Friday, September 07, 2007

The philosophy of ketchism

I have a confession to make...I am sooo tight with money. I would rather wait 1 day in a queue or transferring planes rather than spend $200 on myself....but in defence when it comes to girlfriends...I'm just slightly better. I'm tempted to call this philosophy 'ketchism' after my ex-Japanese girlfriend called me 'ketchi' = Japanese for 'tight'. I was tempted to make this my philosophy, but really, on reflection, it has deeper roots than that. It has more to do with my sense of life, or sense of struggle. Afterall life was meant to be easy right? Well it hasn't been. Why else would a mining analyst, who should be earning $150K a year and living in Sydney, end up living in the Philippines on his savings. Well ok those career doors are closing to me, but the good news is that other doors are opening...yeh ok, there isn't much money in it, but the savings are great.
You might wonder where this sense of struggle comes from. Well I think its been entrenched in me for a long time. For a starters its well-known in the Philippines that Australians are tight with money. I can understand that...the origins of Australia were based on struggle, there was endless droughts so colonial Australia had alot of difficulty establishing an independent food supply. We had to depend on stockpiles or Mother England. And for a century more we very much looked to the English Empire...we looked to England to protect us, and then the USA. It took several decades before we became financially independent, not until we discovered gold and nothing else mattered :). But exploration is a risky business too, so little surprise that most of the money to finance activity had to come from England. Even today Australian mining companies are listing in England because Australians have an aversion to risk - now they have a problem investing in foreign lands. The English have no such aversion. So even today the sense of scarcity, tragedy and self-doubt persists in the Australian psyche. The anti-intellectualism of the nation is an extension of that on an epistemological level (PS: I dare say you wont hear that word from another Australian).

Contrast Australia with the USA where crops readily grew since water was plentiful. Americans are big on 'the grand symbolic' gesture. Whereas an Australian would be saying 'Whats the bloody big deal' or 'Why all the fuss?'. The other big element was my aspirational family upbringing which placed am emphasis on savings & I was always living for the future....and investing the proceeds. As a result since leaving school I have worked about 8 years (as an employee) and done little else productive for the balance of 8 years. I've spent most of that time investing and trading with my savings...was doing ok until my current GF dragged my attention off the markets. Written alot, not never put my mind to publishing. Its not that I dont like some sense I'm always working...I could even show you a picture of me working, but in ernest I just couldn't stand working for 'dicks in finance'. So what was a critical analyst to do...but as he is trained to I analysed and came to the conclusion that these 'dicks in finance' were not going to let me get ahead because I was good at what I do...and made them feel inadequate. Of course I'd prefer to invest millions and get fat commissions where I deserve them, but I'm tired of looking for it. When you meet more than a dozen 'dicks in finance' you start to see the pattern.
Now when I watch people and I observe how they think, I recognise that they approach life with a sense of 'tightness' or 'generosity', and I mean this not just with respect for money, but with respect to their broader value judgements as well. Well having grown up in Australia you might not be surprised to find out that no one ever showed any appreciation or recognition for what I did. Now I read the 'self improvement' books and they say you should praise 5x more than you criticise. I frankly reject this approach. I think this is what creates 'finance and other dicks' because they are unable to accept criticism. Thats one aspect...the other is a deluded (subjective) sense of reality. Thats what creates economic bubbles, and yes you can attribute those to financiers as well. These people actually think they are good because they appear successful to others, they work with Merril Lynch or something. They inflate market outlooks because thats what they profit from. They dont get generous bonuses unless the market little wonder the market is geared to expansion. If you are critical of the market outlook, you are a pariah, and quickly marginalised. But the other aspect is just how easy it is to make money when everything just keeps going up. You no longer have to be analytical, you just have to be a salesman. You have to sell it. That was another issue...I'd have thought people want to know the arguments for and against an investment. But thats not how 'dicks in finance' work. They write to convince irrespective of the merits because they get paid for raising money...and few people make money in falling markets as falling markets undermines confidence. Well this builds all manner of false economies which is beyond the scope of this post.

So I am a great believer in a balance of criticism and praise when and if they are deserved. But I've come to realise that few people truly have a sense of objective reality. They only hear criticism. There have been times I have made a statement 8-10x and its not been heard, but they will readily hear the bad news. I suspect when 'markets are climbing the wall of worry' breaking out of a downtrend, its the same thing.
Now the amazing thing about the Philippines is that people here are very generally very good at praising others, but they have their fair share of criticism as well. Now you might think that these people are surely great listeners, but paradoxically they are the worst. I used to think it was because they didn't get my accent, but thats not it. When I observe Filipinos talking to other Filipinos, they dont listen at all. So this drew my attention to flaws in the Filipino culture too. People here lack a sense of purpose, lack a sense of organised structure or discipline, they blow as the breeze takes them. Those that are more aspirational go overseas, and Christian guilt if not close family compell them to send half their savings home.
So that still leaves me still trying to find out where I belong...but I do love that I can buy an apartment here sooo cheap. Living here is not as cheap, but its not bad. Yep...I'm that tight.
PS: Refer to 'Tools for Life' for how to apply the Principles of Ketchism to your life.

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