Tom Grady, a longtime resident of Naples, Florida has a wealth of government experience, having served as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, Interim President & CEO of Citizens Property Insurance, a member of the state Constitution Revision Commission, and an eight-year member of the Florida Board of Education, most recently as Chair. Along the way, the Duke University-educated lawyer has founded several firms and ventures.
“I think kids, crypto, banks, and excellence are tied together with one theme and it’s a very important theme for America in 2023 and 2024, and that is economic growth,” Grady said. “We must have economic growth in America in order to meet our obligations. And we haven’t had economic growth in America for a long time.”
Grady discussed the two types of capital in life – financial and intellectual – and the importance of skepticism in the pursuit of excellence in both. He blamed the four recent bank failures in the country, including Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, in part on interest rate risk on US Treasury bonds. “They had a boatload of these long dated treasuries that declined precipitously in value as interest rates increased from 1% to 5%,” due to inflation that the Federal Reserve did not project he said.
The banks also faced “enormous additional burdens” to comply with ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance criteria) requirements and increasing competition from online banks and non-banks. Grady said that three of the four banks that failed also had involvement in cryptocurrency, some significantly.
“What is cryptocurrency? It’s software, that’s all it is. It’s a spreadsheet, a distributed ledger on a Blockchain. Proponents tell us it’s a wonderful thing because it’s assured, unlike US dollars. You can never inflate it, you can never make more Bitcoin. Truth is you can make an endless amount and people have made an endless amount of cryptocurrencies, thousands of them, all of them worth pennies on the dollar from when they were first offered. But Bitcoin they say is different. There will never be more Bitcoins. Well, you can call me a skeptic, but it’s software…and software can be hacked,” Grady said, noting that the United Kingdom is now regulating crypto in the same way it does gambling.
Like financial capital, intellectual capital is also being disrupted, Grady told the Club. He pointed to the recent coronavirus pandemic, which forced states to close their schools and transition to online learning. Florida, he said, was a leader in returning to in-person schooling quickly, with better student testing performance results than any other large state. “If you look at the large states that shut down the schools in some cases as much as two years, those kids lost so much. Online learning did nothing for them. They will never recover, unless they happen to be wealthy…and got a tutor or went to a private school,” he said, calling the situation “tragic.”
Grady warned of efforts to “dumb down educational excellence” in closing certain schools for gifted children and the discontinuing use of SAT scores by some colleges for admission “because they want to discriminate on the basis of race…over the competency and capability of those kids,” he said.
Grady has been an investor in education for many decades preceding his service on the state Board of Education. Nearly 30 years ago, he helped start the Quest Educational Foundation in Collier County and continues to serve as its CEO and Chairman. The foundation obtains about $20 million a year in scholarship offers for college-bound high school students. His newest venture builds on that, as Co-Founder of The Freedom Institute of Collier County, opening this summer of 2023. Describing it as technically a “homeschool support system” for students, it is physical school building with teachers and administrators that students can choose to attend in-person. Grady told the Club that it’s geared toward students who are not necessarily college-bound, as he said that 15 out of the top 15 jobs in the US do not require traditional four year college degrees.
“We’re creating an environment that’s different than many other schools and that we’re focusing on five C’s: career, counseling, civics, core, and competency. We want kids to graduate from high school, knowing a lot about their country, knowing a lot about history, learning a lot about consumerism, personal finance, and home economics. We want kids to graduate fully capable of becoming employees and not having to go to college because they haven’t yet learned how to do anything else. (It’s) not anti-college, but opening up opportunities for kids that they may not have now, and having internships and apprenticeships and real jobs,” Grady told the Club.
One of the other differences in the curriculum he said, is aptitude testing. “We’re going to regularly test kids, a Myers-Briggs kind of test for aptitude and interest. We want to develop what they’re good at. We want to know what they enjoy. And we’d like to be able to merge the two.”
Grady stressed the importance of remembering that the US competes in a global economy. “If you look at learning and skills and the acquisition of skills at a macro level, at a GDP level, at a very top level, if we as workers, as contributors to the economy don’t do a good job, we don’t get economic growth. If our kids don’t excel, as a country we won’t get economic growth.”
(You can also view the entire Club meeting on YouTube.)