The crazy market start to 2016 calmed down significantly in Tuesday trade. Volatility was modest and the selling was orderly. The Dow even managed to eke out a gain late in the session, closing 10 points higher.
The mellowing of the market today gives us a chance to address a broader societal issue that I read about over the holidays. That issue is the deep strain of government distrust among Americans.
According to a December Gallup Poll, when asked to choose among "big government," "big labor" and "big business," respondents overwhelmingly selected big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future.
The poll revealed that 69% of respondents see big government as the biggest threat to the country in the future.
That is one of the highest readings on record, according to Gallup. Yet interestingly, that metric actually is down slightly from a high of 72% in 2013, the last time Gallup asked the same question.
There are all sorts of good reasons why Americans distrust big government, and why they see it as a threat to our futures …
Put it all together, and Americans just aren’t feeling the Feds.
Click image for a larger view.
Now before we continue, today’s issue is not about debating the NSA’s surveillance program, or the IRS’s overreach, or the police shootings in Ferguson and Chicago, and particularly not the president’s new gun-related curbs.
There have been, and will almost certainly be, more detailed discussions of these issues in future Afternoon Editions as they relate to investing and our liberties.
What I want to concentrate on today is something I think Americans should appreciate more. That is our right — indeed our duty — to distrust authority, power and those in a position to impose rules on us.
In fact, our high level of skepticism actually is a virtue to be celebrated.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, given the way the country was forged out of a fiery rejection of tyranny, and a longing for religious and political freedom. For many Americans, the suspicion of "Big Brother" is something seared into their very DNA.
Big Brother is watching. And we need to watch it even more closely.
In fact, when I see protests such as the Black Lives Matter movement reacting to perceived injustice on the part of police, or the current standoff/takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon by anti-government activists protesting BLM overreach, I actually feel privileged to live in a country where citizens can express their disapproval of policy.
Here again, the details of the events are not the issue as far as today’s discussion goes. Good people can and will disagree about the merits of either group’s arguments, as well as their respective tactics.
What I think we can all agree on, indeed what we all need to cherish, is the fact that these groups are taking action in a battle of ideas. Both groups are, in their own ways, putting their distrust of government into action.
The way I see it, dissent of ideas one disagrees with is a moral obligation.
Now, I am not saying it is your obligation to go out and protest, or hold up a sign, or write letters to the editor or take any action you aren’t willing to take. What I am saying is that sitting passively by and letting injustice take place — be it by big government, big business or big labor — is a sure way to tacitly permit your society to decline.
So, whatever positions you hold on controversial issues, and whatever cause or stance you feel motivated about, why not get involved and try to make things better?
Fortunately, the simplest way to do just that is to live a good life in accordance with your own principles — and in harmony with your family, friends and fellow citizens.
And when it comes to big government, big business, big labor or any powerful group that promotes ideas at odds with yours, make sure your distrust meter is always on.
In Monday’s Afternoon Edition I asked you to weigh in on your level of optimism about stocks and the economy in 2016.
Well, one reader wrote in with a great response that demonstrates perfectly what I think is a healthy distrust of government.
Bruce B. writes:
I believe that we have been and continue to be in a national political "malaise." We, as a nation, have lost much of our belief that our leaders (in all political parties and positions) want to do "right" by us. We realize that we are being manipulated and lied to. (Example: "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan," etc.) The two parties resemble a good old boys’ network and the "peasants" are not being represented, no matter what their politics.
Now that is the kind of distrust and skepticism we need more of.
Do you think my views on the virtue of distrust of authority figures and those who seek to impose rules on us is healthy, or do you think I’ve misplaced my sentiment?
After China managed to pare its stock-market losses, U.S. stocks enjoyed a calmer day. Late in the day, the Dow Industrials and S&P 500 drifted ever-so-slightly into positive territory.
Elsewhere in the news today …
• Oil prices slid another 2% in today’s session, to end the day at $35.97 a barrel.
• Gold gained again, adding another 0.3% to close at $1,078.40 per troy ounce.
• Smith & Wesson (SWHC) gained 11% and Sturm, Ruger & Co. (RGR) added 6.7% today after President Obama’s address on gun safety.
• More trouble for China: Bank of America Merrill Lynch says it expects the Shanghai Composite to drop another 27% in 2016.
Good Luck and Happy Investing,
Uncommon Wisdom Daily