The past three decades of minimal real wage growth have led some people to wonder why they haven’t gotten ahead. And in much the same way that nature abhors a vacuum, con artists hate missing an opportunity to separate suckers from their money. This might explain why we see a special class of self-help gurus — none of whom were rich until they developed this particularly odious grift — who have dedicated themselves to convincing people that if you only believe it, it can happen. Typical of the genre are platitudes like this:
What’s the main thing that separates the rich from the poor? Ask any of the financially free people, and they will tell you the same: their mindset.
This deceptive and disingenuous nonsense is rampant in the marketing materials aimed at gullible and desperate consumers. Indeed, the quote above comes from the website “Psychology for Marketers,” which should scare us into the horrifying but inevitable realization that behavioral finance has been weaponized. “Nudge” no more; it is now full-on psychological warfare.
Ever since Napolean Hill’s Depression-era book “Think and Grow Rich” was published in 1937, an endless stream of garbage has followed. If we don’t take Hill too literally, we can give him credit for trying to get a depressed populace to realize that this too shall pass. Economic downturns are cyclical, and eventually, the U.S. would enjoy a recovery. Perhaps I am being too generous with this interpretation; Hill’s book did sell more than 20 million copies, many to people who were looking for a quick and easy fix. But in the context of that very difficult time, we can give Hill a pass for reminding Americans of their can-do attitudes and boosting their self-confidence.
Consider, instead, the Cartesian pitch being sold today. Just think it and it will happen. This stuff, along with crystals and horoscopes, joins a long list of things that have never been proven to have much value beyond a placebo effect. Does the modern age cause so much intellectual distress that it requires new extra-strength placebos? Perhaps if we could visualize a world without visualizations the problem might be remedied.
Here is something the self-help folks never tell you: Millionaires don’t waste their mental bandwidth on how much a caramel macchiato costs. They focus on becoming smarter and more skilled and responding to market forces in creative, intelligent ways. Jamie Dimon isn’t performing visualizations; Ray Dalio doesn’t have a dream board; Warren Buffett isn’t reciting mantras to himself.