Saturday, January 16, 2016

16. Do you know how much I'm worth?

Today I went and saw the movie The Big Short with a few friends of mine. It’s a mostly true story about the 2008 collapse of the housing market. It stars a bevy of big names including Steve Carrell, Ryan Gossling, Christian Bale, and Brad Pitt.

(Side note: Has anybody else enjoyed Steve Carrell’s dramatic movies better than comedy films? Most of his comedies have been flops, yet he gets Oscar nominations two years in a row for serious dramas?)

Carrell plays Mark Baum, a money manager who gets information about the metaphorical pile of crap that is propping up the housing market. He decides to bet against it, which is something just about nobody else is doing. Things are rolling in the mid-2000’s. People are getting into homes and no one cares that the other shoe is about to drop.

Deals worth millions and billions of dollars changed hands over the course of the movie. More money than I can even picture.

I’m not one to rail against capitalism, but what some of these bankers did was criminal. They got rich while the pensions of good people went down the tubes.

There is a scene in the movie where he and the rest of his company attends a convention in Las Vegas full of high rollers from the mortgage industry. He’s gathering information and trying to short even more stuff. He sits down with some high roller in a restaurant, who tells Baum about all the shady financial products that are coming from the housing market. Baum is incredulous. The guy responds with a, “Do you know how much I’m worth?”

The guy was obviously worth billions and billions of dollars, but it was all based on really risky crap. I’m assuming he lost tons of it when the shit hit the fan and housing market collapsed. How much was he worth after that?

That line stuck with me for the rest of the movie. I’m trying to think of how I would answer that question. I’m not worth all that much in net financial terms due to student loans and being employed in the lucrative field of communications.

But I think back to what someone told me a while ago. They told me, “You have a big heart.” I like to think that’s how I add value to the world. I try generally be nice to people. I try to listen more than I talk and I try to just be someone people wouldn’t mind running into at the grocery store. (I know I often fail at this. I am capable of being a jerk and being unpleasant to be around.)

I heard a quote somewhere that goes something like, “People don’t remember what you did, they remember how you made them feel.” That’s a guiding philosophy of my life. In the The Big Short, there were plenty of people who probably would have made me want to throw up in my mouth had I met them in real life.

Where is your value? What are you worth?

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