Monday, March 9, 2015

Is It OK to Rip-Off People? Yes.

I used to have this carefully crafted sense of outrage and injustice.  But over the years, I have come to realize that many folks are their own worst enemies.  The con-artist cannot survive without those willing to be conned.   It is as simple as that.  So, con away, I certainly won't stop you!

One interesting aspect of Blogger is that I can see what search terms find postings on this blog as well as which sites refer to this blog.  So when people search on "Husband sending money to Brother" or "How do I get Angie's List to stop charging my credit card?" I can see this, and it is quite fascinating what questions people ask on the Internet - and what questions steer them here.

As I noted, I also get to see which sites refer to this blog, and some of them claim to be "financial" sites, but I really have to wonder.   When I go to those sites, I see all the same old bad ideas - that you can "get ahead" by playing the cash-back credit card game.  That "smart investors" can make money picking stocks.   That being a "smart consumer" means buying tons of crap and then getting rebate bonus sale prices on all of it.

They are, to say the least, missing the point.  I'll say it again, this time, really, really  slowly:

You Can't Spend Your Way To Wealth!

And that is what these folks are doing - spending as hard as they can and then wondering why it isn't making them rich.

One poor fellow (in every sense of the word) has run up tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt.   Is he worried about this?  Of course not.  He has a stock trading scheme that is going to make him rich!  But of course, this month, he has to tithe to his church, so he's a little behind on the bills.   He admits that he could probably declare bankruptcy right now, as he is so heavily in debt.

Some folks just don't get it - and never will.

Do we feel "sorry" for these folks?  Do we pass laws to try to protect them from their own folly?  Or do we just harvest them like corn - mow them down financially and take their every last penny, which they give to us with blubbering thanks?   Lately, I am beginning to think the latter.

On another "financial" site, which is monetized, people seem to be competing on how much bling they can buy - at sale prices.  The idea of not buying bling seems alien to them.

What disturbs me, I guess, is the utter lack of questioning basic presumptions by these folks, with regard to every economic equation or proposition.   As I have noted time and time again, in any argument or proposition, you have to question the underlying assumption.   And often, in terms of finances, that presumption is, "Is this really necessary?"

For example, you can try as hard as you can to get a "good deal" on satellite or cable TV.  You won't get one.  Why?  The companies that run these franchises are very, very smart - and very odious as well.  I worked on a piece of Patent litigation in the Cable industry, and we tried to track down some of the founders of some major cable companies as witnesses.   One was in jail.   The other was in the witness protection program.   When people tell me they think Cable TV companies are a "bunch of crooks" I have to laugh, as these folks really don't realize how close to the truth they are.

The Cable and Satellite people may offer you come-on pricing, but you will still end up paying an awful lot of money to be advertised to.  And you don't need to go to an online "ripoff" site to understand that their customer service is the worst in the world.

So how do you get a "good deal" on cable or satellite TV?   Short answer:  you can't. 

 But, if you challenge the premise you can come out miles ahead.   What is the premise?  The premise is that you need cable TV.   And many people just can't see this or get their heads around it.   How can you live without cable television?   Well, to begin with, most of the dreck you watch is just off-the-air crap you can pick up with a simple digital antenna.   And a lot of stuff is also available online, which, if you use AdBlock Plus, is ad-free.
Or, you could just not watch television.  Radical idea, I know.  But not only will your life not be degraded without TeeVee, it will be better.

But most folks don't want to even try.   "I have to watch my sports!" one cries.  Really?  Why?   It is that important to you to sit for four hours and watch other people exercise?  Maybe that is the cause of your health problems, right there.   Maybe playing a sport would be a better idea.   Anything other than sitting, which is deadly.

I mentioned before about the folks in the Patent business that rip-off inventors.  They are called "invention promoters" and I have actually testified against one of their lawyers in a disiplinary proceeding (Harry I. Moatz v. Michael J. Colitz, Jr., Proceeding 99-04, December, 2002).  I used to think that we in the Patent bar should "do something" to protect inventors from these promoters.

I really don't think that anymore.   Sure, I have a page on my website and on this blog that spells out to anyone willing to read, what the real score is.  But increasingly, I find that it is fruitless to try to "save" people from their own folly.  You can't save people from themselves.

The epiphany came to me when an inventor called me and asked about one of these companies.  I was very careful not to say anything about that company (lest I get sued) but instead told the inventor how invention promotion firms worked and let him connect the dots.  While he was on the phone, I searched his invention online and found three Patents for inventions just like that, which I e-mailed to him, at no charge, along with the opinion that the likelihood of his getting a worthwhile Patent was nil.

Two weeks later, he calls me and says I am full of horseshit.  The invention promoter called him and said that their "professional invention evaluation staff" had a meeting and said his invention was the greatest thing in the world!   He would end up a millionaire!

So I told him good luck and good bye.

Two years later he calls me, after spending $20,000 with the invention promoter and getting no patent (or a patent not worth anything) and finding that no one wanted his invention.   He is not angry with the invention promoter.   He is angry at me.  "Why didn't you warn me about these people?" he says, forgetting that I spent an hour on the phone warning him and trying to talk him out of giving them his money.

I learned then what I have learned with this blog.   Not only are people not going to take good sound advice (save your money, spend less, accumulate wealth slowly over time, stop borrowing money) but they will fight you tooth and nail as those ideas conflict with their own inner narrative.   And when their financial lives go horribly wrong (you can't retire on your accumulated cell phone or cable payments) they don't blame themselves for being irresponsible, they don't blame the merchants who took all their money.   No, no, they blame me for pointing out the nature of their folly.

And if you think I am kidding, I am not.   And this is largely true for everyone from all walks of life.  No one likes to be told that their problems are largely of their own making.   Michelle Obama promotes good diet and exercise, which seems a like a reasonable thing to do.  The response is a chorus of "don't tell us what to do!" by folks who are hoping to learn the "trick to the tiny belly" that doesn't require they exercise or eat right.

People are their own worst enemies.

So, if you are plotting some sort of scheme to separate people from their money, I can't really say that you are a "bad" person for doing this, as there are plenty of other people who will do it, if you don't.   Of course, you can't blame me for saying that what you are doing is a scheme, and that following that scheme is a pretty bad idea.   But of course, the folks you are ripping off aren't going to read this blog, and if they did, they wouldn't think it applied to them.  Right?  So knock yourself out.

As for me, I just don't have the stomach for it.   My weakness is actually caring about people and feeling that something is indeed lost when people feel ripped off.   But one thing I have learned, over the last few years in this blog, is that each "outrage" or "ripoff" out there requires one simple thing:  Consent of the ripped-off.   You can't be scammed if you leave your pen at home.   Yet so many people are quick to sign on the dotted line.