The World Changed 97 Years Ago

On this date (August 18) in 1920, a mere 97 years ago and 144 long years following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

It’s hard to believe, Vera, that if you had been born 100 years ago, you would have entered a world in which, because of your sex, you would have been officially inferior. It’s hard to believe because we have come such a long way that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could consider another person to be inferior because of their sex. Or race. Or religion. Or ethnicity.

It’s official that you’re equal, but, as most of us adults realize, women and people of color and people of certain faiths and ethnicities still aren’t equal in the eyes of many.

The world changed dramatically 97 years ago. It’s still changing.

The world is very lucky to have you.

 

There Are Only Three Good Reasons to Borrow

America has fallen in love with debt. We borrow for everything. And, frequently, too much.

As a nation, we’re so overextended on debt that there’s a real debate on whether we’ll ever be able to climb out of the financial hole we’ve dug for ourselves, that is, without fist going through another depression or financial collapse with large write-offs (losses taken by debt holders). But even if we avoid those catastrophes, the debt will hang around our necks, depressing economic growth.

We’ve mortgaged our future. We’ve pulled future spending forward with little to no regard for the impact on tomorrow.

On an individual basis, often this means we’ve heaped a load of stress on our lives. Unnecessarily. Sometimes it results in bankruptcy. Sometimes, in depression or anxiety. Sometimes, in failed marriages or other ruptured family or work relationships. Often, it means a delay in retirement (less financial freedom). Rarely are there no adverse consequences.

Having lived nearly a lifetime, I’ve concluded there are only three good reasons to borrow. They are:

  1. to buy real estate
  2. to pay for valuable education or training
  3. to finance an ongoing profitable business

If I were given the opportunity to live life over, I’d never borrow to buy a car or to pay for a vacation or any other discretionary expense. Or borrow to buy stock (on margin), which I’ve never done. And I’d certainly never carry a balance on any credit card.

As for the three permissible reasons listed above, it would be important not to overpay.

That means not buying real estate at inflated values (such as a house in the mid-00s) or beyond what could be repaid with a margin of safety (not more house than I need or could afford).

And not overpaying for a college degree (such as borrowing to attend a mediocre school or to obtain a degree with little or no economic value).

Purpose and amount are key. Proportionality. Margin of safety.

One nice thing about being older is being debt-free. It’s actually quite liberating. I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

Next time, I will.

Justice Isn’t Free

Today, three people lost their lives in or near Charlottesville, Virginia, in connection with a white supremacists’ rally.

Since the beginning of our country, many of our citizens have believed in the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color. Indeed, today’s violence occurred near the site of one of our country’s preeminent universities, the University of Virginia, which was founded by a racist, Thomas Jefferson.

Today I have heard politicians react. Our president had what may have been his worst day in office. He ridicules many people. But today he declined to speak out strongly against white supremacists and Nazis.

I also heard a United Church of Christ pastor interviewed on television. He was eloquent and spoke clearly with a strong moral voice. He reminded us all that justice isn’t the default position, but that it comes slowly and only after much hard work and sacrifice. He reminded us that justice isn’t free. People who earnestly seek to follow Jesus and the Gospel understand that well.

Today is a reminder of the choice each of us must make. We can choose to stand with the oppressed or the oppressor.

We can choose to believe that all people are equal or they’re not.

We can choose to subjugate or liberate.

People have given their lives for both causes.

Nothing is free in life. But some things are worth the price.

Marrying the Right Person

I don’t know if you’ll marry anyone, Vera. But if you do, think about it.

One of the keys to a happy life is avoiding big mistakes. Marrying the wrong person can be one of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make. So, naturally, try not to get it wrong.

I was lucky. I stumbled into a great marriage. Well, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a stumble. I wasn’t nearly as smart when I was 16 (when I started dating your grandmother) as I thought I was — or at 21 when I married your grandmother — but I was smart enough to marry up. That’s my first suggestion: marry up.

Your grandmother was and is smarter than me. And a better person in almost — no, in every — respect. That’s what I mean by marrying up.

Your great grandmother probably also would tell you to marry into a good family. I used to scoff as such advice, but, frankly, experience has proved my mother right more often than not. You’ll be marrying not only a spouse but marrying into a family. Never underestimate the power of genetics. Or engrained familial dysfunctionality. In short, be sure the family passes muster.

That’s about all I could come up with, so now I’m turning to two guys from the investment world who are two of the wisest people I’ve encountered (by reading and listening, not personally): Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. Here is some of what they’ve said about the keys to a good marriage:

“If you really want a marriage that will last, look for someone with low expectations.”

