Don’t Panic: This Is How History Is Made


The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

—Franklin D. Roosevelt


Do you feel that society is falling apart?

Are you worried that we’re losing our moral values?

Are you terrified of the rogue and subversive elements lurking just around the corner?

Well, rest assured, you’re not alone.

Throughout human history, every generation has suffered from its own kind of moral panic.

The Oxford Reference defines a moral panic like this:

A mass movement based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behaviour or group of people is dangerously deviant and poses a threat to society’s values and interests. Moral panics are generally fuelled by media coverage of social issues.

The phenomenon was first described in 1972 in relation to the ‘Mods & Rockers’ groups of the 1960s. Since then moral panics have occurred in relation to ‘ritual satanic abuse’, that was perceived to be widespread in the 1980s, and paedophilia, which led to vigilante action against innocent people.

So, you could say that a moral panic is actually a form of mass hysteria. Possibly even mass psychosis:

  • Each time it happens, we are seized by this burning need to confront the undesirables in our society. To remove them. To purge them.
  • We want a speedy return to our status quo. ASAP. No ifs. No buts.
  • Of course, while our modern definition of a moral panic came in 1972, it’s not hard to see how this behaviour actually stretches all the way back to the dawn of time.

Arguably, the world’s oldest moral panic is rooted in the world’s oldest hatred: antisemitism. This revolves around the fear and distrust of Jewish people:

  • In medieval times, the blood libel was a popular rumour in Europe. This story claims that Jews regularly murder Christian children to use their blood in matzo bread during Passover rituals.
  • Jews have also been accused of poisoning the well. This conspiracy theory claims that terrifying pandemics like the bubonic plague and the Black Death were spread by Jews who infected common drinking wells.
  • Deicide is another inflammatory issue. Ultranationalists often suggest that the Jews are entirely responsible for killing Jesus Christ and should be punished with violent reprisal.
  • All this resulted in the stab-in-the-back myth. When Germany lost the First World War in 1918, the Jews were blamed for weakening the country from within. Tragically, this would set the stage for the Second World War in 1939 — and the horrors of the Holocaust.

Meanwhile, the rest of the 20th century is also filled with other moral panics. Here are just some of them:

  • In the 1950s, the Red Scare was at its height. America was terrified by the possibility of communist infiltration. This encouraged Senator Joseph McCarthy to lead a witch-hunt against subversive elements within American society. Unfortunately, by doing so, he ended up blacklisting and ruining the careers of many innocent people.
  • Also in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was described as a ‘threat to the morals of young America’. His musical style — neither black nor white; neither pop nor country — was viewed as an obscenity. There were calls to ban him, but this only made him more popular.


Elvis Presley was faced with moral outrage, but he overcame it to leave an enduring mark on our cultural landscape. Source: Wikimedia Commons


  • In 1950s, comic books came under intense scrutiny as well. They were blamed for ‘seducing the innocent’ and encouraging juvenile delinquency. This panic led to the creation of the Comic Code Authority, a model of self-censorship which stifled creative freedom.
  • In the 1980s, the War on Drugs escalated. President Ronald Reagan reacted to fears that crack cocaine was booming on the streets. He signed legislation to prosecute drug users — while sending American forces to Latin America to fight the drug cartels. Ironically, in doing so, the price of narcotics soared even higher, allowing the cartels to profit handsomely.
  • In the 1990s, stranger danger became a resounding threat in Western society. Parents and teachers alike were horrified by the possibility that their children could be victimised by strangers they did not know. So prominent campaigns were set up to educate and protect children against this threat. However, by the time the 2000s rolled around, such campaigns were abandoned. The prevailing wisdom had shifted. The truth is that children are most commonly victimised by offenders they know within their own social circle — such as relatives, neighbours, and friends.



Here’s what really matters to you as an investor


The history of mankind is the history of the moral panic:

  • Hanlon’s razor sums this up perfectly: ‘Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.’
  • Today, with the pervasiveness of social media and 24/7 broadcasting, it’s easy enough for us to feel that the threats looming on our doorstep are more real and more immediate than ever.
  • But how much of it is emotion? How much of it is sensationalism?

Let’s be rational about this. The moral panic that we’re wrestling with today is no different from what previous generations have had to deal with:

  • Turbulent times come. Turbulent times ago. It’s all part of the cycle.
  • Regardless, businesses must still run. Products must still be manufactured. Services must still be provided.
  • This is where the stock market comes in. It’s made up of the most dynamic and influential companies in the world — all working hard to address our problems.
  • In fact, I dare say that the market is the best problem-solver there is. It always improvises. It always adapts. It always overcomes.

Indeed, over the long run, you shouldn’t underestimate humanity’s resilience and courage. Times of distress have not derailed our extraordinary progress so far:


Source: AMP


So, right now, here’s what you need to think about:

  • Are you misreading the current cycle of history?
  • Are you listening to prophets of doom making false prophecies?
  • Are you forgetting that optimism will eventually win out over pessimism?


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John Ling

Analyst, Wealth Morning

(This article is the author’s personal opinion and commentary only. It is general in nature and should not be construed as any financial or investment advice. Wealth Morning offers Managed Account Services for Wholesale or Eligible investors as defined in the Financial Markets Conduct Act 2013.)

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John is the Chief Investment Officer at Wealth Morning. His responsibilities include trading, client service, and compliance. He is an experienced investor and portfolio manager, trading both on his own account and assisting with high net-worth clients. In addition to contributing financial and geopolitical articles to this site, John is a bestselling author in his own right. His international thrillers have appeared on the USA Today and Amazon bestseller lists.