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This is where the cool kids hang out>>>> ControlYourCash.com

So just why should I buy your book, anyway?

That’s the one most common objection, from people who stumbled across one of our guest posts at Free From Broke, or Money Funk, or Len Penzo, or Credit Card Chaser, or 20sMoney, or Planting Dollars, or My Journey To Millions, or one of the other myriad places that’s been gracious enough to let us beat our chests with our unnuanced approach to building wealth. Yeah, sure, Greg McFarlane can turn a phrase and make me giggle, but why should I trust Betty Kincaid and him to advise me when Dave Ramsey is so earnest and reputable? And Suze Orman so brassy? And Clark Howard so breathtakingly sexy?

If you’re in your early 20s, have negative net worth, and have adopted the belief that debt is just an inevitable fact of life for your remaining decades, you need the book. If you’re adult enough to admit that you don’t know a blessed thing about money, you need the book. If you let someone else do your taxes every year, and isn’t because your finances are so ensconced in LLCs and S corporations that if takes a CPA to decipher your ability to maximize deductions and credits, you need the book. (You also need to start doing your own taxes, at least once.) If you work on Wall Street, dealing in conditional variance swaps and measuring third-order derivatives of the option value to volatility, you can probably skip the chapter on securities and head straight for the chapter on how to buy a car.

We wrote the book to eliminate guesswork for people who can’t be bothered to learn every nuance of someone else’s field of endeavor. Escrow, for instance. Say you’re about to close on a house. If you’re sitting across from an escrow officer who’s talking about proration schedules and title search indemnity, and you nod your head for fear of seeming clueless or unsophisticated, your pride will cost you money. Possibly lots of it.

If you reach that point, in that scenario, your only other option is to admit your ignorance and sit there as the escrow officer goes through every line from every one of the dozens of documents you have to sign. The proceedings will slow to the speed of evolution. It’ll take 5 or 6 hours to go through every contingency, and there’s no way you’ll be disciplined enough to sit through it all anyway.
Or, you can spend $10 or $14 (prices vary, usually downward) on the book. Then you’d know what to have asked the real estate agent and the mortgage lender weeks before you’d gotten to this point.

Tell us, right now: where do the deductions from your paycheck go? (Don’t say “the government”, that’s a D- answer.) How much goes to where? Does any of it ever get returned to you? And if so, then why did the government confiscate it from you in the first place?

Admit it: you probably don’t know. You don’t know what the acronyms stand for (FICA? COBRA?), nor do you know what percentage of your money you’re losing before you even get to touch it.

Are you the least bit interested in minimizing those deductions? In taking home a larger piece of what was yours to begin with? Then you need the book. Control Your Cash isn’t just a memorable and semi-mellifluous title. It’s, as the advertising drones say, a call-to-action. Put it this way: someone’s going to control your cash. If you’d rather it be someone other than you, you’re either a child or retarded.

We wrote the book because we couldn’t find all this stuff – bank accounts, credit scores, home buying, entrepreneurship – in one volume. In the words of Alan Schwarz, author of The Numbers Game and probably not the first author to articulate this thought, “This is the book I wanted to read, but no one had written it. So I did.”

And thus, a book that breaks down your 1040 form line-by-line without boring you into catatonia. A book that teaches you how to walk into a car dealership and treat that tobacco-stained salesman in the Men’s Wearhouse shirt and tie like the petty thief he is. A book that explains how, when and why to invest.

But not what and where to invest. Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense doesn’t recommend particular places to put your money. It just explains what those places are, because most people can’t begin to guess. The book teaches you how all the particular investment classes work, and what their potential pluses and minuses are. But what securities, real estate or bank instruments you choose to build your fortune with are your business.

We’ll teach you to drive. Whether you become Dario Franchitti or Chris Waffle is up to you and chance. But you don’t need to be the former to get where you want to go quickly and safely.

We’re going to a better place

Not as good a place as doggie heaven, but still, you'll like it.

Relax. This isn’t our last post, just our last post here.

We’re all grown up now. Visit us at our new permanent home, ControlYourCash.com.

———

Q: Why’d you move?
A: Had to. It’s our own URL, you can buy the book directly there…WordPress has been wonderful, but it’s time to leave the nest.

Q: Anything else good on the new site?
A: Oh, yeah. A forum, prizes, and the “Anti-Tip” of the Day. Guest posts from the brightest personal finance bloggers in the business. And excerpts from the new book, Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a personal finance book that won’t put you to sleep, and won’t patronize you, but will actually teach you something useful.

