As an Economics and Finance double major in the early 80’s, I watched, with great interest, how the Ronald Reagan administration responded to the 1980 recession. An economic recession is identified as a period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced as identified by a fall in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in two successive quarters. As Reagan took office in 1980 Inflation was quite high, largely due to the oil crisis and concomitant skyrocketing oil prices.  The Federal Reserve Bank (Feds) increased interest rates to keep inflation in check.  Job losses were high and with an increase in household expenses because of inflation, this tipped the US economy into recession.

Every Econ 101 student is taught that two big Economic levers that the federal government can wield to stimulate an economy in recession are through Fiscal Policy and Monetary Policy.  Fiscally, under the Reagan administration, the US significantly increased federal spending, which led to budget deficits (see Chart 2) and increasing national debt (see Chart 1) and the US also dramatically reduced federal income tax, both in an effort to stimulate the economy.  Monetarily, the Fed felt it had few options to lower interest rates to stimulate the economy for fear of worsening inflation.  The fiscal spending and lowered taxes eventually worked and the economy recovered and inflation rates somewhat normalized; however, the appetite to pay that “temporarily” increased national debt back down was lost. (see Chart 1)

Chart 1

national debt image

 

Chart 2

budget deficits by year

 

Our economy enjoyed peacetime expansion through 1985.  Then, inflation began to increase and the Federal Reserve responded by raising interest rates from 1986 to 1989. This weakened but did not stop growth.  The budget deficits also decreased during this period. (see Chart 2) In 1990 we experienced another oil price shock. This increase in the rate of inflation and the debt accumulation of the 1980’s led to consumer pessimism producing a brief economic recession.  This time the George H. W. Bush administration responded by increasing deficit spending (see Chart 2).  But, he also famously agreed to a tax increase to stave off increasing budget deficits (“read my lips no new taxes”).  The tax increase and the following reduced budget deficits slowed, but did not reduce our national debt (see Chart 1).

When Bill Clinton took over in 1993, the economy had just passed bottom and was arguably already starting to turn around. Then came the longest period of economic expansion in American history of ten years. (until the 11-year period that just ended in March 2020). This long run-up included the too-fantastic expansion of the dot-com era.  Interest rates fell through this cycle.  During Clinton we reduced the budget deficit) and even had four years of budget surplus (see Chart 2).  With this we actually made the first dent in the national debt since 1980.

George W. Bush takes over in January of 2001.  A few months later we saw the collapse of the dot-com bubble with a fall in business purchases and investments, and the September 11th attack which ended this decade of growth. If you didn’t work in the tech sector, you might not have been impacted. Bush returned to the same toolkit and increased government deficit spending and reduced taxes – resulting in of course more budget deficits (see chart 2) and put us back on a near vertical trajectory of national debt increase (see Chart 1).  The 2001 recession was brief and shallow and this stimulus fueled inflation worries leading to a spike in interest rates in 2003.

In 2005 Credit Policy became the third lever in the US economy with arguably an even larger impact than Fiscal and Monetary Policy.  Massive deregulation in the financial industry permitted banks to engage in hedge fund trading with derivatives. Banks then demanded more the ability to offer more mortgages when flush with cash from the profitable sale of these derivatives. The government reduced the rules for making mortgages. Cheap borrowing costs encouraged Americans to load up on debt to buy homes, even when they had no savings, no income and no job prospects.

The subprime mortgage crisis led to the collapse of the US housing bubble in 2008.  This is referred to as “The Great Recession”.  Falling housing-related assets contributed to a global financial crisis even as oil and food prices soared. The crisis led to the failure or collapse of many of the United States’ largest financial institutions: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and AIG.  We also saw a crisis in the auto industry.  Barrack Obama takes office in January 2009, right square in the middle of this.  His response was a $787B Fiscal stimulus package and a $700B bank bailout. Interest rates are drastically reduced.  The Great Recession lasts eighteen long months.  Credit Policy changes include significant reversal of the policy changes of 2005 and the mortgage industry spends the next eight years shoring up their loan portfolio.  Interest rates settle out and under Obama still, deficit spending is reduced substantially year by year (see chart 2) and the auto industry and the banks pay back what they received under the bailout.  This begins what was the longest economic boon in history, but we continue adding to the national debt at an alarming rate, following a similar pattern recovering following the Great Depression in the 30’s and WWII.

