Facing Wealth’s Shadow: Loss

Davyde Wachell

At summer’s end a cold chill took the air. It asked me what I valued most.

This is the first piece in a fall series on authenticity and values.

Executive Summary

  • Our ideas of wealth often hinge on fantasies of unlimited time, and a world that doesn’t change.
  • Loss is unavoidable. We must face it authentically to know what we value.
  • Even though personal, market and historical cycles can be out of our control, knowing our values helps us maintain true wealth through any season.
  • The future of human wealth depends on our values.

Fugit Hora. Memento Mori

I wake early on a late August Saturday morning to cold air and a sense of urgency.

Winter is coming.

My heart and mind pulse sharp for what should otherwise be a bucolic summer day.

Have I done enough this year? Have I done enough this decade? Mortality cuts through my morning musings like cold steel.

My fortieth birthday looms on the horizon as something I should actually start planning for. Sure I’m still young, but this milestone has an epitaph:

“I’m not going to live forever.”

On our mountain hike that day my partner Holly keeps a good pace, sometimes I struggle to keep up with.

It hits me — she’s 9 years younger. She’s got more energy, and more years in front of her. I’m going to go first. It’s a cold hard fact.

I think, “Will she be safe, healthy and comfortable? Will she be lonely?”

The thought of not being able to be by her side puts a lump in my throat.

The path gets steeper and the air colder. I put on my jacket.

Holly stops and looking up to the tree line. I finally catch up and grab her hand. I trace her gaze to the green cathedral tree tops.

A starling jay peers down at us, all curiosity, dressed in blue-black enchantment.

Swooping off the branch he nearly collides with the rock bed, then flies straight up a cliff towards the mountain peak.

Gone in a flash.

In the face of loss I value ephemeral moments like this over material gain.

This Time It’s The Same, Except Worse

B.T. — an acquaintance and VC — empties a growler of beer into my glass. The sun sets on the final Friday of summer. We are “getting it in” while “it” lasts.

The conversation wanders through tech, money, valuations and even politics. Both of us agree markets are walking on a tightrope. What’s up with WeWork? Is FinTech overvalued? Is BigTech still undervalued? What about round sizes? Bidding dynamics? Tariffs?

B.T. says, “There is still a lot of dry powder out there”.

“Yes,” I reply, “cheap money, and lots of debt”

Winter is coming. Isn’t it? Maybe not yet? Just a little longer?

17 trillion dollars of negative yield issuance. Dalio calling for recession. Consumer credit recklessly high once again.

The bears have been humbled by a market that won’t stop. The bulls will cheer for a market that has no limits. For anyone who can remember 1999/2000, the threat of both upside and downside volatility haunts like the sword of Damocles.

We talk like masters of the universe who can see for miles, but none of it is under our control. Not in the slightest. The conversation turns inward as the sun sinks into deep orange and pink.

B.T. reveals non-profit work he is doing for those just coping with the day to day. We lament the struggle Vancouver faces with mental health, addiction and homelessness. Many at risk people suffer under the radar in a city all too good at winning “world’s most livable”. Real estate prices are sky high and tech companies keep hiring, so the pain keeps getting swept under the rug.

What happens when the music stops?

B.T. and I count blessings, admitting our privilege will keep us warm and sheltered through the next storm. That our families and educations will anchor us through the seasons. That at the end of the day, whatever happens, things will be OK.

For many others, things will not.

In the face of loss I value family and learning over valuations and ACVs.

Ex-Machina: Unrelenting Productivity

A beautiful and haunting humanoid robot looks towards me. It’s motion — while still mechanical — has crossed to the other side of the uncanny valley.

Holly glances up from her control monitor to relish in my dark wonderment.

“It’s getting pretty good right?”

“I’m not sure everyone is going to like this,’’ I reply.

Nadine the synth. Photo Creid: Daniel Marquandt
Nadine the synth. Photo Creid: Daniel Marquandt
Photo Credit: Daniel Marquandt

The creators of this android — only a few years earlier — built a robotic arm that is now replacing workers at fulfillment centers for Gap. Certainly not every job will vanish in some Hollywood-style apocalypse, but perhaps old jobs might be destroyed faster than new ones are created, or at least faster than some livelihoods can adapt to.

Robots are just the highly visible tip of the iceberg. The real story is beige: expect consultants and spreadsheets models, with B2B everything-as-a-service vendors close in tow to reduce “cost-to-serve” and “op-ex”.

White-collars may feel the cold edge of automation more than their blue collar counterparts this time round. For folks near the end of their careers, or late in the middle, the timing could be very painful. Organizations will simply do the obvious to compete in a world of relentless productivity.

The hollowing out of economic classes over the past few decades has already strained Western economies. What happens when this disruption happens in the blink of 5 to 7 years?

In the face of loss I will value authenticity, empathy and human experience over productivity and innovation.

The Best Lack All Conviction

Still — something even more jagged lurks behind potential market crashes and technological upheaval.

City streets filled with young people fighting for — or maybe in anticipation of — a future dimmed by savage market forces and cold distant technocrats.

Am I talking about Athens? Portland? Johannesburg? Hong Kong?

Does it matter?

Toxic long-buried ideologies re-animate, fueled by the panic of scarcity and loss of identity. Fear takes moral shortcuts arriving too soon at disastrous certainty. “Both sides” becomes an alibi to abandon the values and norms all of our grandmother’s certainly taught us.

The worst are full of passionate intensity.

Nations bark at each other with pitched bravado, upping the ante with economic and political actions that unwind in an afternoon the stability that took decades to build.

Darkness drops again; but now I know.

Images of unwanted, unwashed un-citizens in large industrial un-camps float across our small anxious attention spans to be swiped away for more comforting distractions.

The center cannot hold.

The amazon burns as politicians squabble. Monsters attend dinner parties laundering their reputations with anonymous checks. Billions get made off addiction pills. Life expectancy drops in the US.

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.

The market is at record heights, but somehow the edge feels much too sharp for all the “wealth” being “created”. Just like cold air in the final days of summer.

And still euphoria, and whiz kids, and record rounds, and killing it, and disruption.

Disruption the word is pronounced with the golden Apollonian confidence of bull markets.

Disruption the reality comes sharp as Saturn’s scythe during the depths of recession.

Saturn — god of Wealth, Time and Dissolution

I want you to remember this word “disruption”:

“an interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process.”

Some are hoping that a central banks all ease to sub-zero and a nice trade deal will get done so the party keeps going through 2020.

But what happens when the music finally does stop? When the monetarists are out of ammunition? Will there be more jobs? Better leadership? Less distraction? Healthier discourse?

I do hope so.

Perhaps I am being shrill, and some fine weather is just around the corner, but I sense that you, much like myself, are finding it difficult to ignore the chill in the air.

In the face of loss I value liberty, democracy and the trust of my neighbors over comfort, luxury and social advantage.

For Where Your Treasure Is…

I spend my days building and selling software that helps advisors and clients make better decisions about their wealth. I believe in our mission, and yet still some days the cold air causes doubt to seep in.

Money is important, don’t get me wrong. It puts food in the fridge, keeps the house warm and pays the hospital bills.

If I’m being honest, however, it feels like maybe we should start optimizing for more and it seems like if we want a better — or even stable future — we are going to have to start asking some tough, close cutting questions.

Today I shared that I value family time, humanity, authenticity and civil society and even if I lose all else, I’ll still be wealthy.

Are you wealthy?

If so, where is your treasure?

It might be exactly where your heart is.

Davyde Wachell

Written by

AI, Finance, Art + Culture. robot @ http://responsive.ai

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