“Make sure your spouse has the same thoughts on the same big things.” I’m not totally sold on this one, mainly because James Carville (ardent Democrat) and Mary Matalin (Republican operative turned Libertarian) seem so happy together. But it’s probably best to err on the side of caution. I have to admit, I don’t think I could live with anyone who thought Donald Trump was a decent human being or remotely fit to be president. Or who thought Roberto Clemente wasn’t God’s gift to Pittsburgh (hell, to all of humanity) and one of the greatest ballplayers to ever play the game.

“Don’t marry someone to change them.” I’ve seen people try to change their spouses over the years. I can’t recall it ever working out well.

“Don’t keep score.” (Thank goodness your grandmother heeded this advice.)

“Look for someone who will love you unconditionally.” Come to think of it, I’m not sure that anything else is truly love.

“Marry someone who is a better person than you are.” (I did!) Warren takes it even further: “Always associate with people who are better than you.”

“Choose a spouse who believes in you.” And why would you be tempted to marry anyone who doesn’t? I don’t know, but it happens.

I could go one, but you get the point: it’s an important decision. Perhaps the most important of your life. Treat it as such.

Oh, I left out one important criterion: choose someone your pap-pap likes.

 

People Who Get All Their News From Fox Really Aren’t Being Very Smart

There isn’t any excuse for getting all your news from Fox. Or from any one source, whether it’s the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, MSNBC or any other outlet. In fact, it’s really pretty stupid of us.

It’s also a sign we’re more interested in having our beliefs supported than in discerning the truth or weighing the evidence. But, as we know, that pretty much describes humans; we all suffer from that tendency.

But we know it’s a weakness of ours. So why not try to compensate for it?

People who value evidence and earnestly seek the truth, even when it has the potential to undermine our beliefs and may be deeply unsettling, do not look only in one place for information. They seek information and knowledge wherever it is to be found. And reject the naive belief that it could possibly be found in only one place.

Indeed, there is no excuse for looking in only one place in the age of the internet. We have the world at our fingertips. It’s wonderful!

With little to no cost, we can access different sources of information. Different perspectives. Different views. Different interpretations, grounded in different life experiences.

It’s wonderful!

Part of the reason we’re in the predicament we’re in today is because people don’t believe this. Rather, they’re certain they’re right. That their perspective is the only right one.

They think they know more than they do. They think they know more than is possible to know.

Rampant hubris and arrogance, it is. Self-delusion of extraordinary proportions.

There really isn’t any excuse for the level of stupidity we’re experiencing today. Yet it’s real. And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight.

I for one believe in the eventual triumph of knowledge and wisdom. But that’s a bias, too. A mere hope undermined by the evidence that history provides.

Yet we have made progress. Superstitions of ages past have been discarded. Discoveries have yielded dramatic improvements in the human condition.

People aren’t smarter or wiser than we were 2,000 years ago. But many people are better off and are living longer. And have much greater opportunity and potential for a comfortable life.

The power of discovery and knowledge. Indeed, the power of human curiosity and our species’ insatiable desire for more knowledge and deeper understanding.

Even Fox isn’t powerful enough to defeat this yearning.

Living in the Moment (But Not Getting Stuck There)

You’ll hear you should live in the moment. It’s good advice, to a point. Taken to the extreme, it’s very bad advice.

I’ve seen it play out horribly for quite a few people over the course of my lifetime. Mainly, it’s the people (all of us, to some extent!) who didn’t see change coming. People who were stuck in the moment.

We thought the world was sitting still, failing to see that change is constant. During periods of major technological and political upheaval as we’ve been experiencing the past 30 years, change is particularly rapid.

Most of it was in plain sight. Yet it was hard to see for many.

So we invested in dying industries. We stayed with dying employers or dead-end jobs too long. We bought real estate when it was in a bubble. We bought Cisco stock in 1999. We majored in disciplines in college that were tailored to a world that no longer existed. We thought that getting a B.A. or B.S. was the ticket to a good life, failing to see that today’s bachelor’s degree (in many fields) is yesterday’s high school diploma.

When we survey the economic and social landscape during my lifetime, the transformation has been stunning. Will it be any less so in 30 years when people look back to 2017? I doubt it.

Yet it can be tempting for some of us to live our lives as if the world is sitting still. Perhaps it’s because we desperately want it to sit still. Change can be unsettling. Scary.

It also can be exhilarating. And invigorating. Exciting. Purposeful. Meaningful. Gratifying.

Hockey fans will tell you that Wayne Gretsky was great because he skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t living in the moment. Rather, it means living involves reaching out, not holding on. Thinking. Anticipating. Always building. The foundation.

But, still, living in the moment. And not allowing the future to dominate our minds. Not clinging to false hope or empty myths while failing to embrace the present reality.

