I had a family reunion of sorts a few weeks ago when my sister and I traveled to Sacramento to visit my failing brother – merely 18 months my senior. After his health issues had been discussed we drifted onto memory lane – talking about old times. Hadn’t I known that Dad had never been home, that he had spent months at a time overseas on business in Africa and South America? “Sort of, but not really,” I answered – a strange retort for a near adolescent child who should have remembered missing an absent father. Didn’t I know that our parents were drinkers; that Mom’s “gin-fizzes” usually began in the early afternoon and ended as our high school homework was being put to bed? “I guess not,” I replied, “but perhaps after the Depression and WWII, they had a reason to have a highball or two, or three.”
My lack of personal memory, I’ve decided, may reflect minor damage, much like a series of concussions suffered by a football athlete to his brain. Somewhere inside of my still intact protective helmet or skull, a physical or emotional collision may have occurred rendering a scar which prohibited proper healing. Too bad. And yet we all suffer damage in one way or another, do we not? How could it be otherwise in an imperfect world filled with parents, siblings and friends with concerns of their own for a majority of the day’s 24 hours? Sometimes the damage manifests itself in memory “loss” or repression, sometimes in self-flagellation or destructive behavior towards others. Sometimes it can be constructive as when those with damaged goods try to help others even more damaged. Whatever the reason, there are seven billion damaged human beings walking this earth.
For me, though, instead of losing my mind, I’ve simply lost my long-term memory. It’s a damnable state of affairs for sure – losing a chance to write your autobiography and any semblance of recalling what seems to have been a rather productive life. But I must tell you – it has its benefits. Each and every day starts with a relatively clean page, a “magic slate” of sorts where you can just lift the cellophane cover and completely erase minor transgressions, slights or perceived sins of others upon a somewhat fragile humanity. I get over most things and move on rather quickly. The French writer Jules Renard once speculated that “perhaps people with a detailed memory cannot have general ideas.” If so, I may be fortunate. So there are pluses and minuses to this memory thing, and like most of us, I add them up and move on. If that be the only disadvantage on my life’s scorecard – and there cannot be many – I am a lucky man indeed.
The ring of fire
In last month’s Investment Outlook I promised to write about damage of a financial kind – the potential debt peril – the long-term fiscal cliff that waits in the shadows of a New Normal U.S. economy which many claim is not doing that badly. After all, despite approaching the edge of 2012’s fiscal cliff with our 8% of GDP deficit, the U.S. is still considered the world’s “cleanest dirty shirt.” It has federal debt/GDP less than 100%, Aaa/AA+ credit ratings, and the benefit of being the world’s reserve currency – which means that most global financial transactions are denominated in dollars and that our interest rates are structurally lower than other Aaa countries because of it. We have world-class universities, a still relatively mobile labor force and apparently remain the beacon of technology – just witness the never-ending saga of Microsoft, Google and now Apple. Obviously there are concerns, especially during election years, but are we still not sitting in the global economy’s catbird seat? How could the U.S. still not be the first destination of global capital in search of safe (although historically low) prospective returns?
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