Q: Anti-Tip of the Day? What’s that?
A: “Spend your extra money on cigarettes”, “Day trading is a sure path to riches”, that kind of thing.

Q: I dig the old posts. Will they transfer to ControlYourCash.com?
A: They’re already there.

Q: Why do you write like this, in an imaginary conversation?
A: It’s a crutch. Matt Taibbi has profanity, Bill Simmons has “stringing-words-along-in-quotation-marks-ad nauseam“, David Foster Wallace had footnotes, Control Your Cash has this.

Q: Well, it seems to be working for you.
A: Thanks. See you at ControlYourCash.com.

Let’s see how he does with Other People’s Money

Meet Anderson Cooper's phone wallpaper

From the London Times, regarding new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown:

“Others question Brown’s man-of-the-people image. ‘I drive a truck,’ he declared in a debate. ‘And, yes, it has 200,000 miles on it now.’ Yet according to The Huffington Post, a review of Brown’s last financial disclosure, filed in 2009, showed he and his wife own five properties…”

Granted, the author is a journalist and thus not that intellectually rigorous (note the unattributed copout that opens the quote.) But this week’s post hinges on the egregious use of one word – “yet”. It implies that owning multiple houses and driving a working man’s vehicle are somehow conflicting  – when if you’re disciplined enough, one ought to go hand-in-hand with the other.

Irrespective of Scott Brown’s stand on any other issue, this assessment of his financial priorities alone would be enough to earn him our vote.

The author tries to make the point that Brown’s absence of pretention is faux, and that he’s an out-of-touch tycoon with no sensibility for the proletarians in his constituency. To garner respect from the foreign press, presumably he should a) buy a newer and more expensive vehicle (irresponsible), and/or b) sell houses Nos. 2 through 4 and kick the renters out (even more so). Whether his origin is scrappy working class or Boston Brahmin, Brown embodies the Control Your Cash mantra: buy assets, sell liabilities.

He’s doing it close to perfectly. You spend as much as you can on real estate and other things that increase in value, and you spend as little as possible on cash drains like cars and trucks. This is exactly how you should be allocating your money. Drive your vehicle as far as it will go, take the money you could spend on a new vehicle, and instead buy concrete assets with it, like property.

The five houses Brown and his wife own include their primary home (assessed at $549,600), a vacation home in New Hampshire ($472,500), and three condos near the primary home (totaling $471,100). (They also have a dang-blasted timeshare in the Netherlands Antilles worth less than $20,000, but in Brown’s defense he didn’t have a chance to read Control Your Cash while campaigning.)

Brown, or at least Brown’s garage, represents something we like to style controlled frugality for lack of a better term. (If you can think of something more apt, share it with us.) The word “frugal” makes people think of austerity, of abstention – of self-inflicted pain. That’s not what this is about. This is about spending money – a finite resource for most of us – in the right places. Brown is affluent and doubtless has his own indulgences, whatever they might be. But he understands that refusing to spend money on an unnecessarily pricey way to get around town is one of the easiest and most effective ways to Control one’s Cash.

Considering how many miles are on Brown’s 2005 GMC Canyon, he either bought it new, or the original owner sold it to him a few days after buying it. Either way, Brown has spent the last 5 years and 5 months driving his truck an average of about 85 miles daily. For a man with $1.5 million in real estate holdings, to say nothing of his IRAs, Union Pacific stock, bonds and money market account, it wouldn’t be at all remarkable for Brown to have spent $60,000 on another vehicle in that time, if not $120,000 on two.

Most impressively, there’s nothing luxurious about the Canyon (nor its model equivalents, the Chevy Colorado and Isuzu I-Series.) Brown isn’t driving a Cadillac Escalade EXT nor a Lincoln Blackwood*, which look and sound like the kind of things senators would drive. The 2010 Canyon retails for as little as $20,000, which is a far more effective way to spend that money than on a piece of Aruban beachfront that you only get to use 7 days a year and have to pay for 2% of the maintenance of even if you’re responsible for 0% of the damage.

Assuming Brown’s Canyon is in “good” and not “excellent” condition, and that he drives the extended cab (fancier than the regular, plainer than the crew), and that he chose the 5-cylinder model, and that his has 4-wheel drive (not sure what the point of owning a 2-wheel drive truck is, unless you live somewhere tropical and flat like Tuvalu), Kelley Blue Book estimates that a private buyer in Brown’s 02093 ZIP code would buy his truck for $7460.