Living in the moment with your eyes open is a good thing. Doing so with your eyes closed is not.

What Do Women Have That Men Lack?

Last week a really bad health care bill was defeated in the U.S. Senate thanks to Senators Collins and Murkowski. Both are women. With the exception of Senator McCain (who, for reasons that may have had little or nothing to do with the bill itself, voted no), these are the only Republican senators who opposed the bill. The men went along with it, despite the bill’s indisputable shortcomings and inherent cruelty.

This isn’t an isolated example. There have been other such votes, and other examples throughout society in which the differences between the sexes became apparent.

I can’t help but wonder why. What do women — at least some women — have that men lack?

Sometimes, the answer seems obvious. It’s compassion.

Other times it seems obvious it’s not that men lack something, it’s what the women lack that makes the difference. Many of them seem to lack unbridled ambition. They seem willing to take actions that might hurt their careers but act nonetheless because it’s the right thing to do. I guess that would make them more courageous.

These are gross generalizations, of course. With many, many counterfactuals that undermine them.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that women often do bring a different perspective. And different core values. Senators Collins and Murkowski are reminders of the importance of diversity and the shortcomings of a male-only power structure.

Vera, it’s not easy to crack through the glass ceilings when you’re a woman. The world is willing to exclude women just because they’re women. If you don’t believe me, just look at how few women sit at corporate board tables, in CEO corner offices, and in our national and state legislative bodies. And, of course, after more than two centuries, we’re still waiting for our first woman president and our first woman chief justice of our Supreme Court.

I’ve met Senator Collins. I certainly don’t agree with her on everything, yet it’s hard not to respect her. She’s a remarkable person in many respects. I was reminded of that this past week.

My hope for you is that you will possess her strength and compassion, whether or not you ever aspire to or reach a position of rank or power.

Many will try to tell you that you are less because of your sex. Always remember that they speak not out of evidence or truth but out of fear and jealousy.

You will bring into this world something no one else possesses: your unique mix of genes, core values, personality, aspirations, experiences, and dreams. Use them to carve out a fulfilling, happy life; use them to make a contribution. Never allow anyone to convince you they are better than you, for any reason, including their sex.

Even if threats and fears (often from insecure men or bullies) try to pull you in a different direction, always try to do the right thing. For yourself. And for the world.

Conservatism At Its Worst

I lived in a blue state for five years: Colorado. For heaven’s sake, we even decriminalized marijuana.

I recently moved to a red state: Indiana. Yet it feels the other way around.

Not entirely of course. You’ll find some of the worst roads in the country in Indiana and Indianapolis. I suspect it’s because of the brand of fiscal conservatism here that is championed by people such as former governor (now vice president) Mike Pence. Penny wise and pound foolish. That’s a generous characterization.

It’s conservatism that thinks the only thing that matters is lower taxes, regardless of the impact on living standards or social well-being. It’s conservatism that shifts costs from the rich to the poor and working class (often via hidden subsidies). It’s conservatism that rejects the ideals upon which the country was founded and instead embraces the radical ideology that government is inherently bad. In essence, it’s a conservatism that is inherently anti-democratic.

As noted investor Jim Chanos recently remarked:

In the U.S., an attitude of hostility toward government involvement in the economy has developed over the last several decades. In the U.K., when it comes to the economy, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party both see a role for government. The Conservatives see a role that needs to be shaped and controlled and limited, while Labour feels that government should have a bigger role. But they both understand that it has a meaningful role to play. In the U.S. we have a much different situation. The Democratic Party in the U.S. is more like the Conservative Party in the U.K., while the GOP is a party that is actually opposed to the government, taking the view that the government is bad and needs to be reduced or limited. That’s a significant difference, and it shows up in our infrastructure.

And so it does. Indiana, as a bastion of conservatism, has a lot of shitty roads and streets.

With exceptions. Fortunately, we live in one such exception: Carmel (great roads!).

I’m told Carmel is really conservative, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s investment in public infrastructure and economic development far outstrips any place we’ve ever lived. As a result, it’s a vibrant place to live, replete with cultural, entertainment, outdoor and other amenities. (To be fair, however, it’s also obvious Carmel has more money that many other cities in the state and that it’s success would not be easily replicated in other parts of the state.)

In any case, compare that to my blue state experience in Loveland, Colorado, a city that sits square in the middle of one of the fastest growing, dynamic economies in the country, spanning from Fort Collins in the north to Colorado Springs in the south, with Boulder and Denver in between.

Loveland’s downtown is shoddy and embarrassing. Yet city council refuses to invest even a few million dollars in infrastructure upgrades and streetscaping. They finally initiated a big downtown project, but did so begrudgingly while still refusing to upgrade the adjacent commercial and retail corridor.

