I’ve had a hard time deciding which way the economic and investment winds are blowing, so I decided to make a list of the things I think have changed and those that haven’t.

In the “changed” category, I put financial institutions first. Between the “zombie banks” with their toxic—er, make that “legacy”—assets and the banks formerly known as investment banks, there’s been a clear shift in how capital gets raised and reallocated. Plus, the federal government looms large over the entire system.

Trust, with particular respect to financial institutions, has eroded. Attitudes toward compensation have changed. I think there will be more emphasis on aligning compensation (especially at senior management levels) with actual results to shareholders or investors. And I think the American appetite for consumption has changed in a way that feels different from other recent economic downturns. (How many big-box stores do we really need?)

Last, the concept of retirement may not have changed, but it’s certainly being scrutinized. Even people years away from retirement—including those with adequate financial resources—are wondering if a full-time retirement from the workforce is prudent.

I’m encouraged by what I think hasn’t changed. Although people are shaken, I believe they’re confident in the future of the country. While we appear to be at an economic crossroads, we’ve been here before, and recovered.

Finally, I don’t think the commitment to hard work and its potential rewards has changed. I attended a Vanguard client event in Florida last week and was struck by how the attendees had come into—and retained—their wealth. The overwhelming majority had started, run, and then sold (or were still involved with) successful businesses. In some cases, they were the second or third generation. A number were professionals and a few were corporate executives. While they may not have been happy with the current market and economic environment (the subject of gold came up quite a bit!), there was a quiet confidence in the group that I found reassuring.

What’s on your list? I’m interested in hearing your take on what has changed, and what hasn’t.


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