Nothing begins and nothing ends
That is not paid with moan
For we are born in other's pain
And perish in our own
Last week I was reminded that the reason why the West will be won in essence is mostly the opposite of how it was won, the inability to deal with issues in a way that results in pain. In fact, the essence of pain itself has evolved to encompass emotions and feelings that manifest mentally or physically. We are jealous of our neighbor to the point where it hurts to see them succeed any more. We are envious of another group of people that seem to have favored status and it makes us sick. We think the challenges of life are so difficult that trying only means more pain, more anguish and more disappointment.
Of course this has always been the case with mankind, as I'm sure the caveman that stopped gathering crops to dine on red meat was looked upon with a scorn and envy by those on a high grain diet.
The thing that's developed with rich western nations, however, is the ability to treat the pains of life. Of course it only makes sense to want to ease pain. Heck, these days I'm wondering when they're going to make the shot the dentist uses to mitigate pain less painful. But there are times when we can't avoid pain or times when masking it only results in greater pain down the line. Growing up, I admired people that endured pain. We all loved the cowboy movie character that fights on despite searing pain and sure death.
In real life, watching Martin Luther King Jr. getting hosed down, bitten by dogs and hit with Billy clubs without resorting to violence won over a nation and the world. He was using the template of Gandhi, whose non-violent approach meant enduring unlimited pain. In other areas of life those that took the pain won our admiration. Watching Willis Reed limp into the championship game was the way we thought everyone should attack the biggest challenges in life - sucking up the pain while focused on the prize.
In his rookie season Michael Jordan insisted on playing in pain even as management asked him to sit out the end of the season. The list of pro athletes that sucked it up to play in pain included all pros in all sports before 1980. As each year passes that's no longer the case in the major sports, and for the most part it reflects a nation with shifting priorities, shifting notions of greatness and shifting rationales for respect. Perhaps it's the new enlightenment period where those that work too hard and succeed too much even while making enormous sacrifices are considered more villains than heroes.
In Switzerland a new law has passed aimed at curbing executive pay that will surely negatively impact the corporate culture there (I should point out the vote had a xenophobic animosity feel as some of the biggest companies in Switzerland are helmed by foreigners. Maybe if Americans didn't run Credit Suisse, ABB and Novartis, and an Austrian Roche, and Belgian Nestle, there would have been less resentment). The vote mostly assuages the pain associated with envy and jealousy and hatred. The only good news is there was only a 46% turnout but it was an overwhelming 67% victory for those that blame Anglo-Saxon pay for economic woes in Switzerland.
Also over the weekend Rory McIlroy, the young golf superstar, quit during perhaps his worst round as a pro - certainly as the world's number one player - citing a toothache. We haven't gotten to the level in sports where it's okay to quit, but it used to be frowned upon to stop because of a toothache, no matter how excruciating. Andrew Bynum, once considered the best prospect in the NBA at the center position, was given the thumbs up to play basketball last week but said his knee was too sore. How many people went to work with toothaches and sore knees-a whole lot that's how many. Those still working are often in pain with daily moans but do so because of a commitment to life.
Sadly, more and more Americans are okay with our progeny being born with their own pain. Yes, most would step in front of a moving bus to save a child, but fewer and fewer are willing to make changes needed to stem an avalanche of pain right around the corner. Sequester has begun, and there are many that will feel the pain directly and immediately. It's not that they shouldn't feel the pain; it's that pain should be spread to all that care about the future. It means some have to work more years than previous generations. It's already meant tax hikes but those with the least in the game are saying it's okay to tax even more.
The nation is split. Government officials are urging more economic pain on those already carrying the load and casting those taxpayers as ingrates or worse. Everyone has to take the hit. Everyone has to have skin in the game. Everyone has to feel and play with pain. Everyone has to be ready to limp into the game with the championship on the line. We have to be our own Willis Reed in order for the nation to win this game so our children don't perish in our pain.
It's quiet this morning, which is neither here nor there with respect to where the market finds itself at the closing bell. That being said, the Street is looking for that elusive catalyst, which may have to wait until Friday's jobs report. These early weak sessions serve a good purpose to see where anxious sideline money feels the need to make its move, but remember this is still smart money, and we will not force the issue unless there is a feeling their rivals are making a move. Let's sit back and watch.