Oxygen for Your Soul

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

Each of us—meaning you and me—can be a hero to someone.  With the gift of a smile, an extended hand, or a donation to a favorite charity, each of us has the power to lift up another human being.  It really doesn’t take much—in time, in effort, or in money—to make a difference in the life of another person, or even in the world. 

For, example, at his annual Behavioral Strategies Conference, Nick Murray often tells of the housekeeper at New York’s East Side Marriott, who may be helping to put her son or daughter through college.  He advises us to be generous with all of our tips.  You just never know, he says, who or how much it might help.   

And, when you give from the heart, whether you’re thanked or not doesn’t really matter.  Lift someone up, says Nick Murray, “It’s oxygen for your soul”.   Indeed, it is.  mh


The Sandwich Generation

The Sandwich Generation

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

My mother passed away in 1991.  My father died in 1999.  When my mother was alive, my parents were fully self-sufficient.  Sure, my brother, sister, and I chipped in occasionally to help with minor home maintenance and other chores, but our parents could just as easily have paid a local handyman.  But, after Mother died, Dad’s health and cognitive ability steadily deteriorated; and Janet, Doug, and I became members of the sandwich generation.  That role has now passed to Janelle and her siblings.

Let me assure you right now that having to take over the financial and even lifestyle decisions for a parent who can no longer manage on his own is no fun at all.  Most people my age and older understand that, I suppose, and maybe that’s why we’re often reluctant to discuss our needs and fears with our adult children. But, it must be done.  And, the sandwich generation must often initiate the conversation.  At least, that was true in my parents’ case.  So, if the shoe fits:

When preparing to care for your parents, you’ll need to plan on at least three levels: managing finances, making health care decisions, and assuring that their daily household needs are met.  So, while your parents are able to communicate, I suggest that you try to initiate a conversation about how they would like their money to be managed. Rather than telling them what to do, though, be clear that you would like to help, and that you just want to make sure that their wishes are respected. You may be able to follow those wishes to the very letter, but be prepared to suggest alternatives as their needs change.

If you’re acting as financial agent or trustee for your parents, you’ll need access to bank and brokerage statements, insurance policies, and other financial documents to help safeguard your parents’ assets.  If your parents work with a financial advisor or estate planning attorney, you should try to arrange a meeting where everyone can review the situation.  If you’ll be paying your parents’ bills and managing their checkbook, arranging for direct deposit of Social Security and pension benefits, as well as electronic delivery of recurring bills, should be considered.

While your parents are still mentally competent, ask them about consulting a lawyer who can draft a Health Care Power of Attorney, a legal document designating you (or another person) to make decisions about medical care when they’re no longer able to do so. If your parents have strong opinions about end-of-life care, their wishes can be incorporated into a Living Will, another legal document.  I think I can assure you that they don’t  want to become Terri Shiavo or Ted Williams.  Everyone, of course, should have a current Will, and your parents should probably also consult an attorney to help them consider whether a Revocable Living Trust and  other legal structures—a life insurance trust, for example—are appropriate for their needs.

But, even without these documents, the medical establishment is likely to look to you or other siblings to make decisions about health care, which could include arranging for long-term care or making end-of-life decisions. As part of this process, find out what type of medical insurance your parents have and what it covers.  Your parents’ financial, legal, and tax advisors will need your help, too; but they can’t be as effective as they might like to be, if Mom and Dad haven’t put their plans in writing. Also, be sure that their beneficiary designations on IRA’s, life insurance policies, annuities, and other financial instruments are current and complete. 

If your parents are able to remain in their home, as mine were, you may need to consider helping them manage their medications (that was a big one for me), to conduct daily tasks such as bathing or meal preparation, and to make arrangements for assistance with household chores.  You probably won’t be able to do all of this yourself, so a visiting nurse and home care agency may be needed.  And, if either of your parents are ever afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, you’ll probably need all the help you can get—and then some.

