Strange Financial Advice

Be careful out there.

Morgan Housel
Morgan Housel
Oct 28, 2014 at 2:14PM

Work hard. Spend a little. Save the difference. Let your assets work for you. 

That's really all the financial advice you need. The rest is details and filler.

Or, often, hogwash.

A friend recently forwarded me a video from Robert Kiyosaki, author of megabest-seller Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Titled Shooting the Sacred Cows of Money, Kiyosaki and a group of friends spend an hour and eight minutes telling you how to become rich.

It contained some of the most exquisitely crafted nonsense I have ever heard.

Step one on the road to success, the video tells us, is to free yourself from the traps of employment and become an entrepreneur or an investor. Fine. Then begins the silliness:

A job is the highest-risk profession you can have, because you only have one client – your boss ... [When I was an employee] I had no control over my life because I had one client. Now [as an entrepreneur] I have hundreds of thousands of clients, [so if] one client fires me it's not the end of the world.

My risk has gone down considerably, almost to nothing. When you have a job, it's just a high-risk play ...

The other thing is, you're in complete control [as an entrepreneur] ... You know if you're going to lose some business, you can go out and generate business and fill that gap. 

One-quarter of start-ups go out of business within the first year, and 71% are out of business within a decade – a bit more than "almost nothing." By contrast, fewer than 11% workers have been laid off in the last year, and most found new work within two months.

Entrepreneurism is awesome, but to pretend that everything is in your control is insane. Let me introduce you to GT Advanced Technologies, a billion-dollar company that filed for bankruptcy this month after losing one client.

The video then pokes the education system for promoting the slavery of employment:

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When you were in school did they say, "Go to school, get a diploma so you can become an entrepreneur?" No, you'll never hear that in the school system. They tell you to work your way up the ladder, get a paycheck, get a better job. A job is the only option that you'll hear in school.

At least 224 colleges offer degrees in entrepreneurship or small business. You can see them here. Babson College "currently offers 55 entrepreneurship-related undergraduate courses. Over the last five years, its graduates have started 118 companies," according to "100 percent of the total undergraduate entrepreneurship faculty have started, bought, or run a successful business."

There's another problem with being employed, Kiyosaki tells us:

[Employees] get punished for making mistakes, or they lose their jobs. [Entrepreneurs and investors] get richer from their mistakes, because they learn from their mistakes.

Ah, right. No employee has ever learned from a mistake, and no investor has ever made the same mistake twice.

Back to the hell of employment:

The average real income, after inflation, has been falling. So the harder people work, the less they're making because the government and the Federal Reserve ... they're basically stealing it from them [through inflation].

Inflation over the last decade has actually been some of the lowest on record: 2.3% a year versus an average of 3.6% a year since 1950.

The reason real median wages have fallen is because 117% of the economy's gains since 2009 have gone to 10% of the population, which was never the case in the past:

Here's their advice on saving for retirement:

Before [1971], when somebody became working age, they could expect to put away 10% of their income per year. And by the time they got into their 60s they could retire on their savings account and expect to live off that interest. In 1971, everything changed and they started creating currency on a massive scale. That is what causes inflation and the loss of purchasing power. So people thinking that they can retire back in the 1950s, if you got $100,000 or $50,000, you could retire.

That's fantasy. From 1950 to 1971, real (after inflation) short-term interest rates averaged a measly 1.4%, and were negative in 14% of months. And in 1950 47% of males age 65 and up were still working, because retirement was out of reach. By 2010, just 22.1% of older males were working, because retirement was far more attainable.

More from Kiyosaki:

For my mom and dad, the World War II generation, it was very smart to save money. For our generation, the baby boom generation and on, saving money can be the most stupid thing you can do because the system is stealing your wealth through [inflation].

This is exactly backwards. From 1920 to 1980, real (after inflation) returns on stocks averaged 6.77% per year. Ten-year bonds returned 1.08%. From 1980 to August, 2014, stocks returned 8.02% annually after inflation, while bonds returned 5.11% after inflation, according to the Deutsche Bank Long-Term Asset Return Study. So real returns have been dramatically higher for the Baby Boom generation than they were for the previous cohort.

Kiyosaki says four things keep employees poor:

[1] Taxes. Taxes are going to go up because the Fed is printing so much money all over the world.

Haha, what? There is no connection between tax rates, which are set by Congress and the president, and monetary policy, which is set by the Fed. When the Fed was printing in 2010, workers got a giant tax cut. It's also worth noting that when this video ran, in 2010, taxes as a percentage of GDP were at the lowest level in more than 50 years.


[2] Debt. Credit-card debt to make ends meet.

This is a good time to note that when customers couldn't afford Kiyosaki's $45,000 real estate tutorial program they were advised to increase their credit card limits and charge it.


[3] Inflation. Inflation goes up because the taxes go up and prices go up and then inflation goes up.

This is just incoherent.  


[4] Retirement. You must put something away for the day you stop working.

Yeah, Americans are poor because they've saved so much money.

Here's Kiyosaki and friends on saving money in general:

[Living below your means] is no fun. It kills people's spirits. Why would you want to live below your means?

Because I'm a fan of reality, mostly.

Here's his rationale:

Many people have to unfortunately because the Fed is printing so much money that taxes and inflation go up which means people are forced to live below their means.

No one is forced to live below their means. Everyone can spend everything they make. And inflation and taxes going up would make it harder to live below your means.

More folly:

If you're on a paycheck, you have that one income coming in and you're just one person you've only got 24 hours in a day to work. There is a limit to how much you can work to get those paychecks coming in. So in that situation you are forced to live below your means.

Other way around. People with higher incomes can live below their means. Those with lower incomes can't because there's nothing left over after covering the basics. "I earn so little money that I have lots left over at the end of the month," said nobody, ever.

Instead, here's the video's advice:

If we want to buy a new car, we first buy an asset. And the cash flow from the asset pays for the payment for the car. It's never living below your means. It's expanding your means through acquiring assets that gives you cash flow and gives you all those good things in life.

There are two ways to buy an asset: Savings or debt. We're apparently not allowed to have savings because living below our means is bad. So you can buy it with 100% debt, but if you want the short story on how this ends read newspapers from 2008.

Here's more ragging on stocks with things that aren't quite true:

You go to a bank, the banker will sell you a mutual fund. But ask them if they will loan you money to buy those mutual funds, and the answer is "No." But if we go in and we say "We want to buy real estate," the banker says "Oh, how much do you want [to borrow]?" ...

They'll sell you a mutual fund, but they won't lend you money against a mutual fund. That should tell you something. That should be a quick indicator of "Dear God, what are you trying to tell me?"

As of August bankers were lending investors nearly half a trillion dollars to buy stocks and stock funds. You don't even need to ask a banker for a loan to buy stocks because most brokerage accounts automatically come with the ability to buy on margin.

Be careful out there.

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