Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Reality, Not Fantasy

I have a personal motto, and it's a remarkably cynical one: "Your opinion is worth as much as the money you're willing to put behind it." The meaning behind it is pretty transparent. I don't care about what you're saying unless you can be held accountable for what you're saying. This is what infuriates me about talking head television and Jim Cramer. They make a bunch of predictions, most of them wrong, and they keep doing it because nobody's keeping score.

Accountability is what makes people try their hardest. And when people are considering their financial future, you can be damn sure that they're paying attention. Nobody wants to be poor, and money, despite some people's naive protestations, is the number 1 issue in their life unless they have so much money that they don't need to worry about it.

That's why I like Intrade. It's a website where you can bet on the outcome of future events. The most popular markets are, by far, US political elections followed closely by high profile international political events. Just go there and see how other people are pricing the future. Some of the prices will surprise you. Others are more obvious. But there's one thing you can be sure of, everybody participating on Intrade is using real money and they're not out to lose it.

Now I'm not encouraging you to go there and try and make a fortune. Most people would lose money because most people don't have an unfiltered view. They have their own worldview lens that distorts what is actually there with what they want to see. We all have our blind spots, and tons of people have political blind spots.

So let me head off your first thought. You don't care about predicting the future. You have your beliefs and you'll fight for those beliefs regardless of whether other people agree or not. I have a few choice words for you: you are a chump. Fighting a lost cause is the dumbest thing you can do. You're throwing good money (or effort) after bad. There's no point wasting time and energy on something you know can't happen.

Now you've got a second thought. Your cause isn't lost. And even if most people don't agree with you now, that doesn't mean they won't in the future. If that's the case, wouldn't it make sense to get a gauge on how other people perceive the future? If you want to bring people to your side, you have to know how they see the situation. And then you have to be able to argue why their view is wrong.

If you just surround yourself with people who agree with you, you're just making your reality-distorting lens even thicker. The best way to see reality is to follow the money. When people's money and livelihoods are at stake, things like honor, morality, and "being in the right" mean nothing compared to being in the money.

That's why campaign staffers obsess over polls and surveys. They want to know how everybody is thinking at that particular moment in time. They want to know who approves. Who disapproves. Who's undecided. And then they go out and think of ways to get people to their side.

Any candid conversation with a politician or their campaign staff would be unpublishable in the press. Because the truth, aka the reality, isn't welcome to most people. People want their worldviews confirmed. They want bullshit. And they don't want to feel less than human, as hypocritical as that is.

The fact is you can't treat everybody like human beings. There's too many people. Eventually you have to condense other people to something that doesn't even resemble a human, or even an animal. You reduce them to an abstract figure that can be described in 10 words or less, generalized to the point of being unable to distinguish one person from another.

There is a bit of Beltway cynicism in the following phrase: "Medicare is the most predictable fiscal crisis in history". If you asked a politician to give the no-bullshit translation, it would be something like this: "People really, really like Medicare. And it'll get to the point where too many people are using too much of Medicare and eventually we're going to have to drastically reduce the benefits of the program and raise taxes to pay for it, and we'll do it in a way where nobody is going to be happy about it."

I wish more people would see politics in reality and not fantasy. And here's the reality: it doesn't matter who's in office. This is a country of over 300 million people with so much wealth that we can afford to ignore almost all of our long term problems right up to the point where we can't. And when that point arrives, that's when the hard, unpopular decisions will get made. And those decisions are going to be the same regardless of which party controls which branch of government.

Sucks doesn't it? I can see why people prefer fantasy.

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