Thanks for reaching out, Byron. I appreciate the questions. I’m happy to offer what insights I can, but I had no idea where to begin.
Can you tell us a little about your family background? My ancestors are Dutch and French. The paternal branch settled in the Hudson River Valley and have lived there and in NYC for several generations. My grandfather married a French woman, and so did my father.
What was the philosophy of raising children you experienced? Or did you get a sense there was any philosophy or strategy to it? Oh, there was definitely an agenda. I’d guess it started at home where the television was something of an event. There’s a cabinet in the study. The set is inside. My father had the key. If there was a sporting event or presidential speech, then it was opened, watched, then turned off and put away immediately thereafter. Everywhere else in the house were shelves and stacks of books. I could do anything I wanted if it involved reading or exercise. If it involved television, I had to make a very good case as to why the program was worthwhile. I had to scan the television listings of the newspaper and be selective. And, in a sense, my parents won that battle anyway. I was reading the newspaper. The second part of it was who I was exposed to as a child. All of the other children I played with or went to school with were very much like me. The family backgrounds were similar. The beliefs were similar. The expectations on behavior were similar. There wasn’t any real idea until I went to college that most kids weren’t like we were. That’s to say, getting into serious trouble, not getting good grades in school, and not graduating from college and going forward in life. We just assumed everyone was, which seems silly now, but we didn’t have the internet, and it was a very different time. ‘As the twig is bent, so the tree’s inclined’. Looking back on it, we were indoctrinated socially and educationally to be good citizens and good stewards. We’re not the most openminded demographic, but I seriously doubt that was important to my parents. Society will change enough and force the acceptance of certain things. Tradition will need to be held onto and fought for. That’s what I think my parents would say. They would probably have included ‘money’ in the sentence with ‘tradition.’
Old Money families had a lot of influence in earlier times. Do you feel like that influence has been lost? What are your views on the meritocracy? Public life was much easier to consider in the 19th and 20th centuries. Yes, it was partisan, but the good that could be done was visible and possible. I’m not sure it’s possible now, and most people I know shy away from it because of the venom that’s spewed in every direction when you run for any office, local, state, or national. The hate is palpable, and it isn’t reserved for the candidate. There is a substantial amount of influence, not all of it good, that is leveraged behind the scenes. Some of it has compromised the democratic process, and some of it has salvaged good parts of our society using very undemocratic methods. I’m not sure if it’s justified. As far as a meritocracy is concerned, I am in favor of talented, driven, and accomplished people enjoying the rewards of their success and being considered role models, to some extent. The fallacy with this perspective often comes when the public believes that someone who has made a lot of money in business is smart in other areas, like politics. Often, they aren’t. Making money involves focus. Public policy involves perspective. The problem many people I know have with today’s New Money is the concept of ‘enough’. The greed is unbelievable. They also tend to be connected to work all the time. Always with the cell phone. Leisure is networking. Friends are people who may be useful in the future. A boat is to impress people, not enjoy. Those are very foreign concepts to our group, and they’re not smiled upon.
Is there anything you’d like to pass on to people who read the blog and The Old Money Book? I deal with finance everyday, helping clients make decisions about the way they want to structure investments, trusts, charities, and the like. I also interact with their children and grandchildren occasionally. If there’s one idea to impart, I think it’s this: you must preserve what you have and create more. The investment landscape is going to change dramatically in the next ten to fifteen years, if not sooner. Preservation of wealth, living far below your income, and raising children who are emotionally, financially, and vocationally independent is really the only way family fortunes (modest to midsize) are going to survive. Clipping coupons and having a gin and tonic at 4pm on the veranda is not going to cut the mustard anymore. And I’m an optimist. Thanks.