(I contemplated titling this post “James Altucher: Criminal” or “James Altucher: Entitled Prick”, but the former observation is banal and, in my eyes, not necessarily damning, and the latter is kind of petty)
Last weekend I scooped “Zuko” on the Berlusconi profile, and so he didn’t publish his post on how we oughtn’t feel shame for our misdeeds considering the more serious misdeeds of others. There were many people whom the lack of such a post did not affect, since many people do not read this blog. It also did not affect James Altucher, because clearly he already subscribes to that mantra to the fullest.
Now, a big reason for the genesis of this blog is an e-mail conversation “Zuko” and I had about James Altucher. So, if you don’t like reading it, you know who to blame. But, luckily, even if you don’t count that against him, Altucher’s still a criminal – and a huge asshole. At the risk of turning this fledgling blog into a place where we just diss those more famous and successful than us (I swear, my next post will be constructive!), I will quote what we said (below the fold).
It all started when “Zuko” sent this Altucher post on engaging in fraud.
Okay, but what gets me is it seems like this guy thinks this anecdote is somehow quirky and lovable because his listed reasons for wanting 100 million aren’t hookers and blow, and also because he doesn’t end up making the 100 million.
If I were a pharmacist, and I said that to make some money I’d sell a drug that I had no idea what the fuck it did and then I pretended it was hot shit and I got someone to buy my company, no one would be going “aw golly gee, that’s so cute” – I’d be in fucking jail. This guy engaged in massive fraud and somehow thinks it’s a nice story. And then to hear bankers talk about fucking meritocracy and low taxes for high earners because they’ve “earned it” in some sense?
I realise that bankers have this thinking that this isn’t real money or at the very least it’s money owned by other asshole bankers who are just like them and so it’s okay to defraud them. But at some point, it’s somebody’s money, and there are real consequences to this bullshit, right?
In other words, “this is why we can’t have nice things”.
oh [“Zoltan”], it’s so cute when you’re having an epiphany
umm… I never claimed that bankers cared about the real world or about morals or something. But in this case I have the distinct sensation Altucher thinks of himself as a pretty decent guy. So it’s not that some bankers don’t care what they’re doing (which, granted, they may also not), it’s that they just don’t know what they’re doing. That’s not a very useful revelation, but it sure is infuriating. Kinda explains all the hurt feelings editorials about how Obama is mean to bankers, though…
Regarding your first email, I didn’t disagree on any particular point. I wouldn’t be surprised if Altucher does think of himself as a pretty decent guy. Most people think they’re decent people and everyone else is not. People with massive egos (and every banker falls in this category) can engage in pretty weird mental gymnastics that warp their perceptions and really think “We’re decent; like wtf is wrong with everyone else?” What I do think is that probably Altucher’s ego has been taken down a few pegs over the past decade and he’s learnt humility as a result. At least some… Although, I get the feeling that put him in a similar situation today, and of course he’ll repeat his actions. Bankers, of course, know nothing. Bankers know that they know nothing but I’m beginning to think the point is more subtle than that. I think people have this expectation of what a banker should know and what his concerns, motivations and incentives should be. But it’s a bit of a motherhood-and-pie thing, without any basis in practicality or reality. This is not really an apt metaphor but it’s kind of like the stories my Uncle, whose a doctor, tells of families of persons dying of terminal disease who walk into his office expecting cures of cancer. One guy even threatened to kill him if his father didn’t survive another year. The father was on his fourth round of chemo or something and it would have been a miracle if he lived another 2 months. Yes doctors save lives, but you know, they actually can’t. My Uncle’s reaction in that situation is very similar to bankers today, “Like WTF dude! Calm the hell down.” Once, when I was expressing my frustration in my usual colorful language when we were going through the shitstorm of legal battles over our restaurant, our lawyer said to me point-blank, “What you need to understand is that it’s not a justice system, it’s a legal system.” That shut me up. I’m trying to think of a similar expression that can be applied to banking but all I can come up with is a weak one that doesn’t get the point across by itself (a testament to my lack of wit, I guess). What you need to understand is that it’s not a financial system, it’s a banking system. So calm hell down, [“Zoltan”]
Which brings us to two weeks ago, when Altucher posted and then took down a list of 10 confessions which prompted Felix Salmon to write this, which I think has a bunch of excellent points. This causes Altucher to take down his post, call the discussion “grossly inappropriate and unprofessional” and basically pout and threaten to withhold
Why I am posting this is because I am pretty gratified to learn that the “rated zed” team analysis of James Altucher turns out to have been pretty spot on. Except about the potentially learning humility part.