Common Cents & “Yes, Virginia”

We all had such high hopes for 2021, didn’t we? I can’t remember just how many times I said something along the lines of “I can’t wait to see 2020 in the rearview mirror,” but it was easily in the hundreds. After all, discord and disunity reigned, and the specter of COVID-19 was everywhere. Surely, things had to get better in the New Year, 2021, as they couldn’t get much worse. Well, maybe.

To be sure, economic activity and investment returns have been robust in 2021, extremely. To that end, through the first three quarters of this year the Federal Reserve has estimated ‘US Households & NPO Net Worth’ has increased an eye-watering $13.79 trillion. Over the last four quarters, including 4Q 2020, it has grown an astonishing $21.80 trillion. These types of numbers dwarf the previous data.

Yet, consider the following. According to, roughly 62.0% of those polled believe the county is on the “wrong track,” and only 30.1% think it is headed in the “right direction.” I suppose the remaining 7.9% are the wishy-washy sort. Further, only 23.0% of Americans apparently approve of the job the Congress is currently doing, with a substantial decline since the end of May.

Finally, the President’s approval ratings have taken a nose dive over the last several months, with fully 53% of respondents reporting they disapprove of the job the Administration is doing. Unfortunately, the trend lines for all these surveys don’t look promising. Then we get all the headlines about crime, the very real pinch of inflation, and our list of woes seems as long as Santa’s ‘naughty or nice’ list.

In no uncertain terms, despite this year’s strong economic activity and wealth creation, Americans are seem pretty dissatisfied with the way things are going. With all due respect to James Carville who said “[It’s] the economy, stupid,” there seems to be something other than economic well-being weighing on people’s minds. It bears the question: why are we so unhappy?

Clearly, the pandemic is the low-hanging fruit. Like no duh, huh? However, I also believe the way we consume our news is distorting our various world views, and not for the better. The numerous media outlets tantalize us with what is known as “clickbait,” which is defined as: “content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page.” Ordinarily, the more fantastic, outlandish, contentious, and/or negative, the better. After all, you sell more umbrellas when it is raining.

However, you can’t blame the media, as that is how it drives its revenue. The more clicks, likes, shares, and comments on the message boards, the better the ‘eyeball’ data is the outlet to sell advertising space. So, if don’t like what the media is putting out there, quit clicking on the “bait.”

With this in mind, with this particular Common Cents here on Christmas Eve 2021, I would like to take a step back, take a deep breath, and post an article from a time long ago when, arguably, times were a little simpler and the goal wasn’t to make people mad. Frankly, I think many of us need to do this.

So, I will leave you with the following editorial from Francis Pharcellus Church, as it appeared in the September 21, 1897 edition of The Sun (New York) newspaper:


DEAR EDITOR:  I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?




VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


That is the good stuff, and I wish there was more of it these days. Maybe next year, right?

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and here is to a happier and even more prosperous New Year! As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well, and may your blessings outweigh your sorrows not only on this day but on every day (and don’t forget to listen to our Trading Perspectives podcast)!

John Norris
Chief Economist


As always, nothing in this newsletter should be considered or otherwise construed as an offer to buy or sell investment services or securities of any type. Any individual action you might take from reading this newsletter is at your own risk. My opinion, as those of our investment committee, are subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the reset of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself.