A Conversation with Art Laffer

President Reagan’s Chief Economic Advisor

by Gary L. Fisher

Art Laffer.jpgArthur B. Laffer’s economic acumen and influence in triggering a world-wide taxcutting movement in the 1980s have earned him the distinction in many publications as “The Father of Supply-Side Economics.” The Laffer Curve is one of the main theoretical constructs of supply-side economics, illustrating the tradeoff between tax rates and actual tax revenues.

Dr. Laffer was a member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board for both of his two terms (1981-1989). He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Reagan/ Bush Finance Committee in 1984 and was a founding member of the Reagan Executive Advisory Committee for the presidential race of 1980. He also advised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on fiscal policy in the U.K. during the 1980s.

A 1999 Time Magazine cover story “The Century’s Greatest Minds” deemed the Laffer Curve one of “a few advances that powered this extraordinary century.”


Taken from a conversation in 2015.  

I had the opportunity to spend some time in Las Vegas with one of the giants of the economics field, Dr. Art Laffer. Initially I expected to maybe ask Dr. Laffer a few quick questions but after learning that I was a University of Michigan graduate he took the opportunity to razz me about Ohio State’s recent dominance of my alma mater’s football team (Laffer is an Ohio native). This led to a much longer conversation, and during it we talked about President Obama’s agenda, the similarities between Laffer’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio and mine of Flint, Michigan.

Laffer feels strongly that the nation’s tax policy is both part of the problem and fixing it could be a signifcant step towards a real recovery. Dr. Laffer said “The principle of levying the lowest possible tax rate on the broadest possible tax base is the way to improve the incentives to work, save and produce—which are necessary to reinvigorate the American economy and cope with the nation’s fiscal problems.” When I asked him how we could take concrete steps to repair the national economy he said “We know how to fix it, by the way, a low rate at tax, spending restraint, sound money, free trade.”

“Have you ever heard of a poor man spending himself into prosperity? It`s just dumb on the outset. Government spending, as [economist] Milton Friedman always said, is taxation,” he continued. “Government doesn`t create resources, it redistributes resources. And this government spending stuff is why we had the Great Recession.”

Laffer declined to lay all the blame on President Barack Obama, noting that former President George W. Bush started the spending binge, which he said led to the so-called “Great Recession” beginning in 2008. (President George W. Bush) did just as bad a job as did Obama [President Barack Obama], but Obama has continued that bad job for four straight years. And this is the result,” he added.

Laffer stressed the importance of a low tax policy, one less onerous, in helping to stimulate the economy while increasing government revenues at the same time.

Recalling his years as one of President Reagan’s top economic advisers, Laffer said Reagan actually cut the highest tax rates. He said “we made a mistake” by phasing in the cuts, which he said caused the 1981-82 recession. But he said the economy took off in 1983 when the cuts went into full effect.

“This place just went like a rocket ship,” he said. “I think we had 7.5 percent growth in 1983 and 5.5 growth in 1984, just this boom that lasted for years and years.”

“We have the highest corporate tax rates in the world and one of the lowest corporate tax revenues as a share of GDP in the world. Go figure. It’s just you`re taxing them out of business.”

Laffer said the economy last year grew by about 2.1 percent, a poor performance that he described as “the worst single recovery in the history of the U.S.”

When I asked Dr. Laffer about the prospects for turning around rust belt cities like Flint, Detroit, and his own hometown of Youngstown he said , “It’s amazing, isn`t it? We spent $5.8 trillion in the last couple of years, and this is what we get for it? It’s tragic.”

 

The opinions voiced in this material are for general info only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Retirement Reality Check

Let’s Take a Look at the Costs of a “Bare Bones” Retirement

by Gary L. Fisher

Golden Piggy.jpgAmong the myriad of considerations we have to examine when it comes to planning for a sound and happy retirement are the basics. Things like health care, prescription drugs, long-term care, food, clothing and shelter. That sounds like a tall order, and it is. Certainly those are things that range from stuff we’d rather not think about, all the way to stuff we take for granted.

