“You cannot protect wealth from succeeding generations” --- from The Quotations of Chairman Joe
As the miserable record of ‘ol Two-Cows’ suggests, succeeding generations wither in the shadows of greatness. In biology it is a general rule of thumb that succeeding generations revert to the mean. It is not logical to expect then that the sons of accomplishment will ever rise to the level of their fathers, a principle revealed with terrifying clarity as the Boomers took the seats of their forebears. There are exceptions to every rule, of course, the Bach family leaps immediately to mind but, alas, the exceptions prove the rule. When I first proposed this maxim on the internet in 2000 arguing that the snot-nosed son of wealth and power would, in the end, make his father look like Marcus Aurelius, I was immediately ridiculed by one wag who raised the example of Barry Bonds. Alas, steroids have demonstrated my point for old W was all hat an no cows. The point still stands.
What is true in politics is also true in other facets of life. Ted Turner is a notable exception but I think we can rest secure knowing that he represents, in that family, the pinnacle of achievement. Like the Rockefellers, Fords, and others, the offspring of Bill Gates and Ted Turner will in all likelihood not be the captains of capitalist achievement that was their father.
And so it is on a much smaller scale. I spent over a decade in Athens, Georgia working with several property management companies. Two such companies were the results of inherited wealth, and both very dysfunctional. In a college town, a town in which the demand for rental housing is exceedingly high and every opportunity for success presents itself, both of these operations were working their dead level best to parrot William Clay Ford and become the Detroit Lions of the rental industry.
Both companies were characterized by bed-rock conservatism. One of the proprietors of the first obtained the company through inherited wealth, following a business model in which maintenance was shoddy and infrequent, and the work of contractors substandard. The other Company was directly inherited. While the maintenance standards were much higher, the ethic was nonetheless as basely conservative.
Both companies were, in spite of the prevailing contempt for the ‘welfare state’ sucking off the public teat. In the first, the most significant single client was the University of Georgia which leased a huge office space for its testing center. In both cases the companies were hugely dependent on student subsidies, federal grants and loans in which students, unless they are at school on daddy’s credit card, pay their rents.
In the second example, however, conservatism took a more familiar form. Drew would say to me that his goal was to be ‘debt free’. Inheriting a sizeable debt as well as the operations from his father, he vowed to rid both himself and the company of debt. Reading the ‘Drudge Report’ and other ranting’s of the paranoid, psychotic conspiracy freaks; Drew was convinced that the sword of Damocles hung directly overhead. It was sort of an economic survivalist mentality, bordering on an a personal form of the ideological imperative. He would soon be debt-free, he would say, ensuring that the company would become rock-solid, impervious to change. I had heard tale before, visions of the Good Ship Butterfield slowly sliding into Davey Jones’ locker danced before my eyes.
Drew inherited several properties, including an apartment complex and a large office building. When I first began my work, the apartment complex was full. But time waits for no man, as the old adage goes, and time certainly does not wait for routine maintenance. Over the years, the buildings had begun to deteriorate, especially the office building. One of my first recollections was a few vacancies on the upper floor of the two floor structure. It had been vacant for nearly a year when I arrived and, in time, I began to understand why. The roof leaked. The structure had a flat roof which was easily over half a century old. It had been patched many times. When it rained hard, and it rains hard often in subtropical Georgia, the downspouts, located on only one side of the building, are quickly overwhelmed resulting in the pooling of several inches of water. Water, as you know, finds its own level, and will soon seek a path downward and any weaknesses in the structure will soon be discovered. Accordingly, with every significant rainfall, we would be spending our day cleaning up the mess. Sometimes these were considerable with desks and records destroyed. The inexorable effect of all this was soon apparent.
Moreover the structure suffered from lack of routing replacement of old and rusting air conditioning equipment. Rust from the “A” coils in the air conditioning would soon fill up the pans and drains where the condensate, in the form of water dripping off these coils, would collect resulting in leaks in the office ceilings. Repeated efforts to clear the drains were always the response, but no monies were to be borrowed to repair either the cooling systems or the roof. The result was predictable. When I left, some two years later, the building was nearly 50 per cent vacant.
“I can’t give it away on 7th avenue….” --- The Rolling Stones “Shattered”
Recognizing the stench of death, I moved on. I had been here before, de ja vu all over again.