The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Groups Only a Fool Trusts

Economists: The vast majority missed the housing bubble.

Intelligence Agencies: Remember Iraq? Part of the job description is lying.

Any Army’s PR: Enough said.

Life Insurance Agents: I worked back office dealing with agents. About ten percent of them were looking after their clients first.

Politicians: Yes, obviously.

Stock Brokers: As the book said, “Where are the client’s yachts?”

Media, in general: Most of them are owned by a few conglomerates. They do what’s in the interests of those big conglomerates or their job leaves. And remember the NYT and Iraq.

Private equity or hedge funders, any senior executive in any large bank: They were all in on the fraud leading up to the financial crisis, and yes, they would do it again.

Any senior executive in any large firm: They didn’t get there by being good people. Good people don’t become Senior VPs.

Central Bankers: They either missed the housing and financial bubble or didn’t care, then they bailed out the rich and fucked over the little people. No one will ever be hired for those jobs who wouldn’t do it again, and again, and again.


(This seems like an important piece, so back to the top for those who haven’t read it or have forgotten it. Originally published December 29, 2016.)

My friend Charles Green, who co-wrote the book, The Trusted Adviser, loved to say “I trust my dog with my life, but not my lunch.”

Who you can trust depends on what you are trusting them with, and who you are. Charles can trust his dog with his life; I can’t trust his dog with my life.

Central bankers are the dogs of the rich. The rich can trust bankers to save their lives, no one else can. Perhaps if you were to fall in front of one of them and injure yourself, some of them would call an ambulance for you. You can’t trust them not take away your house, however, or pursue policies that crush your wages and make jobs scarce.

The point here is that just because someone is good in one part of their life, doesn’t mean they’re good in another part of their life. I learned this young: My father was a bastard to his family, but was respected by most of his employees for his loyalty to them.

People are not of a piece, and you need to understand what their jobs are to understand what they can be trusted with.

A politician’s job is to get voters to elect them, then to do things that rich people like, because rich people reward them both before and after they leave office; while in office, rich people take care of politicians’ families, invite them to parties, give them loans, and so on, and after they leave office, rich people reward politicians (and heir families) with lucrative positions in their companies. Rich people pay most of a politician’s salary: They work for them.

This is IMPORTANT. So if you want to know if a politician is one of the rare few you can trust, you need to see that they don’t take the rich’s money, and they don’t vote with the other people who have taken the rich’s money. And you can only really see that once they’ve been in office for awhile.

This is why I trust Corbyn. Because he doesn’t take their money; he barely even accepts money from the government for office expenses AND he has a track record of voting against or for the right things when it was against his personal interest. He has integrity. He is a very rare politician.

When I used to back-office for life insurance agents, I could tell the ones whom I’d recommend because they would sell insurance, often, that earned them less commission, if it was better for their clients. That simple.

For economists, look who they work for and look at their prediction record. Did they come out against the housing bubble early, for example? You can trust Stiglitz because he wrote a book attacking the World Bank that named names and turned other economists against him because he was more concerned about how poor people were being hurt than about what his fellow economists thought. He did something against his own interest. Plus, he’s been right on most issues. Integrity + competence.

If you happen to have a 100 million dollars or so, then you would be justified in saying, “I trust central bankers,” because they are looking out after your interests–though you might wonder if they are competent enough to do so. Still, they’ll do anything for you, they are your dogs: You can trust them. No one else can.

As for the rest: Never trust anyone on commission without doing extensive checks to see if they’re putting their clients’ interests first. If they’ll take a hit in pay to do the right thing, they’re trustowrthy. Remember, most of them work for firms which, whatever their “official policy,” strongly discourage getting lower commissions for any reason.

Intelligence agencies. Well, if you’re stupid enough or naive enough to trust an intelligence agency, I can do nothing for you. Even people who work for intelligence agencies don’t trust intelligence agencies.

With respect to the media, people are extraordinarily stupid. For example, I don’t trust Russia Today (RT) with respect to things that Russia cares about, but they’re very good on things Russia doesn’t care about. What you’re looking for is a media outlet which doesn’t care about the issue in question, which isn’t subject to pressure on that issues, whose owner doesn’t care. The US media is useful in regards to the US, of course, but it is not trustworthy.


