James Altucher has rebounded from personal catastrophe so many times in his 49 years, it's hard to imagine a more qualified evangelist for personal reinvention. During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, Altucher made millions designing corporate websites, only to squander it all on gambling and a string of disastrous investments. "I was probably losing about a million [dollars] a week for an entire summer," he tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "I just made every stupid decision in the book."
With $143 left in his bank account, Altucher contemplated suicide. "I equated my self-worth with my net worth," he says, "and I just figured there's no way I'm going to dig myself out of this hole."
Instead of self-destruction, Altucher created himself anew. He dedicated himself to learning about finance, reading over a hundred books about investing. He built a new career as a hedge fund manager, earning writing gigs at TheStreet.com and The Financial Times.
The real estate crisis of 2008 wiped the slate clean. Finding himself with nothing to lose yet again, Altucher began blogging about his riches-to-rags-to-riches-again life story, eventually writing books—18 of them so far—for an audience that had felt the sting of the recession.
Crawling out of the abyss a few times has made Altucher wary of the American Dream. A Cornell and Carnegie Mellon graduate, he scorns higher education as an overpriced luxury. Home ownership is great for the banks, but a lousy deal for home owners. Hedge funds are a scam. He's never had credit card debt because he's never had a credit card.
In keeping with his philosophy of radical self-creation, Altucher's latest identity is a 21st century urban ascetic. He has pared down his possessions, discarding every item he doesn't need. He is determined that nothing get in the way of his chosen life, his best self. Today, he lives in AirBnB rentals and owns fifteen things that he carries in a small canvas bag.
Altucher's self-published book about the art of self-creation, Choose Yourself! Be Happy, Make Millions, Live the Dream, charts his life story, detailing how he bounced back, time and again, from disasters personal and financial. Equal parts self-help manual, cautionary tale, and tell-all autobiography, Choose Yourself! challenges us to create the best version of ourselves through a constant process of optimism, authenticity, and hard work.
Edited by Todd Krainin. Hosted by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Krainin.
This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: Hi. I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason, and today we're talking with James Altucher, and I hope I pronounced that right.
James Altucher: You sure did. Thanks for having me on the show. I'm a big fan.
Nick Gillespie: Thank you. And you are …
James Altucher: I'm a big fan.
Nick Gillespie: Thank you and you are kind of the … I think of you as the radical prophet of self creation, of public self reinvention and self creation, perhaps best known for Choose Yourself, your incredibly popular self-published Amazon best seller. What's the thesis of that book and why is it important?
James Altucher: I always feel advice is autobiography. So I talk about my own story of kind of hitting bottom, not once but several times, losing all my money, losing businesses, losing a home, multiple homes, losing family and then finally coming to this point where, "How could this keep happening to me?" What was going right on the way out, but what was going wrong on the way down. I just tell my story and kind of the underlying thing I realized is that when things were going right for me is when I was focusing most on how I could improve myself from the inside out whether it's emotional health, like being around better people, whether it's developing my own creativity, whether it's developing my own ability to deal with regrets and anxieties because I was certainly very anxious all the time about money and relationships and stuff like that. And basically making it a practice to focus on this health everyday and to choose myself.
Nick Gillespie: And so it's both that you're choosing yourself, you're focusing on yourself and making yourself better, but you're also making choices because you're right. Somebody is gonna be making choices in your life. And it can either be the world around you or it can be yourself.
James Altucher: I think a classic example, you're an employee at a job. Now, there's lots of reasons to be an employee at a job. You want to get experience, you want to build a network, you want to build skillsets and get a resume going, but the flip side of that, kind of the implicit contract which people forget is that for every dollar of value you create, you're not really getting much of that dollar in value. You're getting maybe a cent. It's the same thing with, let's say, book publishing. So you mentioned Choose Yourself was self-published. Well, I've published many books with traditional publishers and they take the bulk of the money. Just fine. There's a deal happening there, too. But that aside, "Okay. I'm writing about choosing myself. I'm going to self publish Choose Yourself. I've written 18 books. That one book has sold more copies than all the other 17 books combined. So choosing yourself often results in the best results.
