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Those who don’t learn from history—will profit from the next bubble

Posted: 05.14.09
Economic bubble - learning from history

When I asked my grandson what would like to be: a fireman, a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, the president of a company, a writer, or a benchmarker, guess what he said?

Fireman get burned and don’t make much money. Doctors have to deal with blood and work all the time, lawyers are crooks, bankers are bigger crooks, presidents of companies make big money and drive the best cars, writers are poor, and what is a benchmarker? OK, which one I asked. A president of course, he said, I want to make a lot of money and drive a fast car—but what’s a
benchmarker?

I explained what a benchmarker does and he said, “All day—they test things all day, like play with them? Games and computers? All day, and they get paid for it? Then he went real quiet and stared out the window for a while. “I’ll be the president,” he said, the benchmarkers and lawyers and writers can all work for me and I’ll make so much money I can have all the best games and computers. Yeah, I’m going to be a president,” and he left, as happy as I’ve ever seen him, evidently I had just sent him on his life’s goal.

I realized later I forgot to include engineer and scientist, but I suspect he would have just added them to his payroll list. And that’s too bad because that’s how we got into the economic mess we’re in—money has become the primary motivator, more so than a passion for music, art, science or law. How many kids have you met recently, maybe in your life, who said, I want to be an engineer? When was the last time, if ever, you heard a kids say, I want to be a writer, or play the piano?

Our past two decades of greed have bred a new generation of kids that only know the value of money, and don’t value the designing, building, and developing of things that actually make the money—they don’t understand value add—at least not yet.

According to Wikipedia, I’ve lived through 10 recessions. The only one I really felt was the 1973-1975 oil crisis because it impacted business so badly and I remember having trouble making payroll a few times. It was a lesson to build up and keep a bigger cash reserve because in those days we knew recessions were like a storm, we may not be able to predict when it was coming or how bad it would be, but we damn sure knew one was coming.

And even though most of the folks who got slammed by this recession were around for the bust of 2001, and even though they all read the same papers, magazines, and business books warning about this one—almost no one took any precautionary action. Companies that did, by storing up cash like Intel and a few others were criticized for letting the shareholders value rot in a bank. Where are those critics now?

Best company to work for - economy

A few people, who did live through the crash of 2001 managed to make some big bucks on the most recent bubble and were smart enough, or lucky enough, to pull out of the derivative and commodity markets in time.

I used to think about my dear aunt when examining a new piece of equipment or software. If I couldn’t give it to her and let her use it, it failed in my opinion as a product ready for consumers. If I couldn’t explain its purpose or utility, it failed. I doubt if I could have explained derivatives to her—I could more easily teach her matrix math—she’d get that.

So how do I explain value-add to my grandson? Value-add is deferred gratification, and personal responsibility. He pretty much gets the second part, but putting off his demands now is not an easy task—he can see it, he wants it, he wants it now. Nothing to discuss here—a gimme.

He’s a candidate, as I fear is all of his generation, candidates for getting rich fast on the next bubble.

So my plan for our next talk will be to give him a list of companies, automobile, chemical, software, etc., explain what they do, maybe mention some names he’d recognize, and ask him which one of them he’d like to be president of. I figure that’s how I’ll tease out his passion beyond money. If he says he doesn’t care, then I’ll enroll him business school and wish him well—wait for the bubble Timmy.