In Summary

the recessions of 1980, 1981, 1990 were caused by a combination of a high inflation rate, driven by high oil prices from the oil crisis – a major world issue largely out of our control – with tight Monetary Policy that kept interest rates high in an effort to control the inflation rate.  These were significantly addressed by increasing government spending, resulting in budget deficits and increasing national debt.  Each time the size of the budget deficit was reducing until the next crisis arrived.  In 1990 Bush actually raised taxes to help with concerns over budget deficit.

The 2000 recession was caused by the dot-com bubble bursting and The September 11th attacks, which reduced investment and ultimately crushed consumer confidence and spending. W likely overcorrected with increased spending and lower taxes and the economy soon overheated with inflation the result.  The budget deficits were decreasing, but the national debt growth continued.

The recession of 2007-2009 was the result of a completely self-inflicted crisis – we turned over the keys to Wall Street and they fantastically screwed it up.  This required a huge bail out, deficit spending and concomitant increases to the national debt. But, the economy did turn around, leading to eleven years of growth.

Seven years into and for economic reason, we institute Trump’s 2017 tax cut, which lowered individual and corporate tax rates, especially for the wealthy.  From 2017 through 2019 the Fed lowers interest rates at Trump’s urging.  Our national debt balloons to $23,000,000,000.00 (see Chart 1).  In February of 2020 we hear rumbles of consumer confidence declining despite the interest rates at record low.  Fears of the national debt being 105% of our GDP and growing at an astonishing $1T per year are sparking concerns from all corners of the economy.

Despite weeks of near complete denial, our next crisis is at our doorstep – Coronavirus is real and it is very scary.  Our healthcare system may become overrun. The flow of goods and services has already been disrupted.  The stock market has plummeted with the record one day drop occurring as I write this on March 16, 2020.  ALL of the gain of the last three years has been erased. Travel and tourism, making up 7% of our economy, is nearly halted.  And the crisis could last months.  We will, however, eventually come out the other side.

So… this leads to the three Economic Levers we execute during such an economic crisis.  Are choices once again:

  1. Via Monetary Policy Lowering interest rates – nope, they are at 0% and Trump is wildy throwing out going in the negative. We have already injected $500B into the economy by printing money and the Fed buying various financial instrument from the market to keep liquidity afloat and we have promised up to $1T more of this if necessary. This $1.5 trillion should return as we are able to sell it back off when the economy is resuscitated.
  2. Via Fiscal PoIicy increasing government spending and/or lowering taxes – wellp, we just had a massive tax break and have been wildly overspending for three years. Any action here will further our already massive national debt as we kick this can down the road to our children and grandchildren.  This will most certain rattle consumer confidence as well.
  3. Via Credit Policy easing credit restrictions and/or extending credit. This actually may be our most viable option. For example, we could extend credit to the airlines. We could delay student loan and other payments.

I have been saying this for three years now.  During times of economic growth, we have always reduced deficits and until the last forty years paid down the national debt.  Under Trump, we have done the opposite.

Oil prices are currently at historic lows with OPEC flooding the market with supply in a battle with Russia over market share.  What if this ends or Russia restricts supply to drive up cost?  Inflation increases would force us to increase interest rates, which also have a huge impact on our ability to control our national debt as our interest payments will also increase.

Our economic options are severely limited. We are positioned for an extended and significant economic recession, unless we tread very carefully and thoughtfully.

IMG00201-20101214-1036I last saw Ruth in a nursing home in Bullhead City, AZ days before Christmas in 2010.  Little of her famous sparkle was left.  Her fight had nearly left her.  She was miserable, scared and wanted the hell out of that crappy nursing home and my sister and I didn’t blame her a bit.  Courageously, my sister Jeanie managed to figure out care for her and brought her home days after my visit.

This last trip was particularly tough as I was fairly sure it would be the last time I saw her – and it was.  She had to have help with absolutely everything.

Hundreds of times I had seen her sit in a chair, cross her legs and enjoy a cup of coffee.  She wanted out of bed and we called an attendant to help.  The attendant helps her into the chair – coaching her through what she needed her to do.  Ruth was wearing these wonderful furry booties and her signature thin white socks rolled down just a bit.  This photo makes me tear up every single time.

