For Dave Ramsey, An Editing Lesson

One of the first things the military academies teach their plebes is “any written order than can be misunderstood, will be misunderstood.” A person hoping to get a particular point across needs to make sure they express that point with clarity; otherwise they shouldn’t feign surprise if people draw quite logical but wholly opposite conclusions from what they wrote.

Case in point, Dave Ramsey’s “20 Things The Rich Do Every Day”, which he derived from various points Tom Corley posted on his blog.  (It’s actually “21 Things…” but, hey, who’s counting?)  Me, that's who.

Since Corley did not assemble the list (Ramsey did from various posts on Corley’s blog) he should not be held accountable for any muddling of his message.

On his own blog Corley posts:

"I spent five years studying and analyzing the daily habits of the wealthy and the poor. I studied the daily habits of 233 wealthy individuals and 128 poor individuals.  The byproduct of that analysis is clear: the wealthy and the poor have vastly different habits and these differences are in large part the reason for the wealth gap and income inequality in America.  I organized data on each group into a list of over 200 things that separate the wealthy from the poor."

Corley gives no input in that post as to exactly how he studied these daily habits, where the original research came from or how it was conducted, or what specific fields these wealthy individuals were involved in, or whether there were any mitigating factors in their accumulation of wealth (read “inheritance”).

But we’ll be fair and assume he gathered his data with good and honest intent, and the conclusions he gleaned from them are valid insofar as they reflect certain legitimate trends and traits found in the two groups.

Rather, we’ll look at how Ramsey presented his list, and the message he conveys in the manner in which he conveyed it.

My previous blog entry on this list sparked quite a lively exchange on Facebook, and I’m glad for the input from all sides on the matter.

I think in the end both sides agreed, yes, there are indeed certain traits and habits that should be encouraged in people in order to best equip them for the daily challenges of life, but that Ramsey's presentation of those traits came across sounding somewhat judgmental and self-congratulatory.

The first issue many people noticed was that the list as Ramsey wrote it did not establish causation between the habits and the financial success of those who employed them; indeed, a very strong argument was made that the habits were the result of financial success giving the wealthy the resources they could use to follow those traits.

As I pointed out:

“…a lot of what Ramsey [wrote] about is evocative of the old South Pacific cargo cults, who believed if they built airstrips and hangars and control towers that the great metal birds would return w/their bellies full of goodies. The cargo cultists misunderstood the relationship between the airstrips etc and the cargo planes; >their< Ramsey [was] saying, 'Well, of course you don't have anything! Rich people have airstrips and you don't!'

“Clearly, if the cargo cultists knew the relationship between the airstrips and the aircraft full of material goods, they might have reasoned themselves to a position where they could find a legitimate reason to entice business w/such material wealth to come back to their part of the world (say they opened up land for farming, or sold mineral rights, etc.). Their mistake, of course, was in mistaking the accoutrements of material wealth for the thing that brings the material wealth itself."


Next, there is also the simple problem of presenting contrasting traits in an “A does x, B does y manner.

Such a presentation cannot help but imply criticism against whichever group is not in the author’s favor, especially if the author holds that group's failures are a direct result of not doing what the other, more favored group does.

To be fair to the other side, several people pointed out that despite the irritating/offensive wording of the list, there were many points that offered valuable advice…once you went rooting for them like truffles.

“Blake” on Ramsey’s own bog posted in the comments:

“The overarching message of this article is that continuous self improvement through every aspect of your life is a key to success, and success breeds success. It's not an issue of means, but of motivation; anyone can go for a run, anyone can choose to read in lieu of watching tv and anyone can do something considerate for family, friends, and neighbors. If you don't have time, you make time. Healthy, focused habits, no matter how hard to start, may seem like short term sacrifices but build upon themselves and pay long term dividends.”

Bravo!  Well put, Blake.  Perhaps Ramsey should hire you to edit his blog, and thus avoid befuddling posts in the future.

As it’s the Christmas season and we’re all in a generous spirit, I hereby offer my re-write of Ramsey’s original list to clarify his original points and present them in a manner that doesn’t make him look bad by needlessly denigrating people with a tougher row to hoe than he has.

This one’s on the house, Dave!

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.  Wealthier people eat healthier food; this helps them remain mentally clear and physically fit.  Poorer people should try to find as good a balance between food cost and nutritional value as they can, and whenever time and funds permit, prepare and eat fresh whole foods.  Wealthier people can afford to gamble and speculate their surplus cash.  Poorer people should not gamble in the hopes of winning their way out of their economic situation; the odds are badly rigged against them and the discretionary money they have to gamble could be better spent elsewhere with more positive results.

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.  Wealthier people use their resources to buy them freedom from distractions so they can focus on a single goal.  Poorer people need to recognize the various distractions in their life and still set a positive, realistic goal they can work towards; even if they don’t achieve that particular goal they will have better clarity and focus in the rest of their lives.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.  Wealthier people have more opportunities to exercise; this helps their bodies and their minds in the long run.  Poorer people need to regularly engage in some form of brisk exercise to keep up their health, stamina, and mental alertness.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.  Wealthier people try to fill their time with things that will help them succeed.  Anything that helps a poorer person gain a better understanding of the world around them helps that person.

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to plan out their lives with clear cut goals and objectives they can work for; even if they don’t always succeed or accomplish them, they can keep their lives moving forward.  Poorer people need to figure out what steps they need to take to advance and systematically follow them.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.  Wealthier people encourage their children to read because it not only introduces them to new knowledge, it stimulates their brains and gives them a better chance in the world.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to become more involved in their particular group, community, or organization; it not only gives them a sense of connection with those around them, but it also fosters the development of long term friendships, relations, and business contacts who can help a person advance their goals.

8. 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor.  Wealthier people try to stay connected with other people; one never knows who in one’s social circle might be helpful in the future.

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.  Wealthier people are often able to articulate their goals clearly; this helps them stay focused on what they want to accomplish.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.  Wealthier people use their resources to make time to read or further their education.  Poorer people should try to expand their knowledge as much as they can to help them bridge the gap.

11. 6% of wealthy say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of poor.  Wealthier people know how to be discrete and not blurt out every thought that enters their mind, especially if it might be misunderstood; they master their tempers and tongues to keep from saying things that might be used against them.

12. 79% of wealthy network five hours or more each month vs. 16% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to reach out and interact with other wealthier people, or at least with people who might be useful to them.

13. 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.  Wealthier people do not tend to amuse themselves by passively watching or listening to something, but rather in ways that will actively stimulate their minds and bodies.

14. 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to watch or enjoy entertainment that is more mentally challenging.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to rise earlier to prepare for work or school.

16. 74% of wealthy teach good daily success habits to their children vs. 1% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to pass along helpful information and habits to their children.

17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.  Wealthier people believe good habits help one be prepared for any circumstances.

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to believe bad habits can undermine one’s chance of succeeding; and try to recognize and break bad habits.

19. 86% of wealthy believe in lifelong educational self-improvement vs. 5% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to always seek to improve themselves.  Poorer people would help themselves by not giving up on self-improvement.

20. 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% of poor.  Wealthier people tend to enjoy reading, one of the cheapest methods of entertainment, because it educates and stimulates the mind.

An awful lot of redundancy in there.  I think we can boil it down to “wealthier people tend to stay more consistently focused on long term goals; poorer people would help themselves by trying to look beyond their immediate circumstances to a better outcome and work towards that.”

Then again, as the old Army saying goes, “if you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s difficult to remember your job is draining the swamp.”


Dave Ramsey, Dead Horse Edition

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