The Mad Capitalist

October 13, 2008

I’ve never been afraid until now. All my life, I wasn’t afraid to fight or even die. Even the threat of failure didn’t deter me. I figured, “If I fall, I’ll just get up”. My aggressively confident attitude allowed me to flourish as a competitive businessman. My company generated millions a year in sales and by age twenty six I was making over $400 thousand dollars per year. I was in the top 1% of income earners in the country. I had no superfluous debt and I had perfect credit. The funny thing is that during this period I never considered myself a success. I see now that my goals and therefore my achievements were all meaningless. It didn’t matter if I had $500 dollars or $5 million dollars. The money had no purpose because I had no purpose. This is why I so easily succumbed to the gambling. The lights of Atlantic City and Las Vegas shined so bright that I abandoned my business and flushed away my cash. I lost over seven hundred thousand dollars and eventually went broke. I had to leave my plush penthouse apartment and the $100 thousand dollar car that had all become synonymous with my name. I’m not writing this to boast about the fortune that I had, nor am I looking for sympathy for what I lost. This is simply a cautionary tale. It is an example of how the pressured pursuit of excess can skew a person’s psyche. I grew up in a poor household with no savings and a negative net worth. In a world where everything seems to be measured in dollars and cents, one can easily become lost in the allure of its simplicity. “I earn, therefore I am,” is the credo of the free enterprising capitalist. I remember a time when I was very passionate and extremely philosophical. Then I started making money.  Passion was replaced with materialism and philosophy was swapped for checking and savings accounts. All the things that I had acquired, the cars, the clothes, the jewelry did not have sufficient value to ground me. I felt an emptiness that made my life stale. I sunk into a pit of depression and completely lost focus. I became a gambling addict. In a sense I was a victim of my own success. When I initially embarked on my journey to achieve wealth all I saw was potential. It was a chance to escape poverty and the sense of powerlessness and worthlessness that can come with it. People who struggle for money value it more than those who already have it, at least until they lose it.

Consider the following example: Roger is in a household with an abundance of material wealth. His financial future is secure. Roger does not have to trade his labor for his material lifestyle. If he never gets a job he does not have to move out of his home or worry about his car being repossessed. He has all the financial provisions to live as extravagantly a life as he could ever choose. The challenge that Roger faces is that there are still 24 hours in a day. What does Roger do with his time? Roger’s challenge is to first figure out what it is that he likes to do. This is not as easy a task as you may think. Most of us are given a small selection of options and we generally choose by a process of elimination that is forwarded by situational boundaries.

Consider a second example: Mike is in a household that goes paycheck to paycheck. Mike understands that if money is not continuously earned, then having the most basic of needs will become a challenge. Mike’s decisions about what to do with his time are simple. Mike needs to earn money. For most of us this means joining the general work force. We are granted the commodity of a seemingly very structured system. Your earning potential is usually presented to you in a narrow range that is based on a few simple variables. Think of the statistics that we are fed on a regular basis. For example, the average elementary school teacher earns around 40k per year. The average software engineer earns around 63k per year. We are given a basic way of measuring a person’s value in society by the amount of money they can earn. Parents often hope for their children to become doctors or lawyers. Why? Most doctors don’t cure cancer. Most lawyers don’t participate in any vastly significant litigation. No, but doctors and lawyers make money. It’s the same reason people dream of becoming big time movie stars or athletes. Why?  Arnold Schwarzenegger earned around thirty million dollars for his work on terminator 3. The school teacher who can have tremendous influence in the lives of countless young people throughout her entire career can never dream of earning this kind of money. Who has more value? Think about the firefighter who pulls a baby out of a burning building, and then consider the slick talking attorney who said, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”. Let’s get back to Mike. What does he consider as he contemplates entry into the work force? Mike may love to write, but does he have the luxury of the time and money that it would take to publish a book. And what if it doesn’t sell? Mike needs to make money. No. Mike is encouraged to choose from a handful of seemingly secure job opportunities. If Mike is academically gifted he may decide to pursue a career as a doctor or a lawyer. If he makes it through medical or law school, Mike will probably go on to become a relative high income earner. Sure, he’ll sacrifice 7-12 years becoming institutionalized and then he’ll probably commit 60 to 70 hours a week at the hospital or the law firm, but it’ll all be worth it. Right? What if Mike really wanted to teach? What if Mike really wanted to write or pursue music? But he abandoned his dreams as childish and irrelevant and opted to fill the simple need to earn money. Mike is an extraordinary example because most of us abandon or defer our dreams for far less compensation than Mike. I’m not arguing rather Schwarzenegger deserved $30 million dollars (even though Terminator 3 sucked) but what I am suggesting is that for the most part we are a nation of deferred dreamers and in many cases people with no dreams at all.  There are very few Roger’s who have the financial freedom to fill their days with whatever they may find gratifying. And let’s face it, not everyone’s cut to be a doctor or lawyer. And for every Schwarzenegger there are countless bouncers and personal trainers who you never heard of, no matter how hard they pounded on Hollywood’s door. We spend much of our lives being psychologically prepared for our place in society. The result is what we call our identity.