A lot of America’s financial problems could be solved if our senators were forced to drive vehicles worth less than $7500. Come to think of it, that would make a great rule of thumb – senators’ and representatives’ real estate holdings must be worth at least 200 times what their vehicles are worth. This would still entitle John Kerry to drive the most ostentatious thing Floyd Mayweather has ever fancied, although former Delaware Senator Joe Biden might have had to get by with a Vespa scooter.

This says more about Brown than the obvious, too. Keeping a truck running for 200,000 miles takes care and diligence. Just ask this Control Your Cash author, who followed the maintenance schedule religiously, treated his 2003 TrailBlazer like some people treat their firstborn, and couldn’t sell it fast enough when an out-of-state buyer offered to take it home after 3 years and 130,000 miles.

With a stroke of a pen, and a chronic refusal to accept fiscal reality, the president recently raised the nation’s debt limit to $44,000 per capita. Meanwhile, controlled frugality seems second nature to Scott Brown. Anyone who treats his vehicle with that much care is the kind of person you want with a vote in this country’s current and upcoming (painful) financial decisions.

*Lincoln Blackwood was a short-lived luxury light truck, not the name of a Kennedy family factotum.

Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip/Mum mum mum mum mum mum/Get a job

Doo-wop singer. Another legitimate job that doesn't require a college education.

Meet us back here on Election Day 2012, and tell us that “the college crisis” didn’t become an issue in the 33 months since this post appeared.

We’ve already heard how the domestic automotive industry is the unseverable spinal cord of the American economy, and that it’s our duty to our fellow man (if he’s a UAW member) to spend $50 billion propping up this radiant pulsar of American commerce.

In 2008, you had to go all the way down to the presidential candidate with the 5th-most votes (the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin) before finding one who didn’t spout off some variation on how crucial it was to “keep Americans in their homes”, even if those Americans borrowed too much money and assumed that a steady increase in their homes’ values was a cosmological constant.

And as we heard from a prior presidential administration, doling out 700 billion taxpayer dollars (that’s $233 for each of us) was necessary to keep some of the nation’s largest investment banks in the business of lending money, otherwise “the whole system would collapse”, which presumably means we’d be reduced to collecting animal pelts in exchange for our mp3s and bedroom linens. “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free market” was the quote. To paraphrase a ‘60s-era t-shirt and bumper sticker, that’s like (having sex) for virginity.

Meet the next bubble – post-secondary education.

The problem is this: despite the recession, our society has gotten so absurdly rich that today, young adults loaded with potential can postpone any worthwhile work and ring up debts in the process, all in the name of getting an education. How “education” became more important than “productivity” or “fulfillment” or “not being a drain on society” is unclear.

Yes, we’ve all seen the studies say that college graduates make more money than high school graduates – somewhere around $15,000 annually. This is a mantra people take to heart without examining in any detail. It sounds logical, as many jobs require applicants to have college degrees. But like many bromides that attempt to persuade you of a fact in as pithy a fashion as possible, the $15,000 allegation tells only a minute part of the story.

The median salary for petroleum engineers is around $108,000. For a physician who’s been out of school for a couple of years, it’s reasonable to assume he’ll make anywhere from $170,000 or so for a pediatrician to more than $500,000 for a neurosurgeon.

What about philosophy graduates? English majors? People who think a sociology degree is worth anything? We don’t have figures for them, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t list “barista” and “street musician” as employment categories. Sure, the average college graduate makes a better salary than the average high school graduate. But the average college graduate is part doctor and part engineer. The students who major in the hard sciences are dragging the political science and journalism majors up with them.

This statistic puts the cart before the horse, and puts passivity ahead of activity. For many college graduates who inherently know, just know, that the last 4 or 5 years were worth it, they assume that that diploma is the negotiable equivalent of a $15,000 annuity. God forbid they actually go to the trouble of applying it.

The University of Hawai’i’s spring semester enrollment is up 9.4% over last year. Instead of working harder than ever to find jobs in a weak economy, people are willfully deferring life – and paying money they don’t have for the privilege. And it’s not like UH is creating more engineers and scientists. A college vice president says “They tend to be all over the place. We have graduate students seeking their master’s, students in areas where there’s a shortage, such as teaching, nursing and social work, and business is popular, but so is psychology.”

