October 24th, 2012
Jad: Hello, and welcome to another episode in our ongoing, unfolding dialog. If you haven’t already, you can stop by JKpod.com, where you’ll find all the episodes we’ve released thus far, as well as show notes and references. Kevin and I are still in are initial developmental phase of the show. While we find our bearings, we’ll probably bounce around fairly haphazardly along our mutual interests with a reasonably consistent focus on the grand ideas of liberty, human unity, and equality.
This week, Kevin shares a pair of related stories – one from the mainstream media, the other, a personal anecdote. In both stories, he takes positions that have always associated with reactionary or conservative arguments. I along with most humans, have a tendency to dismiss information that I have pre-categorized as flawed or worse.
In this case, since I know Kevin isn’t any more evil than he claims we all are, and because of his track record of delightful twist endings, I was inclined to hear him out. Kevin jumps right into a challenging idea – at least challenging to me – that millionaire businessmen – at least some of them – deserve the wealth that they’ve sacrifice to build.
Kevin: You know, it’s kind of interesting, there was – what’s the guy’s name – David Siegel – you may have read about him in the news over the last couple of weeks. He’s the guy who’s building that 90,000 square foot house, and he’s a – you know, he’s a multi-billionaire. Apparently he’s one of the largest resort developers in the world.
Basically, what he did was – maybe it was like 2 or 3 weeks ago, I don’t remember exactly when – he sent out a letter to all of his employees – maybe like 7,000 to 10,000 employees – something like that, it’s not insignificant, I mean, it’s quite a few. And he sent them this letter to basically kind of explain what it’s like to be a small business owner in the United States.
I don’t know that I agree with the moral sense of the letter because even though he didn’t say it like this because it would be illegal, he essentially said don’t vote for Obama because if Obama wins this election, I’m shutting down the business and you’re all going to lose your job. And so it got passed all around like, the liberal circuit, and I mean, people were furious about it, and even – like, I just kind of caught wind of it and saw the little notes on it and everything, and I was just like, man, that’s fucked up.
Well yesterday – just by completed coincidence before the debate – somebody sent me the e-mail – the exact same thing he sent out – and they’re like, “hey, if you haven’t read this, you really should”, and I was like, “oh, alright”. So I actually sat down and I read it, and I have to say man, like, I really, really sympathized with this guy after I read what he wrote because as a small business guy myself and somebody who’s real interested in that, I identified with every single thing that he wrote inside of that.
So some of the stuff that he was saying is – essentially, he’s like, “look, I grew up with a pretty intelligent group of friends. They all went off and they all were making money and what have you. They all made good salaries, but they were 40 hour a week sort of employees. They went to work, they did what they were supposed to do, they went home, and then all the rest of that time was theirs and my life wasn’t like that.”
And he’s like, “in my case, I spent all my time working this business that I had this dream of growing. I poured out every bit of money that I made into it. I never had a fancy house. I never had a fancy car. While all my friends were going out on the weekends, drinking, partying, I sat inside for 48 hour weekends working on the business.”
He’s like, “I did this for years, and years, and eventually, I started seeing some success with it. The problem that I have is that when they tell stories about me”, he’s like, “you see me building this 90,000 square foot mansion because I’m a billionaire, but what they don’t show you are the 30 years that I effectively indentured myself to only working on my business, and I had no guarantee of this success coming at all. And the only reason it came is because I did nothing but work on it and sure there’s some elements of luck to it as well.”
What he was saying was – as he went on – is to say, “The problem is that as the government grows, and grows, what they’re doing is they’re changing the game against people like me. So now, despite the fact that I’ve already put in all this time to do this, I’m going to be rich regardless of what happens – there’s no doubt about that.” He’s like, “I’m wealthy as all could be and nothing’s changed it at this point. But I could retire right now, but I don’t want to because I genuinely enjoy this. I’ve spent my whole life doing this – I’m married to this. As I’m having to struggle to run a business, we lost everything when the economy crashed a few years ago, you know? I’m dealing with that as much as anybody is.”
And he’s like, “meanwhile, I’m trying to keep 8,000 people employed. When I have to keep fighting the government for every single thing that I’m trying to keep afloat, at a certain point, it’s just not worth it to me. There’s so much that I have to fight just to keep a business going just because it’s difficult to make a business thrive. The last thing I need is the government making me do all of their obstacles as well. I’ve gotten to the age where at this point, if this continues to happen and the administration does more of this, I’m just telling you I’m closing the company, and I’m moving to Mexico with my wealth, and that’s the end of it. So you’re all going to lose your job – I’m just letting you know now.”
And it’s kind of weird because it was really direct and on one side I guess it’s pretty unfortunate and that’s pretty cold, but I totally get it. You’ve invested all this time and effort into doing something that should have some benefit, and yet the people that you’re fighting with the most are this bureaucratic agency that you have to rival with just to you know, just to do something that you should otherwise be able to do. This guy might be an arrogant, wealthy asshole for all I know, but he makes a good point.
Jad: There’s no contradiction between the notion that the government is bureaucratic, and [?], and awful to work with as a small business, while at the same time giving massive benefits, and favors, and shunting wealth to you know, huge corporations. But there’s a divide and it’s partially because our education trains all of us to be employees as opposed to business owners.