You might be wondering how all of this relates to my going from successful businessman to degenerate gambler. As I stated earlier, I grew up in a very poor household. Getting the basics was a challenge. We even took advantage of social welfare programs in order to buy food. My options were simple. I had to make money. Escaping poverty and achieving financial independence became an early obsession. It consumed my identity as it does with so many others. If you asked me what I wanted there was only one obvious answer, to be rich. There wasn’t much space for much else because I was so distracted with basic economic survival. There was a point when I was sixteen years old and I was effectively homeless. I was in college and living on campus. My mother was still reeling from a second divorce. She was financially and emotionally bankrupt. She could not afford to maintain the household for my sister and me.  While on campus, the fact that she didn’t renew the lease on our apartment didn’t affect me right away. It didn’t hit me until the first holiday break from school. It was then that I realized I really didn’t have any specific place to call home. I didn’t even have a permanent mailing address. I stayed with friends and different relatives until I could go back to the dorm room. This had a huge psychological impact. In a society where we are measured by our possessions and the home is the cornerstone of most wealth, my own self valuation greatly suffered. This is where my absolute obsession was born. I essentially devoted the following ten years of my life to developing a vehicle to gain wealth. I found my way into business and I made money. I lived next door to celebrities and Wall Street big shots. I was a big shot. I had offices and a staff. I created jobs and participated in commerce. I had a fancy house and a fancy apartment. I owned high end cars, clothes and jewelry. I had it all. And yet when I searched my soul and looked into my own heart I felt as if I had nothing. I had the permanent address that I had longed for. I had a Range Rover and a Mercedes-Benz. But when I thought about my life and my place in the world, I was woefully unsatisfied. I didn’t know why. My goals had always been very structured and simple. The mandate had always been quite clear, to make money. But this was something different. I was making money and in fact had a surplus of cash. I was supposed to be happy. It’s what I wanted.  As I tried to imagine all the variable directions the rest of my life could go, all I could focus on was my eventual demise. I felt very morbid and depressed. I felt betrayed. I felt that the system had failed me and that I had been set up to fail. I felt like a sheep being herded to nowhere, to nothingness. People win the lottery and they cry tears of joy. Why couldn’t the money make me happy? At that point I lost the drive that had propelled me to succeed in my business. I eventually started spending all of my time in casinos. Maybe I was subconsciously ridding myself of the symptoms of my betrayal. Maybe I was ridding myself of all my wealth so that I could go broke. Maybe that was the only way to rediscover the drive and ambition that had so conveniently distracted me from the reality that my life was meaningless. I did it. I got rid of it. Now I can chase it again from the beginning where it doesn’t have to make sense because I need it. I need it to survive. I need the money and I’m afraid. I’m not afraid that I’ll fail but rather that I’ll succeed. I’m afraid of the nothingness and the emptiness that may come with that success.

Race Only Matters When Everyone’s Prejudiced

October 13, 2008

It’s no surprise that lesser intelligent people are generally predisposed to racially biased views. The concept of race is insignificant beyond the impact that racial identity has on a person’s experiences within society. The relevance of racial categories has been completely overplayed. What’s the difference between black, white, and yellow people? The real disparities between people of varying races are so minute that it really boils down to a matter of personal preference. Any notable behavioral distinctions are not a function of race, but more of culture and tradition. It has nothing to do with physiological variations specific to race. This ridiculous and outdated way of thinking has been continuously disproven. People who promote such beliefs often cite improvable, immeasurable and plainly unintelligent ideas as their basis. It is a system that fosters hate and general negativity and has no place in an advanced civilization. It only feeds the skewed need that some people seem to have, to belong to a separate and unique group. It’s the same kind of mentality that promotes dangerous street gangs and religious fanatics. It’s an antiquated notion that needs to be completely obliterated from modern ideology and filed away with the dark ages. Simply put, it’s all bullshit.

Is Barack Obama really all that black?

