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The Retired Investor: Key to America's Future Lies in Its Past

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
This is year three of a 15-year period where change will occur throughout America. It won't be an easy time for any of us. Stress, conflict, dissatisfaction, economic and political turmoil. It all lies ahead, but there is a silver lining.
 
In the case of regime change fueled by populism, American history may not repeat itself, but it does come damn close. Throughout our history, we have seen the pendulum swing from right to left and back again as discontent and bad times (the absence of fairness, equality, and equity) alternated with boom times and capitalism (winner-take-all mentality).
 
The only time the pendulum broke down was during the Civil War and it could again if compromise gives way. You probably never heard of the Wide Awake Movement. It was a grassroots anti-slavery movement that had its birth in Hartford, Conn., in February of 1860. The movement spread rapidly.
 
By the end of that summer, there were a half-million uniformed members under arms protesting slavery in a nation of 31 million. In response, those who disagreed with that stance formed armed groups of their own. They also numbered in the hundreds of thousands with names like the Minutemen and the National Volunteers. Americans on both sides failed to compromise, to see the other side's point of view. The pendulum had swung too far, so the system broke down.
 
In 1891, the People's Party was founded as America's farmers had had enough. It represented a populist agrarian movement that pitted a growing number of the nation's landless tenant farmers against the Eastern establishment and banking elite. That finally wound down by 1908 after much-needed reforms.
 
Fast forward to the Great Depression, millions of Americans out of work, and the rise of the labor union. That period encompassed almost 15 years. Then came the Vietnam Era along with a boatload of grievances from many segments of the population. Is any of this getting through to you? Populism is, and always has been, part of this nation's fabric.
 
Each of these periods represents a regime change of about 15 years. Why so long? It requires a huge effort, and a great deal of time to move the pendulum to the middle and even more to swing to the other side. It does not occur without crisis (real or imagined), and conflict. All the regime changes I have examined are filled with them. Economics and politics both play their part.
 
Why, might you ask, are conflicts necessary? Conflicts make people realize that "something must be done." Conflicts are necessary to move the pendulum. History is rife with examples. It required a Civil War to end slavery. World War II to finally pull us out of the Great Depression and confront the horrors of the Nazi's extermination of millions. The Vietnam War to recognize a new generation. But make no mistake, a shooting war-type conflict has not always been necessary to effect change here at home.
 
 Domestic conflicts were also plentiful — and just as traumatic. The suppression of labor unions by businesses and the nation's police forces in the 1930s comes to mind. Some of us remember the 1960s. I lived through Kent State and other student demonstrations, marches for racial equality, the burning of Watts, assassinations (the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, etc.), and much more. All of the above created a crisis and triggered change.
 
 Economics has always played a major part in populism. In the post-Civil War era, the decimation of the southern agrarian economies was a wrenching blow to a large swath of the nation's population. In the 1930s, we suffered through thousands of bank failures, drought, historical unemployment, tariffs, and the rise of communism and Nazi Socialism, which threatened capitalism and free markets. The regime change that occurred from the mid-1960s to the 1970s culminated in a period of skyrocketing interest rates, inflation, and gas lines at the pump.
 
The response to my columns thus far on populism has been heart-warming. Thank you, readers, for your interest and continued encouragement. Next week, I will conclude this series with a glimpse of what we can expect in the years ahead, at least from a financial and economic perspective.
 

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.

 

     

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