10 October 2008

Personal Freedom

A good friend sent me a link to an interview with Andrew Bacevich.  The interview provides interesting points of view on patriotism, foreign policy, projection of power and the central values of American society.  It takes an hour to get through and it was a useful way to spend a Sunday morning. 

The interview is, nominally, with reference to Bacevich's book, The Limits of Power. The author is described as a conservative historian but many of his points are often made (far less effectively) by my liberal friends.  The link was sent to me by a veteran who said that he watched with tears in his eyes because someone had finally put into words what he had felt for years.

An example is his position on "not war" as opposed to peace -- my quote, not his.  It's the first time, I have heard someone talk about the Iraq war in a more nuanced point of view.  Generally, we are presented with binary choices (in/out; win/lose; victory/defeat).  Bacevich goes deeper and examines the impact of a full commitment in one area which limits our ability to commit in other areas.  

As an investor, I look at the opportunity cost of a position.  As a historian, Bacevich does the same thing with respect to the projection of power and the allocation of national capital.  Like many strengths, wealth/force/power/fitness may be most useful when applied sparingly.

Inside the interview you will find one person's explanation of Imperialism.  As a Canadian, I haven't given much thought to Imperialism, we are a proud, but realistic nation up there.  

Bacevich's advice to the US Leadership... step back from worrying about who's right or wrong -- consider whether our current approach is serving our long term goals... it's something that I try to do in my own life.  He's basically challenging us to consider where we are fooling ourselves.

His view on an effective approach to terrorism made sense to me -- certainly in terms of return on investment as well as allocation of effort.  The very human tendency towards revenge, striking out when fearful and consistency bias -- it is interesting to consider these traits impact our view on what is appropriate action.

Bill Moyers interviewing style is a little different than Bill O'Reilly... but it's still good television.  :-)  Fox news hasn't managed to get through my media filter but I did read a transcript of the Barney Frank interview this past week.  Don't think I am missing much.


What's all this have to do with personal freedom.  Well, when I listened to the interview, I was left with the question... "what the heck can I do?"  How can the action of one guy, still waiting for his Green Card, have an impact on the larger world.  Well... I could write an article that is read by a few thousand citizen-athletes and get you thinking about the same issues...

Actually, that wasn't quite the first thought I had.  I am increasingly concerned that 2009 will see me violate my first rule of personal finance -- never spend more than I earn.  All my forecasts are pointing towards deficit spending and action is required (now) to avoid difficulties (later).

A government might be able to tolerate deficit spending (after all, it's not their money, it's yours and mine) but I know that, personally, if I run large deficits then I am going to have a very difficult time in my 50s and 60s.  I also know that it part of the human condition is to blame external sources for the reality of our current life situation.  It's far too easy to sit around blaming somebody else for where we find ourselves.

Bacevich kept coming back to the difference between what is peripherally essential and what is centrally essential.  Moyers asked him what he meant (more than once) and Bacevich would only say that he felt the preamble to the Constitution said it best.  Not being an expert in US civics, I had to look it up...
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The people that wrote that were pretty smart and the history professor managed to get me to read a good chunk of the constitution -- if he's your teacher at Boston University then you are lucky student.

Domestic harmony; personal security; common welfare and personal freedom for ourselves and our kids.  That's a great starting point for what's essential.  

When I read the preamble, initially, I wondered why it is in my interest to work towards the common welfare?  The reason is that revolutions happen when a society loses sight of the needs of its people.  I suspect that many of my friends (and fellow citizens) are going to be seriously upset when they experience the impact of global deleveraging and realize that they can't borrow themselves out of trouble.  

What to do?  In order to protect what is centrally essential in my life, I need to consider what I can change at the periphery.  Frequent readers will know that I place a great value on my personal freedoms -- freedom of occupation; freedom of location and freedom of time.  

When I really think about it, freedom of location is more expensive than essential.  So I'm going to boot that from 2009.  Besides, extensive travel isn't a very effective use of natural resources and there is no shortage of things to explore locally.

I've also been brainstorming a series of "what ifs" and considering my options to generate income (and return on investment).  To help create new opportunities, I also need to reduce time spent on low return areas.  I will write more about that as my ideas come together.


I'm going to end on a positive note as I think it is important for us to remember that markets don't decline forever and, notwithstanding a buzz saw rolling through our economies, life remains good.  My cats don't care about the performance of my personal portfolio -- their purring appears independent of my mark-to-market NAV.

