Friday, July 31, 2009An Extraordinary Story
I am always fascinated by people who live outwardly very simple lives and yet die with extraordinary amounts of money. Of course some of them are just plain crazy, but other seem to have transcended the need for materiality. This, via NPR and DailyGood.org is one such story:
July 27, 2009
Every day on NPR, listeners hear funding credits — or, in other words, very short, simple commercials.
A few weeks ago, a new one made it to air:
"Support for NPR comes from the estate of Richard Leroy Walters, whose life was enriched by NPR, and whose bequest seeks to encourage others to discover public radio."
NPR's Robert Siegel wondered who Walters was. So Siegel Googled him.
An article in the online newsletter of a Catholic mission in Phoenix revealed that Walters died two years ago at the age of 76. He left an estate worth about $4 million. Along with the money he left for NPR, Walters also left money for the mission.
But something distinguished Walters from any number of solvent, well-to-do Americans with seven-figure estates: He was homeless.
Walters was a retired engineer from AlliedSignal Corp.; an honors graduate of Purdue with a master's degree; and a Marine. Walters never married, didn't have children and was estranged from his brother. But he wasn't friendless.
Rita Belle, a registered nurse, met Walters at a senior center 13 years ago.
"He always came in with a little backpack on and a cap on," Belle tells Siegel. "And always kind of looked at me, but [was] very reserved. And I'm very outgoing and outspoken. So I said to him, 'Hey, you got a minute can we sit down to visit?' And we'd have coffee there at the senior center."
Belle and Walters became friends. Belle stayed with Walters when he was ill. She became his nurse and ultimately the executor of his estate — as well as one of the beneficiaries — despite fundamental differences between them.
"He was an atheist and I'm a very profound practicing Catholic, and I'd never met an atheist," Belle says. "And that just blew my mind that somebody could not believe in the Lord."
Belle volunteers at the mission in Phoenix, which like NPR and several other nonprofits got about $400,000 from Walters.
Belle knew him as a very well-informed man who could fix her air conditioning — someone she just assumed had a place to live. Then he told her that he had no home. She heard that he slept on the grounds of the senior center. He told her he ate at the hospital and used a telephone there or at the center.
"And I'm sure that's when he was making his trades and so on," Belle says. "He was involved in investing; we talked investments a lot." Belle says Walters even did his own income taxes.
When Walters retired, he evidently retired from the world of material comforts. He didn't have a car.
"He just gave up all of the material things that we think we have to have," Belle says. "You know, I don't know how we gauge happiness. What's happy for you might not be happy for me. I never heard him complain."
Evidently, among his few possessions was a radio. Hence those announcements listeners hear now and again on NPR stations.
Thursday, July 30, 2009Yes, A Debt-Free City Exists!
Thanks to dailygood.org an extraordinary video of a ten time mayor of a debt-free city in Canada with $700 million in reserves and an approval rating of 92%. And best of all, and the reason to see this, is that she is 88 years-old.
Scroll Down past Tags on right hand side.
Monday, July 27, 2009Boomer Factoids
From a Business Week article "The Incredible Shrinking Boomer Economy" (from a McKinsey study):
The rising savings rates in the boomer population will drain $400 billion out of consumer spending for the foreseeable future.
The boomer's were such an integral part of the spending culture that the group (79 million) accounted for 47% of national spending before the credit and real estate bubble burst, yet was responsible for just 7% of national savings.
The boomers were responsible for 78% of the spending growth in the economy from 1995 to 2005.
The peak year for spending in the boomer community was 54; whereas for the generation ahead of them (a thriftier bunch), the peak year was 47.
The share of boomers aged 54 to 63 who say they are "financially unprepared for retirement" comes to 69%.
Add to the above that interest rates and minimum payments on credit cards have risen and you can see that the life is being sucked out of one of the major drivers of consumerism. And it has been consumer that has driven the U.S. economy in the past.
As I have been saying for a while in MSIA parlance, it is going to get "interesting." This weekend I will do a longer post on why this all shouldn't matter to us.
Friday, July 24, 2009Happiness
Thanks to Nancy for pointing out this great article by Pico Iyer on the Dalai Lama.
My favorite part:
Think in terms of enemies, he suggests, and the only loser is yourself.
Concentrate on external wealth, he said at Town Hall, and at some point you realize it has limits — and you’re still feeling discontented. Take his word as law, he constantly implies, and you’re doing him — as well as yourself — a disservice, as you do when assuming that any physician is infallible, or can protect his patients from death in the end.
None of these are Buddhist laws as such — though in his case they arise from Buddhist teaching — any more than the law of universal gravitation is Christian, just because it happened to be formulated by Isaac Newton (who said, “God created everything by number, weight and measure”). I’ve been spending time for 18 years in a Benedictine monastery, and the monks I know there have likewise found out how to be delighted by the smallest birthday cake. Happiness is not pleasure, they know, and unhappiness, as the Buddhists say, is not the same as suffering. Suffering — in the sense of old age, sickness and death — is the law of life; unhappiness is just the position we choose — or can not choose — to bring to it.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009No Such Thing As Multitasking
At last, an article that articulates my thoughts on this matter. It's all about attention.
