Of Course You Should Take “No” For An Answer

Dashing young men have all the advantages.

Dashing young men have all the advantages.


Word association time.

Self-help book. Go.

68% of you said Napoleon Hill’s Think And Grow Rich, which is close enough to 100% for our purposes.

It’s the classic of the genre, if not its progenitor. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve subconsciously committed its most famous concepts to memory. Visualize your success. If you can conceive and believe, you can achieve. Don’t take no for an answer. Hill was writing bumper stickers and motivational posters before people had cars and cubicle walls to affix them to.

This isn’t a book review, or at least not a review of the book past its 1st page. Hill’s longtime protégé, W. Clement Stone, tells a story about selling newspapers as a 6-year-old, and running into an uncooperative restaurant owner who would just as soon not have an urchin entering his diner and pestering his customers. But Stone came back every day, wearing down the already weary owner until he finally let Stone in the door. Stone sold all his papers, did so again the next day (fitting with the narrative, Stone’s father had of course died 3 years earlier), had his own newsstand by the time he was 13 and his own insurance company by his late 20s.

We maintain that if Stone had taken no for an answer somewhere along the line, he would have had the newsstand and the insurance company even earlier.

If you never took no for an answer, you might never make a sale. Stone lucked out in that the first restaurateur he contacted happened to be something of a soft touch. Imagine if 6-year-old Stone had first run into this happy character instead. Stone would still be begging for an in. And with all the time that would have elapsed, Stone’s payoff for selling each newspaper would have gradually decreased. Add human mortality and the obsolescence of printed media, and Stone would have starved to death instead of living to 100 and becoming something approaching a billionaire. All because a foul-tempered man engaged him in a battle of attrition before Stone’s sales career had a chance to launch.

No matter how polite you are or how noble your intentions, single-mindedness for its own sake will eventually backfire on you. Show up every day at the door of the insurance firm where you want to work, assuming you want to sell insurance for some reason, and sooner or later security will escort you away. Ask for a date from a girl who’s not interested, and she’ll continue to not be interested. The cutting of one’s losses is an idea that Hill never thought of.

Here’s a contemporized and far more practical interpretation of the idea of “getting to ‘yes.’” Understand that the world is large and that opportunities abound. The existing homeowner won’t sell your dream house to you? Find another dream. The employer who won’t pull your résumé out of the pile refused to recognize your brilliance? Find another employer. Never taking no for an answer is static. Taking whatever answer they give you, and gaining knowledge from it, is dynamic.

If you want to, you can misinterpret this as “When the going gets tough, quit.” Play to your strengths. A kid with no inherent aptitude for salesmanship, but a plan to get that first sale no matter how powerful the objections, would never have sold that first paper without substantial cooperation from the buyer. Commerce is a two-way street. The same principle applies to just about any endeavor you can think of. The sooner you find out that sales, or law, or account management, or software design isn’t your thing, the happier and more productive you’ll be. For a better manifestation of single-mindedness, we’ll take that practiced by Thomas Edison (grade school dropout.) Whether the story is apocryphal or not, it illustrates the point: “Mr. Edison, you’ve failed in 700 attempts to create an incandescent light bulb. Quit already.” “No, I’ve succeeded in removing 700 ways that don’t work. Besides, this is fun.”

Nowhere in Think And Grow Rich is there a word about following one’s passion, or even just following one’s interest. In Hill’s defense, the United States was still largely an agricultural economy at the time. Selling newspapers, or insurance, was as exciting a career as astronaut or porn star when compared to staying home in East Nowhere, Kansas to castrate bulls and bale alfalfa. But we’re better than that. Not only do you not have to hate your job, you don’t have to pound your head against an idiomatic wall to win over one reluctant lead in the sales book. Hit the 2nd through 30th people on the list instead.

Boy, this personal finance advice that barely touches on finance is easy to write. No wonder so many people love Trent Hamm and his imitators and duplicators.

