Sep 24

Is it Taboo for You Too?

By Richard Wagner | Finology , Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

Riddle me this: What is taboo yet essential to human function?  Is everywhere but no object?  Is intimate but avoided by intimates?   Is “right up there with oxygen” in its importance yet is studiously sidestepped?

I could go on with riddling paradoxes but you probably already guessed the answer: Money.  Since this blog is all about money, you had an unfair advantage.   I could go on but you might not agree with all of my descriptors.  That’s fine.  We can talk about those later.  Today, we are going a bit deeper into the phenomenon.

The issue is not just money but our relationship with money, personal and collective.  By “relationship with money,” I do not merely mean the thesaurus words like “association,” “connection” or “rapport.” I mean our insides, our emotions and our feelings.  I most especially mean the parts where we feel that gnarl in the pit of our bellies when we think about money and what it means to us and our loved ones.

The issues are often grounded in what the Life Planners call early money memories or messages.  These are generally something intense from our formative years.  For some of us, those memories are literally toxic, particularly if coupled with other virulent negatives rooted in childhood trauma.  For others, these may recall special loving relationships.  However, even the mentally healthy among us are likely to have some quirks in our personal relationships with money.

The scary part is our inability to talk about money relationships combined with their central importance to our personal and social functioning.  It is taboo; so much so that there are quite literally no words in language, English or any other of my ken, describing a relationship between money and individual human beings.  Think about that one.  What else even comes close to being so veiled?  I once heard philosopher Jacob Needleman observe, “Everyone is weird about money.”  Accordingly, not only is money an ultimate, intimate, challenge for each of us as individuals, it similarly tests our aggregated relationships with each other.  I think he was spot on.

What are we to do with it?  How are we supposed to think about it?  How are we supposed to integrate it with our lives?

This issue of our relationships with money is key to so much of what is engaging us as individuals and as communal beings trying to make our ways on Planet Earth to the tune of seven billion people.
There is irony here.  Money is the ultimate communal instrument.  Obviously, the phrase “my money” is an oxymoron in a very real sense.   Money has no meaning at all but that it enables us to function effectively and productively with each other.  The trouble is that each of us weirdos not only has his or her own money kinks to worry about but we bring them with us wherever we go, whatever we do, with whomever we encounter.

This has implications.  For example, this means our leaders are not only weird about money personally; they are also weird when they speak for their institutions, public and private.  They are weird when they negotiate contracts of various sorts.  They are weird when they make large investments or purchase real estate.  They are weird when they create budgets or fight about budgets or actually fail to create them at all.  And they are most especially weird when addressing “The Great Issues of the Day.”

Consider.  Two books provide the basis for today’s prevailing money philosophies. Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776.  Karl Marx’ Capital was published in 1867.  Nearly four hundred years of thought have passed between them and the best we can do is pit the “poor” against the “rich.”  Really?  Like all that money offers is conflict?  Don’t the “poor” have access to substantial portions of modern society’s wealth?  Inequality does not make envy less deadly.

In a recent column for the New York Times (August 22, 2012), Tom Friedman suggested there are four pressing issues facing America:

  1. The nexus of debt, taxes and entitlements;
  2. Education and upgrading worker skills;
  3. Energy and climate challenges;
  4. Immigration policy.

Every one of these has significant personal money issues.   Each requires that we explore our personal relationships with money.

Where to from here? I suggest a good first step is to begin understanding money’s nature and how it challenges us.  That means lifting the taboos on talking about money in personal contexts.  The fact that the news media addresses money constantly does not help us with our relationships with it.  That will require conversation, self-examination and brutal honesty.

Next, it will require a careful look at our presuppositions.   For example, this class divide business.  Do the “poor” benefit from certain aspects of social wealth?  Where does that fit in to our collective conversation?  Do the “rich” contribute to the common wealth or are they just egregious moochers?  Likewise the “47 %” that pay no taxes?  Why are they in this position?  What does it mean?  Who counts?  How many of us can avoid dependency in our lives?  Actually none of us.  Babies are dependent.  The elderly are generally dependent.  What is valid and what is invalid about our social expectations with respect to money?

This blog will continue to probe these issues.

Aug 17

What’s It All About?