The most elemental of these factors is food. Gotta eat to live right? You cut that out of the budget and you won’t have to worry about a long retirement! So what does the potential for food expenses look like during your retirement? Let’s take a look:

If you and your spouse live to your life expectancy of age 83, and if you retire at 65, you’ll eat 39,430 meals in retirement. That’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, 365 days a year over 18 years for two folks. If each of these meals costs a mere $5 you’re looking at a budget of $197,100 on food. If you want to eat something other than Ramen noodles and Chef Boyardee in retirement, let’s make it $10 per meal. Now our budget is nearly $400,000! 

What are your odds of living long enough to spend that kind of dough on food? Well, according to the Social Security Administration, one out of four 65-year-olds will live past the age of 90.  One out of ten will live past the age of 98.  So that’s a lot of Early Bird specials at Denny’s to plan for.

How about “working until you drop”, as I’ve heard some proclaim that they will do? Sounds good…well actually it sounds pretty awful…but it’s probably not something that most could do even if they wanted to. In truth, 41% of Americans retired earlier than they planned for various reasons. Health issues are usually the culprit. This situation is exacerbated greatly when people either have no long-term disability insurance through work, or privately purchased. Or they have it, but it’s inadequate. Of course, sometimes people have just had enough of work, and believe it or not, age discrimination is a real thing. Bottom line?  Planning on being the 85 year old guy at the office isn’t really much of a plan.

Like food, the out-of-pocket costs for medical expenses can be astronomical, as well. According to Fidelity, $220,000 is the amount of money a couple can expect to pay for health care in retirement. 

Lastly is the reality of long-term care. I could write a book about this one, and maybe I should. Since this is a topic most people enjoy as much as a funeral, I’ll be brief. The facts are: 7 out of 10 people over the age of 65 will need some form of long-term care at some point in their lives. Medicare does not pay for long-term care insurance.  According to the most recent Genworth Cost of Care Report, the cost of a semi-private room in a long term care facility is $90,703. The average cost for Assisted Living facilities is $43,200 per year. At a 4% increase per year rate (which Genworth say’s it is currently in Michigan) these costs will double in 18 years.  That’s a cost that few are prepared to handle without a plan.  (Source 2015 Genworth Cost of Care Survey @ https://www.genworth.com/…/cost-of-care.html)

I don’t know a lot of people who love to buy insurance….okay I don’t know anyone (myself included) who actually enjoys paying premiums. However, when compared to the costs of being unprepared there’s really not much to think about if you have the health and wherewithal to take action. Similarly, when it comes to planning for retirement income. The roadblocks are clear: Health considerations, living longer/longevity risk, inflation, and taxes all play a part. We could also toss in common issues like providing ongoing financial support for children, divorce costs and expenses, paying for aging parents, and unpredictable government intervention and geopolitical events. In truth, no one sane plans to fail, but countless people fail to plan. It’s really human nature. None of us want to confront our own mortality. But to do so can become a liberating, and life–affirming move. Mitigating our risks of living longer than our money can be a smart move in uncertain times.•

Financial Education

The Case for Adding Financial Literacy Readiness to the Curriculum of Every Student

by Gary L. Fisher

Mortarboard CC.pngAmong one of my passions has always been teaching, mentoring, and coaching. This is one of the primary reasons I chose the financial planning profession as a place to ply my trade. It offers that rare opportunity to make a difference and have fun, all while working.

For me it’s been a great ride, but as a practitioner of financial planning it’s always somewhat surprising how little of the basics of finance are taught in the primary education system. I think a class called ‘Financial Planning’ should be a requirement in Junior High/ Middle School, and a part of the core curriculum in all high schools.

That said, it’s particularly shocking when you learn (and remember) that it isn’t even part of most university curriculums, regardless of how lofty the degree might be.

I know for me it was not.

I managed to get a Bachelors Degree from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University without even touching on anything that looked like Financial Planning.

That’s one of the reasons why I agreed to become a member of the Olivet College Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Business and Economics over 20 years ago. I thought it was great that a college was taking all of this financial education stuff seriously, and offering a degree curriculum. I wanted to be a part of it. Lately that role has evolved in to teaching a class or two each semester in the Financial Planning degree curriculum. It’s been a tremendous experience, and one that has proven to be incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally.

One of the projects I assigned to each class was that they go out and interview someone ‘over 40’ about either their estate planning situation, or their overall financial planning. The results were enlightening as almost all learned that the person they interviewed (typically parents or grandparents) were particularly lacking in preparedness, knowledge, and in some cases even interest in either area. This caused a high degree of consternation among the students to the extent that they were learning how important all of the facets of financial readiness happen to be. One student said, “How will my parents ever retire if they don’t take this serious now?” How indeed! 

