Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!


Cynicism versus ... whatever the antonym of "cynicism" is - idealism? hope?

My parents fled town yesterday. It was very nice to see them, because they're always helpful and interesting to talk to. One particular conversation I had with my father depressed me, though, as plenty of conversations with him have in the past.

I have mentioned my issues with my father before, and although we are similar in many ways, our differences feel like chasms. This conversation illuminated one difference in a stark way. I have been reading Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, which is a fascinating book (one which I will review soon here, if you're interested). One of the points they make is that people act to a certain degree in their own self-interest. Now, that's not a terribly original point, but it leads to all sorts of behavior that we might not expect out of people, like teachers cheating to make their students look better. I mentioned this point to my parents, who are always interested in stuff like this, in conjunction with the chapter on real estate agents who might be less than honest when selling your house. This set my father off.

In the post I referenced above, I mentioned how cynical my dad is. Here's an example: his money. He gets a very nice salary and has for many years. He's close to retirement age. When he retires, he gets his 401(k) money, obviously. He and my mom are having some issues deciding what to do with the money, since it will be quite a bit. My mom wants to use a financial advisor, but my dad doesn't trust them. He has plenty of anecdotes about how they're not to be trusted, obviously.

Why this is a point of interest with me is because Mia has a financial advisor. Mia is, as some of you may know, rich. She can't touch the money until she's 18, and in the interim, we want to grow it as best we can. When she got her settlement, her lawyer suggested a financial advisor she worked with before who knows how to deal with restricted accounts and the like. He got us into some nice funds with a company who has dealt with restricted accounts a lot and knows what they're doing. We get a statement every month and every three months he rebalances the accounts so that the money is evenly distributed over the kinds of stocks and such in which they are invested. He calls us before he does this, because he needs our permission. He takes a commission, of course, but that's the price you pay, right?

My dad thinks we're nuts. Well, not exactly nuts, because we do get statements telling us how everything is done and we could switch things easily (with the court's permission) if we wanted to, but it's a complicated process, investing, and I really don't have the time nor the inclination to delve too deeply into the process. Yes, I know it's Mia's money, and we want it to grow, but the statement I just got says she made a chunk of change since April, so I'm happy. We're not going to move it around into aggressive growth stuff just to make some quick cash, because she doesn't need it now. We're pretty confident that in 15 years the market will have grown significantly beyond where it is now, and if it doesn't, the U.S. will probably be in such sharp decline it won't matter whether we have money or not - we'll all be roaming the streets hunting mutant cats for food. My father thinks we're crazy to put such trust in our financial advisor, because he (my father) is cynical. He thinks the guy is only out to make money for himself. Well, that's true, but the money he is taking from her account is pretty negligible (as I see it), especially because her stock keeps rising and if it starts going down we'll scramble to get it into other things. He thinks we should do it all ourselves. Well, as I mentioned, that's not my thing. So we have to trust someone.

The thing that depressed me about the conversation was thinking about what kind of world my father lives in. How can you go through life not trusting anyone? We have had the unfortunate opportunity to meet with a lot of people we wouldn't normally have, on account of Mia's accident. Her original lawyers took a HUGE pay cut when she received her settlement, because they knew she got shafted and should have gotten a lot more. Now, they can afford to be magnanimous - they're a pretty big firm, and make a crapload of money each day, probably - but they didn't have to be. One of the partners had a disabled kid, which made him sympathetic to us, but again, they could have taken their full share. Yes, again, it might be in their self-interest to do so - we talk about how wonderful they are, more people go to them - but it was still a very nice gesture that they didn't have to do. The place where Krys worked kept paying her while Mia was in the hospital (and Krys pretty much lived there), which they didn't have to do. Again, it may have been a selfish reason - they were trying to ensure her loyalty - but they were perfectly within their rights to not pay her (after her vacation time ran out, that is).

I may be more of a pushover than most people (actually, there's really no "may be" about it - I am), but it irks me when I come across people like my father, who believe that no one is trustworthy. I'm a lot more cynical than I used to be, but I still believe people basically are decent and want to make society a better place. Maybe they do that through looking out only for themselves ("enlightened self-interest," Adam Smith might say), but at some point, people have to do something that might not make sense economically for them but makes sense for the good of society as a whole. My father isn't going to change, but I feel bad that he lives in his world, where everyone is out to get you. Krys lives more in that world than I do, so I trust her when it comes to reading other people's characters (seriously - she's good at it), but she has much more hope than my father. You have to be careful in your dealings with the world. I understand that. I want people to be less evil, because I like to think everyone is pretty decent. I like to think of myself as pretty decent. Maybe I'm not, but I like to think it. I'm not terribly wily in cheating people, so maybe that's why I think the world is a nicer place than it is. Whatever. That's what bugs me about politics. Both sides claim they're acting on principle, but they're not. It would be nice if they did act on principle for once, or just come right out and say they're acting for their own self-interest. Either way, I'd respect them a lot more.

Anyway - be careful and knowledgeable, but don't be cynical. You'll turn into my father. Is that what you want????


Blogger fdfs said...

Wow. You know, Greg, I think this might be your best post yet. I'm a pushover also, but I think the alternative is worse. I couldn't go through life not trusting people, or fighting over every little thing. Let some things go; the arguer is happy, and I'm happier as well, most of the time. it's a utilitarian thing. Anyway, a very nice essay, Greg.

21/7/05 10:27 AM  
Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

Yes, good post. I'm going to write about my dad's life in September, around what would have been his 79th birthday, but I need to write about the 5th anniversary of his death first, which is next month.

21/7/05 11:04 AM  
Anonymous From a different anonymous Back to Regular Anonymous said...

Your father is right. I'd like to think that the ideal approach is to be optimistic until you have a reason not to be, but you need to be alert about what happens to you.
That's not to say you need to be paranoid and suspicious, but you should always keep in mind where your interests lie and how best to protect them.
Being better informed about Mia's investments would never be a bad thing. You don't have to control it yourself jealously, but you should know enough to know what's going on.
Your father seems to have an exaggerated mistrust of other people's motives but he's probably just trying to look out after you in his own way.
Take Care.

21/7/05 1:08 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

Anonymous - I know he's looking after us, and I am better informed about Mia's stuff than I might have let on, but I just think it's sad that we live in a world where suspicion is the first thing we have when we come in contact with people we don't know. It's just sad. Like I said, Krys is good at reading people, so I rely on her. That's why marriage is cool!

21/7/05 1:32 PM  
Blogger Krys said...

Anonymous--Greg doesn't mention it, but we did interview several candidates before choosing the advisor we did. We've been pretty lucky with finding some nice people who are the 'best' in their profession.

I pretty much go with my gut when I meet people. Of course someone would have to be a major scumbag to take advantage of a disabled child--I think I would have picked up on that!

21/7/05 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well that's good-that's what I'd hoped.
I think I may have a problem in this argument because I don't know specifically how "cynical" Greg's father is. And I'm not accusing your financial agent of being unscrupulous, I'm just pointing out that having a good general idea of what's going on in all aspects of your life, even those you give over to other people, is usually a pretty good idea.
Which you seem to be doing. So it's a non-issue I guess. Cool?

21/7/05 5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Burgas my dad is the same way. He doesn't ever trust anyone and thinks it's always best to do everything yourself.

22/7/05 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Burgas my dad is the same way. He doesn't ever trust anyone and thinks it's always best to do everything yourself.

22/7/05 4:00 PM  

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