2017 has been a year of significant financial, political, social, and natural events too numerous to recount. These events caused us to witness both the best and the worst of humanity in how predicaments get created, recognized, and (hopefully) resolved. All of the situations are intertwined in a way that, while not visible to the eye, should be readily apparent to anyone who follows world events. It is about trust (or the lack thereof). Trust that my neighbor has the same basic interests at heart that I do. Interests like being safe, having basic needs met, access to education to provide opportunity, and having a fair system to allow fairreward. In today’s global world, we are all neighbors. Unfortunately, whether due to the experience of history or our own nature, trust is lacking these days. The division between people based on economics, race, religion, citizenship, gender and so on seems to be getting bigger not smaller. Evidence is not likely needed to make this point; we must only flick through the news feeds on our phones to see a list of exhibits. If not addressed, a lack of trust will break the system.
Trust is earned and it does not come quick. Being financially minded, we cannot help ourselves but think about economic history to illustrate the point. Let’s consider currency. Based upon trust, the US dollar has been the dominant global reserve currency for a long time and the US economy has benefited from it. Its trusted status was not always the case. The first national currency from the country which would become the United States was issued during the Revolutionary War in 1775 by the Continental Congress. It was aptly named a Continental dollar (the use of the term dollar speaks to the prevalence of Spanish dollars as a medium of exchange in the colonial period). The fact that we do not use Continental dollars today probably gives away the ending. The States had the power to issue the currency which they did. The British also engaged in economic warfare and flooded the country with counterfeit Continentals. Poor management led to poor results. Trust in the currency’s value failed. Within three years, the currency had lost more than 80% of its exchange value and it would eventually fall to worthless. The experience led to a common phrase at the times of saying that something is “not worth a Continental.” Fast forward many years and economic cycles. It would not be until the Bretton Woods agreement near the end of World War II in 1944 which established the US dollar (and gold) as the universal standard. There was almost 170 years between the first issuance of a currency by the forming US government and its successor’s global acceptance as the central bank reserve standard.
So at this time of year when it is traditional to set resolutions for how we will do better in the New Year, we offer this suggestion. We should all work to rebuild the trust between people. To show our better sides. To recognize that we are all neighbors on this world and that we all share the same aspirations for ourselves and our families. With time, we can close the divides which separate us. If we do not, the future may not be worth a Continental.