By Peter Grandich,
Special to the Financial Independence Hub
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” — John 8:32
As I begin my 32nd year in and around the financial arena and soon shall celebrate my 59th entrance onto the stage of one of the magnificent creations of the Master of the Universe, this former Wall Street Whiz Kid (who doesn’t deserve to be called a whiz kid after making and losing millions more than once) has never been more concerned about the economic, social, political and spiritual state of the U.S.A.
While it was nice to receive accolades over the years for forecasting many major tops and bottoms in several different markets, I thankfully concluded no one except Almighty God knows the future and portraying oneself as some soothsayer is an insult to Him and mankind. (Not being able to hit the side of the barn in the last few years as a Soothsayer had something to do with it, also.)
So my comments here are that of just a private citizen, speaking aloud and still caring about this thing called the human race.
My first boss and the man who gave me my start as a stockbroker back in April 1984, said to me on my first day in the office (I think only half in jest), “Peter, don’t do three things if you want to be successful in this business. Don’t talk about politics, religion and other men’s wives.”
While I still believe he was joking about wives, he was deadly serious about politics and religion. The underlying theme of his message was, “sell products, not personal opinions.”
Anyone who has known me since then knows I have never been shy of expressing my opinion, which regularly has a negative effect on selling more products. During far too much of the first 31 years, I did many things I don’t look forward to standing naked and alone in front of my Maker and explaining. My habit of being a legend in my own mind and turning the Ten Commandments into the Ten Suggestions will bring shame and remorse in my stance, not to mention many, many other sins. People sometimes ask Almighty God to be fair; I pray He’s merciful because if not, we’re all doomed.
On several fronts, outlook for America is not good
My economic, social, political and spiritual outlook for America is not good. Since I don’t sell, gold, guns, ammo, dry food, survival equipment or cabins in the mountains, I can tell you from a business income prospective, I would do extremely better if I employed a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” outlook that is all too common throughout the financial services industry and much of the media that has their hips tied to them.
A common ploy within the financial services industry is to give the client a headache and then sell them an aspirin. While I shall not paint a promising picture here, please note that I’ve no magic pill to close with. Because I never had any formal education (and am glad I didn’t, as on-the-job training has been a blessing—even if clients early in my career didn’t prosper from my lack of experience), I don’t use big words or speak like a professor (no wise cracks that I’m more like Gilligan). I’m rather simple and blunt. I also invoke a Mark Twain saying now in all matters of my life, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Too much stuff, too much debt
If I had to use one old saying to describe my overall economic assessment of the United States it’s this:
“America has been robbing Peter to pay Paul, and Peter is tapped out.”
My parents’ generation asked, “Can we afford it?” There were few or no credit cards; if they couldn’t outright buy it, they did without it. Yet, today’s America asks, “Can we afford the payments?”
My parents grew up and also raised me in little apartments in New York City. What little they owned was on their backs or stored in closets within the apartments. Today, public storage facilities are everywhere and continue to be built despite typical families living in homes much bigger than the apartments their parents and grandparents were raised in. And, despite all this stuff, the American family is more financially and emotionally messed up than ever.
Public storage levels a sign of the times
I’m often asked when we will know that we’re on the right track economically. My answer remains the same:
“When we’re closing public storage facilities in droves versus opening them.”
The typical American has no real concept of not only how much debt we have put on the backs of our future generations, but how we’re coming to the point where after paying just for the necessities of life, our cash flow may soon not only be unable to pay down the debt, but also paying just the interest could become questionable.
One fact most in the public and many in the financial services industry don’t know about or choose not to care about, is America’s unfunded liabilities. While we know we now owe somewhere between 17 to 21 trillion dollars (that’s trillion with a “T”), our unfunded liabilities are estimated anywhere from another 50 to 100 trillion [US]! Much of that is Social Security and Medicare payments older Americans believe they’re entitled to and will be there for them in the future.
Unlike corporations, which are required to account for unfunded liabilities and set aside a reserve for them, Uncle Sam has a different set of accounting rules. If the U.S. government had to abide by the same rules as the private sector, we would be bankrupt for all to see. But hey, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy…” right, Cramer?
This piece is republished with the author’s permission from the Peter & Grandich Co. newsletter. The original appeared on March 22nd here. Last week, the Hub featured a Q&A between Peter and Canadian financial planner Paul Philip. As noted there, Grandich is a well-known financial and economic commentator and author, based in New Jersey. His fascinating story of financial success and setbacks and gradual transition to more spiritual matters can be found in his recent book, Confessions of a Wall Street Whiz Kid. ( I provided a testimonial.) You can also get a free PDF version.