Warning, Your Answer May Sanction Tyranny
I have one key question for you to answer, because based on your answer, you should be in agreement with me about my conclusions. So, here’s the question:
Do you own your own life?
If the answer is “no,” and you think that another individual or collective of individuals (e.g., the government, a king or a dictator) owns your life, then whatever the collective wants to do with you, or any group of individuals that gather together to achieve a common purpose, is at the whim of the masses or any demagogue with a gun.
If, however, you are like me, and you think the answer to the question is “yes,” you do own your own life, you are therefore free to think and act for yourself, associate with who you want and make decisions about how you run your affairs and your business.
And, as long as you are not violating the rights of others who also own their own lives, then you should be free to act according to what you think is in your best interest, even if it turns out those decisions are not in your best interest.
This principle of self-ownership is at the crux of the current debate over social media companies in the wake of the torrent of dysfunction coming from this space. Although already prevalent, this issue really ramped up about a year ago with the banning and de-platforming of then-President Trump and other conservative voices. Twitter began the wave of bans when it initially suspended and then banned the former president’s personal feed.
Now, you may have been outraged by the banning of Mr. Trump from Twitter. You also may think that this sets a bad precedent, and that companies such as Twitter, Meta Platforms (META) and its social media site Facebook, are psychotic in terms of their bias against conservatives, Trump, other non-mainstream groups and really any individuals or groups that they deem violates their rules, standards and practices. And you may indeed be correct.
And, because it is my opinion that you own your own life, you are certainly free to disagree with these companies’ decisions, and you are free to complain about it to them, or to close your account or to otherwise voice your concern about any of the issues surrounding what the proper function of these companies should be.
What you are not free to do, at least if you are being logically consistent, is to question the individuals that created and manage these companies’ right to own their own lives, and that means their right to decide who to permanently ban and who to de-platform, or how they should be able to run their enterprises.
If you agree that you own your own life, then don’t Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg also own their own lives?
Don’t these individuals also have the freedom to make decisions for the companies they created and/or now own, even if those decisions turn out to be bad business moves? If these ideas are unduly biased, the decisions will come back to harm their respective bottom lines, causing them to suffer the consequences.
Indeed, over the past year, both Musk and Zuckerberg have seen their respective net worths plummet, and shareholders in their respective companies also have suffered the consequences. Zuckerberg reportedly lost an estimated $78 billion in net worth last year, as META stock plunged some 63%.
Musk saw his net worth plunge more than anyone in history, with an estimated decline in personal fortune of some $115 billion. Tesla (TSLA) shareholders were largely victims of the backlash against Musk’s move to purchase Twitter and his subsequent self-destructive and bizarre trolling behavior on the platform, behavior that’s caused a backlash among Tesla owners and shareholders. TSLA shares have cratered some 72% over the past year, as Musk’s devalued personal brand has helped take down one of Wall Street’s and corporate America’s greatest success stories.
The wider point here is that both Musk and Zuckerberg are suffering the consequences of their actions, and in a free society where individuals own their own lives, that’s how it should be.
Now, if you think that you do not own your own life, and you think that Musk and Zuckerberg also do not own their own lives, that means you are probably in favor of Big Government telling them — and by extension, you — what to do, what to think, what to feel and what you can and cannot say.
And if you don’t think you own your own life, then you also are likely an advocate of “breaking up Big Tech,” as you think that these entities should, in effect, be socialized and deemed a “public utility.”
You also likely believe that the government should tell these individuals how they should run their companies, whom they should allow on their platforms, how much money they should charge for advertising, who they should hire and how much money their employees should make.
In short, if you don’t think you own your own life, then you are an advocate for telling these people — and by extension all people — what to do, what to think and what to feel.
So, it comes down to the main question: Do you own your own life?
If the answer is yes, then you must also agree that Musk and Zuckerberg and any other person or group of persons also have the same ownership and rights to do with their creations as they choose.
If the answer is no, then like so many people in human history, you will have philosophically sanctioned tyranny.
ETF Talk: Reaching Out and Communicating With This ETF
As you know, I am a fervent supporter of effective communication and the power that such a skill can bring to bear in almost every aspect of our daily lives.