There are few things which will destroy you faster in life than trusting the wrong person or people, and the metrics you have for trusting individuals in your life don’t work when you try to scale them up to measure organizations, professionals, and so on–people who are not your friends, or in your social circle, or who are not being dealt with as friends and members of your social circle.

The interests of these people do not align with yours, they do not identify with you, and your well-being does not concern them in any meaningful way. Figure out what their interests are, who they identify with, and who they serve, if you want to know what they’ll do and whether you can trust them.

And if you’re looking for the rare politician, broker, or commissioned salesman you can trust, look for the ones willing to go against their own interests–and with a track record of doing so.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


What Makes a Good Person?


The Oligarch Stage of the American Disease: Bloomberg Edition


  1. V. Arnold

    I mostly agree re: trust. When all is said and done, I have always kept my own council. And continue to do so.
    If one can be brutally honest about one’s self; it goes a long way to understanding us humans in general.
    I trust only two people; myself and my wife: I’m a very lucky man.

  2. Some Guy

    Slightly off topic, was thinking about your earlier post about the Fed vs. Trump. As you say, the Fed is the dog of the rich, and even if (a significant faction of) the rich want to crush Trump, they may not be willing to use the Fed to do it because too much of their lunch is on the line and who knows what will happen if there is another financial implosion.

    This hasn’t been true in other places or in the past of course, but times are different and this is the U.S. we are talking about. I suspect on this basis the Fed won’t go too far vs. Trump, but other avenues will be pursued instead.

    On the subject of trust, as an undergraduate I pondered that the chief power imbalance that causes students to get treated like crap is their transience. By the time any student figures out what is going on and considers taking action to organize against it, their time is up.

    But perhaps the same is true for people as a whole. By the time most people figure out that the Washington Post isn’t telling them 100% of the truth, they tend to be getting on. But maybe that is changing in the era of social media, where word (fake and true both) spreads quickly.

  3. Synoia

    One has to ask of statements:

    1. Given the speakers position and connections, what else could be said?
    2. How is the speaker paid?

    Then one can make a decision.

  4. Ian Welsh

    If they have to bail out the rich as a class, they will do so, but they are Obama’s creatures and don’t like Trump.

  5. tatere

    This gets right to why term limits area such a bad idea.

  6. V. Arnold

    Ian and all; may this coming new year (2017) find you well and sufficient for your needs and occasional good cheer.

  7. Tom

    And know when to walk away from bad deals. Goes along with the trust issue. I have walked away from numerous deals that often were too good to be true while others I knew went in too deep and far and got too scared to walk away till it was too late.

    If you can’t pay for something without taking an interest bearing loan, walk away, you can’t trust the loan people not to fuck you on the ass. I learned this lesson the hard way early in life and only a clerical error and showing up to court while the Student Loan Sharks failed to got me free and clear of my student loan debts for a degree that gained me nothing as I graduated in 2007 as the economy imploded. Now I’m in EMS and I have met my true calling.

  8. Hugh

    A few thoughts:

    Stiglitz is about the best of the classical economists. I often find that he doesn’t go anywhere near far enough, and he remains within the classical framework. A retired economic forecaster I knew never forgave him because in the run up to the Great Financial Crisis (2007-2009), she questioned him about the Great Moderation (financial policy in the decades leading up to it). She laid out some of the concerns she and others of us had and Stiglitz basically blew her off saying, “We’ve taken care of all that.” And then shortly after, all hell broke loose. I can’t read Krugman, a political shill, who cashed in and sold out as soon as he could, but Stiglitz I will read if only to see where the Establishment puts the outtermost bounds to its thought.

    I would add economic statistics. You need to have a clear understanding of the definitions, what and how things are measured: sample size and methodology, for instance, and the degree that any of this has to reality. For example, if most of the jobs being created are shit jobs, do any of us really care, or see as a positive, how many of them are being created?

