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6/11/2006 1:59:22 PM

A Voice of Sanity in an Insane World

June 8, 2006

Resistance to Tradeoffs By Robert Ringer

Yikes! The immigrants — Zydrunas Llgauskas, Pau Gasol, Andrei Kirienko, Leandro Barbosa, Andrew Bogut, Boris Diaw — are inside the gates! And so are a few other foreigners whose names you’re more likely to recognize: Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Manu Ginobili, Steve Nash, and Tony Parker.

All of the above are, of course, NBA players from foreign countries — most of them stars, many of them superstars. I guess if you’re a great basketball player, you get a free pass (pun intended).

But, hey, not so fast. There are 82 two of these foreign hoopsters who are taking jobs away from red-blooded American boys. Is that “fair”? After all, it means that 82 homegrown basketball players have to be content to work at other jobs or go to Europe, Israel, Australia, or some other country to ply their craft.

Hmm … maybe we’d better take a closer look at the latest hot political topic: the invasion of “illegal immigrants” from south of the border. Aren’t those guys taking jobs away from U.S. workers? I mean, Americans are clamoring to pick grapes, scrub toilets, and wash dishes, aren’t they?

When the bubbles finally begin bursting — the housing bubble, the stock-market bubble, the currency bubble, the credit bubble — a lot of Americans are going to be forced to recognize that in a scarce job market, you take what you can get. And you take it at wages that employers are willing to pay in a free market.

Of course, there will always be those who want to remove wages from free-market constraints by using government force to make employers pay a “minimum wage.” And when that happens, employers simply hire fewer people, which only makes matters worse.

I know, because I did it in New Zealand. When I laid off my most incompetent, lazy employees Down Under, I dutifully paid the required blackmail (euphemistically referred to as “termination-pay settlement”), then simply opted to do without new employees.

The truth be known, the so-called immigration issue is, like most other political issues, much ado about nothing. As is always the case, most people — especially politicians — miss the point. (Politicians, I suspect, miss it intentionally.)

From a strict libertarian point of view, I don’t believe any government has the right to prevent anyone from living anywhere in the world. Mexicans have been crossing the Rio Grande for years, and by and large have caused very few problems. Best of all, they work cheap — which is a good thing! Let’s face it, you can’t outsource lawn maintenance to Calcutta.

Don’t get me wrong. There are Mexican pedophiles, rapists, con artists, thieves, drug dealers, and murderers. But the same can be said of people from every nation on earth, especially the United States. In fact, in a show of patriotism, I’ll stick my neck out and say that I’d be willing to put our homegrown crop of pedophiles, rapists, and serial killers up against those of any other country.

Having said this, honesty compels me to tell you that my personal experience with Mexicans, as a group, has been very positive. In fact, every Mexican person I have employed has been exceptionally hardworking and honest. And since I’ve hired only people who could speak English, language has never been an issue.

Nevertheless, I can understand why many mom-and-apple-pie Americans want to put an end to illegal immigration. There’s no question that some of their arguments are both reasonable and compelling. But what I don’t understand is why those who claim to be adamantly against illegal immigration don’t have the guts to propose real solutions.

Let’s assume, for the moment, that “illegal immigration” is a bad thing. Let’s say that Hannity, O’Reilly, and the call-out-the-militia folks from coast to coast are morally right in their assessment that we must put an end to it. But if they’re really serious about it, there are a number of ways it can be accomplished — quickly.

For example, the U.S. could put an end to all social benefits for illegal aliens — no education, no medical care, no welfare or unemployment compensation, no nothing. Zip. Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

The government could also mete out mandatory five-year prison sentences to first-time offenders who hire illegal immigrants. Ignorance of an immigrant’s illegal status would be an invalid excuse for an employer, as everyone would have access to a foolproof federal register. Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

And how about giving employers who are second-time offenders a mandatory 25-year prison sentence? Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

At the same time, every illegal alien caught in this country could be given a mandatory five-year prison sentence for his first offense. Boy, if I were about to cross the border illegally, I’d think about it long and hard if I knew that cousin Pedro was lingering in a federal penitentiary somewhere in Texas. Or, worse, Milwaukee. Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

An undocumented alien caught in this country for the second time could receive the same mandatory 25-year prison sentence as a second-offense employer. For sure, cousin Pedro would be the dominant thought in my mind when weighing the benefits of illegal immigration against the risk of spending 25 years behind bars. Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

Finally, a law could be passed that would automatically make a baby born to illegal immigrants an illegal immigrant at birth. Quite a reversal from the automatic citizenship that babies of illegal immigrants now enjoy. Of course, I myself would never favor such a heartless measure, but one would think that those who demand a solution to the illegal-immigration problem would endorse it with open arms ... if they were really serious about it.

All this incarceration and policing may sound like a costly undertaking, but it would be a drop in the bucket compared to sending thousands (tens of thousands?) of troops to the border, building a New World version of the Berlin Wall, and providing delectable social benefits for non-citizens. And what’s really novel about taking a serious approach to this issue is that it would actually work — a notion that is unthinkable to problem-perpetuating politicians.

However, the reality is that even though there are some people who might favor extreme solutions such as those I’ve outlined above, it’s safe to assume that they are a very small minority. Like politicians, new-age Americans are not into real solutions. They’re into whining and complaining that the government should “do something.” And, boy, do politicians ever love that kind of whining and complaining.

As Shelby Steele points out in his book White Guilt, Americans are hopelessly trapped by the need to feel guilt for the sins of their fathers. Any person of color — whether Arab, African, Latino, or other — must be coddled and handed the keys to the country (or, at the very least, to the university of his or her choice).

The real problem is that all solutions come with price tags, and citizens of the Western world expect — nay, demand — free solutions. Like spoiled children, they have no understanding of the universal principle of tradeoffs.

