Archives For Education

Thinking is hard. It requires attention, focus and… oh look, a new car. Wow, it’s a pretty pearl colored mid-size SUV. Speaking of mid-size SUV, have you noticed all mid-sized SUVs look the same now, whether it’s an Audi, Toyota, BMW or Hyundai?

Oh wait, I was thinking about something else… our lives are complex. There are literally thousands of decisions we make every few hours, with most of them so programmed that we don’t even think about it anymore. I wake up to my alarm clock, get out of bed, hop in the shower, get dressed, eat breakfast and head to work*. Within those steps, there are hundreds of little decisions to make. Should I put my socks on my hands or my feet? Should I wear underwear or go commando? Should I drink straight from the milk carton or use a glass?

Luckily for us, there are entire companies to help us do our thinking. They’re called advertisers. They tell us what we need to make us happy, how we should dress to stay trendy, how we need to look to be considered beautiful and much more. Thanks to advertisers, many of our hardest decisions are made for us! Continue Reading…

When Ayn Rand is wrong

January 18, 2016 — 2 Comments

I originally wrote this post in 2011 when the 2009 financial meltdown was fresh on our minds and the timing also coincided with a resurgence in Ayn Rand’s popularity due mostly to her most popular book, Atlas Shrugged, released as a movie. I think I was also a little more arrogant then, so now I’d say in no way would I ever attempt verbally spar with a brilliant mind like Any Rand’s, but it’s at least fun to take a shot at it!

Ayn Rand’s resurgence in popularity the last few years has mirrored the government’s acquisition of large amounts of debt in ‘saving our country’ from the perils by bailing out the banks.  Her popularity previously peaked in the 1950s as a philosopher on moral values as they relate to economic potential.

Wikipedia’s description of Rand says:

“Ayn Rand’s principles of objectivism states that the proper moral purpose of one’s life is the pursuit of one’s own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform man’s widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally.”

I’ve read two of her most popular books (Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead) which were quite entertaining and convincing in her philosophies. Based on my knowledge from her books and interpretation of the quote above, I think she infers the best system is one where we watch out for ourselves and don’t sacrifice our own self-interest for those of another. In other words, sacrificing our own interest for others (altruism) is bad and will not lead to a more advanced society.

Rand’s views of objectivism are nearly indisputable in a utopia or possibly even a controlled experiment where the wide array of human emotions are limited. However, when it comes to reality, many of her assertions are wrong. Specifically,

1.  Altruism (sacrificing our own interest for others) is bad

Altruism is our willingness to put other’s needs before our own. Altruism is crucial to hold our civilization together. Rand argues that altruism is ruining us because it pushes us not to focus on our own rational self-interest. She says it turns us into a welfare and socialist state. However, I argue that without altruism, we would haven’t a state in the first place!

Altruism is important because it builds trust in our society. We must have faith in our fellow man that he will be altruistic and be willing to put others over himself at certain points. This doesn’t mean we must always sacrifice our own needs for other’s needs. Most of our actions will be self-serving either for ourselves or family, but that doesn’t mean all of them should be.

What happens when you know someone won’t sacrifice for you?

The person who always puts their self-interest first will soon reside on an island they mistakenly built through selfishness and lack of trust. There are times in my life when it’s not in my own self-interest to hear a friend’s problems, but if I’m not there for them they’ll find someone else and the friendship will weaken.

2.  Faith is bad for us

Next, objectivism rejects faith. Faith is another crucial component of civilization, and I’m not talking only from a religious perspective. We must have faith that our fellow man will not work solely on his self-interests when associating with us. A sales conversion works best when two parties are supporting each other’s mutual interests. If I don’t have faith you’re looking out for me at least partially, I’m not going to buy from you.

Her theory doesn’t take into account that we are emotional beings who are sometimes irrationally driven by our feelings. It’s always going to be that way because only the most enlightened individuals can live beyond that (maybe only monks).

3.  Government should only be used to protect our individual rights

Rand also says that the government should only be used as a force to protect our individual rights. At an individual level, this means a police force to protect our rights and at a higher level a government army to protect our country’s rights against other countries. I disagree, because I think the government must have powers outside of simply protecting rights.

