Regular Folks

I’ve never really enjoyed picking on famous people when they do something foolish or comical.  Many are such easy targets, yet there is no way they can defend themselves from the typical onslaught of criticism, so it just seems kinder not to comment.  Besides, I’m certain there isn’t a celebrity on the planet that cares what I post on Facebook.  Then again….

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and one of the richest men in the world, is apparently “touring America” to meet and learn from regular folks to better understand our country.  I think this is a great idea.  In fact, I would like to personally invite Mr. Zuckerberg to visit us in Huntersville, NC.  Moreover, here are a few things I hope he would learn about America if he does accept our invitation…

First, regular folks don’t travel to regular places with an entourage.  They may order a chocolate malt, as Zuckerberg did at one of his stops, but they don’t have an assistant pay for it.  Second, regular folks don’t have an “advance team” that can arrange a meeting with the local mayor.  Third, most regular folks don’t stay at $1,000 per night fishing resorts, although a lot of regular folks do like to fish, so perhaps Zuckerberg is making progress toward his goal…

Regular folks like to do, well, regular things.  They like to walk their dog early in the morning.  They like to root for the local team and against that team’s arch-rival.  They like to dote on their grandkids, spend Saturday mornings at garage sales, and Sunday mornings in church.  For many regular folks, even today, their word is their bond.  They hug each other sincerely and don’t take themselves too seriously.

If you don’t live like a regular folk, then you will struggle to understand the significance of regular things, and how they serve to connect people throughout society.

Without question, it is important that corporate icons, like Mr. Zuckerberg, truly understand our country, what makes it special, what everyday challenges it faces.  Our country has long-produced amazing visionaries, from Edison and Bell to the more recent generation which includes: Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the late Steve Jobs, to name a few.

In my view, the latest generation seems more isolated from ordinary America, primarily because their success leads to enormous wealth at a very early age.  Zuckerberg is 33 and worth about $70 billion.  He will likely accomplish amazing things in the remainder of his life, but I’m not sure he will ever again understand the issues regular folks deal with every day.  This isn’t a condemnation; it’s just a by-product of his incredible success and wealth.  What’s troubling about all this is that economic and political policy are increasingly being formulated and controlled by powerful individuals, corporations, and government bureaucracies.  Under crony capitalism, these ever-more-powerful entities not only don’t really understand regular folks, they don’t really think to do so is important.

Meanwhile, in Washington, it looks like health care reform is not going to happen in the completely polarized, dysfunctional U.S. Congress.  I suspect Congress will soon pivot to tax reform, but expectations here are understandably low.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle seem so out of touch with the rest of the country.  What would our country look like if powerful influencers, like Mr. Zuckerberg and the political elite in Washington, really did understand and embrace the core values of regular folks?  Sadly, it’s hard to see that happening any time soon.  Term limits for congressmen would be a step in the right direction, but that will never happen.

Until we figure out how to defeat this disconnectedness and polarization, gridlock in Washington will continue, prolonging the period of sub-par economic growth.  On the bright side, interest rates should stay relatively low, and inflation is likely to remain benign.  With reasonable earnings growth, it is definitely possible that the overall stock market could grind its way higher over time.  Moreover, there is still significant cash on the sidelines that could push stocks higher.  And if tax reform is accomplished, this would be a positive catalyst for the economy and markets.  The economic and investment environment certainly could be worse, but we sure are a long way from greatness, or at least fulfilling our potential as a nation.  The fact that so many of us regular folks find this unsettling is ultimately a good thing.  At least I hope it is.