When "Macro" Events Leave Us Feeling Like We Have No Control, We Have an Answer: Preparation
April 15, 2019
Our business involves us in working with individuals and families to prepare them for whatever life and circumstances has to throw at them, whether risks, or opportunities, or both, regardless of the political and economic environment. And that means more people can "go with the flow." #financialadvisory #investmentmanagement #aging #prepareforvolatility #cwcculture
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die. It may be that the gulfs will wash us down: It may be that we will touch the Happy Isles, And see the great Achilles, whom we knew. Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
- from “Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
An inspiring anthem to aging and possibility ... and for those among us of a certain age, a challenge. For, I ask myself, “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield” in the service of what? As I consider this question I find myself doing a bit of fantasizing. Why not, I ask myself, think big, think really big. Why not declare myself a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Herewith are the consequences of an imagination run wild.
First, I am sober enough to understand the obstacle my age presents. Among other things, I am older than was President Reagan when he completed his second term. Of course, I rationalize, this will work in my favor as I’ll win the vote of at least some of the single-issue voter population whose single issue is anti-ageism.
Anyway, in the spirit of full disclosure, I hereby list not so much my qualifications as the personal “facts and circumstances” that I bring to my candidacy, knowing full well that transparency is likely to lose me as many votes (or more) than it gains me.
1. I am not a billionaire. I will, therefore, not be considered by those who equate great wealth with virtue or business acumen (which somehow, in their minds, translates to political acumen) or both. I will, however, attract some voters who are suspicious of great wealth and what money can buy in politics.
2. I am not a woman. This is not fatal; it is a problem, however, not just for me, but for all male candidates, confronted as we are with a considerable voter constituency (and not just females) who believe that the time has come for a female president, and will vote accordingly.
3. My age (see above) will certainly be an issue. My response is to admit the fact of age and then point out that the older you are the more life experiences you have had, and the more life experiences you have had the more likely it is that you will deal creatively and constructively with the matters a President must face. It is also true that the disabilities associated with age are fairly readily identified and voters will have the opportunity to assess my physical/cognitive state when I release, early in my campaign, the results of my comprehensive medical examination.
4. I have no political experience. True; but I have been married for 59 years and am therefore adept at negotiating, partnering and diplomacy. I should also point out that a number of candidates, as well as the current holder of the nation’s highest office, have had no political experience prior to their candidacies and this does not seem to be a liability.
5. I am thin-skinned. This, I admit, is a very real political liability. If you could assess politicians, of whatever era, in terms of just their skins, you would note that each, without exception, has the hide of a rhinoceros. I, on the other hand, take insults (of the sort typical of the last presidential campaigns, for example) personally. How this would play out during my campaign I am not sure. But I suspect that voters might conclude, as and when I go ballistic, that I don’t have a temperament suitable for political office. This is just a risk I will have to take.
6. I don’t have any enemies, at least so far as I can tell. This is not a positive. Successful politicians need enemies. Nothing is more fatal to a campaign than the suggestion that you might actually like your opponents and understand the basis for their positions - and so treat them with a degree of respect. Among other things, this gives you the appearance of dullness. The single best way to avoid dullness, to supercharge a candidacy and to excite both the base (see below) and undecided voters is to cast the election process in terms of my exalted motivations and your low motivations, hero versus villain, good versus evil, the People versus the Elite, purity versus corruption and so on. But what do I do if I can’t identify an enemy? Do I just gin one up for purposes of the campaign? That requires a degree of ruthlessness I do not possess. If and when this becomes apparent, it could also result in some voters concluding that I don’t have a temperament suitable for political office. Another risk I will have to take.
7. I cannot cater to my base because I have no base. The good news is that my policies will not be skewed to a constituency whose devotion to me is such that they forgive (or ignore) any of my lapses in taste or morals, but whose interests may not be consistent with the interests of the country. The bad news is that I won’t have a passionate and energized corps of volunteers, undeterred by “snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” as they pursue their “appointed rounds” on my behalf.
8. I have no interest in furthering the purposes of any political party. My only reason for running is to seek a position from which I can further the interests of the country, as I and others of like mind conceive them. When my reason becomes known (as it will, given my commitment to transparency), I will lose any chance of endorsement by any political party. Particular political parties exist to further the interests of particular political parties and their constituencies (though those interests are usually disguised in the language of national interest). Sometimes the party’s and the country’s interests coincide. Sometimes they don’t. Fair enough. For better or worse, that’s the way the world works. But against this background, the “realists” of whatever political party will have no trouble labeling me an innocent abroad and denounce me. Yet another risk I will have to take.
