The Century of A Woman

Elizabeth thinks I am a fool. She is shrewd.

I don’t take it personally. She thinks I am a fool in the way that all women know their husbands are fools.

Fools for love. Fools for money. Fools for power. Fools for football or fishing. Big, dumb, lovable fools.

If we ever stopped being fools, they would drop us like a wet cigar butt. Foolishness is what makes us valuable to them. In fact, truth be told, it was foolishness that drew us to them in the first place and keeps us from wandering off.

Yet most women can see through the vain silliness of men — and still appreciate, intuitively if not logically, how silliness creates prosperity and safety, and ensures the future of our kind.

Dr. Gary North now stands accused — at least on the chatterbox lines of the internet — of being monumentally foolish. Surely, his wife must have thought so too — or at least the idea has crossed her mind. The North family prepared for a crisis that did not (yet) occur. Gary uprooted the wife and kids and moved them to a remote area in Arkansas — to protect them.

(I once wondered aloud what kind of crisis could be so disagreeable as to be worse than having to live in the wilds of Bill Clinton’s home state. But I recanted. With the world of the internet at your fingertips, your family gathered around the hearth, and the unsullied beauty of nature at your front door — rural Arkansas, I’m sure, at the margin at least, would be preferable to death, and a whole lot nicer than Baltimore when the O’s are having a bad season.)

Gary is even charged with more than foolishness. It is alleged that he tried to cause a Y2K crisis in order to create an old testament-style fire and brimestone cleansing.

And the Herald Tribune reports today that people in the Third World suspect that the whole thing was a hoax from the get-go — diverting precious resources from human needs to computer flimflam.

But the Y2K affair reveals an interesting feature of human activity. Gary looked carefully at the Y2K situation and what it meant. The closer he looked, the more alarmed he became. He was well aware that he risked looking like a fool if the crisis didn’t materialize. But the more he studied the problem, the more convinced he became that it was real — and potentially lethal.

There was never a hint of hypocrisy or opportunism about Gary’s message. He was dead serious. He practiced what he preached — moving his own family to the middle of nowhere. Gary did his duty to the public and his own family. He was a fool — for doing the right thing.

Sometimes ignorance is a big advantage. Those of us who couldn’t get excited about the Y2K threat, never really looked deeply into it, and took only minimal precautions, seem smart by comparison. Now, we are more confident than ever that we can weather the next storm. No need to put into port. We think that every alarm is a foolish one — and that precautions, at least inconvenient ones, are never necessary.

Ignorance has certainly been a big advantage to stock market investors too. Those who threw caution to the wind, ignored the patterns of stock market history and took foolish risks, were richly rewarded. Today, they tell their wives, who know better, that they are geniuses.

Human folly, as I opined yesterday, is episodic. Each episode amplifies one aspect of the human character and depresses others. Greed, for example, is currently prominent at the expense of fear. But it would be a very strange new era which somehow managed to re-balance the human character. Trust me on this — fear will make a come-back. Here’s my investment suggestion: sell greed, buy fear.

But let me return to women. Ah, yes, women. This is a subject that I know even less about than investing. So I can write about it with the confidence that ignorance bestows on the foolhardy. What makes me think of women is an editorial in the Figaro, written by a philosopher whom I have mentioned to you before: Philippe Muray.

Monsieur Muray makes a prediction about the new century. He says that “man of the 21st century will be a woman.” He goes on to explain that the dominant aspect of the future will be the feminization of society. The 20th century emphasized masculine imbecility — wars, politics, murder on an industrial scale. The next century will change things.

Hmmm…

I only understand women in a foolish and adolescent, clumsy way. I try to look at them, as Don Juan DeMarco suggested, as they want to be seen. Which makes them a lot more attractive than they really are. But this is the essence of romance — seeing things as they are not. It is also the key to a happy marriage, so I won’t give it up.

But looking at women from a biological perspective offers a clue to what feminization might mean. While men beat their chests in pride and rush out to do battle with wild beasts and each other — women tend to be risk averse. They gather up the kids and run away. They are not strong enough or fast enough to meet an attack by men head-on — so they use their heads, their feminine wiles, to duck… to trick and mislead. They have developed this into such an art that men are not even aware of the deception. Silly fools, they are always at a disadvantage — except when it comes to brute force.

There was a bull market in brute force in the 20th century. Most likely, it will be followed by a bear market in the next century. Brute force is out of fashion. That is the implication of Muray’s forecast.

Also, the 21st century will be cleaner than the one that proceeded it. This is part of the feminine aspect too – – tidiness. Unfortunately, the language will be washed of offensive words. Negativity too. Suspiciousness. Gary North-style apocalyptic worries will be banned.

