Tuesday, August 25, 2009


There's really only one good reason to go into debt: you're going to use the borrowed money to increase your ability to make money, such that you will have more money in the future than if you did not borrow, taking inflation into account.

Borrowing for other reasons is generally dumb. When you buy a car with credit, and pay it off over so many years with interest, you end up with a loss. Maybe you really like the car, and the extra thousands of dollars were worth it to you, but many people don't realize how much they're really paying.

Education is generally a good reason for debt. College is expensive, but college graduates make more money in the workforce. (Graduate school, on the other hand...)

People like to buy houses with borrowed money. You are probably aware of the role this played in the economic catastrophe. There is a draw to home ownership, even with debt, because the house can be leveraged for even more debt. People borrow to get a house, then borrow against the house to get a fancy car or boat. This makes those things greatly more expensive, and increases the risk of defaulting. The most appropriate use of money borrowed against one's home is home improvement. Use that money to make the house more valuable.

I argued about this with an economics professor who said we should be happy that G.W.Bush put the US into so much debt because debt means we have more money for growth. Unfortunately, borrowing a trillion dollars from China so we can bomb Iraq just forces our children to pay a trillion in interest over their lives, and only Halliburton and Blackwater and Lockheed see the payoff. Iraq was not a large enough threat to the US to justify the money spent. It made sense to go into debt during the Cold War under Reagan because the threat to the US could have wiped out future productivity. That kind of debt is inappropriate now, but too many Republicans have betrayed their fiscal conservatism ideology, and instead hemorrhage money on a tyrranical and imperialist security and military structure. That money could have developed our commercial and industrial infrastructure, education system, and given all citizens healthcare for life, which would have greatly improved our whole nation's future productivity, resulting in a net gain instead of a loss. Debt only makes sense when it is for growth, or real survival (not from fake threats hyped up by an administration to justify giving itself more power at the expense of liberty).

So what do you do if you want something, but can't afford it now? Be patient and save up for it, like everyone used to do. Don't be an impatient materialist. Remember that study on delaying gratification with the little kids and the marshmallows? Being able to delay gratification was the strongest predictor of success in life, and the kids who grabbed the sweets immediately were more likely to go to jail and drop out of school. Practice being a better person. Practice patience and financial responsibility. Develop a strong frontal lobe that can inhibit bad impulses and make good decisions. Save up to buy something.

Also, pay attention to whether or not you really need what you want. I know for a fact that you don't need a television, especially not a big flat panel. I also know that you don't need to buy a brand new car. My car is 19 years old, gets 32 mpg, and the annual repair and maintenance bills are a small fraction of what new car payments would be. You also don't need a Coach purse or Dior shirts. If those things are important to you, buy them with cash instead of debt. You also do not need to eat at restaurants. Healthy and delicious meals are very cheap if you make them yourself, and you can make your food unique and interesting.

Behavioral scientists have found that people spend more when they're using a credit card, as if it's not real money if they're not holding the greenbacks. Well, use that to your advantage. Pay for things with cash. See if it helps you be more responsible.

Borrowing money is for real emergencies or real opportunities for future gain. When you go into debt for materialism, you set yourself up for greater loss, and you neuroplastically encourage weaknesses in your brain.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kill Your Television

Or at least wound it. There are a great number of reasons to not watch more than an hour or so of television per day, especially for children. Kids who watch more TV have higher blood pressure, lower vocabularies (though that may be due to just less intelligent and less engaging parents also being the ones who put their kids in front of the TV more), obesity, aggression, sleep disruption, and so on. Seriously, if you've got kids, be a good parent and ditch the television.

Even for adults, besides the obesity and sleep disruption, wouldn't it be better to use that time to actively do something? Learn something. Make something. Exercise. Have a positive interaction with another person. Please. Relationships are the most important part of our lives. Be healthy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Love is the Answer

Love really is the most important thing in life.

The sappy songs, the cheesy movies; they're all right. We are hardwired to form attachments with each other. An absence of love during infancy can result in physical failure to thrive, low intelligence, and life-long psychological and behavioral problems. Love strengthens our immune systems, helps us resist stress, lengthens our lives, and makes us happy. It gives us confidence and security. Meditating on the experience of love changes the brain over time, making a person better able to control negative emotions such as fear and anger, and improves empathy.

Take some time each day, even a little, to really appreciate the people you care about, and who care about you. Tell then that you love them. Don't be afraid of sounding cheesy or gay. It is important for everyone to know that they are loved, to hear it, and to feel free in it without fear.

You cannot buy the benefits of love. There is no pill. The easiest way to get it is to give it.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009


When someone talks to you, it is important to separate what they say from how you feel about the person. Even your best friend or most respected authority can be quite wrong about something. Even the village idiot or despised annoyance can say something poignant or useful.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Not Get Caught

The best way to not get caught doing something you're not supposed to do is to not do it in the first place.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Heinz makes the best ketchup that you're likely to find in an average grocery store. I have never had better ketchup, and have unhappily endured other brands when Heinz was not available. If you want to really enjoy your ketchup, pay the extra few cents at the market for Heinz. It is worth it.


Wisdom is such a tricky thing. It is most easily accumulated by learning from mistakes. Wouldn't you rather learn from other people's mistakes, and subsequently avoid making them? Sure, but you'd have to believe the other people, and trust that they experienced enough and accurately evaluated their experiences. If it were so easy to learn from others' experiences, no one would smoke and all children would apply themselves in school. The elderly like to reminisce to another era in which youth respected the wisdom of the elders, but I don't think that has been part of American culture for a long time.

Despite the difficulty of trying to impart wisdom, I will attempt to use this blog to let readers benefit from my many years of diligently evaluated experiences. Some of what I write will be the result of my mistakes. Some will be based on the mistakes of others. Some will not have anything to do with mistakes. I hope you find this useful. If you've got a problem with any of it, just remember that I'll have none of your sass, whippersnappers.

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