Chris knows adversity. Raised by a single mother, he and his sister’s day started at four AM. They helped their mom with one of her three jobs: delivering papers. After their morning delivery, Chris and his little sister were off to school and mom off to her second job.
“I always figured that money would be the answer to all of the problems, because we never had it. Not that it doesn’t create its own problems.”
They bounced around from rental to rental, sometimes staying with grandparents.
Holding his cup of coffee, Chris makes sure to follow up every obstacle he faced with the sentiment that it could have been worse. “It’s not like we were living on the streets of Newark, but it wasn’t easy.” Their income was subsidized by free school lunches, and government assistance to keep a roof over their heads. She worked multiple jobs, and went to school at night to become a registered nurse.
That determination to overcome rubbed off on her children.
Chris now runs a conservative investment management firm with a vast span of different clients. Prior to launching his own firm, he managed to bring in 2.5 million, of that his final take home compensation would be roughly 10%.
Not too shabby for a guy that missed 94 days of his senior year of high school.
He wasn’t skipping school to go get into trouble though – quite the opposite. Chris spent a lot of time alone in nature. Finding solitude was an opportunity to learn and grow. He didn’t know where his future was headed, but he knew that he had some big dreams to chase.
After high school, he explored the country, spending some time in California, and then with his toes in the sand in South Carolina. And then he fell in love.
“When I was dating Amanda, I knew I had to figure something out. I always wanted to be in the military and have that experience – no one in my family ever did – so I did it. The Army Reserve kicked my ass professionally, and Amanda did on the more personal side. She taught me love – and what family could be. And that was it. I went to basic training, and I knew that when I came home I was going to marry Amanda.”
Chris learned a lot in Iraq.
“I met with a guy who had been a known insurgent, as well as informant. The 18-year-old, who perhaps ran an operation the night before targeting US Forces, recognized a new player freshly in from another part of the country. The kid looked through me, smiled, and proceeded to ask if I knew the worst thing that ever happened to Iraq. I shrugged waiting for his response. That response? “When you guys killed Saddam Hussein.”
I had to sleep on this. I understood on the surface what he was saying, but I had to get to the information before I could really let that statement make its revelations. By that evening, and subsequent evenings of constant shelling, and destruction; I came to the conclusion that he nailed it. Another moment that changed my world.”
He went on to tell me about the pros and cons of this great dictator. The Iraqis, he said, were mostly able to live somewhat of a normal life under Saddam’s dictatorship – they were able to go out to dinner, parties, and have a drink. They could rest at night knowing that Iran and Saudi Arabia weren’t going to invade.
“Don’t get me wrong, he was a true dictator– he was terrible to the Kurds especially — but he kept Iran and Saudi Arabia away. He was a power house. And when you remove that power house, in an area like the Middle East, Iran came over, Saudi came over. They wanted that territory. We weren’t fighting Iraq. We fought Iran and Saudi Arabia. Where I was it was called ‘The Triangle of Death.’ We wouldn’t have been fighting those two countries if we didn’t get rid of Saddam Hussein. He would never let that happen. And that’s why he was so powerful and strong, and very smart. A scum bag. But he did that.”
Hussein would not hesitate to send a bomb right into the heart of Iran or Saudi Arabia if they so much as blinked wrong, and they knew that. Removing that kind of power has both benefits and consequences. The US military not only removed Hussein, but it also replaced Hussein’s hand-picked Sunni government with a Shia government – who were thought to be more democratic. When everyone was replaced and the Sunnis weren’t given a seat at the table, Al Qaeda rose – and recruiting for it became much easier, because now there was someone to blame. However, the extremism even became too much for Al Qaeda to justify, so a section of it spun off and became ISIS. Of course, there was plenty of other areas of influence pushing ISIS to power, like the surrounding countries and Al-Assad, but this explanation is the meat and bones.
Chris came home from war armed with foreign affairs knowledge that few would consider challenging in a Facebook spar. Pair that with his economic know-how, and you’ve got a young man fit for a political future – though he says that isn’t going to happen. Chris intends on working to create change from the inside out, by changing the view of those in finance by setting an example – by managing money with the thought that the client is the only thing that matters. He can change the culture of the financial district by putting the interest of his clients ahead of his own. The reason he went out on his own, he says, is because he has complete autonomy to invest assets how he sees fit, without being persuaded with large bonuses offered by financial employers.
Chris makes calculated decisions, and the decision to be his own employer, he says, is so that he can change the world through the avenue that he knows: finance.
But he does have a thing or two to say about some of the politicians holding office today. Of all the politicians to be concerned with, he says, Ted Cruz worries him the most.
“Ted Cruz reminds me of an Iranian Imam. Someone using the Bible to instill fear in people. That’s what these guys did in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi. They use their book to instill fear, and then they take it to the next level. That’s what Ted Cruz does.”
Some might argue that making such a comparison of using the Bible versus the Quran is extreme – but it’s valid. Muslim extremists misread and misrepresent their holy book daily, and evangelicals that follow leaders like Cruz do as well. Furthermore, Cruz seems to forget that our country was founded on the separation of church and state – something that the founding fathers were ardent about, but Cruz, a man elected to represent and protect the Constitution, is not. He is quoted saying, “We can turn our country around, but only if the body of Christ rises up,” along with another equally unconstitutional comment that “our rights don’t come from man. They come from God Almighty.” Removing his name and replacing it with Khomeini would make most Americans cringe at these quotes – but since Cruz is a white American man, we won’t invade his house.