One of the projects we covered in the aftermath of this project was to ask each student to identify three things: 1) what age they intended to retire (a fun question to ask ‘20 somethings’), 2) how much money they would need to have accumulated, and 3) how much they could withdraw from that sum so that it would be highly likely (better than a 95% chance) of lasting at least 30 years or more. The answers varied from a low of $500,000 to a high of 5 million. The interesting thing about this project was that the Millennials answers varied little from the quality of responses I typically get in a workshop filled with Baby Boomers! In fact, these particular Millenials will graduate from Olivet’s Financial Planning curriculum light years ahead in financial planning knowledge than that of previous generations of  of  Baby Boomers, or Gen X and Gen Y’ers ever did at the same ages.

I am a strong proponent of keeping the arts and athletics front and center in an educational setting. However, financial education is arguably far more important.  If you doubt it, just consider the vast number of professional athletes, entertainers, and rock bands that have squandered fortunes with poor money management and lack of financial acumen. It’s hard to play your way out of a hole you didn’t even know you were digging. Olivet remains one of the few colleges in the country offering a financial planning degree program. It’s hardly surprising that very nearly 100% of the college’s program graduates are offered excellent jobs upon graduation. In truth, that kind of foundational knowledge can only help in the future regardless of what industry the graduate chooses to pursue. For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Professor of Financial Planning, because I can’t imagine too many more important callings, or a better way I could use the knowledge I’ve taken nearly a quarter of a century to learn. If the children are our future, than we would all benefit by them being very astute financial mangers.•

Book Review: The End of Diabetes

by Gary L. Fisher

Book Review:  The End of Diabetes, by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

The End of Diabetes.jpgDiabetes is extracting an awful price on America. It is a devastating and insidious disease that is not only growing like wildfire, it’s affecting people from youngsters to oldsters, and everyone in between.  The toll it can take on families is equally destructive. Emotionally it’s impossible to put a price tag on the pain it causes, and from a purely financial perspective it’s off the charts.

The average diabetic incurs $6,649 in health care costs directly attributable to diabetes each year. (Source Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2007. Diabetes Care 2008; 31(3):596-615/)More than half of all Americans will be pre-diabetic by 2020 at a cost of $3.35 trillion to the US health system if current trends go on unabated, according to an analysis of a report released by UnitedHealth group. The medical journal, The Lancet, called it a “public health humiliation” that diabetes, a largely preventable disease, has reached such epidemic proportions.

Diabetes Mellitus is a chronic disease that causes serious health complications including:

Kidney failure 

Blindness 

Heart Disease and Stroke – 80% of diabetics die of heart attacks and strokes.

High Blood Pressure  

Nervous System disease including Erectile Dysfunction and loss of feeling in the feet.

Amputations 

If that list isn’t enough to make you very interested in preventing or reversing diabetes, you’re not paying attention!

Dr. Fuhrman say’s that “The majority of medications used to lower blood sugar place stress on your already failing pancreas. The probability of your diabetes getting worse under conventional medical care is especially likely since medications used to control blood sugar, such as sulfonylureas and insulin, also cause weight gain.  The dangerous combination of pushing the pancreas to produce insulin and gaining more weight with medication actually results in the need for additional medication as you become increasingly diabetic. This common and yet failed approach shortens life span and increases the risk of heart attacks.”

Instead Dr. Fuhrman suggests something he calls a “Nutritarian” approach.

This formula is expressed as (H)=Nutrients (N)/Calories (C) 

This formula say’s that your health is determined by the nutrient per calorie density of your diet. When you eat more foods that have a high nutrient density and fewer foods with a low nutrient density, your health will dramatically improve and your diabetes will melt away.” 

The primary cause of diabetes in the first place is the American diet, which promotes obesity. This, coupled with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, has exacerbated an existing problem and turned it in to the disaster we have now. In fact, as processed foods find their way around the world, the problem continues to grow globally, not just domestically.

Attacking the problem with the Nutritarian diet, and exercise have proven to be incredibly effective for Dr. Fuhrman’s thousands of patients.   In fact the results he cites in the book are nothing short of miraculous.  I suspect most Americans will not immediately embrace such sweeping lifestyle changes.  However, when compared to the nightmarish vision of what diabetes brings, the tradeoff looks like a pretty good deal.

