Slightly Off Center

Slightly Off Center: March 2009

By Dennis Hinkamp

Change starts with your mind.
by Dennis Hinkamp

Change? That’s what we all have left in our retirement accounts. Change is good, change is the only constant and all those other clichés are coming to a town near you.

Another change I see coming is that we are going to go back to a “count your blessings” mentality and getting out of the “misery poker” frame of mind we’ve embraced for a couple decades. Misery poker is the game we all play when things are going well. Instead of emphasizing what good is going on in our lives, we try to raise the stakes to explain how bad we have it.

It works something like this: Someone complains about how cold it is today; someone else counters that on some day in 1982 it was so cold that his pipes froze. Then the next person raises the ante by saying they once lived in northern Minnesota and it was so cold that whole cows froze to the ground. Pretty soon it escalates into someone claiming they lived in an unheated shack on the dark side of Pluto and it was so cold they had to drink mugs of liquid nitrogen just to warm up.

Insert your level of economic misery for coldness and you get the idea. In less dramatic fashion we have been going along in the real estate and general economic boom complaining that we were not really wealthy unless we made more than $1 million. When was the last time you actually heard someone say, “You know, I make enough money and my car is just fine”? Blame it on Bush, blame it on greedy banks or baby boomers-but in the end, the problem is us and we are they. Too much is never enough when you live in a misery poker world.

The next change coming is that you are going to be quickly getting in touch with your inner prodigal son. Even if you have no religious affiliation beyond using the Lord’s name in vain, you must have some inkling of this parable.

The story starts with two brothers. One asks for his inheritance early and goes out and blows it all on speculative real estate and hedge funds while the other son stays home, works in the family pizza business and puts all his money in a secured savings account. The prodigal son loses it all and declares bankruptcy and wants to move home and live in the basement. The father welcomes him with open arms and even goes so far as to throw a huge pizza party where he breaks out the expensive aged Gouda. The son who stayed at home says, “What’s up with this? You are rewarding his stupid behavior.”

The bailout is going to be exactly like this. Everyone who has lived below his or her means, not speculated in offshore banks and lived a generally fiscally conservative life is going to be yelling, “What’s up with this?” when banks and individuals start getting bailed out from their fiscal stupidity.

When this happens, you need to keep chanting to your inner hurt child that the prisons and welfare system aren’t big enough for all the prodigal sons out there and if we don’t help them, they will become drug addicts, criminals, lawyers, mimes and more of a drag on society than they already are.

Change? Yes we can. We have to.

Dennis Hinkamp understands the prodigal son story even though he is an only child for which he counts his blessings.

This article was originally published on February 28, 2009.