This is why there will never be a workable solution to the so-called illegal-immigration problem. That being the case, my advice to you is to sit back and enjoy the cheap labor and be happy that Mexicans, as a group, not only help the U.S. economy but, by and large, are peaceful, family oriented, law-abiding citizens … oops, I mean people.

Even more important, you would be wise to use the illegal-immigration issue as a constant reminder to yourself that there’s a tradeoff — a price you pay — for everything you will ever do.

There’s a price you pay for being an entrepreneur rather than a salaried employee; there’s a price you pay for being a salaried employee rather than an entrepreneur.

There’s a price you pay for having children; there’s a price you pay for not having children.

There’s a price you pay for taking the time to earn an advanced degree; there’s a price you pay for not taking the time to earn an advanced degree.

There’s a price you pay for getting a divorce; there’s a price you pay for not getting a divorce.

And so on …

No matter what you do in life, do it with your eyes wide open to the tradeoffs involved. And then deal with those tradeoffs with a mature confidence ... and don’t complain. If you find that you are not willing to live with the price of a decision you’ve made, cut your losses short and try to reverse the error as quickly as possible. You are in a position to do this only when you take full ownership of your bad decision.

Just One Hit Away

If you’ve ever doubted what a small difference there is between mediocrity and success, think about this: In baseball, the difference between a.250 hitter (considered to be mediocre) and a .300 hitter (considered to be outstanding) is about one hit a week!

If you don’t believe me, do the math yourself. Figure a player plays an average of six games a week and bats an average of four times per game. That’s 24 at-bats per week.

To hit .250, a hitter would have to get six hits a week. But to hit .300, it would take only 7.2 hits a week. And what’s that one extra hit a week worth in salary? Probably several million dollars a year. Think about it. Getting one extra hit a week can be worth millions of dollars to a player.

The takeaway lesson here is that one should never be tempted to take the easy way out. That one extra “hit” could be the difference between your being perceived as a winner or loser, between just getting by or being well off, between success or failure.

This is a hard reality for most individuals to grasp. Which is why so many people are frustrated when they see someone with lesser talent and brains achieve far greater success than they’ve been able to attain.

David Ogilvy summed it up perfectly when he said, “Genius is the art of taking pains.” And it all starts in your gray matter. You first have to make the mental commitment to do whatever it takes to achieve excellence at any given endeavor. If your commitment is unconditional, the second step is to materialize your thoughts (by taking action).

It goes without saying that this isn’t an easy process. If it were, everyone would do it. Which is why your mental commitment must be unconditional. Whenever I’m tempted to avoid the extra steps that could make the difference between mediocre and superb, I find it enormously helpful to remind myself how much more value the world places on just one extra hit per week.

There is, indeed, a fine line between success and failure — a much finer line than most people suspect. If you’re going to err, my suggestion is that you err on the side of excellence. The tradeoff of investing more time and energy in everything I do always seems like a bargain to me.

The Never-Ending Wave

A business acquaintance recently sent me a fabulous quote, which I took the liberty to edit to my satisfaction. Today, I want to share my edited version with you, but I want to make certain to credit Bill Wallace, who is purported to have made the original statement.

The only problem is that not only do I not know who Bill Wallace is (24,700,000 listings on Google make it pretty obvious that there are a lot of Bill Wallaces), neither does the person who sent me the original quote! Sorry about that, Bill. Anyway, wherever you may be, please accept my thanks for the great thought.

Now, here’s my slightly edited version of Wallace’s cut-to-the-chase insight: The biggest challenge you have in business is getting out from under the never-ending wave of trivia and bulls*** long enough to do something profitable — even if it’s only one thing a day.

Do you ever get tired of being interrupted by phone calls?

By the ding-doing of your e-mail program?

By computer problems?

By people who don’t get back to you when they say they will?

By people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do?

By products that are produced defectively?

By accounting issues?

By travel-schedule problems?

By people who act as though your time is a public charity?

In summation, do you ever get tired of being interrupted by a tsunami of trivia and bulls*** that crashes through your office walls, the Internet, and your telephone each and every day in a seemingly relentless effort to prevent you from focusing — with total and intense concentration — on those projects that bring real, live cash into your coffers?

Peter Drucker referred to these moneymaking projects as innovation and marketing. My preference is to call them product-development and marketing. Either way, the longer I live, the more my firsthand experience convinces me that the financial success you achieve in life is directly proportional to the amount of time you spend on projects that bring money through the front door.

So, how do you get rid of the trivia and bulls*** in your life? Realistically, you can never get rid of it all. But that should motivate you rather than deter you. Your objective should be to reduce it, bit by bit — daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Which means you have to have the self-discipline to consciously pull away from it.

How? By delegating. Which means outsourcing and hiring good people. Outsourcing works only to the extent that your vendors understand that you don’t want to be involved, but you want results. And that you expect those results to be what you contracted for. No excuses.

More important, as you make money, you must invest it in staff. I roll my eyes whenever I hear claims of people making a fortune sitting at their kitchen table, in their underwear, plucking away on a laptop, with no employees.

It sounds nice, but it flies in the face of reality. If you want to make serious money, you have to invest a big part of what you earn in people and equipment. More so today than ever. Then you have to train those people to understand that their number-one job is to protect you from trivial matters and bulls***. Any employee who can’t provide that protection needs to be replaced as quickly as possible.

And understand that, going in, employees will make mistakes. But let the mistakes be their problem. You concentrate on being the banker. Remember, if you make enough money by focusing on product-development and marketing, you can always pay to have just about any mistake corrected.


Note BULLS*** was spelled out in the original. I edited so as to not offend anyone.

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