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Jewish World Review May 10, 2002 / 28 Iyar 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Business savvy for graduates | (Fake editor's note: Each year since well back in the late 20th century, Bill Tammeus - with no urging from anyone in authority - has created an annual graduation speech that may be cribbed by folks who have been asked to give one. Here's this year's.)

Graduates and friends, if that's who you are, I have a quote for you that, like some of your teachers, is about 2,000 years old. Seneca, the Spanish-born Roman statesman, philosopher and dramatist who served as Nero's tutor, called economics "the science of managing one's own household."

That definition may have been good enough for folks back then, but it's woefully inadequate for the strange times into which your school is about to launch you. So if this institution, to which you and your family have paid so much money, has not prepared you to understand economics, I will help you now. I ask you, thus, to put down your Palm Pilots and cell phones and listen up.

About six centuries before Seneca was pontificating about economics, Aesop, the fabulist (What a fabulous word, eh?), declared that "against danger it pays to be prepared."

Folks, the world is simply chockablock with danger. You may not even get out of this speech alive. So Aesop was right, even if he soaked up three of the five major vowels in his short name: Preparation is essential.

Let us, then, think about - and prepare ourselves to deal with - financial matters. Alan Greenspan, the most powerful man in America after Dick Cheney and Barry Bonds, bemoans the fact that young people are financially illiterate. If that description fits you, here are some terms you simply must know:

Money. You may think you know what this means, but I'm betting your understanding is inadequate. Money comes in various sizes, shapes, colors and approaches. It can be the currency in your purse or wallet or the coins in your pocket. But it also can be plastic cards, stamps or frozen squirrel belly futures.

If you don't yet know how to turn sinking frozen squirrel belly futures into syndicated equity underwritten by the Food and Drug Administration's Office of Untested Common Cold Solutions, the chances of you making it in the world are slim.

Here's a money trick: Get someone to pay you to do a Google search on money and to follow all the leads you find until you are done. You won't be done until you retire. If someone is paying you well, you'll then have plenty of money. Selah.

Economists. Nothing anyone can say - no matter how many times the information is repeated - can explain economists. In this way, they resemble gravity, which only one man in history ever thought he understood - a man now dead.

Bonds. He's a wonderful home-run hitter. If you can hit homers the way Bonds can hit homers, your money worries are over. You can become an economy unto yourself.

Stocks. If you own stocks, be sure they're livestocks. You know, like beef cattle,buffalo and ostriches. I'm thinking that at least one of you will end up running an ostrich ranch. This can be a win-win deal, for even if you don't end up rich, at least your ost will.

Commodities. These are the things the service sector services. For instance, you can own copy machine commodities. Or car commodities. Or roof commodities. Commodities rarely work right. At least they don't work right for long. Which means commodities require service calls. And service calls mean a service sector, without which we'd have no economy. It's like the great Roman poet Horace said a few years before Seneca lived: "I do service that I may have a horse to ride and be fed by a prince."

Credit. Give me a little, will you? Hey, I'm up here trying. No, really. I am. But now I'm done.

So go get a job.

JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved