The Beach Is for Vacationing, Not Putting Down Stakes

We lived through another one: a hurricane that turned our coastal areas into raging rivers and deep swamps overnight. You’d think we’d learn. And we will. But it will take time. Before people give up, that is.

It’s not easy to come to terms with new realities. Yes, I know, some people say nothing is changing. Climate deniers, they are called. People who never learned how to read a thermometer. But one cannot allow ignorance to be one’s guideposts.

People living in our coastal areas will suffer more and more as climate change progresses. Floods and winds will take their toll. There will be no stopping it. Meanwhile, we’ll spend massive amounts of money denying it. Rebuilding where no one should rebuild.

Much of the cost will be borne by the public, that is, us taxpayers, including those of us who are less imprudent in our choices. But not all of it will. The individual residents of vulnerable areas will take it on the chin, too. Financially. Emotionally.

I understand humans’ seemingly innate desire to live by the water. Indeed, water is the source of life. Commerce. Pleasure. But it’s also where danger lurks. Especially when the wind and warm air conspire with it.

We will learn. But it will take time. Another lesson, Vera, in human nature. And the danger in succumbing to risky urges.

Dodging the Second Great Depression and Weathering Storms

Ten years ago today Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. The filing didn’t create the conditions that led to the near total collapse of our financial system and made what has become known as the Great Recession the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression. But it was a monumental event. It transformed a recession into the Great Recession, eventually leading to stock markets losses of around 50 percent, innumerable business failures and business and personal bankruptcies, and massive unemployment (albeit nowhere near the levels of the Great Depression). And we’re still living with the fallout of the Great Recession to this day.

There is no doubt in my mind, Vera, that we were on the cusp of the Second Great Depression in 2008. But for the response of policy makers and regulators — most especially the Fed Chair and Treasury Secretary — the world easily could have slipped into another deep economic depression. All the bad economic consequences that befell us notwithstanding, we dodged the big bullet. This time.

I say this time because there will be other times to come. Economic cycles, including contractions, are unavoidable. Just ask history if you don’t believe me. Credit excesses inevitably build and build until the breaking point. Usually, those breaking points are run-of-the-mill recessions. But, occasionally, they’re bigger than that. Occasionally, they’re depressions.

Depressions and deep recessions are dangerous things. Bankruptcies multiply. Families fracture. Suicides rise. On a grander scale, they can lead to conflict and wars. Social strife. Revolutions. We know they’re bad, but we haven’t figured out a way to avoid them.

I don’t know if I’ll see another Great Recession or a depression in my lifetime. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But it’s almost certain you’ll see one. Maybe more than one. Continue reading

Gen Z Has Arrived

Generation Z is now entering the workforce. They’re different from your parents’ generation, Vera. Your parents are Millennials. Their generation is unique, too. I’ve talked about it in the past because it will impact your life. After all, they are your parents.

Generation Z is sandwiched between the Millennials and you (born in 2015). Now that they’re of working age, the surveys and studies are starting to appear with greater frequency. We’re learning more about these young adults. And what we’re learning is fascinating.

Janet Adamy, reporter for the Wall Street Journal, researched this group and reports they are “sober, industrious and driven by money. They are also socially awkward and timid about taking the reins.”

Here are some interesting nuggets. (For the life of me, I will never understand why any person who’s old enough to drive does not want a driver’s license! It was an unheard of occurrence in my generation.) Continue reading

The Show Goes On

President Trump is the consummate con man. Show man. No one can dominate the public attention and discourse like he can. He’s superb at what he does.

Meanwhile, of course, the daily barrage of distractions — the show he orchestrates — provides cover for the real Republican agenda: cutting taxes for the rich and their corporations, privatizing governmental functions such as education and the military (i.e., converting them into profit-making enterprises, further enriching those with capital), eliminating constraints on businesses so nothing gets in their way of turning a profit, undermining and weakening the forces of liberal democracy in whatever way he can, and pruning and, where possible, eliminating the social safety net (i.e., overturning Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and its progeny). In short, Mr. Trump has been very good for the elite of this country, his populist persona notwithstanding.

Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear, will arrive at my doorstep today, thanks to Amazon Prime. Continue reading

It’s Time for Faculty to Stop Sitting on Their Tenure

I am always surprised to read that faculty members of a failing college or university were surprised when the institution announced its closure, a large layoff, or major program cuts. How could the faculty have been unaware of the seriousness of the situation? How could they not have spotted any of the red flags? Were they not paying attention?

As a former college president, I am not overly sympathetic to a tenured faculty that has sat on the sidelines when it comes to its employer’s financial condition and future. From a basic risk management and career planning perspective, it is imprudent to blindly trust any board of trustees or administrator; indeed, history has shown clearly that employees do so at their peril. Continue reading

Ranking Colleges

The Wall Street Journal published its annual ranking of U.S. colleges and universities this week. As if you can rank colleges. Seriously, who’s to say which the best college is for you? What’s important to you? What are you looking for in a college? What do you value that perhaps others don’t? The answers are different for everyone. Moreover, who’s to say which college is of higher quality when even the colleges themselves are usually clueless about the job they’re doing of educating their students?

That said, the rankings are a reminder not to be too cavalier about your choice of college for no other reason than it is a gateway into the workforce; in other words, your choice of college will have an impact on the number and type of opportunities that await you upon graduation.

You can pour through all the rankings if you like. You’ll spend considerable time because rankings have bred like rabbits in recent years. But if you’re trying to determine which colleges have the best reputation, are well regarded by employers, and are likely to put you in a good position upon graduation, you can check one simple data point: the percentage of incoming students who graduate in four years (the institution’s four-year graduation rate). The higher, the better. Continue reading