Two people came to my office this week. One has a pending case and needs a lawyer to help him finish up. The other has a pending case but needs to start over as earlier prepared paperwork was misfiled and follow up material not provided, leading to the case’s being lost in the USCIS ether. Both have lawyers and both paid them substantial amounts of money. In the first case, the lawyer cannot attend an upcoming meeting and said he could postpone the meeting, but for postponing the meeting, which is necessary because it is the lawyer who cannot attend, will require an additional $1,500 fee. And what does seeking re-scheduling entail – sending a fax request. So, $1,500 is required to send a fax to re-schedule a meeting that the attorney cannot make. In the other case, the lawyer is hounding the client for payments in a case that he botched necessitating that the client start over.
I ask these people and the scores of others, similarly situated, I have encountered over the years, “Why in the world would you give these people so much money? Didn’t it seem like a lot? If you went to a restaurant and they charged you $200 for a Coke, wouldn’t you question it or go somewhere else?” The answers are always to the tune of, “We thought he was doing what is normal for a professional to solve my problem. We trusted him.” My initial inclination is to think that if people are such suckers, it is their own faults. This is America, man, Wise up. Put on your thinking cap. All you have to do is call around a little.
Then I look at my own life. I bank at Wells Fargo. This is what I would actually need from a bank – a business checking account, a business trust account (required of lawyers under California law), a personal checking account, and maybe a savings account (a token of an aspiration). Instead, it turns out I don’t have just four accounts. I have at least seven. Why? Because I sit in a Wells Fargo banker’s aquarium-like office and some young, nattily dressed banker tells me this is what I need. And I believe him. The cost are not that much – perhaps a $25 a year fee for each account – nothing quite like a $1,500 fax – but over time it adds up. This client won’t pay $1,500 over and over for the fax, but I’ll be paying these annual fees forever. So, why did I do it? I trusted that the banker had my best interest at heart. Of course, it is clear now that being a Wells Fargo banker, he did not not. The banker’s salary is close to minimum wage and the only way to afford the natty clothes is to sell, sell, sell accounts. Accounts I never even realized I was actually “buying.” Like these hapless clients, I was suckered.
I suppose we all get hustled. Are the current candidates for President suckering us? Nearly all of us believe one or the other is hustling us. Is the one who says he is a billionaire but won’t show us proof, who never tells the truth, never pays taxes, never gives to charity, runs as a Conservative but rejects all conservative principles, such as heroism, fiscal discipline, strong defense, free markets, individual responsibility, respect for the individual, and not molesting strange women, suckering us? Or is the other one, ambitious to a fault, a master manipulator, and a human money vacuum who is suckering us? Why did we choose these people over people who have spent their careers selflessly championing real values and exhibiting consistent altruism? Because despite all the evidence to the contrary, we think the ones we chose are looking out for us.
It recently was exposed that the retirement advisors most people use to plan their retirement savings are not fiduciaries – do not have our best interests at heart. Like those two clients’ lawyers, my bankers, and presidential candidates – they are guided by self-interest. As a culture we have been indoctrinated to believe that self-interest as a guiding principle leads to the best for everyone. To quote Gordon Gekko, “Greed is good,” or William Buckley, “Freedom breeds inequality,” as if this both true and good.
It is about time our society stops protecting the “right” of people to rob each other. The first step is to accept that we are being robbed, Nothing noble is occurring, no higher principle is affirmed, when our wallets are emptied and we have nothing to show for it – except more problems. (“Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” is just another example of this insidious propaganda.) This is not what Kris Kristofferson meant when he wrote, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,” but this is more and more what it seems. Posted October 9, 2016.