To quote Chuck Klosterman, take no for an answer, but never take maybe for an answer. Maybe means “yes.” Just keep talking.

Let’s Get Preachy!

He probably wasn't thrilled about the naked babies, either

He probably wasn’t thrilled about the naked midgets, either


Today’s post summarized in one line:
God Wants You To Get Out Of The Soup Kitchen And Move To A Better Neighborhood.

How is it possible for a Christian, or a Jew, or a Zoroastrian, to reconcile the pursuit of wealth with the austerity that’s supposed to be part of honoring God?

Question rejected because of a false premise. Where did God say you’re supposed to be poor?

Let’s focus on Christians, not only because they outnumber everyone else but because their book of faith reads from left to right. Matthew 19:24 is the passage about the camel going through the eye of the needle, a line some people use to justify being poor. The problem is that Christ is referencing only the rich in the passage; that is to say, he’s not referencing the poor. His point is that yes, it’s hard for rich people to get into heaven. It’s hard for anyone to get into heaven. You have to resist temptation, not be a douche, not kill people, not even maim them, not cheat and steal, etc. In the same way that while it’s hard for right-handed pitchers to make the majors, it’s not a walk in the cake* for lefties either. Charles Manson makes $1 an hour at Corcoran State Prison.

The ironic thing is that the very next verse in the Bible opens the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The moral to which is that the rich landowner gets to do what he wants with his own money, and the workers he hired should keep quiet and honor their commitments to him (assuming, of course, that he honors his to them.)

It’s easy, actually simplistic, to regard commerce and faith as incompatible. Maybe the mindset stems from people honoring the Sabbath on a day that they don’t traditionally work, except that’s backwards: people don’t traditionally work on a day reserved as the Sabbath. Besides, working on Sunday (or Saturday, if you ever attended summer camp) is not uncommon, nor is it an affront to any deity.

What are you doing when you’re working or otherwise earning money? You’re creating wealth – offering a good or service for remuneration. The buyer benefits from your ingenuity or toil, and you benefit or you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Again, money is just an artifice. If we didn’t have it as a convenient medium to represent value, the only difference would be that after our next shift serving lemonade at Hot Dog On A Stick, we’d be receiving movie tickets and maybe a couple of shirts instead of a check.

Yes, Christ chased the forex traders out of the temple. (One chapter later in Matthew, no less.) But only because them plying their trade there was an affront to propriety and solemnity. Like singing karaoke in an emergency room, or playing beer pong at the office. There’s a time and a place. He wasn’t condemning the money-changers’ profession in and of itself.

Still, people use their faith as an excuse for being poor because…

Because people will use anything as an excuse for being poor. “I believe in intangible riches, the kind that don’t inspire jealousy and other bad feelings.” “The smile on my child’s face, that’s better than any amount of money.” “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.” And our favorite, “(The love of) money is the root of all evil.”

Oh, you sanctimonious titmouse. The love of money is also the root of all good. One more time: money is nothing more a medium of exchange. A representation of wealth. The folks who invented Plumpy’nut and the Versatile RT490 combine harvester turned a profit while doing more than almost anyone to fight global misery. And that’s legitimate, 3rd World misery, not the 1st World kind that involves tragedies like having split ends while not being able to find the right conditioner.

The aforementioned industrialists have been rewarded handsomely. The RT 490’s manufacturers made $16 million in net earnings last year. Did they deserve it? How many machines have you sold to Nigerian farmers that help them become exponentially more productive and save them from excruciating labor? Yeah, none. We thought so.

Parse it hard enough, and you can find a financial message in just about any Bible verse. Paul Zane Pilzer wrote a book called God Wants You To Be Rich, and the argument is the same: it’s a bountiful world, and your marketable skills help make it so. You’re not only entitled, but practically obligated, to develop and exploit those skills. And enjoy the concomitant rewards. And save the guilt and unease for your actual transgressions against nature. Material wealth is only sinful if you come by it dishonestly.

