Samuel Johnson on James Altucher (urban legend dept.)

The quote is usually attributed to Samuel Johnson, though it appears to be an urban legend:

“Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”

Which is to say…

Have you ever read the internet email joke, “So, you want a day off?

It appears Mr. Altucher has. Because today, his humour column in the Financial Times does a startlingly similar breakdown of a friend’s US$1 million bonus as “a vice-president at a top-tier bank.”

Again, just like last week, it’s within the realm of possibility that Mr. Altucher doesn’t intend his writing to be humorous, and that he’s being in deadly earnest over the whole matter. But if the “Mike” character in the column isn’t a creation for exaggeration, but a real friend — real enough that Mr. Altucher was one of, “a select few friends” and family invited to Mike’s wedding back when he was of means closer to the median… well, if so, then it seems that for a man who only a week ago was complaining about things getting needlessly personal, then he himself is revealing a large number of very personal financial details of Mike.

For the sake of giving a column a hook. A derivative hook at that.

Some friend.

Pulled up from comments

Like Harry Chapin used to say, “The excitement continues to build.”

Mr. Altucher replies(NB, 2013: In comments to a LiveJournal post, the original source for this), in a thread on my recent post. He’s in italics this time.


“the fact remains that your stats have nothing to do with my article.”

You make a statistical claim — that, “There’s no way,” an investment of a certain amount of money will see a return. You do not support this claim from any source. When evidence is presented from a reputable source that your claim is factually incorrect, you then say that the evidence is irrelevant.

This is somewhat like saying that the sound barrier will never be broken, and no one should waste their time investing in such tomfoolery. When an eyewitness report from Chuck Yeager is brought in, you deem it to be irrelevant.

“Then you decide to get personal in order to make your point.”

You wrote your article in personal terms. Using the Winer Defense (if one comments on the personal aspects, it’s business; if one comments on the business aspects, it’s personal) is only either a) an intentional evasion on your part, or b) an unintentional failure to recognize just how personal your own writing is, and then failing to acknowledge the consequences.

The Altucher Chronicles

Like I said, that column by Mr. Altucher in the FT made a number of strange claims.

So I wrote a letter to the Editor of the FT about one of them, cc’ing Mr. Altucher’s email as given at the bottom of his column. Mr. Altucher replied.

Hilarity ensued.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m in italics. Mr. Altucher is in bold.



In what I presume to be the FT‘s humour column, Mr. Altucher writes,

“First, and foremost, (college is) too expensive. To send a kid to college you need from $200,000 to $400,000. That’s insane. There’s no way the incremental advantage they get from having a diploma will ever pay back that amount.”

In 2002, the US Census Bureau reported the following:

“As shown in Figure 3, for full-time, year-round workers, the 40-year synthetic earnings estimates are about $1.0 million (in 1999 dollars) for high school dropouts, while completing high school would increase earnings by another quarter-million dollars (to $1.2 million). People who attended some college (but did not earn a degree) might expect work-life earnings of about $1.5 million, and slightly more for people with associates degrees ($1.6 million). Over a work-life, individuals who have a bachelor’s degree would earn on average $2.1 million — about one third more than workers who did not finish college, and nearly twice as much as workers with only a high school diploma. A master’s degree holder tops a bachelor’s degree holder at $2.5 million. Doctoral ($3.4 million) and professional degree holders ($4.4 million) do even better.”

So we see a BA holder gets an incremental advantage of $900,000, for a ROI of at least 125%. Would Mr. Altucher’s clients were so lucky.


Hal O’Brien


Those stats mean nothing. Its what a self-initiating proactive person can do instead of college (as opposed to what the avg person can potentially do) that I’m interested in.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


Ah. And all your children are from Lake Wobegon, and thus, above average?

Interesting. This might be a nice one for Mr. Taleb. Someone who insists that black swans are the norm (and not rare).


I’m only saying if someone is proactive they can find better things to do than waste their parents’ money. I’m not saying my kids are special. No need to get personal.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile



The entire premise of your column was that this is what you personally are doing with your children. I quote:

“What I said was that I had no intention of sending my kids to college. I was dead serious.”

…and that the remainder of your column were your reasons for this.

If this is not what you meant (and merely what you wrote)… well, you need to brush up on your skills.


Just because I have “no injtention” doesn’t mean that’s what will happen.


Then, congratulations! I am laughing; Your name is the successor to Martin Lukes as the new FT humour columnist; and I claim my five pounds!


Updates if events warrant.

Did I mention that he kept writing to me directly, and that I kept cc’ing the Editor? No? Might be interesting.

FT running humour?

After the incarceration of Martin Lukes, the FT appears to have a new humour columnist, James Altucher. I’ll gloss over the many strange claims he makes today, but this one may be of special interest to my writerly friends. He’s explaining why college is a bad deal:

“I have high school and college kids working for me who are making over $50,000 a year from writing gigs on the internet. Scour Craigslist for opportunities, your favourite blogs, or websites related to your favourite interests. Companies are dying for good content. Create your own blog, get yourself noticed, build relationships with other content companies and communities.”

So, dear readers… Who are these high school (and college, too!) kids who are making (“over”!) $50,000 a year from blogging? From which markets? And still keeping down investment banking jobs? Remember — they’re not just making that much money for writing, they’re working for him, too. (At a domain that has no publicly available web site.)

Inquiring minds want to know.

Speculate freely.