Caring for your parents can be gratifying in a way, because it provides the opportunity to return the unconditional love and support you received as a child, but it’s also time consuming and stressful.  And, I’ve just scratched the surface of the issues you may have to confront.  The best advice I can give you on this is to talk with them; and then prepare.  When you’re ready to start, I’ll be right here—ready to help.  mh

Of Shining Brows

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

 Thank you!

Yes, thank you.  Because of your loyalty, support, and trust, Family Wealth Management, LLC now ranks among the top 10% at LPL Financial, a firm which serves more than 13,000 investment advisors and planners nationwide.  So, Linda and I were invited to LPL Financial’s Masters’ Conference, which this year was held at the Fairmont Princess Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 11 through March 14.  I can tell you that it feels great to be counted among such an elite group of professionals.

The weather was absolutely perfect and the Fairmont had us feeling like royalty.  We had the opportunity to meet and listen to LPL Financial’s senior executives, as well as many of the people we speak with on the telephone regularly.  I came away from the event feeling very proud of the LPL Financial organization. Our meetings and discussions were open and honest regarding both the firm’s strengths and the areas where improvement is needed and well understood.  LPL Financial is the largest (as reported by Financial Planning magazine, June 1996-2012, based on total revenue)—and I believe the best—independent broker/dealer in America.  There are strong competitors in the marketplace to be sure, but I came home reassured that LPL Financial’s strategic vision, its financial strength, and it’s senior management team will keep us well ahead of the pack.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs for my entire adult life.  But, I had never visited his winter home and studio in Scottsdale.  Located on a “shining brow” in the McDowellMountains, Taliesin West is far more beautiful than its postcards, and it’s a tribute to Mr. Wright’s vision of what an American home life could be—even in the sweltering Arizona desert.  The project was begun in 1937, when he was already seventy years old, and construction of outbuildings and refinements to the main structure continued until his death in 1959. Several of Mr. Wright’s apprentices still live and work on the Taliesin campus.

Inspired as I was by the eloquence and serenity of Taliesin West, I have to tell you that I was even more thrilled to spend two evenings with the children of our oldest daughter, Michelle.  Mark (13), Ellie (10), and Mikey (5) are, I suppose, prototypical “kids of nerds”.  They are very “into” computers, and truth be told, as they explained to me what they were working on, I felt like a visitor from another planet.  Except Mikey—I can still understand and play with “Thomas the Train”.

Michelle had just returned from conferences in Madrid, Spain and Austin, Texas.  She is an “acquisitions editor” for Apress, Inc., a New York-based publisher of technical books.  Apparently, she’s found her professional niche, as she was responsible for the publication of forty-two books in 2012.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.  Michelle’s husband, Tony Lowman, was busy teaching night classes in “business ethics”, so we just hugged him and thanked him for being a great husband and dad.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother, who had provided the nurturing environment that contributed to his development as an architect, was of Welsh descent.  And, in Welsh legend, there had been a brilliant poet who could always be identified by his “taliesin”,  his “shining brow”.  Wright identified with that poet, so he located his own homes and many of his other buildings on the “shining brow” of prominent hills.  And, of course, he named his primary residence in Spring Green, Wisconsin “Taliesin”, and his winter home in Arizona “Taliesin West”.

Truly, all the while we were in Arizona—at the LPL Masters Conference, with Michelle and her children, and at Taliesin West—I felt surrounded by, and blessed by, shining brows.  Smart people, inspired people.

Just like here at home.  So, thank you—again.  mh

Industry, Energy, and the Moral High Ground

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

I was watching television last night (March 26), when I was disturbed by a news item scrolling across the bottom of the screen.  Paraphrasing, the message was that the U.S. State Department will open new hearings on the Keystone XL pipeline project on April 18.  Huh?  I thought Hilary’s State Department had given President Obama clear passage to a decision on Keystone XL way back in 2012, long before the election.   And, I thought I’d read not long ago that the EPA Administrator was planning to resign, because she thought the President was going to approve the Keystone XL project.  So I checked, and my memory was correct.

