Freedom Is the Best Disinfectant
Contrary to the line from the Kris Kristofferson classic, “Me and Bobby McGee,” freedom isn’t just another word for nothing left to lose.
Instead, freedom is the primary value worth fighting for, because without freedom in all of its various forms, every other value is impossible. It is for this reason that I am such an advocate of freedom, and why I participate in and promote the largest annual gathering of free minds each year, FreedomFest, throughout my various publications.
This year, freedom has faced an acute and grave threat via the government lockdown and shelter-in-place orders. And while one can argue whether or not the virus mitigation orders that were imposed by government were warranted, nobody can argue that these orders haven’t had a pernicious effect on our economy.
Moreover, it’s quite evident that the pandemic has been a boom to one actor in our collective drama — big government.
“The pandemic of COVID-19 coronavirus threatens a world-wide wave of sickness, but it’s the healthiest thing to happen to government power in a very long time,” writes J.D. Tuccille, contributing editor for Reason.com. “As it leaves government with a rosy glow, however, our freedom will end up more haggard than ever.”
Some of that government intervention includes more than $6 trillion in various spending bills, and that number is likely to continue to get bigger and bigger before the COVID-19 crisis is over.
Then there’s the Federal Reserve, which just today confirmed what the market bulls wanted to hear, i.e., that it would continue to keep the money spigot wide open by continuing to keep interest rates at zero, not just for the rest of 2020, but also through 2022.
Here’s the money quote from the Fed’s policy statement released just today:
“The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent. The Committee expects to maintain this target range until it is confident that the economy has weathered recent events and is on track to achieve its maximum employment and price stability goals.”
Translation: The Fed’s got your back, baby.
Given the boom in big government, which is being facilitated by its handmaiden, the Federal Reserve, you can bet that one big unintended (or perhaps very much intended) consequence of it all will be a bigger government and a small individual citizen.
That’s unfortunate, too, because despite the widespread stay-at-home orders that were imposed by so many states, the worst of the economic damage is starting to subside.
We saw that in the May jobs report, which came in at an estimate-crushing 2.5 million new jobs created vs. expectations for job losses of 7.7 million. That’s a 10 million job swing! Yet even here, politicians from both sides of the aisle are claiming credit for the job gains by saying that it was the Paycheck Protection Program that allowed companies to rehire workers.
Here’s a personal maxim that I recommend you keep in mind: Always be skeptical of people who run out to claim responsibility for something that others actually do. A corollary to this maxim is to always be skeptical of those who claim to have all the answers to complex problems.
Another way to think about it is like this: In the name of public health, the government shut down the economy. Then, the government stepped in to “save the day” with massive stimulus — stimulus that represents a growing and pernicious debt that is owed by each citizen. Now, the government is claiming victory and taking credit for a rescue from the clutches of depression.
So, I ask you, can you not see something afoul in this?
Finally, I will say that, in keeping true with my aforementioned maxims, I do not claim to have the answers to the complex problem of combating a global pandemic. I also understand human fallibility and that inevitably, government, scientists, medical professionals and citizens are going to get some things right and others wrong.
Yet, what we also need to keep firmly in the forefront of our minds is that freedom is the best disinfectant for any viral plague — be that a literal viral plague, as in the case of COVID-19, or a philosophical plague consisting of pell-mell bad Keynesian economic stimulus and the imposition of draconian lockdowns on the rights of citizens to engage freely in the commerce of their choice.
So, you see, freedom’s not just another word for nothing left to lose — it’s the only word that matters. It also is the best disinfectant to bad ideas.
ETF Talk: A Bond Fund with A Bold Reputation
(Note: Fourth in a series of the biggest actively managed ETFs)
The SPDR DoubleLine Total Return Tactical ETF (TOTL) is an actively managed bond fund with a strong reputation and a broad scope of investment options subject to the decisions of DoubleLine Capital.
It can broaden its focus to include or not include international investments in general, as well as specific countries. This relatively open take on exchange-traded fund (ETF) management is relatively uncommon and may be interesting for bond investors.
Naturally, as a bond fund, the ETF’s price is fairly stable. Indeed, the March market volatility did not affect this fund nearly as much as it did the broader market, and it is up 0.98% year to date. TOTL manages over $3 billion in net assets.
It pays out a 3.21% yield and has an expense ratio of 0.55%, which is not the lowest in the field by any means but could be considered fair in light of the fund’s active management.
Currently, the fund is heavily allocated to U.S. Treasury bonds and other U.S. government-based holdings, with some smaller positions in domestic corporate debt.
If you’re looking for a stable bond fund with a bold reputation and an expert active hand to add to your portfolio, the SPDR DoubleLine Total Return Tactical ETF (TOTL) could provide the payouts you seek.
As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.
