Tuesday, July 24, 2012

If you aren't pissed off yet....

If something I've said hasn't pissed you off, I'm probably not doing my job.

One of the problems with the financial Gurus is that they start off with great revelations, and then water it down to the point where they are pissing in the soup.

Soozie Orman, for example, started out with common-sense advice, and people flocked to her.  And then she realized that what people wanted to hear was validation of their poor life choices.  So her advice morphed from spending less and saving more, to "You're Approved!" to buy more consumer crap.  And she has made millions by doing what P.T. Barnum always said to do - tell the suckers what they want to hear.

But what is the point of that?

What good does it do to tell you that your frequent flyer miles card is a swell deal, when more likely than not, it will land you in a world 'o woe before too long?

What is the point in validating your poor life choices if all they do is convince you that spending is right and saving is for chumps?

And what is the point in saying that it is OK to obsess about politics, even though it is ruining your life and driving your friends away?

A feel-good happy blog, where everyone validates each others' poor lifestyle choices is really not of much use.   And frankly, the Internet is chock full of such blogs, discussion groups, and websites - where everybody reinforces each others' poor normative cues.

Think about it.  If you go to a Camaro website, people are going to say what a great car a Camaro is, and no one is going to say, "Gee, isn't this really a poorly engineered 'me too' copy of the Mustang, based on the shitty Chevy II/Nova chassis?  I mean, a live axle and leaf springs, for chrissakes!  This is hardly even automotive engineering!"

No.  No one will say that on that site.   It will be all cheerleading and hoopla.   And nothing is immune.  I mentioned before that the BMW Z3 was brought into production right after the ill-fated 318ti went out of production.   That poorly made hatchback was made at their Spartanburg, SC facilities, using leftover bits from the E36 (3-series BMW) and the E30 (previous generation 3-series BMW).  The Z3 was built at Spartanburg from, well, guess what?  A parts bin collection of E36 and E30 parts.

Yes, even BMW cobbles together cars from parts in stock.  They all do.  They are just cars, not time machines.

But no one wants to hear that.  They want to hear that manufactured products are magical and cool, and not just some piece of crap that marketing took off the test stand and rushed into production - which 99% of the time is about accurate - regardless of whether it is a car, an air conditioner, or a smart phone or a new operating system from you-know-who.

Reality is what it is, and often it appears to be unpleasant, as it conflicts with our own preconceived notions of the universe.  We want to think we made smart choices in life, when in fact, our choices were directed by advertising and peer pressure - and often were not smart choices.

A lot of people bought Edsels - and Vegas, and Pintos and Pacers and Citations, and whatever piece of crap the automakers are foisting off on us these days.  A lot of people bought poorly-made mini-mansions with fancy "features" and financed it all with crappy loans and are now crying in their soup.

And a lot of folks invest way too much time in politics - thinking naively that one party can "solve all our problems" if only the tax cuts were allowed to expire/renew and if only Gay marriage could be outlawed/legalized.

The harsh reality is that much of what we all believe is a mountain of bullshit.  Our political opinions are crap - shaped more by what we read in the media than anything else.  And our purchase and investment decisions are similarly poorly made.

It is very hard to see through the fog produced by our society and the media.  And what reality is, is hard to fathom.  But the closer you can see to that reality, I think, the better off and more successful you will be.

The Mitt Romneys of the world didn't come to make $22 million a year by being naive and by following someone else's narrative.  They perceived opportunity where it existed, without letting emotional arguments or media bullshit get in the way.

And that, I think, is the key.