Saturday, November 9, 2019

Imaginary Trading on Reddit

The get-rich-quick mentality is hard to shake in America.

A reader sent me the above image, which I never would have seen, as I am not on Twitter, and the only "tweets" I see are from the President, as the press dutifully reports them.   But it is interesting, the non-intuitive advice given, which also validates consumerism - and is "liked" and retweeted thousands of times.

As I noted in an earlier posting, unconventional advice is easy to give - and popular.  I checked on the "Finacial Kung Fu" guys website, and his latest "dream" is to buy a house in Hawaii to live with his parents.  I am not sure living with my parents is any sort of a dream - more of a nightmare, really. Besides, they live in Arlington.... Cemetery.   I go there once a year to visit, and make sure this zombie thing isn't just more than a screenwriter's imagination.  I already live on an island - one not overflowing with tourists - just yet - and not with my parents, either.

To recap, the Kung Fu guy says don't bother trying to save money, just earn more!  You can't afford to spend more than $5,000 on a car, if you are an average American, so go out and earn another $250,000 if you want to buy a Camry.   I mean, how hard is that?  Such "advice" of course, is nothing short of cruel. Maybe he can make $350,000 a year by blogging or whatever, but the bulk of humanity has to work at "jobs" to earn a "paycheck" and they are likely mired in debt and struggling to get by.   Telling them to eat in restaurants and spend money on stuff and just earn more on a side-hustle, is just going to insure they remain broke and in debt forever.  Maybe that is the point.

It seems a lot of these financial experts turn out this way.  The Sooze Orman started out with "save money" and "drive your car forever" and stuff like that.  Then Buick and Sea Ray sponsored her, and suddenly a boat is no longer a hole in the water to throw money into.  In fact, she morphed into "your approved!" to buy crap - instead of "you should really put that money in your 401(k)!"

Dave Ramsey has similar ulterior motives.  I picked up one of his books in a grocery store once, and was enthralled by his writing.  All common-sense stuff!   Until chapter 10, where he drops the bomb on us - we are supposed to take all this money we saved and tithe it to the church.   He wants us to give away 10% of our pre-tax income to a church as a baseline, with other "gifts" to follow.   In other words, instead of tithing to the unholy pagan Gods of Visa and Mastercard, he wants us to fork over the cash to the local mega-church.

Not surprisingly, Ramsey puts on his seminars at such megachurches - often paid by the local pastor.  No ulterior motives here!  Keep 'em in the pews, and keep 'em tithing.   But God forbid (pardon the pun) they should think for themselves or keep their money and build wealth.

These sorts of "gurus" find a home in places like MSN Money, where bad advice and the get-rich-quick mentality flourishes.  I have seen several "articles" there in recent months, about "some guy" who makes millions by trading stock.   And they quote postings from Reddit as proof of this.  There is so much wrong with this, it is hard to fathom where to begin.

First of all, Reddit is not a source of information for any kind of newspaper article. It is just a discussion group, not "the front page of the internet" and you have no idea who is posting things there.  It could be a posting from some Wall Street trader, or a 15-year-old gamer, or a Russian disinformation campaigner, or someone selling penny stocks - or who knows?   It is an anonymous forum, so you have to take what is posted there with a grain of salt.   A huge grain of salt - the whole damn shaker.  A truckload of rock salt fresh from the mine.

Assume everything you read on Reddit is a lie, and you will be better off.

Anyway, these sort of "articles" are based on "threads" on Reddit, where some "Redditor" (the aforementioned 15-year-old gamer) claims on some "Wall Street" investment site, to have made millions of dollars in a few short trades.   They bought $500 of ACME Stock the day before they announced a new product line, and the price went through the roof.  They sold this just before ACME was subject to an asbestos suit, and bought stock in CLIMAX right after they announced getting a lucrative government contract.   And so on an so forth, until their $500 "investment" turned into $3 million in four trades in five days - or some such nonsense.

Are such things possible?  If you only make the right stock picks you can become a millionaire?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  It helps if you have a working time machine.   I noted before that with the last $750 in my trading account, I bought AVIS stock at 74 cents a share, only to see it go up thousands of a percent in value in the next few months.  The reason was simple:  the company was rumored to be going bankrupt, so the stock price tanked.   Turns out to be just a rumor, and the company not only wasn't going bankrupt, but was making money.   So from 74 cents a share to $10 a share, I made quite a gain.  Not millions of dollars, of course, but a few grand.   If I had only invested $75,000 in Avis, I could have made a million bucks!

