Kicking Away the Ladder


(A Lament for Charlottesville, NAFTA and the proper use of Tiki Torches)

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him.  – Friedrich List; The National System of Political Economy

Georg Friedrich List was a German born economist who developed what is known today as the National System of Innovation.  He was a forefather of the German historical school of economics and many of his ideas formed the bases of the European Economic Community, the predecessor of today’s European Union.  His seminal work on the subject of economics and international trade, “The National System of Political Economy” is a three volume set originally published in 1841 which rivals the works of Adam Smith and Karl Marx in terms of lasting influence in the minds of economists the world over.  Sadly List’s ideas were so controversial at the time that he was arrested and exiled to the United States.  He died shortly after the final publication of The National System and never had the opportunity to defend or expand upon his theories.

List’s work focused on a doctrine of national and international management of trade, global collaboration, and supportive interconnectedness.  In sort, Friedrich List was one of the first proponents of comparative advantage and globalization.  The fact that most of his work was completed while living in the United States and the United Kingdom is in no small part responsible for the rise of western domination in international trade over the last century and a half.

In today’s political and economic climate List’s observations regarding protectionism and oppression can be viewed as very timely and prophetic.  Just this past week, behind closed doors in Washington, the United States, Canada and Mexico began the first of several rounds of negotiations aimed at re-writing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  No doubt many of List’s ideas will be front and centre throughout the process, even if many of the negotiators aren’t even conscious of them.

The very people and systems that have used things like tariffs and subsidies to increase trade, and were once in favour of immigration to bolster the workforce and create wealth now actively oppose all attempts of others to use those same devices to achieve the same things.  That, in a nutshell is the current state of international relations and trade, especially in the west were populist sentiment and neo-conservative economic thought prevails.  America was built on immigration, subsidies and cheap labour, now they want to prevent Mexico and punish Canada for doing the same kinds of things in order to protect their own dominance on the world stage.

But that’s not all.

Economics isn’t just about money.  It’s about politics and inter-human relationships as well.  Earlier this week I watched in horror as white men marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia with Tiki Torches chanting “White Lives Matter” and calling for a return to white privilege and the establishment of a so called white homeland.  Nothing is more repulsive than privileged men complaining about a loss of privilege in the most heavily skewed white male privileged society the world as ever known.   If only these men really understood what it meant to be persecuted for the color of your skin, religion, level of education or economic status?

At the end of the day all violence is in some way about economics and a loss of privilege.  Even a miniscule loss of privilege is still a loss of economic influence in a rapidly changing world.    But change is necessary and hanging on to privilege while people scratch and claw their way up the economic ladder is simply impossible.  The only way to do it is to deny the basic humanity in those below you on that ladder.

And that’s what it comes down to; Humanity.   That is humanity defined in terms of benevolence, not just a collective description of the human race.

In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  At the time it was a progressive document that envisioned a world very similar to the one proclaimed by the founding fathers in the United States Declaration of Independence.  Among the 30 points adopted by the UN are such stalwarts of humanity as;

Article 1 – We are all born Free and Equal.

Article 7 – We are all equal before the law.

Article 12 – The right to privacy.

Article 20 – The right to public assembly.

Article 21 – The right to democracy.

Article 22 – The right to social security.

Article 26 – The right to education.

Article 30 – No one can take away your human rights.

http://www.youthforhumanrights.org/what-are-human-rights/universal-declaration-of-human-rights/articles-1-15.html

Within the laws of western democracy and any country that is signatory to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, racist rallies like the one that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 13th are an aberration that cannot be tolerated!  Nor can any attempt to restrict trade or curtail immigration.

Freidrich List warned against the potential for both the current contentious NAFTA negotiations and the riots in Charlottesville over 175 years ago.  He could see that at the end of the day, people are selfish and we need institutions like NAFTA and the UN to remind us of our shared humanity.

My prayers are with the victims of racial violence in all its forms and with the men and women tasked with re-negotiating NAFTA.  May we all, first and foremost, remember our shared humanity at times like these.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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Why I Write This Stuff


The following is a excerpt from the introduction to my first book – Meekonomics, How To Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy. 

