The Blog Of AJ Clarke

Making Money is Dirty?

Making Money is Dirty?

Since that episode at the playground when I was twelve years old, I’ve always looked at making money as dirty. That there was something immoral and suspect about making a huge profit. I looked at capitalists and business people as somewhat dirty and morally suspect as well. Things didn’t improve when I went to college. I went to college at the University of California at Berkeley which is a very liberal college and my friends were very big on the idea of the government taking care of people from cradle to grave. They think that the whole solution to all of the humanities’ problems can be found in the hands of government and government experts. This was the whole assumption that my college years were based on. The problem is it’s easy to be a socialist when you have no money. It’s easy to be a socialist when you don’t have a job. I learned the hard way that after I got out of college and got a job that Uncle Sam was taking a nasty chunk of my pay and even though my payslip will say that I made a decent amount of cash, a huge chunk of that was missing thanks to this concept called taxes. Still, I believed in the whole idea that government is the solution to all sorts of problems. It was a very hard ideological habit to kick. Part in parcel of that was the whole employee mentality that I developed.

I always thought that the way to get ahead was to work for somebody else. I never really looked at myself as capable of being self-employed or owning my own business. Again, this is all a part in parcel of that talk my father and I had when he discovered me and my brother were making a lot of money by reselling candy. The employee mentality that I developed in my 20′s was a big handicap because it limited my ability to develop a realistic conception of money, wealth creation and even my own appreciation of what I’m capable of. I developed a fairly crippling attitude regarding money that I have to be an employee for me to make a living. It was some small consolation to know that I was not alone. In fact, the vast majority of Americans have the same exact employee mentality.

My First Taste of Arbitrage

For the longest time, I was quite happy with my employee mentality. I would just show up to work, do my job in the most efficient, quickest and most effective way possible and my boss would let me go home early. To me, this was the best of all possible worlds. My idea of being the perfect employee was to do a really great job, producing work quickly, showing up early and leaving early. In fact, my supervisor loved me because unlike other employees, I was able to do eight hours of work in only three hours.

I was very happy working as an insurance adjuster in Los Angeles for several years. In fact, it got to the point where I would come in at nine in the morning and leave at eleven. How was that efficient? I was getting all sorts of raises and promotions and I was happy with that lifestyle. I could spend the rest of the day at the beach. I would often go to El Matador Beach near Malibu and enjoy the rest of the day there. However, my life was about to change when my boss Frank White told me to adjust certain BMW rims. I had to go to the west side in Brentwood to adjust this woman’s BMW. She apparently kit several potholes and this five thousand dollars set of stainless steel crone rims that she had were damaged. In my mind, I was expecting like really warped and chipped rims. I was expecting the worst when I showed up at the body shop that her car was located in. I was surprised that these rims were at least from a very superficial level, look perfectly intact. They didn’t look warped at all. They weren’t even chipped or nicked, but when the body shop manager took them off and we ran some tests, there were slight warps in one of the wheels.

According to company policy, if a full set of rims had one wheel warped, you have to replace all four. I basically argued with my boss and we’re going to spend five thousand dollars replacing a whole set of stainless steel crone rims when only one of these wheels was messed up and it was slightly messed up at that. Do we really have to pay five thousand bucks? That was how big of a company man I was. My supervisor Frank said ‘we have to replace all four’ because that’s company policy. Being the boy scout that I said to Frank ‘well Frank, what if we get defrauded? What if she just buys a replacement rim for that one wheel that was screwed up and keep the rest of the money?’ Frank had a stuck answer. He said ‘well, this is a common practice in our industry, you just take all the items that you paid for and to make sure that the body shop replaces all those rims. Of course, the natural question that followed was ‘what am I going to do with these rims that are going to be replaced?’ The next sentence out of Frank White’s mouth changed my life forever. He said ‘I don’t care what you do with them. Just make sure that you remove them from the body shop.’ So I told the body shop manager ‘remove the rims and put it in the trunk of my company car’ and I got the hell out of there. Without a moment hesitation, I went and placed an ad on the Los Angeles Recycler.

Recycler was a buy and sell classified ad magazine where people sold used goods. Just to be sure that I was complying with company procedures, I called Frank and I said ‘well, are you sure that I could keep these rims?’ In no uncertain terms, he said ‘yes, you can keep those rims.’ I was in the free and clear so I put an ad selling these rims for fifteen hundred dollars. Sure enough, a day didn’t even pass when my phone rang and some Afghan guy called and he said he wanted to take a look at the rims. To make the long story short, within twenty-four hours I was able to sell those rims which cost me nothing for nine hundred dollars. This was an experience that changed my life. This showed me that I didn’t have to live my life as an employee. Also, it showed me the value of creating value for other people. When you make money off of the exchanges, you make money selling stuff, when you make money selling services, you make money because you offered value. You didn’t steal from other people. You didn’t transfer wealth from somebody’s slice of the pie to make your slice larger. You basically offered value for value. This one experience changed the way I looked at wealth. It changed the way I looked at myself and it changed the way I looked at how I’m going to make a living from that day forward. You have to remember, at that stage of my career, I was making somewhere around in 2014 dollars, seventy five thousand dollars a year. Not too shabby. I also have a company car, full health and dental and I was working at one of the biggest insurance company in Southern California, but that experience showed me that I was capable of something more.