This is a timely book that can make a huge difference in the lives and destinies of millions, and suggests enormous public health and economic benefits as well.   •

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

A Conversation with Paul Krause: Pro Football Hall-of-Famer

by Gary Fisher

I have watched every single Super Bowl. Well at least that’s what my dad tells me. I honestly don’t recall the first one since I was only a little over a year old. But dad says he and I sat in front  of our old Zenith black and white and watched it with him, so I’ll have to take his word for it. I remember snippets of games after that, but it wasn’t really until I was about 8 years old that I really remember every single thing about a Super Bowl, that being the ’73 contest between my beloved Miami Dolphins and the Washington Redskins. I had liked the St. Louis Cardinals up to that point, mostly because they had cool helmets, but the Fins became my team for life during the ’72 season, and that was it.

Given this rumination, and the fact that at the time, we were in the year of the 50th Super Bowl, it was particularly notable that I had the unique opportunity to  accompany my dad to his 55th high school reunion. Not only did I meet a bunch of people my dad had been talking about for literally my entire life, I also got to put real people together with the faces that I had only seen in my dad’s dusty high school albums. It was great fun from start to finish, and I was particularly impressed by the turn out. Something like 75% of all living graduates attended this event, a fact made more impressive given the age (75) of the average graduate, and the reality that Bendle High School, in the 60’s, was a small school.  Dad had always been in the minority by not attending these events. For one reason or another he always had a reason why he couldn’t make it. He certainly had no shortage of good reasons as I recall – one year I was hit by a car, another year I had serious surgery, another time our house blew up (well only the top half), and one time he was in the hospital with surgery. In any event he was one of the MIA’s from Reunionville for decades. All of this made his surprise appearance an even bigger deal in this tight knit group. Having lost my mom a year and half prior, no one thought it likely he’d be there for this one either. But there he was.

All of this brings me back to the Super Bowl theme. One of the first people to approach my dad was one of his best friend’s growing up, a fella named Paul Krause. My dad had been telling me stories about Paul since I was old enough to remember tossing a football around. Paul was my dad’s running mate in junior high and high school in sports, and fun. When I was watching the 1970 Super Bowl which featured the Kansas City Chiefs against the Minnestota Vikings, dad pointed out that his buddy was wearing #22 for the Vikings. I remember thinking that he must have been talking about the Flint Northern Vikings, the local high school team we followed at the time. He had a hard time explaining to me that the Minnesota Vikings were a different set of Vikings. In any event, I thought it was pretty cool that my dad was pals with someone on that little black and white Zenith in our living room. It was clear this was an important game too, so that added to the coolness effect.

As I got older we had a lot of opportunities to watch Paul play on the tube, as he’d appear in three more Super Bowls- ‘74 against the Dolphins, ‘75 against the Steelers, and  ‘77 against the Raiders. Sadly, for Paul, all were losses, but as Krause told me during the reunion dinner ‘If you’re going to lose four games you can do a lot worse than have them be Super Bowls’!  I had to tell him that my favorite team growing up was the Miami Dolphins. “That Larry Csonka was a handful”, Paul said. “Really hard to tackle–he was like a freight train.” I asked him who were the toughest guys he competed against in the Super Bowl, and he laid out a litany of the greatest players of my youthful past: Terry Bradshaw, Ken “The Snake” Stabler, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Len Dawson, Mercury Morris, Paul Warfield, Freddie Biletnikoff, and John Stallworth.

In fact Krause was in town not just for the reunion, but also to present a “Golden Football” to his alma mater, a perk of having appeared in all of those Super Bowls with the Vikings, and something being done around the country by his fellow Super Bowlers. However, Krause is more than just a former NFL football player. He is quite likely the greatest athlete to ever come out of the Flint area. That’s saying an awful lot when you consider the almost unreal quality of talent to emanate from Flint.

His feats in high school are legendary. My dad and Paul were excitedly telling me the story of the night Krause set the county high school basketball scoring mark of 57 points in a single game. A record that still stands to this day, made even more remarkable in a pre-three point play era. They spoke of football games, and baseball games and how Krause once left a baseball game to jump the fence and win track events in the 440 and pole vault, then returned to the baseball game to pitch a no-hitter.

