The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

August 8, 2020 Updated: August 8, 2020


Charles Dickens’s famous line in “A Tale of Two Cities” about the present being both the best and worst of times is apropos today. Perhaps, in this imperfect world of tares and wheat, that’s always the case to some degree. Is the glass half empty or half full?

The U.S. NASDAQ market is at record highs. The S&P index is within a whisker of a record high, too. That implies optimism about our country’s prospects going forward. But the price of gold is at a record high, too. A rising gold price registers pessimism about our country’s currency and possibly, by extension, about the country itself.

Here is the $64 million question: Is the stock market correctly anticipating good times for us in a post-pandemic 2021? Or are the gaudy numbers nothing more than a sugar high caused by Uncle Sam and the Fed opening the fiscal and monetary floodgates in response to the pandemic-induced economic slowdown?

The reasons for gold’s spectacular runup are clearer and more numerous. Gold tends to reflect concerns about the economic viability, social and/or political stability, and geopolitical security of a society. Following are a few dark clouds currently hovering over us:

1. The CCP virus pandemic. ‘Nuff said.

2. The aforementioned trillions of dollars being created out of thin air to buoy up the economy, demonstrating that fiscal responsibility and monetary restraint lie in tatters.

3. The breakdown of law and order in American cities. What started as protests or even riots became full-fledged insurrections. City governments lapsed into paralysis leaving innocent citizens and their businesses being at risk of suffering harm. Political “leaders” have shown a lack of will to perform the primary function of government, which is to keep people safe. One report (can it possibly be true?) said that police authorities sent an email to Third Precinct residents of Minneapolis telling them to “be prepared” to be robbed and to do whatever their assailants tell them to do.

4. The ominous detour taken by a sizable percentage of younger Americans. In the late 1960s, members of my generation protested and occasionally rioted. The main grievances were the war in Vietnam, racial injustice, poverty, and pollution. In the half-century since then, notable progress has been made against all four of those nemeses.

Though not eliminated, there’s less war in the world today and fewer Americans are losing their lives in no-win wars in Asian countries. There have been major reductions in pollution. Ditto for poverty: less of it both at home and abroad. And while racism is far from extinct, the economic, social, and political progress of black Americans since the 1960s has been significant.

Tragically, and I would say perversely, antifa and their ilk are blind to all that progress. Instead of building on that hard-won progress, they’re ignoring it and have allied themselves to alien ideologies. Rather than building on our successes, they seek to tear our society apart for the “sin” of not yet having attained perfection.

5. Legitimate concerns about the integrity of the crucial 2020 presidential election. Both parties suspect the other of preparing to steal the election, and mail-in ballots have proven highly problematical, thereby increasing the likelihood of post-election strife and tumult.

6. The prospect of having a puppet in the White House. Joe Biden, poor man, gives multiple indications of serious mental decline. This raises the ominous question: Who are the behind-the-scenes puppeteers pulling his strings? The cynical move by Democrats to field an impaired candidate shows contempt both for the American people and for the integrity of representative government.

7. Growing tensions with China. It’s no longer possible to ignore that we’re in a Cold War with the Chinese communist leadership. The Chinese Communist Party has been waging strategic war against us for years, and now we finally have a president who’s fighting back. But this presents us with two uncomfortable possibilities: If President Donald Trump wins reelection, tensions and the risk of conflict will rise. If Trump loses, Democrats are likely to be so obsessed with radically retooling our economy that they won’t have the time or interest in countering Chinese aggression in its multifarious forms.

8. The ongoing decay of our federal system. I wrote months ago about sanctuary cities undermining federalism. Today, the biggest challenge to federalism is the use of federal funds to bail out bankrupt state governments. Unlike Uncle Sam, state governments don’t have a central bank to print money to cover their deficits; thus, they either go broke or get bailed out by federal taxpayers. It isn’t fair to Americans who live in fiscally sound states to expect them to bail out profligate state governments.

Of course, Pelosi, Schumer, et al. have never had the slightest genuine interest in fairness. (The Wall Street Journal just put an embarrassing spotlight on their efforts to secure a tax break for the wealthiest citizens in high-tax blue states.) What the Pelosi/Schumer cabal does have is an insatiable thirst for power. Thus, they will cynically use the pretext of the pandemic to try to funnel billions of dollars in bailouts to their progressive allies in bankrupt states.

Against the backdrop of these trends and conditions, it’s easy to understand why the price of gold has been soaring. It’s helpful to remember at a time like this that the darkest hour precedes the dawn. Of course, we don’t know if the darkest hour is upon us, or if that gloomy day still lies ahead.

Undeniably, we’re in rough waters today. But the future is bright with possibilities. Let us recall the patriotic faith of J.P. Morgan, Warren Buffett, and others who have counseled, “Never bet against the United States of America.” The path ahead is lined with challenges, but if we proceed with faith, courage, determination, and resolve, we will prevail.

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.