Monday, February 07, 2011

HuffPo's 30 Pieces of Silver?

"The love of money" goes the old saying, "is the root of all evil." 

I didn't even finish reading the news headline on AOL's purchase of The Huffington Post before the old adage popped into my head.


Allow me to explain.

HuffPo's readers can likely recall Ms. Huffington's MoveYourMoney project- an attempt to shift the flow of funds away from big banks and towards smaller community based financial institutions.  How intriguing to find, mere months from the inception of such a project, a big money deal from AOL- owned, in large part, by Big Finance (top institutional holders include BlackRock (partially owned by BoA), Capital Group, Vanguard, BoNY, and State Street) which will pay HuffPo's owners some $300M in cash.

Is the $300M in cash- a substantial increase from Judas' 30 pieces of silver- a bribe?

Not, I think, in the crude, direct sense.  Yet, it (the big money) will likely perform similar functions in the minds of recipients and those functions, and subsequent effects, are the subject of this essay.

Big Finance distributes big money and big money modifies the behavior of recipients.  Some such recipients, unlearned in the art of keeping money, certain sports stars or lottery winners come to mind, prove the old adage about fools and their money.  Other recipients demonstrate more wisdom in money retention, yet, in some cases, at a cost.

Have you ever heard or read about the difference between owing the bank $100K or owing them $1Bil?  In the first case, you clearly owe the bank and they will ruin you financially if you don't pay.  In the second, the bank really owes you and they will be ruined if you don't pay.

Reversing the arrow of causation, if you have $300M in a bank (or the financial markets supported thereby) instead of the bank owing you, you, in a sense, owe the bank.  Just as stock option grants increased participation in tech company success in the late 90s (and left many earnest wanna-be millionaires holding an empty bag when the currency proved of little value) so too do big money payouts today (whether the currency in this case will prove of more durable value remains to be seen).  A personal fortune of a couple $100M, very often makes one, as Gordon Gecko once remarked, a player- a participant- in a game one has a new-found vested interest.

Few and far between are men like Ted Turner who convert their wealth into ranch-land and retire on the range.

My point being: big finance distributes big money and big money recipients who wish to hold on to their loot will participate in big finance, even, I suspect, (although I have no direct knowledge thereof) in the case of HuffPo's owners, despite their "break the banks" advocacy. 

Is this rank hypocrisy?

In my view, yes.

Of course, I haven't been offered $300M for my blog. 

This, it seems to me, is the problem (not that I haven't been offered the loot) but an honest reflection of what would happen if such were offered.

Imagine writing a wonderful blog that attracted millions of minds, or as HuffPo did, combining a number of opinion blogs with news, most ably I must add.  Imagine being offered 10s of millions of dollars for it a few years later?  Would you turn it down?

If one truly wished to be a "gadfly" (in the Socratic sense) to Big Finance, I think you would have to turn it down.  Thus the problem.  Those able to attract attention and mold opinion also attract money, which aligns their interests with those against whom they rail.

It's a conundrum with no easy answer (except waiting for the currency of the moment to be withheld to new gadflies, or rapidly decline in value).

Fortunately, my very intermittently updated blog has no chance of attracting such viewership or lucre, so I won't have to take that test- a test that ensnares most who rise to the level of testing.

The love of money, indeed.

Disclosure: No positions in any companies noted


ZetaEx said...

What if that 300M is converted to gold, silver or some other hard asset?

If I were ever offered money in those amounts I would immediately cash out and continue the mission. Since I could care less if the banks or the currency failed at that point, I would have no conflict of interest when it came to withholding information.

Dude said...

Easy to say (or write, in this case) but hard, I believe, to do.

I know a few guys who converted their winnings to Gold upon leaving the table, but not many.

BearishNews said...

Interesting theory. Many will be watching for an editorial shift at HuffPo. Hopefully it doesn't materialize, with Huffington herself at the helm.

From what I've seen, she seems savvy, moral.

Dude said...

As a student of Greek Philosophy, Ariana might suggest that there is a difference between seeming moral and being moral.

We'll see how she does in this test.

I hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.