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optimist

Lifestyle, Small Business, Taxes and Investing

Why Trade Wars Never Work

An old nemesis has returned to the United States and other nations around the planet: protectionism. These leaders, and the voters who bought their snake oil, falsely believe protecting their borders by building walls, taxing imports, claiming currency manipulation and threatening to dissolve trade agreements will bring jobs back home. They’re wrong.

What these well-intentioned people forget are the lessons of history. They forget about The Tariff Act of 1930, also known as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the one piece of legislation that hastened, accelerated and prolonged The Great Depression. People forget about the jobs created that did not exist before due to current trade agreements and the lower prices consumers paid for goods and services.

The misguided perception that jobs will be created for nations with trade deficits by preventing trade does not work. And we are dangerously close to poking the sleeping giant again. Once a trade war begins it is hard to stop the cascading effects. The damage is swift and painful with few options available less painful. Best to leave the sleeping beast where she is. But politicians sometimes have an agenda we all pay the price for.

But why do trade barriers cause job loss? If the U.S. has a massive trade imbalance, curtailing imports should bring the jobs home to create those products, right? It’s not that simple. Today we will explore why curtailing trade destroys jobs in all countries involved. Open trade is beneficial to everyone.




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Lifestyle

An Open Letter to My Children

Normally when a parent leaves a letter to his children the doors and windows are closed. However, when your dad is a business owner and somewhat known due to decades of publishing, the public will want to look in the window. Regardless, this letter is for you girls and no one else.

My fondest hope is you will print and carry this letter with you. There are many things I want to share with you about life. I know it looks daunting and impossible at times, but it isn’t that bad. During those darkest hours, hours when you doubt your own judgment, you can reference this letter and know that your father has felt this way many times in his life. Watching me over the years you probably think it comes easy for me. It doesn’t. I fight as hard as or harder than the next guy to achieve goals.

The same applies for those moments of excessive glee. Honing the highs and lows is an important part of living a joyful life. Always keep an optimistic attitude. Regardless the situation, it helps. Things are never as bad as they seem and rarely perfect either. Life is in the middle.

Life is a journey best taken at a gentle pace. Don’t rush! Goals are fine as long as there is more. The only real goal life offers is death and you will get that right the first time, same as everyone else. What matters is what you do now, at this very moment. Yesterday is a memory; tomorrow a dream. All that is real, all that matters is this moment in time. The universe is not 13.7 billion years old. It is one moment only. This moment. The one you live in.





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Watch the News Right or Turn it Off




News over the years has deteriorated into biased reporting, slanted by political opinion. Finding quality news to form your own opinion is nearly impossible to find. Yet, without good information you can’t make informed decisions in your investing, business or personal life.

As bad as it is, there are ways to still get quality news reports. It requires effort to sift through the garbage to find facts you can use to improve your business and personal life. The BBC, The Economist, and National Public Radio still provide solid reporting with a minimal of political bias. Fox News is not news, except for those rare occasions when they report an event they have not had time to work a political angle on yet. CNN is somewhat better, but still contains plenty of bias.

Before you blame to broadcasters and the internet news feeds, remember, we are the ones feeding the beast. By consuming meaningless opinion pieces we encourage more of the same production. Our own personal biases will determine if we love Fox News or hate it. I don’t care for Fox News for a completely different reason I will share shortly.

Polarization and populism has taken over. People only want to hear what they want to hear. News no longer informs with facts; it reinforces already existing personal biases. It caters to base emotions like anger and hate. And let’s not pick on Fox News alone. I don’t watch TV so unless I am visiting family or in an airport, I don’t get much TV news indoctrination. I prefer internet news feeds. CNBC provides business news, The Economist provides a wide variety of news from around the world, and gasp, I also tend to sift through the dung pile of Yahoo’s news feed.Continue reading

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Tricks to Beat Procrastination

img_20161221_091909I’ve been putting off this post for a while. Now is as good a time as any to get it done.

Now that I got the obvious joke out of the way it is time we discuss a serious issue facing us all: procrastination. When we least need it, our desire to finish, or even start, a task is put off. There are a variety of reasons for procrastination. The job might be distasteful, it might be a large project, or you might not fully understand the task.

Fear keeps us from acting. We all have had experiences where we put something off and put it off and put it off, only later to find out, once we started, the project wasn’t that bad after all. Many times procrastination begins when we are mentally overwhelmed by the task. Either your to-do list is longer than Santa’s on Christmas Eve or you started a task and hit a road block. Once that dreaded file is put to the side it is in a kind of purgatory. Starting again is almost impossible.

There are various tricks I use to get massive amounts of work out the door. Rather than focus on different scenarios, I will hone in on issues surrounding my office work. We will deal with email, phone calls, social media, and tax returns. Think of my stack of tax returns as the pile of work in your office or the long to-do list at home.


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Lifestyle

The Book of Gratitude




img_20161018_081240Marcus Aurelius hoped for a period of peace when he returned to Rome in 175 after spending much of his reign fighting wars and natural disasters. He secured the borders along the Rhine-Danube after spending most of three years in Carnuntum. A year later Marcus and his son returned to the Danube as hostilities flared once again. It was here, between the battles, where Marcus started writing reflections on life and how to live he titled To Himself. These writings later became Meditations.

Of all the Stoic writings from antiquity, Marcus speaks to me clearest. Whereas Seneca wrote letters which feel polished for publication and Epictetus gets preachy at times, Meditations has the comforting feel of a man reminding himself how to live an honest and good life. There was no need to impress the reader; the only reader would be Marcus himself. The honesty Marcus shared with the world is his greatest gift to humanity.

