Ask James: Is Money Evil? Will the US Pay Its Debt? Procrastination, Creativity, Lying, and More

Every Thursday I do a Q&A on Twitter from3:30PM to 4:30. I then take some of the answers and expand them on here. I'll then take some of those answers and expand on them in a future book. I don't claim to have all the answers. So please feel free to help out and contribute in the comments below. Part of what fills me with gratitude is the great comunity and friends that I have made through this blog and the knowledge I've learned from the comments.



Matthew Eagen ‏ @mattheweagen  how do you know or find out if someone is lying to you?


I knew this girl was lying to me. One New Year’s Eve she  was “sick”. But earlier that day she was fine and the next day she was fine. She was F-ing lying to me. I said to her at 8pm New Year’s Eve, I’ll just come over anyway. And she said, “no, I’ve already taken sleeping pills”. Bullshit! You are F-ing lying. But there was nothing I could do.

I was so anxious and angry and convinced she was lying there was only one thing I could do: end it with her. But I didn’t. I stuck around another six months. Then I found out for sure she was lying the whole time! I wasted six months. What a piece of shit I am!

But I kept thinking, “what if she’s telling the truth this whole time” even though every day there were more clues.

There’s that cliché, where’s there’s smoke there’s fire.

If you think someone is lying to you then you have only one choice: change your behavior.

Two reasons:

A)    You mightbe right. In which case, you need to end or drastically change the way you deal with that person.

B)    You might be wrong. But the anxiety is too much. The stress. The  paranoia. You STILL need to drastically change your behavior.

You’ll come up with every excuse in your mind. My excuse was, “but she’s perfect for me.” Which, of course, was just me lying to myself. Anyone who is going to make me that paranoid is not perfect for me. Even if I’m so mentally ill that I probably couldn’t trust anyone.

Let’s say that was the case: my mental illness. Then you STILL need to back off and work on yourself first.

So if you think someone is lying to you, take a break, change directions, find other things to occupy your brain. Because the thoughts of “is he or she lying to me” is just not under the category of “useful thoughts”.


Jon Velez@jmvelez08  what makes u lose interest in an idea? Are u looking for something that is built and running, or do u consider working w. ideas


Believe it or not, most things in life should be very very easy. The reason why it seems we must encounter such great difficulties until we find success is because most people carry with them the mistaken belief that we need to “pay our dues” – that things should be hard and it’s through this persistent fighting in the trenches that you come out the other side the victor.

(probably not a good idea)

But the reality is, the reason persistence works is because it takes time to realize that things that work out well are actually the things/ideas/companies/endeavors that are easy.

For instance, if a company is great then it’s easy to raise money, make money, and then sell your company. But if an idea or company is not so great, then it’s a lot of work to set up, its very hard to raise money, and its very hard or impossible to get customers and sell the company. And might take years. Then you shut it down and start the next company and it feels like persistence.

I lose interest in an idea then when what I call the “conspiracy number” goes too high. If too many things have to conspire together for the idea to work for me then it’s no good. For instance, if a product has to be built, customers have to be found, money has to be raised, and (as is the case with most companies) the product has to be re-worked, then it has a conspiracy number of 4. For me, 2 is high enough. 3 or higher becomes stress. Stress increases the risk of heart disease, strokes, Alzheimers, and cancer.

When I was 20 it was ok to have a conspiracy number of 4. I didn’t know anything. But now a conspiracy number of 3 or higher could kill me. Could literally make my children lose their father.

I don’t want that.


Richard Ball@rballe33  How does one achieve pure clarity of thought?

ANSWER: You can’t achieve pure clarity of thought. Achieving something makes me think of a race. We’re all running around this track, one two three seven(!) times until finally at the end we break through the ribbon, we’re panting like pigs, we’re sweating, it hurts in our stomach, in our head, and there’s a smiling little judge with a trophy. Emblazoned on the trophy is: Clarity of Thought.

We already have clarity of thought at the beginning of the race. But by the end, we’re so tired that we lose all the things that prevented us from realizing it in the beginning.

So intstead of thinking about achieving, think about erasing. How do we erase the clutter, the sticky brown residue that’s built up over the years in the crevices and myriad little etchings in our mind that prevented us from just reveling in our original clarity of thought.

