From all of us at Howard Bank we wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.
It’s that time of year once again—the time when we offer our thanks for our blessings. In preparation for doing so, it’s important to remember that some have more thanks to offer than others, and to remember those when celebrating our own good fortune.
The subject of economic inequality is one frequently mentioned these days by government leaders and social scientists, not to mention Federal Reserve chairmen and countless economists. Despite the bank bashing that still occurs, eight years after the crisis, those of us who are community bankers spend much of our time, professionally and personally, trying to correct some of those inequalities through our age-old role as facilitators and intermediaries. We provide funding to those who are not liquid but are seeking advantage, by responsibly investing the proceeds from those who are more liquid, if not more advantaged, into our own community. However, we also spend a great deal of time trying to understand the larger picture—the reality of, the magnitude of, and the root causes of inequality.
From time immemorial, or at least since the Industrial Revolution, there have been “have” and “have not” countries, thus the nomenclature of the developed versus the undeveloped world. A book I recently read by Angus Deaton, “The Great Escape”, details the departure from destitution over time. Now, what many of us now find more disturbing, is the fact that there are great gaps within developed countries—including our own. Thomas Piketty’s tome, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” attempts to explain these gaps as an over-rewarding of capital versus labor. In a society that has benefitted greatly over the centuries from capitalism, some of his theories are challenging. Nonetheless, thoughtful questioning is positive. Only by acknowledging a problem can we begin to solve it.
A takeaway from both of these books, numerous articles, podcasts, and debates is that perhaps the gap of most importance is the gap of choice. The only choice can offset the chance. Those of us who live in the Greater Baltimore area see this particular gap as one root cause of all the other drivers of advantaged versus disadvantaged in our region. From one of the wealthiest counties in the country to a city with some of the most troubled and non-upwardly mobile neighborhoods in the country, is a drive of fewer than 20 miles.
It’s true that the residents of even the most troubled neighborhoods have better medical care and access to utilities than someone in a developing nation, but do they have a choice? Which of us has the ability to choose our home, our occupation, and our leisure activities? Only those of us who have been exposed to something beyond where we started, who have been granted both a view of the path to something better and a road map to navigate the path. All of those aspirations first involve an awareness of, and access to, alternatives—and then a willingness to change and a need to believe that our own hard work will move us forward. What’s so often missing is the awareness and access, not the willingness and belief.
So my thanks this season is that Howard Bank has had a choice to both grow, and to give back, and, in the process of seizing both choices, has made a difference in the lives of more colleagues, more customers, more communities, and more shareholders than we did last year. We have a clear vision of the path and a roadmap to navigate it to something better. We acknowledge that it’s not always easy to make choices; sometimes it feels easier to let others make the choices. It’s certainly easier to blame others when our choices are bad than to blame ourselves—but I thank God every day for the ability to choose.
My challenge this season is to acknowledge that not everyone in our communities has these choices and to recommit ourselves to opening up the world to those less advantaged by creating awareness through education at all ages and access to opportunities.