Be Careful Whose Advice You Take

“Who we take advice from can determine the path we walk down” – Greg Cooper

I was sitting in church yesterday listening to a sermon about Psalm 1 (which I will quote in its entirety at the end … ’cause I really like it). The preacher made the lead quote above in regards to verse 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked”. First, let me just say “amen”. Second, let us consider for just a moment the “why” implied in the above, and extend it to politics and economics.

Why is it blessed to not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Are the wicked stupid? Well, yes – in the sense that they have rebelled against God, which is a pretty big sense. But we could also easily find that there are wicked folks who are quite clever. That said, the fact of their rebellion leads us to the obvious conclusion that they care more about themselves than about anyone else. Remember the Lord’s discussion on the greatest commandment:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matt 22:37-40

You can rest assured that if the wicked do not love the Lord with heart, mind, soul, and strength, that they will in no wise love you as themselves. This doesn’t mean that they always have ulterior motives in giving you direction for your life, but it does mean that they always value their goals above yours, and if/when those two conflict they will counsel you for their own purposes. There is no altruism with the wicked.

Beyond simply labeling people as wicked, which can be contentious in its own right, we should consider that there are many times in life when people may have motivations other than what is best for us. That’s not to say that what we consider “best for us” is always the best in general – we can be self-centered too. The point is merely that you should at least pause for a moment and consider the possible conflicts-of-interest that arise in people who would tell you how to go about your life.

For example, have you ever bought or sold a house? If you have, then it’s almost surely the case that you’ve heard a realtor tell you “it’s a great time to buy” if you’re the buyer and “it’s a great time to sell” if you’re the seller. Chances are they’re probably right in one of those cases. But realtors say nonsense like this because they only get paid if there is a transaction – so they need somebody to buy and somebody to sell. It’s not my intention here to label realtors as “wicked” (I have some good friends who sell real estate) – I’m simply pointing to an ulterior motive. The realtor does want you to buy/sell a house because he wants to make a living.

Here’s another one from the world of international politics and finance. George Soros has come out and declared that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “taking Europe in the wrong direction” and that she could be driving us toward a second Great Depression. Now, I disagree with Soros’ statement on the simple grounds that Soros and most Keynesians are clueless on what caused the Great Depression – and clueless on economics in general. (Do not let that register as praise of Merkel – just castigation of Soros and Keynes.) What I find most interesting is the notion that Soros almost surely has a dog in this fight.

Soros is a billionaire who made his billions speculating in international currency markets. Does anyone out there wonder whether Soros has a financial position that would suffer from a breakup of the Eurozone? Perhaps he’s holding Greek credit default swaps and will get hammered if they go over the edge. I don’t know if he is or not – but if he is you can rest assured that the U.S., whose president is a good friend of Soros, will spend a fortune to avert the triggering of a “credit event”. (Don’t take that as a prediction – Soros may well be hedged against the CDS issue.)

The point is that Soros is trying to get a certain behavior out of Merkel, and it is at least reasonable to assume he may have something other than the well being of Europe in mind.

I’m reminded of a story a while back where the president told a meeting of business leaders that they should go out an hire some people. Does he want their businesses to succeed, and has divined beyond their capacity that now is the time to hire? Or perhaps he has other motives – like a high unemployment rate that is causing political damage. (Before you start with the “unemployment rate is falling” nonsense, let me point out that the rate is falling because the participation rate is falling – the total number of employed persons is lower now than it was in 2000.) Hey, who can blame him? If I were president, I’d tell business leaders to hire too.

Or how about our own central banking system and the housing market? The fed has kept rates at near zero for years – and has pledged to do so for years to come. The intent of this is to distort the interest rate markets and convince you and I to do something with our money than we otherwise would. For instance, where we would save our money, the Fed has sent real interest rates negative to force us into riskier assets like housing or the stock market. They have “counseled” us (with a big stick) to do something other than save. Why? They want the stock market up (that helps the rich and shapes public opinion). They want the housing market to stabilize (that supposedly helps the economy, and a lot of voters own houses). They want to prop up failing banks (this helps bankers … a group that certainly includes the Fed). The point is that the Fed has its own reasons for “counseling” us to behave in certain ways – and those interests are not at all linked to what would actually make a better life for each of us as individuals.

All of this advice, whether from realtors, billionaire financiers, the president, or the Federal Reserve, is not intended to make a better life for you and I. One could argue that these sources of counsel “mean well” – but meaning well isn’t always meaning well when you’re pulled in different directions my varying motives. Best for each of us to stay away from the “counsel of the wicked” or even just the counsel of the self-motivated. There are better promises for us. Consider all of Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

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