Indeed, I strongly believe that effective communication skills are a potent antidote to the political polarization that is currently endemic in America. If you want to know more about this problem, as well as how you can make effective communication one of your New Year’s declarations, my friend and colleague Heather Wagenhals recently wrote a column in my The Deep Woods newsletter about this very topic.
The telecommunications sector, however, did not do well in 2022. According to MarketWatch.com, telecommunications was the worst-performing sector of the S&P 500 last year.
Indeed, some companies in the sector, including Meta (NASDAQ: META) and WarnerBros Discovery (NASDAQ:WBD) had the “worst year on record.” For instance, according to MarketWatch, the SPDR Communication Services Select Sector Exchange-Traded Fund (NYSEARCA: XLC), which tracks the communications sector of the S&P 500, dropped by 39% in 2022, while the S&P 500 itself fell by 20.2% over the same time.
However, that does not mean that we should flee telecommunications and never look back. After all, our need, as humans, to communicate is still as prevalent as ever, and the sector continues to grow. One way to generate returns from telecommunication stocks is through the exchange-traded fund (ETF) Vanguard Communication Services Index Fund ETF (NYSEARCA: VOX).
VOX is an ETF that tracks the performance of the NASDAQ OMX U.S. Telecommunication Services Index, which consists of companies in the telecommunications sector. This includes both traditional telecommunications companies, as well as certain types of media and internet services companies.
Some of the firms in VOX’s portfolio include Alphabet Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: GOOGL), Alphabet Inc. Class C (NASDAQ: GOOG), Facebook Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: META), Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), AT&T (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile (NASDAQ: TMUS).
As of Jan. 3, VOX has been down 6.66% over the past month and 1.62% for the past three months. It is currently up 1.13% year to date.
Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com
The fund has amassed $2.34 billion in assets under management and has an expense ratio of 0.10%.
Overall, the VOX ETF may be a good choice for investors looking for exposure to the telecommunications sector, but it is important to carefully consider the risks and potential returns before making any investment decisions.
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…
My ‘Best in Show’ for 2022
Every year, at about this time, you see all sorts of articles about the “top stories” during the previous 12 months. It makes sense, as the end of December is a good time to assess the biggest news events that molded and defined the year. But today, rather than doing a top-stories article, I am going to make it personal by giving you what I call my “Best in Show” for 2022.
The term Best in Show is a reference to the structure of dog shows, where the top dogs from each group (herding, toy, non-sporting, etc.) face off to capture the big award of the night, Best in Show. Now, in the dog show world, Best in Show isn’t really about which dog is better than another dog. Rather, the top award goes to which dog best represents what’s known as the “breed standard.”
In The Deep Woods, my standard (i.e., the goal of this column) is, as our tagline states, to present, “An uncommon take on money, ideas and society.” And with that evaluative metric in mind, today I have selected my top five columns of 2022, columns that I think display my personal Best in Show, and that live up to the goal of my writing.
So, for your enjoyment, stimulation, food for thought and contemplation, I present to you my Best in Show for 2022 (as ranked from fifth to first), along with a couple of honorable mentions.
Although these stories didn’t crack my top five Best in Show, they are definitely worth mentioning. The first is the Sept. 14 issue “Reject This Game of Thrones,” which is my response to the death and subsequent social spectacle of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.
There, I wrote:
“… as a man who abhors the notion of monarchy and its roots in such despicable ideas as the ‘divine right of kings,’ I find the pageantry rather loathsome. In fact, I am someone who has a visceral sense of nuisance whenever I see a picture of the royals, and the reason why is because I’m opposed to concepts such as one human having political province over others simply by accident of birth.”
I think it’s quite clear here where I am coming from.
The second honorable mention is my June 15 issue, “Kevin O’Leary Enters My Shark Tank.” This issue offered highlights from my podcast interview with “Mr. Wonderful.” The “Shark Tank” star told me all about his newest venture, cryptocurrency exchange platform WonderFi, a firm O’Leary says provides a compliant and transparent place for institutional and individual investors to trade cryptocurrencies.
Interestingly, O’Leary was in the news about his involvement in the cryptocurrency space soon after this interview, as he had ties to the now-collapsed FTX and its now-disgraced CEO Sam Bankman-Fried. O’Leary even testified in front of Congress about the issue, but before he did that, he was talking all things crypto with me on the Way of the Renaissance Man podcast.
