What's it Worth?

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The stock market is a gamble, but it is also provides a chance for millions to participate in American conservatism. In the market, the 1 percent swells to 54 -- the percentage of Americans who own stocks, bonds, and other market instruments. That's over 150 million people who don't want to see anything radical happen to the boat in which they have placed their hopes of financial security.

So even when bankers and brokers pay themselves huge bonuses for sabotaging the hopes of the moderate investor, even when moderate investors bail the big players out, nothing is likely to change. The degeneration of a movement like "Occupy" from a real, shared wish into parochial violence and destructive silliness only serves to strengthen the invested conservatism of that 54 percent. Forty million people have left the market in the last five years. Forced by financial circumstance or disillusioned, who knows? But that's still less than 20 percent of investors, 13 percent of all Americans.

A Russian hermit, Nil Sorski, once said until you lose hope in everything you rely on for your survival, there is no chance of really turning. In Bob Dylan's eloquence, "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose." We may rant and shake our fists at Congress, but as long as the market holds out a whiff of security or gain, even those who hate it will pray it continues just as it is.

Every day, there are things that show us alternative measures of value. To a recent British Antiques Road Show, a quiet man in a woolen cap brought two battered, encrusted pieces of nondescript pottery. The expert departed from practice and valued them up front. "As objects," he said, "they're worthless. But tell your story." And the man humbly described how his father, an army medic in Japan, had found them six miles from the center of Hiroshima, how he displayed them prominently on the mantle, but had never discussed them. The encrustation was melted glaze. Fifteen-hundred degrees of heat will do that.

Now, back to the stock market.


With a Perspective, I'm Richard Friedlander.