Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As a friend remembered not.
As You Like It
With the deep chill sweeping the nation it feels like the only thing anyone wants is to find a warm spot and remain there. Yet even in this harsh winter weather, we are reminded that nature hasn't seen a temperature as low as man has been able to achieve against other men. The winter wind is not so as unkind as man's ingratitude. I write about this a lot because it's one of the main issues facing our economy - the ingratitude of man that results in opinions and policies that undo the greatness of the nation.
For all the time we spend looking through income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, peer reviews, presentations and all the analysis of macro events, drivers and trends, my greatest concern is a nation that sleepwalks into irrelevance under the guise of doing the right thing. Of course nature, while unpredictable, is going to punish at times and provide idyllic backdrops at others. Humans are just as unpredictable as nature, and from time to time are completely self destructive. We can't help it. Through the years the trick has been to recognize it sooner and to mitigate the pain and damage.
I was reminded of the cruelty of life, often out of our control, during the Twilight Zone marathon on New Year's Day. In the "Time Enough to Last" episode, Burgess Meredith's character (above) loved nothing more than to read. Trapped in a bank vault during an atomic war, he emerges as the lone human survivor. He stumbled upon a great big library where all the books are intact. It's a dream come true as he makes stacks of reading and mapping out the next few years in his version of paradise. Just as he settles in to begin his wondrous journey of the mind, he looks down and his coke-bottle-thick glasses fall off his face.
His glasses shatter on the ground and he is virtually blind. You can feel the man's pain and agony as this paradise will surely become a living hell.
Leveled Playing Field
The world has been shaped from the beginning of time through outcomes shaped by the strongest. It's more than survival of the fittest; it's been domination by the fittest, smartest, wiliest and most determined. This is an extension of nature. The cycle of life seems cruel, but it works and so there are deer and wolves in the forest. For mankind, the gift of self-determination allows independent thought and goals while also possessing the ability to avoid innate urges that might be self-destructive.
We can leverage being human and God's gifts, as long as there is a political backdrop that levels the playing field.
This is why democracy and free markets hold out so much hope for the planet. Strongmen and dictators can be ousted when the masses rise in the process of giving the weakest a voice. But even this system of government can be culled from its basic premise and manipulated into something that supports de facto strongmen and dictators. The system can be reverse-engineered to promote and reward weakness and mediocrity.
The prophecy can be twisted into the meek should be given the earth...and all its worldly treasures now, and not wait for the end when burning embers of a fallen empire descend from the sky.
Embedded in democracy is the key to destroying democracy. It's all about getting the majority to believe in a different system. It's odd that the masses would have to reject the very system that allowed them the voice to matter and along with it the economic system that made even the poorest in our midst among the richest on the planet. There is leveling the playing field and there is leveling the playing field: rules that promote fair competition are one thing, while rules that promote no competition are another.
Freedom from Want
FDR suggested it was the government's role to establish four freedoms including freedom from want. The idea is life should be a walk through the park with each entitled to the things they desire without earning them. This is the kind of thinking prevalent in the current Rolling Stones magazine piece titled:
"Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For."
Guaranteed Work for Everyone: "The program would automatically expand during private-sector downturns"
Social Security for All: "Because as much as unemployment blows, so do jobs"
Take Back the Land: "They [landlords] claim ownership of buildings and charge people who actually work for a living the majority of our incomes"
Make Everything Owned by Everybody: "Easier ways to collectivize wealth ownership than having to stage uprisings that seize the actual airplanes and warehouses and whatnot"
Public Bank in Every State: "The whole point of a finance sector is supposed to be collecting the surplus that the whole economy has worked to produce"
As contradictory as these ideas are and as destructive as they are, there is no doubt more young adults are open to a better system as the one that has coddled them from birth.
Defenders of Free Markets and the American Dream...
How will the strong fight back? I'm not talking about the mighty but those that have the same desire that became the foundation and backbone of America.
How will the achievers keep what they've earned when their foes don't even talk about picking up pitch forks and torches when they can waltz to the ballot box? This is a serious struggle that's already having major negative consequences. Who will save the nation? If you listen to a Tiger Mom, America's saviors will be those that understand the uniqueness of opportunity in this country and are determined to take advantage. As American born citizens are lulled into the trap of complacency or doubt or even anger, there are people ready to fight back and keep the American Dream alive.
A review in the New York Post of Amy Chua's new book "The Triple Package" points out certain groups of people do better in America than others. It's raised howls and is sure to ruffle even more feathers as it will be portrayed as racists, wrongheaded, misguided and elitist. The thing is from what I know of the book's contents thus far- it is spot on. In fact, it's hard to argue that the groups she points to don't perform better on academic tests, earn more money, and enjoy enviable occupations.
* Cuban exiles
(I would have added Caribbean-born blacks and their children to the list.)
The richest man in the world is Carlos Slim, whose father brought him to Mexico as a young lad. He was given a five peso allowance that his CPA father insisted he budgeted. Cuban exiles including the founder of Movado are legendary for their conservatism and business acumen. I think that speaks to all the races on the list. Chua cites three reasons:
> Superiority Complex
> Impulse Control
She goes on to suggest that while these are group behavioral traits, individuals are capable of learning and practicing them. I agree, and in fact have seen these traits among members of the so-called Greatest Generation...people that survived hard times. They're proud but insecure, and careful never to squander. In my opinion, the three bullets are critical to success and evident in most success stories.
People feel superior when they are prepared and well trained. Any other time such talk is used it is an excuse to do evil things and it is the exact opposite of being superior.
The insecurity part is the antithesis of freedom from want, and the most important driver of success.
Controlling impulse is nothing more than being disciplined. It covers patience and sacrifice.
Just as man can be an ungrateful friend we can be ungrateful citizens that demand more and more from others without giving anything in return. It's a dangerous road we're travelling and make no mistake we are on this road already. When everyone owns everything, then nobody owns anything. It's been proven during the black plague of Europe that left empty homes without caretakers not because everyone was dying but because there was no pride of ownership.
The nation's salvation isn't about the good habits of certain races, but the cultural habits of all races. If America is to remain preeminent it must resist the urge to live life without heartaches or sore backs. This week, the winter's wind has been most unkind but it will get better.