Nick Gillespie: It's interesting. Just yesterday we were interviewing Charles Manson and he said almost exactly the same thing.
James Altucher: Well, let me address that because a lot of people say "Choose yourself, that sounds selfish." Well, what if I'm the best version of myself and then I can be the best version to help other people?
Nick Gillespie: So to wind it back a little bit, you created a couple of companies that you've sold for tens or more millions of dollars. What were the early companies? You were involved in early web design, which now it seems so long ago and it's what 15, 20 years basically or a little bit more than that.
James Altucher: Yeah. Only a tiny bit more. It was back in the mid 90's when you kind of had to … The first sale, you had to educate your corporate clients why they needed a website. So part of it was education and then making the sale. You could kind of tell just by my look and everything our focus was gangster rap record labels. So we made all the websites for Loud Records, Death Row, Interscope, Jive and so on, Bad Boy. But then we also did AmericanExpress.com, TimeWarner.com, and Miramax.com. We did a lot of entertainment websites. So, yeah, we built that up. One of the only companies around doing it. Sold for a decent number and then the stock market went up, totally cashed out. Made every decision correct and then finally I started making every decision wrong and lost everything.
Nick Gillespie: How much did you lose because I've read different amounts anywhere from in the tens of millions to the hundreds of millions. What.
James Altucher: Not in the hundreds of millions. That would be …
Nick Gillespie: Okay.
James Altucher: I would have probably have killed myself on that one. It was about 15 million where I probably should have killed myself. I debated it, but wasn't enough that it was mandated.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah.
James Altucher: But there was one point I was probably losing about a million a week for an entire summer. This was after … It wasn't like just on paper, this was after I had cashed out. I had cash and I just made every stupid decision.
Nick Gillespie: What were the types, I mean, were you drinking, drugging? I know you were gambling. I don't know if that … You were flying in helicopters from New York to Atlantic City.
James Altucher: Yeah. I was playing a lot of poker and things like that, but you can't really drink yourself to poverty if you have that kind of money.
Nick Gillespie: My children are gonna be very glad to hear that.
James Altucher: You can drink yourself, certainly, which almost.
Nick Gillespie: But you'll be able to pay for your own funeral.
James Altucher: Right. Right. What I would do was is, I had all this cash and the market was falling. So I figured, "Oh, well, the Internet's gonna be here to stay so I'm smarter than everyone and I'll just buy these internet companies or I'll invest in these new startups and all that just went to hell. Then I would buy fancy places and just every single dollar I spent on was like throwing money into a fireplace.
Nick Gillespie: I think you were down to $143 or $147. Something around that.
James Altucher: Yeah. One time I was checking the ATM machine and I still now have this like almost post traumatic anxiety. I don't check my balance on the ATM machine. I had $143 left and my expenses were still through the roof. I was thinking, "I'm just dead. I'm just a dead man." Because I equated my self worth with my net worth. I just figured, "There's no way I'm gonna dig myself out of this hole." I just felt so bad because my kids, I thought I let them down. My parents, I thought I let them down because they were getting older and sick and I couldn't take care of them.
Nick Gillespie: When you're down to $143, what is the first step on the road back to something?
James Altucher: I think there's no first step. I think you kind of have a gun to your head, literally. I would not Google but Alta Vista ways to kill myself. It's no joke.
Nick Gillespie: If it was Google you probably would have found a good way to.
James Altucher: No. Because all the other times I've used Google for it as well. The problem is, there's no … This is gonna sound like an odd statement, there's no safe way to kill yourself. So there's no way where you can say, "I'm definitely gonna kill myself and there's no chance I'm gonna just wake up paralyzed for the rest of my life or with all my bones broken or anything like that. Even if you put a gun to your head, I don't know if this is a good conversation for, even if you put a gun to your head you could just blow out both your eyes and half your face and still be alive. It's just not a good way.
