Enough: Charles on Markets and Meaning


Human beings and the social worlds they create are too complex for there not to be myriad inequalities of opportunity and achievement, but a core sufficiency of Enough is the right and responsibility of everyone, in the sense of identifying it and then pursuing it vigorously for themselves, while not hindering others from attaining that same goal, either.

There’s nothing original nor controversial in that appeal to the Golden Rule, and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, nor was there meant to be. Human nature doesn’t change, and the guidelines of moral conduct are timeless, as is the understanding that human being are above all else the makers of moral choices. Whether Life is defined by our inherited or chosen wisdom tradition –-be it Buddhism, Judaism, or secular humanism -- as a temporal fusion of matter and eternal spirit, or as a temporary electo-chemical happenstance, matters not with respect to our obligations to make moral choices. We are hard-wired to be social beings, and we live on the same tiny, blue planet, with each of our choices affecting the choices available to others. In the professional philosophical literature there are plenty of well-reasoned attacks in the on the notion that reciprocity is a sufficient basis for ethics, but I’m going to dismiss them as being irrelevant to the present, highly-intuitive exploration. The man in the street understands the Golden Rule and can apply it unfailingly in every instance, and that who I am and who I am writing for.

The distresses of present times --financial, social, and spiritual-- invite a reexamination of how we would understand ourselves in light of our history and how we might move forward from here in ways consistent with our ideals. The stock market, just as much a less-than-zero-sum game as the futures market, is the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the front room of our daily lives that most people think they understand, but obviously don’t, given how few are winners there are over the long haul. The recent crash is second in severity only the Great Depression of the ‘30’s, which is still a living memory in the lives of our parents, and ours as well for hearing its stories, if not from them, then our grandparents. Faced as we are with the prospect of an impoverished retirement and a never-ending war conducted by the mad hatters and conspirators in Washington for the supposedly benefit of security from our enemies and the assurance of cheap oil, moral choices have to be made at the level of individual households. Don’t we already have more than enough? And isn’t our too much a huge part of our problems?

Our economic decisions have to be understood and practiced from an ethical center such as Enough in order to survive in the modern world without screwing it up for ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our future generations. In short, this is yet another green-politics essay that argues that ethical consuming and investing are possible, but it is written from the viewpoint of Main Street, not Wall Street or Madison Avenue, and very much from the viewpoint of small-town, across-the-tracks, off-Main Street where I grew up, so my biases about class oppression will be blatant, and I make no apologies for them other than to acknowledge that, "Yes", A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing, but I wrote this essay mainly for myself, to sort out my choices and opportunities such as did Thoreau when he went to the woods "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." Like his book, this is a report of what I found. If it is to you as castles in the air, then I’ll make his same reply: "[the] work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundation under them."

My purpose is to provide a framework of economic, sociological, psychological, and mathematical understanding, but principally moral understanding, to the politically disadvantaged of American society so we might gain the tools and courage necessary to defend ourselves, both against our predators and ourselves, who are often our own worst enemies. I’ll be accused of blaming the victim in what follows, but, So what?

Which of your stock market losses spend better at the grocery store? The ones you did to yourself, or the ones someone else did to you?

Losses are losses. Losses are a part of investing; losses are a part of life. The real question is: Which ones matter? Which ones can be avoided? Which ones can only be endured? Which ones deserve merely a chuckle of amusement? Which ones the fury of righteousness? The answers might surprise you, because they aren’t the conventional wisdoms. In particular I take exception to the still lingering belief that the stock market is somehow the exclusive grazing commons of the middle classes, just as it once was primarily a casino for the rich, an growing economic pie shop that would forever provide them with a continuing material superfluity they could flaunt before their lower-class brethren. "A pox on both of their houses", I would say and, as a trader, empty both of their pockets. But what does one do with the wealth acquired from trading? Go out and buy the same trinkets and trash one formerly envied --but professed to despise--, because they were beyond one’s means? Buy them, and perpetuate the same environmental mistakes? Buy them, and trade the opportunity for an examined life for the conventionality of a distracted? Thoreau suggest this answer:

To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but to so love wisdom as to live, according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.

Making money from markets is the easy part I’ve discovered. The hard part is, Why do it? and then knowing, How much is enough?

Enough. It all begins with the idea of "Enough."

"If you don’t know what ‘Enough’ is, you will never have enough."

Yogi Berra might have said that. Or maybe he didn’t, and I’m just making it up, but it sounds like something he would say, right? in the both-feet-on-the-ground way that he had of commenting on life.

"You can observe a lot just by watching."
"If you don’t know where you’re going, you probably won’t get there."

You gotta love a man like that: centered, grounded, who knows who he is and where he is going. Would that all of us had his simplicity and wisdom! It’s a silly image, but one I can’t get out of my mind. Yogi and Henry David sitting on the stoop to his cabin, their backs to the wall, legs before them, untangling fishing lines or mending a net, or maybe just enjoying the lengthening shadows of the late afternoon after a day of hoeing beans, and Yogi telling him about baseball in the 20th century and Thoreau telling him the battles of the Myrmidons in the 2nd or about the lives of the Walden’s birds and animals that visited and then departed as the seasons changed. Looking from one weather face to another, you’d sense a kinship in the occasion, not from what was said, but for the acceptance in their lives of the things that really matter.


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