Friday, October 12, 2012

Being There

Being There is a charming, challenging, confusing movie, one of my favorites. Chance the Gardener, a pleasant middle aged imbecile, has lived his entire life tending a rich man’s garden. His only knowledge of the world comes from watching television. This unfortunate soul is cast out into the world upon the death of his patron. He wanders, like the proverbial feather on the wind, through chance encounters that lead the President of the United States, his chief economic advisors, and a pantheon of the rich and powerful to decide his wisdom is the best hope for our country.

While discussing the economy with the president and the master of a great corporation, Chance answers out of his only experience.

Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!

The movie was filmed in 1979. The country was mired in stagflation. Factories were closing. Unemployment was on the rise towards levels not seen since the Great Depression. Inflation had passed the 10% mark and was climbing. The developed world was facing the second energy crisis that followed the Iranian revolution and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The mood of the country was described as a great malaise.

No, we do not enjoy the fall and the winter, but as Chance observes, “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.”

Thankfully, the roots were not severed. Starting in 1982 our country began a great bull run that did not end until the dotcom crash of 2000. Since then the leaders of the entire developed world have been fighting the onset of another winter. The financial press is now calling the situation a “contained depression.”

The plants in your garden grow in two directions, down into the soil and up into the sky. Likewise, sink your financial roots deep into the soil. Your job nourishes the savings that are gathered into bonds, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, and the like, boring instruments that no one sees. In the seasons of growth, spring and summer, the energy in your savings flows upward into the trunk of your investment portfolio, conservative dividend paying stocks. From there your funds flow into braches and leaves of your more speculative holdings. Finally, in the season of harvest, you gather the fruit, trim the branches and once again add to your savings in preparation for the onset of winter.

As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

I marvel at the weed trees that grow up in the forsythia hedge along my property line. Even as saplings their roots are too deep for me to pull out. I cut them down to the ground, yet in the spring they return.

Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:

[1] To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
[2] A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
[3] A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
[4] A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
[5] A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
[6] A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
[7] A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
[8] A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
[9] What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?
[10] I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.
[11] He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

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