The Weekly Quill — Tautological Temptations —  The Quill Intelligence Second Quarter U.S. Commercial Real Estate Outlook

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

“Now, gentlemen, in this country, our courts are the great levelers. In our courts, all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system – that’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review, without passion, the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision and restore this man to his family. In the name of GOD, do your duty. In the name of God, believe… Tom Robinson.”

Atticus Finch

There is a fine art to tautology. From the Greek tauto, meaning “same,” and Logos, meaning “word or idea,” it is a literary device that can use reiteration to create ambiguity or take poetic license…or be needlessly repetitive, or worse, condescending. In what is a blessing to all who’ve been fortunate enough to read her tour de force, Nelle Harper Lee was blessed, some would even say gifted from on high, in her direct and yet, nuanced, use of tautology.

In what was her sole work until just before her death, 1961 Pulitzer Prize winner To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee plies her readers to set aside their prejudices, to succumb to the repeated words of Atticus Finch, in his self-deprecating plea to find Tom Robinson innocent, which we know he was. Atticus is fully aware that evidence alone will never exonerate a black man in America’s South during the Great Depression. So, he appeals to the good in those with faith in the U.S. court system and the word of God. He dares the jurors to prove justice is not an “ideal,” but rather an inviolable right. Atticus invokes the name of the Lord as a reminder that we are all equals as the Bible teaches. By echoing himself with an inspired use of tautology, he prevents his audience from brushing aside truths they might prefer were inconvenient.

And yet, the jury still finds the honest and hardworking Robinson guilty for which he was sentenced to hang. In trying to flee jail, he is shot dead. Though we know Lee suffered from depression, we will never know with certainty why she never again published. Was she tormented by her upbringing in the small town of Monroeville, Alabama? That’s all we can surmise. In one of Lee’s only appearances with the press in 1976, she recalled her childhood friend Truman Capote’s hand being whacked with a ruler. Capote’s transgression? He was reading too well. In describing herself and Capote, lifelong friends and equally afflicted genius writers, Lee only served to deepen the mystery of her persona: “We are bound by a common anguish.”

Humility and self-criticism are woefully in deficit among the self-proclaimed experts in our world of economics and finance. With a hat tip to Simplify Asset Management’s Michael Green, in a perfectly timed release, Federal Reserve Board staffers Eric Engstrom and Steven Sharpe revisit a paper they first released in 2018: “Don’t Fear the Yield Curve, Reprise.” Google it if you’re curious though I can assure you, its findings won’t surprise you as they’ve been regurgitated by the sell side and malleable-minded financial press ad nauseum. The money quote is oozing with condescension: “We have provided statistical evidence indicating that the perceived omniscience of the 2-10 spread that pervades market commentary is probably spurious. In particular, our similarly titled white paper (Engstrom and Sharpe, 2018) demonstrated that, historically, the 2-10 spread and its inversions would have provided no incremental information about future economic conditions…”