Letter for the Ages

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Over the fifteen years I’ve been writing on Slope, I have received thousands of emails from all over the world. Yesterday, I received an email from a young man which almost made tears stream down my cheeks. The letter crackles with vital questions from a younger generation. The writer gave me his kind permission to share this, and I’d like to respond beneath. This is the email verbatim, with the only change being some boldfacing I’ve added.


First and foremost, I would like to say that I get a tremendous kick out of your blog and your Trading the Close segment on the Tasty network: it’s a refreshing perspective in a world full of mindless bulls.

I wanted to reach out and see if you could offer some of your insight into the crazy world we are living in. I could ask any number of individuals, but I find your perspective on the reality of the financial system to be that of someone who might have a unique answer to this question: do you have any words of encouragement for a permabull 25 year old who is increasingly losing hope in our political, social, environmental and financial systems? I’m finding it very difficult to find the positive as time goes on.

I would like to add that I have lead my life in such a way that strived to put responsibility ahead of hedonism: I worked my ass off through school to graduate without debt, drove an old-ass car to save money, worked whenever I could, didn’t eat out, didn’t buy $14 cocktails like so many millennials love to do. I worked hard to line up good internships and job opportunities – all in the hope that I would settle into a comfortable lifestyle when I’m your age.

To be clear – I’m not looking for pity from you, but I anticipate you are someone who has lived a similar life: work hard and save your pennies. How do you stay positive when it seems like those that are the most fiscally responsible are often the losers when anyone who is negligently levered-up can just rely on government handouts (everyone from the soccer mom with $90k in credit card debt to those psycho managing directors in Manhattan crying “Help me, jay!!” every time the market is down 2%)?

I’ve asked other “adults” this question, but I think that anyone over the age of 40 had the biasing benefit of living in a world that had a semblance of normality, and as such they think that because they know stability once existed and experienced it, maybe there is a possibility that we can get back to those “good times”. I think that is a reasonable, optimistic perspective of someone who was able to experience the glory and stability of the 80s and 90s. Sure, those times had their share of issues – but nothing like what have seen in the past 20 years. As someone who is 25, I haven’t been afforded that luxury of experiencing a normal adulthood, at least not yet anyways. And I don’t think that I’m off-cue to suggest that I don’t think I ever will.

I came to consciousness watching the launch and continuation of a costly, illegal, corrupt and inefficient war, I watched my brother’s friends who were graduating college in ’08-’09 permanently set back in their respective career fields as they entered the workforce in a deep recession, I watched those responsible for that very crisis get off scott-free (and even rewarded with bonuses), only after a cool $2 trillion was added to the FED’s balance sheet that we all have to pay for, I watched 10 years of fiscal irresponsibility on behalf of governments, corporations and individual Americans as they sloshed around in cheap debt – irresponsibly levering themselves to the tits with any debt they could get their hands on, I’ve watched our country’s infrastructure fall apart in front of my eyes and nobody seems to care …etc etc.

In one respect I was excited that everyone was goofing around with cheap debt like that gas station scene from Zoolander: it was going to be a bear buffet. Unfortunately, I was actually traveling around Italy (in February…in northern Italy…in February…northern…Italy) as the market started crashing, so I was unable to capitalize quite like I could have. I was excited to get stateside because there was a lot more room to tumble as what I saw happening in Italy started going global. But as the FED keeps meddling with the natural trajectory of companies with poor debt management, it feels like even when you know you’re right (and more importantly make the right dance moves to capitalize), the very forces that perpetuated the last decade of fiscal tomfoolery not only interfere with good bear play, but saddle my generation with 800 years’ worth of debt, and looking like a lot more to come…

Let’s say the FED didn’t meddle with the markets and you could generate substantial returns through smart bear plays: 15+ years of poor corporate and federal behavior that have ground away at the middle class are brewing the conditions that proliferate leftist extremism that thrives on vilifying anyone who is wealthy, not just those that hurt everyone with their financial irresponsibility. In my mind, it seems like even if anyone my age were to find a way to financially succeed, it will soon be met with a Bolshevik repeat that will plunder your bank account and assets. I’d like to hope that is an exaggeration, but historically speaking, wealth inequality can only grow so much before people start chopping heads off and demanding that society relinquishes them of their $195k student loan because their Art History major isn’t generating wealth quite like they expected….

