During a segment on my morning drive talk show on News/Talk 102.3 KXYL, Woody Tasch of the Slow Money Institute and I discussed the perils of the modern American economy which emphasize short-term profit over a long-term vision of growth and development.
While I haven’t learned enough about the Slow Money Institute to offer any kind of endorsement, the premise of his organization falls right in line with a problem I have with the modern way of doing business in America.
Tasch’s organization raises money to offer no-interest loans to small family farms that serve local communities. His vision seeks to move America away from centrally planned agriculture to local farming by sparking a revival through financial aid.
The road will be long, and will require substantial investments of money, time and effort before any return is realized, let alone the realization of his dream. But Tasch realizes that, and forges ahead anyway.
And, without knowing his political or religious views, I wish him well, because I know that if America is truly to become great again, it will need a generation of Taschs to rise up and plant trees beneath whose shade they may never sit.
America overcame all odds to win World War II and become a world superpower. We enjoyed unprecedented prosperity in the 1950s, survived an economic recession in the 1970s, enjoyed more unparalleled prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s, and, thanks to technology, enjoy a convenient, peaceful and prosperous lifestyle never before experienced in the history of man.
This way of life was not won in a single stock market rally. It wasn’t won in a lottery, and while World War II propelled us to superpower status, our success in the 1950s had as much to do with the ground that had been tilled in the progressive era as it did with Eisenhower’s leadership in the war and as President.
The proverb, previously referenced, that a society becomes great when old men plant trees under whose shade they know they’ll never sit, was the basis for American culture for more than 300 years. The colonists knew they would never enjoy the blessings of the nation they worked to build, yet they worked to build it anyway.
The revolutionary war soldiers knew that the nation of which they dreamed, where all men are regarded as equal in the sight of God and the law, would never mature in their lifetime, yet they took to the battlefields anyway, losing life and limb at the hands of the British army.
The founding fathers knew that their effort to shape a free and prosperous nation wouldn’t be completed in their lifetimes, yet they worked to create that nation anyway.
Men built farms, businesses, communities, towns and cities, dreaming of the greatness those things would become long after they passed. Fathers left legacies and inheritances to their children. Factories were built. Companies started. New inventions sent to market. Through this great society that arose on the premise of planting trees for the next generation, we saw the industrial and technology revolutions arise, which not only lifted America out of poverty, but much of the world as well.
Today, we enjoy the shade of those trees planted by our forefathers. We stand on the shoulders of giants. However, we have become so accustomed to enjoying prosperity, we’ve forgotten how to build it for the future.
You will rarely find a CEO of a publicly traded company that looks beyond the next quarter’s earnings report. After all, that’s the benchmark by which his performance is measured. The board of directors want to see an increasing stock price, strong earnings reports, and good coverage in the media.
A temporary drop in stock price, earnings, or public perception can be the end of a CEO’s career, even if that temporary downturn could lead to a brighter long-term future for the company. Therefore, few look farther than 3-6 months out. There’s no reward for planting trees for the next generation. In fact, it can be penalized.
It’s not just Wall Street CEO’s. Politicians rarely look past the next election, therefore long-term solutions are never offered. The Interstate Highway system, Civil Rights legislation, Social Security, and Women’s Suffrage would never pass in today’s political climate. In times past, politicians would risk their political careers if they thought it would better the country long-term.
Consumers rarely look beyond the next iPhone, smart screen or automobile. What legacy are we building and leaving for the next generation? Where are the trees we are planting?
We need a new generation to rise up, and we don’t necessarily have to wait for that generation to be born or come of age. The Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Y, or the Millennials can do this. We need a generation to rise up and plant trees for tomorrow, trees under whose shade they may never sit.
The opportunities are there. Wall Street has sucked up the big money in most industries, leaving a vacuum on Main Street that can be filled by the right breed of entrepreneurs. We can build America into a great country. We can do what generations of great Americans did before us.
The question is, are we willing? Are we willing to begin a project that will not be completed in our lifetime? Are we willing to make the sacrifices to benefit the generations to come?
I hope I am.