Every day pick one thing to erase. I have a grudge against my mother. I will erase that today. How can I erase it if it’s built up over memories and years. Just everytime I think of the grudge I will think to myself “this is not useful. It will prevent me from being happy.” I want to be happy. There’s no deep analysis needed. I’m not burying the grudge. I’m just simply not wasting time thinking about it.

I regret losing a lot of money 10 years ago. This is also not a useful thought. It’s the past. It’s done. Not useful. Today I will do what I can to move forward, during the spare moments when I’m not driving my kids around on their various activities. They have a much tighter daily schedule than I do.

I want to write five novels and be a best selling author. I want all my investments to work out. I want ,maybe to do another startup or two and make a lot more money. Ok, that’s fine. But anxiety about it won’t get me there. I can maybe take one step forward on one goal today. That’s what I will do. I don’t need to do the rest. I won’t die today if I don’t do the rest. So I’ll erase goals that are unobtainable today.

Just keep erasing everything that is not useful. What happens when you are done erasing.

You have a blank piece of paper. Enjoy doodling on it.



Tschad Erdström@TheSlycophant  Do you agree with the statement, "Belief is the death of intelligence"?

ANSWER:  Everything is funny about the question. For instance, you use the word “agree”. What if you had used the word “believe”. As in, “Do you believe in the statement, ‘Belief is the death of intelligence’ “? Then I am intelligent if I say “yes” or intelligent if I say “no”. It’s a contradiction.

So I’ll stick with the contradiction. First comes belief, long before intelligence. Imagine you are lonely on your planet. Sort of like in that book “the Little Prince”. Now you see another planet. You might think, “there’s people on that planet. I’d like to go there”. So you have a belief. The belief forms a bridge to that new planet so you can cross it and see.

Oops! No people on that planet. But I see new planets now. So I form more beliefs. More bridges. I cross those to explore.

Belief lets you explore the universe around you. You have a belief, you test if it’s true. You experience the belief. Then the world becomes real. Then you become more intelligent.

You bring up a great example, though (in your later tweet) that belief in an earth-centric universe prevented us for hundreds of years from believing in a greater universe.

So yes, have beliefs, but never get stuck in them. There’s no set of facts that are actually true and universally definitive (dusting off my “Godel, Escher, Bach”). As long as you have new beliefs you’ll never get stuck. Make sure you have new beliefs every day, in fact, and you’ll get more intelligent every day.

Every day, your beliefs will be the birthplace of new intelligence. The three wise kings will visit each birthplace and bless you.


Marc@FreeMarketsFan  Does using anti-procrastination software like Concentrate make me smart or a lazy, horrible person?

ANSWER: Anti-procrastination software is like “Robot Training”. Do you want to be a robot? Do you need your joints oiled like the Tin Man? Do you need a heart? (is that what the Tin Man needed? I forget).

I’m writing this in the morning. I procrastinated today. So far: I’ve had two cups of coffee. I’ve played about five games of chess online. Before that I read email. I looked at my blog statistics. I read a story by Mary Robison called “Daughters”. I read a story by Sam Lipsyte called “The Drury Girl”. I read an interview Gigantic Magazine did with Lipsyte. Then I saw they did an interview with Amy Hempel so I read that. She said in the interview that “Gary Lutz” who I had never heard of, was a writer’s writer. So I ordered a book of stories by him on Amazon. One of the books had a “Look Inside” so I read the first five pages of the book. Then I read the beginning of a story by Bukowski. Then I checked my email again.

Between answering the last question and this one I played two games of chess. I won one and lost one. I was listening to a song on Youtube while I played.

So I procrastinated. Altogether I “wasted” about an hour this morning. But it’s 7:45am. So not too late. I woke up early. I went to bed early. I stopped watching my itunes download of “Shark Tank” by 7:30 last night. I didn’t eat dinner. By 7:45 I was in bed reading.

Instead of worrying about procrastinating, worry about the big things in our day that tire us out. Did you go out with annoying friends who had nothing to say but everyone drank until 11 pm and now you are tired and your mind sluggish? Did you go to too many unnecessary meetings this week and now your mind needs a break from all the numbing conversation? Anti-procrastination implies you have a lot of little things you do that you put as a block between yourself and work. So there’s really two things:

A)    Get rid of the big things that take too much time. There are a lot of them.