Krause went on to national prominence at the University of Iowa, and then played in all of those Super Bowls in the NFL. Along the way he was named All Pro 9 times, and elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 1998. He also holds one of the NFL’s most hallowed records with 81 interceptions, making him the NFL’s all time pass theft king.  

While all of that is without question interesting,  I didn’t spend a lot of time asking NFL questions. At the time, the main topic at our table was the 85 yard pass play Krause tossed to my dad that helped them win a close game against Corunna in ’58. And that was just fine with me.•

Attitude of a Champion

by Gary Fisher

mountain-climber-899055.jpgAttitude is an intriguing concept. What exactly does it mean? Moreover what makes a good one–or a bad one for that matter? Perhaps most critically of all, what kind of an attitude is required to be a champion? I don’t particularly mean a champion in trems of athletics, although that certainly fits the bill. A champion can be a parent, coach, teacher, student, worker, business owner, entertainer, or just about anyone. The topic is broad, and deep. But let’s take a swing at it.

According to Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Phd, and author of Mindset, attitudes or mental orientations come in two broad flavors. One is what she refers to as the ‘growth’ mindset, and the other is the ‘fixed’ mindset.  People with the growth mindset are characterized by personal accountability, and a willingness to fail and take risks that might lead to failure. One can be a growth mindset person in one area and fixed in another. In the main, people with the fixed mindset believe things like “I’m a certain kind of person and there isn’t much I can do to change that”. They might say things like “You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.” Conversely, growth mindset folks think “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are,” and “You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.”

In the book, Dweck cites Michael Jordan and his comment that he’s “never really failed” because every time he wasn’t successful “He learned something valuable.” Jordan had an iconic commercial in the 90’s in which his voiceover said “ I’ve missed more than 9000 shots, I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to make the game winning shot and missed.” Then he looks at the camera and winks and says “That’s why I’m so successful!”  That ad sort of sums up the growth mind set.

Next up on the list of attitude ingredients is optimism. The belief that you can be successful is paramount for winning. Optimism, like attitude is hard to pin down in terms of definition, but we know it when we see it, and when we feel it. Dr. Martin Seligman, Phd states in his seminal book Learned Optimism, that  “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think.” 

Seligman found that people who skewed depressive handled set backs and disappointments very differently than Michael Jordan, and other optimists, did. Depressives, and by extension pessimistic people, believe that set backs tend to be unchangeable, pervasive and general (the ‘everything sucks’ mentality), and personal.  Optimists tend to believe setbacks are a chance to learn, improve, and move forward- the growth mindset Dweck speaks of. They believe that bad things always have specific causes that can be known. They don’t take it personally, don’t presume it’s pervasive, and they used it as leverage for future success.  Seligman makes a strong case for the benefits of optimism over pessimism.

The Pessimistic Attitude
Pessimism promotes depression.Pessimism produces inertia rather than activity in the face of setback.Pessimism feels bad subjectively: blue, down, worried, anxious.

Pessimism is self-fulfilling.

Pessimists don’t persist in the face of challenges, and therefore fail more frequently and quit–even when success is attainable. (This should be separated from the Jordan form of failing where it’s used to catapult one to greater achievements).

Pessimism is associated with poor physical health.

Even when pessimists are right, and things work out badly, they still feel worse. Their explanatory style now converts the predicted setback in to a disaster, a disaster in to a catastrophe.

He goes on to say, “The optimistic moments of our lives contain the great plans, the dreams, and the hopes. Reality is benignly distorted to give the dreams room to flourish. Without these times we would never accomplish anything difficult and intimidating, we would never even attempt the just barely possible. Mt. Everst would remain unscaled, the four minute mile unrun, the jet plane and the computer would just be blueprints sitting in some financial vice presidents wastebasket.”

The plot thickens considerably when the work of professor and author Daniel Goleman, PhD is factored in. Goleman rightly suggested that there are various types of intelligence in his book Emotional Intelligence. He posits that emotional intelligence or EI, as he refers to it, is just as important, if not far more so than what we call IQ. He presents an equally  compelling case for optimism. “Consider the role of positive motivation- the marshalling of feelings of enthusiasm, zeal, and confidence- in achievement. Studies of Olympic athletes, world class musicians, and chess grand masters find their unifying trait is the ability to motivate themselves to pursue relentless training routines….and that doggedness depends on emotional traits – enthusiasm and persistence in the face of setbacks above all else.”

