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Freedom to Bully

I believe in freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is one of the greatest rights that this country grants us, and many soldiers have died to protect that freedom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. This especially hits home with us because of the jobs that we do, and our radio show.  We have a platform every weekend where we can address thousands of people at a time, and there are very few things we can’t say. A short list of profane words, and that is about it.  Everything else is fair game.  If I want to rip on a politician, I can do that.  If I want to complain about the way I was treated at a public office, a private establishment, or even just in traffic on the way in, I can do that. How many countries have that kind of freedom? We are truly lucky. However, with this freedom comes great responsibility.

When this country was founded, freedom of speech was just that, you could say or write anything you wanted. There was no medium to carry information all around the world instantaneously. The best you could do was make a speech in a public gathering place, or print a book if you were an especially gifted writer or had a lot of money.  However, as times changed, so did the platform for distributing information. Now days, almost everyone in the world has instant access to voice their opinion on any and every topic that comes up.  Not only do they have the ability to voice their largely uninformed opinions, but many feel compelled to do so on every topic that the media chooses for us to focus on. It is now possible for a relatively small amount of people to dictate public opinion on a variety of topics. Whoever can make the most noise on the internet wins! Tweets, which can only contain 140 characters, are routinely published on the cable news channels. Just FYI, it is amazing how many spelling errors can be packed into a 140 character tweet. When these poorly written expressions of someone’s reaction to a current event are put on Fox News, CNN, ESPN, etc… it legitimizes what could be a very fringe point of view.

The problem lies not in the freedom to express those opinions, but in the medium that it is distributed. You have no idea who wrote those words, and you certainly have no idea what their agenda is. The anonymity of the internet makes this possible. Even in cases where you do know who it is, and it turns out to be some sort of D-list celebrity that played the main characters best friend on a sitcom that you watched growing up in the 80’s, you still shouldn’t care what that person thinks. But we do. The internet, for all the good it has done, has made it possible for us to care about what someone from the cast of The Real World Season 5 thinks about you being a free-range parent. This is not logical. 

And it gets even worse for kids. In the times we grew up in, there was usually just a few bullys in every school. Everyone knew who they were, and it made them easy to avoid or make sure if you had to deal with them you were in a group. Now, your kids are exposed to millions of bullies every day. How would you like to grow up in a world where every picture you took of yourself made it on to a public forum where anonymous idiots who you have never met felt like it was there responsibility to criticize you? Sounds great, right? Not that I care about Jennifer Anniston, but she is truly one of the best looking women on the planet in my opinion, and even she felt compelled to write an article this week to ask people to stop body shaming her.  Who are these people that are body shaming Jennifer Anniston? This is why I do radio and not TV.

My point is simply this. I believe in freedom of speech.  As time goes by, the thing that I am having a hard time believing in is the right to a public, anonymous, worldwide forum to express your opinions. No one knows how many of these opinions are real, how much groupthink and herd mentality plays into them, and how much the media influences picking these topics for us to care about. 

How does this relate to finance? It certainly does, and I think we have even see it play out in the stock market this year  I have been saying this for quite a while on the radio now, but the market has been giving the appearance over the last year that it is looking for a reason to go down. Why is that? Well, for one thing, the current bull market is the second longest in US history. That makes people think that it is going to end, and soon.  So the public is already wary of these elevated levels for stocks. Then you add in the 24 hour news cycle, which has to find content to fill those endless hours of programming. To garner ratings, they often find the people who have the most dire warnings or the most sensational viewpoints to share with you. This of course makes for better TV than the people who have more moderate views of the world. If you agree with these people, it legitimizes your own extreme viewpoint. If you disagree, it legitimizes your view that people are crazy. Either way, it makes for much more entertaining TV than the guy who claims that the economy is pretty good right now, and we are in the late stage of expansion in the business cycle.  Never mind if that is true or not.

When you combine the nervousness around the stock market setting new all-time highs, and the 24 hour news telling you that the world is going to end, and then go to the internet and see that Stansbury Research is predicting gold will skyrocket due to the upcoming market crash that will rival the financial crisis (subscribe to my newsletter for a small fee), and then your twitter feed is saying that Obama is going to take all of our guns, and your Facebook friends are all posting about how you are a terrible person if you don’t support equal bathroom rights for everyone, it is easy to see how the average person might feel like the world is collapsing around them and the market just might go with it.