What's in store for the stock market, someone asked famed financier J.P. Morgan more than a century ago. 'It will fluctuate, my boy,' Morgan replied, 'it will fluctuate.'
Apocryphal or not, it's one of the wisest and most enduring quotes in the history of capitalism and markets. Partly because that's all anyone can predict with certainty – prices will move up and move down, often for no apparent reason. That's the very nature of free markets.
But 'fluctuation' is one thing, 'chaos' is another. And this week has been about as wild as they come, with massive stock market declines in Asia, Europe, and here in the USA. Even tech stocks have been hammered into submission. Meanwhile, gold has been heading north, usually a sign of investor panic.
So what does all this have to be with the coming election? Let us count the ways. Perhaps Bernie Sanders will get a boost just in time for Iowa and New Hampshire. He is the only socialist in the race, pretty much the only socialist in America not living on a college campus, but his anti-capitalism rhetoric plays very well with many angry Americans. And a lot of them are far angrier this week now that they are far poorer. Bernie will blame the greedheads on Wall Street, his fans will cheer like trained seals, and he may well enjoy a bull market in the polls.
Then there's Donald Trump, a man to whom capitalism has been very, very good. Trump loyalists see him not only as a fearless straight-talker, but also as a financial wizard who can ride to the rescue and fix America's fiscal woes. Like Bernie Sanders, Trump has railed against Wall Street's bankers and traders, but he understands their world a lot better than the wild-eyed Vermont socialist. So if your 401K is under water, maybe even doing a passable imitation of the Titanic, who are you going to turn to? Sanders? Carson? Rubio? Cruz? Or a financial wizard who wrote the book on the art of the deal?
And then there is poor old Hillary Clinton, who just can't seem to catch a break. One day she's groping for answers about Benghazi, the next day she's groping for answers about her husband's groping.
This week she faced some tough interrogation from a usually reliable supporter. When MSNBC's Chris Matthews pressed Mrs. Clinton to define the difference between a socialist and a Democrat, she put on some dance moves that would be the envy of Ginger Rogers. Or, if you prefer, Jennifer Lopez.
'I am a progressive Democrat,' she insisted, 'who likes to get things done.' Well, yeah. And just who doesn't want to get things done? It's worth noting that just a few months ago Mrs. Clinton proudly described herself as a 'moderate.'
Truth is, Hillary Clinton again finds herself in the Twilight Zone, much like 2007. Back then, the nomination was hers for the taking, pretty much sewn up. But then defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory by Barack Obama and his fainting followers.
This time around, Mrs. Clinton is being attacked from the left as being way too cozy with Wall Street. She and her husband live like the one-percenters they are, which is their prerogative, and she has raked in campaign cash from her pals at the big banks and brokerage houses. That is red meat for Bernie Sanders, who accuses her of being – heaven forbid! – a capitalist.
Republicans, meanwhile, blast Hillary from the other direction, accusing her of moving far left to secure her party's nomination. She can't denounce President Obama's dismal economy without alienating his base, but she also can't heap praise on the economy and promise more of the same. So once again, like eight years ago, this Clinton cakewalk has turned into a run through the gauntlet. Over hot coals.
So how does this all end? First, don't ever let anyone tell you that they know how the stock markets will fare in the coming weeks and months. They do not! No one knows where oil, gold, Apple stock, or cattle futures are heading.
Similarly, when it comes to political prognostication, absolutely no one is really sure how American voters will react to the current stock market chaos. There is only one sure-fire prediction when it comes to the polls. They will fluctuate, my boys and girls, they will fluctuate.