Dweck’s research concurs with Goleman, saying that “Finding #1 about success” is that those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. And this is exactly what we find in the champions.”  Finding #2 was that those with the “growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake up call.  Finding #3 was that “People with the growth mindset in sports (and in pretty much everything else) took charge of the processes that bring success–and that maintain it.”

The science is in. And it’s good news!  Once we know how we have to begin, we can focus on precisely those processes that make or break success. And that’s exactly what we’ll tackle in the next issue of THE MENTOR!•

Hometown Lessons that Last a Lifetime

Hometown Lessons that Last a Lifetime

by Gary Fisher

The Christmas bells were jingling, and a rotund Santa manned a big, black pot. My Grandma held my hand, as I skipped across the bricks of the street. I always loved those cool, old bricks that lined the main drag of Saginaw Street. Ma and Grandma had taken me back downtown for one of our regular shopping trips. It was 1968, I was four years old, and things were hopping during the Christmas season in the town of my birth, Flint, Michigan. We headed off to Smith-Bridgman’s department store to look for a gift for my Grandpa. I hid in the racks and pretended they were tents.

Then, I wandered away…as usual. I found a clerk and told her that my Mom and Grandma “got lost”. The clerk paged them, and they scurried over to the wrap counter to pick me up. I told them to stay close so they didn’t get lost again. Next, it was over to the Kresge’s five and dime for some popcorn, and maybe something from that wonderful, old lunch counter. I loved downtown Flint growing up. As a little kid, whenever I heard the Petula Clark hit song Downtown, I was 100% positive that it was about MY downtown!

Over the years, I would spend many hours there, in the heart of Flint. I would watch it be supplanted by the fancy new suburban mall out on Miller Road, geographically the precise middle of nowhere to an Eastside kid used to everything being a bike ride away. I would watch as the downtown stores closed, one by one, and then were smashed by wrecking balls, wiping out their physical existence. Parking lots replaced Kresge’s and the venerable, old department store, Smith Bridgman’s. The Sill Building, where the 80-year-old Polish immigrant seamstress embroidered my varsity jacket (as she had done for my mom and dad when they were in high school), gave way to ‘urban renewal’. Finally, no one I knew shopped downtown for much of anything.

For a time, it was visually a sad and lonely place. But even then as a 14-year-old, I would cruise my Tomos ‘79 moped down to get a burger and fries at Maxbeef, or zip around the overgrown lots and the abandoned old Industrial Mutual Association building, where I had so many great memories of going to the Shrine Circus with my grandparents. It was like a mini-Mad Max scene. On a blazing burgundy moped, at 40 mph, in nothing more than 70’s short-shorts, an Adidas t-shirt, tall white socks pulled up to my knees, and Adidas sneaks, it was actually pretty exhilarating. The brick street all to myself! The danger! The Mystery!

By the 80’s the old girl was being revitalized with a major expansion of the University of Michigan’s downtown Flint campus, new fancy restaurants like Figlio’s, the Water Street Pavilion, and hopping night clubs, like Hot Rocks and The Copa. I had a blast downtown in the 80s! But, it got a little sad again, as those businesses succumbed to the never-ending boom and bust cycle of a purely American rust belt industrial economy.

In the 90’s, I moved away for a few years, to Kalamazoo, but I stayed in close touch with “the bricks”, always visiting for family and friend events. When I returned to live, again, things were back in motion, and the area’s future looked as bright as it had in many years. It was only to be knocked down a few rungs again by the dot com bust, 9/11, followed by a mini-recession, and then a maxi-recession. GM went bankrupt. Things looked worse than bleak, but then, once again, Flint began it’s turn, to work it’s way back.

The University of Michigan was expanding again. Another round of new restaurants and businesses were going in. Michigan State was moving downtown, and a new Farmers Market was in place. In the midst of this growth cycle another massive new challenge arose: A growing chorus of people shouting about bad water. The alarm morphed in to a cacophony of turmoil, that echoed, quite literally, around the world. Today, I am reading about my hometown’s latest woes in Time, seeing discussions about Flint during a Presidential debate–held just minutes away from the bricks at the Whiting auditorium, on the BBC, and in media as diverse as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and National Geographic. Actor Michael Keaton mentioned Flint while receiving his Screen Actors Guild Award for his Oscar winning film Spotlight, and celebrities Cher, Matt Damon, and Snoop Dog, and countless others, have joined in with support.

