No Such Thing as a Safe Bet

Main Piece: There’s another big story in my family about my great-grandfather. Supposedly, my family has an old fortune going back to…that has been built up since the Middle Ages because they were all doctors. Then my great-grandfather comes along and he wants to preserve it. He wants to keep it safe. So, he does the sensible thing…he talks to the most respected financial advisors and they all tell him one thing “Invest in bonds of the oldest, longest-lasting empires.” So, he does. And this is before World War I. So, he buys the bonds of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire. And then World War I happens and those are the Empires that collapse. Just cease to exist. And so all those bonds are now utterly worthless. For years, they kept those bonds in their basement hoping against hope that Communist Russia would decide to honor its debts. No dice. Eventually, World War II rolled around and they were so desperate and so cold that they had to burn them for heat. Pretty funny. And just goes to show you that no matter how much you try and save your money that you just can’t predict the future. You can try and make the safest bet and it can all still get wiped out. Because everything is ultimately a bet. You bet when you pick a major. You bet when you assume a country will remain stable. You bet when you pick a city to live in. You are constantly betting and this story helps remind me of that. You can’t live your life without making assumptions but it’s important to, you know, remember those assumptions.

Background Information: This piece was performed by Hunter Maats who learned it from his father. He likes it because it is a reminder that you can never be complacent.

Context of the Performance: The story was performed in person in the kitchen of my dad’s house.

My Thoughts on the Piece: This piece is both funny and a little scary. To think that you can work hard and save up and all that hard work can be wiped out even when you try and make the safest bet possible is a shocking reminder of the impermanence of wealth.