    On the subject of definitions, I don’t trust political definitions. I find them incredibly sloppy, stupid, and malign. Their main purpose is much like ape feces, something to be thrown in the hopes that it will stick. Again understanding our history is important. A liberal is not a progressive. FDR was a liberal who got pushed by the Great Depression into adopting some progressive actions for about four years (1932-1936), and who reverted to his original form once the immediate threat to capitalism had passed even though this plunged the country back into depression until WWII. New Dealism can be seen as a subset of progressivism. On the other hand, if you want to understand liberalism, you either need to look back to Wilson or forward to the Clintons. Liberalism/neoliberalism is not primarily a Democratic ideology. Almost all modern conservatives fall into the liberal spectrum. Curiously, one of the few who doesn’t is Trump, if he can be believed. In his emphasis on isolationism and nationalism, and in some other matters as well, he is much closer to traditional conservatism. But nowadays, so many of these terms are misapplied that they have become meaningless labels. For example, there is a Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives but a progressive Democrat is essentially an oxymoron. I think one of the great contributions of the web is that it has given us a forum where we can challenge the labels and refocus the debates.

    Re Ian’s last point, trust the evidence and your own eyes. Or as I like to say, if someone tells you that they fought for you and yours, ask them to show you their blood upon the floor. If they fought for you, it’s there.

  9. gnokgnoh


    Trump crosses the $100 million threshold with central bankers, at least we’re told he does. Obama was the creature of Wall Street and the central bankers, not the other way around. The rich in general…yes, they did very, very well in his two terms, but only half of them even noticed, or care. See Open Secrets. Regardless, Obama departs and will have little power over them.

    Trump owes many bankers and lenders in many countries a lot of money. He belongs to them, to the extent that he cares about his businesses’ success (not 100% clear that it ever mattered much). For at least four years, he will be much more focused on his magnificent Twitter account.

  10. gnokgnoh


    Curiously, one of the few who doesn’t is Trump, if he can be believed.

    I prefer Greenwald’s admonition – never trust a politician’s words, only their actions. The last eight years were a good illustration of that axiom.

  11. Ian Welsh

    The federal reserve has stated it will oppose Trump. We’ll see if they mean it. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t bail out the rich AS A CLASS, if they needed to.

  12. realitychecker

    @ Hugh

    “On the subject of definitions, I don’t trust political definitions. I find them incredibly sloppy, stupid, and malign. Their main purpose is much like ape feces, something to be thrown in the hopes that it will stick.”

    That is 95% of all one needs to know when stumbling through a political discussion lol.


  13. Peter

    Speaking of untrustworthy politicians Obama imposed some rather petty and vindictive little sanctions on the dastardly Russians. He had to rewrite his own directive on this issue to make this BS look legal and proper.

    Putin is not biting at this dying regime’s bait and will not be expelling any diplomats or denying any recreational facilities in Russia to our diplomats. In fact he has invited the US diplomats and their families to the New Year’s Eve party at the Kremlin.

    It appears that the doofus Barry and his doofus Clintonite friends have made international fools of themselves while the adults wait for their tantrums to end and a real leader to be sworn in.

  14. Tiago

    *Russia Today (not Times)

    It’s so depressing that this (your post) needs saying in 2016. People seem to be way dumber than they were a few decades ago. Was there ever a time in the last century when the average person would read as few books as they do today? I feel people have an astonishingly underdeveloped intellect. I live in Europe, and most people who have college degrees here (all the others too, but these are more impressive) have never read a book that’s not for school. And when they have it’s probably been a single Nicholas Sparks romance or a national equivalent. They build their very life philosophy by watching TV and surfing social media. It’s not that they’re disinformed. They’re massively misinformed, and they will fight back ideas that differ from what they’ve been offered on TV if they absolutely can’t avoid facing them. Because they haven’t built a world view through reading and dicussing with other people, they are unable to question.
    What can we do…

  15. Shh

    you can always trust people to act according to their perceived self interest. you can’t assume they know what that is.

  16. If you have a billion bucks or a billion dollars owned – trust the bankers.

    If you own $100,000 – the are coming for you.

  17. XFR

    “On the subject of definitions, I don’t trust political definitions. I find them incredibly sloppy, stupid, and malign. Their main purpose is much like ape feces, something to be thrown in the hopes that it will stick.”

    This for me was always the most obvious difference between American and British political discourse.

