One Year Later

After a long day at the office yesterday, I boarded a train headed home to New York City from Red Bank, N.J., and asked myself what I possibly could write in this space on a day like September 11. No ideas surfaced until the train stopped at the recently renamed Newark Liberty Airport.

Five burly, ruddy-faced men with huge, heavy bags entered the boxcar. Most were wearing shorts and T-shirts appropriate for the late summer day. But the biggest bruiser of all sat across the aisle dressed in a medal-festooned uniform that said Honor, Chicago Fire Dept. Even I could figure out what brought these people from the City of Broad Shoulders to New York.

Holding the door for him as he lugged his bags off the train, I thanked him for coming. "This is the only place I want to be tomorrow," he replied.

Of all the lessons of the last year, the most vexing is why it so often takes the vilest of human acts to bring out the best of humanity. That phenomenon didn‚t originate one year ago, but few instances have been as powerful.

September 11 prompted millions of Americans to reprioritize their lives in many ways, some for the better, some not. It‚s revealed in both national economic data and discussions in financial advisors‚ offices. Family and friend were always more important for most people, but the gap has widened dramatically as quality-of-life issues assume a role of paramount importance for Americans.

The rise in home values and decline in equity prices may reflect changes in the economics underlying those assets. However, lifestyle choices and changing social values also are driving factors. Elissa Buie of Falls Church, Va., finds that more than a few clients are willing to postpone retirement and purchase a second home to improve their quality of life today. Perhaps the biggest lesson of September 11 was that life is short.

Wealth accumulation isn‚t what it used to be, even though examples of good old greed and poor taste still surface frequently. We can still chuckle when Al Michaels boasts on Monday Night Football about his success short-selling stocks. It could be a signal that the longest bear market of the last 60 years is nearing an end, or simply that he has nothing to say about football. But these days most of us care a lot less about our portfolios than Al does.

The free-market model of American capitalism, once viewed as the answer to the rest of the world‚s problems, has displayed its shortcomings in painful detail. Some, such as Milton Friedman, arguably the greatest living economist, see the accounting scandal as an isolated problem, not a systemic one. That strikes me as wishful thinking, but he‚s right that market forces ultimately will expose and expunge much of the fraud.

Are we as a people better but poorer and less materialistic than we were 12 months ago? It‚s too early to tell. To a degree, the events of September 11 accelerated changes already underway with the popping of the bubble that affect the importance of money for many people. But for better or worse, the continuation of profound changes in our lives now seems inevitable in the near future.

Evan Simonoff, Editor-in-Chief
[email protected]

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