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On The StreetTwo Arrows
by WealthEffect Staff
 
 
As long as people will use whatever ingenuity they have to separate you from your money, there won't be any shortage of topics here. From the disreputable firms which sell worthless "investments" to the achingly reputable boards of directors who allow public companies to cater to private greed, there are those who should be held accountable. And there are those who should be recognized, who conduct their business lives with grace and dignity.

With your help, we hope to bring attention to the many things which deserve attention, from Main Street to Wall Street.

Let us know who and what you respect, and who and what you don't — and why. Here, at WealthEffect.com and on WealthEffect TV, we will try to balance the scales just a little bit.

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Denial Ain't Just a River in EgyptTwo Arrows
by WealthEffect Staff
 
 
A magazine profile of the chief executive officer (CEO) of a major consumer-products company highlighted his contention of leading the "noblest business in the world" — a noteworthy comment when the product you sell is essentially sugar.

The interesting question is not whether his comment was true, but whether he thought it was. In the privacy of his own thoughts, did he really believe that his business is nobler than the Red Cross & Red Crescent, than the schools and hospices worldwide?

Denial is a great talent to have, as long as you're talented enough to also know when to use it. We all have this talent to some degree; some CEOs have refined it to the nth degree. For these few, these happy few, motives are filtered through the "prism of me," presenting their actions in whatever light looks best.

In the case of the chief exec mentioned above, there's no harm done, really — and his enthusiasm was more charming than not. Less charming examples are not hard to find, however.

At a discussion with three Internet-related authors, the denial issue was raised as well. In one story, the CEO of a dominant technology company with a reputation for ruthlessness presented himself as the victim of persecution (and he would've proved it if they hadn't pulled the Caine out of action). In another, the CEO of a leading Internet company whined about the criticism he'd received when caught in an unethical business practice — his 'everyone else did it' defense ignored, beyond the obvious, the fact that he had promoted his company as a cut above everyone else.

A more common form of denial which is hardly even questioned is that business is permitted a different morality. What's unacceptable in your personal life is ok in business because, well, it's just business. Those who work with this code book have a certain advantage over those who don't (although we'd much rather invest with the "underdogs" in this case).

In writing a book about Wall Street some time ago, we gave a lot of thought to an exceptional individual who became extraordinarily wealthy and powerful — and then became an admitted felon. If his personal life seemed drawn by Norman Rockwell, his professional life seemed drawn from Norman Bates. Our guess is that he stills views himself the victim.

Where denial in business reaches for the jugular is with those products which are clearly harmful to consumers and innocent bystanders. The argument here is one of free choice — which has merit in the aggregate but not for the individual. The secondary argument that as long as people want a product, someone has to give it to them isn't one to build on, either. The same case can be made by hit men, and there are few bright-eyed MBAs who are signing on to that growth industry.

Another growth industry is in tracking the habits of successful people — and none are tracked as carefully as those who succeed in business, particularly the newly minted billionaires of the last few years. Almost across the board, these individuals are exceptional in their intelligence and in their efforts; for some, the package is enhanced by an equally exceptional talent for denial.

The rich are different, Fitzgerald observed to which Hemingway replied, yes, because they have more money. Perhaps for some, they have so much money because they're different.

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Pinky, We Hardly Knew Ye (revisited)Two Arrows
by WealthEffect Staff

In The Princess Bride, one villian refers to each new event as "inconceivable" — to the point where his henchman says, "You keep using that word, boss. I don't think it means what you think it means." Which naturally brings to mind Bill Clinton.

In leaving his last job, Mr Clinton created a morality play of his own, one in which he was the author and several of the lead characters. But whereas The Princess Bride revolved around true love, this story was (in the words of true royalty) "a puzzlement".

There was the Greek tragedy portion of the evening, in which the mighty were brought down by their own flaws. After eight years of fighting battles of his own creation, the lead actor just couldn't exit stage-left without creating one more. In pardoning Marc Rich and his partner, the less well-known but no less deserving, Pincus "Pinky" Green, Mr Clinton gave everyone a parable that they and their kids could understand. With the furniture being returned, the apologists gravitating elsewhere and the prince's bride misrepresenting herself as a New Yorker, could things get any worse?

Actually, yes. Americans are a very forgiving people, particularly when the economy is good. Mr Clinton's get-out-of-jail-free card had been the strength of the economy and all the good things that had meant for workers and investors. With companies taking turns to announce disappointments and the stock market in disarray, Mr Clinton's charm comes across less as rogue than ruse.

The fact that he's not responsible for the weakening economy any more than he was for its strength becomes irrelevant when people are losing their jobs and their money. Investors can take comfort in knowing that the long-term values of stocks don't change as dramatically as their prices, and that stocks are a better value now than they were this time last year. Individuals who are out of work or afraid they soon will be, however, can't take much comfort in anything, and they're in no mood to forgive Mr Clinton simply because he waved, smiled, protested his innocence and moved his office uptown.

So, where does that leave the ex-president, particularly in the wake of the Democratic debacle in the mid-term elections? Does he fade into punch-line obscurity like Gary Hart and Newt Gingrinch or show the never-say-undie tenacity of Nixon and Lestat?

One possibility lies in the storyline of a different movie, House of Cards, in which a ruthless prime minister, about to be destroyed by his greed, is saved by his cold-hearted, calculating but supportive wife. Her solution is to have him shot at a public function.

Greed? Calculation? Brutal opportunism?

Inconceivable!