Post 200

This is the 200th post at Bad Money Advice. As it is also a cold and rainy Friday morning here in Boston, this seems like as good a time as any to reflect and take stock.Keyboard a-Michael Maggs

I started Bad Money Advice on a much colder morning this past January. My primary goal was, and still is, my own amusement and satisfaction. Unemployment saddled me with a lot of free time and extra energy and I wanted something to do more substantive than on-line poker.

So far so good. BMA amuses me. I’ve got something to say and, apparently, have found an audience of people willing to listen.

From the start, the blog has been anonymous. It’s not that I would be embarrassed by signing my real name to anything I write here. But I cling to the hope of getting a job one day, and I don’t want the baggage of being a blogger to come along with my resume. This is not a good market in which to be a job candidate with any sort of complicating issue.

I bring this up because the question of my anonymity came up the other week when I almost got mentioned in a major media outlet. It fell through because the outlet has a rule against negative anonymous quotes. You can be critical and snarky or you can be anonymous, but not both. I think that’s a rule that is both misconceived and, in my case, misapplied, but I understand the sentiment. Nobody wants to read critical opinions from sources they can’t evaluate. (And possibly retaliate against.)

The bigger problem is that hardly anybody wants to read critical opinions of any kind. Outside of movie reviews and politics, where people like hearing criticism provided it fits into their already formed beliefs, negative comments on the work or opinions of others is increasingly frowned on.

The local glossy in these parts, Boston Magazine, runs an annual Best of Boston issue listing all sorts of establishments and places, from restaurants to parks, that the editors think are the best around. But in the old days (ten years ago?) it was called the Best and Worst of Boston issue and included an amusing and useful list of places to avoid. Why did they stop pointing out the worst? I don’t think it was a fear of lawsuits or the potential of lost advertizing revenue from the worst businesses. I think they decided it just wasn’t nice, and people don’t like reading magazines that aren’t nice.

This is not a good thing. We all believe, or say we believe, in the marketplace of ideas based on such principles as freedom of speech. Part of that is pointing out when the ideas of others are bogus. That’s not nice, but it is necessary. The real world isn’t (shouldn’t be) like a giant kindergarten where the efforts and participation of everyone is rewarded and encouraged. Freedom of speech doesn’t grant a right to an affirming “thank you for sharing” every time you open your mouth.

To me, the reluctance to tolerate criticism is related to a reluctance to think critically in the broader analytical sense. What was most striking to me about the kerfuffle over the “You lie!” heckling of the president a few weeks ago was the focus on the rudeness and lack of decorum involved. There was almost no discussion of whether or not Obama was, in fact, lying. The reason for this, I believe, was that the answer is complicated and possibly even ambiguous. Working that out might hurt our little brains. Better to report on how shamefully inappropriate it was. (And it was, by the way.)

Discomfort with being negative is probably a natural human inclination. Would I have written the previous 199 posts exactly as I did if my real name were on them? The honest answer is that I probably would have changed a few words here and there. Nobody likes to be hostile. But it must be done.

If you’ve read more than a handful of those 199 posts you know that I think that mainstream personal finance advice is a travesty. And you can’t get something fixed until it’s understood to be broken. So here I am, rudely, and sometimes mockingly, pointing out that it is broken. Stay tuned for the next 200.

[Photo: Michael Maggs]

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