But don’t be so quick to think that Chris’ comments criticizing the religious right mean he’s “feeling the Bern” to the point of converting this country to complete socialism.
“The thing with capitalism is that it tends to give the ability for anyone to move forward. At least traditional capitalism. I am a product of capitalism. I am a product of a system that says, “If you have the ability, and the drive, you can do whatever the hell you want.”
Taking that quote out of context, the reader could think that Chris grew up to become a Republican; but he isn’t. Chris is a liberal – but he’s not your average thinker. He considers Regan’s tax on capital gains pragmatic – and blames Greenspan for effectively destroying the American middle class through his influence on Clinton to overturn Glass-Steagall, which allowed commercial banks to merge with investment brokers.
“[Ronald Reagan] changed the tax structure to what it is now, except he taxed capital gains at 28%. We now have capital gains taxed at only 15%. Reagan did that to offset some of the lower taxation that he did. What he did in that sense was a good thing to do, it was a pragmatic thing to do. He lowered the taxes on corporations, lowered on individuals, but he needed to raise taxes on the highest earners.”
But, Chris is among the highest earners.
“I do really well for my clients because of that capital gains tax, so it would hurt me, but I don’t care because at the end of the day it has to get done. We should have a structured tax system, like 7, 14, 21, or whatever it is, and that means our revenue is going to drop significantly, but if we close some of the loopholes that we use, it would work. We still need some loopholes, like the mortgage interest tax deduction, and some other key ones. Last year I made 250,000 and paid 20% in taxes. That’s a joke. Sure, I worked hard for it, but I made a lot, and I should have paid more. At the end of the day, I’d argue that the truck driver running trucks 18 hours a day worked far harder than I ever thought of working.”
However, just because Chris likes Reagan’s ideas on higher taxes for capital gains doesn’t mean he’s fully on board with Ronnie’s economics. According to Chris, Reagan’s Trickle Down economics stagnated wages for the last thirty years. Furthermore, the deregulating of corporations, the intricacies of his tax structure, and the birth of the libertarian economic policies brought us to Alan Greenspan (the chairman of the Federal Reserve that influenced Clinton to overturn Glass-Steagall), and all of that ultimately led to the collapse of 2008.
As for how he would redistribute taxes to help the American people, Chris thinks that the focus should be on creating a better safety net for the middle and lower class, as well as investing in healthcare. Healthcare, Chris says, is a right – not a privilege. According to him, there is probably 300 billion that the Department of Defense could cut from its budget and use to create a single payer system.
Hefty dreams that sound awfully aligned with those of our founding fathers, but difficult to achieve in the current political climate of extremism.
But what about the bail out? If we need to refocus on investing in the middle and lower classes, should we have bailed out Wall Street?
“Yes,” according to Chris. “Without the bail out, 1929 would have looked like a playground. What they should have done is regulate how the banks could spend it. Get rid of employees that made this happen. From 2002 to 2007, the executives, traders, and sales force probably made four million in bonuses because they did bad shit, they sold bad shit – and because they sold it and packaged it incorrectly, and most of them knew it, guess what? This year, or maybe for the next three years, you don’t get bonuses, not until you fix this shit. But they needed the capital injection, because we need Bank of America to stick around. They’re too big, and they should have been made to break up into smaller parts. If you put 100,000 into any bank, they can go and take 9x that from the Federal Reserve. Your cash is still there – but they can take 9x that and invest it in whatever the hell they want. They’re throwing it into the market, and that’s turning banking into a casino. [The overturning of Glass-Steagall] made that possible. We need to break that up, and make every day banking separate from investment banking, but mainly proprietary trading. Greed has been left unchecked – the greed of the banks, government, and consumers.”
As he talks about how the bail out should have been structured, I can’t help but hear in my mind a memory of the protests echoing from the Occupy Wall Street movement, as crowds yelled, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” As I walked through the financial district of New York with my sign in hand, we all planned on draining our money from ATMs – only to find that banks padlocked their doors.
The crash of 2008 could have been avoided, or the blow to the middle class wouldn’t have been as great, if Glass-Steagall was never overturned – and according to Chris, if Alan Greenspan had never been given as much power as he was. Now, he says, Greenspan should be serving time in prison – but instead sits in as an economist for reports on CNBC.
As for why Chris votes liberal instead of conservative, he says it comes down to one word.
“Empathy. That’s it. Without my sister and I getting free lunch at school, without the shelter put over our heads from government assistance, and without health insurance from government assistance, there’s just no way I could have gotten to this point. It’s empathy. It’s saying that ok, I’m doing really well this year. And if that means I have to give more to the government so that they could take care of people who are where I was at, I want them to. And also, the better the lower class does, the better the middle class does, the better I will do. And I always say this: does it make sense for one guy to go buy a Ferrari, or for twenty people to be able to go out and by a Honda Civic? What makes more sense? You don’t build the house with the roof first. It’s empathy.”
As for his future endeavors, the sky’s the limit. Maybe some day we’ll see Chris running America’s first socially and fiscally responsible investment firm, or maybe we’ll see him in the White House. Wherever we see him, though, one thing is for certain: empathy will follow.