Loveland’s schools aren’t first-rate, either. I can’t think of anything more important than the quality of a community’s schools. But kids aren’t the highest priority in Loveland.

Meanwhile, Loveland sits on more than $200 million of reserves in the bank (on which it actually loses money due to its dubious investment policies and management), and stubbornly refuses to finance public infrastructure with bonds. The mayor and council persons tout their fiscal conservatism, but in reality they’re simply making some imprudent, short-sighted decisions.

But that’s the way much of conservatism in the States is these days: short-sighted and self-destructive. Perhaps there is no greater example of the self-destructive nature of this ideology than Kansas.

If this new brand of conservatism thinks it’s a good idea to ignore public infrastructure, public education and the growing inequity of income and wealth in our country, its adherents will be in for a surprise. The impact on their economies, competitiveness, standards of living and social stability will be profound over the mid to long term.

Moreover, if this newfangled belief in the inherent evilness of self-government spreads, people will be in for a harsh surprise by what such an ideology yields.

We’re seeing conservatism at its worst today. But this too shall pass, Vera. Will it pass before it gets worse? That isn’t clear.

In any case, I’m eager to see what it looks like when you’re old enough to vote. I hope it will look better. A lot better.

(P.S. Liberalism At Its Worst will be forthcoming.)

Gallery

The Trivial

One thing I’ve learned from living six decades, Vera, is that humans spend a lot of time on trivial matters. It’s not that we think they’re trivial when we’re spending time on them or, worse yet, worrying about them. But they are. So much of what we do and think really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Oftentimes, it doesn’t matter. So what if it’s not truly significant? If it’s what we want to do or think, then so be it.

Oftentimes, however, it does matter. I see it play out in two arenas all the time: 1) work and 2) relationships.

In the work environment, spending time on the trivial means you’re not spending time or putting effort on that which truly matters. In the corporate and nonprofits worlds, this manifests itself as busy work and subpar performance and results.

It’s so easy for us to think we’re accomplishing something important (and that we’re really important people for doing so) because we’re busy. But activity often merely disguises waste and inefficiency. Or is a symptom of self-aggrandizement. The failure to prioritize well and, therefore, to accomplish much is, from what I’ve observed, an epidemic in quite a few organizations.

As for relationships, the tendency is to make too big a deal out of things and, in so doing, failing to foster caring relationships. Also, when we lose sight of triviality, we tend to infringe on people’s space and fail to respect boundaries, which inevitably leads to hard feelings, conflict or worse.

I think this is one of the reasons it’s so enjoyable being a grandparent, Vera. With age, I’ve come to realize many of the things I thought were important when I was younger really aren’t all that important and, in some cases, our focus on them did more harm than good.

Indeed, my basket of trivialities has grown exponentially with age while my basket of things that truly matter has shrunk dramatically.

I wonder what it would be like to relive life with this time-tested perspective.

I think it would be nice.

Power to Make a Choice

Having options is powerful. And freeing. You can’t be anyone’s slave if you have options. Or beholden to anyone. Yet few of us focus on creating and building options.

In school, we’re not taught about such things. I’m not sure most of us are taught such things at home, either.

I don’t think I taught my boys about options. I should have.

I want you to understand about options, Vera. And about the risks associated with having none. And how liberating the power of choice can be.

Options don’t always seem like a good thing, though. Several options are presenting themselves to me presently. Part of me wishes they hadn’t appeared. Options call out for choice.

But sometimes choices seem overwhelming. Or risky.

What if I make the wrong choice?

The older I’ve gotten, the less confidence I have in my ability to choose well. Perhaps it’s because I focus too much on some of the wrong choices I’ve made. Perhaps it’s because, at this stage of my life, I’m less concerned with winning or succeeding.

Yet having options is better than having none, of that I’m fairly certain.

There are different ways of creating options. And I suppose there are some that haven’t even occurred to me.

A few that occur to me are:

  • a willingness to take risks (conquering fear)
  • being good at what you do (valuable to others)
  • saving and staying out of debt
  • investing in yourself (continuance improvement)
  • avoiding ruts and complacency
  • nurturing true friendships
  • inquisitiveness
  • being well read
  • having good insight to what’s happening in the world
  • rejecting the twin gods of materialism and consumerism
  • associating with doers
  • associating with good people
  • being who we are and not the person we think others want us to be
  • recognizing the true nature and source of security and contentment
  • being a giver and not a taker
  • a longing to be free

Humans seem to sense that power is good, but then go about looking for it in all the wrong places. And mistake dominance for power. And fail to see the ways we unwittingly undermine our own power and freedom.

I’m not sure many of us seek the power to make choices. The power to have a true choice.

I think we’d be better off if we did.