Intellectual Dishonesty & Investing: A Lesson from Kanye West

Almost everybody on your TV is lying to you…and they don’t even realize it.

In February of 2018, FoxNews host Laura Ingraham took exception to Lebron James and Kevin Durant criticizing Donald Trump.

Ingraham said, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Lebron and Kevin, you’re great players, but no one voted for you…so keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said…shut up and dribble.”

Ingraham was vilified throughout the media, castigated for being a white woman who would tell a couple of black men, “Hey, just do your job…we don’t care about your opinion on politics.”

Fast forward to just a few weeks ago when, on Saturday Night Live, Pete Davidson weighed in on the fact that Kanye West had aligned himself with Trump: “Kanye is a genius, but a musical genius. You know, like Joey Chestnut is a hot-dog eating genius. But I don’t want to hear Joey Chestnut’s opinion about things that aren’t hot dog related.”

So this is the same thing, right? A white guy telling a black guy, “Just stick to what you’re good at and keep your political opinions to yourself.”

But for some reason, there was no media outrage this time. Davidson was a cultural hero, a comedian who could so poignantly verbalize what everyone already thought.

Speaking of Kanye, his recent White House visit made a few headlines. After he regaled the gathered media with a litany of bizarre thoughts and no shortage of profanity, MSNBC’s Velshi & Ruhle wore out their fainting couch, calling his visit to the Oval Office “an assault on our White House.” This was the same Oval Office, mind you, where their hero Bill Clinton got oral sex from an intern a couple of decades ago…but sure, it was Kanye’s language that sullied the dignity of the place.

Meanwhile, let’s head over to FoxNews and see what Sean Hannity had to say about Kanye’s visit…

“What’s wrong with what he’s saying? What’s wrong with more jobs? What’s wrong with safe neighborhoods? Kanye is realizing that the Democrats had eight years and they had a failed agenda. Look at what’s happening. The Trump agenda is creating a future for the forgotten men and women in this country.”

But contrast this with what Hannity said in 2011 when he was clutching his pearls after another rapper, Common, visited the Obama White House:

“It baffles me that this is a person the White House chooses to set as an example for our kids…this is inappropriate for a President and he goes back to his radical roots again and again and again.”

You’ve gotten the point by now, but allow me one final Kanye indulgence, because it’s just too perfect. Kanye’s visit with Trump took place in the immediate aftermath of the Florida panhandle being devastated by Hurricane Michael. Which is amusing, because Trump tweeted this in 2012:

“Yesterday Obama campaigned with JayZ & Springsteen while Hurricane Sandy victims across NY and NJ are still decimated by Sandy. Wrong!”

So what’s the point of highlighting all of this hypocrisy and goalpost-moving all across the political spectrum? The point is that all of these people, more than likely, don’t even realize that they’re not being truthful with you in presenting their analysis.

You can call it whatever you want…double standards, intellectual dishonesty, confirmation bias. The bottom line is that as humans, we’re wired to continue believing what we already believe, and then look around for things that seem to support our way of thinking.

So if this is a problem in the political realm (as well as in religion, sports, and culture in general), doesn’t it stand to reason that it would be a problem in the financial world too? Here’s a few examples of cases where a financial advisor might suffer from intellectual dishonesty without even realizing it…

1) Suppose you have the option of taking a lump sum buyout on your pension or just keeping the monthly lifetime payout. Your advisor is certain that you’re better off to take the lump sum, invest it, and then create an income from those investments. He might be right. But it’s also possible that he’s been conditioned to believe that you should always take the lump sum no matter what (because his firm can’t make any money off of that money if it stays in the pension plan).

2) You have $125,000 in the bank and you owe $55,000 on your house. You’re wondering if you should just pay off the mortgage. An advisor tells you not to pay off the house, instead you should take that money and invest it because, with interest rates so low, you can make more money by investing than you’ll lose by paying interest on the mortgage. Again, he might be right. But again, it might be possible that he’s been conditioned to believe that you should never pay off your house (because, again, it doesn’t profit him for you to get rid of your mortgage payment).

3) An advisor tells you that your current _________  is inferior and he has one that’s better. You can fill in the blank with anything…mutual fund, annuity, life insurance policy, REIT, etc. He might be right, his might be better. Or it’s possible that his company has sold him on the benefits of their product for so long that he’s no longer able to see any downsides to it and believes that it trumps anything else on the market, regardless of whether or not that’s actually true.

So how do you avoid being lied to by an advisor that doesn’t even know he’s lying? You can start by looking for a few things…

Independence: Is the advisor able to make his or her own decisions, or does he work for a big brokerage firm (that likely tells him what he should or shouldn’t sell)?

Understanding gray area: Does the advisor understand that most issues aren’t black and white and that there’s some gray area to explored? Or does his sales pitch highlight only the bad things about your current situation while explaining only the good things about his approach?

Listening ability: Does the advisor ask probing questions to get to the bottom of your situation, or does he just look at your account statement and say, “Here’s what you need to do” without any deeper exploration?

Ability to articulate convictions: If an advisor feels strongly about what you should do but you have questions about it, are you able to get a direct and thorough answer, or does the answer sound more like a rehashing of the sales pitch you’ve already heard? If you present an alternate scenario, is the advisor able to entertain the thought, or does he dismiss it immediately?

The bottom line is that it’s actually really hard to operate successfully as an advisor that truly has the best interest of the client in mind. But it’s important, necessary work, and there are people who can do it effectively. Just be aware that they usually don’t work for a company with a nationally-recognized brand name.