This is why central planning and heavy-handed regulation don’t work; or perhaps I should say they don’t work for the American people or for economic progress.  We all know intuitively, I think, that political calculations in Washington more or less continuously trump reason and reality.  So, I’ve never understood how we get suckered into the belief that patently demagogic politicians and their swarm of camp followers can make better economic, environmental, and public safety decisions than the often brilliant and generally hard-working people who strive every day to offer life-enhancing products to increasingly discerning customers for a profit.  The historical evidence and our own life experience is virtually all to the contrary.  

We in the western world are the beneficiaries of the greatest development in human history—the Industrial Revolution—which enabled higher human productivity, more leisure time, faster and safer transportation, more complex scientific discoveries, safer and more comfortable places to live, and longer lives, to name just a few of its benefits; and left in its wake the Information Revolution and the emerging Biological Revolution. 

So, instead of trusting everything to the posers in Washington, I think we might want to once again embrace the free market principles that gave us that Industrial Revolution.  We could start, for example, by stopping the endlessly redundant nit-picking of every industrial project for the remote, one-in-a billion chance that somewhere, sometime, somehow, a pipeline will rupture and leave a temporary stain the size of a football field in some farmer’s patch of corn.  I mean no offense to the farmers, but do we think that the aggrieved farmer—who does retain his property rights—will not be recompensed, contractually or through the courts?

But wait, didn’t I also hear on the news yesterday that a Canadian freight train had derailed in Minnesota, spilling oil in a farm field?  Maybe we should weigh that all but trivial event—which I’m sure captured the President’s attention—against the incalculable human benefits of petroleum-based energy.  And, if you please, I’ll include nuclear and coal-based energy in my argument, too.

Really, it should be a moral embarrassment to us that in today’s world, millions of people die every year due to a lack of dependable energy supplies.  Isn’t it amazing that we environmentally aware, creature-sensitive Americans have cordoned off centuries worth of potential energy supplies in the form of natural gas, nuclear power, oil, and coal in the name of  “saving the planet”.  Rather than promote a better quality of life for desperate human beings throughout the rest of the world—which we could readily do at great economic, cultural, and moral benefit to ourselves—we instead celebrate, as  moral idealism, battery-powered cars with a driving range rivaling the distance of Tiger Woods’ 6 iron; and sorting through trash to put everything in its proper bin.  That’s a pitifully vapid—not to say inverted—path to moral self-esteem, don’t you think?

I’ve been watching this nonsense and remaining mostly silent for upwards of forty years.  But, yesterday I read something that was said by the greatest cultural icon of the 20th century in America:  Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about the things that matter.   So—not to offend or debate, but to educate—my self-imposed muzzle has been removed.  (I know that you know that I write to you out of love; and if you’re not convinced by my argument, that’s ok.  I won’t hold it against you, and I’d appreciate the same consideration.)

We Americans have taken industrial and material progress for granted, and we’ve carelessly embraced “going green” as a moral ideal–expecting that the unprecedented standard of living we’ve enjoyed would continue.  For forty years, we’ve permitted relatively small, but politically connected and well-funded, groups of anti-industrial environmentalists to roadblock new energy production and industrial development at nearly every turn.  Some call them “tree-huggers”; but since I love trees—just as I value the clean air and clean water,  which are available only in the most energy–intense industrial economies—I just say they’re wrong.   Since policies have consequences, we’re paying the price for the government’s stifling of innovation, productivity, and growth in the energy industry with nearly nationwide economic stagnation and fruitless “green energy” cronyism.   “Going green” is doing more damage to our moral and economic future with every day that passes. 

If we freedom-loving, prosperity-seeking people continue to grant the anti-industrialists the moral high ground they claim to represent with their “green energy” agenda, they may continue to inspire support for their “green economy” suicide pact.  But, don’t miss my main point:  To sacrifice the modern human environment we enjoy here in America—fueled by petroleum, nuclear, and coal-based energy—to the non-human environment, as the anti-industrialists insist we do, is not just bad economic policy, it is immoral.  A mere moment’s reflection on the living conditions that exist in the non-industrialized world is evidence enough of that fact.  So, do we want to live like they do?  Or do we want to help them live like us?  Because those are our choices. 

