Presidential politics: It's still the economy, stupid

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For more than a quarter of a century, I’ve made a living offering people financial advice and helping them manage their money. It’s a great and rewarding job … or at least it used to be.

Recently, something has changed. My clients are wealthy people – the one-percenters who’ve been raked over the coals for the last seven years – and for the first time I can remember, they’re feeling very pessimistic about the future. On a business level, they feel beaten down by onerous and overbearing rules and regulations. And on a personal level, they feel demonized for the “crime” of being successful.

Somebody, please tell me … When did getting rich become a bad thing? Our nation was built on a “can-do” attitude, and the people who “could do and did” – people named Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg – got rich doing it. In America, you could always do more than just dream of being rich. If you had a great idea and worked hard to make it a reality, the sky was the limit.

But I’m not seeing much of that these days. Many of my clients, people who used to make bold investments, are running scared. They’ve turned skittish, and it’s not because they’ve grown old. It’s because entrepreneurs have to be eternally and sometimes irrationally optimistic, and now they’re looking out at the horizon and seeing nothing but danger of every conceivable kind: financial, legal, physical, etc. They used to come to me and say, “Let’s make some money.” Now they say, “Let’s not lose any.”

Prosperity has left the building. Survivability has taken the stage.

We’ve entered a period of trickle-down negativity, and it’s trickling down from the very top. The one-percenters used to be immune to bad times, as if they were surrounded by a force field. But now that has changed. Now my clients come to me and say they don’t like how things are going in the world, and all they want to do is set up a portfolio for survival. And this is frightening, because I used to think pessimism wasn’t in their DNA.

Now, maybe you feel this doesn’t concern you. Or maybe you’re even enjoying a prolonged moment of schadenfreude because, after all, we’re talking about rich people. But if that’s what you’re feeling, consider this: These are the people who create jobs. These could well be the people who pay your salary, or who will hire your sons and daughters. If the reward for getting rich through invention and hard work is that you’ll become a pariah, then what’s the point of even trying?

To my mind, there’s still hope. This is an election year, and one thing we know for certain is that someone new – maybe a Democrat, maybe a Republican, maybe even an Independent – will be living in the White House a year from now.

Whomever that person is, he or she had better have a handle on our economy, as well as a plan to get it back on track.

This will require more than lip service, more than boasting that the first order of business will be to repeal ObamaCare or provide Medicare for everyone. The next president will have to have a comprehensive plan to turn things around, to carry out Donald Trump’s slogan and make America great again.

But that means we have to stop all this yammering about building walls, fighting terrorists and unveiling emails. Here’s a slogan worth remembering: It’s the economy, stupid!

I have a front-row view of what is happening to the one-percenters, and what I see is a group that has been the country’s punching bag for seven years. Now they’ve lost their long-distance vision. They’re not looking five years out … or three or two or even six months.

They’re not looking to grow; they’re looking to survive. And that’s bad not only for them, but for all of us – because that negativity trickles down into their businesses and their investments.

What they want and need is a candidate with a “can-do” attitude, someone who seeks to effect sweeping change, someone who knows that when you’re riding a dead horse, it’s time to dismount. They want a candidate who understands the problem and has very specific plans to remedy it. Someone who will reduce the burden on business, which includes taxes and unnecessary regulations. Someone who understands that it’s OK to be wealthy and that it’s OK to compete and win, because nothing in this world ever got better without competition. Someone who knows that fertile soil allows everything to grow and that if you have a positive attitude and a positive business climate, everyone will grow together.

This is a country where any lump of coal can become a diamond, where if you can conceive it, you can achieve it. What the one-percenters – and the other 99 percent, as well – need is a president who believes it, and a government that will get out of the way so it can happen.