Nick Gillespie: This is like a great episode of the Merve Griffin Show or something.
James Altucher: So I didn't want to do that. What I realized is that I was hanging out with the wrong people. I wasn't taking care of my house and I wasn't creative. So I became obsessive about improving these aspects of my life. I started writing down … I brought these writer's pads for 10 cents each and I started just writing. Every morning I would go to a local café and I'd start writing down 10 ideas of the day. 10 ideas for businesses I could start. 10 ideas for books I could write. Then I would send them to the nix of the world. Then I needed to make a new network of connections because when you go to having money to no money suddenly nobody's returning your phone calls. So I had to make a new set of connections.
Nick Gillespie: I hope to experience that some day. One of your big companies was Stock Picker.
James Altucher: Yes.
Nick Gillespie: But a lot of the writings that you, they're totally out there for free. You write a lot on LinkedIn and your website. What's the value of that because, or talk about the value of that. A lot of people now and we're filming very graciously in the office of The Daily Beast, which is a for-profit business. You know, they don't want to give it a way. Why does it make sense to give away your writing?
James Altucher: Let's talk about the power of free for just a second. Google is a free service and it built up for many years with visually minimal revenues. I don't even know if they had any revenues for the first four or five years until they kind of developed AdWords, but they built to be the biggest website on the planet in the process. They didn't necessarily need to start generating revenues right away. I think another example is CraigsList. He was sending out an email everyday to his friends. "Here are the places you could enjoy," and gradually more and more people got on his email list. He made it a website. He started charging … 99% of the website is still free. So only started charging apartment brokers to list their $10 an apartment. Now it's a multi-billion dollar business.
So you do good for others, you build up a feeling of trust and eventually you could say, "You trusted me, and I value the fact that you trusted me for so many years. I've been doing this for free. I've been working hard. Now I'm gonna offer one thing for sale. Then you see your true fans and. You see who really responded to your writing and who benefited from it, and they're willing to value you for pay. Whatever it is you're offering for pay. They trust you.
Nick Gillespie: Now you … Because one of the ways that you make money is you sell newsletters.
James Altucher: Yes.
Nick Gillespie: Anywhere from around $100 a subscription to something like $2500?
James Altucher: Yeah. So I sell a range of products. For instance, I'll talk about upcoming trends in society and how you can build businesses around it. Drones might be an example. And then I'll tell the story of a guy who makes $50,000 a month. He's got a bunch of drones and offers various services to companies in his local area using his drones. And so I'll talk about someone who's built up a six figure a year virtual assistant business. So I'll articles in these newsletters. Ranging all the way to like hardcore financial stuff.
Nick Gillespie: At the same level, a lot of your appeal is that you're saying, "All of this is bullshit, though." Like stock analysis. Like, "Don't buy stocks because you're no good at it. Don't go to college. It's a waste of money. Don't own a home." I mean, you live, and we'll talk about this, you live in Airbnb every month. Is your stuff actually worth it or on a certain level are you scamming your customers?
James Altucher: Well, I think it's true that most people should not buy stocks. I think having been inside … I've been in every aspect of the public market. I've been in the management of public companies. I've run a hedge fund. I've been invested in public companies. I've written about public companies. I've written a bunch of books about finance. And so I've been on CNBC and other business channels many, many times talking about stocks and it really is just such a BS industry. But really the best way to create wealth is to own something. So you can go start your own company. You can be on the board of a company and get some insider shares and that's how you generate wealth.
Nick Gillespie: Where do you stand on the, I guess it's in its ninth year, bet between Warren Buffet and a group of hedge fund managers where he said he bought, I believe, it was a vanguard SNP 500 fund, an index fund and he would just put everything that it earned each year back into it over ten years. In the most recent Berkshire Hathaway letter that he sends out every year, he's up something like 900% percent. Hedge fund is at 200%, there's no way they will win.
James Altucher: Right.