(Hat tip to one of our, for lack of a better word, personal finance coreligionists for inspiring this post.)

*Mixed metaphor ⒸControl Your Cash 2013.

Independent thought

It’s a long weekend. Enjoy it, along with this correspondingly long post.

No one really enjoys writing about politics, right? Political writers are some of the wannest, most opprobrious people on the planet.

Furthermore, I (Greg) hate injecting myself into my work. If the words can’t stand alone, then I’ve selected and arranged them poorly. It’s why I usually negotiate a syntactical labyrinth to avoid using the first-person pronoun. What “I” say and am advocating is less important than objective truth.

Today’s post is a little different.

Understand that I’m as far from an anti-capitalist as it’s possible to be. My 19th century ascendants (to say nothing of my modern-day Burundian cousins) certainly enjoyed more quality family time than I do. But if that family time involves hooking up the plow to the ass, rotating the crops, hoping the loom lasts a few more months so we can make some more clothes, and washing ourselves once a week in a communal bucket of fetid water, I’ll take the meaninglessness of modern American life any day, thank you very much. Me and 6 billion other people, despite what some of them might advocate.

Yes, I read Ayn Rand in college and devoured every word. She was humorless, and had the superciliousness that God has blessed so many atheists with, but she knocked it out of the park on capitalism.

The more control politicians have over their citizens’ economic decisions, the more moribund that economy becomes. This is so obvious to me that it barely counts as an observation, but there are millions of people who still don’t get it. No elected official, regardless of his intelligence or that of the people he surrounds himself with, can think a nation (or state or city) into prosperity. An economy is simply too complex and has too many variables to be under the control of anyone or any body of officials.

Cuba has “free” health care, and Americans should be so lucky. Meanwhile, the newest car on the streets of Havana could qualify for AARP membership, questioning the government officials’ economic decisions (and the concomitant political decisions) gets you imprisoned without cable TV and an exercise room, the man in charge is the very definition of “income disparity”, and, oh yeah, people risk their lives to get out.

Meanwhile, back on the shores of the Great Satan, our congressional leaders and chief executive engineer the taking of non-figurative dollars out of tangible pockets.

But it’s laudable, because they’re doing it for you and me. The nation. Our children. Generations not yet born. This is supposed to be the Age of Irony, yet politicians still speak in the same platitudes and people still vote for them.

It’s easier to blame things on people who have actual skin in the economy, and who necessarily have less charisma than politicians whose jobs consist of smiling when necessary, looking earnest when appropriate, and reciting bromides about A Better America, Opportunity For All, and Hope And Change Moving Forward.

Last year, BP’s Tony Hayward paid with his job for his indelicacy when dealing with the sensitive ears of American news consumers. Not that Hayward is suffering – his golden parachute is so heavy it barely opened – but to what end? They could have sentenced Hayward to walk the streets of Ciudad Juarez wearing a placard that reads “Los narcotraficantes son maricas” and it wouldn’t have cleaned up the oil spill any faster.

I’d love to live in a country where John Chambers, Jeff Bezos, Sam Palmisano, Jim Skinner, Rupe Murdoch and the guy who runs Chevron comprised the president’s cabinet while Ray LaHood and Ken Salazar were in private-sector positions where they didn’t have the power to restrict rights (and responsibilities, which scare most people far more than rights interest them). But such a utopia couldn’t exist. Business geniuses have little stomach for the stifling inertia of government. Bureaucrats have even less interest in the dynamism of gambling on public taste and then creating something to sate it, while running the risk of going broke.

For instance, government mandates fuel economy standards for cars. The immediate, reactionary response is, “How you can be against that? Getting more miles per gallon is better than getting fewer miles per gallon, you tard.”

But the very act of Congress passing a law mandating fuel economy standards means that Congress is attempting to force engineering breakthroughs where none may exist. It’s like the (completely true) story about the Indiana legislature codifying the (completely false) value of π.

