Some years ago I travelled around Japan for an intensive three weeks of interviews, tourism, nightclubs, hi-tech and low-life experiences. I loved it -- but for the life of me can’t remember a note that band played which so impressed me one night in some club near Shinjuku.
What I do recall however was meeting an old banker. And he was old.
He was in his late 80s and my reason for seeking him out was because of the financial crisis Japan had been through, and was still suffering under. Everywhere people spoke of when “the economic bubble burst” which was code for “sudden recession aka crash”.
I thought it would be good to meet someone who had seen it all, quite a few times.
This venerable gentleman -- who spoke through an interpreter but then would sometimes break into perfect English with a wicked twinkle in his eyes -- had been a banker from the time he left school and had been through it all: the uncertainties before and after the Second World War (not to mention the crippling war itself), the rise and fall of the volatile Japanese economy, and then of course the recent bursting of the bubble.
I figured if anyone had any wisdom to offer it would be this man -- and he didn’t disappoint.
I don’t remember the detail but essentially it went like this: don’t worry.
That may seem like the Alfred E Newman philosophy of life, or at best the detachment of Zen. But as he explained the inevitabilities of the market (sometimes it goes up, sometimes it goes down, and it is cyclic up‘n‘down) it just made such good sense as a philosophy. You are aware of it and accommodate it, but you can't actually worry about it.
Like the weather, “the market” will always be there to trouble us and at any given moment they will cross to “see how the markets have responded”. And then we’ll change the channel, play with the kids, wonder if its going to rain tomorrow . . .
Life will go on.
This old man’s wisdom is probably the kind of thing which is dismissed by power-dressers and “property developers”, but there is a lot in it -- and it’s not something you hear too many market watchers saying. But it is the wisdom of the ages, and sort of obvious.
I don’t often read the Herald business pages other than to skim and see who is going up or down (without my assistance I should note) but there was lovely, gentle, funny and intelligent column by Liam Dann, the business editor, the other day.
I commend this sensible piece to you as an uncertain year opens up before us.
The nice thing about this for me is that Liam is a young guy. I guess he might be in his early 30s but he wrote with the wisdom of years, yet still managed to tell jokes, cite Mad Max and PJ O’Rourke, and make some useful and insightful observations by way of an overview.
If you read nothing else of it just go to the last paragraph.
It’s a thought worth carrying forward.
Happy New Year to you and yours.