There’s a mental divide between people who own businesses, and people who work for businesses, and whatever it is – probably 20% on one side, 80% on the other. But that 80% puts everyone who owns a business in the same category, which is the people who run the government, basically, or are in cahoots with the ruling class, and are just getting you know, ridiculously wealthy from doing nothing.
So that’s the view from the one side, and the view from the other side is that businesses constantly on the edge of failure based on the whim of government, and the government is too restrictive. Both those things are true at the same time. Both groups thing the other group is wrong – you see what I’m saying? It’s perfect blend for nothing good to happen while the government continues to extract massive amounts of wealth and give it to a very small high-end group of business owners, or businesspeople I guess. They’re not really – they don’t own businesses, they own pieces of lots of businesses.
Kevin: That’s true, and I couldn’t be more opposed to that system either.
Jad: Oh sure, sure. It’s people talking around each other – it’s to do with partisanship I guess. It’s not engaging with the other person’s points, you’re just assigning them to a group, and then you just say, “I don’t have to listen to you because you’re the kind of guy who threatens his employees with being fired if they don’t vote for the right person”, so anything you have, any wisdom that I could possibly glean from you, I’m going to discard that along with your – the position that I don’t agree with you with.
And on the flip side, Mitt Romney is not going to change the law anyway that’s going to affect a genuine, legitimate small businessman. He might change the law so that yeah, developers can develop along a part of a sea coast if this guy wants to build a you know, a condo or something. It’s possible that he wants Romney to be elected so that he can benefit from government, but it’s very unlikely that he wants Romney to be elected so the government will become less restrictive on him and his business.
Kevin: I totally agree with that, and that’s – it’s a distinction I try to make to – in fact, this is a really interesting topic. I have to determine if we can – if I can throw this into a segment or not. But this is something –
Jad: And so he did.
Kevin: This was something that I experience time and again. I lived in Los Angeles a couple years ago, and man I fucking hate Los Angeles, I really do. It’d be a great place to go visit, but living there was just the most awful thing I could think of actually. But I had this conversation a lot and it was right – when I lived there, it was right when the healthcare bill was being passed – in fact, it was passed on my 31st birthday, I believe.
When I would discuss economics with people out there, of course, everybody vehemently opposed my position on these things and I mean, they would let it be known too. And I mean – and these were like kind of friends of mine at the time. But people would really rip on me for a lot of the things – for example, they were talking about the healthcare bill, and I went, “why would you even care anyways? Those penalties don’t apply for anybody that makes over $80,000”, and I’m like, “well, okay”. And they’re like, “what, you make over $80,000?” And they’re like, “well, fuck you, you can pay for it anyways”, and they get like, really mad about it.
It took me a while to like, kind of put this together. I was like, “I understand the position that you think you have against me, but you need to weigh my life – the choices of my life – against the choices of your life”, because most of these people were actors and actresses that of course, they didn’t make a lot of money. And what really bothered me about it though was that they had no general semblance of risk and reward.
I was like, “sure, I make plenty of money. I work around the clock. I’ve spend the majority of my life studying in a field so I can be very good at it. I go out and I do all the sales myself, and I’m constantly working.” I was like, “you see me up late every night, I work through the weekends” –
Jad: By the way, if you don’t know Kevin, this is no exaggeration. I’m sure we’ll get more into his bio in a later episode, but this guy is a productivity machine. I mean, this is some real David Allen, Steven Covey shit right here.
Kevin: There’s all sorts of things that I give up as a result to do that, and hopefully the end game is that someday, I’ve got a reasonable amount of money so I can do whatever I want. You, conversely, you want to say that this is unfair. Many of the people that I met, they had degrees from like, Yale, and Brown, and Harvard, and MIT, I mean, these were really, really smart people that I got to spend time with.
You have some of the most prestigious degrees that you can get in this country. You could be employed doing anything you want to do, making virtually any sum of money that you want to, but you certainly make a six figure salary with your education, but you don’t want to do that because you have the idea in your head to be an actor or an actress.
In the event that it happens, you have riches beyond belief, and now you’re famous as well. This is a tradeoff here, and what really bothered me about it was – and I guess that’s why this guy’s letter touched me a little bit – is that it’s about life choices, and I don’t want anybody to have an unequal starting point. Like, I’m totally fine with trying to help people – I think we should. But I just think people have come so far and are so dismissive of what they actually have in life, versus what other people might give up.
And that part really started to bother me, and I let it be known a little bit. Nothing would blow my mind more than when I was like, “look, yeah, you’re right. I make a lot of money. But I made it happen, and I went to a public university. My whole education was probably $20,000, yours was $200,000. You clearly had the upper hand – to me – and I’m doing better than you. Is it because you’re smarter or I’m smarter? No. It’s because I’m making the choices that allow me to do this, and you’re making choices that are for some other reason and I shouldn’t be penalized just because you want to pursue exactly what it is that you want to do.