Nick Gillespie: Does that make sense to you and I know in some of the books that you talk about … If you're interested in business here are some books to read, Warren Buffet comes up a lot but …
James Altucher: Warren Buffet's absolutely going to win because he's making a bet on just innovation in general which fuels the stock market. Hedge funds is in a different business. Hedge funds, by the way, I do feel are mostly a scam so who makes the money in hedge fund? The hedge fund manager pockets 20% of the profits plus 2% of all the money he's raised. So he's making an enormous amount of money no matter what. He's making billions and billions of dollars. The investors, like you pointed out, are not doing as well as the market.
Nick Gillespie: In New York Times magazine story, you supposedly live with just 15 things or you always have 15 things with you. You live in a different Airbnb every month. Is that accurate and how did you come to find that that was the smart way to live for you?
James Altucher: At one point, I was renting and renting is such a hard thing to do in New York City. You need like five references. You put first month's, last month's rent, security deposit, my lawyer had to writer a letter, my accountant had to write a letter. I've never had debt in my life so … I've never had credit card debt, I've had mortgage debt but I've never had credit debt or standard debt in my life. I've never had a credit car. So I had this weird credit score from all the credit agencies. The formula doesn't work if you've never had a credit card. So I had to meet every person in the building to rent a place so it was just very difficult.
I decided when my lease was up, okay. I hired someone to go there, I had 40 years worth of just garbage I had collected over time and I said, "I'm not going to do that stupid thing of 'Oh do I love this object, I'll keep it' and obviously if I don't love it I'm not going to keep it." I said, "Just throw everything out. 100% of all my belongings. So I'll have … I was traveling at the time, all I'll have left is the bag I'm traveling with and the few amount of clothes I had." So she went there, she took her whole family with an 18 wheeler truck. They went back and forth for a week actually. She said, "I can't even imagine how much stuff you had." She took out beds, desks, computers, sheets, paperwork, glasses, dishes, food, couches, TVs, thousands of books she donated or kept or sold. I told she could do whatever she wants. Sell it, keep it, donate it.
Finally, I had nothing left. Photo albums, my little Dr. McCoy doll next to a computer. I had to give up some things. It's okay to miss some things. I don't have to keep everything. It's not like I'm trying to band-aid myself any pain at all. I miss some things that I threw away. She called me, she said, "Are you sure you want me to throw our your diploma? It's nicely framed, you worked really hard for that." I said, "Lisa, I can guarantee you, that diploma has not done anything for me for the past 30 years or 25 years so just throw it out or throw it in the fireplace because no one's going to buy that."
Nick Gillespie: What is your case against college?
James Altucher: Why would you go to college? Let me ask you that. Why would you go? Right now, today. Not 30 years ago but today.
Nick Gillespie: Well …
James Altucher: What job are you going to get afterwards?
Nick Gillespie: I don't know, to meet women, I don't know.
James Altucher: You can't meet women outside of college?
Nick Gillespie: Things have slowed down a lot in the past 30 years for me but …
James Altucher: I've certainly met many more women since college than in college. I had one girlfriend the entire time I was in college and that was my worst relationship ever. So that's not a good reason.
Nick Gillespie: I guess maybe that's what grad school is for now that I think about it but I would go to college for … I liked reading books and I liked reading literature.
James Altucher: You need 60,000 a year to read some books?
Nick Gillespie: No.
James Altucher: There's a public library.
Nick Gillespie: It's not 60,000. I just paid for my son's college at Ohio State, it was 20,000 a year and it could've been cheaper and there's a discourse community around that. You learn a way of reading and you learn a community. Obviously, I'm not selling it very well. I enjoyed college … I'm not college at any price makes no sense but college … I learned things. I learned how to take care of myself. I learned how to think. I learned what I was interested in. I learned what I was not interested in not definitively but it helped orient me to "Oh, I know I don't want to this and I'm more interested in that."
