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America: Warts & All

Recently, our team attended an investment conference in which a Russian-born investor spoke.

Vitaliy was born in Murmansk, Russia right above the Arctic Circle—the home of Russia’s Northern Navy Fleet. For perspective, the Sean Connery movie The Hunt For The Red October was based upon the fleet in Murmansk. As a child of the Cold War, his choices were rather limited. He could go to a semi-military school…. or join the military outright. His options were further limited by the fact that he was Jewish.

It certainly wasn’t the childhood I had in the U.S.

Fortunately, as communism fell, Vitaliy immigrated to New York in 1991.

Today, he is not only a successful investment manager, but an author too. As he spoke, he discussed an article he was drafting, but did not because of an impending trip to Russia. His article was critical of current Russian political leaders. Even though the Cold War was long over, Vitaliy knew such criticism would still be held against him. As he thought about his family, the investor recognized it was simply a risk he wasn’t willing to take.

Over dinner that night, our investment team recounted the day. Jon commented on how fortunate we are to have freedom of speech…even if our news media and endless social media posts take it to an extreme.

Warren and Jacob both offered interesting perspectives. Jacob lived in Argentina twice and has family living there now. Warren grew up in Zimbabwe, but has not returned since 1994.

As dinner was served we asked Jacob and Warren about the biggest differences they enjoyed in the US.

Jacob said the bureaucratic structure in Argentina makes starting a business nearly impossible. In comparison, if someone has an idea in the U.S. they can have a lemonade stand up and running virtually overnight. This offers individuals financial freedom and the opportunity to pursue their dreams.

Jacob also appreciated the infrastructure.

Warren smiled and chimed in. Until you experience other nations, you have no idea how good things are in the U.S. In Texas, my electricity may go out a few minutes a year. In Zimbabwe, the electricity was out as much as it was on. There was no consistency which made every other endeavor much more difficult. Simple tasks like keeping milk or medicines properly cooled became a huge problem.

However, the power was not nearly as bad as things like food shortages, limited water supply and rancid water. Of course, there was no efficient method to pick up trash which created a variety of health hazards.

Then he added that the phone system frequently went out and if you were lucky enough to have access to a car, refined gasoline was in limited supply.

As I listened, I sunk in my chair. My daily hardships consisted of which smart phone to buy and which restaurant to go to for dinner.

Warren’s family still owns a house in Zimbabwe, however, no one lives in it. Unfortunately, when they voiced their opinions opposing corrupt dictators it became obvious they should shut up or they would forcibly be shut up. Common sense dictated the family find a safer place to call home.

As our nation celebrates its birth, do so recognizing it is not perfect. We have politicians that frequently lack basic social graces not to mention their severe financial ineptitude. Our elected leaders are amazingly skilled at spending other people’s money on questionable endeavors.

We have media intent upon selling advertising as opposed to reporting news.

There is a long list of things we like to complain about and, certainly, loads of room for improvement. And that is what makes America head and shoulders above the rest. We can voice our opinions and complain on every form of media. We can vote. We can change jobs and create jobs. We own property without fear of having it taken by corrupt politicians. We have the rule of law and freedom of religion.

It is definitely not perfect, but nothing is. However, there is no other place I’d rather call home.

Happy birthday America.

Dave Sather is a Certified Financial Plannerand owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other week.