In Brain Rules, Medina points out that the brain cannot multitask:
"Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. A pianist can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention… To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously."
If you’ve ever put on a CD to listen to while working, and then noticed with surprise that the music has finished and you can’t remember hearing any of it, you’ll know what Medina is talking about. Because we can only concentrate on one thing at a time, when we try to do multiple tasks that require attention, we end up switching between tasks, not doing them simultaneously.
Business coach Dave Crenshaw, author of the book The Myth of Multitasking, makes the same point:
"When I speak of multitasking as most people understand it, I am not referring to doing something completely mindless and mundane in the background such as exercising while listening to this CD, eating dinner and watching a show, or having the copy machine operate in the background while you answer emails. For clarity’s sake, I call this ‘background tasking’.
When most people refer to multitasking they mean simultaneously performing two or more things that require mental effort and attention. Examples would include saying we’re spending time with family while were researching stocks online, attempting to listen to a CD and answering email at the same time, or pretending to listen to an employee while we are crunching the numbers."
So there’s no such thing as multitasking. Just task switching - or at best, background tasking, in which one activity consumes our attention while we’re mindlessly performing another.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009The Economy
Just back from New York City on the Spiritual Warrior circuit where I did a workshop/booksigning with J-R and Jsu, featuring Serving and Giving, Spiritual Warrior, and The Rest of Your Life. We'll do a reprise in London in October, by which time I hope I will get it together to give some some reportage and show some pictures on this blog.
If you still do not have a clue with what has going on with the economy this paragraph from Rolling Stone may make you feel better (well, not really):
As complex as all the finances are, the politics aren't hard to follow. By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system- transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.
The big financial debate is whether we are going to have inflation or deflation. Actually probably both as, after all, when have you known prices to go down in our lifetime? Nevertheless, the backdrop may be deflationary which, as we say in MSIA, is going to be interesting. Fortunately, it need not concern us as we practice the principles of abundance and prosperity, however it doesn't hurt to be aware of what is out there. You may find these two extracts helpful:
1) From Niels C. Jensen
The point I really want to make is that the inflation v. deflation story is the single biggest investment story right now and being on the right side of that trade will effectively secure your investment returns for years to come. If I am wrong and inflation spikes, you want to load your portfolio with index linked government bonds (also known as TIPS for our American readers), gold and other commodities, commodity related stocks as well as property.
If deflation prevails, all you have to do is to look towards Japan and see what has done well over the past 20 years. Not much! You cannot even assume that bonds will do well. Recessions are bullish for long dated government bonds but a collapse of the entire credit system is not. The reason is simple - with the bursting of the credit bubble comes drastic monetary and fiscal action. Central banks print money and governments spend money as if there is no tomorrow, and all bets are off. Equities will do relatively poorly as will property prices. But equities will not go down in a straight line. The market will offer plenty of trading opportunities which must be taken advantage of, if you want to secure a decent return.
All in all, deflation is ugly and not conducive to attractive investment returns. It is also not what governments want and need right now. With a mountain of debt hitting the streets of Europe and America over the next few years, as the cost of fixing the credit and banking crisis is financed, one can make a strong case for rising inflation actually being the favoured outcome if you look at it from the government's point of view. The problem, as the Japanese can attest to, is that deflation is excruciatingly difficult to get rid of, once it has become entrenched. I am in no doubt which of the two evils I would prefer, but we may not have the luxury of choosing our own destiny.
2) From Van R. Hoisington and Lacy H. Hunt, Ph.D.
The combination of an extremely overleveraged economy, ineffectual monetary policy and misdirected fiscal policy initiatives suggests that the U.S. economy faces a long difficult struggle. While depleted inventories and the buildup of pent-up demand may produce intermittent spurts of growth, these brief episodes are not likely to be sustained. In several years, real GDP may be no higher than its current levels. However, since the population will continue to grow, per capita GDP will decline; thus, the standard of living will diminish as unemployment rises. These conditions will produce a deflationary environment similar to the Japanese condition.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009Staggering
The more I read about the world and the state of its finances, all I find myself saying is thank God for the spiritual principles of abundance and prosperity with its emphasis on gratitude, grace, and connection with the Divine. From Yesterday's Financial Times:
Just why is there so much debt in the Anglo-Saxon world? Bankers and regulators know well that it is in nobody’s long-term interests to have allowed borrowing to escalate to a position where the US now owes far more, as a multiple of the economy, than at the start of the Great Depression.
The answer is capitalism’s dirty little secret: excessive lending was the only way to maintain the living standards of the vast bulk of the population at a time when wealth was being concentrated in the hands of an elite.
The amount by which the elite has benefited is startling, and illustrates the problem with lightly regulated free markets: the rich get much richer while the rest do not get richer at all. According to Société Générale economists, the inflation-adjusted income of the highest-paid fifth of US earners has risen by 60 per cent since 1970, while it has fallen by more than 10 per cent for the rest. As was recently pointed out in the New York Review of Books, the Walton family, of Wal-Mart fame, is wealthier than the bottom third of the US population put together – about 100m people.