Let's be clear on one thing upfront: The stock market, in the present environment, is no longer primarily reacting to interest rates, corporate earnings, or anything you read on this site or any other. The stock market is reacting to the prospects of domestic security, to the preservation and continuation of America's way of doing "business as usual." I know that in some senses business may not be that usual again, not quite as usual anyway, but what the stock market really wants to see right now is that our society will be protected to conduct free capitalism in much the same way we've achieved it in the past. We want to know Starbucks will still be Starbucks, and the New York Stock Exchange will be safe in New York.
That's what's at stake, and that's what's upticking and downticking moment by moment. So when you see the Nasdaq drop 3% or jump 5%, you're seeing "the market" (a.k.a. you and me) estimating the chances for future domestic business dependability and success. And that's why today's Rule Breaker writeup won't be so much about stocks as about the world overall. Because truly your investments -- Rule Breaker or otherwise -- will gain or lose value in the next 12 months based far more on critically important world events, and the choices they give us or force us to make, than any other factor.
Let us begin by observing that America's effort to identify root causes of terrorism and root them out with the help of a large international alliance is absolutely the right, necessary, even urgent thing to do.
More important, I believe that it will in many ways give rise to a "new world order" -- actually, pace Michael Lewis, let's call it the New New World Order. The New New World Order features -- requires -- coexistent, codependent, responsible, individual governments. I can see no other likely or more desirable choice. (In time, I even see many national borders going away.) We were already mixing currencies, trade goods, languages, and tourists. Still, that's a sloppy adolescent form of "globalization;" for those in Seattle or Washington, D.C. who have protested it, I can only suggest that you ain't seen nothing yet.
That's because there's a new imperative called personal safety. You see, technology has brought us face-to-face with the now ever-present, ever-future reality that the insanity or evil of a few can, through technological means, be used to damage or destroy thousands or millions of others, anywhere on the planet.
Individuals therefore, more than governments, countries, or continents, are what must be feared. They're less accountable, harder to track, and more prone to thoroughgoing derangement.
It will soon be incumbent upon every government to take full responsibility for the threat or actions of the people within its own borders. Given this, notice the flip-flop! In the New New World Order, governments will move away from a single-minded focus on protecting their citizens against foreign threats, into something seemingly reversed and suddenly just as important: protecting foreign citizens against domestic civilian threats. The broadened perspective means being responsible not just for the safety of your children but also the safety of your neighbors' children.
Any country, therefore, whose government either will not take or is not taking such responsibility will become subject to immediate removal by international diplomatic, or if necessary military, forces. Tending one's own nest will be an essential requirement for acceptance into the world community. And indeed, if we on the third rock from the sun do not achieve this vision, we and our families and our stocks and our bonds are all at risk. If we do, we have actually taken a horrible day in September and used it to catalyze one of the great developments in world history.
The recently invoked NATO statute that "if you harm one of us, you harm us all" -- trumpeted as the first such invocation in NATO history -- seems to me a model for where the world is going. It is, in short, the New New World Order in gestation; it just happens at present to look primarily Western as a result of NATO's original composition and purpose. Whether NATO eventually grows into the New New World Order or it emerges separately from NATO, either must be the endgame. Which means, among other things, a rapid acceleration into democracy for countries (smaller ones, at first) whose people do not presently enjoy such freedom.
That's the New New World Order and I do not want to idealize it, nor do I wish to suggest it's easily achieved overnight on someone else's watch. But I do believe this new new thing will ensure some old, old things: foremost among them, prosperity. (Remember it?) Until we get there, our markets will spasmodically uptick and downtick, perhaps downtick more than uptick if we can't restore a dependable domestic security in short order.
How many times have we read recently that "things have changed forever"? Apart from the silliness of the phrase (things are always, always changing forever), I wish to present a radical prospect, or at least possibility: Consider that "things" might on the whole actually get better. Freedom and standard of living have been on the rise for centuries. Even including ongoing atrocities great and small, I believe tolerance and understanding have risen, as well. If they were stocks, we would all have made a lot of money holding them. And I would buy them all today, as well.
You want to buy when everyone else thinks you're crazy.
-- David Gardner, October 10, 2001
P.S. For anyone not already aware of it, I must close with a direct pointer to our Current Events discussion board. That's because I am personally humbled by the human achievement that is that discussion. The variety of voices, the great (and occasionally crazy) ideas, the sharing and caring, and the international character of the discussion has been simply amazing, completely befitting of a New New World Order. It's one of the best things available anywhere, on- or offline, since we started that discussion board one month and 9000 messages ago. I encourage your attention and participation, as I think you'll be educated and enriched (even occasionally amused) by it, as have I.
David Gardner owns Starbucks and the rest of the stocks in the Rule Breaker Portfolio. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.