My last get-rich scheme didn’t work out too well. I bet the Texans and Cowboys would play in the Super Bowl. But I heard that organic foods were the current fad, so I invested heavily in them, and went broke because no one would buy my organic foods, not even my organic transplants. “Organic is so last year,” I was told. “Today everyone is into gluten-free foods. I sold my left kidney and bought a gluten company. It went bankrupt. Only then did I learn that gluten is so yesterday. Now the trendy foodies are into cantaloupe seeds.
Perhaps the food industry should be approached from a different direction. I opened a little French café, Le Choque & Puque. It was invaded by the German biergarten next door. I tried to start a Tex-Mex cantina, but the Texas Militia shot my customers. The leader explained, “They looked like Salvadoran child terrorists.” That gave me an idea and I opened a veggie pub for the Texas National Guard on the border called Beets on the Ground. Too late I found out they hadn’t been paid and I couldn’t accept bandoliers in exchange.
Something was wrong with my finances, then I saw a news story that explained my problem. The Federal Reserve said in a new report on consumer finances that the richest 10 percent of Americans were the only group whose median incomes rose in the past three years. And they voted against Obama? The Fed said that incomes declined for every other group from 2010 to 2013, widening the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else. The report found median incomes, adjusted for inflation, for the top 10 percent rose 2 percent, to $223,200 from $217,900. So if you’re in the top 10 percent, you are getting even richer. But for the middle 20 percent, incomes dropped 6 percent, to $48,700 from $51,800. For those at the bottom of the economic ladder – hobos, school teachers and journalists — average incomes dropped from $15,800 to $15,200.
It was my job to go from that bottom 10 percent to the top 10 percent. Of course, my first job was to get a job. I served (briefly) as campaign manager for Eric Cantor’s primary election. I had explained to the House majority whip how I had boosted Congress’s approval rating from 4 percent to almost 5 percent, plus or minus 6 percent. When I applied to Rupert Murdoch for a job, he threw me out of his office when he remembered how I had transformed his News of the World into a household name – a name I can’t repeat. Murdoch had said “fracking” and I thought he said “hacking.” Easy mistake to make.
I purchased the Planned Parenthood franchise in the Vatican. Big error. I finally got a spot at the Dick Cheney Charm School until he found out I had been in charge of the rollout plan for Obamacare. My success operating the college student loan program collapsed after a few Congressional hearings and a multi-trillion debt, but the experience landed me a position as organizational planner for the UT System leadership. That collapsed after several lawsuits, legislative investigations and career-endings for both the UT chancellor and the UT-Austin president. The regents clearly forgot how my consulting had helped Mack Brown last season, not to mention my social advice to the Travis County DA. (Party, party, party – Rick Perry doesn’t care).
Why wasn’t my effort to move upward economically, not to mention socially, residentially and metaphorically, succeeding? My cash cow had been roped, branded and undergone a humiliating operation. Then I discovered why. That same Federal Reserve report said that the top 3 percent of families collected 30.5 percent of all income in 2013, up from 27.7 percent in 2010, and the concentration of wealth continued without interruption. Checking to see just who these top 3 percenters were, I discovered many were professional athletes and CEOs of energy firms, but most were running hedge funds. That was the ticket. I entered that profession only to find nobody was buying hedges, not even bushes.
So I sought out my financial adviser. He had said he had an office near the freeway and would be wearing an orange vest. I found him easily because there was a big sign near his office reading: “Drive slow – clean-up crew.” He put down his pointed pole and trash bag and listened to my lament. “These days the real money is in self-help lectures, so get in on the gold.” I rented a hall and put out ads: “You too can get rich – learn how. Just $10!” When the time came, the auditorium was packed. I addressed the crowd which had greed in its eyes. “What you do is rent a hall and charge ten dollars for people to get in. I made a fortune tonight.” The audience was somewhat displeased, but the doctor said I would be up and around in a few weeks.
As I look back on my career — advising Coke to change its formula, there was that Edsel deal at Ford, and maybe I should not have advised Anthony Weiner about photographs. Then I saw a big headline: “BP To Pay Billions!” Before you can say “extortion,” I made my pitch to the oil spill arbitrator. “This is the last picture of my 200-foot yacht, Tax Dodge. It went down with all hands, and feet, too.” He peered at the picture. “That’s the USS Benedict Arnold.” I quickly brought out a second photo. “This was my beach house. Cost four million, and it’s all gone – the eight-bedroom house, two swimming pools, gatehouse, indoor polo rink or diamond or whatever they call it.” He turned the photo over and read: “Stay at the lovely Hawaiian Hilton.”
My financial adviser recommended I hold a sale on hedges, at least I think that’s what he said. It’s hard to hear though those glass walls in the visiting room.
Ashby is greedy at email@example.com