As I was driving to Albany, New York, a week or so ago, I was reminded of a Harry Chapin song about having spent a week one afternoon in Watertown, New York, just off Interstate 81.
In fact, it was a bit of an old home week music-wise for me. Earlier in the month I went to see Graham Nash of Crosby Stills & Nash at the Oakville Centre for Performing Arts. Billed as “An Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash,” the concert didn’t disappoint. It was a great time, with great music that harkened back to an era of free love and protests against the Vietnam War and the US government — a cause that Nash continues to raise. With the crowd cheering him on, Nash said that the US was in the worst shape that it’s ever been in. And I thought, “wow, that’s a pretty bold statement.” World War II, the Cold War with Russia, the civil rights movement, the Vietnam war, and this is the worst? Yet, if the US is going to hell in a hand basket, how can the economy be as strong as it is and why does the stock market continue to roar? How can these be the worst of times? I understand Nash’s roots in the protest movement, I respect his perspective and I enjoyed the evening, but I prefer to take a more positive view of our current political climate.
It seems Brian Mulroney does too. At an Oakville Chamber of Commerce event, Mulroney spent some time talking about negotiating the first North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during his tenure as Prime Minister. He remembers being crucified at the time, but said that sometimes you have to do the right thing as opposed to the popular thing — a fairly bold statement from a former politician. He articulated that change is hard for everyone and that we shouldn’t be afraid of what’s to come, that NAFTA will be renegotiated and good things will come from it, and that good leaders prove themselves in tough times. He also said, to the delight of the audience, that the US should get down on their knees and thank God every morning that they have Canada as a neighbour!
It was a busy month for me. In addition to the Nash concert and listening to Mulroney speak, I had a chance to attend a National Bank conference which had several good speakers. One I thought was particularly interesting was a gentleman by the name of Michael Hyatt. Mr. Hyatt was voted one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs under 40. He was a very positive uplifting speaker. He is of the opinion that the golden era is the future. One hundred and fifty years ago, at the time of Canada’s confederation, the majority of people were farmers. We lived in a pre-Industrial Revolution, agrarian culture without electricity or any of the modern conveniences we have today. People today are living better and longer lives. In fact, in the last two years alone, the average life expectancy has increased by seven months. And this speaker felt the best was yet to come. One hundred years ago, the first Model T Ford motor cars were hitting the roads. Today, Dominos is testing driverless pizza delivery cars in Detroit. In the 1950s, computers took up whole rooms. Today, they fit in the palm of your hand.
The most successful executives are the most positive
Listening to the National Bank speaker got me thinking about other successful business people, and I realized that the most successful executives are often the most positive. Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch are two that come to mind. Certainly, we are not without our troubles. But imagine our perspective on the world if there had been Twitter or Facebook or Instagram during World War II.
There are, and will be times when the future may look bleak. However, when you consider the difficult times and events that have happened in the past and see how we overcome these obstacles and continue to thrive, it is quite incredible. I have little doubt that the economy will continue to grow (albeit not in a straight line), the stock averages will be meaningfully higher in the years to come. Technological advances will occur much faster than we can possibly imagine, and overall we will enjoy a higher standard of living.
Nash likes to reminisce about the “good old days.” I firmly believe that the best days are yet to come.
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