By Eli Cahan, Editorial Board Member
Published February 10, 2013
The Wall Street Journal published a riveting piece last Monday called “Thomas Jefferson, Investment Guru” by Romain Hatchuel. Hatchuel states the need for old-school style investing — like, really old school. He claims that at their core, people have a remarkable sense of patriotism. He observes that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are at the essence of market movements. Citing the recession as an example, consumption was bound to the things we can touch and feel — commodities have always been a classic hedge against the bear market.
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“Life” was manifested in the resilience of the housing market. “Liberty” was represented in the immediate need for credit reform. “The pursuit of happiness” was indicated by market outperformance during the past five years in the soda, entertainment and restaurant sectors. It’s not impossible to beat the market — we just get ourselves into trouble when we look beyond the basic desires of humanity itself.
So the status of the economy boils down to people. While we get lost in the acronyms — CMBSs, LBOs and CDOs — we can attribute some portion of the recession to neglect of human interest. It seems too convenient that such oversight came in the midst of the tech era. The information age has driven us so far down the side streets of knowledge that we get lost in our own neighborhood. It’s our generation’s prerogative to right the ship. But let’s put our money where our mouth is.
The first step toward the rediscovery of people is investing in ourselves. That requires an intimate understanding of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We must be daring enough to reflect upon what really makes us happy, as opposed to what we think should make us happy. We must be brave enough to pursue anything and everything that makes life worth living. The pursuit of happiness was never intended to be passive, nor easy.
To liberate ourselves, we need to take a step forward before we can step back and admire. Initiative is the force that breaks us out of the social current. The University of Michigan embraces that more than any place: The resources are everywhere around you, but no one’s going to beg you to take advantage. “Declaring” should not be about the idea of declaring — it’s a lot more intimate than that. We declare for us, not for them. Living the life we want comes from having the liberty to pursue our own happiness.
The second step in the process regards investing in others. To support humanity in all of its life, liberty and happiness is to expand outward. We must be open to gaining perspective and to building relationships. David Wessel wrote about the role of trust in the market. As “credit” is in essence a valuation of trust, it follows that the lending crisis was as much a betrayal of trust as anything else. The recession, he claims, was a true exhibition of the disconnect between people: Relationships fell apart. And, without any inclination to the “worth” of trusting each other, people receded into their shells. Lending and borrowing is the fiscal means of empowerment. Supporting one another is but good business.
I would hope that we all try to kick it a little more old school. Value people for who they are, not how they appear. In order to best benefit ourselves, each other and the communities in which we live, our focuses must be human. We all benefit when we do exactly what we please and are open to others who do the same. So invest like it’s 1776. Care enough about yourself to never settle. Care enough about others to create community, relationships and networks. Invest like it’s 1776 — and who knows, maybe you’ll make some money while you’re at it.
Eli Cahan is a Business sophomore.