Rebirth of Reason


Six Words to Shut Their Traps
by Luke Setzer

Many of us came to appreciate Objectivism because it resonated with our own sense of life and our view of the nature of reality, especially economic reality.  Ayn Rand stood apart from her predecessors and contemporaries by weaving sound economic principles throughout her work.  Even so, she often conveniently made her protagonists wealthy enough literally to appear "swimming" in money.  This wealth enabled them to buy their way out of situations that would bury those of more modest means.

For instance, Hank Rearden in Atlas Shrugged ably bought the legal system to divorce his conniving wife and leave her penniless.  A lesser character like Eddie Willers would lack such an option.  He would instead have to rely on his wits and foresight -- his reason -- to find more clever ways to avoid such circumstances in the first place.  He may have lacked the mind to repair a broken locomotive or to keep a failing railroad alive.  Nevertheless, he still had the brains to grasp basic principles of economics and accounting and the honesty to adhere to them without apology or compromise.  These traits make him a superior man worthy of emulation.

Imagine a real life Eddie Willers struggling in today's world to make the best life possible for himself and his loved ones.  He could encounter various verbal traps and handle them efficaciously.  In all walks of life, you will encounter people who will attempt to divorce the cold equations of finance from their transactions with you.  You should never let them get away with it.  Eddie Willers would not.  This article employs Eddie Willers in a way to help you in that worthy aim with six easily memorized words.

For example, a contemporary Eddie Willers might have this exchange with his cousin Bob Frapples around his kitchen counter after Bob draws "network" circles and lines on a sheet of paper and shows him copies of checks his "upline" earned in a new multi-level marketing startup company:

"Great!  Wonderful!  Fantastic!  Show me your cash flow statement," said Eddie.
"But I just showed you these checks!" Bob protested.
"That only shows me gross revenues.  Generally accepted accounting principles demand showing all related expenses so we can both know the net profit or loss of your business.  Show me your cash flow statement."
"Come now, dear cousin, surely you know that all startup businesses have expenses and do not show an immediate profit."
"That's all the more reason you need to create financial statements.  You need to apply both financial and managerial accounting principles to project whether this undertaking will ever make money," said Eddie.
"That's why we have training so our upline can show us those things," Bob retorted.  He had learned this phrase from his upline in last week's training seminar, "Overcoming Objections."
"For the last time, show me your cash flow statement."
"Cousin, I really hate to see you miss on a deal like this one.  This is a ground floor opportunity.  I --"
But Eddie Willers had already grabbed Bob Frapples by the elbow and dragged him to the door.
"Never come here again to talk to me about this," Eddie said firmly before slamming the door in Bob's face.
Sixteen months later, Bob Frapples filed for bankruptcy.

Those six words -- show me your cash flow statement -- possess great power in disarming a wide range of evaders, especially those closest to you.

Imagine if Eddie had a son, John, whom he tried to raise well but who still had evasion issues.

"Dad, I want to go to Patrick Henry University."
"I see.  I hear that is an excellent school.  Do you think you'll get accepted?"
"It looks pretty good."
"What about finances?  I hear it's expensive."
"Well, I have some papers here about it to show you."

Eddie reviewed the papers.  Even though his son did competent work in school, he was no scholar, so Eddie knew based on previous research that John's chances for a merit scholarship were nil.  There were also scholarships based on need and ethnicity, but Eddie's income and John's ethnicity ruled out those possibilities.  Eddie also had concerns about John's maturity and ability to live away from home responsibly.  Together, these looked like too much risk for the potential reward.

"Tell you what, son," Eddie prefaced, "if you can get enough scholarships to cover all the expenses, by all means go.  Otherwise, I encourage you to take your core classes at the community college up the road and then transfer to a public university somewhere in the state."
"They are adequate for any major you choose and I can afford them."
"But my best friends are going to Patrick Henry!"
"Are your best friends going to pay for your education?"
"No, I thought you were!"
Eddie laughed.  "Son, I am not made of money."
"Jamie's parents were willing to co-sign for a student loan so she could go!"
"I am not Jamie's parents."
John grew red in the face.  "I'm going to Patrick Henry!"
"Great!  Wonderful!  Fantastic!  Show me your cash flow statement," winked Eddie.
John stormed from the room, furious at his father for not yielding to his young will.

The next year, having failed to gain the Patrick Henry scholarships he needed, John began taking classes at the community college.  He did well enough at them that Eddie felt comfortable relinquishing his son as a dependent on his income tax forms so John could qualify for a scholarship to go to a state university majoring in accounting.  John graduated the university with honors and eventually became a Certified Public Accountant.  Though he would never admit it, he felt a touch of wistful gratitude to his father for not caving to his demands for financing attendance at Patrick Henry University.  He learned that his wealthier friends who did go fell into the wrong crowd of people at school.  Every single one of them had ended bankrupt, jailed, or dead.  Jamie's parents had divorced from the stress of a dead daughter coupled with six figures of college debt.  John never forgot those six words that changed his life: Show me your cash flow statement.