I’m not sure why, I think it might have something to do with the current political climate around the world, but there has been a recent up tick in interest in my writing.  So I’m going to start republishing portions of my work on a semi-regular basis here.  Questions and Comments are always welcome, and feel free to click the link above to purchase a copy of the book…

I realize that it is an act of sheer hubris to attempt to write a book called Meekonomics. The meek don’t write books do they? Especially Mennonite kids from Southern Ontario with no formal education in either economics or theology.

I grew up in a small town surrounded by family farms and working class individuals. When I graduated from High School I wanted to be a record producer so I spent 19 years in the music business. In my mid 30s I read two books that unlocked my love of economics and theology; The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein and Simply Christian by NT Wright.  

There followed nearly 8 years of prayer, research and reflection on two things that have driven me for almost as long as I can remember; God and Money.

Although I have always held a strong faith my relationship with money has been an extreme roller-coaster from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I’m an entrepreneur. I started my first business at the ripe old age of the age of 10, I had an opportunity to become a millionaire before my 26th birthday only to fall victim to an unscrupulous fraudster and ended up bankrupt at 33.

My drive to understand money and reconcile economics with my faith started to take root in the fall of 2005 not long after I first filed my bankruptcy proposal. What I soon realized is that reconciliation of the God and Money issue is not just a personal question, although personal finance is a big part of it, it’s really required on both a micro and macro-economic scale if our society is to survive.

Call it what you will; estate or retirement planning, investments, pension plans etc. It all comes down to the storing up of treasures on earth just as Jesus warned us not to do.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. [Matthew 6:19-24]

What you will find in the pages that follow is a journal of sorts. After my bankruptcy I set out to learn all I could about how this whole God and Money thing works. Anyone who has ever gone through something like that knows how devastating it can be. I was wounded, I needed healing and so I used the study of God and Money as the start of my healing process.

As I studied I took notes, those notes became a blog and that blog became this book. Most authors will tell you that they write for a specific audience, my friend Tim Day, author of “God Enters Stage Left” told me he first started writing for his kids as a way to help explain his faith in case he passed away before he had a chance to teach them in person. If I’m being honest I write just for myself, it’s a way to frame my thinking so that I can move forward in life secure and grounded in what I know to be true.

I first published the blog as a way to share what I was learning with my closest friends and family around the world, I never dreamed anyone else would be interested in what I had to say but I soon had over 100 readers on-line encouraging me to go deeper and publish more. The idea for the book came out of that interaction with the on-line community.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

 

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Decision-Making


How to focus on the choices that matter the most…

Each and every one of us makes countless decisions every day. Some don’t matter much, like what to wear or what to eat for lunch. Others carry a little more weight. Last week I talked about the general weight of decisions in our lives, go back an re-read it here [Cast Your Burdens].  This week I want to focus a bit more on the specific and unique decision making needs of business owners. Business owners make decisions about how to manage cash flow, how to protect the company (with insurance mostly), and which benefits plan to choose so that they can attract and retain the best employees.

Have you ever found it difficult making important decisions? You’re not alone.

As I talked about last week, researchers have found that we only have limited decision-making power. So called, “decision fatigue” effects us all as the day progresses. Check out this article from the New York Times to back me up. As the day rolls along and the number of decisions we need to make pile up, our brains get tired and start to look for an easier way out. That can mean delaying decisions, paralysis by analysis or it could lead to reckless decisions made primarily just to get it over with so that we can move on.

One option some entrepreneurs have found to help manage decision fatigue is to eliminate, or create a habit around certain choices. I’m currently reading Charles Duhigg’s 2012 book “The Power of Habit”. At one point in the book he talks about what he calls the Keystone Habits that can shape entire organizations and remove a cumbersome layer of decision making, streamlining processes and leading to increased efficiencies and ultimately higher profits. Case in point, two of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs simplified some of their decisions by wearing the same clothing every day: Steve Jobs was famous for his black turtlenecks, and Mark Zuckerberg favours grey T-shirts. I have even taken on a modification of this habit myself, I line up my pants and shirts in my closet on laundry day and simply put on whatever is at the front of the line every morning. Granted, not quite a streamlined as wearing the same thing every day but it is one less decision I need to make in the morning, freeing my mind up for more important things later.