James Altucher: So those are good reasons and I'm not arguing against your reasons. People should learn how to take care of themselves. People should learn how to think. My argument is you can do that outside of the college environment. The whole idea of … We have 1.6 trillion, almost 2 trillion in student loan debt. It's bigger than ever. More companies don't require college and yet tuitions are going up so there's some weird disconnect which shows me the value's not quite there. So the challenge for young people today is to build skills rather than certificates because most people don't do what they majored in. So I majored in computer programming, for instance, I'm not a computer programmer nor …
Nick Gillespie: Well not now but you were, weren't you?
James Altucher: Yes but …
Nick Gillespie: Would you consider web development totally separate from computer programming?
James Altucher: I'll tell you a little story. So I went to a good school for computer programming and got my major. I went to graduate school for computer programming.
Nick Gillespie: At an even better school for that.
James Altucher: Right, the best in the country maybe. Then I had my first job as a computer programmer. I was so bad relative to everybody else at the company that they actually sent me to two months of remedial classes at some kind of AT&T facility in New Jersey so I can just be as good as the worst programmer in my department. I was working in the IT department in a cubicle, no real degree required but some of my fellow coworkers had no degree and I had to go to remedial classes to catch up to them. So what was my … Maybe I learned how to think about computers more then but really I fell in love with what I was doing at these remedial classes at AT&T that were … And then at the actual job so I really learned on the job. So on the job, what I did was, one of my first things I did was, at HBO was help make HBO.com so then I learned, "Oh, I can make a website," and I made a good one. So other entertainment companies started contacting me, "Oh, can you make a website for us or at least tell us how to do it." So then I was able to start a company making websites.
So it had … You could argue maybe spending so much money and getting in so much debt and this is maybe, 25 years ago …
Nick Gillespie: Were you in a lot of student debt?
James Altucher: Yeah. So I paid for every dollar of my education and then I borrowed the rest and I worked 40 hours a week. I was taking jobs, I graduated a year early so I wouldn't have to pay for another year. Then I built up my company and finally had profits from that, I was able to pay back my student lon debt. Now if I were to go to college, my debt would be four times as large.
Nick Gillespie: I was always raised by people who grew up in the Depression. You have to have to own your … If you own your own house you can never be thrown out. If you own your own house, it's savings. It's this, it's that.
James Altucher: Let's just say that, you can never be thrown out. Well, first off, what if you don't pay your property taxes? Bam! You're thrown out. What if your don't pay your mortgage? Bam! You're thrown out and they don't care. They're happy to lend you but they're not going to work anything out with you. Ask someone who's lost homes, they will not work anything out. Someone's who's had property taxes …
Nick Gillespie: And let's be clear, you didn't lose houses. You were kicked out of your houses.
James Altucher: I, basically, couldn't accord the house any more and would have to …
Nick Gillespie: I mean it's not like you couldn't find the street it was on. You had to leave the house under the.
James Altucher: mortgages and other things. And, by the way, also, then there's mortgages, there's property taxes and then there's maintenance. The house itself becomes your master. People can't predict the volatility of maintenance.
Nick Gillespie: Or it also anchors you in a place … I mean we live in a world where you're living in one part of the country and ten years later it's dead.
James Altucher: The corporation, the factory wanted people to live in town and own in town so they would set up the banks to lend you money so they'd force you to stay in town and pay the back so you have to work at the factory for low wages because you didn't have mobility so they could pay you whatever wage they wanted to pay you because there's no, you had no choice. And so I think home ownership was … The phrase the American Dream is just a marketing ploy put up by Fannie May and home owners to convince people that this is the dream, this is what we're working so hard for so that we're bolted down to one place, we're paying the bank, we're paying the government and then, by the way, the average return on owning a home is just 0.2% a year over the past 100 years. In the past, 15 years, it might be different but going forward I don't know.
Nick Gillespie: And it depends on where you are. Even in the run-up of the housing crisis, it was relatively few markets where you saw the big spike and I own a house in Ohio, it didn't go up very much, it didn't go down very much. It's going to return maybe 2% or 3% a year if I'm lucky.
