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The Biggest Lie

November 20, 2010 2 comments

The Biggest Lie

The Left has made its case that the biggest lie of our time is that giving breaks to the rich will create more jobs for the rest of us.  While this lie has put a lot of our country’s hard earned dollars in a lot of undeserving pockets with no return to society, it is not the biggest lie, nor has it done the most damage.  The biggest and most damaging lie of our times is the oldest con in the world, dating back to ancient times.  The investment bankers who run Wall Street have told us they are the best and the brightest, that they graduated at the tops of their classes from the best schools in the world, that they command powerful scientific theories, that they can even predict the future.  Therefore we must let them do their magic unimpeded, we must let them take enormous shares of the deals they create, that as Masters of the Universe, they deserve to control the economy the rest of us live in.  I’m here to tell you, they are charlatans, no better that the witch doctors who commanded fear from primitive man.  They have garbed themselves in complexity and passed it off as superiority.  And by believing them, we have let them run not only this country’s, but the world’s economy into the ground.

First of all, they cannot predict the future.  They have models derived from mathematics that was originally used to describe such changeable systems as rockets in flight.  Yet, even the best stock pickers on Wall Street will always tell you that past performance is not a guarantee of future returns.  They wave their magic wand to impress us, yet they can’t perform the magic to our advantage.  In fact, Wall Street makes no money for being correct.  Brokers make a commission on trades.  They sucker people with money into making a trade based on the broker’s advice, and the broker makes his money on the trade, whether or not the investor makes any money of the investment.  And the investment bankers who demand a percentage of the billion dollar mergers they put together take their cut when the deal closes, whether or not the merger leads to success or failure.

So while they have convinced us that they can predict the future, and therefore we need them to broker our commerce, they do not tie their commissions to the success of any predictions.  This is the same as the ancient impresario who convinced the fearful masses that he could command the forces of nature.   Even in the face of failure, the wizard of old could stay in power by appearing to know magic, which set him apart and above the common man.  The modern day wizards of Wall Street have found an even more powerful tool than ancient man’s fear of the unknown to maintain their power: our own greed.  Our greedy desire to get a leg up on the market has led us to the charlatan’s doorstep.

If you have a problem that has complexities beyond your understanding, you hire a professional with the specialized knowledge that is needed.  Say fixing your car.  But if the car still doesn’t work when you get it out of the shop, you take it back and demand the job be done right.  So when you want to invest money, and you go to an investment advisor, and you pay him a percentage of your assets under management, you expect his expertise to make you money.  But when your portfolio loses money, the most you can do is fire the advisor and take what’s left of your portfolio elsewhere.  He keeps his fee even though he lost your money.

Same thing for the big money game of M&A.  In what other business on Earth can the investment of a few hundred man hours net a fee in the hundreds of millions of dollars?  Companies that don’t have the facility to do the due diligence and the legal drafting necessary to acquire companies hire investment bankers to do this legwork.  But part of their work is to recommend financing structures and integration strategies.  So the IBs don’t just crunch the numbers, they influence the shape of the deal.  It is this professional advice that allows them to cut themselves in on the deal and to take a fee based on the amount of money changing hands.  And what if the market hates the deal they put together, and the stock price doesn’t do what the parent company wanted?  The IB keeps their fee.  Sure their reputation takes a hit.  But they can tell future prospects the deal failed because of management’s execution, not their financial advice.  Even trial lawyers who take a percentage of a judgment or settlement as their fee have to first win their case before they get paid that percentage.  They risk their time and effort with a payday only if they win.  Wall Street takes no such risks, yet makes obscene amounts of money.

And most damaging of all, the same performance-free fees apply to the floating of debt vehicles.  Even government bond issues go through IBs hands.  During the housing bubble, the only reason banks were willing to sell houses to people who could not afford them was the availability of cheap money to lend.  These same wizards packaged high risk loan portfolios as high quality investments to keep the money flowing through the economy.  And they took their percentages of the deals, regardless of how those deals turned out.  The more they churned, the more they collected.  It was like printing money.  And like freely printing money, eventually the lack of real value caught up to the house of cards.  But the wizards had already made their billions.

The wizards of Wall Street have convinced us that we need them to buy and sell stocks, to build for our retirement, to buy our homes, to pay for our governments, and to acquire companies.  We need them so badly that we are willing to pay them percentages of the deals regardless of how bad the deals turn out to be.  Sounds an awful lot like the wizards of yesteryear, commanding respect from the perception of how badly they are needed.  But no witch doctor ever robbed his village into ruin and got away unscathed.  We eventually learned that we don’t need witch doctors to make the rain, or keep the rains away.  When are we going to learn that our modern day wizards have no real power either?

Categories: Politics

Lucklifting

November 7, 2010 Leave a comment

“But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

          Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
          Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

– W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951.

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.” – Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: A New Hope

“You can’t win if you don’t play.” – California Lottery ad campaign.

