The Pushback Society

By Todd Harrison  JAN 29, 2009 10:15 AM

At a time like this, societal acrimony is palpable.


“It’s not easy being green.” --Kermit the Frog

Minyanville was conceived from the ashes of 9/11,
a subconscious genesis that evolved into a powerful global community predicated on affecting positive change through financial understanding. It’s been a labor of love but make no mistake, there’s been considerable labor by countless people who dared to dream behind the scenes.

As Old School Minyans know, we had a tendency to be early with our financial vibes. Foresight is sometimes frustrating in a bull market but it can be downright dangerous when the tide turns and worms squirm. Case in point was my syndicated scribe yesterday about possible currency scenarios if we continue down our current path.

I’ve long maintained that our role in Minyanville is to provoke thought rather than shape it. Judging by the 500 posts on the MarketWatch message boards -- venomous vents that called me, among other things, a “traitor,” “racist,” “ignorant” and “arrogant,” -- it’s safe to say that we stirred some neurons.

I’m not crying in my coffee—I have more empathy than acrimony for those scared or lost—I’m simply sharing this fare as it helps prove a point. Folks are frazzled and looking for outlets to vent their frustration. That can manifest in many ways, be them words, actions or geopolitical policy.

Let’s look back for a moment. One of our Ten Themes in 2008 was the Migration Towards a Middle Class Mindset. And I quote:

“One of our major themes to date has been the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The middle class has steadily eroded between the lifestyles of the rich and a struggle to exist.

Structurally, and unfortunately, my sense is that this dynamic continues. The wealthy will endure on a relative basis as the “other side” gets squeezed. What will change, in my view, is the perception of wealth. Black cards, fast cars and private jets will be frowned upon while philanthropy and other acts of selflessness will be embraced.

As Kevin Depew recently wrote, “If the 90s were about wealth, accumulation and consumption, 2008 will continue the mean reversion toward something altogether more austere, if not more sensible. Debt reduction and the rejection of (and guilt projection toward) materialism will continue what began in 2006 and 2007 as meditations on not just doing more with less, but doing less... period.”

This morning, front and center in the New York Times Business section, is an article Clipped Wings, detailing how corporations, tending to a tattered image, have spurned private jets. “A year ago, there would be 30 people waiting for one airplane,” said one jet broker, “Today, there are 30 planes looking for one buyer.

My point? Time is simply an amorphous concept that attempts to measure sequential relationships. It’s something that we, as humans, use as a construct of relativity but the dynamics of life aren’t bound by such parameters. What we’re witnessing in the world could have—and should have, if we didn’t mess with Mother Nature—happened long ago.

Therein lies the notion of cumulative effects and why this time is indeed different.

Which brings us full circle to the start of this column, which actually had a point. The notion of societal acrimony shifting to social unrest and possible geopolitical conflict continues to percolate whether we agree with it or not. The risks for the U.S. dollar—and the North American community—are real, whether we like it or not.

Speaking in Davos yesterday,
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin urged a full overhaul of the world’s financial system, arguing that the imbalances and regulatory failure has left it in ruins. “The existing financial system has failed,” he said, “Investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist.”

While he argued against isolationism—he must see what we seehe urged against “excessive intervention in economic activity and blind faith in the state’s omnipotence, urging the creation of “several strong reserve currencies in the future.”

Geez, sounds familiar.

Lest you think I’m data mining, looking for sound bites to support my concerns, let me offer other anecdotal evidence from last night alone. In Paris , hundreds of thousands of French workers staged a nationwide strike in an attempt to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to “do more” to protect jobs and wages from the economic crisis.

Perhaps more disconcerting, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao squarely blamed the U.S.-led financial system for the world’s deepening economic slump, the most public indication yet that discord is mounting between the U.S. government and its largest creditor.

Toss in some tension in the Middle East, shifting stateside social mood and increasing foreign financial protectionism and, well, I suppose the venom on the message boards shouldn’t be such a surprise. Indeed, perhaps we should be thankful that it’s not entirely worse.

Remember this, my friends. Society is simply a sum of the parts. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Be strong, be wise, be forgiving.

Be a Minyan.

Some Random Thoughts:


Positions in WFC, C, BAC, MS