James Altucher: Other than house, would you ever write such a large check and then borrow such an enormous amount of money for an illiquid investment. It's not like buying Apple stock where you buy it today, sell it tomorrow. When you most need that money back because you just lost your job or whatever, you can't sell the house because you're in a housing crisis. You have to wait three, four … If somebody wanted to sell their house in 2007, they probably had to wait until 2010 or 2011 before they could sell that house at a point where they could make some money back on it. By the way, they're still losing money … They were still losing money, they just get some money back and not have the cost.
Nick Gillespie: So the other place where you would borrow that much money would be college?
James Altucher: If you want to basically save millions of dollars by the time you want to relax in life, don't go into severe debt owning a house that may or may not go up and don't spend so much money on college for an education you can get for free or for fraction of the amount while you work. So you could be 18/19, work and get experience on the job and still read books and still learn how to think. Many schools have their course curriculums online and there's many online education websites that are just as good as any college so I feel like we have so much more choice now, why are we blindly marching our 18 year olds off to have so much debt. How are they going to flourish the way even our generation was able to flourish? How's the the next generation, saddled with so much debt and pressure and anxiety and stress, how are they going to survive? How are they going to be the next wave of entrepreneurs? Where are they going to come from?
Nick Gillespie: How many children do you have?
James Altucher: I have two daughters.
Nick Gillespie: And what are their ages?
James Altucher: 18 and 15 and I'm dealing with this. My 18 year old has fear of missing out. Every single one of her friends wants to go to college, I just had this conversation with her last night. I said, "Josie, you are the proud recipient of the Altucher fellowship. If you don't go to school, I will pay you … I'll give you an advance. Write some book, and I'll help you publish it and we'll figure it out and watch a movie with me every day and we'll talk about it or read a book a week and we'll talk about it. I'll help you find a job and then let's talk about it in a year for if you want to go to college but let's try a different experience. You just spent 12 years with people the exact same demographic as you and the exact same age as you. That's never going to happen, after college, that's never going to happen again for the rest of your life and, by the way, no body likes homework any way. You're going to have 10 times as much homework in college."
Nick Gillespie: Did she sign up for the fellowship or is she still thinking it over?
James Altucher: She said, "I'll think about it," which, by the way, was the first time she said that. Normally, she would just hang up the phone. On your father, you would hang up the phone?
Nick Gillespie: The watch a movie a day and talk about it. Where did that idea come from and have you been doing it or what is your best experience with that?
James Altucher: Think about all the books you read in college and you have PhD in English Literature, you've obviously read more books than just about anybody else …
Nick Gillespie: I have forgotten as many books as I've read if that makes sense.
James Altucher: I developed my own obsession with reading but basically after college and that's when I started reading and writing obsessively. I think people develop that passion on their own with or without a teacher telling them or assigning them. But movies as well. Movies are a way to safely experience the horrors of life and talk about it and discuss them. I don't want to live through a Holocaust but I can watch Schindler's List and discuss with my daughter … Safely experience that type of anxiety and stress and discuss it and work through it and then move on to the next movie.
Nick Gillespie: Did you become a better parent or do you think you became a better parent … You're divorced but you've lost everything. You've lost your marriage, you don't really lose your family but it changes radically, you lost your money, are you a better parent moving around to a different Airbnb every month?
James Altucher: Like many divorced Dads, I see my kids not as much as their Mom sees them. She sees them as much as … She's essentially raising and I'm in and out of there and I wish I could be more involved but also I'm support the family since early age until they, probably forever.
Nick Gillespie: Until they'd say, "Now I'm going to college," and then you're going to be, "you're dead to me."
James Altucher: Well, no, they're never going to be dead to me. I do think having experienced loss has made me a better parent because I think money tends to magnify, of course, whatever is inside of you. So I don't know if I was necessarily the best parent when I had a lot of money. I think experiencing loss and regret and anxiety and stress has helped me deal with our own periods of anxiety and stress or as they're easing into adulthood. But children also … You become very much aware that … Where's that playfulness that I had as a child and then why don't I have it any more? What happened where suddenly now I'm just constantly stressed about, not this moment but at different periods, money, constantly stressed about what other people think about me, constantly stressed on who's going to chose me? Who's going to pick me for a success?
