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Todd Harrison: The Taboo of Money, Politics and Religion

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Thou shall not speak but we all shall feel as we do

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Many moons ago, when someone would wait three days before calling someone else to ask them out; when we met face-to-face rather than randomly bumping into others online, the rule of thumb was to never talk about politics, religion or money.

The Internet, in addition to being the most deflationary invention of all-time, also quickened the pace of everything from mating rituals to business cycles, or what's left of them.  Still, conventional wisdom suggests those topics are off-limits, at least on first dates or in mixed company.

I haven't written much until recently, so maybe I'm rusty on my online protocols.  I do, however believe we're arriving--or have arrived--at yet another societal cusp, when things are about to change drastically, and these issues are at the heart of the matter.  As such, it's fair-game.

Money

A few lenses, here.

We have financial markets, which discount global commerce and serve as the thermometer for expectations of world affairs.  Stocks had their worst start in history but turned higher on a dime mid-February.

We have the measuring stick itself--the U.S dollar--being used as the world reserve currency and a mechanism to release friction between global trade; at least for the time being.

Negative Interest Rates, or NIRP, are an emerging global trend requiring banks pay for the privilege of storing money, which is odd given money doesn't actually store value in a fractional reserve banking system, just the full faith and credit of the government.  It's a matter of time before those costs pass through to the consumer.

And there is wealth disparity, a familiar topic in these parts but a dynamic that has been amplified by policy responses to the financial crisis.  The notion of "Have's vs. Have Not's" is older than the caste system but socioeconomic symptoms seem to be spreading--election tactics, policy decisions, currency wars, everything down to the choices and decisions we make in everyday life; the extent of that manifestation remains unknown.

The importance of money--whether those decisions involve providing for your family, allocating for investment or the necessary means to grow a business--is unique to each of us.  And, more likely than not, there will be chapters in your life when money is more abundant than others; when life seems easier.

While my P&L used to dictate my daily mood--I have a "Love-Hate" relationship with money; I love when I have it, hate when I don't--that has balanced over time by valuable lessons I've learned about the role of money, be it the difference between having fun and being happy or the realization that net-worth shouldn't dictate self-worth. 

Some might say, "You can't buy happiness but you can certainly rent it;" fair enough.  But I do believe one of the great mistruths in American society is that success equal money.  Success does not equal money; timing equals money.  Success is leaving the world a better place than you found it.

Personal interpretations aside, one universal truth often proves true.  When searching for the reason behind most of the decisions made in every facet of American society, from wars to career choices to motives in a murder investigation, all you have to do is follow the money.

Politics

I've been writing online for sixteen years and I *never* discussed politics unless they were tied to financial markets.  As a registered Independent--socially liberal and fiscally conservative--I wanted no part of the shit-storm that inevitably erupts once those topics emerge.

Recently, I shared some political observations on social media; a decision that immediately resulted in mixed emotions.  On the one hand, every American has the right, if not the obligation, to express their view; it is one of the founding principles that makes this Nation great.

In our digital reality, however, that works better in principle than it does in practice.  Maybe it's the election year, or perhaps a function of the amplification of social media, but the battle lines have been drawn and those who disagree often do so with fierce rhetoric.

The catalyst for the above-mentioned communication was none other than Donald Trump, a man who is presumably running for the right reasons (to challenge the status quo) but in my view, is the wrong vehicle. That logic is based on numerous inputs juxtaposed against my own personal belief system.  That doesn't make it right; just how I feel.

I read an interesting article regarding how politics have changed; they are "in retreat as authoritarianism is on the rise worldwide."  I agree with that and would add that it, too, is a function of money; how it was created and lost and created again--synthetically--following the first phase of the financial crisis. 

Politics are supposed to be a vehicle of compromise for domestic and international issues.  As we focus on the election--with the right in disarray and the left a mess--the global balance of powers continues to shift.  It's no longer about oil, per se; it's about the flow of funds and the smoothing of cycles, as if that could, or should, be controlled.

Thing is, we can't use globalization as a catalyst for a bull market and pretend it doesn't exist when the cards turn; we can't have the Bank of Japan easing while the Federal Reserve tightens.  Policies are nothing more than political directives, purportedly representative of the people, by the people and for the people.

I don't know who will lead our country through the coming cusp but I know this much: whoever it is better come to the table with more than a loud voice or an angry mob.  If we can't work with each other, across the aisle or around the globe, the needle will continue to point in an unfortunate direction.

Religion

While I was raised Jewish, and my home and children have followed suit, I've always considered myself more spiritual than religious.  Judaism for me is about culture, tradition and family.  One of my fondest childhood memories was holding my grandfather's hand at Temple as he cried.  I never understood that as a kid but as a dad, I do; religion was designed to provide a vehicle for family and community to grow through a common belief-system.

My faith, however, isn't absolute.  The Ten Commandments that guide Judaism explicitly state, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."  I humbly disagree with that point of view as I don't care if you worship little green goblins; if it makes you a better person; if it inspires you to help others; if that brings you peace in times of turmoil; then go with "God."

I like to tell an anecdote to friends in closed company because people get bent when you talk about such things in public.

The way I see it, there was a big bang millions of years ago and that explosion created the universe as we know it.  Over the course of time, people assigned and shared their interpretation of the same event, creating the distinctions that eventually formed the modern religious system.  God, in his many glorious forms, is the universe; the powerful, all-knowing yet often misunderstood universe.

That's all well and good but here's the rub--whether you're Jewish or Christian, Buddhist or Muslim, Hindu or Mormon--it doesn't really matter; if you radicalize your belief system--if it invokes violence--the baseline and balance of religious tolerance becomes inherently flawed, and that's where we run into problems, if not wars.

That's sort of the common denominator for this entire discussion, right?  When it comes to money or politics or religion, each of us has a view about what is right or wrong; what is not enough or too much; about the form and function of a higher purpose or calling.  Some of us even project those views as Rabbis or Priests or Monks and that's alright, if not awesome.

Diversity is to be expected, if not celebrated, with a world full of more than seven billion people. The key to our happiness, if not civilization as a whole, is the manner in which we resolve those differences, and finding the leaders who are best equipped to make that happen.

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