It’s Saturday night as I type this, and I clearly have no life because I’m blogging and watching a movie on TV. The movie I’m watching is 21, the story about a group of MIT students and their professor, who use an elaborate system of counting cards to win hundreds of thousands from Las Vegas casinos. Naturally, when that much money is involved, stuff inevitably starts to get complicated. Several members of the team screw up, to the chagrin of the professor. Without spoiling the ending, let’s just say there’s a bit of a plot twist.
The movie is based on the book Bringing Down The House (by Ben Mezwich) and as always, the book was better than the movie. Even if you’ve seen the movie, the book is much different, which in turn is much different than what really happened. So basically it’s fiction, but entertaining none the less.
I learned a couple of things from the movie. First of all, if you’re doing something bad, avoid working in teams. Your teammates will inevitably screw you or you will screw them. Combine that with something bad, and you could end up weeping somewhere in the fetal position. Or, as I call it, every Friday night. What? I’m lonely.
The movie made me think about something else. Just how far would I go to make money?
In my past, I’ve invested in beer companies (Anheuser Busch) cigarette companies (Rothmans) ethically questionable retailers (Wal-Mart) and a company that produces something that isn’t good for you. (Roger’s Sugar) I have absolutely no problem with doing any of these things. All these things are legal. Many people are able to enjoy a beer or a doughnut without becoming addicted to the stuff. I don’t really get why investors get worked up about investing in these types of companies, but they have their reasons.
Let’s go a little further down this road. Let’s say there’s a person who’s always had a thing for you. You don’t find them repulsive, they just don’t do it for you, for whatever reason. Suddenly, they receive a large sum of money. Since they’re stupid, they offer you a proposition- they want you, for one night. They’re willing to pay whatever it takes. Would you do it, knowing that what you’re doing is morally a no-no and also illegal?
Would I? Oh hell yeah. I have absolutely no moral objections to someone paying for sex. If the world was ran by me (and it will be someday) I’d make prostitution legal. I’d do my best to sucker as much money as I could out of the chick.
Since this is still a vaguely financial blog, let’s talk how this relates to money. Say you had the opportunity to invest in a company that gives short term loans to people with poor credit, at an exorbitant interest rate. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded payday loan.
Payday loans get a bad rap, and rightfully so. Some people view them as a legal form of extortion. As the guy who’d give the loan though, there’s the potential for a handsome return. If you repeat this process over and over, there’s some decent cash to be made. There are several payday loan companies who are publicly traded on the stock exchange. Would you be a part of that scene?
As the Million Dollar Man used to say, “Everybody’s got a price.” No matter how unpleasant the task, there’s an amount of money that makes the suffering worth it. It’s true, just look at Fear Factor. It’s amazing that show survived more than 20 minutes. Just how many times can you watch someone eat worms anyway?
While the “would you do ‘x’ for ‘x’ amount of money” scenarios are fun, they’re not realistic. Nobody is going to offer you a boatload of money to take off your clothes unless your name is Kim Kardashian. For us mere mortals, the way we make these decisions is with our investment dollars.
There are people who seek out so called sin stocks, because of their better than average historical returns. There are very few businesses where your customer literally becomes addicted to the product, so it’s easy to see the appeal of investing in a cigarette company. Imagine if marijuana ever became legal. I’d load up on shares of whoever makes Twinkies.
Most investors though, don’t really care either way. Those of us who buy indices or mutual funds hold a lot of these types of stocks, but don’t care either way. Ultimately, most people don’t care either way. Maybe that’s how you should feel too.
So if nobody cares, why did I just write a blog post about it? I don’t know, but you can’t have the last 3 minutes of your life back.