All Saint's Day
Pumpkins, witches and cobwebs. With all the décor around Paris at the moment, you’d never know “Halloween” was once an unknown holiday…this essay was originally aired on November 1, 1999…
“Pumpkins. I’m going to plant pumpkins next year.” Pierre has been raising beef – big, beautiful Limousin beef – and sheep for many years.
But the European Union is forcing down the subsidies for beef. And sheep are disappearing from the region altogether…there are no longer any subsidies available for sheep farmers. French farmers cannot compete with those in New Zealand and Australia. And wool prices are so low it no longer pays to shear the sheep.
Cereals, on the other hand, are heavily subsidized. The difference, Pierre explained, came about because the cereal growers could leave their farms in slack seasons and go to demonstrate in Brussels. Large groups of farmers always strike fear in what passes for the hearts of politicians, so the cereal farmers typically get half to two-thirds of their income from the subsidies…not from selling food.
Farmers who raise livestock, on the other hand, cannot get away. They’re forced to stay on the farm day after day to take care of the animals. They pose less of a threat to the taxpayers’ purse.
Even with the subsidies still in place, raising cattle is not a way to get rich. Pierre has suggested that we put our farms together. Apparently, you need bigger and bigger holdings to make money. And he needs to build a big new barn to make the operation more efficient. The return on investment? About 2%.
Halloween in France: Newly Imported from America
Maybe pumpkins are the answer. The big orange vegetables are new to France. So is Halloween. All Saints’ Day has been recognized and celebrated for many centuries. But Halloween is a new import from America, along with the whole shebang of decorations, customs and commercial opportunities that accompany it. Department store workers wore costumes in Paris last week – stimulating interest and sales, no doubt. Even out here in the middle of nowhere, Halloween is catching on.
Our children held the first Halloween party in this region three years ago. The invitees had barely heard the word at the time. The kids took a candlelight tour of our attic, with staged shows of various spook-house exhibits. In one room, however, we decided to surprise them. We lay on a bed…in a room with wallpaper peeling off the walls and creaking floorboards…and put a sheet over ourselves as though we were a corpse waiting for an undertaker.
As the kids came in, we began making a low growling noise…and then sat up. The kids were so alarmed and shrieked so loud we were afraid someone would call the police. Then they flew down the circular steps so fast that their little bodies were still spinning like tops as they swirled out the front door and into the yard.
That was three years ago. Now, Halloween decorations are in many stores.
Along with new things to buy and a new opportunity for secular celebration.
Halloween in France: A Day for Reflection
There is a world of difference between All Saints’ and Halloween. The spirits that one honors on All Saints’ were not, after all, all saints. They were real. They were spirits that might be honored…or feared. (Of course, if you don’t believe in the spirit world…you have no business celebrating All Saints’ anyway.)
But regardless of your views on the afterlife, All Saints’ requires at least some reflection…on the lives of our forebears, on the challenges they faced and perhaps the lessons that could be learned from them. At the very least, you might stand before the grave of someone you knew…offer flowers…and spend a moment recalling the person.
This is not a ritual that lends itself to the Internet age.
Halloween, on the other hand, is an example of what Philippe Muray calls “Festivus.” Muray has noticed the way in which the genuine, dark, primeval, wild and dangerous currents and undercurrents in society have been tamed…and transformed into harmless celebrations. This applies not merely to the shift from All Saints’ to Halloween, but also the political process, where genuinely revolutionary parties have been replaced by a token opposition and emasculated rebels.
We have often noted how – in America – you cannot even say what you want about taxes anymore…without fear of criminal prosecution. Yet, is there any real opposition – of a sort that might be described as dangerous to the government? No, we celebrate the First Amendment now; we do not practice it.
Likewise, America celebrates liberty. It is like Halloween…an empty expression…a hollow festival…something to feel good about. No reflection required. No risk, either. But what would the ghosts of Jefferson and Adams think of us?
Who cares? As the GDP increases…shares rise…and the spirits of Liberty remain in the grave…pumpkins are the business to be in.
November 01, 2005
Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of The Wall Street Journal best seller Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of the 21st Century (John Wiley & Sons).
Gold fell yesterday to $466 an ounce. It still has a long way to go to get down to our buying target of $450, but at least it is going in the right direction.
There is no longer any reason to hold gold, say the experts. If you want to hedge against inflation, for example, Wall Street offers many opportunities. You could buy an oil stock. Exxon recently announced a sales figure for the last quarter over $100 billion. No company ever brought in so much money in a single quarter before.
Exxon sells something that the Fed can’t counterfeit and the Chinese can’t make. Inflation will push up its price. What’s more, the company earns a profit, so you get dividends as well as capital gains. And you don’t have to rent a safety deposit box to hold your Exxon shares, nor bury them in the garden in the middle of the night.
