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Now that I am well and truly back in the office, a belated happy New Year to you and best wishes for 2024!

Whenever I am on holidays, as I was in January in Canada, I invariably slip into my alter ego role of philosopher. That said you might be expecting me to write something deep and meaningful this month. After all, philosophers (descendants of Plato) are meant to tackle the big issues of life!

My first thought was to turn my attention to the philosophy of economics and moral questions concerning welfare, justice and freedom. It then struck me that contemporary economic theory is about rational choice, so I decided that should be my focus for this month.

(Note to reader: What constitutes a rational choice for one individual might be irrational for another. When making a decision, each individual, according to rational choice theory, will weigh the likely positive benefits against likely negative consequences and then base their choice on what they think will ultimately benefit them the most.)

My next dilemma was to work out how to best explain rational choice and to provide an example which overlaid socio-economic factors such as lifestyle and the influence of others on the decisions we make. After some pondering – which is what philosophers do – I recalled the classic story of The Businessman and the Fisherman. I have reproduced the story below.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the identity of the author. For me, the moral of the story is about understanding what you truly want out of life and what matters most to you. Often what we want is right under our noses, we just don’t know it! I hope you enjoy the story as part of your own pursuit of happiness and wisdom as we launch into 2024.

Once upon a time … an American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American inquired. “Only a little while,” the Mexican replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked. “I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs,” the Mexican explained. “But,” the American persisted, “what do you do with the rest of your time?’’
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor”.
The American scoffed, “I hold a Harvard MBA and can help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats”.

The Harvard hotshot continued. “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to consumers, eventually opening your own canning factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and exclaimed, “That’s the best part! When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?’’

The American said slowly, “then you would retire, move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, Maria, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”.

John (JT)Thomas

This opinion piece is provided by John (JT) Thomas, a 48- year veteran of the financial services industry and since 1987 a specialist in commercial mortgage funds. Considered by many to be the father of the modern commercial mortgage fund sector, JT helped establish and then managed – for 17 years – what became the largest and most successful commercial mortgage fund in Australia – The Howard Mortgage Trust – with assets exceeding $3 billion. Under JT’s stewardship, investors never lost one cent of their investments and indeed, investors always received competitive monthly returns. JT was also Chair of the $40 billion mortgage trust industry sector working group.

JT has been proudly involved with Princeton for eight years and sits on both the Princeton Credit Committee and the Princeton Compliance Committee as well as being an advisor to the Princeton Board.

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