B)    Maybe you don’t want to do your work. Did you think of that? Sometimes I procrastinate on telling someone “yes, I’ll go meet you at that time” because I really don’t want to go. Ask your body to tell you. Your body knows before you do. Think of what you have to do: does your body now hurt, even a little? Don’t do anything you don’t want to do. You might think you HAVE to do it but are you sure? Wouldn’t it be better to play another game? Or read another story? Or listen to more music? Are you procrastinating sending that resume out for yet another marketing job? Maybe you don’t want to do a marketing job. Maybe you want to do something completely different?

So let’s procrastinate more: take out a pad and make a list of the things that you’d rather be doing then what you are about to do. Maybe there will be something fun there that you can start doing for a living at some point

This is a messy answer. I know. There’s really three answers: procrastinate with things that will make you better, and/or your procrastination is telling you something about what you are avoiding. It’s a whisper so you have to listen hard to what it’s telling you. Then do it.

But using anti-procrastination software is like using botox to paralyze the skin in your face. Eventually the skin gets unparalyzed. And you’re uglier than ever.



jhvh111@jhvh111  Not enough hours in the day! I enjoy my job but once home the hours fly by and before I know it, its 2 am - help!

ANSWER:  Yes, there are enough hours in the day. You have a job you love. Then you get home. THEN the hours fly by. Then its 2am and you only get 5 hours of sleep before you have to go the job. That you actually ENJOY! What a blessing it is to have such a job.

So here’s what you have to do. The “Hours Diet”

After 7pm, on a day before you have to go to a job:

-          No TV

-          No Computer

-          No friends

-          No Dinner! (finish by 7pm)

-          Just read and sleep

Try this for 10 days. That’s all. It won’t ruin your social life. If it does, then those weren’t your friends anyway. If this is too hard then say 8pm instead of 7pm.

Just ten days. And then see how you feel about the hours. How fast are they really flying. Where are they flying to? Maybe they will all come home now. Now that you are respecting them more.

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Richard Ball@rballe33  What are the very best sources of creativity (in your opinion)?


Check out this post: Nine Ways to Light Your Creativity on Fire



Lana@Lanacmyk  Do you believe in your heart of hearts that DC leaders intended to pay off most national debt and if no, what do you think will happen?


The answer is YES and….NO.

50% of the US debt is owed to…the US Federal Reserve. It’s debatable whether the Federal Reserve can forgive the debt that the US owes it.

Then we have this implicit debt coming in the future: the 65 trillion needed for Social Security and Medicare. How will we afford that?

There’s no way we can afford that. The US has about 45 trillion in physical assets so we can’t even sell everything to pay for all that we owe. But assume we can, assume the Federal Reserve forgives all the US’s debts, and assume tax revenues go up.

We will still not pay down the debt. Here’s why.

A)    The US government can’t help itself. It’s corrupt. It spends more money all the time. Only the over-inflated incomes created by the internet bubble allowed us to have a surplus for a short time. Every other year, the US government spends more and more. We bomb people, for instance. That’s very expensive. Three trillion a year just to support our ever-increasing military. So even if we could pay down debt we’ll actually spend more so we’ll need to borrow more.

B)    The US will slowly and gradually inflate the dollar. If $1 now is worth 10 cents later, then it’s easy to not only pay down old debt but its actually easier to NOT pay the debt but roll it over and let the debt ride forever, because the interest payments will be easier to pay (since $10 is now worth $3 in real dollars).

C)    You can say, “What if we have hyperinflation” so we can’t even keep up with the inflation. Well, that’s the risk. The US is slightly risking it by keeping interest rates at zero, printing money for stimulus, and ignoring the fact that inflation is rearing it’s ugly head.

Why are they doing that? Because all prior cases of hyperinflation involved civil war and other conditions that don’t currently exist in the US.

But we already saw with Occupy Wall Street a tiny tiny micro mini-Civil War. Hoses were used. Brother hosed brother. And the OWS guys gave up. They didn’t even know what they were doing.

But that might change.

And I hope I’m living in Canada when it does.

