Although one US dollar today won’t buy as much as $1 from 50 years ago, it is the same dollar.

It is what people think of the dollar that gives it a certain value.  It is how many paper bills the government prints that changes the way we believe in it.  It is how much national product, reduced by how much national debt, that modifies it further.  At best, it is a wonderful game about values which seems to work. 

In a former life, I was a hotel manager.  From 1984-1986, I worked for Murdock Hotels, a small chain of five properties unrelated in both standards and amenities.  “My” property was an under-construction luxury, boutique hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, called Harbor Court.  We had a corporate meeting in Washington DC in our sister property the Hay Adams Hotel.  Arriving early one morning, I headed to the dining room for breakfast.  Only one man was there, HR Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s former Chief of Staff.  He was now the head of our little chain of properties.  He waived me over to join him.

I found it fascinating to be sitting three feet from Bob and occasionally looking out the window across the ellipse to the White House.  My curious mind asked him a question.  “Bob, why do people own these hotels when they have to write a check for $20,000 to $30,000 a month just to keep the doors open?”  His answer captivated me and taught me how little I knew about the bigger picture of the financial world.

He said, “You see Bob, these people are not like you and I.  The world can be a cruel place.  The United States has the most stable government in the world, though sometimes we don’t think so.  It has the most stable economy in the world despite our opinion to the contrary.  Wealthy people want to park their money here on our shores.  The goal is to come back in ten, twenty or thirty years and most of their money will still be here.  There will not have been a military coup.  The government will not have seized the property by nationalizing it.  Their investment will be largely intact.  It is worth $30,000 per month for them to have a restful night’s sleep and one less thing to worry over.”

We have a tendency to compare who we are with others.   I’m not as good a person as X, therefore, I am not a good person.  I’m not as bad a person as Y, therefore, I am a good person.  The same way that investments in the US are compared to investments in other countries, we compare ourselves to other people.  Some comparisons are ridiculous to the point of humor.  My role in the grade school Thanksgiving play as a corn stalk compared to Katherine Hepburn in The Lion In Winter for one.  Was I a better actor than her or worse?  At the least, it is an unfair comparison.  At best, it is just crazy.

The big picture is one predicated on small details which are often unknown to us.  It is what God thinks of us that makes us a value to Him.  He absolutely knows what we do, but more than that, He definitely knows why we do it.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”  It was the widow’s reason for giving which made God smile.

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