Before I get into it, I must say that I don’t recommend that you do this. I’m sharing this strategy for information purposes only, so that you can understand the playing field you’re working with, and can make better personal choices for how you make and manage your money.
I do encourage you to become a millionaire, if that’s something that interests you. If it’s billions you’re after, I’m a bit suspicious but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Aspiring to trillions, though, is the domain of the wicked alone and we won’t be able to be friends any more.
The big money isn’t in creating products, it’s in creating customers. A single, lifelong customer who lives his life spending the way you want him to is worth six or seven figures. A single one. Creating millions of these is the only way to make trillions.
You can make millions by selling a great product to people who need it, but you make billions and trillions by conditioning an entire nation of people to react to every inconvenience, every whim, and every passing desire or fear by buying something.
It does take some capital to get it going. You won’t be able to manage it with 5-dollar-an-hour overseas virtual assistants, but like I said I’d prefer if you didn’t strive to be a trillionaire, because it’s not so good for the rest of us.
What it takes amounts to an engineered cultural shift. A small-time entrepreneur could never manage it, but if you’ve got some old money kicking around (and someone always does) then you’re in a position to influence or purchase broadcasters, politicians and trendsetting media figures, and you can sculpt a new normal pretty quickly.
After the second world war, a few privileged Americans developed a brilliant formula for building an unimaginably huge economy:
[Our economy] demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumptive patterns [...] We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live, with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.
~American retail analyst Victor Lebow (hat tip to reader Anna for this)
This is very-high-level marketing, and it has formed most of the developed world around you.
Using the television as their primary tool, very-high-level marketers have managed to create a nation of people who typically:
- work almost all the time
- absorb several hours of advertising every night, in their own homes
- are tired and unhealthy and vaguely dissatisfied with their lives
- respond to boredom, dissatisfaction, or anxiety only by buying and consuming things
- have disposable income but can’t find a more fulfilling line of work without losing their health insurance
- create health problems for themselves, which can be treated with drugs they can “ask their doctor about”
- own far more items than they use, and believe they don’t have enough
- are easily distracted from the unhealthy state of their lives and their culture by breaking news and celebrity gossip
- perpetually convince themselves it is not the right time to make major lifestyle changes
- happily buy stuff that breaks within a year, and which nobody knows how to fix
- have learned, through the media’s culture of blame-mongering, that the key to solving public and private issues is to find the right people to hate
Not that it’s drastically different in the rest of the developed world. Trillionaires (or at least their employees) are working around the clock to pipe these habits into living rooms everywhere. Huge economy, huge population, global influence.
Healthy people — who know how to deal with disappointment, who have given up on the idea of magic bullets, who don’t watch TV indiscriminately, who are fulfilled by things that don’t cost money — are poor consumers, and so the very-high-level marketers have nurtured a culture which produces the exact opposite.
You are being encouraged, from virtually every angle, to become or remain unhealthy and unfulfilled, because then you will buy more. Not to make you paranoid, but that’s the primary purpose of the glowing rectangle in your living room — to encourage poor (but not quite failing) health, general complacency, and an unconscious reflex for parting with money.
This is not a rallying cry to go burn down your local Wal-Mart. The anti-capitalism schtick is for high school kids.
I’m not even telling you to throw your TV out the window. But that’s definitely a move with a very high ROI, if the thought interests you.
I don’t even recommend that you nurture hatred for The Man. In fact, it’s an understatement to say that that would be barking up the wrong tree. There’s nothing out there — no ideology, methodology, behavior, person or idea — that it is healthy to hate. The Man does what he does because he doesn’t know any better — he’s an addict himself, with poor life skills.
Your life skills can be made into superior ones, which will protect you from succumbing to destructive and self-destructive urges, such as (among many others) the urge to create a culture of ill health, fear and addiction just so you can enjoy exclusive sensations like wearing 10,000-dollar underwear, or trading companies like they’re baseball cards.
It is a sad Man indeed who cannot achieve a comfortable life without running hundreds of millions of people into the ground to make it easier to get at what’s in their wallets. He can’t really back out of it now anyway — he’s pot-committed, as they say.
So don’t hate The Man, it will only weaken and distract you from what you might accomplish if you don’t follow his cues. Hate has a terrifically poor ROI, at least as far as quality of life goes. If you’ve got some rage you feel needs “investing,” take up a racquet sport. Direct your rage away from any people and animals, and when your tantrum is over, turn your energy towards the cultivation of your life skills.
I’m not referring to situationally-specific life skills like changing tires, folding button-up shirts, or opening public washroom doors without touching the handle, though they are certainly useful.
Here I’m talking about the real fundamentals of being an empowered, self-directed human being.
Creativity. Curiosity. Resilience to distraction. Patience with others.
And to make these all possible: self-reliance — an unswerving willingness to take responsibility for your life, regardless of who had a hand in making it the way it is.
Cultivate these qualities in yourself and others, and when this way of life becomes more normal than getting one’s lifestyle cues from discount-store flyers and CNN, the surefire trillionaire strategy won’t work anymore. For anyone.
Even from a seemingly unempowered starting point — a budget apartment in some forgettable corner of a society that has been designed to make you sick and impotent — these traits will do more for you than any “Anti” stance you can think of. Hating the system is a favorite American pastime. It feels good, is difficult to stop once you start, and gets you precisely nowhere, not unlike eating Doritos.
This is not us against them, it’s us for us.
Though The Man is immature in many ways, he does have a lot of cash, and his strategies are going to be in your face everywhere.
He designed your lifestyle, from the years you toil at a job that has nothing to do with your passions, to the Ford advert you stare at while you’re peeing in a urinal at Applebee’s, to your DVD player that lasted only thirty days longer than its warranty, to the well-trafficked path between your microwave and your couch.
The trillionaire-making strategies you encounter are so insidious because of how normal they’ve become. You’ll find them creeping into your life not only explicitly, in magazines and commercials, but implicitly, in the way other people around you — even people you love — expect you to live.
You will have to be unusual. I hope you already are.