Last month, we conducted our sixth annual Inside Alternatives conference in Denver and it featured many interesting speakers. From investing savants like Ben Hunt of Salient, Jack Rivkin of Altegris and Ali Motamed of Boston Partners to big-picture observers like John Mauldin to numerous other investment professionals and advisors, it turned out to be one of the best events I’ve ever attended.

But there is one speaker I’d like to single out. First, I’ll confess to being a CNBC watcher, though often the sound is very low or mute.

Throughout the years, however, there was one individual who I always tried to listen to, particularly when he had his own show. Simply put, if there was another show on economics and investments that was as compelling as Larry Kudlow’s, I never found it. Charlie Rose does some good interviews on Bloomberg, but many are extended, detailed one-on-one sessions without the same kind of debate.

Kudlow’s show was unique in that it gave voice to a wide range of subjects and opinions. Unlike so much of what is really opinion masquerading as news analysis, Kudlow went out of his way to seek divergent viewpoints and ask presenters outside-the-box questions.

The show had its critics on the right and the left who took issue with Kudlow’s relentless optimism. Many conservatives viewed every action by the Obama administration as an unmitigated disaster, while liberals saw a recovery that left at least 70% of the country no better off than before.

But during the Great Recession, Kudlow’s show was one place a confused observer could find a serious discussion about the various bailouts as they moved from one phase to the next. Through all the intense controversies, Kudlow was unfailingly polite and respectful to all parties.

Comparing now to where we were then, it’s hard to argue that his optimism wasn’t warranted. America, for all its problems, is better off than it was in 2008. In an age of ongoing business disruption and sweeping demographic changes, finding meaningful employment for 200 million Americans or more is likely to remain an ongoing challenge.

It may be a sign of the times that audiences are exhausted with serious discussions about economics and finance and want to go back to silly how-to-get-rich game shows. Memories are short. Someday soon, we’ll find out if the public’s short attention span is cause for concern.

Evan Simonoff
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