In case you missed it…
Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1968
Social unrest, violence in the streets sparked by racial tensions, political tumult, a hotly contested election, a viral plague raging throughout the globe — and a brilliant achievement that put Americans into Earth’s orbit.
No, I’m not talking about our current reality.
Instead, I’m referring to the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred sixty-eight. Yes, the summer of 1968 is turning out to bear an eerie resemblance to the spring of 2020.
Think about it: more than five decades ago, we had rioting in American cities over the ugly war in Southeast Asia and the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. We had Nixon vs. Humphrey, we had the H3N2 avian flu that killed over 100,000 people — and we had Apollo 8, the first crewed spacecraft to successfully orbit the Moon and return to Earth.
This year, we have social unrest in the streets sparked by the killing of George Floyd (we also have the ongoing war in Afghanistan, but sadly, Americans have largely forgotten about this tragedy). Then we have a neck-and-neck race between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, a contest that promises to be an all-out political brawl. Of course, we also have the devastating viral cloud that is COVID-19, a much worse global pandemic than any we’ve seen in over a century — and then we have the majestic human achievement that is SpaceX’s voyage to the International Space Station.
As Mark Twain once quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Or, as the more contemporary musical poet, Prince, might have phrased it, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1968.”
Now, I could spend a lot of time railing about the evils of state brutality, the ugly philosophic root of racism, the destructiveness of the coronavirus lockdowns and the tribalism about to play out over the presidential election. Yet those who know me best won’t be surprised to learn that while I could dissect these bad ideas with a rational rapier that William of Ockham would envy, I prefer to unleash the lance of praise on the space launch.
You see, violence, rational animus, government overreach and viral scourges are all part of the current human condition. Yet the more important part, the noble part, the laudable part, the part that makes me feel proud to exist, is the part expressed to us by Elon Musk and the brilliant men and women who successfully launched the first-ever commercial manned space mission.
Last year, I wrote about the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. The title of the piece was, “This Is What Man Can Do.”
Here, I honored the achievement that culminated on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. That seminal event remains, to this day, an example of the very best within us. Here’s how I phrased it last year:
I was only a five-year-old when that “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” took place, yet it was my first real memory of a life event. And, I must say, history couldn’t have picked a better, more heroic, first memory to shape a young man’s psyche.
In that article, I also explained that my philosophic insight into Apollo 11’s true meaning came to me from novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand. I discovered her works in the early 1980s, first via “Atlas Shrugged,” then “The Fountainhead” and then subsequently read every work of hers — fiction, non-fiction, op-eds, essays, lectures, letters and whatever else I could get my hands on.
Here’s how Rand thought of this glorious event:
“What we had seen, in naked essentials — but in reality, not in a work of art — was the concretized abstraction of man’s greatness… For once, if only for seven minutes, the worst among those who saw it had to feel — not ‘How small is man by the side of the Grand Canyon!’ — but ‘How great is man and how safe is nature when he conquers it!’
“That we had seen a demonstration of man at his best, no one could doubt… and no one could doubt that we had seen an achievement of man in his capacity as a rational being — an achievement of reason, of logic, of mathematics, of total dedication to the absolutism of reality.”
When I watched the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon launch on Saturday, I felt the pride of being human. No, I didn’t have any direct hand in the launch, aside from recommending Tesla Motors (TSLA) stock many times over the years (it has been one of my biggest winners). Yet I still felt connected to this achievement as a member of the human race.
So, as our cities burn in protest, as looters usurp property rights, as state governments continue imposing shutdown orders and as we prepare for a contemptible political donnybrook in the fall, remember what man can do when he trains his reason on a noble goal.
Remember that majestic achievement is possible and that the best within us all is achievable — if we choose it.
Remembering a Personal Hero
“Man’s proper stature is not one of mediocrity, failure, frustration, or defeat, but one of achievement, strength, and nobility. In short, man can and ought to be a hero.”
It’s not often that someone or something you discover in your teen years continues to be a constant source of pride, pleasure and discovery well into your fifties. Yet, that’s precisely what the work and life of the late and great Mike Mentzer has done for me. Mentzer was a brilliant man and a pioneer in the sport of bodybuilding. He was someone who used a honed sense of reason and an independent mind to help countless aspiring bodybuilders discover the most rational way to build lasting muscle mass.
Me with my copy of the highly recommended, “High-Intensity Training the Mike Mentzer Way.”
Sadly, Mentzer died nine years ago today (June 10, 2011) of heart complications. He was just 49 years old. And in a sad and strange twist of fate, Mike’s younger brother, Ray Mentzer, who was also a personal hero, died just two days later.
Though both men have been gone since 2011, their legacy of applying reason, science, principles of logic, and a heroic worldview to their lives and work will always be a source of inspiration to me, and to the countless fans of their work around the world. So, here’s to a heroic sense of life — may it live on in the best within us all.
Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.
In the name of the best within us,