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Weekly Economic Commentary


Some non-economic thoughts for the holidays

December 21, 2012

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  • Some non-economic thoughts for the holidays

Author’s note: This will be our last weekly commentary of 2012. (We will certainly break in with an update if legislators in Washington reach a deficit deal.) At this time of year, it’s been a habit to depart from the data and the forecasts to look at things a little differently. We hope you’ll enjoy these musings, and we very much hope you’ll accept our warmest wishes for the season.

This past Wednesday, I took a short break from following the fiscal cliff saga. I was getting frustrated trying to sort out plan A, plan B, and plan C. I needed to put some distance between myself and the Federal budget, at least for a little while.

The charity I’m involved with organizes professionals to read to schoolchildren in the early grades, in the hope of improving their literacy and enhancing their enjoyment of learning. Just before the holiday break, the tutors share a little party with their young charges. I decided to hop on the bus and go with them.

The group was especially excited. We had gift bags of supplies to share, and lunch was to be pizza and Oreo cookies (an illicit treat for those of us who usually nosh on a mid-day salad at our desks).

We traveled through neighborhoods that reflected the diversity of our city. The school we serve is a carbon copy of the one I attended on Chicago’s South Side; an aging, but sturdy and proud edifice that has served generations well. In passing by the old gymnasium, I cringed at the memory of my old phys ed teacher using me as target practice for dodge ball.

Stepping inside of a primary school, one is completely transported. The air is thick with purpose and possibility. There are alphabet guides on the walls; the latest art projects are displayed prominently; and a map of the world on the wall illustrates far-away lands.

The kids are uninhibited, speaking what’s on their mind with an honesty that sometimes eludes us as we get older. They are optimistic, not cynical. And they are excited about what they can become, as opposed worrying about their limitations.

The looks on their faces as their buddies filed into the room were priceless. You could see in an instant the difference that my partners are making to these young people. The mutual excitement over the approach of the holidays raised spirits even higher. It was just the restorative that I was seeking.

Basking in the reflected glow, I got a warm feeling that no successful forecast could ever produce. These young people will one day form the core of our labor force, and the core of an electorate that will be asked to consider the weight issues of the future. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to contribute to their success…and by extension, ours.

And the meaning of the holidays is best reflected by the look in children’s eyes. They’re eagerly anticipating the gifts, the music, the family gatherings where their favorite dishes are served. We grownups often focus a lot on all of the work needed to get ready for the occasion, but it’s great to indulge, just a little, in child-like anticipation. For an hour or so after we got back, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Many of us devote a lot of ourselves to our professions. The markets demand almost constant attention, and we are driven to invest time trying to stay ahead of things. The reward for that investment is measured in recognition and financial returns.

Yet also important, especially at this time of the year, is investing in things with more intrinsic rewards. Investing time with family and friends who we sometimes don’t see as much as we would like. Investing time and resources with causes that improve our communities. And investing time with ourselves, regaining the centering that will allow us to return after the first refreshed and ready.

So we hope that you will have the opportunity to rebalance your personal portfolio over the next couple of weeks to address your broader objectives. Happy holidays!

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Northern Trust Company. The Northern Trust Company does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of information contained herein, such information is subject to change and is not intended to influence your investment decisions.