Is good luck just randomness that happens to benefit us?  Is the same true of bad luck?  Is there anything we can do to influence our luck, or is it by definition random?  Doesn’t it seem that some folks just make their own luck?  Aren’t there folks who never have anything but bad luck?  What if there was a way to change your luck?

First, let’s look at how different systems use luck.

There is a great misconception that entrepreneurs are risk takers.  In fact, entrepreneurs are risk averse. They research every risk and mitigate it and plan around it as best they can before committing their own money into a new venture.  They establish tolerances of success and failure, and contingencies and exit strategies.  They go to great lengths to eliminate random error and the need for luck.  They know what they are getting themselves into.  But the difference between them and ordinary folk is they do act.

Another hugely misunderstood concept is the role randomness plays in natural selection in evolution.  If genetic changes were in fact random, then every change in one direction would eventually be cancelled by a change in the other direction.  But evolution is not a zero-sum game.  Changes made put the organism in a new survival paradigm where subsequent changes affect it differently than if the subsequent changes had happened first.  A subtle artifact of this ongoing change is how a genepool pre-loads options in anticipation of environmental changes.  When the environment changes and puts survival stress on a population, those with the right stuff to survive already have those traits in their genetic makeup.  Options build in a genepool all the time, by random mutation.  Most mutations don’t show.  But if they are needed, then they are there to use, for those lucky individuals that have the right ones.  Geneticists track how this reserve of options builds up, and they have successfully predicted when a change in the manifested phenotype will appear.

Praying to God is an attempt to change the luck that one faces.  If you have formulated a desire and thought about the consequences and gone ahead and asked God for assistance, then you have also arranged your mind to see answers that you wouldn’t have seen had you not gotten your thoughts together.  Our Pagan and Mystic brethren do the same thing to their minds when they cast spells.

3000 years ago, the Vedic sages of India figured out that what you do in the world affects how the world treats you.  The concept of Karma was then picked up and adapted by several Eastern religions, including Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism.  If we look at the unseen consequences of our actions as a pre-loading of options that await us, much like the pre-loading of a genepool, then it follows that our actions will “come around” to affect us in the future.

But no matter how good we are, we still only encounter what life puts in our path, which has a large random component.  It is that random component that still leaves us at the mercy of luck.

Entrepreneurs act where others do not.  And all those potential survival mechanisms only evolve to usefulness if the environment changes.  And praying or casting only prepares you to see answers once you have acted upon your desires.  So does acting, committing to a path, eliminate the randomness of what you will encounter going forward?  Committing means you will try harder, and work harder to overcome obstacles that arise.  You will learn skills that will make you more effective and efficient.  You will put yourself in the path of people who can help you.  But can we view the changes in opportunity that arise from action as an actual change in the universe brought on by our actions?

The perception is that once we take action, the universe will respond with options we could not have seen had we not taken that first step.  What if this perception isn’t an illusion?  If Karma is the cosmic equivalent of Conservation of Energy, then why can’t there be a cosmic equivalent to Conservation of Momentum?  If putting good into the world really means good will come back, then why shouldn’t action into the world change the opportunities encountered on that path? 

I propose a new concept to explain this momentum effect, this magic Goethe (and later Murray) spoke about.  “Lucklifting” is when the universe seems to open up new possibilities for you once you have committed to take action.  As described above, there is an actual cause and effect – the only question is whether it is just in ourselves.  This is not just a subjective or delusional phenomenon.  It is experienced subjectively, and is often attributed to luck.  I propose this kind of luck is actually changeable.  By taking that step and committing to action, by moving your plans into the world, you change your luck going forward.  Just as a boat’s prow lifts the boat higher in the water with forward motion, your luck lifts as you push ahead.

Motivational speakers make much of the power of positive thinking.  This is a good start.  And this fits with the concept of Karma.  But I think the key that eludes all those folks who take those high prices motivational seminars is that lucklifting only happens once you commit real resources and start spending real time moving ahead with your plans.

How many times have you been told the only thing standing between you and your dreams is your own inaction?  Didn’t that seem a shaming, unfair thing to be told?  Until we take action and trigger the lucklifting, high goals do seem out of reach.  Those goals become more easily reached once you start reaching.  Maybe the goal wasn’t as far off as you originally thought, and once you are committed to it, you can more clearly see how near or far it really is.  But you won’t know that unless you start.

Of course there is no substitute for properly researching a venture before starting it.  Take a tip from the entrepreneurs, and eliminate risk whenever you can.  However strong the lucklifting effect may be, charging off unprepared is still likely to be met with failure,

I’m sure the Vedas thought of this a long time ago and there is no doubt a word for it in Sanskrit.  But I haven’t seen it given a name in English.

Karma gives us a reason to always do the right thing.  Lucklifting gives us a reason to move ahead with our dreams.

Categories: Religion
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