Jad: Again, it’s that yin and yang thing, right, because that’s a situation which you’re talking to your peer group. They’re college educated, they sometimes even – colleges that would give them a you know, upper hand in a generic job market like Ivy League schools and whatnot. Your well is poisoned in a sense, because that argument is used for people who are like you know, in juvenile detention from age 10, and then put in prison at 18, and then now they’re 35 or something like that, and someone’s like, “well why don’t you go get a job?”
The problem is, again, that that argument is smeared between political rhetoric in which people are genuinely dis-empowered, and disenfranchised, and disadvantaged, and then told you know, “your own bad choices have got you here”, and the other situation where people are you know, genuinely capable of doing whatever they want, but they feel like people who make different choices and come out with different outcomes – they’re jealous of them.
Jad: It’s just bad all the way around, again.
Kevin: So you know, I have written about that as well I mean, surprise, surprise. Yeah, it was me trying to contemplate exactly how that occurs, and I guess you’re right, it entirely occurs because we’ve conflated the two systems, and so when I express any negativity towards it, it makes it look like I’m putting down you know, the poor kid on the street who genuinely doesn’t have anything, and I’m not. So yeah, that’s what really started to bother me about it. I think even more so the fact that it was a personal attack, and then I also made the point on – a couple of times – to say if you want to get really nitty gritty with it, you have the opportunity – speaking to these people, “you have the opportunity to actually make money and increase the tax space further, but because you want to do just what you want to do, you don’t do that.”
`”In my case, I’m paying more taxes in a year than you’re going to make in a year, and you actually have the opportunity to be making those taxes so that you could be helping these social programs that you’re so allegedly in favor of helping in the first place.”
Jad: Yeah. Now that sounds awful, by the way. I mean, hanging out with that group of people sounds extremely taxing.
Kevin: It was rough, it really was. It took – I will not say that I handled it all that well all of the time, but I think it made me – it’s actually made me a little bit more balanced overall because I think it’s a good experience to have had.
Jad: In those conversations, once terms are defined and once caveats are in place, you say I recognize fully that you know, I was raised in a happy, loving home and I got to go to college, and I realize I had advantages, and yet at that point, you and I are tied – we’re at the same spot – and now we’re making different life choices, and that’s what we’re talking about and it’s a totally different ballgame than the again, the poisoned well of the conversation that happens on the political level.
Kevin: Yeah. It took some time to kind of readjust to that. The funny thing was – I guess, just to conclude on it – the girl that I dated at the time, she you know, she did not take well to my attitude on this. I mean, she understood it, I think she just took the side of her friends more than she would take the side of me on this. In fact, I think she found my side very distasteful.
Well, interestingly enough, she actually moved out of the city and moved to Austin no less, and I was talking to her recently and she told me that she went back there and – she’s been living in Austin for a couple of years now – and she went back there and she’s like, “you know, surprisingly, people really do talk about their political opinions way more than I ever though.” I’m like, “yeah, they really do there”, and I was like, “which I don’t have a problem with, the problem that I have with it is that they’re all very myopic in that view, and they’ll talk about it, but it’s a circle jerk – they’re not willing to hear any other point of view.” And she’s like, “yeah, I saw that as well.”
So apparently, some people were talking about economics, and she kind of stood in the middle this time and was like, “well, I don’t know if that’s entirely true. You know, I don’t know that you can”, they were just kind of making the same type of outrageous claims they would make against me at the time, and she said that even though she knows all those people, she said that she felt very castigated as well – like, they really shot her down quickly. She’s like, “I have a whole different point of view from what your experience was like out there now”, and I was like, “yeah, it was rough.”
Jad: It’s amazing how much you don’t notice about the intricacies of a position when you’re swimming with the fish as it were, right?
Kevin: Good way to put that.
Jad: When you agree with everyone else, everything just seems like it’s smooth and it allows a lot more what should cause cognitive distance to just kind of flow by you know, unquestioned. That’s why I think – like you said – you drop in the one fish who’s swimming in the other direction, it’s disrupting the very comfortable flow of awful things past people’s peripheral vision where they don’t have to worry about it because they’ve got a world view that lets it all bounce off, until that world view is challenged.
Kevin: Yeah, that always kind of surprised me about it, actually you know, meeting really intelligent people, gifted people for the most part, and it just kind of always surprised me hearing some of the arguments that I would hear because they were so very, frankly senseless, you know? I don’t mind people having their opinion, but you have to be able to back up the opinion with a legitimate sense of reality, and I felt like that was never really there and it always – it always surprised me because I expected that people like that would actually be able to make very strong cases against me, and I would probably learn something from it.
But instead, I actually just felt very personally attached, and I don’t feel like I learned anything from that side other than people – the haves were asking for more, frankly – at the expense of somebody else, no less.
Jad: And there you have it, a tale of two businesspeople – well, 2 tales of two businesspeople, and the anti-business culture they react against. I tend to have more sympathy for the second – that’s partially because I do a podcast with him. The 90,000 square foot home guy might also be a genuine dude out there hustling and making an honest living, though I’d wager against it.
In any case, Kevin and I will be making podcasts into the near future at least. If you have any comments or want to suggest a topic, stop by JKpod.com, and let us hear from you. Thank you so much for listening, and until next time. Take care.