What Endures?

Thomas C. Corley asks why are some people rich and some people poor? Following a five-year long research project, he concocted a supposed blueprint for becoming wealthy. Unsurprisingly, his findings have found a large audience.

Most interesting to me about his methodology is what he doesn’t do or ask. He never tells any wealthy individual’s story; consequently, they remain mythical superior beings. Corley’s work contributes to the myth that wealthy people’s lives are way better than everyone else’s. It’s as if the wealthy have no experience with negative emotions; failed relationships; existential crises; health challenges; and even death. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett will live forever won’t they?

People need a philosophy of wealth more than a blueprint. How much is enough? Wealth towards what ends? What endures?

 

Don’t Be Bob Marley

Approximately two-thirds of American adults do not have wills.

Hua Hsu in the New Yorker:

“When Bob Marley died, on May 11, 1981, at the age of thirty-six, he did not leave behind a will. . . . Drafting a will was probably the last thing on Marley’s mind as his body, which he had carefully maintained with long afternoons of soccer, rapidly broke down. Marley was a Rastafarian, subscribing to a millenarian, Afrocentric interpretation of Scripture that took hold in Jamaica in the nineteen-thirties. By conventional Western standards, the Rastafarian movement can seem both uncompromising (it espouses fairly conservative views on gender and requires a strict, all-natural diet) and appealingly lax (it has a communal ethos, which often involves liberal ritual use of marijuana). For Marley, dealing with his estate probably signified a surrender to the forces of Babylon, the metaphorical site of oppression and Western materialism that Rastas hope to escape. When he died, in Miami, his final words to his son Stephen were ‘Money can’t buy life.'”

That’s cool, except for the fact that he had many other children and left about $30m. . .

“No one metric captures the scale of Bob Marley’s legend except, perhaps, the impressive range of items adorned with his likeness. There are T-shirts, hats, posters, tapestries, skateboard decks, headphones, speakers, turntables, bags, watches, pipes, lighters, ashtrays, key chains, backpacks, scented candles, room mist, soap, hand cream, lip balm, body wash, coffee, dietary-supplement drinks, and cannabis (whole flower, as well as oil) that bear some official relationship with the Marley estate. There are also lava lamps, iPhone cases, mouse pads, and fragrances that do not. In 2016, Forbes calculated that Marley’s estate brought in twenty-one million dollars, making him the year’s sixth-highest-earning “dead celebrity,” and unauthorized sales of Marley music and merchandise have been estimated to generate more than half a billion dollars a year, though the estate disputes this.”

In the intervening years there have been more lawsuits than there are albums in Marley’s discography. I respect his unconventional worldview, but it’s sad that a bevy of lawyers have benefitted most from his artistic genius.

Apple, Foxconn, Wisconsin

After reading Janesville, I couldn’t help but be interested in this perfectly titled piece in The Atlantic.

Numbers to ponder:

“It has up to $3 billion in tax breaks, to be passed and provided by the state government. Those kinds of tax incentives can get a manufacturer to plant a factory in a given location—but generally at a significant cost to the state budget, and without doing much to help the economy overall.”

What does $3b mean?

“The Washington Postestimates that the breaks could cost the state as much as $230,700 per job created. Tim Culpan at Bloomberg Businessweek puts it at $1 million per job, enough to buy every man, woman, and child in Wisconsin a new iPhone.”

So the margin of error is only $770k/per job created. I recommend the rest of the succinct piece.

What to Do When Stocks are Pricey

Insightful blog post by Carl Richards titled “You’re No Coward If You’re Keeping Some Money Out of Stocks”.

What should “some” be as a percentage? Conventional investment wisdom is subtract your age from 110 or 100 and invest that much in stocks.

Better yet, think about risk like Richards:

“You see, I hate losing money in investments that are outside my control. It ties me up in knots and distracts me from just about everything. So awhile ago, when I moved some money out of a 401(k) plan into my retirement account after a job change, I left it in cash.

I told myself that I was fine with missing out if the market continued to go up. But I wasn’t fine with investing this pile of cash just in time to get my head taken off in a big, scary market drop. And guess what? That was and still is true. So, I’m fine sitting in cash earning 0.16 percent or whatever the rate might be. I just don’t want to lose.

