Let Your Grand Strategy Guide: Planning for Changing Times

Let Your Grand Strategy Guide: Planning for Changing Times

So the Democrats have triumphed, winning White House and Congress, and no, I don’t know what will now happen.

I do have some pretty fair advice.

I hope you won’t read any partisanship here, and I ask for your trust upfront. These are contentious time, yet I’m an openminded fellow who hopes for the best, expects moderation, sees good on both isles. Our problem is this: we’ve been running in a track for four years and have jumped onto new rails. The seers are confused: it’s the details that worry us. My concern is uncertainty, nothing more.

Big changes are coming, so we’ll need steady hands to the tiller, guiding us toward our charted destination. Now is the time for a good plan: tested, built on fundamentals, persisting despite localized events, tracking true against buffeting winds, responsive to opportunity. A grand strategy, they call it.

Our insight starts with a little-known principle, vital to American life. It isn’t taught in school, and internet searching hardly turns up a page. It isn’t top-secret, so I can’t tell you why. But once you learn it, US foreign policy may suddenly make sense, whether you’re ready for that clarity or not.

It’s called the Nimitz Doctrine, named for Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Him, you can locate: the great architect of naval victory in WW2. A crucial figure in 20th century America, ignored in school today in favor of – I don’t know – Colonial cornbread recipes or great figures in Depression-era quilting. I have little faith in the latest public wisdom, alas.

Here it is, terse as all wisdom, paraphrased: The role of the US Navy is to assure the United States fights its wars as far from our national territory as possible.

When you see our ships plying the South China Sea, telling China to stop getting pushy, you’ll know why. It’s 2500 miles from Los Angeles to Hawaii, 5000 more to Shanghai. I don’t favor our China policy – too aggressive, it’ll mean trouble. Yet Great Chester’s Ghost might tell me ‘pray, silence’. There’s no life insurance for national security – for maritime nations, that requires big warships.

And so it has been from our start. The US wasn’t a great power, apart from interludes – the Civil War, when the Navy expanded from lobster-pot-protection force to 1,000 ships, and reverted overnight; and WWI, same drill – until the Second World War to end war, as I tirelessly, tediously call it. Yet from Declaration day, the colonies turned states enjoyed what was arguably the world’s highest living standard. Not the slaves, mind you, but don’t get me started.

Amazing but true, with that glaring omission: we’ve always been rich. Wealth doesn’t bring power – that’s a matter of choosing. Riches do attract attention: some admire and emulate, others get wary and envious. The first crowd wants aid and alliance; the second, to suborn or destroy you. It can be hard to tell friends from foes, though, because often they haven’t made up their minds.

The new team in Washington is unfathomable just now. Can we expect sensible change, modest adjustment – even things we don’t like, but can manage? Or do they mean to bring some of us down? It’s wait-and-see days, tough nights for gentle sleep. Darn these unknowns, known and otherwise.

Yet brave Nimitz, in spirit, may come in our nights, imploring ‘Hope for the best, plan for mortal combat’. I don’t care how you voted, it’s all hands on deck.

Here’s what I think. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts is a goner. We don’t know what will replace it; Joe Biden is famous for talking tough, then cutting deals, yet he’s hard to predict in these wild times. The top tax rate is headed northerly by a couple of points – manageable; don’t run for the life rafts. I’m sanguine, yet concede it’s not my money to worry about.

I had a talk – you’ll have it soon, perhaps with yourself – with a dear friend who voted for Biden. Full disclosure: I didn’t vote for anyone; my overseas ballot got lost in the storms. In any case, writing in ‘Sun Ra’ for president would hardly have tilted matters.

And so my friend’s chosen team, Biden and Harris, have tasted victory. Yet my friend is feeling anxiety. The top tax rate may rise to 39.6% (it’s 37% now), she laments. So sell a polo pony to cover the bill, I offered. Horse people, I’ll have you know, hate this kind of talk.

What is your true goal, I asked? Her answer: retire to Argentina, polo Valhalla. I offered a looky-here analysis: in the worst high-tax case, your kids will inherit a bit less. Why, you’ll be giving them the gift of self-reliance, those good-for-nadas. You’ll still make it to port, in time for asado and maté. Power politics may blow you near shoals, but firm hand on that wheel, recall: keep your estate-planning chart right-side up and you’ll get there, despite sea dragons and swells.

We tell clients all the time: this one’s in office, that one’s thrown out – it’s eternal – let it go on, stick to your plan. Allow experts to sweat surprise headwinds and plot course corrections. They’re equipped to oblige.

I had a dream. By now, I should be living on the Carolina coast in a trellised house, just big enough for me, a hairy hound and an occasional guest named, oh, Sophia. We need dreams to drive our grand strategy.

I had to settle for Plan B. A teak-lined apartment on a red dirt road; a scraggly dog sleeping in a pothole by the gate. A pool and free internet – A-OK. An international airport ten minutes away – well, it flies to a real one. My life got real wild all ‘round the globe, but now I live peacefully, get to scribble away, travel when lonesome or hungry. I got blown from the water and landed on calm shores. Plan B: nothing like I imagined; just what I wanted.

So our lesson from Nimitz: establish your destination, set out with resolve. Heart-of-oak advisors in finance and insurance are ready to help with the potential problems of our day: swollen carried interest; tax mitigation, both statewide and national; appreciated assets; suddenly volatile portfolios (who told you to buy all that Big Tech stuff?). For the professionals, there’s nothing new under the sun. You wake up with worry, they alleviate concerns.

So step to the wheel, ye hardies, and hold course.

Show Me Your Budget: Upcoming Tax Changes Under President Biden Joe, We Hardly Know You: Planning When the Future’s Opaque