I’ve experienced market chaos similar to what’s happening now in the first months of 2020. When it happens, there’s great gnashing of teeth, people freaking out everywhere, and catastrophists appear everywhere on TV and the internet. Unfortunately, some people’s lives will be turned upside down.
One can make an analogy between this market chaos and the fires that ravaged Australia in recent months. We all saw awful images of forests burned to the ground and many millions of animals burnt to a crisp. As the season turns, we have heard that rain is now falling, and while perhaps bringing new chaos, it suggests the worst may be over, at least for now.
Those burned forests will not burn next year. They may in years to come, but not next year. They are effectively gone for the time being.
In a different context, many millions of people will see awful images when they look at their investment account statements. If the viral pandemic becomes global, they will not just be seen here, but in Italy, and Australia, and beyond. Those images will surface when they arrive in the mail, or more likely on a daily basis as they check their accounts on the internet.
For those not heavily in cash, money there last week may now be much less. If history is any guide, just as the rains arrived in Australia, the markets will recover and watchers of account values will resume their lives. But many will not.
For millions, their financial lives be upturned, and possibly their physical lives as well. So in addition to the market chaos, we’re now wondering if the virus will get us too. We’re concerned about our loved ones and will they survive. It may become an ordeal to fully recover and get on with our lives.
During times of uncertainty, there’s a temptation to suggest all will be well and we fail to take precautions. Some politicians and pundits are telling us to stop worrying, it’s all under control. For every one of these market chaos events I experienced over the years, there was always someone saying, “ Stop worrying, it’s different this time”.
Only it wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. There are some fundamental shifts going on, not only in the US, but across the world. They involve demographics, climate change, societal values, and the list goes on. Armed conflicts about tribal things will shift toward armed conflicts about the availability of food and water to drink.
Some of us want to reclaim past glories and relive the ‘good life’. Some of us may succeed but I doubt there will be many. These shifts are manifesting themselves in attitudes about politics, about having children, about saving money for the future, about cultural values that a few generations ago would have been anathema.
If you tell me it’s possible to put the genie back in the bottle, I’m going to reply that you’re in for a rocky ride going forward. For many of you, your years on the planet are shrinking, as are mine. It’s time to think more about the world our grandchildren will inherit.
My attempt to survive and continue to thrive is to embrace these changes and adapt as necessary. I want to be working for something and not fighting against something.
Individually, there is little influence I can bring to bear on the problems we all face. For some of us, getting through these horrific days and months will be very difficult. However, I recall something John Kennedy once said; no human problem is beyond the capacity of human beings.
To the extent you and I are human beings, it behooves us to keep trying. To the extent you can, keep a long term perspective. For some of us, that perspective is getting shorter and shorter. It’s measured in months, and not decades. I have no doubt we’ll survive, but I’m not willing to say this too will pass. We need a willingness to question how we got into this mess in the first place. It’s going to require a pervasive willingness from a majority of us to embrace change and fight for something.
Tony Kendzior \ 2 MAR 2020