    I could mostly rely on British sources to use terminology in a fairly consistent way. American discourse always seemed to me to have a very weasely quality–a refusal pin down a word to any particular meaning–which meant I had to always be on guard for equivocations. I found reading them to be a rather tiring experience.

    Perhaps it somehow reflected a public school “fair play at any cost” mindset, as opposed to “win at any cost”?

  18. XFR

    Er, that is I found reading American sources a rather tiring experience.

  19. Tinky

    I’d take Michael Hudson over Stiglitz without hesitation.

  20. realitychecker

    @ XFR

    It’s just another way to lie.

    We’ve got a million of ’em. (Check your thesaurus.)

    If we could just go to a “one-digit-lost-per-public-lie” policy, we could clean this shit up in a hurry.

    But we’re too nice and tolerant for that, so down the shithole we go. All of us.

    Happy New Year. Same as the Old Year?

  21. Peter VE

    You can add a subset of senior executives: retired Generals and Admirals. Their promotion to senior rank requires final approval by the Senate, with the result that they need to learn the right responses.

  22. nihil obstet

    One of the problems of the self-identified left is the sanctimonious trashing of people who have learned not to trust people who do not have their interests at heart.

    Way back in the 80s I could see that the political rise of the religious right had to do with the betrayals of the middle/upper middle class professionals. At any hearing on local matters, a bevy of experts would be there to explain to the affected neighborhood how the science (traffic counts, whatever) indicated that yes, the highway had to go through their neighborhood or the landfill had to be located near their neighborhood or water/sewer lines couldn’t be extended to them yet. I was seeing emotional reactions along the lines of “You can tell me I’m wrong about everything that you tell me matters, but God has said something else to me and you can’t tell me I’m wrong about that!”

    And then there was all the expert advice, not just from the financial pros (who, for example, told people to “put the equity in your home to work for you” because that’s what everybody else does and that’s why they have so much stuff) but from the medical industry — drugs r us — with poverty-inflicting, incomprehensible bills that the provider and the insurance company tell you you’re an idiot for not understanding that you have to pay way hundreds of times more than your supposed co-pay for some genuinely arcane reasons.

    And so now, when large swathes of the population act as though facts don’t matter and politicians don’t mean what they say, we all get into a lather about how stupid all those people are. I don’t see how we can have a decent society without trust, but, as you say, only a fool trusts the major decision-makers that we have.

  23. realitychecker

    Liars lie to get ahead.

    Would they lie if it meant they might lose a head?

    Black Consequences Matter.

    How many lives do the lies cost?

  24. Ian Welsh

    Thanks Tiago, corrected.

  25. dude

    Ian’s list is a fine list. I would have put realtors ahead of some of them, and I put Trump in the realtor category.

    Slightly related: there was a comment the other day that Trump is someone who assumes or behaves as though any social interaction is a transaction—a “deal” to be had. They went to say his approach to who is is picking for a cabinet and how he approaches any issue will be as a transaction. I go a step further and say he is a realtor and he thinks he has the edge on making deals when he can make the transaction personally. It will not use middle-men on any important decision. In the final analysis, he will assume the best deal can only be gotten if he is personally involved and face-to-face with whomever he figures is on the other side of the transaction. I think it is clear he is also a narcissist who always thinks he got the best deal. That is a scary combination.

  26. Tomonthebeach

    The truth is out there, we just have to recognize it. Consistent with Ian’s point, detecting patterns of trustworthy behavior is how I learned to navigate Washington for 3 decades. It is also how I divine which shards of truth can be trusted while drinking from the firehose of media infotainment.

    I am not sure what exactly economist are for except for cost-benefit analyses. In the case of the housing bubble, economists were irrelevant (except for the one heading up the Federal Reserve). The media regularly provided ample evidence that the end was nigh. There were a number of stories about greedy people buying pricey properties in major cities at prices they could not afford using no-doc balloon loans which they did not expect to pay down because their intent was to flip the property for an easy profit by selling to some foreigner who needed to stash cash in the USA. [Breathe]. There were even commercials promoting no-doc second mortgages to cash in on inflated home equity. One did not need a graduate degree in economics or finance to see the impending calamity.