This process is, of course, already well underway. In America, you’ve got to be very careful what you say — or you can be in big trouble. Thus, when a member of Washington, DC’s city government, suggested against being “niggardly” with the budget — he was accused of racial insensitivity and fired. (I wish I were making this up.)

Sensitivity is important to the feminine character. If Muray is right, you can expect a lot more of it. And a lot more victims too. Everyone will try to find his own, personal claim to victim status. Minorities. Marginalized groups. Descendants of slaves or colonized people. Cripples. The half-wits, the lame, the colorblind. Every disadvantage, from attention deficit disorder to obesity, will be magnified.

The concept of harassment will be expanded too. Women find men lovable, at some level. But what woman doesn’t also find them a pain in the neck? The idea of harassment is infinitely elastic — and will be stretched in order to condemn any kind of behavior which goes against the feminizing motif.

I just got word that OSHA has claimed that its rules apply to home offices as well as normal business locations. The employer may be liable for accidents in the home office as well as those at the real office. Smoking is being banned everywhere. Words are made tabu. Seat belts are required. Soon, we will have to wear helmets when putting on our pants. Our entire society is becoming risk averse (except, so far, the stock market) sensitive, nurturing and caring.

If Muray is right, the Y chromosome will become almost vestigial. There will be no use for it in a softer, gentler, kinder world. A world that sweats less.

Men will become women. And they will despise us for letting it happen.

Have a nice weekend. Enjoy a beer and a smoke — while you still can.

*** I can’t believe that no one knows anything about this soldier, Jack McDonald, from Los Angeles, circa 1943. Oh well, I’ll ask Beirne to run him down via the internet.

*** The process — remember, you read it here first — of closing the gap between the Dow and the Nasdaq continued yesterday.

*** The Dow was up 130 points. The Nasdaq down 150. Investors bailed out of the Rocket Chips and landed on good ‘ol, down-to-earth companies with real products and real profits.

*** Oil stocks and cyclicals seem to be returning to favor as investors search for safer, surer places for their money.

*** Breadth improved. There were more stocks advancing than declining yesterday. Still, stocks hitting new lows exceeded those hitting new highs, 78 to 46.

*** As long as the market holds up, investors can probably expect a shift from the big caps to the small ones. James O’Shaunessy reports that large stocks outperformed small caps over a 20-year period for the first time since the mid-60s. “Small stocks almost never do worse than large stocks,” he says, “and when they do, they almost always roar back with a vengeance.”

*** Someone who invested $10,000 in small stocks at the beginning of 1929 would have $21 million more than if he had bought the big cap stocks in the S&P 500 index.

*** The smart money — which invested heavily in December — is now pulling out of the Rocket Chips. Shrewd investors are worried that Alan Greenspan — with Y2K behind him and now a shoo-in for reappointment — will get more serious about controlling the wild excesses of the Rocket Chip market.

*** Qualcomm (I had previously left out the second “m” because I viewed it as a pretentious extravagance… but sympathy leads me to submit to convention)… is down 30% from its high.

*** The Nets are down across the board… Amazon is down 4 to $65.

*** Amazon looks more and more like it is indeed doomed. The company used the Christmas season to test the old saw — that you can lose money on every sale and make it up on volume. Booming sales did not bring the company closer to profitability.

*** Gold, meanwhile… yawn, stretch… forget it. The yellow stuff is doing nothing, and going nowhere.

*** The World Bank announced the world’s first international bond to be marketed, sold, and traded on the internet.

*** The Ecuadorian currency — the sucre — dropped 17% yesterday… triggering a national crisis. A state of emergency was declared. Ecuador, the first country to default on Brady Bonds, saw its GDP fall 7% over the past year — while prices rose 60%.

*** Doff your cap. It was on this day exactly 200 years ago that America’s greatest president, Millard Fillmore, was born in Summerhill, New York. Amid the grotesque annals of his presidency — so dense in buffooneries and pullulating humbuggeries — one finds nothing that Fillmore did to disturb the domestic peace and civil prosperity of nation. He did, however, send Perry to Japan… which had the unexpected effect of turning the remote island into a 20th century military power. Nobody’s perfect.

*** Today is also the day of the birth of Christ — I believe — according to the Russian Orthodox church.

*** Life is tough in Russia. Last month, the Duma passed a law prohibiting people from eating their pets. Only one civil libertarian voted against it. Thus, are the citizens of one of the world’s newest democracies protected against their culinary urges. Grabbing his cat, cleaver in hand, the householder will be reminded of Public Law #42870 and go out to McDonalds instead.

*** Still, where life is tough, stocks are cheap. Despite the huge Putin-inspired run-up… you can still buy every public company in Russia for about 2% of the market capitalization of Microsoft.

Bill Bonner

Paris, France January 7, 2000