Another idea is to devote more time to important decisions earlier in the day, that way you are fresh and can devote better energy to things before the relentless piling on of minor choices makes it harder to concentrate and make the best decisions. Consider scheduling an hour or so every morning to contemplate some of the bigger choices you need to make that day.

It’s important to start by identifying which of your regular decisions are most important. Most business owners agree that decisions related to cash flow management are the highest on their list of priorities. A recent survey showed that over half (59 per cent) of small business owners were concerned about cash flow with 20 per cent saying they are seriously concerned. This would seem to point to the fact that they are likely to get the most outside advice in this area but over a third of them (38 per cent) said they were dealing with their cash flow issues alone, without any help from an external advisor.  Know to be clear, I am not an accountant but one of the biggest advantages that I can bring to the table for my clients is help with decision-making around cash flow management. For example, I can help put together an optimal mix of bank accounts, lines of credit and investments to maximize returns mitigate risks and cushion your business from cash flow crunches.

And speaking of risk, another important area is risk management. Having a clear risk management goal like, building a diversified customer base or multiple revenue streams helps you make better business planning decisions and move the business forward. But keep in mind that when it comes to insurance, any delays in decision-making actually increase your exposure. Business owners must make it a top priority to finalize insurance policies as soon as they are financially able. This includes all forms of general liability and business interruption insurance to critical illness, disability and key person insurance for the owners and employees.

Lastly, there’s another area of risk management decision-making that most business owners forget about until it’s too late. If you have employees, you know how much your business relies on the productivity and loyalty of all of your people. And you’re probably also aware of how much turnover can cost. That’s why it’s so surprising to me that according to the research cited above just 17 per cent of business owners consider group benefits including health and retirement savings plans when building a risk management strategy. Even a simple, entry-level benefits plan for as few as 2 or 3 people can do wonders for moral and help to retain and attract better employees.

Postponing important financial decisions may mean missing out on opportunities to grow, develop and protect your business. So if you’ve been mulling without deciding, consider what you need to move forward. Are you considering all of the options? Do you have enough information to make an informed choice? Can a financial advisor offer any input? What other barriers are standing in the way?

Small business owners are busy people, I get that. Anything that can help streamline your decision-making process and make it more efficient is of great value. I am here to help. I can provide clarity and give you a big-picture perspective on decisions that benefit you, your company and your employees in both the short and long term. Contact me any time.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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New Media Channel – I’m on YouTube!


Thanks to the camera in my iPhone and a free editing program I downloaded, I am know able to record my thoughts on video!

Here is the first of what I hope will become a new way to communicate my message to the world.  Check out my first Vlog – “What I do and Why I do It.”

Let me kow what you think!  Feedback is always appreciated.

7 Tips to Recover from a Financial Setback


why-meBad things happen to good people. Overcoming financial challenges – in whatever form – takes dedication, patience and planning.

In life, you will have trouble, that’s a given. This can include losing your job, going through a divorce, or experiencing a serious illness. Then there are all those unexpected expenses life throws at you. A leaky roof, flooded basement, major car repair – any one of these could cost thousand, with no time to waste and room to negotiate.

And to add insult to injury, often times, more than one of these situations occur at once. It’s fairly obvious to think that these challenges often affect your finances – so how do you recover?

Here are seven tips for getting back in track after a financial setback, as recently published in “Solutions for Financial Planning”, a periodical publication from Manulife Financial.

