Apr 10, 2008

Charles Givens, Jesse Jackson Jr. and James

One of the more useful things I ever schwagged was a magnifying ruler from a mutual fund company. It has little labels above the magnifier. If you laid the ruler across the stock pages of the business section, you could easily read the data about a mutual fund or a stock without reaching for bifocals. I'm embarrassed to say I thought these things were so cool that I grabbed four of them from a display table at a shareholder relations meeting in Chicago around ten or fifteen years ago. Invesco Funds had taken over The Financial Funds Group operating out of Denver and one purpose of the the meeting was to familiarize Financial Funds shareholders with Invesco. I attended the meeting with my friend James. James has been I my mind recently because he's having some health problems. He is a very sweet man -- a strange thing to say about someone who served as an M.P when he was in the service. He's sweet and smart and conscientious. At the meeting, we walked and filled our paws with cheese, crackers, veggies, wine and schwag like the aforementioned rulers. After a couple of drinks, James remarked that "There's a lot of salt here, but no pepper!" I had been wondering how long it would take him to say something about the absence of blacks, Hispanics, women or just about anyone else except geezers who were far older than me and far whiter than James. Actually, neither of us was surprised at the lack of pepper even before he brought it up. He had told me many times that his friends and family were extremely suspicious about getting screwed if they put their money into anything that was harder to understand than a savings account. We laughed a bit about his joke, but I was secretly wondering whether the person at the display table had given me a cold eye because I grabbed four rulers or because our presence stirred Guess Who's Coming to Dinner memories. This stuff from the meeting came back to me when I was googling Charles Givens to prepare an earlier post and came across other people influenced by Givens. It turns out that Givens exerted a powerful impact on Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. at about the same time he influenced me. Interviewed in 2000 in connection with his new book, Jackson indicated he might have attended the same seminar that I did.
Representative Jackson's introduction to the world of investing came while he was in law school at the University of Illinois in 1991. He saw an infomercial for an investment seminar being led by Charles J. Givens, the author of ''Wealth Without Risk.'' He bought the book and attended one of Mr. Givens's seminars. ''I learned more about personal finance in an hour-and-a-half seminar than I had in three years in business school,'' he said.
Jackson's book came out shortly before the DJIA hit its high of 11723 on January 10, 2000. His theme of getting minorities to invest in Wall Street was picked up and sounded elsewhere. By 2001, blacks were being encouraged from the pulpit to practice frugality and invest in stocks. On September 17, 2001, the DJIA fell to 8848. Then the market rallied and again collapsed to a low of 7850 in 2003. If you were black, the market treated you just as if you were white. Someone who bought the market high and was forced to sell at the bottom would have lost 33% of the investment. Were the Congressman and the ministers on the cutting edge of social change, opening peoples' minds to the importance of investing and saving? Or were they simply victims of mob psychology themselves as they encouraged people to chase an unsustainable market bubble? Would they have served everyone better had they recommended bonds, not stocks? Were the Congressman and ministers too quick in dismissing the historical suspicion minorities have shown to the financial industry? Were James's family and friends correct to be suspicious about investing in stocks or mutual funds? Should I have been suspicious about a mutual fund manager who made me a lot of money before he was banned from the business? In regard to the rulers, the two I kept still sit on my workspace, even though the stock pages in the newspaper are gone forever. The magnifiers are still handy for keeping a place on a page, the odd 8-inch length is perfect for making lines across typing paper and, most importantly, the rulers daily remind me that investors best protect their families by thinking critically and giving constant attention to the big picture. More tomorrow.

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