This decision has cost me in paper gains that I might have achieved, given how well the stock market has done since that decision, but I don’t care. I don’t see it as a real cost. Instead, I see it as an investment in my sanity and my human capital.

The fact that I didn’t have to worry about losing money in that area of my life allowed me to feel comfortable taking risks in other areas. I’ve started two or three new businesses and moved my family to New Zealand. The risks I have taken have provided, and will continue to provide, a much higher return than what I might have received if I remained fully invested in the markets.”

Why I’m Never Signing Up for Amazon Prime

By The Verge’s Vlad Savov.

Savov’s rationale is convincing. Among his arguments:

“Deals suck. Discounted goods are bad for me, as a consumer, because they nudge me into buying things I don’t need just to be frugal and collect the massive “saving” inherent in the discount. That’s how I’ve ended up with a collection of pristine, totally unworn sneakers that seemed too cheap to pass up.”

And:

“Free delivery is never free. Amazon Prime makes it unbelievably easy to shop unthinkingly. You can just order up a ton of things of the same class, try them all out, and return the majority, keeping only one. That phenomenon has been so prominent with clothes that Amazon formalized it with the introduction of Amazon Prime Wardrobe last month. But for each of those back and forth trips, there’s a truck, a boat, a plane out there, pushing stuff around the world for the sake of our sheer indulgence and indecision. I don’t care how anyone rationalizes this, I consider it wasteful and polluting and not something I want to contribute to.”

Also:

“Amazon’s employment practices are shit. . . . It was the subject of an undercover BBC Panorama documentary a few years ago, and reports of exploitative working conditions at Amazon warehouses persist. Everything about Prime that feels unbelievably cheap is only so because of the unbelievably cheap way that Amazon deals with the people discharging its duties.”

The only problem with Savov’s essay is his overly soft landing.

“I don’t expect anyone to follow or join me in resisting Amazon’s primal pull toward Prime. You’ve got your own priorities in life and, in all honesty, nobody’s going to fix global injustice by disregarding Prime Day and taking a nice walk outside instead.”

Vlad, I will happily follow you by continuing to resist the lure of Amazon Prime. And I’ll take a nice walk outside too.

Help Me

Help others.

When Mother Dear died two years ago, my brothers, sister, and I inherited what was left in her charitable foundation. Meaning every four years I get to give away some money. This year it’s my turn and I’m not sure whom I should give the money to. Leaning towards a few non-profits that work with the homeless in our fair city.

How do you decide whom to give to? My thinking is guided by two important things. First, the gifts have to be ones moms would’ve made. Second, the gifts should have a lasting impact.

The first principle is a breeze because Mother Dear was profoundly generous. Unlike me, she didn’t overthink things. Instead, she instinctively gave when made aware of obvious needs. No paralysis by analysis.

The second principle is where I need your help. Consider this philanthropic case study. Tom and Christy Lee deserve lots of credit for their selflessness and for helping me refine my philosophy of philanthropy. Consider the math, $5,495 donated to forgive the school lunch debts of 262 families. An average of $21 per family.

It’s possible that an unexpected $21, like tiny micro-loans that have received so much positive press, could make a meaningful difference in a low-income family’s struggle to turn an economic corner. But if the families who received the unexpected loan forgiveness don’t address any of the underlying causes that resulted in them falling behind on their children’s school meals, won’t they be in the exact same place in a year’s time? Does the $21 have a lasting impact? I’m skeptical.

And isn’t the same conundrum even more pronounced for the organizations I’m considering giving to? If the organizations I’m considering giving to feed, clothe, and shelter the most vulnerable members of our community, but don’t also provide substance abuse and mental health counseling or job training and low income housing, won’t the numbers of homeless continue to tick upwards?

So is the answer to give to “both/and” organizations, non-profits that both meet the immediate needs of the most vulnerable and work equally hard to remedy one or more of the underlying causes of institutional homelessness?

Also, how do I assess the relative efficiency of the local organizations I’m considering? The overhead of medium and large sized non-profits are carefully scrutinized by excellent websites, but not smaller, grass-roots ones. How can I know whether 50 or 90 cents of every dollar ends up directly benefitting those in need?

Ultimately, how might I maximize the long-term benefits of these gifts, honor my mom, and extend her legacy?