Start with Honor

Meditations is divided into 12 short books. The combined text reaches 99 pages in the copy I carry with me religiously. I find myself reading bits and pieces daily while reading the entire text from beginning to end slowly in an endless cycle. Because Marcus was writing to himself it feels like he is speaking to me, right to my face. With each passage I can’t help but think he was the greatest political leader to ever have lived.

In a time where emperors demanded the heads of any who would commit the smallest slight, Marcus was quick to forgive. His gentle soul made him loved by the people. History has called him the last of the Five Good Emperors. Rome was at her greatest when Marcus ruled.

The problems faced by Marcus daily are beyond anything I will ever experience in my life. In under 100 pages I can find guidance, warmth, and compassion for anything I am struggling with. Marcus had the power to crush his enemies and people who annoyed him. No one could hold him accountable if he did. Yet he chose to do the right thing, to live with honor and integrity. He is the kind of man most of us would follow into war.

As Marcus began writing to himself he started with a book of gratitude. The 12 books that comprise Meditations are untitled. In my mind the first book is called On Gratitude. He lists family, friends, and acquaintances that molded him into the person he became and thanked them all. In our time when politicians can’t wait to pat themselves on the back, Marcus began his self-reflection with a list of all the things he learned from others. He gave them credit.Continue reading

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Enjoying Life Versus a Happy Life

IMG_20160727_091802When you read the Stoics and personal finance blogs in the vein I write you quickly learn the goal in life is happiness. Money, retirement, and financial independence are all cash words we use to make our case about happiness. Saving and investing a large portion of our income building a solid nest egg allows for less work and more happiness.

Then I wonder if there is more. I’m a happy guy no matter where I am. I am content with what I have; I have all I need or want. Happiness is a state of mind. Anyone can be happy any time they choose to do so. All you need to do is learn your happiness triggers and then trigger them.

But what about enjoyment? How do we trigger enjoyment? If happiness is something we choose to be, can we also choose to enjoy? These are interesting questions I want to explore.

Harvesting Good Feelings

When I am not working my business or writing this blog, I farm. Since I am already happy, farming does not create happiness or make me happier. Happiness is not a matter of degrees. Either you are happy or you are not. I enjoy farming. Working with the animals gives me pleasure.

Take a distasteful job on the farm: cleaning the chickens. Chickens make a mess and it stinks. Cleaning the chickens is a job I don’t volunteer for; I do it because it needs doing. Cleaning the chicken coop has no effect on my happiness; I am happy and will remain happy even while doing the distasteful job.

You can learn to enjoy something if you allow yourself the pleasure. (How do you like that play on words?) Hard work brings me pleasure because I know it is healthy for me. Cleaning the chicken area is actually something I enjoy once I get going. There is a satisfaction to seeing the area get cleaner with each push of the shovel.

It is hard to see the difference and why it matters in such a case. Maybe we need another example.


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Destroying Fear with Stoicism




20131025_173740Fear destroys dreams and happiness faster than any other thing can. Fear of failure prevents us from starting a business; fear of rejection causes us to pass on a dream date; and fear of the unknown forces us to keep working a job well beyond the point we could retire. This simple four-letter word pushes us back against the wall, draining all the vitality of life from us.

Fear paralyses. The opportunity to speak to a group is unrealized because our stomach turns and our heart stops due to fear, as if the audience will rush the stage and beat you. (Well, there was this one time I was speaking. . .) All the happiness you deserve in life is passed each time you allow fear to rule your decisions. There will be failures and rejections. Once you understand this is part of life you can focus on the important stuff and say “yes” to the opportunity for a date with the girl of your dreams or start that business.

Fear is nothing new. Mankind has felt the fight of flight response from the beginning of time. The ancient Stoics knew uncontrolled emotions destroy faster than anything known to man. And it is all self-inflicted!

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

It is all in your head. Failing at business is a possibility. When you see as many business owners over the years as I have you start to see a pattern. It becomes obvious who will fail. Most businesses fail because they neglect to take appropriate steps, which all lead back to some sort of fear. If we do that we could lose clients. If we invest in the company we might not earn the investment back. And, of course, once you allow fear to rule it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.Continue reading

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Get Ready for Suicide Season




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Bipolar is not a life of extremes as this drawing illustrates. Bipolar is learning to live along the edges, struggling to control the overwhelming flood of emotions.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and 3rd among young adults. The issue is too serious to let slip by without an honest discussion. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 41,149 people committed suicide in the United States in 2013, 12.6 per 100,000. The suicide epidemic crosses all age groups and racial barriers, however, young adults (2.5%) made a suicide plan at a higher rate than older adults (1.35% for middle aged adults and .6% for older adults). People of mixed race have the highest rate of suicide while blacks have the lowest. All this is according to the CDC.

Statistics are cold and not what I want to talk about today. The story I want to share is about depression and more to the point, Seasonal Affective Disorder. It might seem like a strange topic for a personal finance blog until you consider socio-economic status does not insulate you from depression, suicidal thoughts, or actually killing yourself. Wealth is not a prescription for awesome mental health. Wealthy people may seek help because they have the money to pay for treatment or might have a stronger support group, but financial independence is not an elixir that cures depression or prevents suicide.

Confessions

This is a hard article for me to write. Most people have a hard time understanding what I am about to say, especially if they know me or have seen me in a business setting. I suffer from manic-depression and came this close to being one of the statistics listed above. For a long time I could not understand why I felt the way I did when my life was so good. My marriage is great, I have two wonderful (and moral) daughters, a successful business, and financial independence. Drugs are not a part of my family. So why the deep bouts of depression?Continue reading

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