But I didn't.  And the key words here were "If I only..."   And I suspect that many of these "stories" emanating from Reddit are just that - people looking at historical stock trends in the paper, and then concocting some series of "trades" that illustrate how you could have made a million bucks with some small investment, in a short period of time.  If you want to make it seem real, throw in one trade that loses a little bit of money - just a hint here, for all you trolls out there.

Why would I think this?  Well, if you really made a million bucks this way, you'd have better things to do with your time than brag about it on Reddit.  But also, given that all the stuff on Reddit is fake, fake, fake, fake! you should should just assume that any "it sounds too good to be true" posting is just that.   Shame on mainstream media sites for using Reddit as "source material" for an article.

So, someone who actually makes money in the stock market is not motivated to brag about it on Reddit (indeed, a serious investor wouldn't waste ten minutes on social media of any sort!).   But what would motivate someone to make up a story like that?   Turns out, there are multiple incentives.

If you accumulate a "following" on Reddit or any other form of social media, there are companies who will pay you to promote products (subliminally, of course) or even advertise on your social media page.  I noted before how I get offers all the time from people who want me to blog about their products, in exchange for a free bag of potato chips* or $25 or whatever.   Since my pathetic blog is read by no one, the swag isn't all that great.  But if I had millions of followers, I could make thousands of dollars a throw - which over time could add up to millions.

So there is a monetary incentive to posting stuff like this, as the plebes believe fervently in get-rich-quick, and here you are telling them a "real life story" about how it is done.   Meanwhile, I am selling the get-middle-class-comfortable-over-45-years story, and no one wants to read that - too boring and hard to read!

There may be other motivations.   Like I said, bored kids post things on these sorts of sites to see if they can get a reaction from others - positive or negative.  They like trolling because their lives are otherwise boring and pointless, and here, on the Internet, are adults actually taking them seriously!  Or maybe just other 15-year-olds like themselves.  Nevertheless, it is feedback, which is something they are not getting from "real life".

There are also cultural trolls as well.  Many people think the "interference" by Russia in the last election was limited to releasing Hillary's e-mails or posting false stories about the candidates - or upvoting or downvoting such stories.   But cultural mind-fucking is far more subtle than that.   And every country does it - and has done it - so don't pretend it doesn't exist or act shocked when you find out it does.

You see this all the time on YouTube comments, which is why you should never read YouTube comments.   The point of these negative and argumentative comments isn't to advance some particular agenda or argument, but just to create strife and negativity.   It is like a friend of mine who worked for a "three letter agency" and grew a beard and went to Iraq.  When he came back, I asked him what the Taliban or Al Quaeda hoped to accomplish with suicide bombings and IEDs and whatnot - clearly we weren't leaving at that point.  His response was interesting - "They don't want to win a battle or win the war, they just want to create disruption.  Chaos works in their favor."

And this was and is indeed true. You can undermine a society from within and overcome a formidable opponent not through direct conflict, but by creating disruption.  Take the Vietnam war, for example - which I never realized, until recently, was a conflict between Catholic Vietnamese backed by Catholic France, and the Buddist majority.  And of course, our Catholic President backed the South Vietnamese, until it became untenable, and we had the President of South Vietnam assassinated.  It really was a shitty war, and the side we were supporting wasn't really popular with its own people.

All that being said, we could have simply bombed North Vietnam to smithereens, as we did with operation Linebacker, which pushed the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. And we negotiated a "Peace" that basically was a retreat and surrender.  The most powerful nation in the world, brought to bear by one of the weakest - although they were of course aided and abetted by outside forces.  But, as many have opined, we could have won, if we had taken the gloves off, although in retrospect, maybe winning would have been worse.  We would have had to kill an awful lot more people to win that war, and ended up looking worse for it.