National fuel economy standards require that the average car sold this year average 32 miles a gallon.

a) If 32 is good, wouldn’t 300 be better? Or even a real-world 99, which is what the Yamaha YBR125ED motorcycle gets. That bike also has an engine the size of a toothpaste cap and a storage capacity best described as “wanting.” So clearly the lower that national mandate is, the deeper the administration is in bed with the petroleum industry. Or something.

b) If a manufacturer sells “too many” 4-wheel-drive SUVs, i.e. if too many consumers find them big and powerful enough to be worth buying, it’ll lower that average fuel economy and result in fines. You get penalized for making a product that lots of people want. Bureaucrats can rationalize it in terms of weaning us off foreign oil, but the result is the same – fuel economy standards send the message that the government is serious about crises both real and perceived, and the individual’s choice as an economic agent is something less important.

c) The “energy independence” argument is ridiculous, as is the “greener planet” one. Things cost what they cost. As long as I can earn a gallon of fuel for a few minutes’ work, I’ll keep buying it as a necessary expense, inelastic to the forces of aggregate supply and demand. (If I want some, I’ll buy some at the going price, and what other people do is irrelevant. Which should be the impetus behind every economic decision.) If refined petroleum really was responsible for making our planet as lifeless as Neptune, it’d cost a hell of a lot more than 3-something a gallon.

Governments decide which lifesaving drugs pharmaceutical companies are allowed to sell – because if they didn’t, apparently GlaxoSmithKline and Roche would gladly watch their customers die one by one. The government would have us believe that drug companies have no incentive to keep their clientele alive, which is why that same government needs to step in and create the Food & Drug Administration.

The FDA is responsible for countless deaths, but indirectly. No one knows who or how many died waiting years for the approval of, say, Nulojix (a newly available T-cell blocker for transplant patients whose bodies are rejecting their new kidneys.)

Dr. Thomas Sowell suggests a simple warning label that no bureaucrat prohibit pharmaceutical companies from emblazoning on its wares:

“This drug has not been approved by the FDA. Take at your own risk.”

The less personal responsibility that government functionaries can keep in the agency of its citizens, the better for that government and those functionaries.

And so to what seems like a straightforward transaction – you buy a house, a lender helps you finance the purchase, the lender gets an income stream and you get a house. Both parties win. All three parties, if you count the seller.

But with the ever-broadening and capricious hand of government sticking itself down everyone’s pants, nothing is ever that simple. That’s why government created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two companies who tried to achieve the never previously noted goal of “getting Americans in houses.” Those two companies represent the “secondary mortgage market” – the company who sold you your mortgage now resells it to the government, adding another layer of complexity and greater potential for fraud. And the government employee in charge of your resold mortgage has less incentive to care for it than you or your lender does.

Remember – every dollar government operates on is confiscated from somewhere. Your daily transactions, your annual tally of how much money you made – all of it goes to feed the beast. The beast does have several worthwhile purposes, the primary one being maintaining a national defense. The rest of the time, our elected bettors and their underlings are busy determining which music requires a warning label, which radio hosts are so inflammatory that they need to be fined, and which games of chance you shouldn’t play.

From a recent AP story:

“Rescuing the two mortgage giants (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) has cost the government nearly $150 billion so far.”

“The government” isn’t some monolithic and impersonal entity, especially when it’s in debt. Because $500 of that money is yours. Could you use $500 in this economy? Especially if it was yours to begin with?

The government is supposed to operate with the consent of the governed. Sometimes that even happens. The next time you complain about how bad the economy is (which it not only is, but has been for so long that people are starting to think of a weak economy as an inevitable condition of life), remember whom you put in charge.

**This article is featured in the Yakezie Carnival: Independence Day Edition**

**This article is also featured in the Carnival of Wealth #46-July 10, 2011 Edition**