Why America’s future still remains bright

I am sitting in the shade on my patio this Fourth of July weekend. Saturday and Sunday had magnificent weather. That moves 2005 from a 2.0 to a 3.0 on a scale of 1 to 10! But I get frequent

e-mails from my brother Tom who is serving in Iraq. It was 113 degrees Fahrenheit there the other day and although it is dry heat (very, very dry) it comes with an infinite supply of fine, fine dust. The Navy thinks they may need him in California this fall. (We have our fingers crossed).

Many, many people have been asking me about the “housing bubble.” Others have been asking my opinion on the proposed closing of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Some tell me to write abut the education funding mess here in New Hampshire. Well, it’s too nice a day to tackle those thorny issues.

I spend much of my time attempting to coach my 19-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son on opportunities they need to prepare themselves for in the first quarter of the 21st century.

Top on my list are:

• Be global citizens; read, read and travel; the U.S. will be much less of a dominant player on the global scene by the time your children come into this world.

• Be technologically curious and savvy. I am one who encourages computer games, music, graphics, etc. (to a point). If a young person today is not proficient with a computer, the Internet, e-mail and, yes, instant messaging, they will be left in the dust.

• Be multilingual. Here in America, learn Spanish at the very least. Learn to speak it and converse, not just the textbook stuff. (Forty years ago I was learning French. Alas, Parisian French didn’t do me much good on my first construction job surrounded by French-Canadian carpenters!) So learn to speak and understand the spoken language you will encounter every day.

• Make friends globally. We (the U.S.) need to rethink our immigration policies. We are post-9/11 and shutting out the world’s best and brightest. South Korea, India and China are racing by us in the computer sciences and engineering. The tip of the knowledge-based economy is our future. We should welcome students and workers from all over the globe who can help us focus in this arena.

Consider this: “Open the door. Give me your geeks, your nerds, your huddled boffins yearning to write code. The U.S. economy has benefited mightily from importing skilled foreigners into its education system and workforce. But a combination of ignorant protectionist nativism, the after-effects of the technology bubble and new fears about national security threaten this preeminence in the international market for genius.” — The Financial Times (as quoted in Forbes)

• Focus less on what you can achieve and more on what you can contribute. Contribution will trump achievement.

• You are bright. You will be well-educated. Go for it. Reach! Experience failure and disappointments. Those experiences will help you more than your easy successes.

• Lastly, despite all that is going on around you, the war in Iraq, terrorism, a less than stellar economy, your friends looking for meaningful work, lots of uncertainty about the future of Social Security and Medicare, you must be optimistic! Ours is a great country with a long history of doing (or trying to do) what is right, helping others and promoting freedom. Nine out of 10 of the world’s citizens would come to America if they were given the chance (well, maybe eight out of 10).

Our country is wrestling with its leadership role in a new bipartisan world. Some $80 billion a month pours into the U.S. because it is still the strongest, most stable (read: safe) economy in the world. All of this foreign investment brings challenges as well as benefits.

One of those is low interest rates … but that is for another column. Take time to enjoy these few wonderful summer days. Remember, we have nine months of winter and three months of crappy weather! With three nice days in a row, the summer is likely to be half over.

Bill Norton is president of Norton Asset Management. In addition to his active brokerage work, he is a Counselor of Real Estate. He can be reached at wbn@nortonnewengland.com.

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