The point is, there was a lot of political discontent over the war, in the United States.  Young college kids, who were at little risk for actually fighting the war, protested.  Working class kids, who didn't have college deferments, were drafted and sent off to fight.  Politically, the war became untenable, even if militarily, it could have been won.   And you have to wonder - well, some of us don't wonder - if this discontent on college campuses back then - or even today - isn't aided and abetted by countries that want to see us fail, or at least weakened.   The rampant spread of drug use in this country dates to this era, and it is well-documented that the Viet Cong made sure our soldiers had access to all the drugs they wanted.

Today, one of the major sources of opiates that are poisoning America is, well, China.  Revenge is a dish best served, cold, no?   The West can't really call out China on this, because we once flooded their county with opium, a hundred or so years ago.  Do you think that it is an accident that China is sending opiates to America?  Or that the Taliban is harvesting poppies?

Corrupting youth with crazy ideas and drugs is a keen way to undermine a society and civilization.  And it is all set out in Sun Tzu's Art of War, too.  Turn the children against the parents, generation against generation, rich against poor, black against white.  It ain't hard to do, and the Internet makes it all that much easier - you needn't even visit the country in question or plant agents.

So what does this have to do with get-rich-quick schemes?   Perhaps nothing.  Perhaps everything.  You can undermine a country very subliminally, and one way to do this is to get the citizens to be disenchanted with their own economic system.   And how do you do that?  Well, get them to gamble their lives away through these get-rick-quick schemes.  That is all they are - gambling.  Betting on stock prices isn't "investing" it is gambling, no more than betting on an NBA game is "investing".

So, Joe Schmuck reads this crap online and says, "everyone else is getting rich, why shouldn't I?" and he puts his last few hundred or few thousand dollars into a dot-com startup or some heavily hyped trade, or gold, or bitcoin - or whatever.  Worse yet, he borrows on a credit card to buy options or trade commodities futures.   He loses big, of course, and not only owes money on the credit card, but owes far more than that.   And he gets mad and blames Wall Street and America and thinks the whole system is rotten, because he isn't getting rich overnight.

Sowing the seeds of discontent is the key to undermining a culture and a country.  And today in America, we have a lot of discontent, as people sign crappy deals, from student loans to payday loans to car leases to overpriced houses - and then get mad at Capitalism for shitty decisions they made on their own.   It ain't hard to get people riled up and hating each other.

And it helps if you plant stories in the press about how "millennials are killing ___" or some aforementioned "woke" millennial "calling out" his elders with cleaver sayings like "bougie" or "OK, Boomer!"   Turn generation against generation.  Get the people to think that only socialism is the answer (what was the question again?).   Whatever the outcome, chaos ensues and this works to the advantage of our adversaries.   Maybe we will close a few overseas airbases or withdraw from yet another conflict.  Maybe that upteenth aircraft carrier won't get built, as our nation turns inwardly and worries more about the plight of "the homeless" than the plight of freedom in the world.

And hey, the Russians know all-too-well how socialism and communism can destroy a country.  Why not plant these seeds of discontent in America as well?   It certainly worked in neutering the UK!  From worldwide empire, to inwardly-looking socialist paradise, in the course of a few decades.  And now Brexit - the coupe de grace that will finish off Britain's last remaining power as a financial center.  Brought to you by a guy named Boris?

This is not to say that Sooze Orman or the Kung Fu guy are Russian plants - far from it.  At best they are being trolled themselves, or are what the Russians used to call "useful idiots." But folks posting on Reddit?   Well, if you read the postings in r/the_donald during the last election, you'd know what I am talking about.  Some were so poorly worded, you could tell they were written by someone for whom English was a second language.   Sowing the seeds of financial discontent is just another way of influencing America, and I don't doubt it happens a lot on all forms of social media.

Just a thought.  You may say it seems ridiculous or extreme.   But parse these comments you see online, sometime, carefully.   Why are they hundreds of comments on a YouTube video about World War II proclaiming the technological superiority of Soviet Russia?  Just a coincidence, I guess.   But those are just the real obvious trolls.

Promoting the get-rich-quick mentality is something that helps destabilize our country.  Who benefits from that?

* I realize, in retrospect, that by reproducing that e-mail on my blog, I inadvertently advertised the potato chips and the market selling them (which I find to be a confusing mish-mash of products at prices that are not as good as Wally World).   Mea Culpa!   But I never got a free bag of chips out of the deal, so there!