And parents, don’t leave the room. We’re not done with you, either. The following is your financial obligation to your kids: food, clothing and shelter until they reach the age of majority. That’s it. No one owes anybody a college education, just like no one owes anyone a house or regular doctor visits. Your kid is far better off becoming a welding technician straight out of high school than wasting four years earning a degree in gender & women’s studies and beginning the income-earning years tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Economically speaking it’s better yet that he become a neurosurgeon, of course, but the world still needs welding technicians.

On the macro level, everyone from your neighbor to the president is talking up post-secondary education. The neighbor does it because he doesn’t know any better, the president for the same reason any elected official advocates anything.* The talking points are familiar: the next generation of Americans needs to be prepared in an ever more competitive world, education is a fundamental right, do you really want America to be a nation of blathering idiots, etc., etc.
This obscures the truth by shrouding it in catchphrases. This may be indelicate, but that doesn’t make it false: things cost money.

An investment, even in one’s own education, is a deferment of resources for an expected return. The majority of college kids don’t know a damn thing about what they’ll do when they get out of college. Therefore for them college isn’t an investment, it’s an expense.

That’s not to say that finishing high school is all you need to do to enter the workforce with a minimum of debt. There’s still a thing called motivation. Completing school, at whatever level, shows that you had the diligence to sit quietly and take some tests. There are a million ways to earn a respectable living out of high school – carpentry apprentice, garbageman, junior lab technician – but taking a random selection of undemanding college courses is not one of them.

Yet the government, true to its misguided principles, subsidizes education. President Obama proposes, in public and behind a live microphone, that no college graduate should have to fork over more than 10% of his income in student loan payments. This is what commerce has come to in 2010 – the terms of an agreement are dictated by future occurrences. Of course no one wants to pay 10% of his income on debt obligations, or on anything else for that matter. Not that 10% is an insurmountable number, but if the government mandates that it’s too high, pretty soon people will agree that it is too high, and that no $40,000-a-year junior account executive should suffer the inconvenience of paying more than $333 a month toward her student loans.

It gets better. (Or worse, if this kind of thing bothers you, which it should.) The president adds that student loans should be forgiven after 20 years – 10 if the borrower “enters into a life of public service.”

His definition of public service goes beyond Green Berets and SEALs. Say you want to take your forestry degree and be a National Park Service ranger, which offers room and board and pays $35,000 annually. Thanks to the time value of money, you’d be getting close to a complimentary education while doing nothing that makes a measurable impact on America’s gross national product.

But after the 10 (or 20) years, the unpaid part of your education doesn’t suddenly become “free”. Services were still rendered, the college still paid its professors and maintained its classrooms and grounds. Who makes up the difference? (Hint: the same generous soul who already bailed out Chrysler, GM, AIG, Lehman, your deadbeat neighbor who didn’t know how to sign a loan document, etc.)

People respond to incentives. If the government declares that the price you pay for your education will be arbitrarily lowered, more people will go to college. And earn useless degrees. And take their sweet time paying them back, if at all. But at least our elected officials can brag that a higher percentage of Americans go to college than do the Irish or the Icelandic.

*To get elected.  (And in this particular case, to distract attention from more pressing matters, such as the ever-closer destruction of Social Security.)

Almost certainly not how Carl Icahn got started

Can you handle another story that features a bad example? We had a feeling you might.

There are thousands of women like this, which is a problem unto itself, but introducing her leads to a larger point.

Not pictured: Kids #2, 3, 4, 6, and 9, and Baby Daddies #1, 2, 3, 4, and possibly 5 and 6

The well-fed 35-year old woman in the middle of the picture is Tessa Savicki (anagrams include “Avast, Sickies” and “Cake Ass Vista”), a Massachusetts welfare queen. Her oldest kid is, ahem, 21. She has another adult kid. She’s “planning on getting her GED next month”, not unlike the stripper who’s working on her Ph.D. or the fat girl who’s definitely going to start going to the gym. A chronic plaintiff, Miss Savicki (That’s “Miss”, guys! She’s available!) once sued a major drugstore chain for selling her an expired spermicide. (She might have a case. That spermicide looks like it went bad sometime around Reconstruction.) The remainder of what you need to know about Miss Savicki is captured in the caption, with one exception.

When this human gumball dispenser jettisoned her most recent kid, the attending physicians, God bless them, finally tied her tubes before she could create a designated hitter for the Savicki family softball team.  She’s suing the hospital, and her attorney says the hatred his client is spawning engendering “blows your mind, because you see how ingrained the bigotry is against poor people.”