October 13, 2008

Understand that when I propose this question, that I am considering being black in more of a cultural and social context, not merely a physiological one. I’m not just talking about skin tone and facial features. I am considered to be a black man and my skin is lighter than Barack Obama’s, however, I seriously doubt that many of his life experiences would mirror those of many black people in America. Much of my childhood was spent in the rural south and in a vastly predominately black neighborhood. In fact, my first recallable direct experiences with white people did not come until I was old enough to go to school. Throughout my early childhood, the majority of my exposure to white people was thru television. Programs like “Mr. Belvidere,” “Gimmie a break”, “Growing pains”, and “Different strokes” all left me with the impression that all white people were rich. I looked around and just about everyone who I knew who looked liked me were poor. The most prevalent examples of financially well off black people, were drug dealers and entertainers. These were the images that stood out for me during critical development years of my life. This is partly why I feel “The Cosby Show” is probably the single most important show in recent black American history. I remember coming home from school and making a prideful comment about “my school”. Then my Uncle Willie sharply reminded me that it wasn’t “my school” at all, and that it was in fact “the white man’s school”.  There were only two stores in the small town, both owned by white people. I remember Mr. Palmer, a store owner, referring to my sister and me as “yellow monkeys”. My father wasn’t always in the home, and in search of a role model and a source of pride and self esteem what images could I find? I remember one of my uncles coming home with a shotgun wound to his stomach from a drug deal gone wrong. I remember when the police took another uncle away on drug trafficking charges. We wouldn’t see him again for twelve years. I don’t want to suggest that my childhood was all violent and negative. I’m only citing examples of relatively extreme situations in which race and economics are relevant factors. Many people around me saw the drug business as a means to escape poverty. They may have been unable to field other opportunities as their self esteem and confidence was routinely crushed in an inherently unequal socioeconomic setting. John McCain cites Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt as personal heroes. Who are the black man’s heroes, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? They were both assassinated. Where were our role models? Who was telling us that we could become President of the United States? Fortunately, I had my Grandmother. She was a devout Christian woman who valued education. She gave me love and instilled in me a powerful sense of self confidence. My mother also placed a high value on education and tried to present the world as a place of boundless opportunities. I was very fortunate to have them both.  Barack Obama grew up in a middle class white family. In fact, his Grandmother was the vice-president of a local bank. He is not the descendant of slaves as most African Americans. His mother descends from white European colonists and his father came directly from Kenya as a student. Barack spent most of his childhood overseas, between Hawaii and Indonesia, not in urban America. I’m not suggesting that Barack Obama shouldn’t be president. I believe that his election would present a major boost in the morale and confidence of racial minorities in this country. I think it would be tremendous for our people to see the most powerful office in the land, occupied by a man who looks more like them than the people who have historically persecuted us. I have little doubt that Barack is a very decent man and also an advocate of civil rights. I’m sure he’s probably even been personally discriminated against at some point, but so have most Jews and Asians. In fact his own white mother was discriminated against by his father’s African family. Does that make Jews and Asians, and Barack’s mom black? Of course it doesn’t.  Let’s keep things in perspective. Barack Obama is no Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, or even Al Sharpton. Despite his brown complexion, how much does he really have in common with most African Americans?

Nation of Lottery Winners

October 11, 2008

What would happen if everyone just suddenly hit the lottery? To find out, just look at today’s housing market and overall economy. Take a look at just about everyone who bought a house more than five years ago. They didn’t do anything superbly special. They didn’t start a successful company or invent any product. They simply found a place to live. All of a sudden the housing market boomed, and many thousands of people effectively hit the lottery. People who had not earned or accumulated any significant wealth suddenly had access to more money than they ever had before. Our economy is driven and stabilized by a continual labor force. A bunch of people cashing out or taking huge home equity loans is certainly great for car dealers and department stores. But what happens when the money runs out. What happens when there’s nothing left for new kitchens and lavish expansions? What happens when the bubble bursts? All the furniture and home improvement stores that instantly found a new market are discovering these harsh realities. Everyone wants to blame George Bush. This is perhaps an unconscious acknowledgement that pure and true Free Enterprise and Capitalism does not work. Resources must be rationed and growth must be carefully controlled. Our culture is one of consumption. The more we make the more we spend. If you give someone a lump sum of money they will generally find a way to incur additional expenses. No one is satisfied and everyone wants the upgrade. Our country has a tremendous amount of resources and perhaps the most powerful labor force in the world, so why is the Dow Jones tumbling like chopped lumber? The simple answer can be that Wall Street is built on greed and is fueled by continued growth and consumption. It thrives on the illusion that consumption and waste somehow equal advancement and progress. In actuality the people’s needs and “the street’s” needs are seldom the same. We need to revisit the basics. We are enslaved by a desperately antiquated system that cannot respond to today’s realities.