When you're a kid you don't think about these things and so a lot of what I feel is how do you bring back play into life as opposed to, "Now I own a home. Now I own a degree that I'm still paying for for 40 years." You start owning all these things and the more you own, the less you play. They almost diametrically oppose. I'll ask you a question: How many times does the average child laugh per day as opposed to the average adult?
Nick Gillespie: You're talking to somebody who … I try not to laugh at all any more so, yeah. Oh wait there's research on this.
James Altucher: Yeah, there's research. The average child laughs 300 times a day, the average adult laughs five times a day.
Nick Gillespie: Is that right? That study sounds made up to be quite honest.
James Altucher: No, I actually looked at the study and I even brought the study to my therapist to ask him what he thought of this study and he read through it and then we started talking about all the reasons.
Nick Gillespie: Don't you think therapists probably laugh 300 times a day?
James Altucher: Probably, thinking about all their patients. "This patient thinks I give a shit about his stupid problems." That's what I'm always worried about with therapy. Why do they want to listen to me? I'm just paying
Nick Gillespie: Because you're paying them, it's not complicated.
James Altucher: Then it's like prostitution but this weird kind of prostitution where …
Nick Gillespie: They're not even faking.
James Altucher: I'm like orgasming out of my mouth to them and they're just getting paid to listen.
Nick Gillespie: So I think this is a good time, the orgasm out of the mouth thing, it's good to bring up both New Jersey and Libertarianism. You're always defined as a Libertarian. Can you … You're from New Jersey, you're from North Brunswick, New Jersey. You must be the pride of North Brunswick, New Jersey.
James Altucher: Well, me and Jim Norton, world famous comedian.
Nick Gillespie: That's right, very good. Also a master of self-reinvention. A constant self-creation.
James Altucher: Such a great story too because we went 12 grades together in school so he was in my class and I remember the day he moved in. It was 4th grade and he was so funny, everything he said. This was the new kid, you would think him to be quiet and in the back. He was like in the front row, constantly making jokes and right away we all thought, "This guy's going to be a comedian." It was in 4th grade. But then afterwards, it's hard, you could be the funniest person in your local area but then to be the best in the world at something or among in that top tier, it's hard work. He made sure for himself he had nothing to fall back on. He would take jobs driving a tractor and some things he didn't want to do and just pursue … He didn't go to college, single mindedly pursue that dream that he had ever since he was a little kid because he had such talent at at.
Nick Gillespie: Do you consider yourself Libertarian and what does that mean to you?
James Altucher: I don't like any label because then suddenly, I'm letting some ideology chose my thoughts instead of me. So I will take a situation as they occur and decide for myself and, by the way, whenever there's an ideology, people who are pure for that ideology, assume that 100% of their decisions are correct because it follows that ideology and that's the problem of any kind of fundamentalism whether it's political or religious or whatever is that you suddenly think you're blindly correct in every decision. You're not experimenting enough with your own creativity if 100% of your decisions are correct, so any one ideology, I don't like to subscribe to. I do happen to think, the way I feel about things overlaps a lot with libertarians mostly because, again, I don't want anybody to make decisions for me. So I'd rather my dollars go to other things like I believe in online education or companies that are innovating and inventing new technologies that will save the world so I'd rather put my dollars there as opposed to where the government allocates it. I think I'm a better allocator of my dollars than my government.
Nick Gillespie: You are a, I don't know if optimist is quite the right word for it, but you're upbeat and you're moving forward into the future not without fear but with confidence.
James Altucher: Yeah. Every year there's a new reason to be afraid.
Nick Gillespie: What I was going to ask is, we seem to be in a golden age of pessimism right now.
James Altucher: Always though, always.
