By the time you read this, it will only be about a month until we elect the next President of the United States. The United States of America is the greatest political experiment in the history of the world. So if you would permit me, I will only mention a few things about the economy, markets, and our strategy in this newsletter in order to focus on the stark choice we have this November from an economic perspective.
The economy continues to chug along at a fairly mediocre pace. The slowest recovery in modern times continues. It’s not a recession, but it doesn’t feel like expansion either.
The markets have had a decent third quarter with the US stock market as measured by the S&P 500 up about 3% and over 7% for the year. Keep in mind, however, that all NYSE listed stocks are actually down over 2% from 6/30/14 through 9/30/16. Not all is well.
Portfolios continued to benefit from increased exposure to equities despite the volatility experienced in September. Keep in mind, we don’t so much mind the modest volatility as we do the serious declines. That’s where we are focused: manage the downside risk in order to preserve capital for potential future growth.
Now on the Election
We are faced with two flawed candidates. As a Christian, I find that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as individuals leave a lot to be desired. From a moral issues perspective, the choice is a bit clearer as one candidate is certainly more pro-life than the other. But for the purposes of this newsletter, I’d like to discuss the overarching philosophies of socialism and capitalism as I believe Clinton and the Democrat Party embrace the former, while Trump and the Republican Party embrace the latter.
Socialism, according to Wikipedia, is a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership and democratic control of the means of production; as well as the political ideologies, theories, and movements that aim at their establishment. Social ownership may refer to forms of public, collective, or cooperative ownership; to citizen ownership of equity; or to any combination of these. Although there are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.
Capitalism, on the other hand, is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment is determined by the owners of the factors of production in financial and capital markets, and prices and the distribution of goods are mainly determined by competition in the market.
Here is the bottom line truth of both systems: socialism has failed everywhere it has been tried while capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other system. Name one truly socialist country that has prosperity and to which you would want to emigrate? North Korea or Venezuela anyone? How about the old Soviet Union or Cuba? On the other hand, despite its many flaws, especially the awful cronyism affecting the US currently, there are very many countries that have radically improved the lives of their citizens because of capitalism. Whether it is Japan, the countries of Western Europe (despite the creep of socialist policies, they achieved their wealth through capitalism), Taiwan, or Chile, these are all countries who have vastly improved the lives of their people due mainly to capitalism as an economic philosophy. Let’s contrast the stories of Chile and Venezuela. A large part of what follows comes from humanprogress.org.
/> In 1975 Venezuela was the world’s 10th freest economy. In 2013 it was the least free (North Korea does not provide data). Chile, on the other hand, by 2013 had become the 10th freest economy. As a result: /> Between 1975 and 2015 Chile’s income per capita grew by 287% while Venezuela’s shrank by 12%. /> In 1975, Chile’s infant mortality rate was 33% higher than Venezuela, in 2015 almost twice as many infants died in Venezuela than in Chile. /> In 1975, Venezuelans lived longer than Chileans. In 2014, Chileans life expectancy at birth was 81 versus 74 for Venezuelans. /> With increased economic freedom, Chile has become more democratic since 1975; with increased socialism, Venezuela has become more repressive.
Finally, for those who are concerned with environmental stewardship the lessons of Germany should not be forgotten. When the democratic West was reunited with the formerly Communist East, one of their biggest challenges was overcoming the environmental devastation communism wrought. On the bright side, go visit the eastern side of Germany today, 26 years after reunification; the renewal under capitalism is breathtaking.
So we have a decision to make: do we want to embrace policies that lead us deeper and deeper into the socialist wilderness and continue the economic decline of America as we once knew it? Or do we want to embrace capitalism, perhaps temper its flaws, in order to help more of our brothers and sisters to enjoy the American dream?