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Defense doesn't win championships
Workers are feeling the sting. It's time to open up the offense.
It’s October 6, 2023, and I’m back from another hiatus. My wife and I welcomed our second child in late July, and I’m slowly being whittled away to nothing by two children under two. But let’s get back to it: Defense doesn’t win championships!
Defense doesn’t win championships
Financial media often preaches defensive-mindedness. Coach Kilmer says go on offense.
Image: Something I wanted to include because I love Varsity Blues (shoutout Cameron Pogue)
You’ve probably heard the phrase “defense wins championships.” It’s a phrase rooted in sports, and by Googling it I found that some dude actually wrote his thesis on the topic. While that is interesting enough in and of itself, the core concept of the phrase is that by protecting your own goal, you can win not only a game, but an entire season.
It may be true in some instances. Especially in sports. But what about other aspects of life? I want to focus on one aspect: Financial media, and the financial advice that much of it aims to distribute to consumers.
I’ve been writing on the topic of money and finance and the economy and all that for a long time now — around a decade. And a lot of the things that I’ve written over the years involve what I want to think of as a “defensive” mindset. For instance, articles with titles like “6 ways to stretch your budget,” “how to financially prepare for a recession,” or “expenses you can cut to save money.”
There are multitudes of these types of content out there. And I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with them. But I think if we take the temperature of the state of Americans’ personal finances, it’s safe to say that all of these tips, tricks, and pieces of advice are largely ineffective. Not completely, but largely.
Overall, people aren’t putting it into practice. Because it’s difficult — part of the magical attraction of a “listicle” is that it sort of feels like your problems can be solved in a series of short steps. But it’s not really true. Changes are difficult to implement, and we’re all living through different life events that make a lot of the advice we receive from the media ineffective.
Getting back to the defensive nature of it all — this type of content also has readers thinking that they’re on defense here, and that they can protect what they have from the forces trying to take it away. Again, that’s all fine and well, to an extent, but it’s not really working.
Accordingly, I think more “offensive,” or “offensive-minded” financial content would be beneficial to a lot of people. Not offensive content — like Alex Jones or something — but offensive content, like Patrick Mahomes. Or Connor McDavid.
Imagine if Patrick Mahomes was a personal finance article. That’s what I’m talking about. We should stop thinking about protecting what little resources we have, and instead, focus on ways to get more resources.
Of course, the elephant in the room, currently, is inflation. While inflation has subsided in a big way — it peaked last summer at 9% (going by CPI readings), and is now less than 4%; not good, but a whole lot better — millions of Americans are feeling the sting. And that defensive-minded financial approaches aren’t, in my opinion, going to get people through it. Prices increases may slow down, but prices aren’t going to fall by any meaningful measure outside of a few goods like gasoline.
I know — blah blah, nerd stuff. What am I saying? I think you should stop trying to budget your way through all of this and instead focus on bringing in more cash. SIMPLE, RIGHT?
Overall, your money buys less than it did a few years ago. And if you’re still earning roughly the same amount you were a few years ago, you’re falling behind — people are feeling it, too. How could you not?
Again — are you going to Google budgeting tricks to try and make it all work? You can try, but that’ll only get you so far. Households and workers are going to need to go on offense instead. They’re going to need to increase their incomes not only to contend with rising prices, but to get ahead and reach whatever financial goals they’ve set out for themselves.
You’ve likely experienced this or heard it from a friend or loved one: The raise they received this year, if they got one at all, simply wasn’t enough. They’re probably right — data shows that the average raise among U.S. workers this year is 4.6%. Last year, it was 4.2%. But we had price increases of much more than that going on for nearly two years now. So, if you received, over two years, a raise of roughly 9%, you’re still not gaining any ground.
While it would be nice if your employer decided they were going to give you a 20% raise to contend with everything, they probably won’t. Why would they? Remember, you have expenses — rent, childcare, dog food — and to a business, your paycheck is another expense. Why would they be looking to spend more money if they didn’t need to?
That’s the opening. You need to force the issue. Make sure they know they NEED TO.
This is part of the reason that everyone is seemingly on strike. Healthcare workers, Hollywood writers and actors, UPS drivers — everybody is on strike, and for good reason. Jobs simply aren’t paying enough, and a little offense is evidently needed to press employers to open their pocketbooks.
Yes, increased expenses on businesses may further increase prices. But what are you supposed to do? Sit back and take it? What would a business do? Hope their customers want to come in and pay more for goods and services while the company goes bankrupt?
Of course not. This, I think, is why more people need to start thinking like a business. We’re all businesses, in a way — we sell our labor for money, and we should be selling to the highest bidder. So, get out there and find some bidders!
Again, not easy. But this is a market-based economy, for the most part, and the market is going to be your primary tool for earning more. It’s the football field, and you’re Patrick Mahomes.
And yet, people are reluctant to test the waters of the labor market. Just this week, The Wall Street Journal published a story on this topic. Change is difficult, and many people want to stick with what they know, especially if they’re worried about the economy. But the labor market is always churning, and I think it’d be beneficial to ALWAYS be looking for other opportunities. That’s how you’re going to find promotions and raises. If that angers employers — so what? Again, think like a business. You’re probably working to make money, not keep your employer’s turnover ratio low.
That’s the offensive weapon in the worker’s arsenal: The market. Use it. Go on offense. You’re not going to win a championship — or get the rent paid — by playing defense. If it didn’t work before, it’s definitely not going to work now.
Numbers and links
Powell Goes to York: The Fed Chair visited York, Pennsylvania to see how the other half lives, and he “got an earful.” (Reuters)
Death is Red: Seatbelt laws, cigarette taxes, and public health investments — some of the things contributing to differing partisan death rates. (Washington Post)
$14 per month: Facebook (or Meta or whatever the hell) is considering charging European users to use its social platforms. (The Wall Street Journal)
Godless: An op-ed I couldn’t agree more with: America doesn’t need more God. (The Washington Post)