One of Rand’s examples is the government shouldn’t take my money away and force me to contribute to roads and infrastructure. She says that in her objective world, the roads would be built by the motivation from someone’s self-interest. For example, a retail complex owner would build a highway straight to his mall to get people to show up.

Theoretically, this sounds okay. However, when you look at what would actually happen, our infrastructure would be a mess. First, we need a central planner to ensure the best highway and road systems are laid out. Next, there would be no reason to maintain roads and highways in poor areas because it wouldn’t feed the self-interest of the person who would have to pay for it.

Rational self-interest will not lead us to the Utopian society that Rand envisions.  In a theoretical world it might, but there is a reason being our brother’s keeper has maintained strong civilizations. At some point, most of us need help and can’t rely solely on ourselves to handle every situation.

The great thinker and philosopher Adam Smith explains the importance of a strong national government, not as a monopolistic industry leader, but more for protection and for the facilitation of large public projects. Even if you don’t believe in a strong national government, it’s hard to follow Rand’s oversimplified version of government that only provides protection.

Rational self-interest would lead to a total corporate takeover if the company leader’s values were corrupted – which seems to happen all too often. If not for government regulation, we’d still be working in the Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle, living in an environment full of dangers where humans are sacrificed at the altar of production and leaded fuel and paint become our beverage of choice. We wouldn’t need death panels because a simple lack of an individual’s money would make the ultimate decision if they get the life-saving surgery.

Although I disagree with many of her concepts, as I mentioned in a previous post there’s still a lot of merit in her writing and philosophies. Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead are both really good books that are both enlightening and entertaining. In fact, I do believe in some of her principles and think we’d be in a much better place if we all lived by them.  However, as mentioned above, many of these would only work in an utopia.

Warning: my potential controversial opinion to follow…

When Trump first started the campaign, he was nothing more than one of those annoying little yappy dogs who always had something to prove. He ran his campaign like a reality show and his media-savvy meant his campaign wasn’t as short-lived as I expected.

Now Trump has grown from a little yappy dog to one of those big, scary dogs you avoid when walking your neighborhood. He has the potential to be very dangerous as his rhetoric worsens and his base strengthens. He has nothing to lose and speaks to a base that’s more comfortable with what America used to be than what it will be.

I found two really good quotes that help explain or even confirm my fears. The first is from Ayn Rand:

Every dictator is a mystic, and every mystic is a potential dictator. A mystic craves obedience from men, not their agreement. He wants them to surrender their consciousness to his assertions, his edicts, his wishes, his whims—as his consciousness is surrendered to theirs. He wants to deal with men by means of faith and force—he finds no satisfaction in their consent if he must earn it by means of facts and reason. Reason is the enemy he dreads and, simultaneously, considers precarious; reason, to him, is a means of deception; he feels that men possess some power more potent than reason—and only their causeless belief or their forced obedience can give him a sense of security, a proof that he has gained control of the mystic endowment he lacked. His lust is to command, not to convince: conviction requires an act of independence and rests on the absolute of an objective reality. What he seeks is power over reality and over men’s means of perceiving it, their mind, the power to interpose his will between existence and consciousness, as if, by agreeing to fake the reality he orders them to fake, men would, in fact, create it.

He is creating the reality he wants and getting many others to buy in. He’s reinforcing antiquated beliefs that should’ve died out last generation. He’s feeding fear and not dealing in reason.

Another great quote that helps explain why trump is popular is from the original definer of capitalism, Adam Smith:

Through capitalism we gain, but we also lose.  The loss, Smith felt, was felt most among the lowest classes – his particular example was employees in a pin factory – whose cramped place in the chain of production leaves no room for the enlargement of the mind and spirit, which the freedom of commercial society should open up.  It was especially worrisome to Smith, because “in free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favorable judgment which the people may form of its conduct,” a mass of ignorant, culturally degraded citizens easily becomes an immense drag on the system.  They become easy prey to demagogues and applaud every attempt to undermine the foundations of that “natural liberty” which they have enjoyed the first place.

