What’s All the Yelling About?

At some point, families will quit spending fortunes to send their children to Ivy League and other equivalent schools if this is what they get for their money.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released “The Employment Situation – April 2024.” To say it was a mediocre report would be a disservice to mediocrity in general. I won’t bore you with the details, and will sum it up thusly: “the labor market shows signs of cooling but not collapsing.”

Ordinarily, a report of such minimal importance would give investors an excuse to start the weekend early. However, with everyone waiting anxiously for the Federal Reserve to start cutting the overnight lending rate, the relative softness in the data was almost confirmation the Fed would, indeed, do so at some point.

As a result, the markets have rallied strongly thus far today (as of 10:16 am CDT). After over three decades in the industry, I still find it curious how averageness often generates amazing returns. If you set the bar low enough, I suppose anything short of awful is awesome. Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of life were that way?

However, I don’t intend for either the labor markets or the Federal Reserve to be the primary topic(s) for this week’s newsletter. Instead, I am going to focus on somethings that perplex me more than the recent economic data: the recent ‘protests’ on college campuses.

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Maybe it is where I went to school. It could be my personality. However, I don’t ever remember feeling so strongly about an issue that I was willing to run the risk of getting suspended or expelled. Further, back in the day, Wake Forest wasn’t exactly a hotbed of antiestablishment radicalism. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

In all seriousness, a primary topic of debate in the student newspaper, The Old Gold & Black, was the quality of food in the cafeteria, or the perceived lack thereof. However, I didn’t understand the whole brouhaha. It was lower third quintile grub at fifth quintile prices.

As such, it was a bargain. What was there to complain about?

So, I didn’t, and still don’t, have any real experience with protests or protesting. Had I been in college during the Vietnam Era, I probably would have protested the war. However, my doing so would have had far less to do with American policy than it would have my lack of desire to execute it. I hope that makes sense.

But these throngs of kids, and a lot of them are just that, dressed in keffiyehs protesting in almost the exact same way at the exact same time? As a reminder: the war in Gaza is now 7-months old. What’s more, the war in Ukraine is 2-years old. So, why this issue at this time and in this manner? Why run the risk of potentially negatively impacting your academic career in this way?

Further, where did you get the professionally-made signs? All of the Palestinian flags and keffiyehs? Does the college bookstore just happen to have that many lying around? The Amazon warehouses suspiciously have a zillion of this relatively obscure (at least in this country) article of clothing in stock?

Nope. Something about this seems fishy, suspicious, questionable or even devious.

One of the oft-given reasons I have heard for the “why now” question is social media. This allows people to spread information far more quickly than they could ‘back in the day.’ As a result, it is easier to formulate a mob than when I was at Wake Forest. Perhaps. However, word spread pretty quickly throughout the dorms in the late 1980s even without smartphones. The world was able to get by for centuries, even millennia, without them…somehow. Amazing, huh?

From the outside looking in, these protests seem strangely choreographed. If that is too strong a word, how about “strangely similar,” please? It isn’t just me, is it? Further, the students that the media chooses to interview are all uttering the same perceived grievances, as though somewhat rehearsed. But when they deviate from the script, they come across as kind of naïve or willfully ignorant, at best.

Did you hear the one about the protestor at Columbia demanding food? It’s a hot one.

Ordinarily, I am not a conspiracy theorist. However, there is something about this I can’t quite grasp. It just doesn’t compute. Had someone come into my dorm room to cajole me to join them in protesting the U.S. invasion of Panama, I would have told them to pound sand.

However, unlike today’s student protestors, I would have been able to tell reporters:

  • Where Panama was
  • Or what Washington’s beef with Noriega was
  • Why it was in American interests to arrest this man,
  • And why the Panamanians probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Clearly, you could sensibly argue the current situation in Gaza is an incredibly more complex and complicated situation than what we did in Panama. You would be right. However, the latter happened when I was a senior in college, and it was one of the best comparisons I had from which to choose.

This is important for a very important reason. IF these children, these protestors, are indicative of the students at the upper-tier schools where these protests have been occurring, my how the mighty have fallen. IF they are the best and brightest our nation’s education system can produce, I am afraid the sun is setting on the American empire.

However, speaking with literally hundreds of students over the last 5-10 years, the overwhelming majority from large state schools, I know this isn’t the case. In fact, I would even go so far as to suggest the more impressive the school’s purported prestige, the less impressive the student. If not student in an academic sense, then student in a personal sense.

At some point, families will quit spending fortunes to send their children to Ivy League, and other equivalent, schools if this is what they get for their money. It will take a while for the networks these schools have created to breakdown, but they will as the quality of the graduates fades. This is rocket science, and I didn’t have to go to Harvard to make this deduction.

I just had to have a job and some experience in life. Actual experience. As for jobs, the BLS announced the U.S. economy created 175K net, new payroll jobs in April 2024. However, you probably already knew that by now.

Have a great weekend.

Thank you for your continued support. As always, I hope this newsletter finds you and your family well. May your blessings outweigh your sorrows on this any every day. Also, please be sure to tune into our podcast, Trading Perspectives, which is available on every platform.

John Norris

John Norris

Chief Economist

Please note, 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 well as those of our Investment Committee, is subject to change without notice. Finally, the opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of the rest of the associates and/or shareholders of Oakworth Capital Bank or the official position of the company itself.