It’s easy to forget the good things that are going on. Humans are predisposed to focusing on the error, the exception, the calamity-in-the-making, what’s going off track. Even avowed optimists collected in a room to discuss some proposal will first identify what’s wrong with that proposal. It’s in our nature, because over the aeons of our time on the planet, it was the watchful eye that ducked the boulder and avoided the sharp-toothed predator. If you are prepared for a problem, you have a better chance of not experiencing one.
That’s also why bad news sells newspapers, gets ratings on television and increases book sales. If you look at the subjects of published popular works on business, you probably won’t find one titled “Why Things Are Just Fine” or “It’s Time to Relax.” In the mind of the public, and especially in the mind of the business owner, things are never fine, and relaxation is anxiety-provoking — can’t let down one’s guard, else one will be smacked on the back of the head. During my time as an entrepreneur, I would often be asked, “What keeps you up at night?” which is the question people ask when they want to appear fundamentally deep and knowledgeable about the “real” factors in business. My answer was always, “Everything.”
Given that we humans focus on what can and is going wrong, one day each year in the United States, at least, we allow ourselves the luxury of collecting with our families to formally, and somewhat awkwardly, enumerate the reasons why we should be thankful. We list the things that are going right, and the good things we are experiencing. Rather than focusing on myself, I’d like to offer some things that are indeed going right at a macro-level, to salve the constant worry that I and my business brethren engage in.
First and foremost, the colossal debacle of our global greed in the real estate rampage running up to the inevitable explosion of the “Great Financial Crisis” is nearly over. Real estate prices are moving back up, and the bad debt has been taken off the backs of the private sector (you, me and business) and put onto the backs of our children (government debt). I know that doesn’t sound so good, but wait, there’s more.
Our federal government is now unable to avoid taking steps to begin reducing the deficit. In whatever final form the compromise arrives, it will undoubtedly include both reduction in spending and increase in revenue to the federal coffers. All that remains is for both sides of the proverbial “aisle” to figure out how to describe the compromise in language that is as consistent as possible with past rhetoric sold to their constituents during the election. Steps will be taken.
And related to that good news, we can be thankful that the United States is not Greece. Or Spain. Or Italy. Or Albania, for that matter. (It’s a little sad we aren’t more like Germany, which didn’t go hog wild during the trough froth running up to 2008. Oh, there I go, being negative. It’s so hard to stop.)
The United States has resisted leaning too far over to the social supports that the European Union’s most egregious economic cases did. We have gone too far for comfort, of course, but in Greece, most people worked for the government at one time. If it weren’t for borrowed money and tourists, they would have imploded long ago. In the United States, half of the work force is in small companies with less than 500 employees, and 80 percent of new jobs are created in those small companies. That set of facts alone is what has kept us coming back. And the vast majority of those business owners generate less than $250,000 in income annually.
We have a boiling cauldron of entrepreneurial inventiveness in this country, which has always responded to adversity with creativity and hard work. That segment of our economy was instantly addressing the economic challenges of 2008’s crash, while the government has spent years fighting with itself over what to do about the long-term impact of the monetary policy triage that stopped the bleeding but didn’t fix the organs.
Finally, we can be happy that now the baby boomers will have the opportunity to prevent our kids and grandkids from actually having to pay the bill we stuck them with. We’re not going to pass from the planet before we can fix most of the problems we created during our highest earning years. And we did cause them. We borrowed to the hilt, we chased double-digit returns in a real estate Ponzi scheme of finding the greater fool to buy the assets or the right to buy the assets, and we spent every dime we earned instantly. We consumed. That borrowed lifestyle is now the national debt, about $16 trillion. How are we going to help relieve our progeny and theirs?
We’re going to have a less comfy old age. We’ll be living much more modestly than we envisioned, with fewer trips to exotic places and smaller homes. We’ll be eating out less often. We’ll be spending more of our money on our own health needs. We’ll be retiring later, and receiving less fixed income when we do. We’ll be paying more for food and utilities. And a number of us who used the debt cycle that’s just ended to increase our net worth, and got out of the cycle before it went over the cliff, will be sending more of that net worth to pay down the debt we created. That’s good news. We have time to clean up our own mess.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. There’s a lot to be thankful for.