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Jewish World Review Jan. 11, 2000 /4 Shevat, 5760

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Triumphalism triumphant -- invest! -- IS IT POSSIBLE that all those whoppers I've been spinning turned out to be true? Might it matter to anyone but me?

I enjoyed the millennial weekend immensely. I watched. I listened. I read.

The talking heads covered the world like a cheap suit, oozing agreement. The very Declinists who told us that Japan (not America) would be No. 1, the folks who told us that Europe would be the next comer, the pundits who told us that America was Balkanizing, the wisepersons who agreed that America was a victim of "imperial overstretch," the seers who tell us the bubble will pop -- all finally agreed that America was No. 1, and deserved to be because we had more liberty than anyone else. Clearly, we will all live happily ever after.

For those of us who have been labeled "triumphalists," sometimes scornfully, it was a neat moment. Triumphalism triumphant! Declinism in decay! Of course, it will only last a moment. Soon the old arguments will surface again, in one form or another. (I sense "income inequality" will replace global warming as the complaint de l'annee.)

But, perhaps diminished. For a weekend at least, our situation was seen whole, and globally. Watching the PBS full-day coverage of the Feast of St. Odometer almost made me a liberal again. Yes, all men can be brothers! And sisters! Yes, prosperity is not a zero-sum game! Yes, personal and economic liberty work! Yes, peace makes a difference! (PBS: Do that kind of global program each year!) Boris Yeltsin's triumphant resignation was the point in the millennial exclamation point. Russia has been doing better than reported, and a dose of stability will most likely keep its course ascendant, to the relief and benefit of America and the world.

Does the triumph of the triumphalists mean anything to you? Probably so. At the least, a peaceful, liberty-loving, cooperative, trading and more stable world should equal continued prosperity. And all that should tell us where the stock market is going long term: Up. That is no longer of interest just to well-to-do folks. A great milestone was likely reached in 1999. An estimated 50 percent of Americans now own stocks, up from 15 percent in 1970.

That rate should keep growing. Current tax law encourages, almost bribes, employees to invest part of their pay in private retirement accounts. Come what may, automatically through payroll deduction, a river of money flows into the markets every day. If you believe in demand and supply, that steady stream of more buyers should mean either higher stock prices, or at least a safety net to cushion any potential crash. Moreover, Republicans want to let taxpayers invest some of their Social Security funds in private securities.

President Clinton has now revived his plan for "Universal Savings Accounts," a somewhat similar approach, with a different label, that we will hear about in the State of the Union address. In short: more demand for equities.

Heigh-ho, the wicked Marx is dead! Around the world similar things are happening. The workers are buying up the means of production! Many of these individual accounts, in America and elsewhere, are small in value now. But do not forget what Albert Einstein, the man of the century, said: "Compound Interest is the most powerful force in the universe." (Really.) Compound interest when compounded with continuing growth in stock valuations -- goes ballistic.

I do not claim to know the future. I do not know what the stock indexes will do this year or next. Expect the unexpected. Markets will fluctuate.

I have been bullish over the years. I remain bullish, notwithstanding a shaky start in the first days of the new year. I think many people who never dreamed they would be worth a million dollars -- will be. I do not give investment advice, but I will call attention to the fact that major pharmaceutical stocks (as opposed to bio-techs) lost 10 percent in 1999. They should bounce back.

Get on board and sit tight. Declinism, now dead, is a deadening drug. Triumphalism is a tide that can lift most boats.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.

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