by Gary Alexander
March 1, 2022
It’s March 1 this morning – the start of a new month, so let’s wipe the slate clean. For starters, we begin two great market months. The S&P 500 was down 8% through last Friday. Now, it’s time to rise again.
Graphs are for illustrative and discussion purposes only. Please read important disclosures at the end of this commentary.
One way I wipe the slate clean each month is that I stockpile books that I want to read next month, so I resolve to finish this month’s books by the last day of this month. It might sound impossible or silly, but it’s a discipline that has helped me read over 100 good books per year for at least 30 years, and it also creates a huge sense of discovery the first day of each month as I crack open eight to 10 new adventures.
History books and good fiction give insight to daily news not available from the chattering classes on cable TV or Internet outlets. I’ll give you just two samples from my list of February books, just finished:
Dan Brown’s “Inferno” (2013) – A Mutant Child of “Limits to Growth” (March 1, 1972)
It was 50 years ago today that two epochal events happened – President Richard Nixon concluded his surprise week-long visit to Mao’s China, opening up that hermit nation to its rapid rise since then. The second epochal event was the publication of “Limits to Growth” on March 1, 1972. Based on computer models by a team led by Jay Forrester at MIT, and a team of academic authors led by Dennis and Donella Meadows, “Limits” predicted the extinction of key world resources by the late 1980s or 1990s at current rates of use. For an academic treatise, the book sold like hotcakes, reaching 30 million copies in print in 30 languages. Despite all its failed predictions, updates kept coming out, the latest published in 2012,
At about the same time (2013), popular novelist Dan Brown penned a similar best-selling nightmare of death by overpopulation called “Inferno.” My wife picked it up at the ferry dock in early February as we headed to the mainland for a doctor visit. After she breezed through it, I ventured into the 611-page potboiler simply because I love the Italian city of Florence, and this book seemed keyed to the great buildings and artwork there, and also the poetry of Dante, which I admire. Knowing Dan Brown’s twisted imagination, however, I anticipated a strange ending (spoiler alert), where a mad scientist creates a virus making two-thirds of the world sterile so that we can cut the population down to size to “save the planet.”
Needless to say, this outcome is seen as a favorable solution to “overpopulation.” Throughout “Inferno,” we are told by genius scientists that the logic of Thomas Malthus, first written in 1798, is mathematically inevitable, but that is not the case. Brown wrote this book at the precise time when major rich countries throughout Europe, Asia and now even North America are struggling with negative birth rates – without some mad doctor throwing a sterilizing agent into the air or water, neutering us. But … scary stuff sells.
P.J. O’Rourke’s Swan Song – “A Cry from the Far Middle” (2020)
When I learned that comic writer P.J. O’Rourke died in mid-February at age 74, I recalled with fondness our many panels at the New Orleans Investment Conference, where he was often the token libertarian. I view him as the Will Rogers of our generation. His final book was short (158 pages) but it was an aptly named “cry from the heart” for a more centrist view of politics in America — a Cry from the Far Middle!
Here’s a link to one of our panels, from October 29, 2016, just about a week before the 2016 election, the surprise Trump victory. The other two panelists are the late Charles Krauthammer, in his final appearance there, and economist Stephen Moore. Neither O’Rourke nor Krauthammer liked Trump or Clinton at all, as you will see if you play this, and Moore only likes Trump’s economics, since he was advising Trump.
LINK: NOIC 2016 – Summit on America’s Future (vimeo.com)
P.J.’s views of the 2016 election came out in his March 2017 book “How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016.” My favorite of his economics books is “Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics,” in which he basically compares the Modern Monetary Theory ideas to teenage children – all take, no give.
Since I also write about the apocalyptic addiction of our press, I liked his “All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague and Poverty.”
But I’ll stick with “A Cry from the Far Middle” for now. Let me start with key America anniversaries that fell on March 1 in history for some affirmation of what he is talking about in his final cry for moderation:
On March 1, 1781, the Articles of Confederation took effect, our first Constitution, which quickly died.
On March 1, 1790, our first Census was authorized because we love to locate and count ourselves.
On March 1, 1803, Ohio entered the Union, and Nebraska followed on March 1, 1867
On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became our first National Park
On March 2, 1877, two days before Inauguration, the 1876 election was finally called: Hayes over Tilden. Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, but Rutherford B. Hayes narrowly won the Electoral College.
That brings us up to our latest cause for division – the controversial 2020 election and the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. That was a terrible assault on our Capitol, but so far, the evidence shows that there were no weapons brought in. However, on this date in history, there were two left-wing armed attacks within the Capitol – a shooting in the House chamber in 1954, and a 1971 bombing in the Senate:
- On March 1, 1954, four members of an extremist Puerto Rican nationalist group fired over 30 shots on the floor of the House of Representatives from the visitor’s gallery, injuring five U.S. Members of Congress. The assailants’ life sentences were later commuted by President Jimmy Carter.
- On March 1, 1971, a bomb planted in the Senate exploded, causing over $300,000 in damages, but nobody was injured. The Weather Underground, a left-wing radical group opposed to the Vietnam War, claimed responsibility for the bombing. In 1980, those responsible came out of hiding, but they didn’t go to prison. (Politico Magazine: “When the Left Attacked the Capitol, February 28, 2021).
If I can close with one more book I read last month, without undue comment, it is “With the Old Breed” by Eugene B. Sledge, who fought as a young Marine on Peleliu and Okinawa in World War II. It is the greatest example of eloquent understatement of the horrors and courage in battle you will ever read. It could help us all visualize what the brave people of Ukraine may be going through right now.