After three years in law school in San Francisco, I was ready to become self-employed. Originally, I wanted to own my own private practice law firm, but the Internet blew up in 1996. I became so fascinated with making money online using websites that in my first year of law school, I started my own academic essay consultation company. In that year alone, we made seventy five thousand dollars. That was the beginning of my long journey in self-employment. I have never held a job ever since. To me, a job is a step down. To me, a job is really nothing short of slavery. Nothing to me is more pointless than making somebody else’s dream come true. Your job as a human being is to make your own dreams come true.

How I Discovered My Inner Donald Trump

How I Discovered My Inner Donald Trump

One of the most interesting books and powerful books that I’ve ever read is Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal. While I do not fully agree with ‘The Donald”s style, there is something to be said about his attitude. There is something to be said that looking at life as an endless series of opportunities and possibilities. Instead of looking at life as a series of challenges, problems, or hurdles, Donald Trump looks at life as one series of opportunities.

There’s no such thing as a problem. To him, it’s just a giant jigsaw puzzle that all fits together to produce even more opportunities and even more blessings. There’s something life affirming about this perspective. There is something empowering about this point of view. The reality is that this point of view is quite rare. Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s just social conditioning or maybe it’s just a cultural thing, but most of us tend to look at life as that thing that happens when we’re making other plans. In other words, we have set goals where that we’d like to achieve. These are of course, positive goals. But life happens and places challenges ahead of us and this gets in between us and the good stuff that we’d like to get. In short, life happens when we’re making other plans.

I begin this essay with Donald Trump because he truly embodies the American Dream to me. When I was growing up in The South, I often heard from relatives that America was the land of milk and honey. I heard that America was the land of opportunity. This was the land of possibilities. As I grew older and after I spent twenty three years in New England, the thing that I realized was America became the land of milk and honey. It didn’t happen automatically. It happened because of people that thought like Donald Trump. It happened because of people that thought in terms of possibilities and in terms of endless series of opportunities. America did not happen because of people that looked at life as a problem. This was the guiding narrative that still informs my impression of my country.

Twelve year-old Playground Hustler

When I was twelve years old, I was going to WinslowElementary School at the North side of Boston and I noticed that a lot of the kids there paid a lot of money for a candy that they would buy at a corner store. My parents being typical migrants from the South would often shop at bulk discount stores. One of the biggest bulk shopping stores that was very popular at that time was a group discount buying department store that was organized primarily for local and federal employees. This store was a very big thing for the Southern migrant community because you could buy food, groceries and home care products for up to fifty percent off. This is a big deal for most immigrant families that were struggling. You have to remember, this was before Costco and Walmart got really big. So my brother and I would accompany our parents to Fedco and they would always buy us a candy that cost fifty percent off the regular prices.

One day, when I was at the playground with my brother and we saw our playmates walking off to buy a candy at the corner store. We asked them how much they were paying for their candy, they said that they were paying something around one dollar. I made some quick mental calculations and the packs of candy what my brother and I were carrying actually cost twenty-five cents. I blurred it out to the person I was talking to ‘what if I just sell you this pack of candy for fifty cents?’ Since the corner store was kind of a way off from the school and the kids, they really want to bother with spending a dollar for a candy that they have to walk some distance for. My pack of candy quickly sold out. That’s when my brother and I realized that there is a lot of money to be made by just reselling candy. We did this several times and my dad realized that we had fifty dollars saved up. This was a big deal in 1979. Kids normally didn’t have fifty bucks lying around. My dad was quite concerned. He was asking ‘what did you guys do to get that much money?’ We told him. We got bulk discount candy from him and my mom for free and we resold it for fifty cents a shot. Instead of my dad being happy that we discovered the spirit of capitalism, my dad warned us and actually told us to cut it out. What he said made a big impact on me for close to two decades. What my dad says was that you cannot make money off people. You cannot sell something that is way more than a decent profit. In other words, my dad was saying that there is such a thing as a moral profit. Making one hundred percent profit margin over discount candy is ‘immoral.’ It took me several decades to understand where my father is coming from. He looked at what me and my brother were doing as immoral. We felt dirty. We felt that we were doing something wrong. It took me a long time to fully understand why my dad taught the way he thought. Now that I’m older, I can understand why he thought the way he thought.

My father’s big assumption about money is that wealth isn’t created. Instead, wealth is often transferred. In other words, unlike the American system where business people look to increase the size of the pie, my dad thought that people only got rich at someone else’s expense. The only way for your slice to get bigger is if you transfer someone else’s slice to yours. This is where my father’s coming from. The whole concept of turning twenty-five cents into fifty cents rubbed him the wrong way. There was something dirty about it. For the longest time, for over a decade, I believe this. Up until on my late 20′s, I believe that if you made a lot of money off the labor of another person or if you flipped a merchandise at a profit margin of over twenty-five percent that you were doing something wrong. Of course, we’re not talking about drugs here. We’re not talking about contraband. We’re just talking about legal stuff like candy and products. So my dad’s moral capitalism really weighed on me and it really changed the way I looked at the whole concept of making money. I stopped my playground hustle.