We had a nice visit.  She drank a few sips of coffee.  In between, she scratched her head and looked out the window.  Perhaps she was remembering a snippet of a funny story with her sisters or my dad.  The little people, elephants and scary faces seemed to leave her alone for a bit – perhaps they were scared of me?  She quickly tired and we called the attendant back to help her back into bed.  The lady leans over and says, “Ruth, wrap your arms around me,” and Ruth complies.  “I am going to stand you up.”  A feeble OK is given.  Up she goes.  “OK Ruth, now turn around.”  No response.  “Ruth turn around.”  Still no response.  “Ruth, I need you turn around!”  Ruth finally retorts, “I can’t – you’re standin’ on my foot!”

My sister and I laughed until we cried.

 

Related Stories:

Fragility and Comedy – Ruth Rocks

A Son Says Goodbye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image  —  Posted: June 5, 2014 in It's All Important Stuff
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umstead-park-sals-branch-trail-runningThe majority of ultra-marathon racers who quit a 100 mile event do so around mile 95.  Yes, the last 5 miles.  Who would do this when there are only 5 miles to go?

We are talking about highly trained, dedicated athletes with a single-minded focus on their goal and yet, many quit with their goal so near.  They have worked and worked and come so far…yet.

Ninety-five miles is a VERY long way to run.  This takes the individual well past any training run.  They have long ago ran out of physical and mental energy.  The finish line is not in sight.   Can I possibly endure one more hill?  Do I want it badly enough?  My body and mind are bruised.  This has been much harder than I ever imagined.  Is my goal still in my minds eye?  All that is left is emotional energy.  Is it enough?

The last 5 miles is ALWAYS the hardest.  Keep a firm mental grip on your goal and relax all else.  Let there be no wasted energy from negative thoughts.  Wring every last bit of your energy.  The finish line is just about in sight.

 

 

Image  —  Posted: May 21, 2014 in It's All Important Stuff
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safetypintutstep1While pinning on my event number for the Fletcher Flyer Century a couple of weeks ago, I swelled with pride, then suddenly felt very old, when realizing how many times I had done this in my lifetime.

My very fuzzy math says that I have competed and/or participated in about 200 bike race days, 120 cycling events, 40 triathlons, 20 running races and Lord knows what else.  For each of those events I was given 4 safety pins to affix the requisite race number.  This adds up to approximately 1,520 safety pins.

Each event brought a different adrenalin rush.  Before the 1980 Octoginta I was out of my mind with anxiety as it was my very first cycling event and I had barely ridden more than 40 miles at any one time prior.  Most regular bike centuries or metric centuries barely bring a heart rate spike worse than pumping up the tires.  On the start line for one of the Tour De Moore road races, my heart rate spiked at 148 before the official “Chips” finally set us off, then my heart rate actually went down until the first big climb.  Ironman Florida had my heart in my throat for weeks in advance, but on race day I was ridiculously calm.  Running is really not my thing, so I am usually just ready to get it over with.

However, now that I have started 2Vectors, my new technology consulting business, I begin every single morning with the feeling that today is event day.  This is what the lifetime of training and preparation are all about.  It comes in slightly different flavors as each of my events have, but the quiet smile inside, extra alertness and battle readiness are the same.  Whether Nigel and I succeed in this partnership or fail is entirely up to us.  We have logged the miles, paid our dues, have a great support team and are very focused on the outcome we have visualized.  For me, every day is event day!

IOSDT_246 - Version 4Margaret Struble convinced me to begin the “Tri for Me” Triathlon team in 2006.  This quickly grew and the business model morphed as I added Inside-Out Sports and DELTA Triathlon as our primary sponsors in 2009.  I called this new team IOSDT.  We grew tremendously each year and in 2011 we had 320 members and 18 sponsors.  Along the way, we had many contributors.

The team size and proposition expanded to the place where I could not personally oversee all activities (selecting team kits, managing the orders, managing finances, finding sponsors, organizing training and social events, throwing parties, keeping track of contests, handling communications, running the website and so on)  When I first tried to step out, I did not feel that those offering assistance were handling the various aspects of the team as I would and didn’t really give up control.  I was looking for a few key people who would operate their portion of the team with nearly as much passion and skill as I had.

By 2012 I had found a handful of talented and passionate individuals for the Board of Directors and they really began functioning well, so I relinquished control and eventually stepped down as President.  They each worked a fraction of the time that I did, so it worked in their lives.  I also closed down DELTA Triathlon – retaining it’s years of content on a blog.  The triathlon team proudly continues as IOSTC.  We managed the pivot to the next phase.

IOSDT had been such a tremendously time and passion consuming aspect of my life that I didn’t even realize that this came with an expense elsewhere.  Thankfully, my beautiful wife Elaine has helped me restore the balance.