Wait right there, attorney Max Borten [(781) 890-9095, inquiry@GBMedLaw.com]. But thank you for leading to this week’s topic: the difference between poor and deadbeat.

The Control Your Cash authors have been poor. They’ve been rich. (Sophie Tucker: “Rich is better.”) But every step of the way, they’ve been unaware of any bigotry against poor people in the United States, at least unaware of any practiced by adults. The kid who wears tattered clothes to school might get laughed at by his peers, but the adult who openly pokes fun at someone for not having sufficient material luxuries in his life is either rare or nonexistent.

There’s no shame, none whatsoever, in being poor. Most of us have been there, making very little money and living in the rustic apartment immediately out of college or high school, furnishings courtesy of the Home Depot particleboard collection. Poverty, or at least extreme modesty, is usually a necessary step before you can earn your place among the middle class.

Being deadbeat is something else. Denuded of its buzzwords (“great society”, “hand, not a handout”, “living with dignity”, “economic security”), it’s theft. Taking money from industrious taxpayers, even if it’s for food, clothing and shelter, is stealing if the recipient offers nothing in return. Receiving the money through the conduit of a government agency doesn’t make the recipient any less culpable.

-Artie Lange completing a triathlon.
-A Libertarian candidate becoming President.
-Nauru taking home Olympic gold in speed skating.

These are things that will occur millennia before a welfare queen (or king, or princess) Controls His or Her Cash.

Few of us start life with the advantages of a Jennifer Gates or a George W. Bush, but that’s not the point. If you’re born healthy enough to have your faculties, your senses, to be able to speak (and sue drugstore chains), and to make it to the age of 35 and counting, then you can theoretically someday make your way to comfort if not affluence. Here’s how not to do so, with a virtually guaranteed rate of success:

-Jump from relationship to relationship
-Spread your legs, repeat ad nauseam (or for you guys reading, plant that seed in any warm place it’ll land)
-Drop out of school, again more than tangentially related to the previous two points

If you do the above, you’ll have less chance to get a job. You’ll all but eliminate your chance at getting a job with vertical room to progress. But thanks to the largesse of an increasingly squeezed public, you’ll get enough money to live and keep cranking out babies. Unless a surgeon with some foresight decides to throw the rest of us a bone.

We preach discipline at Control Your Cash, which should be neither hard nor painful for you. Spend less, save more, keep your mind open, learn how investments work before committing to them. Know what an investment is, and don’t confuse it with an expense. In short, show up here every week and get yourself informed.

But you’ve got to at least want to. It’s clear that lots of people can’t be bothered to.

Last month we awarded the golden Control Your Cash Man of the Year chalice to a guy with no debt, growing investments, and a reasonably well-spending lifestyle who would sooner rob a bank than suck at the taxpayer teat. In Control Your Cash Bizarro World, we’d have a prize for Tessa Savicki. Maybe a platinum-coated IUD.

Sacre bleu

Economic opportunity comes in odd forms, including this one.

Even a catastrophe can demonstrate how important it is to think as someone who Controls His or Her Cash. If doing so can dispel some class warfare misconceptions too, then all the better.

Unfortunately, for some the Haiti earthquake is more than just a colossal tragedy, since it’s possible to attach a moral component to some benign human behavior in the earthquake’s aftermath.

Haiti is the size of Massachusetts, with more people than Michigan. And since people started keeping records, Haiti has been the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The citizenry has endured uninterrupted horrible government since independence two centuries ago, unless you count bloody coups as “interruptions”. As you’ve probably heard, shortly after Haiti fell to rubble Royal Caribbean cruises’ Independence of the Seas made a scheduled stop 2 miles from the major northern city of Cap-Haitien. Never an industry to look beyond the surface, the media helped matters by using loaded terms like “frolic” and “frivolity” to describe the pampered passengers on board, who allegedly sipped mai tais and played shuffleboard while thousands of people died relatively close by. While you’re welcome to bash people who vacation on cruise ships as emblematic of indulgence and sloth, that isn’t the point.

If you glean one piece of knowledge from Control Your Cash, let it be this: alternatives must exist. Given that cruise ships exist, and that that existence is somewhat permanent, exactly what is supposed to happen if the Independence of the Seas cancels its visit to Cap-Haitien? The ship has to go somewhere. Were the Independence of the Seas to drop anchor a few miles off the coast of Hispaniola, or continue uninterrupted to San Juan, perhaps that would somehow mitigate the carnage around Port-a-Prince. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Circumstances placed the passengers on board the Independence of the Seas in an awkward situation (yes, it’s all relative. “Awkward” compared to the passengers who took the same cruise the previous month, not compared to the Haitians waiting for the International Building Code inspectors to come by and slap a giant “Condemned” sign on the entire western half of the island.) If it’s distasteful to play on waterslides and sample the breakfast buffet while docked in Haiti, would it be any less so to do the exact same thing a few dozen miles offshore, where the locals couldn’t see the ship? Do you really believe the poor dark-skinned unfortunates can be that easily fooled?