I’m very bullish at the moment on the US economy BECAUSE I think the government is deliberately allowing inflation combined with stimulus. This will flood dollars into everyone’s pocket. Hopefully. But then, ten or twenty years down the road. There could be trouble when everyone realizes at the same time that we got in over our head. And then we drown.


ryan davies@rrdavies how do you balance your spirituality with working in an industry dominated by money and materialism?

ANSWER:  First off, every industry is dominated by money and materialism. The guy that opened the ccorner deli wants to make a lot of money, wants to charge as much as possible, and wants to keep growing.

Money is a force that wants to grow. Money is a miracle innovation that abstracted us out of bartering for goods so that it would be much easier to obtain a higher quality of life.

Wall Street, when you strip away the Ponzi schemes, the guys who wants to corrupt it, the guys who take advantage of customers, the layers of bogus fees, etc. actually funds the companies that cure cancer, that cure heart disease, that creates ipads, and builds planes, makes cars, delivers furniture, etc. Charities don’t fund these things. The machine that Wall Street powers drives 100% of these things.

Because of a corrupt FDA it takes a billion dollars to get a cancer-curing drug approved. Where does that billion come from? Not the American Cancer Association. It usually comes from Wall Street. From the public exchanges where mutual funds, funded by you, can  participate in IPOs and fundraisings. Then, if the drug actually does cure cancer: Wall Street wins, you win, the company wins, and people with cancer are cured.

Financial innovation by itself is not a bad thing. And money is not “un-spiritual”. It’s just a tool. Money lets you help people. Money can provide for health, home, education, food, etc. It’s good to make money. It’s good to help others make money.

Financial innovation becomes a negative in cycles. Housing became a boom. So “innovators” took advantage of that in various ways that led to complicated pieces of paper that brought down the entire banking system. Did Wall Street know what was happening? Of course! They were corrupt and greedy. When financial innovation runs ahead of itself, it needs to be slapped down. Or it needs to be punished until the greed calms itself down.

The best you can do in an industry dominated by greed is to not be greedy. To keep your spirituality. To realize when things are running too fast. To become a beacon to others that may need your light to see.

Not to run from it, accuse it, fight it, stop it. We still need that cure for cancer.


@JohnnyMartin my parents live far away, they are aging, how can I best help them.

ANSWER: Other than providing money for their health care and their needs, and assuming you can’t move back beause of job or family needs:

Always remember: your parents gave you your first memories. Everything. You would not remember a single thing from your past if they didn’t help you live those first two or three years.

So the best you can do is give them those memories back, as they start to age and the sweetness of life begins to turn more bitter.

Send them an email every day. They gave you those early memories and now you can give them back. Each email send them a memory you have of them, good or bad. They will live for those emails until they die.



Jack Kaufman@kaufman_jack What is the best way to gain more confidence in yourself?

ANSWER: The real question is: why don’t you have confidence. There are several answers so see which category you fit in:

A)you’re young and don’t have enough experience. For instance, a five year old SHOULD NOT feel confident about driving a car.

B) you’re older but don’t know enough about the area you need confidence in. You can’t go play in an orchestra if you’ve never picked up a musical instrument.

C) you’re afraid of rejection. You want to speak to the girl at the bar, or you want to speak up in a meeting, but you are afraid you will be laughed at.

D) you’re afraid to fail. You want to start a business but you are afraid it could fail and you’ve just wasted time and money.

With all four things there’s experience  and practice.

You get experience through: reading about other people who have been through what you would like to go through, by working for people who are doing what you would like to do, by studying with people who have done what you would like to do, and by actually doing. Do all four things. I never take on a new endeavor without doing all four of the above. Read, Study, Work, Do. And a fifth thing: analyze intensely all failures. Then repeat.

In order to do this there’s an important sub-category – not being afraid to speak your mind. If you don’t know something: ask. Don’t be afraid to say what you think, even in a meeting. Make sure it’s backed by reading and studying. If you still don’t know something: ask. This goes for even meeting the girl in the bar. You get more confidence by speaking to her. If she says “no”, then ask the next girl. Just don’t be rude (again, reading, studying, thinking about your failures, analyzing them, will help you through that).

Do the five things I list above over and over and you will get confidence on any topic you want.


