The Clap Trap
As the March of Covid and the Madness of King Trump dominated our T Cells and telly boxes in 2020, the citizenry sought to comfort themselves with Netflix and navel-gazing, cheap backyard hot tubs and home draft beer kits, takeaway food promotions and Peloton bikes, homeworking and suit jackets with shorts, and a break from climate change headlines during a break from the office. Bitcoin surged as the furloughs emerged. And the stock markets rose, crashed, and then some even managed to bounce back and break new records, as if without a care or connection to the insanity around us.
I wonder who saw all that coming back in 2019? Not me!
And it has not gone unnoticed how my darling wife has, in the last two weeks alone, managed to remind me of all the things I’ve done wrong in the last 21 years. You might say it’s given me something of a catalogue of opportunities for personal improvement, as well as a new appreciation for the phrase “razor sharp” memory. And yet, in a strange way, her gift for recollection runs an interesting parallel to how most headline writers view our economic fortunes – through an investment perspective inescapably hobbled by a kind of post-traumatic stress associated with the last crash or correction of record, without acknowledging any of the growth that’s happened in-between.
Mind you, this relatively brief lockdown has also brought about a level of sexual compatibility that two decades of marriage could not – we’ve both finally managed to have headaches at the same time.
Equally, my penal servitude (no pun intended) here in Bo’ness has only served to heighten the three greatest motivations in my life - curiosity, learning, and the dream of a nice Rioja in Ibiza. And while age and experience have made habits of that tripartite, they are underpinned by my long-held belief that newspapers have shrunk by 50% primarily because they no longer print both sides of the story. That, and life is too short to drink cheap wine.
For me there are also other reasons to be, at the very least, curious. Did you know that some of the greatest minds of our species have lived and breathed the mantra Nullius in Verba? It means, “take no one’s word for it and always check it out for yourself.” Everything else is like living la vida loca. In fact, Nullius in Verba has been the motto of the Royal Society since its inception in 1660, whose “fellows” have included everyone from Newton to Darwin to Churchill to Einstein to Turing and so on…
So, as I sit here pondering my manifold imperfections as dictated by my current wife, I’m also thinking about the other narratives that people buy into; like the alleged gloom ahead for Britain’s economy (whatever that means), the next stock market Armageddon assumption, wearing masks too porous to protect us from the particles we’re trying to dodge, and the somewhat ridiculous government request to behave like battery-operated clapping monkeys each week for an NHS that’s nowhere near our doorsteps.
Sounds like a clap trap to me. I’m happier instead to show my support and appreciation for the rigours that our enviable health service has endured by doing things like NOT taking money from the government to put our company’s people on furlough, and ensuring our employees have the tools to work from home, and the support of a full wage regardless of Covid-19 circumstances.
And as for the austere titles and stern-faced scientific boffins of Parliament and Whitehall endorsing an almost sinister impediment on our freedoms, which has now extended to taking action against those who choose to throw snowballs in winter (you couldn’t make it up), the lockdown police state has remained as politically permeable as swiss cheese.
The schools remain open (or at least until very recently) – let the children carry forward that which the adults have been incarcerated against. The airports continued to bring us hordes of untested international travellers. None in elected office have suffered even a moments financial austerity throughout. And the other side of the story (the one that says this behaviour is ineffective, illogical, unscientific and nuts) has been vilified and left voiceless across the mainstream media, and even in the social media channels that once held so much promise for those who want to be heard.
If you read Donald A Henderson, an epidemiologist who was only credited with eradicating smallpox, he says: “Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted. Strong political and public health leadership to provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical care services are provided are critical elements. If either is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic could move toward catastrophe.”
Hmmm…The only things I’m aware of that advisors Whitty, Vallance and Ferguson have eradicated are our medical, societal, personal, economic, and democratic freedoms, and making an additional 250,000 people redundant in the UK this year. For reference that’s about 70,000 more than the total redundancies incurred during the Great Financial Recession of 2009!*
Going all the way back to 1660’s motto ‘Nullius in Verba’ and the days of the South Sea Bubble - when Isaac Newton discovered that share values could fall even faster than apples - and then tip-toeing forward through the crashes ever since, including the five I’ve now survived since entering the dangerous waters of finance in 1969, it’s reassuring to learn that no matter the screw-ups of governments, regulators, scientists and econo-pessimists, the resilience of optimists carries the day.
It’s remarkable, and at the same time, wonderful, that those of us who stopped reading the headlines from March of this year, and who rediscovered the value of the mute button on our TV remotes, now have the courage to study our portfolio values.
And we’re gobsmacked at their rude health!
As Ros Perot used to say, “The harder you fall, the higher you bounce, if you’re made from the right material.”
Or as my grannie McKay was fond of saying, “you’ll never go wrong backing quality.”
Here’s hoping the doomsayers find something else to worry about, because stock markets seem to love that.
* BBC News – 15th December 2020