‘You, who cannot promise yourself a single day, who are only a pilgrim here below, does it belong to you to decide such affairs? You are the master neither of your property nor of yourself: you and your estate, all these things, belong to your family; that is to say, to your ancestors and your posterity.’
Stocks sold off yesterday as investors became alarmed.
‘What if The Donald is really serious about this trade war?’ they asked themselves.
But here at the Diary, we are as calm as a corpse. For while we are ready to believe that he is a ‘total economic ignoramus’ with not even ‘a vague clue about the economics of global trade,’ as our colleague David Stockman puts it, we are not ready to believe he is a complete fool.
The New York Times somehow got a hold of the president’s tax returns from the late 1980s-early 1990s. They reveal what we always suspected — The Donald is a much better politician than he ever was a businessman or dealmaker.
Practically every deal he made in the period was a disaster. He lost more than $1 billion, say the headlines. Close to bankruptcy, he saved himself — according to the report — largely by manipulating stock prices.
That is, he pretended to be a corporate raider…buying shares and putting out the word that he intended to launch a takeover.
This led gullible speculators to buy, too — counting on the billionaire to drive up the stock’s price as he fought for control. Then, Trump quietly sold his shares as prices rose.
Yesterday, Mr Trump must have been watching the stock market sink; the Dow dropped as much as 648 points intra-day.
He knows stocks go up and down. And he fully intends to blame the next downturn on the Fed.
So most likely, tomorrow, he’ll claim some sort of interim ‘progress’ in talks with the Chinese…talk tough…and put off doing anything that might cause a major selloff.
We’ll have more on the trade war tomorrow…leaving us 24 hours to think about it some more.
In the meantime…we take up a small matter, leading…like a fuse to a bomb…to a big one (as signalled by Plato above).
A dear reader objects to our use of the ‘royal we’:
‘Hello Bill, for the most part, I enjoy reading your Diary. However, I do find your use of the ‘royal we’ in all your writings very off-putting. Even though I’m Canadian, I despise the monarchy, and I’m sure that many in your great republic to the south share my feelings on this. Am I missing something? Has it already been explained, perhaps? If not, what is the rationale for this?’
The Queen uses the ‘royal we’ to signify that she is not speaking for herself, but for the Crown…an institution that was around for hundreds of years before she was born and will, presumably, outlast her by hundreds more.
Here at the Diary, we do not use the ‘royal’ we. We use the common we…a plebeian, down-market, gutter kind of we, with no pretension to grandeur, nor even mediocrity.
For here we are, writing from a house we didn’t build…in a country that is not ours…wearing clothes we didn’t design…looking out on rain we didn’t cause…
…and passing along ideas that are not original. Even when we think we have had a new idea, we discover later that someone had the same idea 2,000 years ago.
Not one molecule in our body, thought in our brain, or feeling in our heart is of our own making. It would be vanity to use first-person singular; there is nothing singular about who we are or what we do.
No, we have neither sceptre nor orb; all we have is a laptop computer.
We wear no royal purple. We favour brown and grey; we dress in dull colours so we may think in vivid ones.
We have no throne, no influence, no privilege, no position, and no armed guards to protect us.
We speak not for the Crown, but for all those common people who try to put two and two together…
And we use ‘we’ to recognize all those real thinkers whose ideas we have dragooned into our service…
…all those tortured poets whose songs we have misunderstood and misused…
…all those clever people whose insights we have purloined and presented as if they were our own…
…all those scientists, statisticians, and economists whose numbers we have hijacked and abused…
…and all those generations that have come before us and — by bad luck, bad manners, and bad judgment — learned painful lessons so we might be spared from learning them again…
‘We’ speak for them all — as best as we can.
Time and love
As time passes — and here, we flatter ourselves, perhaps, by thinking that we think more clearly — the conceits of youth…the illusion of timelessness…the passions and competitions — to have the biggest bank account, the biggest car, the biggest house, the biggest muscles, and the biggest you-know-what — all get dropped along the way, like discarded pianos on the Oregon Trail.
All that is left is the shrivelled up, naked reality…of time and love.
And most of all, we use ‘we’ in sympathy with all those sinners, half-wits, and jackasses that time and love destroyed completely…they who felt most intensely and horribly the vacant truth…leaving their poor, tortured souls writhing on some ashpit in Hell.
Wisdom comes at a price; we get older. But some people pay dearly…and get little for their money.
We are talking about two of the oldest and most celebrated people in the financial world — Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger.
Mr Buffett was right about time and love. Those are the things that really matter. But they are both wrong about what they claim to understand best.
Tune in tomorrow for more…