By Richard Wagner | Finology , Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

This business of “financial planning,” where are we heading?

Unfortunately, we have been fussing at each other for as long as I can remember.  Unfortunately squared, too few have talked about the point of it all.  Why are we engaged in this work and why is it needed?

We have argued over who is the real financial planner?  And why?  There was an old joke that went something like “Nobody in financial planning can be trusted except you and me…and I am not so sure about you.”  Proving once again that there is really no such thing as a “joke,” this little sketch seems so often reflected in our narratives about financial planning, financial services and our opinions of each other.

What’s going on?  I suggest that the advisory aspects of this business are still so young, it seems like we ought to figure out some notion of right action before we scorch our colleagues with allegations of impropriety.

Again, we must ask: What is this all about?  Will the real financial planner please stand?

First of all, about the term “financial planning,” what is it supposed to mean exactly?  It is certainly not the best term to describe this amazing, emergent money grounding profession.  First, its origins.  It was picked because the SEC rejected the term “financial counseling.”  This was not an auspicious start.  Then there are its structural weaknesses. Reading “planning’s” twelve synonyms (count’em: twelve) from my thesaurus, I am taken from “forecasting” to “scheduling” to “preparation.”  The synonyms are hefty but they not alike.  Neither do they address mission and purpose.

Next with its development: It has been deemed synonymous with financial product sales, joined with precise documents and services and applied to those who would simply deceive.  Then we are taken to the confusions of current usages with respect to “financial planning.”  Is it a noun?  Is it a verb? Is it a product or a service?  Is it an authentic professional advisory profession or a product delivery system?  None of these are bad; they just lead to different conclusions supported by legions of self-interested advocates.   In other words, I am just not sure how useful they are when talking about working for a reputable product manufacturer or helping individuals with their preparations for ninety-year life spans broken into days and weeks of temptations, life’s demands and miscellaneous cash flow imperatives.  For “planning,” we need more finely nuanced distinctions and we need to remember that disagreements over the true meaning of twelve hefty words can only be expected,  (And we need to stop calling each other names.)

Imagine a great restaurant.  Its chef accepts the responsibilities of creating exquisite dining experiences.  She is not in the farming business but she knows how to buy the very best produce from her friends the grocers.  She is not a designer  of atmospheres or menus, the researcher of legal requirements, the counter of monies or the preparer of taxes. She is not in any of those businesses though all are required for her success.  She is in the chef business.   Her friend the grocer is not in the chef business.  He is in the produce business.  He makes it his responsibility to provide his friend the chef with great produce.  When he does his job, the chef can do hers.  Then there are those others.  All are vital—but the mission and purpose of the restaurant is to provide an exquisite dining experience.

And so it is with what we now call financial planning.  There are great advisors who accept the responsibility of providing exquisite relationships and locating excellent product when appropriate.  There are great product manufactures providing outstanding ingredients.  And there are salespeople who help put the right folks together.

Truly, we need them all.  Rather, than fuss and fume, can’t we mutually appreciate and talk about what brings us together in mission and purpose?  In truth, probably none of us are “real financial planners” in the sense of exclusivity but we all have something to offer that does not require poaching each other’s business.

Isn’t it about money and our relationships with it?  Isn’t that worth mutual understanding and appreciation?  Isn’t that hard enough?

 

Dick Wagner

Aug 08

Stingers and Barbs

By Richard Wagner | Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

It seems to me that one of the major problems with our current system is that all of our conversations contain stingers and barbs.  There is little effort made to understand competing perspectives or to address the outstanding issues with civility.

The bottom 50% really don’t pay federal income taxes.  I think that is an issue.  This is a big number and it is ridiculous with implications for our election systems.

In contrast, the top 1% pay a lot.  And the commentators and folks on the “left” keep talking about their “fair share” like that is an absolute number.  Like the bottom 50% wouldn’t choke and scream on similar percentages.  Like the use of governmental powers to extract money from those envied while those envying do not pay a dime of federal income taxes.  They do not care what “the Rich” pay.  Neither do they care about “fair share” so long as it does not take from them.  These are also issues.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. Everybody wants the other guy to pay them.  What to do?

I wonder if we can begin with some kind words.