5) The Curve of the Earth (Dec. 21)
Sublime moments in life may seem infrequent and evanescent, and many of the moments we categorize as “peak experiences” are, by their very nature, uncommon. Yet it is my opinion that these sublime experiences don’t have to be as infrequent and uncommon as most people perceive them to be. You see, the world of daily peak experiences, wonderment, and awe of the sort that many of us experience only on rare occasions is open to us, if we know how to pay attention to each moment.
4) What a Wonderful World (Nov. 23)
I was recently at a gathering of musician friends, and one of them asked me what my favorite song was. After a brief pause, I replied with a title that surprised my fellow artists. “What A Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong was my answer. After digesting the surprised looks in the room, I went on to tell everyone why this was my favorite song, and why the lyrics reflect the philosophical premise known as “benevolent universe.”
3) Goodnight, Songbird (Dec. 7)
The death of keyboardist/vocalist/songwriter Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac hit me particularly hard. As I processed the news of her death, I felt the bittersweet taste that news like this leaves on one’s mental palate. The bitterness is that all of us will cease to be, and everyone that matters to us will one day be gone. Yet there also is sweetness in the memories of those past, and what they did while they were here, cannot be taken from us. McVie’s death serves as a reminder to us that what matters most in this world is to do something beautiful with our limited time.
2) ‘He Shot My Arm Off’ (Aug. 3)
“Don’t mess with Norco.” That was a headline of a story in the local Southern California press, as it described one reaction to video of liquor store owner Craig Cope shooting an armed robber with a shotgun. Oh, and if you are wondering why I chose this topic, it’s because this incident took place in my hometown of Norco, California. Sadly, the 80-year-old Cope died on Tuesday, December 27 (hat tip to subscriber Lee G. for telling me before anyone else). Yet what this incident demonstrates is the simple, yet undeniable fact that the best way to prevent someone from violating your rights by force is to employ a greater amount of force against them in your own defense. Too bad most lawmakers don’t realize this simple fact.
1) Welcome to the Hotel California (Nov. 2).
Some nights in a life are epic. This past Halloween eve, I experienced one of those epic nights when I attended a costume party at a friend and colleague’s home in Bel Air, California. In addition to this being the most magnificent home I’ve ever set foot in, the hospitality was equally magnificent. Yet what really made this night epic was the performance from iconic musician, member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and lead guitarist for the Eagles, Don Felder.
Your editor in his “capitalist hippie” costume, alongside the famed Don Felder.
Watching Felder up close and personal (literally a few feet away) was nothing short of spectacular, and it’s one of those life moments that I will be talking about and celebrating with an ultimate sense of joy and wonderment for the rest of my days.
You see, to me, life is about celebration.
Celebration that you are here and that you are a thinking entity capable of knowing how lucky you are as a sentient member of the universe. Just that realization alone is enough to be grateful, but then knowing you also can have the sublime feelings that come with peak experiences should make your sense of gratitude for existence overflow with a sense of awe and adventure.
Of course, life also is difficult. There’s pain, suffering and ultimately, you will no longer be attending the party. Worse yet, you will have to leave the party while the party is still going on.
Yet just because we know life is finite doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate. Indeed, it’s precisely because life is finite that we must cultivate the peak experiences and moments that make our days on earth worth the struggle.
As Felder’s signature hit “Hotel California” reminds us, “you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” I take that lyric to mean that, although we can choose to “check out” and live a life unexamined, we are still here and we exist right now, and we can “never leave” the responsibility of thinking and acting. And because we have that life, and that choice, why not choose to live it inspired, with a sense of purpose and with a goal of basking in peak experience?
I know which way I want my life to go, and if you’re reading this, I suspect you do, too.
Happy new year, and may we all live each moment of 2023 in the name of the very best within us!
Something to Say
“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’ve semi-jokingly said that the reason I became a writer is so that I would have always have something good to read. But the truth is that I chose this path because I have something to say, and I suspect, something positive to contribute to the human condition. In 2023, with your permission and support, I shall continue doing just that.
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,