What if Eddie had a daughter, Joni, with her own evasion issues?

"Dad, I want a new car."
"You already have a car that I gave you for your birthday last year."
"That thing?  It's rusty and has no radio!"
"It gets you from here to school and back safely and that's what counts."
"But my friends make fun of me!"
"Your friends do not pay the bills here.  I do."
"School sucks, anyway.  Maybe I'll just quit and get a job and then buy a hot car."
"If you do that, Joni, I will expect you to find your own place."
"You remember what I told you last year when you became an adult.  If you stay in school, you can stay here.  If not, then not."
"But that's not fair!  I can't afford to live somewhere else on a high school graduate's salary!  But I want a hot car!"
"Boo-flipping-hoo, Joni.  You'd better check your premises about what constitutes 'fair.'"
"Dad, I want to go to school and I want a hot car!"
"Great!  Wonderful!  Fantastic!  Show me your cash flow statement."

Joni felt a sense of rage against her father and left the house in a huff that would rival Hollywood's greatest drama queens.  Weeks later, she met a young man nicknamed "Red" at the community college who liked motorcycles and tattoos.  They fell in love immediately and consummated the relationship within a week.  Joni promptly packed her few belongings and moved them to the trailer of her new lover while Eddie was at work and her mother at a social event, leaving only a note in her wake.  Eddie felt quite upset at first before shrugging and removing her as a dependent on his financial papers.

Fortunately, Joni's boyfriend actually proved quite grounded and able to manage the household finances while they both worked part time at the local motorcycle shop and paid their own way through school.  She considered her boyfriend's hot motorcycle and hot body adequate substitutes for the hot car she wanted.  They married after they both graduated with associate's degrees in business, eventually opening their own shop in another town.  Eddie wished them both well.  Of course, Red still occasionally had to admonish Joni to show him her cash flow statement when she got excited about a new idea.  She had to do the same with him just as often.  They kept each other in balance that way.

What about Eddie's wife, Edna, and her evasion issues?

"Eddie, I want another baby."
"What?  We just had the last of our two children move out!  I know it's all sudden, but give it time.  This whole 'empty nest syndrome' thing will pass."
"Eddie, I want another baby!"
"Have you lost your mind?  We've barely saved for retirement just to give our kids a decent upbringing.  A new child will wreck us financially and emotionally."
"Eddie, I want another baby!"
"No," Eddie shook his head and sighed.
"Eddie, I want another baby or else!"
"Or else what?"
"Or else I'll move out!"
"Great!  Wonderful!  Fantastic!  Show me your cash flow statement."
"Huh?" said Edna, as if she had just awakened.
"You had better think carefully about your ultimatums, sweetie.  I know you're having a rough time and I'm cutting you some slack -- but not that much slack."
"I mean it, Eddie.  I've spent my whole life raising your children.  You owe me this much."
"Excuse me?  We had this discussion decades ago.  You chose to stay home to play full time mommy over my protests.  I tried my best to get you to go back to school and cultivate a career after the kids got older but you wanted to play social butterfly instead.  So I am so glad for you that you have all those plaques on the wall for your years of dedicated service to the community.  I know they make you proud.  But that doesn't mean I owe you another baby."
"Give me another baby, Eddie!"
"No," said Eddie Willers firmly.

Edna fumed and stomped from the room.  They barely talked and didn't make love for three weeks.  She spent the interim time while he was at work trying to refute his argument by actually constructing a cash flow statement.  She had taken accounting in high school and went to the library to get some textbooks and refresh her memory.  "Damn him," she thought, "I'll show him who can create a cash flow statement."  No matter how she ran the numbers, Eddie was right.  A baby now would mean disaster for everyone later.  So would a divorce.  She wanted to evade the results on her spreadsheets but her decades of living with honest Eddie taught her better.

She felt very ashamed of how she had treated her wise husband and grateful he had stood his ground with reality and reason on his side.  She went to the local adult novelty store that final afternoon and purchased some new toys.  She gave her faithful husband quite a surprise that evening as she apologized profusely.  She expressed her undying gratitude to him that night in the bedroom in ways they would warmly recall for years to come.

Remember, ladies and gentlemen, the six words that will shut the traps of those most likely to evade their meaning: Show me your cash flow statement.  Wealthy men like Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead can afford to spout flippant platitudes like "price no object."  As for the rest of us, I say: "Price no object?  Not!"  I hope readers of this site have the honesty to grasp that fundamental observation and agree with it.
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