That is the trouble with gold; it is a like a girlfriend who won’t do your laundry or bake you a cake. After a while, you begin to think you can do better.
Gold is the ultimate savings. It has neither earnings nor dividends, and it pays no interest. You buy it. You hold it. You hope it doesn’t go down in price.
But modern economists say you can do better. You don’t need savings of any sort, and certainly not in a form you find on the periodic table or in teeth…they insist. They say the economy is now so stable, so solid and so well diversified that you no longer need to keep an inventory of ready cash. Money will always be there when you need it: from ATM machines, payrolls, investments, and lenders (including credit cards).
In the old days, a recession meant that people lost their jobs. When the breadwinner was out of work, families needed savings to live on. But that is the old model, the new economists explain. Now, in the rare event of an economic slowdown, jobs are lost in China, not in the world’s fully developed economies. Besides, in America, families typically have more than one wage earner…even if one loses his job it is not a catastrophe. And in the worst of cases, there are always credit cards and home equity lines to draw upon. So, why put money in a hole in the ground?
It is a new era, they say. You no longer need to stock firewood, or food, or money; it will all be there for you when you need it at prices you can afford.
We cannot dispute the facts. Thanks to Mr. Greenspan, we seem to live in a world of plenty…with plenty of cheap credit for anyone who needs it. And, no, as long as the world is full of everything everyone needs at a price they can pay, there is no need for gold.
What we dispute is the meaning of it; is this happy world a permanent thing…the real “new era” that so many economists think it is? Or is it cyclical, a period of calm, low interest rates and apparent prosperity…to be followed by a more trying time?
Gold has been in a bull market for the last five years, up about 160%. Yet, few people notice. Only 3.25% of Fidelity Sector Funds are allocated to gold shares. In the gold rally of 1989-90, by contrast, the percentage rose to 36%. Either it really is a new era – a world we’ve never seen before – or this bull market has a long way to go. Buy gold.
More news from The Rude Awakening…
Eric Fry, reporting from Wall Street:
“We examine some of the factors lending to the vulnerability of today’s housing market. Why do these staggering figures seem to be worsening? Does this constitute a ‘bubble’? All this and a very scary chart in todays Rude reading.”
Bill Bonner, back in France with more opinions…
*** Is Greenspan leaving the economy in better shape…or worse shape? Almost everyone in America thinks he is in better financial condition than he was 18 years ago. His house has gone up! Woe to he whose house goes down!
*** The Fed meets today. It is expected to raise rates again to a key rate of 4%.
*** A Daily Reckoning reader from Osaka, Japan, writes:
“Subject: Re: Printing presses in Japan
“Japan suffered a decade of on-again, off-again deflation. We don’t know, but we’d be surprised if the Japanese had no printing presses. Maybe it isn’t as simple as Bernanke believes.
“You’re quite right: They do have printing presses, they just decided not to use them. The thinking was, ‘It would create inflation,’ and that was considered less desirable than the present deflation. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) was determined to keep prices stable and inflation low. Why? Perhaps because it was precisely upward spiraling land prices that caused the Japanese bubble that then needed to pop; the popping creating the deflation that they want to climb out of. ‘Create inflation? Goodness no,’ were the probable thoughts at the BOJ, ‘We’re already pained by its after-effects.’
“Helicopter Ben mustn’t yet have experienced inflation, making it is easy for him to imagine a generous – not to mention very popular – solution of cascading money down on everyone from a helicopter heaven. The likely problem with jettisoning money down from such a heady height is that the passengers will be unavoidably thrown out and down with it. When that happened here in Japan it resembled a lot of economic ‘kamikaze’ in freefall. Is Heli Benny going to welcome the folks over the Pac pond into the freefall club? Watch out below if he does.”
*** While the wind howls and thunder cracks in the U.S., the weather here in France is unseasonably warm and pleasant. We can’t remember a better All Saints holiday. On Sunday, a neighbor came over. We loaded a small table and chairs on the back of the tractor and took them into an orchard near the pond, where we had tea.
“This is delightful,” said our old neighbor. “In the old days, you had servants to help you live better. If you wanted to have dinner out in the garden, they’d pick up the table and carry it out. It was wonderful. But then, in the ’60s, everything changed. You couldn’t afford servants any more. And then, even if you had servants, you couldn’t ask them to take the table out to the garden…it was seen as such a frivolous, upper-class kind of thing to do. You know, we’re all supposed to be democrats now. No one is better than any one else. And no one has tea out in the garden…unless they carry the table out themselves. And even then, they better be careful that their neighbors don’t think they are being pretentious.”