However, I learned a great deal from this endeavor.  This is my top ten list of major learnings:

  1. Skill without passion and vice versa bring less than ideal results – We had several folks who volunteered to help who had tremendous marketing, legal or organizational skills.  Yet, they did not operate at the same level of passion as I did.  Conversely, we also had many offer help, who were passionate about the team and the sport, who simply did not have the skills to help.
  2. Nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd – People will flock to what they believe to be popular.  People want to be part of something that is accepted and gives them security in their choices.
  3. Users/customers expect technology ahead of your capability – Consumers expect efficient and simple ways to be part of your community. This is ALWAYS about 30% greater than your budget/capability, unless you give this tremendous focus and partner effectively.
  4. Fear can be crippling – “If you chose not to decide you still have made a choice”  The fear of losing what you have will lead you to tremendously poor decisions.  You ALWAYS have to be looking ahead – at what is coming next – at what people will expect next year.
  5. Not everyone is gonna like you – As the decision-maker for the team I had to make hundreds of decisions.  There is simply no way to please everyone.  You cannot select the color that is universally appealing.  Your style will not universally apply and, as a result, not everyone is gonna like you.
  6. Structured plans work – Triathletes live highly structured lives.  Most days include at least two workouts.  This structure, each week building upon the next, leads to success against stated goals.
  7. Ask EVERYONE for advice and listen to it – I learned to seek feedback from everyone.  Almost everyone is willing to give it; however, a few will tell you the truth.  Over time you will learn which is which.  Hearing what you don’t want to hear is difficult, but useful.
  8. Hey, it’s your team – Marty Gaal, of One Step Beyond Coaching, gave me some profound advice during a team bike ride.  I was bitching about the constant conflict of advice and “counsel” that I had received.  He said, “Hey, it’s your team, do what you want.”  That was ridiculously freeing advice Marty.  Thanks.  It was my team.  From that point on, I did what I wanted.
  9. Think big, start small and scale fast – I always had a grand vision for the team.  Truthfully, it grew past my wildest dreams.  I started with the minimum and, as quickly as I could, adapted to the situation and focused where my time could make the biggest difference to growth.
  10. People can be predictable if you steer them where you want them to go – Two parties in a row we bought equal amounts of white and red wine.  One party we had much extra white left over and ran out of red and the second we ran out of white and had much red left over.  For the third, I hired a bartender to ensure that the first 20 drinks were distributed in equal proportion of white and red.  At the end of party we had exactly one bottle of red and white remaining.  People tend to follow those ahead of them.
  11. OK, this is a bonus.  Nothing sells better than being “Cool” – People are ridiculously fickle and will switch, with little warning, to what they perceive as the “cool” choice.  Whatever you sell or offer, it had better be cool or your days are numbered.

Living with Elaine requires a few concessions.  Number one on the list is that I will be participating in Team In Training.  Elaine lost her sister, Donna, to blood cancer several years ago.  Raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) has been her passion since, and she is damn good at it, netting over $65,000 for the cause.

On June 3rd, Elaine’s team rode America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride.  AMBBR is a very tough and mountainous century around Lake Tahoe.  This sounded like a lot of fun, so I signed up, raised my money and helped out with the team training rides where I could.

For the most part, our group from Raleigh rode together, recollecting after the first major climb at mile 20. This took us up and around the stunning Emerald Bay.

At North Lake Tahoe the 72 milers turn East and the full century riders head toward Truckee and Donner Pass (the birthplace of the Shit Cube and a future blog article) on North 89.  This is a boring, hard, windy, out and back on a four-lane highway.  The drivers are cranky about the cyclists and the evidence of the budget crisis in California is clear as the road is absolutely horrible. Coach Marc and I tried almost everything we could think of to organize the team so that we could safely take turns pulling in the wind and finally found the right groove about halfway back.  The cyclists in the team were amazing.  I am just so proud of how well they rode.

Marc coached this, and many other events for LLS, because his sister is in remission from blood cancer and his cousin had been suffering from Multiple Myeloma since February, 2006.

At the end of the Truckee section we were all mentally spent and frustrated about the crappy road.  Each of us swore we would never ride it again.  The remaining ride took us the rest of the way around the lake and included the ascent over Spooner Pass.  The elevation at the top is 7,200 feet and a couple of us were feeling the effects of the altitude.  Thankfully, for me, it passed quickly as we descended the other side toward South Tahoe and home.  Overall I had a great day. Elaine rode impressively and I am so proud of her.  The rest of the team really showed their hard work of the previous weeks.