Perhaps we could start with a simple “Thank you” to those in the top 50% who do pay federal income taxes.  Maybe even put a cherry on top for those in the top 1% (or ten percent, depending on perspective) who carry an extraordinary load percentage wise.

Then, maybe we could go to conversations that forgo what has become the obligatory demonizing of “the Rich.” This could even include conversations that tie productivity and wealth building with financial success and being in the fortunate position of paying lots and lots of taxes because the taxpayer earned lots and lots of income.  We could even discuss how wealth building impacts the entire country.  Maybe we could remind folks that someone had to make someone else happy in order to get them to fork over their cash.  I know the old saw “if it bleeds it leads” but the cynicism about “the Rich” is getting costly for everybody.

For example, I have seen letter writers to national media routinely accuse productive entrepreneurs of “theft” as if above average incomes are ill-gotten.  Such claims ought not be allowed stand unchallenged.

By the same token, the bottom 50% often endure unenviable lives.  There are reasons they are in the bottom 50% and many would have stopped most folks in their tracks.  A little compassion is in order, even if we need to ease back on entitlements.  Ranging from poor choices, to disease, to unfortunate family circumstances, to failing to adapt to the demands of our times, to bad habits and self-destruction, who knows why many fail to thrive in our money based systems? However, I do know that financial success generally requires both mental and physical health.  It is not that easy to occupy the bottom 50%.  Why do we then make our arguments so personal?

Remember who can often be found in that bottom 50%: the elderly, the young, the sick and the lame, the marginalized, etc..  Youth is self-curing.  The other conditions, maybe not so much.  Can we have meaningful, thoughtful and compassionate conversations about these without questioning the motives of others?

I think common civility is a big deal in these conversations.  We need to understand money and its demands on individuals as well as its demands on our government.

So, if you pay a lot in federal income taxes, thank you.  If you pay no federal income taxes, I am generally sorry for those of your circumstances that are beyond your control and suggest you work on those that are not.

Now, can we recognize that our financial system is complex and demands much from all of us?

Dick Wagner

Jul 07

Debt Ceiling Chicken

By Richard Wagner | Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

Well, here we are in early July with no budget deal in sight.  The Dems want to keep the “social safety net” in place and raise taxes, especially on “the Rich.”  The Republicans want to put all of “the social safety net” on the table and keep taxes no worse than they currently are, especially for “the Rich,” whoever they are.  They are both playing chicken with the country’s abilities to borrow. –Not to mention its long-term fiscal stability.  What are financial planners to do?

First, let’s recognize that, from our perspective, this is not a “liberal” v. “conservative” issue.  A pox on both their houses,.  Neither party shares our primary financial planning concerns –namely the long-term financial health of our clients and individuals who could be our clients.  Honestly, it does not seem to me that such thoughts even appear to enter their conversations.  Second, let’s take this chance to consider a finological perspective on these events.  Finally, we should talk defense.  What do we do if they both play chicken and nobody blinks?

To the extent they think about fiscal health at all, these big time politicians are generally beholden to macroeconomics.  They look at the big numbers, the trends.  These are, after all, more closely aligned with the polls.  Truth be told, they just plain aren’t thinking about either Joe or Jane.  They are thinking Red or Blue.  They may speak compassionately about “social safety nets” without really asking the hard questions about long-term sustainability of our money or the economic system. Moreover, it does not seem like either side actually has a long-term plan or even engaged in rudimentary scenario planning.  Frankly, it seems these conversations would be better suited to a rousing game of “Truth or Dare.”  Or Kindergarten,

So maybe financial planners should share our skills for looking down the years at different futures rather than indulge pathologies grounded in ideological conflicts generated nearly 350 (Adam Smith) and 150  (Karl Marx) years ago respectively.  Think things might have been a bit different then?  So why are we continuing with arguments of dubious provenance?

Finologically speaking, folks need some stability.  It is just wrong to be mucking about with the dollar at a time when world systems are shaky.  It is not just Greece and the so-called PIGS.  It is China and Japan as well.  Financial planners need the dollar to be reliable and somewhat predictable.  What else works?

Finally, I do not know what to do if neither side blinks.  That is why “chicken” is a stupid game.  If one side capitulates, testosterone points go to those willing to sacrifice the interests of others while those who pull up at the last minute lose face.  “Chicken” ain’t pretty.

