thinking about a washing machine that can fly

During the recent Super Bowl, instead of watching the halftime show, I switched the channel to watch part of the movie Apollo 13. I really like that movie. I really dislike Super Bowl halftime shows. I know this makes me odd.

Far away, my favorite line from Apollo 13 was uttered by Astronaut Jim Lovell’s mom Blanche, at one of the most tense and frightening moments of the story. As the world worried about the fate of the astronauts during the dangerous re-entry, Blanche tried to calm the nerves of her frightened grandchildren. And then came the best line in the movie –

“If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it.”

It takes a special person to exude confidence when everyone else is fearful.

Who are those confident people today? What would give them the confidence to speak up in the face of pervasive doubt and insecurity?  And would we believe in them and follow them?  Perhaps that is the most important question.

Back to the Apollo 13 story… Blanche believed in her son. She also believed in his training and his fellow astronauts.  She had confidence in the scientists and engineers at Mission Control in Houston.  So, she believed when most others doubted. And therein lies the inspiration. Unwavering confidence in the face of widespread doubt.

You can’t fake this kind of confidence. You can’t manufacture it in a sound bite or social media tweet. It must come from deep inside and it is unshakable.  

Think Herb Brooks before the U.S. team played the Russians at Lake Placid in 1980.

Think General Patton as he led his troops toward Bastogne to liberate the surrounded 101st Airborne troops.

Think FDR as he spoke to the U.S. Senate on December 8th, 1941.

The United States is an amazing country. There are few limits as to what we can accomplish.  That has been our undeniable legacy. In our short history, we have produced our best when some noble cause is in our crosshairs. 

Think about the engineering and industrial accomplishments during WWII, from Higgins boats to atomic energy. 

Think about landing a man on the moon.

Think about how rapidly we discovered and produced a vaccine for Covid-19.

Every noble pursuit has a unifying impact on our country. If that is true, then perhaps it is also true that any pursuit that isn’t unifying isn’t noble. I suspect not everyone will agree with that statement (I’m not sure I do, actually). Nevertheless, I sense there is a lack of unshakable confidence in our country’s future, and I think it is because we lack a noble purpose. So, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Right-size government. Make it efficient, productive, fair, and incorruptible at all levels.
  2. Lead the world toward a cleaner environment AND faster and more sustainable economic growth.
  3. Rebuild a sense of community throughout our country and help the marginalized and disadvantaged accomplish goals and dreams conventional wisdom might consider impossible.

I am convinced that there are leaders out there today who can make these suggestions reality. We just have to motivate them to come forward (more on that in future editions).

In the meantime, it behooves one to keep modest expectations as we struggle with crony capitalism in the face of higher taxes and more government regulation, both of which seem likely. Low interest rates and low inflation (thus far) should support higher stock prices. Entrepreneurialism still produces amazing new companies, even as it disrupts the prospects for current leaders. Moreover, improving productivity through advanced technology continues to be a strength across much of the corporate sector.  The U.S. is still an economic superpower and likely will be for longer than many pundits predict.

Where there is fear and uncertainty, there is always hope and opportunity. There is no challenge that cannot be overcome with the right combination of boldness and unshakeable confidence toward noble pursuits. 

We have already proved that just about anything can fly, even washing machines, and we can land them, too. It is time to think much bigger, isn’t it?

Michael Kayes, CFA

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