At the finish we all celebrated our success and swapped stories.  Nearly everyone complained about the road to Truckee, but no one was louder than me. Blah, blah, blah – stupid road – never doing it again – can’t believe they sent us out there – so unsafe –  blah, blah, blah.

A couple of days later coach Marc sent out a very nice note of congratulations to the team.  He also explained that, literally while we were riding the road to Truckee, complaining and whining, his cousin Sue lost her battle to blood cancer.

I feel so badly for Marc and his family that this happened.  I know how Donna’s death affected Elaine’s family years ago.  But, I have to say that I am embarrassed for complaining about the road to Truckee.  It was nothin’.

 

The return to a Fearless life is totally paying off!

My career is totally refreshed with the most exciting and best years ahead of me.  I may even be able to retire some day.  Despite a few frustrations I am digging teaching new Team in Training riders to become real cyclists (please make a donation to Todd’s fundraising page), I love riding my bike again, and life with Elaine is fabulous, beyond what I have previously dared imagine.

Tonight I have looked back over my blog history and realized that I don’t write nearly as frequently when I am happy.  This may explain the sporadic entries in the past several months.  Thank you baby!

Every great song writer was a tortured soul.  Somehow, selling millions of records is a great way to ease that pain.  Inevitably productivity ends and the songs turn softer and sappy.  Writing about being happy is hard.

 

Enmity Gauged

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Lyrics & Poetry


Feel it pushing me back again
The distant tumult creates the wind
The rush of blue isn’t overrated
Sanguine rituals never overstated

Feel it lifting me up again
A force from the center of the earth
The decision most feared
Becomes everything clear

How profound – you see what is right in front of your face.  If what you want is off to the side – barely in your vision – and, what you have locked in front of your view is fear and anxiety, guess what, you have little hope of achieving your goals.

Getting rid of distractions and negative thought is not so easy.  I have recently been working with James Murphy, an Executive Coach from Evolution For Success to develop a life plan.  I needed improved life balance & career motivation.  To be fair, I really just needed to focus on what I wanted.  James helped me plow through distraction after distraction, while bringing into focus what I really wanted from career, relationships, fitness and so on.

So many good things have come from this effort.  Not the least of which is the vast improvement toward one of my life goals, which is to behave fearlessly.  That doesn’t mean stupidly.  It means without the distraction of fear.  In my work life and in my relationships, the difference is amazing.

As a result, I am kicking ass again and significantly enjoying what I do.  The plan is still baking a bit, but we are definitely on the right track here.  One of my goals is to behave fearlessly and that is right in front of my face every single day.

Kirsten And I Dropped The Punks

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Bike Stories

I actually got serious about college after Kirsten was born.  From her first breath, it was clear that she expected to eat almost every single day. Perhaps an education would help pay for that.

Being a financially strapped father, poser bike racer and college student, I would typically ride my bike to Washburn University for classes.  In 1988, when Kirsten was about 2 1/2 years old, I added a child seat to my old Colnago.  For those of you who don’t know, this was about the classiest racing machine you could have at the time.  So, imagine adding a child seat to your 2011 Cervelo with a Shimano Dura Ace Groupo.  Yes, I had other bikes for training and racing.

Anyway, I would happily pedal Kirsten to the grocery store or the 7-Eleven, while she cackled away in the baby seat on back.  Late one spring afternoon, I needed to go the school library – about three miles each way, so I hucked her on back after adjusting her little helmet adorned with lady bug stickers.

I have always been a very social cyclist and, frankly, I expect everyone else to wave and be civil as we see each other out on the road.  But, as Kirsten and I were leisurely riding to the library, a couple of young punks with shaved legs came by, passing on our left. They didn’t say a word, dismissing the “older” dude with the kid on the back as not a real cyclist.  Apparently, they missed my shaved legs and the Colnago decals.

Frankly, this pissed me off.  So, I turned around and said, “Kirsten, hold on – this is going to be fun!”   We quietly rode up behind them and held our position for about 15 seconds.  Yeah, they noticed us and picked up the pace even more.  The road up to the library has a fairly steep hill.  From the bottom they both stood up and attacked.  Kirsten and I hit the gas and passed them about 2/3 of the way up.  I raised my daughter right – she very enthusiastically said “hi” and waved at the two young men as we passed them.  They were too gassed to respond.