Priscilla P. Wood@PriscillaPWood

Do you think the main problem in the world is about money?

ANSWER:  No. I think the main problem in the world is that many people blame their problems on money.

Money actually solves our money problems.

But even then, it would be good to reduce our money problems.

Here’s some sample money problems:

A)    I can’t pay the mortgage on a big house.

B)    I think girls won’t like me unless I have a lot of money.

C)    I think I’m “safe” if I have a lot of money. And some people even confuse safety with immortality. I know I do.

So we have a lot of problems that we can solve that will reduce our money problems.

You mention “the world” in your question so you aren’t just asking if money will solve your personal problems.

Money cures disease. Money feeds the poor.

But the problem is the middleman. When we allocate money to a country but the leader (who is really just the middleman between US money and the poor in that country) is corrupt. When companies need money but Wall Street is veering too much towards the Dark Side.

Money is not the problem but corrupt greed is. But society is made up of individuals. First you have to solve the problems you have about money. And then you become an example to others. If each person solves their issues about money, then the world will  be abetter place and money will be a force used for good.

Unfortunately, this won’t happen. But you should still start with yourself, don’t worry about the world, and use money as a force for the good it wants to do.




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  • Satish Avhad

    Thanks for 3 things. It helped me
    – Daily practice
    – Take care of wife after giving having a child
    – forgot the 3rd  

  • Anonymous

    Re: Debt.
     David Stockman, who was a budget advisor in the first Reagan admin before he got canned for calling bullshit on Reagonomics, argues that the Fed will soon be under political and economic pressure to stop monetizing debt; in other words, no more outright inflation. But what happens then, he asks? Well, Treasuries fall and along with it goes the phony wealth of the rent seekers who hold them. From that point onward it’s chaos. So whether it’s inflation or deflation, we’re in a nasty bind.

  • Murali

    People, who cannot say ‘no’, sometimes resort to lying (sickness, other work, etc). It implies that we are asking them to do something that they don’t feel like doing. 

     People, because of their own experiences in life,  tend to follow certain patterns of behavior when encountering certain situations. So it helps to keep it in our minds that had we gone through the same circumstances in life like them, we would act exactly the way they are acting.

    That being said, most people who are not used to lying give it away with their tone of the voice, or the expressions in their faces.

  • Anonymous

    Read somewhere: ‘Lack of money is the root of most evil’.

  • Tom


    Another great column, thank you.


  • the parent’s thing goes to grandparents.  I am lucky to have one still living.  He is 98.  His memory is fading.  He can’t talk on the phone, and I am far away.  He doesn’t use a computer.  So, I send him one letter a week.  Snail mail.  I don’t know if he can read them, but at least someone is around that can.  Last summer, they took him fishing, which he loves to do.  He caught the most fish….he says he is 98 and he is happy.  Guess that’s all you could ask for.

  • Anonymous

    ” I think the main problem in the world is that many people blame their problems on money.”

    Totally true.  And most money problems are self-created due to lack of discipline and thought.  Sure there are a few people who wake up and find themselves with medical problems, or they have an accident which causes them to incur large expenses.  But the majority of money problems are due to:  buying a huge house, spending too much on automobiles, and spending on crap like a new iPad or going out to dinner every night.

    I like the saying that money just brings out what is already inside of you:  If you are greedy, then getting more money makes you more greedy.  If you are charitable, then money makes you more charitable, etc.  

  • I always like the Q and A posts, nice range of topics. Also, here is a link you might find interesting.

  • Anonymous

    “B)    The US will slowly and gradually inflate the dollar. If $1 now is
    worth 10 cents later, then it’s easy to not only pay down old debt but
    its actually easier to NOT pay the debt but roll it over and let the
    debt ride forever, because the interest payments will be easier to pay
    (since $10 is now worth $3 in real dollars).”

    Unfortunately I have a belief this is a myth. You can’t inflate out of debt. To support my belief  I would use the Debt/GDP graph of the USA in the last 40 years or so. This ratio went from 150% to 350% in 40 years. Basically $1,5 dollars in debt gave way to $1 in GDP. Now this is $3,5. If this trend continues in another 40 years we’ll be looking at $6 debt for $1 GDP. Since the interest on $6 debt is 4 times more than on $1,5, the interest rate that has to be paid down with the same $1 GDP has quadrupled.