I had to look up the full definition of demagogue before appreciating the quote:

a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

synonyms: rabble-rouser, agitator, political agitator, soapbox orator, firebrand, fomenter, provocateur

Nailed it! Okay, I’ll get back to talking about personal finance and BREAK FREE topics now!

Why I almost bought a bus

October 20, 2014 — 2 Comments

I didn’t have a business plan, I had no idea what it takes to maintain a bus, I don’t have a commercial driver’s license, and I have no place to park a bus. There are a thousand reasons why I have no business in owning a bus. So why did I almost buy one?

It all started when we were traveling and we fell in love with the idea of running a mobile retail business after seeing the “RE: START” mall in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was intended to be a temporary mall after the terrible earthquake destroyed 80% of their downtown, but soon they realized the converted shipping containers could be permanent. We definitely saw the potential of doing the same thing in the United States.

However, the logistics always presented a problem – I’d have to buy a big truck and a crane attachment to move them around. That’s on top of the expense of converting the storage container into a suitable shop. So I kept thinking. Continue Reading…

When I heard he had an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), I knew he was going to be brilliant. His consulting must be like no other, with the ability to create business cases from thin air and pull PowerPoint presentations from places the rest of us didn’t even know existed.

I had my first exposure to Ivy League graduates while I still worked at the large consulting firm, Accenture. We worked with many smart people from state schools, private schools, and of course Ivy League schools. Since I graduated from a lowly state school (Oklahoma State), there must’ve been no way I could keep up with these people.

As we started the new project, I was nervous working around him because I didn’t want to seem dumb. However, it didn’t take long to realize he wasn’t born with super powers. He put his pants on one leg at a time, but he had a much bigger college loan to prove he went to an Ivy League school… and now we were doing the same job! This is what initially made me question how much we should really spend on a college degree.

One advantage/disadvantage of growing up in a smaller town with a blue-collar family is you aren’t exposed to many Ivy Leaguers except for what you see on TV. They’re always the high-flyers making earth-shattering decisions and printing money like they’re the fed. The only way they got there is because their parents were a part of the elite societies and wore the skull and crossbones.

Luckily for me, I was able to gain exposure after college and realized that neither of these assumptions are necessarily true. Sure, some of them only got there because of their pedigrees, but many others got there through hard work. They didn’t have connections or the “inside”, but they set a goal and worked incredibly hard to get there.

I also learned they’re not much different than the rest of us. Some Ivy Leaguers like to think they are, but in reality they don’t have special powers. The majority are great people who don’t hold their attitudes to the high esteem bestowed upon them by their degree.

So what made them Ivy Leaguers? One of my friends/mentors grew up in Boston and had many friends who went to the Ivy League schools. We were discussing this very point, and he asked me what percentage of my high school class went to college. I wasn’t exactly sure but assumed around 50%. He was amazed because his school was more like 95%-97% college bound.

These kids were raised in a different culture. If your friends and parents are all likely to have been to or are going to an Ivy League school, your chances of attending one increase dramatically. They’re raised with the idea that not only is not going to college not an option, but not going to an Ivy League school isn’t an option either! This is why I make the point that sometimes hanging out with rich people will make you rich.

According to The Chronicle, there is a noticeable advantage for legacies – students whose parents or family members attended the elite school. They wrote:

“A researcher at Harvard University recently examined the impact of legacy status at 30 highly selective colleges and concluded that, all other things being equal, legacy applicants got a 23.3-percentage-point increase in their probability of admission. If the applicants’ connection was a parent who attended the college as an undergraduate, a “primary legacy,” the increase was 45.1-percentage points. ”

That’s a pretty big advantage! However, some people say it’s a disadvantage. When I was still at OSU, the business school sponsored CEO Day where they brought in OSU Alumni who were CEOs at various companies. I was lucky enough to host the CEO of Praxair. He told me he’d rather hire graduates from state universities because they’re much more well-rounded and don’t have the Ivy League sense of entitlement.

Next time you feel intimidated by someone because they have a degree and you don’t, or because they have a list of degrees from prestigious universities, don’t give them the green light to walk over you. They don’t have special powers… in fact, the only power they have over you is what you give them.

The debate of whether it’s an advantage to grow up rich or poor lives on! Have you ever been through an experience such as this?