Spoiler Alert: This is not another blog about working from home. It’s not about COVID-19, either. Instead, it’s about the indomitable spirit of the America people, and the ability to rally under the harshest of circumstances. Above all, it is testament to the success with which we have so often rescued normalcy from the jaws of chaos.
April 13 marks my 33rd anniversary in the communications business, a personal milestone of sorts, for sure. Anniversaries, my birthday, and every December 31st, typically provoke the same reaction from me – one of reflection on years etched into the annals of history, and hopeful contemplation on the year about to begin.
Not able to get out much these days, I recently strolled down three decades of memory lane instead, leaving me in little doubt that I’ve seen some pretty amazing examples of the American spirit’s resilience when faced with what Milton termed, “no light, but rather darkness visible.”
So, bear with me while I recount a few of what I consider to be watershed moments of the past 33 years as they played out across the canvas of the American economy.
My first calamitous event, right after I started working, was “Black Monday,” October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average, driven by investor panic and program trading models, dropped almost 23% in a single trading session, accompanied by crashes in the futures and options markets. (For perspective, Black Monday 1929 saw the market fall just 13%.) Twenty-three of the world’s major economies experienced similar catastrophic events that same October 1987. Stockbrokers were literally throwing themselves out of windows, and the fear was that the Great Depression was about to be reprised. It was a valid concern. I was in my early twenties at the time and had scant appreciation for how serious an event this was. What I did come to understand and appreciate was how we pulled together as a nation to face the darkness at our door. Having first arrived in America from South Africa just a year earlier, I found great comfort in the resilience I saw and felt. And the upshot: just 24 months later, the market had recovered everything it gave up in 1987, and then some. Why? Because we dug in hard, got back to the business of life and work, and didn’t pause until we right sided our collapsed world.
September 11, 2001 is a date that will forever live in infamy for all Americans, but especially so for the New Yorkers who lived, worked, and perished in the shadows of the two towers that came to define lower Manhattan. On that day, America lost its innocence, the markets closed for four days, and all we knew was that life would never be the same again. From an economic standpoint, we were already in a recession, and stocks were languishing in bear territory which came on the heels of the internet bust of a year earlier. Yet, America again came together as a nation, the markets rallied, and the rest is history. Why? Because we dug in hard, got back to the business of life and work, and didn’t pause until we right sided our collapsed world.
Who can forget the stock market crash of 2008? The Dow plummeted 777 points in a single day, the largest point drop in history at the time. That same year saw Lehman Brothers – one of my longtime clients – declare bankruptcy, Bear Stearns disappeared, and global markets were rattled to their foundations. Oil dropped, gold soared, and the government was forced to provide liquidity to paralyzed credit markets. Despite the carnage this crash left in its wake, the markets pretty much recovered by mid-2009. The Dow swung upward, ushering in the longest bull run in history. Why? Because we dug in hard, got back to the business of life and work, and didn’t pause until we right sided our collapsed world.
Fast forward to the present, with many of us confined to our homes riding out a dangerous pandemic that’s sweeping the globe. The fear is justified, the loss of life is unimaginably devastating, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet. And the markets? Well, they’re reacting as one would expect in a time of great uncertainty with the world economy up sided.
Yet in the gloom of the present comes hope for the future. Stories abound about healthcare professionals working shifts measured in days not hours, laboring in inconceivable conditions, sleep-deprived truckers crisscrossing the country to ensure produce reaches supermarket shelves, and simple acts of kindness between strangers that will unite them forever. The road to recovery will be a long one, but these heartwarming stories make it easier to navigate.
In time, we’ll reconnect with one another, the economy will reignite, communities will recover, markets will rebound, and America will move ever forward as before.
Why? Because we will dig in hard, get back to the business of life and work, and we won’t pause until we right side our collapsed world.