We could rail against hedge fund managers.  It seems extraordinary that Republicans are willing to be known for defending bogus capital gain taxation schemes rather than start dealing with the future.  We could rail against bail-outs and wasteful welfare programs.  It seems extraordinary that legislators are willing to be known for weird subsidies and Rube Goldberg bureaucracies.  However, at the end of the day, we probably just need to shout, “Hey, there are innocent people down here.  Stop doing stupid stuff.”

Traditionally, financial planners have not commented on national economic or political issues, either as individuals or through our organizations.  This debt ceiling business is scary, though.   It provides sufficient reason for us to push our perspectives into the national conversation.  Otherwise, if “chicken” prevails, the damage to all of our finely honed plans could be incalculable.

Jun 23

Why Don’t People Save?

By Richard Wagner | Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

Recently the Nazrudin Project list serve has been addressing an intriguing question: “Why don’t people save?”

Considering that personal savings is something of a 21st century survival skill, it seems relevant.

As you might imagine, the conversation has been vigorous. It has ranged from variations on a couple of themes. Many think that people are self-destructive idiots who do not know their own best interests when the evidence is right in front of them. Others observe that people will generally pick the least painful or the most pleasurable alternative when given a choice. Either way, when they perceive great rewards for saving, they will save. If not, the money gets spent.

Of course, several contrasted “Greatest Generation” savings habits formed during the Great Depression with “Baby Boomer” penchants for self-indulgence and instant gratification. That fruit hangs low–though I am not sure it helps answer the question.

Personally, I see the issues in a cultural context. We have always had savers. We have always had those who run rougher and closer to the edge. That is not new. The significant changes involve life spans and the roles of money in our lives. Our “retirement plans” are no longer our sons and daughters for a none to three year period after ceasing useful work. We need to take life’s last quarter/one third more seriously. If the doctors are right, many of us may have forty year left over life where we are dependent upon unearned income from investments and savings and largely non-existent pension plans. Some will get the support of family. Others can hope for government assistance or a timely visit from the money fairy.

Twenty to forty years times even modest lifestyles are expensive. They generate numbers that are hard to grasp. Unfortunately, most of us have failed to grasp them. They are not funny. The seriousness of this issue is becoming more apparent every day as baby boomers ease gently into our “golden years.” Life as we know it is changing. How will we, as a culture, take care of each other if there is collective under saving?

We need money throughout the whole of our lives but only earn for a half of it. Our needs to save occur decades from when those savings will be needed. It seems far too many of us have failed to make the adjustments.

Why don’t folks save? Apparently, many of us are waiting for the money fairy. Yikes.

Apr 29

FINAPOLY RULES / INSTRUCTIONS

By Wagner Richard | Finapoly , Wisdom


Playing Time: Lifetime                             Ages: All                          Players: seven billion +-

Object of Finapoly:
By successfully addressing questions of money and your relationships with it, you are able to attend to the issues and challenges of your life with respect to survival, family, self, your various organizations, your personal potentials and your relationships with other humans and the Planet Earth while bringing senses of truth, meaning, beauty, purpose and joy with respect to your life.  At the end of that life, you are accountable to your own standards of life purpose and to the divine laws of the universe, whatever they may prove to be.

Contents of Finapoly:

Your Finapoly game should consist of Planet Earth, its natural resources and geography, fellow human beings, your personal qualities and unique attributes, family, fortunes and misfortunes, opportunities, time, health, talents, environment, historical contexts, life conditions, support systems, religion and the Divine, politics, economics, governmental systems and laws and the money supply.  It should also contain a Garden of Knowledge for you to access as needed either through your own efforts or those of knowledgeable professionals.

Apr 20

Finapoly: Playing the Money Game for What It’s Worth

By Wagner Richard | Finapoly , Wisdom

This is a guide for playing one of humanity’s most complex and mysterious forms of engagement.  This is the game of Finapoly™[1].

Finapoly is unique and intricate.  The more you know about it, the better you will be able to successfully meet its demands while living a satisfying and productive life.

