Dreamcashing: Weaving a web of paranoia and greed

Last week, an old friend of mine asked me if I was interested in a ‘business opportunity’.

If I was given five sen for every time I’ve been propositioned with this phrase, I’d have two ringgit and 35 sen today after 14 years of having stumbled across such individuals from Network 21, Quixtar (never knew how to spell that properly) et al. These encounters have infused in me a defence mechanism triggered off by keywords such as those mentioned, along with ‘do you have a dream?’ and the less ostensible ‘are you financially secure?’.

When the economy was better (circa 1990), seduction attempts began with talk of dreams of travel and retiring early and what not. When 1997 came, the propositions turned to play on our fears, such as if we knew what our future held for us, when the next downturn would be, who is at the highest risk and the pros and cons of going into business (in the traditional sense), for yourself.

Back to last week. Because another friend of mine was interested to listen, I was asked to accompany her. From dinner, we were asked if we wanted to attend a seminar just across the road at Crystal Crown Plaza. No obligations, said my friend. Since the night was still young and I thought humouring him would be my last bid at a cordial friendship, I went.

The first thing that struck me was the number of young people this seminar had managed to attract. Throngs and throngs of after work executives, some housewife types and some who seemed as though they were just out of college, lined up to pay the token RM5 to go into one of the big function halls on the first floor.

Of course, I was a little miffed that I had to pay for this. The thought was that I could be one a drone who’d contribute to the riches of one or two individuals on top of the food chain and I had to PAY?

The hall was already filled with people when we went in that we had to ‘fight’ for a seat. Everyone was smiling, smiling at me in welcome, smiling at me as though they knew something I didn’t. It was unnerving although I smiled back, trying to send out the message that ‘I’m going to write about this!’ Noone got it.

And so the seminar started. A man called Bupinder Singh was the speaker for the night and everyone seemed very impressed by him. He was introduced as one of the ‘elders’ of this company called Questnet who has travelled the world preaching ‘the prophecy’. To his credit, he speaks very well. You’d have to, if you want to deliver a doomsday message such as his.

In a nutshell, what Questnet, through Mr Bupinder, basically presented throughout the night were a summary of points written in books by Alan Greenspan and Robert Kiyosaki which pointed to one seemingly inevitable result: that in year 2010, the great Depression would hit. Why? The man gave a few reasons:

1. Because baby boomers (people born after WWII) who have been buying mutual funds since then are all ripened by then, and would be all selling them by 2010 (all 50 million of them, as quoted – give or take a few mil) or even as early as 2008. This would cause a crash in the world market for mutual funds (this is what my simplistic mind digested by the end of the evening). In a nutshell, MF is not a good way to go. Bupinder brought up the fact that most Malaysians are now going towards MF using their EPF funds, which is very dangerous.

2. Because Mr Greenspan and other renowned world economists have predicted that recession happens every 12 years. After the world depression of the 20s, the ‘depression’ clock got reset (according to Mr Bupinder) to 1950 (although technically the Great Depression of 1929 actually ended in 1941 – before the start of WW2).

1962 was the Cuban Missile Crisis/start of the cold war. 1974, he said, was the Vietnam War (although the US, presumably the principle force behind world economic shifts referred to by Mr Bupinder, moved troops to Vietnam actually in 1965, NOT 1974). Check out a summary of the VW timeline here. However, the 74-75 recession DID occur but because of other factors first and foremost due to the oil price hike, culminating in the resignation of Nixon in US.

Add another 12 years and it’s the recession of 1986, according to Mr Bupinder. A simple check on the Net indicated that the recession in the US actually started in 1982 due to Reagan’s tax cut measures among other things. That’s in the US. In Southeast Asia, we felt the ripples a little bit later.

Boom, add another 12 and we are conveniently at 1998: the Asian economic crisis. The dotcom bust. The effects of that are still rippling through.

However, many believe this to have been the Great Depression Sequel of the 30s. After all, the cycle is supposed to be every 65 years or so. So what is this whole 2010 ruckus?

Because it’s 12 years from 1998.

Now I am no economist (so someone who knows a little more of these things, please put some facts straight for us) but after an hour of listening to Bupinder, I cannot help but wonder if this is all a web of paranoia woven to scare people into whatever Questnet has to offer. Fear is powerful. And in this room this evening, it is building.

After the powerful delivery of these facts (which I intended to check with an economist friend of mine as soon as I can get hold of him), Mr Bupinder proceeded to discuss HOW we and our families can all be saved. He compared business models such as franchising etc against network marketing, and of course, what Questnet had to offer. No obligations. If we are ready to go to the next phase, we can contact the ‘agent’ who brought us to listen to the ‘business plan’.

And so I did. I asked my friend what he had to offer that could possibly save me from this impending doom.

A pack of gold coins for RM2,000 and the promise of earning USD250k in two years or so if I ‘recruit’ more people into it – which is the usual way these things work.

The trip home was a fitful one, as I explained to my friend about priorities. After an hour of trying to convince me, I could not help but ask him two questions:

1. If you did not quit your job because of your problems with your boss, E, will you be doing this?; and
2. What value do people derive from these gold coins?

He did not answer my first question, and to the second, he said, “Honestly, I don’t see any value in it myself. It’s not the product; it’s the business.”

Are you telling me that what we are essentially doing is to weave a web of paranoia and greed by selling crap to our friends so that they can also sell more crap to others? At least Amway’s pricey washing detergents and Avon’s garrish cosmetics serve SOME purpose.

No, thank you.

Priorities. I have three priorities right now in life, as I mentioned to my good friend E. Firstly, is to raise two kids so that they will grow up not just to be GOOD people, but USEFUL people. It is a gigantic enough task. Secondly, I’d like to be more useful myself to other people. I am not volunteering enough time to the unfortunate. Today, I help fix their computers. Perhaps in the future I can help fix their lives.

Thirdly, I’d like to write a book. Any kind of book. That is the least of my priorities but my most fanciful one.

Today, I already hold more than one job (I have a salary and do a lot of freelancing). I am bringing in just enough to feed 1/2 my household (including parents and a maid) and I have a little to save for the future. Each of my family members have one health and one savings insurance policy each. Today, I am happy but I am cautious, and I accrue a LOT of value to being cautious. It builds character.

I don’t entertain delusions of grandeur such as striking the lottery (because I don’t even buy the required tickets) not because I have arse luck, but because I don’t have the money to throw. I don’t drive and my clothes are all over a year old. My most expensive possession is my desktop computer and it should be since I make money by using it (properly).

So the big question is: What is in it for me?