September is the best month of the year in Boulder (or my hometown of Vancouver, for that matter).  Cool evenings, plenty of sunshine.  Here in the Front Range we start to get the beauty of fall without the chill of early winter.  I have been taking advantage of the weather to bag a few local peaks.

The game that I've been playing is that I can only climb a mountain if I can make it 100% human powered from my front door.  I've managed Mt Sanitas (6,863 ft) and Bear Peak (8,461 ft).  The photo above is the view to Boulder from Bear Peak.  Combining the letters of the last two weeks, I am focusing my fitness on what is essential -- old school endurance trumps race performance.

While September is the best time of year, October is my favorite month.  Most years, I am tired in September and that impacts my mood.  I have probably had the least number of Zeros (days without training) in September 2008 than any previous year.  

As an interesting aside, Monica has not had a single zero in her pregnancy.  I am negotiating blogging rights to the story of her Fit Pregnancy -- I learned a lot from watching her.

Back to October... the combination of raking leaves and Halloween makes for a fun time.  Leaves and trick-or-treaters fall into my area of family responsibilities.

A three dollar pumpkin and a few bucks worth of candy is all it takes to make a bunch of kids happy.

Central, versus peripheral, essentials.

Back next week,



At 9:15 PM, Blogger Keith P said...


Yet another interesting post. Here's another interview with Bacevich. It's roughly 40min long...

I think you'll find it as interesting at a minimum. There's a different slant, particularly when he describes his conservatism vs. contemporary usage of the term. His bit on American expensionism in the Fresh Air interview is a tad peculiar to me and when compared to the treatment he gives American imperialistic foreign policy in the Bill Moyers interview, but I agree with his overall message and definitely appreciate your analysis.

BTW - If he hasn't read the blog/taken the time to check Bacevich out, drop it on JD. I think he'll find this interesting. If previous conversations stand true, this stuff is up his alley.

-Keith Pillers (Tx.)

At 4:25 AM, Blogger BRFOOT said...

Thanks for pointing us to this.
Personal accountability or lack thereof is at at the core of what is wrong in our world. It's never ME or what I do that is the problem, it's always THEM and what THEY do that affects ME an MY life that is the problem.
I think his call for self reflections into what it means to each of us to be an American is spot on. Unfortunatly there are a couple of generations that think that "domestic tranquility" means cheap gas and big screens for all.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger gary said...

Nice blog post. But on a very more important note, congrats on the pregnancy.

Perhaps that has been mentioned previously, but it's the first I've seen ... and I can not imagine a more exciting period of time.

I look forward to fatherhood more than anything and hope to be blessed with the opportunity someday.

At 4:39 AM, Blogger paul said...

I´ve been reading the blogs for about 2 yrs now. I remember about last x-mas time you were going to talk about post A race time and how this may effect mood-depressions?
With the economy on a roller coaster and entering winter this might be a good read.
I´ve just kicked in the winter training and doing well:-)But come next September might be a grumpy ole man again.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger chip said...


I had no idea Monica was pregnant. Great news!!First mention I;ve seen of it.I have known for some time you wanted kids,though. We had our first when I was 46--you won't regret starting when you did!! Best of luck going forward.


At 6:56 AM, Blogger Steve said...

When it comes to national security and national self-interest "Soft Power" by Nye is an excellent read. Nye's professional career was spent at the strategic level while Bacevich was at a tactical level. I'm sure at the upper levels of power Nye's book gets more eyeballs. When it comes to the limits of the human condition "Blank Slate" (Pinker) & "Black Swan" (Taleb) can change how you view the world.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


I do have articles planned related to the mood point -- Bear Market Investing (which will also discuss how I approach asset structuring with my wife) and Managing in Recession, which will share ideas from being a Private Equity investor, as well as, a manager during recessionary times (VERY different depending on what side of the fence one sits on).

Chip/Gary -- baby Alexandra was born on Tuesday morning at 6:13AM -- 36 hours of labour for Monica. I was her delivery coach and it was a great experience for me. The look in her eyes in the final phases was pretty amazing -- it went well past anything I have ever witnessed.

Steve -- thanks for the Soft Power book recommendation -- just bought it on Amazon.

Taleb's writing SAVED my personal portfolio -- I would have been wiped out (likely to personal bankrupcy) this year if I had not taken action in 2004/2005 when I read Fooled By Randomness. Readers shouldn't worry, though... I did take action and the bear market has been painful, but not fatal.



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