Tuesday, March 17, 2015
INQUISITION 6 : Reflections on Old Age
Recently, someone asked me this question: 'What is it like being an old man?'
Well, I was about to say that I don't know.
Then, it hit me.
They probably think I AM an old man; after all, I am 74 and was born in 1941.
So maybe my life IS what it's like to be old.
I'm not sure because I don't have time to dwell on it. But, I'll try.
If you don't mind some personal stuff, I'll try to answer that question below using my life as a metaphor
WE ARE LUCKY
One thing I realize is that people my age are the luckiest people on the planet. We have it all - good climate, incredible choices about life – I live in the San Francisco Bay Area of California - security so far from most of the terrorist attacks, good medical care, the list can go on and on.
But, there is the nagging concern and regret about the world we will leave our grandchildren.
CHOOSING A LIFE DIRECTION
When I was about 35 years old, I decided what to do with my life. It was this: re-write economic theory so that history 100 years in the future would remember my contribution.
So, I took a year off and moved to a cabin in the semi-civilized woods of Mendocino County and wrote a book about economic theory. Then, good friend Dave Alcott [who had been a reporter for UPI in Europe I met on the Queen Mary in 1963] read my book and said, in essence, that my book was crap.
That was a blow from a respected friend. Not only was my book crap but, additionally, I was a nobody. You can get crap published if you are 'Somebody', but it is harder if you're a nobody.
There I was with my life's ambition in tatters around me.
Nevertheless, the ideas were sound, so I rewrote them into a list of 34 specific polices national governments could follow to ensure economic growth. Then I made a website and had some of my students write an analysis of their home country's performance on each policy. Now I have published more than 50 such country studies and continue to add countries and analysis revisions each semester. You can read them at www.mkeever.com
The kids do some amazing work. My country studies are as good as anybody's, maybe better since they avoid politics and focus on economics.
That meant my life's ambition was realized, so I planned to relax and take life easy.
When I was a kid I liked playing baseball, so I started playing again at age 50.
Playing baseball allows me to hang out with other old men; they are mostly white with a few African Americans and other assorted mongrels.
We are mostly athletic and play competitive baseball - same rules as the major leaguers, but the game is a lot slower - slower throwing and running. The best thing about the game is that your ability is very visible but your ancestry is invisible. No one cares where you came from if you can hit or pitch. Just leave your attitude at home - the bench is close quarters.
A lot of the guys used to play professionally at different levels and still love the game, as we all do, even the guys like me who played at the amateur level only.
When baseball grabs you as a kid, it never lets go. I tried to quit a few times, but I couldn't. Each time I quit, it took longer to get back into baseball shape. There are different levels of conditioning - out of shape, in shape and in baseball shape. The idea is that playing the game competitively means you throw as hard as you can, swing as hard as you can and run as fast as you can. And, just like the major leaguers and all the kids, sometime you hurt when you do that.
My hero is a guy I never met. He was playing baseball when he was 82. He had to quit for awhile because he broke 2 ribs sliding into second base one day.
TEACHING COLLEGE ECONOMICS
Also, I teach college kids about economics. They keep me young in spirit with their constant questioning, their eternal optimism and, yes, their occasional flirting. It is a good feeling to earn the respect of a room full of bright 20 year olds. I think I am good at it and I enjoy it.
ONGOING PROJECT CHANGES
A funny thing happened after my project was established and continuing. I read Marcus Aurelias 'Meditations' in which he says that whatever your concerns are today about fame, all the people who concern you will be dead in 100 years. Whatever your reputation, it will simply evaporate when all the people who know you are gone.
That's unassailable logic.
Then, news about the Human Extinction Event became interesting. Science suggests that climate change and associated problems spells the certain extinction of the human species very soon, soon as measured in geologic time.
It seems pretty certain that all human life will end within about 150 to 200 years.
If that's true, and I think it is, then maybe a good life is to publicize the event as much as possible and live life with as much grace as possible - and that's my project now
Living with grace today brings some questions.
ARE THINGS BETTER OR WORSE TODAY?
YES THEY ARE.
Are things better or worse today than they were in the past?
Absolutely yes to that question. No doubt about it.
And they are the same and are also different?
Yes. Without a doubt.
HERE'S WHAT'S WORSE
There is one thing that is absolutely worse, though. Our economic and political system is completely broken. That is a new thing. And it is a bad thing.
