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Guatemala, The Hedge Fund Manager, And Populist Pandering

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The Wall Street Journal, is the standard for financial reporting. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not reading something published by them or where their work is being cited by others. That does not, however, apply to the Op-Ed section of the WSJ. I’m not going to make (too much) of a political statement here but the same holds true for The New York Times.

Guatemala, The Hedge Fund Manager, And Populist Pandering

The Times still remains the standard in news reporting, whether they are making money or not. “The New York Times Effect” is a real thing. Even in this age of new media, it’s the reporting of the Times, and its reporters on the ground that allows bloggers, websites, etc. to report the news from a position of knowledge before giving you their take on the story. But, I skip their Op-Ed page as well, despite reading from its website each day.

Hedge Fund Manager Andy Kessler’s Op-Ed Page

Today, I stumbled across a piece of rubbish in the Op-Ed page (online) of The Wall Street Journal written by former hedge fund manager Andy Kessler.

(Note: The online piece linked above was published on July 8, under a different title. A version of this article appeared July 9, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline “Summer Jobs for the Guilty Generation”.)

After reading the piece in its entirety, it left little doubt in my mind that Mr. Kessler and “nice man” rarely collide in the same sentence. But never mind that. If I were an entrepreneur of the ilk that needs Art of War type mantras, the type that by his latest book Eat People: And Other Unapologetic Rules for Game-Changing Entrepreneurs, I wouldn’t wouldn’t want him to be nice. If I hired someone from the Medici family to help me poison my enemies I certainly wouldn’t want them to list the possible side effects like a Cialis commercial.

But he’s the type of person that gives hedge fund managers a bad name—not their ruthlessness per se, but their lack of research and black and white thinking that cost the uninformed investor money, but I’ll get to that. I’m not talking about hedge fund managers, I’m talking about the general public’s perception of hedge fund managers, owing to Muppets like this.

Hedge Fund Managers Not Responsible

Hedge fund managers weren’t responsible for the financial mess the States have endured over the last five plus years. A few may have done their fair share but that type of myopic thinking and vision is the same backwardness that allows people to believe that U.S. manufacturing’s problems can be blamed entirely on unions and China.

In Mr. Kessler’s defense and I dare say he doesn’t care, and I was equally or more upset by a rebuttal filled with populist hyperbole and a sensationalistic headline by Robyn Pennacchia of DeathAndTaxes.

Like Ms. Pennachia, I will be taking pieces of Mr. Kessler’s piece and using them to make my point. At the risk of being accused of taking things out of context, I encourage you to read both in their entirety from the links provided. If you choose to do so, I suggest doing so with an empty stomach.

Ms. Pennacchia took righteous issue with the following penned by Mr. Kessler, although I was just surprised where they were published, not that they  said.

My 16-year-old son volunteers with an organization that feeds the homeless and fills kits with personal-hygiene supplies for them. It’s a worthwhile project, and I tell him so—but he doesn’t like it when our conversation on the way to his minimum-wage job turns to why these homeless folks aren’t also working. Perhaps, I suggest, because someone is feeding, clothing and, in effect, bathing them?

Yes, homeless shelters are to blame for homelessness. Why didn’t I see that?

Given the massive wealth created in the U.S. economy over the past 30-plus years, it’s understandable that the mantra of the guilty generation is sustainability and recycling. But obsessing over carbon footprints and LEED certifications and free-range strawberries and charging for plastic bags will not help the world nearly as much as good old-fashioned economic growth. Gen-G will wise up to the reality that the way to improve lives is to get to work. If Woodstockers figured this out, so will they—as soon as they get over their guilt.

What the hell is a free-range strawberry? And to plastic bags, I’m sure you’re proclivities towards auto-erotic asphyxiation are hindered by reusable hemp bags and you would hate to be foraging  around the kitchen for a good old fashioned plastic bag.

My issues come from the short-sighted nature of Mr. Kessler in the beginning of this piece, and it’s sub-title, Paying to volunteer in Guatemala does far less good than working a productive job. I live in Guatemala and you’ve got this wrong. And not wrong in the sense that I’m going to detail the U.S backed coup in 54′ in defense of United Fruit Company and the interest of John Foster and Allen Dulles. Never mind that it led to a 30 year civil war and a campaign of genocide against the Maya. No, that was before my time, you’ve just got your trickle-down economics all wrong.

My issue lies here…..

Passing through the San Francisco airport recently, I ran into a couple I know who were waiting to pick up their teenage children. “Coming back from camp?” I asked.

They responded with a gaze that could curdle milk into yogurt. Their kids were coming back “from their service trip to Guatemala,” their mother informed me. “It was a wonderful volunteer experience, they really are improving lives.”

A little digging turned up some information about these service trips. One is called the Global Leadership Adventure: Children of the Maya. “Volunteer at a Maya school, attend a ceremony with a Maya shaman,” the website reads. You’ll receive 30 hours of community-service credit—also known as college-application fodder—for only $2,999.

My guess is that this “little digging” was done in his as*. This was confirmed with….

What about investing the same $2,999 in Guatemalan entrepreneurs? Fat chance. Volun-tourism is charity for the giver.

Do your math, I know some of you hedge fund guys hate that … but $3000 to volunteer when the flight is under $600? They did invest in Guatemalan and expat entrepreneurs. Then these people, a number of which I consider friends of mine, spend it in my bar and restaurant, ones that I staff with Guatemalans. Never mind that in this “service trip” these kids will also learn a bit of a valuable skill, perhaps you’ve heard of it, the Spanish language.

From there I can take this money back to the States to visit my family and buy lots of free-range strawberries.

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Brendan Byrne

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