The anti-industrialists like to talk about “industrial policy” by which they mean the obstruction of private industry initiatives and the demise of the large-scale energy production our modern economy requires.  The only industrial policy we really need to assure ourselves of a healthy environment, and to restore prosperity and abundance, is one which respects private property rights and individual self-determination.  As the history of western civilization since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has demonstrated, human ingenuity and the natural human desire to create better lives for ourselves and our families will take care of the rest. mh

A Notable April Birthday

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

James Mill was born in Angus, Scotland on April 6, 1773.  He is probably best known as the father of John Stuart Mill, one of the founders of Classical Economics and of Enlightenment Liberalism.  His own father had been a cobbler.

James Mill credited his mother for his education and later success.  She had resolved that her son would receive a first-class education, and sent him first to the Montrose Academy, and then to the University of Edinburgh. 

James Mill is little known outside the world of economic historians, but, his contribution to economics was profound.  It was James Mill, who first formulated what later came to be known as Say’s Law, after Jean-Baptiste Say (1767-1832). 

Say’s Law is really nothing more than common sense, which means that the modern Keynesian economist must misrepresent and deride it.  What Say’s Law says is that before consumption, there must be production.  But, that has been interpreted as supply creates its own demand, which seems true, but if one takes the phrase literally, it’s easy to poke fun, e.g. If I produce and bring to market a load of rotten tomatoes, I may not find a buyer.  My supply failed to create demand.  Ha,ha, ha, the joke’s on me!

But, that’s not what either Say or Mill meant.  Mill, in particular, was careful to say that production, and only production, can create real purchasing power.  The Keynesians claim that’s what they do when the Federal Reserve artificially increases demand by increasing the money supply.  But, what they actually do is reduce the real purchasing power of any given quantity of money, a net loss for consumers.  You know this is true, because you’ve been going to the gas pump and grocery store.

It’s a shame, I think, that James Mill hasn’t been given more credit for his contributions to economics.  In his own time, though, he was acclaimed for his British History of India, published in 1818.  He co-founded and contributed to a periodical called The Philanthropist.  He was a long-time friend and ally of Jeremy Bentham, who was a strong advocate of individual freedom, equal rights for women, and the abolition of slavery.  Through his connection with Bentham, and his own reputation as a scholar, Mill contributed to the Edinburgh Review and other important publications of that time.  In addition to his contributions to history and economics, Mill was also well-respected for his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, published in 1829.

James Mill died in Kensington, London, England on June 23, 1836.  mh

For My Shoeless Children

Originally published in Flourishing Mar Apr 2013

I’ve worked with many of you on legacy issues over the years, and I feel very good about that.  So, lest you think I’ve become the cobbler with shoeless children, I want to give you an update on my own plans.

Linda and I have just updated our Durable Powers of Attorney and our Healthcare Powers of Attorney.  We’ve had a meeting with our daughter, Janelle, who will be our agent/trustee in the event that both of us are incapacitated or dead.  New wills and trusts are still being drafted, and here’s the thing you’ll most want to know: 

“There will be a business continuation plan imbedded in those documents.” 

That means that Family Wealth Management will outlive me, and our clients will not need to look for a new advisory relationship; though, of course, that decision will still be yours.  You’ll also want to know that I’ve put incentives in place such that if they choose to do so, Dari and Alicia can remain with Family Wealth Management.  Indeed, they may still run the place,  much as they do now.  That is certainly my hope and intention.

It’s hard to describe how I feel about all this.  In one sense, I’m relieved to know that in the event of my death, Linda will receive a fair price for my business; but I’m not wildly enthusiastic about the idea of being prematurely dead.  I still have big goals, not the least of which are to grow Family Wealth Management to five full-time employees, including two financial advisors, and to attend my grandchildren’s college graduations.

To achieve those goals and many others, my uppermost intention, naturally, is to remain alive, healthy, and working.   Besides, when I look at my Social Security check and consider what Uncle Sam may do to salvage Medicare in the coming years, I wonder why I would ever want to retire. 

So, if you’re willing to stick with me–and I fervently hope that you are – I’ll continue in this work that I do truly love, doing my best to help you and your families flourish.  For a long, long time!  mh