  1. Get Professional Advice – A professional perspective can be invaluable, no matter the size of your problem. An financial advisor can help you assess the impact on both your short-term and long-term plans, adjust your goals, and develop a plan that helps lead to recovery. Getting advice first, will help you avoid making bad decisions like, racking up a large credit card balance that could only serve to prolong your troubles. Your advisor should help you gain perspective, relax a bit and offer constructive solutions to your problem.
  2. Tighten You Budget – Your budget probably has some slack. Regardless of the cause of your troubles, it’s time to eliminate that slack and get your budget back in balance. Take a hard look at your non-essential costs. I encourage all of my clients to play a little game call “Every Dollar Has A Name” in order to find the margin in their budget. Are there free or lower-cost alternatives to the things you do on a regular basis? Borrowing books, magazines and videos from the library, activities in a local park or at a community centre, or the ever popular staycation versus expensive vacation can all help save thousands. You could even take a look at negotiating a better deal on certain products and services without cutting back.
  3. changesExplore Big-Ticket Cost Savings – If things look as if they could have a lasting impact, and a high cost, it may be time to make some significant changes to your lifestyle. Changes that go beyond simple trimming and include some of the biggest line items in your budget. Consider moving to a smaller home a more affordable area and can you make do with one car? Major changes are difficult, but they may be the key to helping protect your future.
  4. Earn Extra Income – Spending less can only go so far, can you bring in more money? Can you sell something of value like art, an antique or a collectible? Maybe you can work more hours or even take a second job. Or course, working more takes time away from other commitments and might increase certain expenses like child care. And don’t forget the tax implications of earning more income. Ask your advisor to help you run all the numbers to ensure your extra income will more than pay for those extra costs.
  5. Talk To Your Mortgage Provider – If you have a mortgage, you may be able negotiate more manageable terms. You could switch from accelerated to more standard payments or if you’ve made lump-sum prepayments in the past, you may qualify for a short-term holiday from payments. It might also be possible to lengthening your mortgage’s amortization and add any payments you’ve missed to your balance. Lastly, if you are close to the renewal date on your mortgage, a full scale consolidation and change of provider may be in order.
  6. Talk To Other Creditors Too – Don’t letting bills slide, call your creditors, explain your situation and ask to lower your interest rate or reduce your payments. Most companies recognize the value of keeping you as a customer long term and are willing to negotiate rather than take a hard line and risk losing your as a customer forever. This can give you the breathing room you need to get through the worst of a setback and help protect your credit rating.
  7. Borrow Sensibly – If you simply can’t find any more savings or increase your piggywaterincome and you’ve run through your savings, check into the lowest-cost sources of borrowing. This can usually take the form of a secured line of credit or the aforementioned consolidation loan. Your advisor can help you identify the best solution for you.

 

Recovery from a financial shock is a journey. It will likely take several months or even years to get back to where you once were. But with a little determination, patience, planning and hard work, it can be done!

As things start to improve, make sure you stick to a streamlined budget and put extra money towards your long term debts. Start building a substantial emergency fund (three to six months of expenses) so you have resources on hand the next time you hit a financial speed bump.

Once you are in a stronger position, with more a bit more margin, look at other ways to help protect yourself from future shocks, such as various forms of personal insurance including, health, dental, critical illness and disability coverage. Start to set some money aside for the future too in one of the many government sponsored tax advantaged savings vehicles like a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA), Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or even a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

After enough time has passed and you have recovered emotionally from the stress, take some time to look back and think about what you might have done differently. Hindsight is 20/20 so use it to your advantage. Learn from the experience, without assigning blame and make sure you’re in a stronger financial position in case another difficult situation occurs.

balancingLastly, and I can’t stress this enough, go back to the very first tip and engage the help of professional financial advisor. Strong financial advice means a strong financial future. Households with an advisor are more likely to:

  • Have enough money to live the life they want (61 per cent compared to 31 per cent with no financial plan)
  • Be able to take an annual vacation (74 per cent compared to 44 per cent with no financial plan)
  • Have enough money for splurges (65 per cent compared to 31 per cent with no financial plan)

It doesn’t “just happen.” But it does happen if you have the right plan and support.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion for people and a desire to teach everyone to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.

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Dress For the Weather, Live For the Climate.