Taking into consideration all the factors at play here, my outlook of the future is that of a broken, social, political and financial systems. I don’t want to look at the future through that kind of lens, and believe me when I say that I have tried every damn self-help method you can think of to try and stay positive, but I can’t lie to myself and say that the future is going to be better. I’ve taken too many econ courses to know that what is happening will end very, very badly. While I believe that nobody is entitled to anything, I feel like my future has been robbed. I don’t want money, I just want stability. And I feel like I will never see that in my life.

I’m not looking for financial advice or what career path to take or what precious metals to invest in or what will happen to treasuries in 5, 10, 25 years or anything like that. I’m just looking for some insight from one of the smartest, most well-adjusted bears I know: how do I stay positive, Tim?

Having read this email, I am instantly reminded of Lincoln’s famous letter to Mrs. Bixby, in which he states, “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.” As a person who has written professionally since 1982, I feel at-risk for being at a loss for the right thing to say, although I think even if I ended the post right here, it would be worthwhile to make it known that some young adults are actually thinking about such things,

As prone to dichotomous thinking as I am, let us consider two extremes. One is what Saint Carlin referred to as “The American Okey-Doke”, which would basically tell the writer, “Everything is going to be all right. It always has been. The Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression. Don’t ever sell America short. It’s all going to be just fine.”

I don’t have an out-of-hand dispensation for the above rejoinder. The doe-eyed optimist that I just conjured up is actually right. America has been through hundreds of years of ups and downs, and somehow, it’s still – – very broadly speaking – – a rich, powerful country. So the notion that suddenly a virus is going to come along and bring us to our knees is kind of in tin-foil-hat-wearing country. All the same, this is more than a virus. It’s also about the tens of trillions of dollars in debt that are being vomited up.

So let’s go to the other extreme, which is more familiar territory for the likes of me: “Young fellow, you are absolutely right. It’s a hopeless situation. The 300 million citizens of this country are at the mercy of the lunatics in D.C. and the billionaires sprinkled throughout the land. They’re going to create whatever trillions they want to save the asses of the rich, and they are completely short-sighted, mainly because they have that luxury. They don’t give a shit about you, because they are interested in one and only one person: themselves.”

I find that much easier to believe. I think Larry Kudlow, Jerome Powell, Donald Trump, Steve Mnuchin, or any of the rest of them would sell the souls of their own children if it was necessary to save their skins. These are amoral, venal, and deeply corrupt people, and if you were stranded on an island with any one of them, they would smash your head with a rock while you slept just so they could double their food supply. They, to me, represent the very essence of evil, so it’s easy to understand why one would despair, knowing that these are the people calling the shots.

As with most declarations of extremes, reality resides somewhere in the middle. I do believe we are largely at the mercy of the lobbyists, the billionaires, and the cronies who run D.C. They’re going to do whatever it is they’re going to do. They’re going to shove trillions of dollars of debt down the throats of taxpayers who won’t even be born for hundreds of years, and they’re going to take everything they can get for themselves (all while telling the average citizen to Shut The Fuck Up and take their fucking $1200 and be goddamned grateful you got anything at all, you disgusting plebe).

As for my own advice – – – I think during times like these, it helps to be simultaneously selfish and selfless.

One the selfless front, make a point of doing something good for someone or something other than yourself. For instance, I’ve been bringing packages of fresh eggs from my hens to my neighbors. I’ve been giving cash to charities that care for animals. I’ve been trying to be as pleasant and helpful as possible with all my family members, which is important since we’re all cooped up together.

This gives me a way to be empowered with something constructive and positive in the face of the darkness from D.C. These good acts aren’t going to be stopped by Mnuchin, or his empty-headed trophy wife, or the cocaine-snorting Kudlow. These acts are mine, and these tiny acts of goodness transcends the evil of the vile sub-humans in Washington that are trying to control us all.

As for selfishness, seek out to express your own talents, skills, and creativity in whatever ways you can. Your life remains your own, and as easy as it is to despair, remember the Biblical passage that tells us that rain falls on both the just and the unjust. And, just to stay in the Biblical vein, Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us:

What has been will be again,
 what has been done will be done again;
 there is nothing new under the sun.

Since I feel so impoverished for the right words, I’m going to cheat and take myself back to when I was a little boy. I had three siblings, all much older than me, and my two brothers shared a bedroom.

In that room was a darkly-stained wooden board on which my parents had affixed a copy of Desiderata. Allow me to offer this prose, with some boldfacing of my own, in an attempt to respond to your well-considered email:

GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.