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December 2015 Market Update

What springs to mind when you think of Paris? Words like beautiful, cosmopolitan, sophisticated and romantic are often used to describe this amazing city. 

Sadly, we must now add “terrorized” to that list. Since the horrific attacks that occurred there last month, I’ve thought a lot about Paris and what it all means. The 130 people who were killed and the hundreds more who were injured represent a far smaller number of casualties and injured than were sustained in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. Yet the random nature of what occurred; the fact that these attacks were aimed at ordinary citizens on a beautiful, unusually warm late-fall evening, just minding their own business in the many cafés and concert halls for which the city is justly renown; and the shear brutality of how these attacks were perpetrated make what happened there almost more unsettling than what transpired on American soil 14 years earlier.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, we are faced with a “new normal” that will be with us for the foreseeable future. The ISIS extremists are not content terrorizing their own population. They want to spread this terror across the globe, and throughout the West in particular.

As much as I deplore these inhuman acts of random cruelty, I worry that we risk losing more than just our sense of security and personal safety. We in the West pride ourselves on our adherence to the rule of law, our openness to diverse cultures and ways of life, and our ability to live as free people. In reacting to ISIS and the threat of more terror attacks, will we also see attacks on the very values we claim to want to protect? 

While it is normal to be fearful after witnessing such violent acts, fear does not excuse lashing out at every perceived threat, real or imagined. We forget too easily that terrorism comes from many places, and not all from outside of our borders – think of the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, or the awful gang assassination of a nine-year-old boy that just happened in our own city.

The events in Paris last month will have many economic ramifications. For starters, the shock of what happened may be enough to keep the Fed from raising interest rates in December (about the only silver-lining I can think of). But low interest rates is not much of a prize compared to the near-certainty of more terrorist attacks. The chaos in Syria and, to a lesser degree, across the Middle East; the throngs of refugees fleeing across national borders; and a paranoid and trigger-happy Russia, create a degree of volatility that we have not experienced in recent years. 

In a worst-case scenario, this combustible mix threatens not just our economy but our very way of life. This is why the Paris attacks seem like more than just another act of terrorism. After Paris, something more profound has changed. 

There is widespread agreement that we must fight against those who would spread terror, threatening the democratic institutions and freedoms we have worked so hard to create. There is less agreement about how to do so. If we truly believe in democracy and freedom, then we must be careful not to let these values be eroded in the name of national safety. Above all, we must resist the temptation to blame entire ethnic and religious groups for the actions of a few. If we fail to do so, then the terrorists have truly won. 



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