Refusing to dock by Cap-Haitien won’t alleviate anyone’s suffering, unless you count assuaging the partially developed consciences of a few uptight and unthinking people. Furthermore, Cap-Haitien was 50 miles from the epicenter of the quake and is relatively unscathed. So naturally, the logical thing to do would be to bypass the port and keep tourist dollars from entering the country when they’re needed most.

Haitians, by virtue of being poor and rendered poorer by tectonics, don’t have the luxury of concerning themselves with such secondary cares as etiquette and propriety. While the spectators can debate the merits of hybrid subcompacts vs. SUVs, or refuse to eat food grown 101 miles away from their homes, the Haitians themselves have more pressing problems. Such as getting fed and sheltered.

It shouldn’t take a natural disaster to illustrate this point: while ordinary modern humans don’t live at the beck and call of rich people, it sure is handy having them around. Because once someone elevates from mere comfort to affluence, the difference between the two is measured by money that needs to be spent or invested. That money will almost always be spent or invested with people poorer than that rich person.

Liquidity of money is everything. Liquidity means the speed at which funds get spent in the economy as they move from lower-valued uses (sitting in a tourist’s pocket) to higher-valued ones (being exchanged for food and shelter, by a Haitian selling whatever goods or services.)

The irony is that cruises, despite being synonymous with ostentation, are anything but ostentatious. 75 years ago, the average person had as much chance of going on a cruise as she did of traveling in space. Today, cruises have been democratized to the point where Royal Caribbean offers 4-day junkets from Miami to the Bahamas (and back, presumably) for $247. That’s not per night, either.

Perhaps the distaste and second-guessing stems from the level of pampering the passengers on board the Independence of the Seas enjoy. If she had only one whirlpool instead of two, or served off-brand ice cream in her coffee bar instead of Ben & Jerry’s, that might mitigate the protocol horror.

Kudos to Royal Caribbean CEO Adam Goldstein for putting practicality ahead of public relations. He unapologetically made the economic case for docking in Haiti, hoping to persuade the holdouts who think it’s bad to patronize the hundreds of local merchants who rely on moneyed Americans to indirectly feed their families.

Just ask the merchants along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawai’i, who salivate when a cruise ship docks at the nearby terminal and passengers disembark, ready to spend. The people running those shops are Americans. If it’s a slow day at the shop, the merchants and their employees still have warm beds inside structurally sound dwellings to sleep in that night.

But for a Haitian local, the $15 he can earn for a day’s worth of tour guiding can mean the difference between going home, and going home hungry. The alternative (there’s that word again) would be for the cruise ship passenger to keep that money to spend it at the next port of call, which is certain to enjoy a higher standard of living than anywhere in Haiti does.

If the passengers are “uncomfortable” with coming within 50 miles of a disaster zone, or if people with no vested interest in the situation are uncomfortable, suck it up. Or you could ask a Haitian who just lost his house, his income, and a family member or two if there’s anything he can do to salve your discomfort.

One way to solve the problem of naked income disparities would be to have Royal Caribbean only cruise to ports with substantial per capita incomes. Luxembourg, for instance. That way, neither the cruisers nor the locals will perceive any inequality.  Alas, Luxembourg is landlocked.

As to the finger-pointers who decry the Independence of the Seas’ passengers as representing all that is unholy with the festering white underbelly of globalization? If those naysayers really gave a damn about Haitians, they’d buy a cabin, dock at Cap-Haitien, ask for the deluxe tour from whichever Jean-Michel or Rene greets them at the port, tip generously, then head into a local café and order as much tassot et banane pesé as their well-fed First World stomachs could hold.

“Rich”, “out-of-touch” and “pampered” are perfect descriptors for anyone who recommends essentially forbidding poor Haitians from earning a livelihood. Especially now. A physical distance from the problem doesn’t exonerate you, either. If you’re ready to chastise Royal Caribbean and its customers, while you’re spending even a nickel on non-necessities of your own, you’re far more loathsome than the cruise passengers you condemn.

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