Unlike most games, participation in Finapoly is mandatory.  It engages all human beings.  There are no exceptions.  Of course, certain humans play through proxies.  These include children and those whose physical and mental incompetencies require surrogates.  It also includes many in what we call “the Third World.”  They don’t have direct control, but they must still play.  They are affected by how others play.

Mar 31

Finology

By Wagner Richard | Finology , Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

In order to effectively study something, we must name it. The name must be accessible, pronounceable and logical. For example, no one would talk about “the stuff of our imaginations, our dreams, idiosyncrasies, habits and feelings.” Such a name would make study of the phenomena of human behavior impossible. Rather, we have adopted the more logical and concise term “Psychology” to describeourstudy of ourselves, defined as:

Psychology

1: the science of mind and behavior

2a : the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group b : the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity

3: a theory or system of psychology

The etymological history of the word “psychology” is a logical foundation for this definition:

Psychology

1650s, “study of the soul,” probably coined mid-16c. in Germany by Melanchthon as Mod.L. psychologia, from Gk. psykhe- “breath, spirit, soul” (see psyche) + logia “study of” (see -logy). Meaning “study of the mind” first recorded 1748, from G. Wolff’s Psychologia empirica (1732); main modern behavioral sense is from 1895.

The word “psychology” is short, sweet, simple and to the point. Its definition and history are logical in creation and elegant in expression. It effectively enables the proper study of humanity’s behaviors.

Unfortunately, there is no similar word in commonly accepted existence to describe the study of individuals and money. This section aims to cure that lapse by creating such a word. That word is “finology.” Following the lead set by defining the word “psychology,” the appropriate definition of “finology” is:

Finology:

  • The study of human value exchange.
  • The study of money and value exchange.
  • The study of the relationships between human beings and money.
  • The study of minds, brains, customs and behaviors with respect to money and the money forces.
  • The theory or system of Finology.

Etymologically speaking:

Finology 2011,

from finance (n.) c.1400, “an end, settlement, retribution,” from M.Fr. finance “ending, settlement of a debt” (13c.), noun of action from finer “to end, settle a dispute or debt,” from fin (see fine (n.)). Cf. M.L. finis “a payment in settlement, fine or tax.” The notion is of “ending” (by satisfying) something that is due (cf. Gk. telos “end;” pl. tele “services due, dues exacted by the state, financial means.” The French senses gradually were brought into English: “ransom” (mid-15c.), “taxation” (late 15c.); the sense of “management of money” first recorded in English 1770+ -logia “study of” (see -logy).[3]

The word works.

I believe it is noteworthy that the word “finance” has its origins in debt and one at a time transactions. It anticipates the notion that finance involves two or more individuals.

This word prepares the ground for a robust garden of knowledge. Tilling and harvesting that garden will help us practice the arts and crafts of finology.  That, in turn will help how we, as human beings, relate to money and its awesome forces.

Nov 09

Let’s Chat

By Wagner Richard | Wisdom

Because the phrase “my money” is an oxymoron.

What do we know of money? We work with it every day, handling it for both clients and ourselves. We have studied its workings and tried to maximize its powers. We know how important money is to individuals and how much folks hurt when they don’t have it.

That said, I’ll ask again. Do we even know what money is? Do we know where it comes from? Do we understand its requirements? Do we grasp how it has changed over the decades and centuries? Or perceive its psycho-social implications and imperatives for individuals and communities?

Do we see how money has changed its demands on people from the early 20th century to now? Could we conceive of an alternative to the current scheme of international trading currencies, for example? Or do we imagine how much we are now asked to subsidize our extended life spans with something that has no tangible value and that we aren’t even earning?

Aug 14

Seeding the Garden of Knowledge

By Wagner Richard | Garden of Knowledge , Wisdom

My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while
learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.

~H. Fred Dale

Financial planning’s inception and growth is no accident.  It has been the product of historic necessity, fair winds and the demands of our times.  Folks need friends in the finance business.  Money is a sufficiently intrinsic part of modern society that we need educated professionals addressing it from the social cellular perspective.  In these times, we are so immersed in money, money issues and the money forces that most folks literally cannot see obvious connections between money and the forces that drive their most important life issues.

As the saying goes, “What do fish know of water?”  Financial planning has come in to being in large part to help people see their financial issues and make appropriate decisions within the contexts of their life’s conditions.

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