This isn’t our first rodeo, and it won’t be our last. People couldn’t see how Flint could survive the lumber boom being played out at the turn of the twentieth century. Then Flint innovated and became the world’s leading provider of carriages and surrey’s – hence the ‘Vehicle City’ moniker.

When it became clear that horseless carriages would soon supplant that industry, the city reinvented itself again. Nameplates like Buick, Chevrolet, AC Spark Plug, and General Motors were born and raised in Flint. But the needle moved again, and in 1986, Money Magazine pronounced Flint the “worst place to live in the country”, and a satirical movie called Roger and Me, was soon taken as a documentary. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a shock. Amidst the loss of 30,000 jobs, it all seemed plausible. Still, the city went on.

Today, Flint is home to the multi-billion dollar Diplomat Pharmacy, a sprawling and growing University of Michigan campus, and a world class engineering school in Kettering University. We have Michigan State University, a superb Farmers Market, and General Motors, home to the multi-billion dollar Mott Foundation, the Crim Race and Back to the Bricks festival, and the best coney islands on the planet. This doesn’t include the thousands of entrepreneurs, small business owners, artists, entertainers, athletes, and professionals who either hail from Flint or work here currently.

None of these distinctive shining stars diminishes the very real, and urgently pervasive challenges Flint faces on countless other fronts. There are enough societal challenges to fill a doctorate level curriculum in sociology, and public administration alike. But to suggest it’s a city of helpless victims would ignore reality, be an affront and disservice to the tough, smart, and innovative success stories that are here now, and will continue to be created here in the future, in both Flint and the communities that surround it.

Over the last half-century the old bricks and I have seen a lot of action. We’ve seen good times and bad times. The happiest days you can imagine, and some of the saddest. The bricks have borne silent witness to the best of times, and certainly some of the worst as well. They watched Billy Durant dart across them with an idea for new companies called General Motors, Buick, Chevrolet and Frigidaire. World-class athletes, business geniuses, and men and women who would literally rewrite the history of America trod across their length. They watched a relentless cycle of boom and bust over the years.

Along the way I have been privileged to watch, as well. My life has taken me from those happy days of holding my Mom and Grandma’s hands on Saginaw Street, to nearly a quarter of a century working with another street, Wall Street. My career, like those bricks has been diverse. Along the way I’ve helped blue-collar GM and union workers, business owners, millionaires, and aspiring millionaires. I’ve worked with young families, and retirees, couch potatoes and world-class athletes, alike.

Today, I’ve clients all over the country, but my office is back on the bricks. I can look out over those aged and small blocks of clay, laid in their orderly pattern, and envision the entirety of the American Century. The home of the American automobile industry, still so crucial to our national identity and economy, the American Arsenal of Democracy that was so critical to winning two World Wars, the birthplace of the American middle class, and the purveyor of a seemingly unending supply of athletic and artistic talent over the years.

From my phone and computer I can converse with clients in the sunny climes of South Florida and Southern California. I can talk to stock market analysts ensconced in their high rises on Wall Street in Manhattan. I can talk to international money managers in Berlin or London. But looking out my office window, I can see those bricks, and I can remember those sunny days with Mom and Grandma. I can close my eyes and recall the dark days and the bright days alike. Like the Wall Street cycle of ups and downs, I have a tangible reminder that life itself is an unending ebb and flow.

Events change, people change, and the markets vacillate. However, the bricks remind me that some things do remain. Love, kindness, optimism, courage, resilience, and the strength and power of the human will. Wall Street and Saginaw Street are for me, inextricably linked. It’s always darkest before the dawn, but the dawn always comes. For me that is a life lesson that I hope everyone can remember. Because whether it’s investing or life, in good times and bad, it’s useful to remember that ‘this too shall pass’. More importantly, perhaps, is the message that while we can’t control the wind we can always adjust our sails. Because in the end, it’s not what happens to us, but how we respond that makes all the difference. From my vantage point on the bricks it’s an easy philosophy to understand.•