American markets and faith in the future are going to turn around for the better, and it won't be long. Despite our recent economic difficulties, our market devaluations, our ongoing wars and a bitterly partisan election cycle, America and the rest of the world are on a march of progress that will continue after these hiccups have run their course.
In recent weeks many of us took a big hit in the 401(k) or the IRA. I've lost over 20 percent of the value of my own accounts since Oct. 1, but I am not in any mind to sell. In fact, if I had money to spare, I'd be putting even more of my income into equity investing. Some good news is that if gas prices continue dropping, I just might have an extra hundred dollars or so each month to sock away.
We've all just been reminded that good times don't last -- fortunately, neither do bad times. This recent market correction is just one in a long history of dramatic downturns that will inevitably be followed by a recovery.
Equities have always been inherently volatile. As Mark Twain wrote over 100 years ago, "October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February." Volatility does not mean that the equity markets are not a good investment. In fact, we get higher returns on stocks specifically because they are riskier investments.
According to some numbers I got from Yahoo Finance, if I had invested $10,000 into the S&P 500 on Oct. 16, 1987 (the last trading day before the 1987 crash), it would have been worth $31,800 on Oct. 10, 2008. Fool that I would be for investing on the worst day to buy in 1987 and selling on the worst day to sell in 2008, I still would have more than tripled my money in 21 years -- without even counting nearly $20,000 in dividend income.
Conventional wisdom is frequently wrong. Back in the 1990s, when random people started telling me it was time to buy Internet stocks, it was probably time to sell them. Now that the same people are telling me it's time to sell American equities, it's actually time to buy. The recently departed investor Sir John Templeton said we should "invest at the point of maximum pessimism." I think that we have arrived at that point. The equity markets are bottoming out.
But what of the wars? Surely an America overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, battling a worldwide network of extremist Islamic terrorists, and the looming specter of an increasingly bellicose Russia must combine to create an insurmountable obstacle to American capitalism.
Things are not nearly as bleak as they were in 1939, when Hitler's Nazis were engaging in the full-scale, systematic rape of Europe and America was working to recover from the Great Depression. Yet, it was precisely in those dark moments for the free world that Sir John used borrowed money to buy a junk pile of roughly 100 American companies, over a third of which were bankrupt, for a total investment of roughly $10,000. Four short years later, he sold the same stocks for more than $40,000. Templeton ultimately became a billionaire through his indomitable spirit of hope in our human capacity for growth.
In a bout of bad timing, we are also in the midst of a political silly season, just when we need a government that can come together in a bipartisan way to solve a liquidity crisis. Sadly, many of the people working hard to convince us that capitalism will be lost to the history books are the same folks who want to raise protectionist trade barriers and insulate us from the global competition that has fueled our collective economic engine for over two decades.
We should refresh our collective memory about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, which was passed into law after the great crash of 1929 -- arguably one of the most shortsighted and reactionary pieces of legislation in American history. The resulting constriction of global trade due to anticompetitive American taxes on imported goods undoubtedly worsened the depth and length of our Great Depression.
Many of us are indeed in tough times right now, but this is the nature of the world and this too shall pass. In the long run, things will just keep getting better and better. We'll sleep better at night if we steer clear of negativity from pundits, politicians and media parrots. Instead, may we all keep faith in the market institutions and way of life that have brought us here so far.
Andrew M. Borene is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and a lecturer at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute for Public Policy.