Perhaps Not the Road to Perdition

07/04/2011 10:30 am EST


Jim Lowell

Partner & Chief Investment Officer, Adviser Investments

There are many who see the unraveling of Greece and the troubles both abroad and at home as the beginning of the end, but that's too easy an explanation of events, comments Jim Lowell of Forbes ETF Advisor.

This week, watching the European bourses sputter as bailout concerns returned, Asian markets dipping on growth restraints (there) and growth taints (Europe and here), and our own markets foundering on the shoals of dismal manufacturing and jobs reports, I found myself recalling competing lines from two German romantic poets, Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Holderlin.

Rilke wrote of the human condition and its historicity. “We set it right and it disintegrates, we set it right again and we disintegrate, too.”

To my mind, Holderlin counters with a sensibility attuned to an age witnessing the decline of gods and the rise of man, sensing a complex of opportunity in such adversity. “Where danger exists, there the saving ground arises.”

Between Europe’s ongoing fiscal woes, Asia’s orchestrated slows, our fiscal house of foes, and Arab rows, there’s ever a reason to feel as if economic deceleration is a synonym for civilization’s disintegration, and vice versa.

Yet, as I look to the evidence of the deceleration of known economies and the disintegration of the "knowns" in terms of what were the Middle East and North Africa before the uprisings, what was Europe before the current potential collapse, what is America’s present and future state, and what will become of them all after the present tense turns to the past, I can see the world as a place wherein the saving ground is increasingly likely to arise.

If that’s too poetically charged, consider a more down-to-earth, market-wise realm: I think by the beginning of the fourth Quarter, we’ll find lower prices leading to higher ones. That’s cold comfort, since getting there means giving up ground here—but so be it.

Meanwhile, lower commodity prices are already reflecting the consequence of decelerating economies here and abroad. They're also already likely lending better profit margins to companies whose current financial future is being viewed by the dim bulbs of consensus that have fretted away any belief in a saving ground.

To be sure, civilizations as we knew them are now visibly unsettling. More pellucid: on the ground, we’re seeing the old plaint of rioting in the streets as austerity upends lives built upon political pledges of and for solvent states.

If ever there was an object lesson in the hells of such hope, Europe is it. We aren’t far afield, and could as easily see those who have the most to lose by any government cutbacks riot.

Work ethic is a hard sell, even when there are jobs to be had and dreams to be dreamt.

So, dreams are never easy to sustain, let alone repeat. The history of democracy tells us that much. But that history also teaches us that from Ruth’s tent to our best intents, dreams of democracies are not yet spent.

Saving grounds are never easily posited, won or held; they’re born of character building moments that have most running from, rather than to, the efforts to hold and rebuild what is best of and for us. Who, the ages ask, knows what is best for us anyway?

As we continue to wind our way down what is likely to remain a difficult interim road, encountering unsettling moments strung together like a perdurable event with no horizon beyond it, it will become easy to think that what is assumed is true—that deceleration and disintegration are one and the same.

Easy, that is, if you listen to only one chorus’ way of interpreting such moments along such roads.

I’ll take the harder, higher road than such herds trod, and listen to the voice of reason based on the evidence I see for sustaining the free markets and democracies I still dare to dream, while keeping in mind the oldest truth of our ancient civilization…the chorus can often foreshadow what is inescapably true.

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