9. I am an advocate of neither small government (and so will lose the vote of some conservatives) nor big government (and so will lose the vote of some liberals). I am an advocate of right-sized government, a government whose size is determined by the commitments and obligations it undertakes as instructed by the governed (or, at least, a majority of the governed) through their elected representatives. My position is a highly idealized one, assuming -- as it does -- an engaged and educated voting population. The reality, as we know all too well, is very different. One consequence of a citizenry, the majority of which is disinterested, disengaged, distrustful and/or disillusioned, is the proliferation of lobbyists, rent-seekers and others motivated to treat government as a honeypot. The “public interest” becomes a tired cliché. To the extent I am able to do so, as candidate and office holder, and now that traditionally marginalized people are experiencing more empowerment and gaining more and more access to spaces that have historically been a challenge to breach, I want to use my bully pulpit to remind the electorate that the kind of government it gets is the kind it deserves. Those who remain disinterested, disengaged, distrustful and/or disillusioned have only themselves to blame for the government dysfunction they so rightly condemn.
10. I will advocate action. The practice of shifting difficult decisions or acts to a later date (and usually “the later the better”) so as to avoid or defer unpleasant current consequences has always seemed to me to be evidence of managerial weakness, or worse. Nevertheless, it is a truism that politics involves compromising and moderating, giving a little here and a little there in order to achieve some, if not all, of the ends desired by the parties involved. But I distinguish between the normal give and take of political negotiation (which may involve occasionally kicking cans down roads) from the deferral of decisions where deferral only compounds what is generally acknowledged to be (now or soon) an existential structural threat. Examples: the federal budget deficit, both the annual budget shortfall and the consequent rising debt load; pending Medicare and Social Security shortfalls; income inequality; climate change; nuclear proliferation; shortfalls in the ability of state and municipal pension plans to meet their retiree pension and health care obligations; educational equity including, among other things, the issues of ballooning student debt and the difficulties that large numbers of low income kids have in accessing a college education; the cost of operating our current health care regime (18% of GDP vs 10% or less for other developed nations. Really?). Lest anyone be misled, let me say that while, at least in outline, I understand the problems, I have no real understanding of the solutions. Like most people, I have opinions and, like most people, my opinions are, to put it mildly, uninformed - meaning that most of us have no real sense of the deep structural elements that are present, but not evident, in each of these issues. This need not be a drawback to my candidacy. After all, the president of a major business cannot understand how most of the intricate functions of the business are actually performed. How a computer programmer programs, for example. The president’s responsibility is to make sure that the business tasks are done competently and that each such task has its rightful place in, and makes its rightful contribution to, the overall operation of the business. The analogy is not exact but I would, immediately upon my election, appoint a commission (analogous to those expert corporate employees) to address each of these areas of critical concern. My individual appointments to each commission would be non-partisan, disinterested (that is, no dog in the fight) and acknowledged experts in their fields. I would give them one year to produce their recommendations. During the year I would continuously remind them that, after their year’s work, committee recommendations would be recast as proposed legislation with the hope that political solutions, representing the best thinking on each subject, would be forthcoming. I would also spend some serious time during the year spreading the word that the buck stops here and that it is the responsibility of this generation to stop and reverse each of these very real threats to the structural integrity of the nation. My hope would be that a majority -- as citizens, parents and grandparents -- would have the spine to support the needful changes. (At this point, you may well accuse me of oversimplification? Well, I am oversimplifying. Think of my suggested commissions as one of the planks of my platform. Platforms are always oversimplified). P.S. All this would go a long way towards rousing our citizenry, voting and non-voting. When they come to understand that certain commission recommendations may well gore some of their favorite oxen, the heat level will rise and the country will experience a new level of citizen engagement and debate.
Well, you might say at this point, “dream on.” And I will dream on and maybe, somewhere in this grandiose scenario, I will find an actual opportunity to make a modest contribution to the well-being of the country. I will dream on, but not hold out much hope that someone with most of my “facts and circumstances” could ever hope to win a political office much higher than neighborhood council person (always assuming that is an elected office).
Finally, you may well ask what all this (cleverness? silliness?) has to do with CWC’s core business: financial advisory/investment management services. There is a connection, at least in my mind. We live in volatile times, no surprise. And -- again, no surprise -- we lead our lives surrounded by a swirl of “macro” events and processes over which we as individuals have little or no control. It may sometimes feel like all we can do is go with the flow and live with the consequences. The point is: having to largely go with the flow does not mean we can’t be prepared. It doesn’t mean we can’t arrange our affairs so the flow doesn’t swamp us. Politics, rightly understood, is the system by which communities and nations manage themselves to respond to the exigencies of life. Financial advisory/investment management services, rightly understood, is the system by which individuals and families manage their personal lives as well. Our business, therefore, involves us in working with individuals and families to prepare them for whatever life and circumstances has to throw at them, whether risks, or opportunities, or both, regardless of the political and economic environment.
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