    We invented the internet in the last 40 years. Yet Debt/GDP is not going down. Thus debt is creating an inefficiency in the system, eventually an unsustainable inefficiency if you look at the above example, an inefficiency larger than innovation can overcome.

    Conclusion: The USA is headed into a Great Depression.

  • Ana Calves89

    if you think someone is lying to you, take a break, change directions,
    find other things to occupy your brain. Because the thoughts of “is he
    or she lying to me” is just not under the category of “useful
    thoughts”.” – Altucher…obrigada por existires e dizeres-me coisas bonitas :)/ Thanks for the nice and true things that make my days better! That make me wanna be a better person!

  • Mom043

    I read of bit of Lutz..I hate that kind of writing..full of in look ma, what skills I have…a writer’s writer? Hempel better stick to writing for the dogs – literally. Remember Hempel as Lish’s lackey when I lived in NY. Lipsyte..was even worse! I abhor contemporary literature!

  • I think you need an email reminder for your Q & A Thursdays and any other promotional events that you do.  Maybe Chimp Mail has this service, not sure(?).

    I was just talking to my husband about money being a “tool” and that should be used for good or at least no-harm.

    James is right about liars- if you are not a liar it’s impossible to deal with them. Cut your loses immediately and run far and fast.  One lie is like the tip of an iceberg.

  • Hey James, re: procrastination software – I largely agree with that you’ve said, although I feel like there’s some benefit to be said about habit formation. The anti-procrastination software is helping form a new habit, which some say takes 21 consecutive days of successfully doing before it becomes a new habit. fwiw

  • What people somehow never ask is, why does the national debt need to be paid off? 

    • JP

      With respect to debt, the fact is that the amount of debt in the financial system matters.

      At this point, we apparently have too much debt.

      And it’s not that the national debt needs to be paid off, but more that the private credit bubble is being replaced with federal debt.

  • JP

    I’m going to take issue with James’s statement with respect to belief.  There are some statements that must be true.

    James says: “So yes, have beliefs, but never get stuck in them. There’s no set of facts that are actually true and universally definitive (dusting off my “Godel, Escher, Bach”).”

    Here’s a statment that must be true:

    “The universe is intelligible”.

  • Rob

    Conspiracy number is one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a while.

  • Rob

    It amazes me how money people have no understanding of what money is.  The counterfeit paper governments pass around isn’t money.  So many more people need to read up on Austrian Economics.

    • I agree. It’s really sad that you can graduate high school, and college for that matter, with no real understanding of economics. 

  • Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your
    blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. 

    • I’ll be
      implementing much of this soon!


  • The David

    On paying back the debt: if we move to a proportionate based federal budgeting process and if the bush tax cuts are converted to tax credits for personal det reduction we can actually reduce the debt directly and indirectly.

  • Chad Edstrand

    I wanted to expand on the beliefs quotation.  That was taken somewhat out of context. Kudos to James for seeing my question for the irony that it was.  The real quote is from Robert Anton Wilson, and has to do with belief systems, not just belief by itself.  The idea being that a belief system often answers many questions people have, and once those questions are considered answered, people do not think about them anymore, or (possibly wrongly) base further ideas off of that belief.  

    The main point being that asking questions constantly, about everything, is very important to human progress.

    I shudder to think where our lives, including quality of life, would be if humans saw more merit in investments in sciences (when the return may not net profit).  Everything is profit-driven, which is a very interesting (to me) aspect of humanity.  Wars for profit, death for profit, sex trafficking, predatory banking, anti-drug policies for profit, private prisons, for-profit colleges, working conditions in developing nations, wars for natural resources, money for votes, food fillers to save food production costs despite possible health effects, oil speculation, I could go on and on.  I have an interesting perspective living within the US Empire.  

    I’ve asked James before about the morality in business/banking/investments, and without looking and quoting I’ll paraphrase that his rationality is that there are moral implications to everything. That seems like an aversion to me.  Another common thought is, “If I don’t make money on it, someone else will.”  Is that not a method of washing your hands of guilt? Of coping with the possible poor morality of an investment you may make?

  •  I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me.