HYBRID VIGOR: VOL 3 ISSUE 36 "Give and Take"

Last week we lost one of the great young stars of baseball, a man whose pitching talent was surpassed, everyone agreed, by his positive energy and generosity.  The next day we saw a man who wants to be our President boast that not paying any taxes makes him smart.

I guess there are different kinds of smart. In the most selfish sense, maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s even true that finding ways to avoid supporting a government that provides roads to get people to his properties and armies to keep those people safe is smart in some very limited sense.  

I’m reminded of the “fallacy of composition,” a term J.M. Keynes coined. It’s fine if one person saves money—good for them. But if everyone does it, our economy collapses.  A candidate for President needs to ask, “what if everyone did what I’m doing? What kind of example am I setting?”

There’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money. There’s nothing wrong with public service. And there’s nothing wrong with having a career involving some of both, as long as the boundaries are properly drawn.  A mix of giving and taking is fine—especially when a person shows evidence that she or he actually appears to get by giving.

One of my favorite things about convertibles is the way they address the conundrum of giving and taking. They have something for everyone. For issuers, a way to monetize volatility, turning something often viewed as negative into a positive. For investors, a way to make an often impossible decision a lot easier. A way to stay in the game for the long term without having to worry every second about the short term. Win-win. 

We all learn, often the hard way, that people we thought were looking out for us actually couldn’t care less. They just take and take and take. And we find, to our happy surprise, givers where we didn’t expect to find them.  

To be President, you have to be tough, and you have to know how to look out for yourself. You have to know how to take. But you can’t be all about taking—if you are, you should look for a different job.

My friend Adam Grant, a brilliant young professor at Wharton, has made his name by illuminating how we get by giving. Maybe a certain Wharton graduate should go back for a refresher.

(This is the cover letter for the subscription-based weekly Hillside's Hybrid Vigor newsletter. For a complete copy, please contact John Anderson at + 1 (646) 712-9289 x 107).