Nick Gillespie: Is it always though? Because Donald Trump … For off, there are the people who fear Donald Trump and they're like, "Trump is Hitler. Trump is this. Trump is the end," but then Trump himself is a very dark character. His visions of the world. He talks about New York City as if it's New York 1977 and there's wilding in Central Park and blackouts everywhere and violence which is totally at odds with social reality. I think people, many economists talk about the end of innovation or we have a complacent class that people aren't inventing things, everything good has already been found. Do you buy any of that?
James Altucher: Let me say two things, I apologize for the language. I don't give a shit about Washington D.C. Nothing. I don't give a shit about economists. So economists talk about how from 1870 to 1970 we had the light bulb, we had air conditioning, we had the automobile, we had all these great innovation that spurred on society but right now, we have computers that link every single person in the world together. We have self driving cars so there's many reasons to be optimistic. 30, 40, 50 years ago, nobody thought we could have more than 3 billion or 4 billion people on the planet or starvation would ruin everything. Now we're closing on 8 billion people in the world.
Nick Gillespie: And you're not worried about Islam, that rag-tag dance Islamic jihadists are going to destroy Western civilizations?
James Altucher: How could it happen? Like you said, they're rag-tag bands. There's 7 billion people on the planet what are they going to do? Most Muslims which is a huge religion, are not radicals just like most Christians are not Fundamentalists so, I don't know, there's certainly going to be damage, certainly going to be terrorism in the future. There's terrorism just the other day as we're talking. It's horrible but there's many, many problems in society and there's many, many solutions and the solutions, I think, are outpacing the problems.
Nick Gillespie: And that, I think, might be part of the New Jersey part. That life is always kind of shitty but that doesn't mean …
James Altucher: But then we can go to the mall.
Nick Gillespie: Yeah, that's right exactly. Final question, I've read reports that you don't care about Washington but you may care about Albany and you had a conversation where you talked possibly running for governor of New York on the Libertarian party ticket.
James Altucher: Sure. So actually, somebody else wrote an article suggesting that I do that and I have the thought not because, again, I affiliate with one party but I think … Let's think of an interesting experiment. How can you run a state so that's it's essentially wealthier than any other state and people inside of it are happy and wealthy and have more opportunities than they ever have before. So I think you can create a blueprint for how a state should be run where you snake out corruption and New York and New Jersey, all these states are just filled with corruption in the state capitals. I don't know how it happens. Everybody seems to be going to jail all the time like every four years another group of people go to jail, another party gets elected, and four years later the next group of people go to jail. So let's see if we can do an experiment where less bad things happen. Illinois has been somewhat successful selling off some of their highways and there's way to do it perhaps even better and experiment more. By the way, maybe there'd be better infrastructure care if the government is not … The government is so woefully behind on bridge care, high way care and so on that it's just a disaster waiting to happen. All the bridges in the U.S.
Nick Gillespie: Do you think you could convince people, obviously you've had success, you've have business success, you've had success in publishing and talking about how to recreate yourself, you would be able to actually win?
James Altucher: I don't think so. I don't think it's that's possible really. I think New York's a very a Democratic state in general which is fine. I think both parties are kind of the same. They both represent on the whole Ivy League educated people with roughly the same stance on every issue but I think it's important to say that people want another voice. They want to understand what might an experiment look like and, look, that's why not only Donald Trump but that's why Bernie Sanders had such a strong voice in the last election. Trump and Bernie Sanders were not that far apart on many issues actually but what they did represent was they were trying … Even though were also both Ivy League educated or whatever, they were trying to verbalize what the other classes in America were trying to say that nobody was paying attention to and Donald Trump succeeded. Bernie Sanders failed but he succeeded in his own way and I wonder if on a statewide level as opposed to a national level you can actually have a voice that might affect change.
Nick Gillespie: All right, well we will leave it there. We've been talking with James Altucher.
James Altucher: Altucher.
Nick Gillespie: Altucher. Okay.
James Altucher: It's like "I'll touch her" fast.
Nick Gillespie: And this might explain the divorce among other things but we will leave it there.