-year low, and businesses are more optimistic than ever before. Companies are moving back to the United States and bringing many thousands of jobs with them. We have already created over 1 million jobs since I took office.
Land of Gods
But America’s president is sui generis… practically a walking miracle.
In the wake of Charlottesville, Ken Frazier, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck, resigned from the president’s American Manufacturing Council.
Frazier said his decision is “a matter of personal conscience” and “a stand against intolerance and extremism.”
Another president might have responded to the issues – his own connections to the alt-right, for example. Or the allegations against him of racism.
Not Mr. Trump. He understands better than his predecessors that in the land of myths and gods, logical argument is unnecessary.
His response via Twitter:
Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!
Ya gotta love him.
But taking credit for the economy and the stock market is a dangerous thing for the president to do. They are likely to blow up in his face.
In June, we entered the ninth year of economic expansion. Next month brings us to 99 months without a recession.
Typically, since World War II, a boom ends before it has gone on for 59 months. Only twice have they lasted for longer than the present one.
A recession cannot be far off. When it comes, the stock market will go down in sympathy. Then, Mr. Trump’s statue might be hauled off, too, before it is ever put up.
Market Insight: Mexican Stocks Are Soaring
BY CHRIS LOWE, EDITOR AT LARGE, Bonner & partners
“Invest at the point of maximum pessimism.”
That was the sage advice of one of the greatest investors of all time, Sir John Templeton.
If he were still alive, Templeton might have recognized the opportunity in the Mexican stock market at the start of the year.
After Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, investors started to dump Mexican stocks.
The fear was that Trump would start a trade war with Mexico. And investors panicked.
But as you can see from the chart below, that was the point of “maximum pessimism” and a great buying opportunity.
So far in 2017, Mexico is the best-performing country stock market in the world.
The MSCI Mexico Index – which tracks about 85% of mid- and large-cap stocks listed in Mexico – is up 29%.
That compares to a 9% gain for the S&P 500.
– Chris Lowe
Not All Junk Bonds Are Created Equal
Last week, U.S. high-yield bonds lost 0.8%. But some corporate junk bonds were hit harder than others. And one sector had it particularly bad…
Warren Buffett Just Dumped This Company
When Warren Buffett makes a big move, investors take notice. And according to new filings, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway just closed its entire $315 million position in one company.
Your Money Is No Longer Yours
Most people don’t realize it, but banks are effectively arms of the federal government. Here’s why federal regulations are de facto capital controls.
In today’s mailbag, questions for Bill’s “in-house crypto expert.”
I have a question for your “in-house crypto expert.” If there is a limit to how many cryptos can be produced, what happens when we get to the limit? Don’t the “miners” have to process these crypto transactions every 10 mins or so with special computers that use enormous amounts of power and they get paid in cryptos? If they cannot go over the limit then where do the cryptos come from to pay them?
– John B.
Maybe your “in-house crypto expert” knows this. What happens to the cryptos in the event of an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] attack?
– Ken R.
The more I think about these cryptos, the more it sounds like another way to weaken the U.S. dollar.
– Ken K.
Something is missing from your recent comparison of cryptocurrencies as money. Money is accepted for payment of taxes. Cryptos are not.
– Roy G.
I think a lot of people are missing the boat about cryptocurrencies – or maybe it’s just me – but the bottom line for anything to be deemed a valid and valuable currency is that it is accepted by both parties in an exchange because it has a perceived value.
If Bill wants to sell some manure from his ranch to a reader and the reader is offering Bill bitcoin as payment, and Bill accepts the bitcoin, the exchange is made and we have a win-win situation.
If bitcoin is acceptable to Bill, it’s because he perceives value in it. The reader could offer Bill gold, euros, or zloty. If Bill is happy with what he gets in return because he perceives value in the medium of exchange, i.e. he can use for a future exchange, it’s win-win and the “payment” can be seen as money.
– Chris J.
In Case You Missed It…
In early February last year, colleague Jeff Brown went in front of a small audience of multimillion-dollar family offices to present his best recommendation. The company he named that day, chipmaker Nvidia, went on to be the best-performing stock of 2016. It climbed over 330% in one year.
Now, Jeff is making another bold prediction that he believes will be even more profitable. See it for yourself right here.