Monthly Archives: August 2015

Why Should I Care?

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Something odd happened to me yesterday morning. At 9am I was at the gym, doing my thing on the elliptical trainer. As I flipped channels, I saw the same thing again and again. With varying levels of hysteria, every station had a talking head describing the carnage occurring in the stock market. At one point the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down over 1,000 points or 7%!

Once upon a time, most of my adult life, I would have been consumed by this event. It would have likely dominated my day, week, month, etc. This morning, I found myself thinking “big deal” and wondering why I had spent all of those years actually caring.

I spent twenty years in finance, the last nine with a large hedge fund. I remember the currency crisis of 1998 when I worked weekends for months straight just to figure out what our positions actually were, debating in 2001 who should go to work in the shadows of the World Trade Center the day AFTER the worst terrorist attack in US history, most of all I remember spending a beautiful weekend in Venice in my hotel room on an endless conference call during September of 2008 while my family saw the city.

You see finance is all consuming to those who are involved. Its not just the money, it’s the action, the importance of what people in finance think that they do. We thought that every action we took had broad and deep consequences. So at a time like this we would be obsessing about what we should sell, what we should buy. What can we sell? Who wants to take their money out? How can we convince them not to? Will the banks call our loans? What will the FED do?????

Now I could speculate about why we are having this sell off. It’s a marginally interesting topic and I still do have an investment account or two. But the reality is that there are too may others wasting space on the topic, I am not nearly as well informed as I once was, and the cynical side of me is pretty convinced that this is just another example of market players bullying the FED into keeping rates low. For those of you who don’t realize it, that is good for asset owners, not the rest of us, especially those on fixed incomes.

In the three plus years since my departure from the world of finance, I have learned many things. People in finance are smart, hard working, and focused. Of course they aren’t the only ones. In every walk of life I meet people who share those attributes. Many of them are involved in matters much more pressing than the price of a share of Apple or how to sell a basket of loans. They work in environments that are much more complicated and have diverse constituents with vastly different incentives.

It’s why I ultimately turn off the talking heads, finish my workout and head off to work on building a social venture that hopefully will make a difference.

When Diverse is Homogenous

Warning to those of you who are tired of my negativity around all things America. Im at it again!

I am always reminded that I am a citizen of the most diverse nation in the history of mankind. Occasionally,  the reminders are positive, frequently they come with a negative context.

The question of the day therefore is, why as an American do I have to shop for clothes at Banana Republic, The Gap, or J Crew while I eat at some crappy chain.

I am on the end of a twelve day journey to Greece and Italy where I am constantly impressed (even in Greece) with the diversity of options for shopping and eating. It is important to note that the diversity is not just in the brands of the shops but in the items for sale in the shops. It is so refreshing to see so many different styles in so many price ranges.

Now I understand that my view is likely skewed by the fact that I live in Boston, the worst dressed city in the free world. Where else could you eat a gourmet dinner in the comfort of your sweats and Red Sox cap? 

But even when I go to New York, Chicago, or San Francisco, I am comforted (bored?) by the fact that I see the same stores and restaurants that I see everywhere else in the US. Of course, I havent been to Phoenix, Atlanta, Cleveland, or Buffalo any time recently. Maybe that’s where I need to shop.

So why is this? I can only think of three possible reasons:

1- The price advantage of less choice and therefore larger production runs appeals to that obsessive American desire to have more of anything at a lower price, regardless of quality, style or other factors.

2- Americans just don’t really want to have choice in the way they look or eat. Perhaps they arent risk takers in this regard, or they just don’t care all that much. 

3- Landlords are able to extract such high rents (and favor large corporate chains) that sole proprietors can not survive. 

I’d love to know your thoughts. Am I missing something?

Maybe it’s just me and my desire for choices in style. Maybe, I want to be able to wear shorts at the beach,  a linen jacket for dinner, and a stylish slim cut shirt to a meeting.  

Perhaps, I should just pretend that the world is my couch and dress accordingly. Or, Ill just need to keep on traveling…..