The daily weather is comparably different from the climate. Weather is about the short run; climate is about the long run. And that makes all the difference. In choosing a climate in which to build a home, we would not be deflected by last week’s weather. Similarly, in choosing a long-term investment program, we don’t want to be deflected by temporary market conditions. – Charles D. Ellis; Winning The Loser’s Game – Timeless Strategies for Successful Investing

weatherandclimateCharles D. Ellis is an investment consultant and one of the world’s leading thinkers in investment management.  In 1972 he founded the international consulting firm, Greenwich Associates and began offering strategic investment advice to many of the world’s largest financial institutions. You could say that Mr. Ellis is the financial advisor to your financial advisor’s boss.

In 1975 Ellis published a book called “Investment Policy” in which he explained the financial “climate” around us and the essential steps investors should take to build long term wealth. The book was originally aimed at institutional investors, the people who make strategic decisions for banks, pension funds and the largest mutual fund organizations but with the advent of the 401k plan in the US and the increasing popularity of RRSPs in Canada he soon realized that more and more individuals were taking control of their own investment plans and could benefit from knowing the strategies being employed by his large clients. The third edition of Investment Policy was released in 1998 under a new title “Winning the Loser’s Game – Timeless Strategies for Successful Investing”, and marketed for individual investors.

losersgameEllis explains that a winner’s game is a game in which you out match an opponent and win because you are better than they are. A loser’s game on the other hand is a game in which players are evenly matched and the “winner” just makes fewer mistakes than the “loser”.  The best example I can think of to describe a loser’s game is to think about how children learn to play chess.  The game is complicated and mastery of it takes years, when they first start to play children are far more likely to win if they simply make fewer mistakes than their opponent.  Beginners don’t so much “win” a chess match as they outlast their opponent long enough not to lose.

The stock market is a loser’s game simply because there are so many smart players, all with equal access to information about the companies they are buying and selling. If you are trying to “beat” the market with your skill at stock picking you are essentially trying to outsmart some of the smartest people in the world. Not only that but those super smart people are looking at the same information that you are. Your only hope at “winning” is for a large number of the players to simultaneously make a mistake and for you to have the fortitude to resist the consensus.

It does happen once in a while, but not enough for anyone to consistently beat the market over the long run. In fact, over a rolling 15 year period dating all the way back to the mid 19th century the New York Stock Exchange has lost money only once. The Toronto Stock exchange has never lost money over a rolling period of 10 years or more. This makes beating the market, winning when everyone else is losing, exceedingly hard.   Nobody does it consistently for long so Ellis’ strategy is simple – if you can’t beat them, join them.

Ellis uses the analogy of weather and climate extensively throughout the book to explain the difference between short term and long term investing strategies. Weather happens and is largely unpredictable climate takes longer to unfold and is relatively predictable.

I can’t tell you if it might snow tomorrow but I can tell you that it is highly unlikely for it to be 30 Celsius for at least another 4 months. The more data you can bring to your analysis, the longer your outlook and the broader the sampling of stocks (and bonds) you can purchase, the more predictable your returns will be. It is through this extreme diversification and a long term outlook that you can virtually eliminate risk from your portfolio.

warrenbuffett1Warren Buffet, the oracle of Omaha once said, “Our ideal holding period is forever.” Buffet understands climate.

Will the stock market go down tomorrow – maybe, I really couldn’t say for sure. Will it rain? No clue. Will the stock market gain over the next 20 years? Again I can’t say for sure but it’s never lost over that long before so it’s a pretty good bet, just like it’s never been 30 Celsius in February so I think I’ll wear a coat.

You can win the loser’s game. All you need to do is play not to lose and you’ll be just fine.

Lauren C. Sheil is a serial entrepreneur who has been in business for over 25 years. He has operated a small farm, a recording studio and a music manufacturing plant, and has written 3 books on Economics, Ethics and Spirituality.  He has presented his ideas to business owners and leaders from all over the world. His latest book “Meekoethics: What Happens When Life Gets Messy and the Rules Aren’t Enough” is available on Amazon.com.

Mr. Sheil is currently a Financial Security Advisor and Business Planning Specialist with one of Canada’s premier financial planning organizations.  He brings to his work a passion for people and a desire to teach everyone to live life to the fullest while Eliminating Debt, Building Wealth and Leaving a Legacy.  

He can be reached at themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com or by calling 613-295-4141.