When I grew up in the 50's and 60's, there were a lot of veterans from WW II who were in charge of things. Because they had seen a lot, suffered a lot and inflicted a lot of pain on others, they took a broad view.
There was a consensus on what was best for the country and that consensus carried the day most of the time. Greed and selfishness which harmed the public interest were a sin and a shame.
But now, those former sins are virtues. Greed and selfishness have run amok. The income and wealth disparities are staggering and unheard of in a supposedly democratic society. Many of those who have made it big appear to be totally selfish and uncaring about the common good. In some other countries it is less extreme. There is just no excuse at all for one person to own $80 Billion Dollars, as does Bill Gates. It boggles the mind.
We are returning to the Gilded Age of Robber Barons who stole from everyone until President Teddy Roosevelt busted the Trusts. Teddy got his support from the farmers and laborers who took up pitchforks and rifles to demand fair conditions in the railroads, mines, docks and factories. There was blood in the streets from labor strife then.
Then we got a Great Depression, thanks to the same bankers and banking laws we have now. We were wise enough to elect FDR who created Social Security and a general premise that it is the government's job to protect the poor from the rich among us. The rich have been pissed about that ever since the 1930's. Some of them are still trying to kill Social Security. Those folks are really caricatures of greedy assholes.
My Dad had three sisters and a brother and we had lots of family events with cousins running about and playing. They were good times.
I married three gorgeous women, Jeannetta from Aberdeen, Scotland, Margie from Avenal, Central Valley, California and Yelena who was born in Ukraine and raised in Moscow. I have sired three children I know about; now, I have four grandchildren. It has been a rich life and there is nothing I would do differently. Some of my family has trouble and I help them with love, but it is never enough help and that makes me sad.
My cousin Bev Barnes did a lot of genealogical work on our history. She found that we are directly related to John Adams, the Plantagenet family in England and before that to William the Conqueror, the Capet French Royal Family and even to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelias. Very interesting.
I graduated from private, liberal arts Whittier College with a BA and no debt and lived in London for 2 years while I completed a master's degree M.Sc. (Econ) at the London School of Economics, also with zero debt. I sailed to England on the Queen Mary. Since then I have traveled to Mexico, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Italy, France, Germany, Russia and Scotland. My daughter was born in Krankenhaus Nordwest, Frankfurt, AM, Germany.
In my working career, I was easily bored and frequently quit a good job to find something new. That's a recipe for learning but not for wealth accumulation. Oh well.
My book HOW TO WRITE A BUSINESS PLAN was first publshed in 1984 by Nolo Press, Berkeley CA and is now in its 12th edition.
I had more or less always been in charge of some things and responsible for critical parts of a company or charity. I tried retiring in 2008 to get a slower pace. The economy did not cooperate and I got really bored again, so I volunteered for Hillary Clinton in her Presidential campaign as a surrogate in some rural areas of California.
Below are some of the positions I have held:
Controller, Skates.com. San Francisco, Six years
Recruited to lead transition from manual to computer-based accounting systems and to supervise day to day financial and HR operations.
Business Manager, Pacific Horticultural Foundation, Six years
Hired to oversee daily business functions for non-profit publisher and educational foundation.
Senior FP&A Analyst, Dart Industries, Chemical Manufacturing. Four years
Recruited to introduce sophisticated financial planning methods, integrate new acquisition.
Development Project Manager, Pacific Coast Properties. Three years.
Recruited to build out two neighborhood shopping centers – sign leases, obtain permits, award contracts, manage construction, and secure financing.
Director of the Graduate School of Business Administration, Armstrong University, Two years.
Recruited to administer and reorganize MBA program.
Professor, Micro- and Macro-Economics, City College of San Francisco, 2003 and continuing. Vista community College, 1998 to 2002.
Economic Analyst, McKinsey and Company, Los Angeles, Two years. Support consultants with industry and company analyses. Founder, Principal, McKeever Institute of Economic Policy Analysis, 1993 to present. Direct small, privately held think tank publishing studies of various countries’ national economic policies.
Business Analyst, Private Business Consultant specializing in business plan development for global and domestic businesses.
Owner, past owner of retail store, manufacturing business, service business as well as consulting and business brokerage firms
Maybe looking back is what old people are supposed to do.
I'll do some of that later, but right now I have to complete a divorce, write and agree to a property settlement, sell a house, buy or rent a house, move, teach five days a week, manage an involuntary commitment of a close relative, find a relationship, practice and play baseball three days per week and try to keep up with some favorite television shows.