  27. different clue

    But one DID need a graduate degree in economics or finance to be able to lie convincingly about the “non-existence” of any “bubble”. And lie-waving the bubble away is what most economists decided they could make the most money doing. Given that, any economist with a graduate degree in economics or finance who spent the several bubble years yelling “Bubble!” on a crowded trading floor could probably be considered honest-spirited and well-intended.

  28. Blissex

    «Intelligence Agencies. Remember Iraq? Also, part of the job description is lying. Any Army’s PR. Enough said.»

    They call it “psyops” or “disinformation” and it is indeed a major part of their job description.

    «Any Senior Executive in a large firm. They didn’t get there by being good people. Good people don’t become Senior VPs.»

    That’s the rule for a majority, but there is a surprising number of shrewd fairly-good (as opposed to perfectly-good) people who slip through the filters, usually by luck, sometimes by skill (it takes big skills to be a fairly-good person in a Senior Executive position). Some even become CEOs, but that’s fairly rare. Large firm are such complicated, messy places that it is hard to enforce anything in them.

  29. Peter


    We may need to open an online chapter of Trump Underestimators Anonymous to offer some help to these deluded snowflakes. Without effective counseling these troubled folks will be easy targets for Soros operatives and become fodder for his malicious plans.

    The republican party/elite were the first to make this arrogant mistake and they paid the price but have adjusted to the new paradigm. The Clintonites, media, the deep state and others are having trouble digesting the facts of their loser position today. They will continue to strike out at Trump becoming more pitiful and desperate as their power recedes.

  30. Alex

    Groups Only A Fool Trusts

    Add ivy-leaguers to that too (the Harvard crowd like Bush and Obama). These people are the dumbest shitbags ever. The only thing they excel at is fucking stuff up. Very few of them could ever hold a job in the real world.

    A keen observation from someone is that a lot of the current problems can be traced to all these kinds of people, the “expert” crowd with their expensive degrees and credentials.

    Ah, “The Trusted Advisor”, one of my favorite business books. I do like David Maister.

    I too trust Corbyn. Where is the the American version of Corbyn and the Socialists (and please don’t say Bernie Sanders)?

    Why do you spend so much time writing about American politics? Doesn’t Canada have the white Obama now? And the NDP kicked Tom Mulcair to the curb for lack of imagination and forgetting his Tommy Douglas party roots.

  31. Alex

    Btw, I forgot to ask, what happened to Blackberry? They gave up making their own phones (outsourced) and will only make software.

    My 2G phone is no longer supported as of yesterday so I had to buy a new phone and I decided on Blackberry(s).

    I’ve always hated phones (iPhone especially with a passion [Steve Jobs, can you see what Cook has done to your company? he’s crapifying Mac OS X, you shoulda put Jonny Ives in charge], but more generally phones that try to be everything to everyone) and these companies think it’s grand to charge $40-$60 and up per month for the pleasure of viewing everything on a small screen. When did phone companies become entertainment providers who spy on everyone?

    I remember the Crackberry craze and thought I would never buy a smart phone. Now I can’t avoid it.

    Btw, a map of the world billionaires by country and origin:

  32. Hugh


    Also this sentiment has been around a while, Psalms 146:3-7

    “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.
    When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”

    Apparently the Psalmist had not heard of family foundations. As Shakespeare’s Antony noted in Julius Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

  33. Willy

    It doesn’t make sense that Bernie would at age 78, suddenly take corporate cash for himself. I’d cut him a pass if he had to, to get over the Trump hump. But maybe other around here would run with that as proof of demonship. I definitely don’t trust most of the other democrats or any republican to be that ethical. Kissing up kicking down should never be a leadership value because such behavior inevitably trickles down to the common culture.

  34. bruce wilder

    perhaps we should not be so ready to trust ourselves

  35. realitychecker

    I have been begging people for two decades to accept that while one can never be sure one actually grasps an ultimate truth, it is relatively easy to identify falsities.

    So my way is to understand that anyone who promotes a falsity does so for bad reasons, and thus should NEVER be trusted again.

    My advice would have produced good results thus far; please consider trying it.

  36. NRG

    I would add to this list Human Resources departments, as a whole. Having asked questions of several hundred HR representatives under oath, they’re almost as likely to lie under oath in the service of the powerful as police are. Your ally, they are not.

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