By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director
We published more posts in 2022 than we ever have before at The White Coat Investor. Naturally, out of the 340 or so articles, columns, and guest posts we ran, a few were bound to stir up controversy among our readers.
I certainly had my fair share of columns that drew the ire of the WCI audience (I have the hate mail to prove it!), and when Dr. Jim Dahle writes about Bitcoin or whole life insurance, hundreds of commenters make their feelings known. But we’re not the only ones who get people upset.
Beginning in 2021, we introduced a slew of new writers to the WCI community. These columnists write about retirement or what life is like as a physician spouse or how they’re bouncing back from an early-career financial beating. Sometimes, these columnists have opinions that don’t necessarily mesh with what Jim would normally write. Since this website isn’t simply one person’s blog, differing ideas are beneficial, and, quite honestly, they should be expected (we’re also planning to add a couple of new columnists to the mix in 2023 that will further diversify the viewpoints WCI presents).
But sometimes, those competing philosophies make people really mad.
So, let’s revisit some of our most controversial pieces and see how Jim and I feel about them in retrospect. Were we wrong to post them at all? What was the point of publishing them in the first place, and, in hindsight, would I make the same decision to run them?
Jim and I recently had an email conversation about some of WCI’s most controversial pieces. Here’s what we discussed.
Dr. Oz Net Worth and How He Made So Much Stinkin’ Money by Josh Katzowitz on April 24, 2022
Josh Katzowitz: You definitely warned me about this one before we published it. I think you told me not to get political with it, and I really didn't. I was as objective as I possibly could be. But for this one, readers didn't want objectivity. They wanted somebody to rip Dr. Oz, because most docs seem to despise him. I just wanted to write about how much this physician made so much money (pretty relevant to our site, I'd say), but people weren't interested in that. Well, actually, they were, because it got pretty darn good traffic that continues to this day. But people weren't happy that I even took the time to write about Dr. Oz. What did you think when you read it?
Jim Dahle: You did a pretty good job avoiding politics on that and focusing on the finances, but as we've learned over the years, people will zero in on one line in a blog post and all the conversation about it will be about that line. In fact, many people in the conversation in our communities or across social media won't have even read that line, much less the entire post. Doctors hated Dr. Oz long before he ran for office for various reasons—including jealousy—but mostly just because they view a lot of what he recommends as snake oil. Your little dig on him about being out of touch with voters unfortunately could be read as letting your politics show through.
It's been a fun journey with politics on the site over the last few years. As long-term readers know, my politics average out to just right of center, although I'm all over the place depending on the issue (tax/economic issues pretty right, environmental issues pretty far left, social issues all over). Our last content director was much further right than me on the political spectrum, and you're a lot further left.
At any rate, I have lots of medical disagreements with Dr. Oz and a fair number of political disagreements with him. In entrepreneurship, one is guided primarily by what they feel OK with ethically. I wouldn't feel right making money doing some of the things Dr. Oz has done, but there may be people out there who feel the same way about me taking advertising dollars here at WCI so I try not to judge too much.
JK: Well, the whole point of the column was to get people to read it all the way through the mid-term elections. That's not usually what I'm thinking about when I write my columns, but I wanted this column to be sustainable for at least seven months. And people read it in pretty large numbers. When Dr. Oz had his grocery store incident in August, where he was ridiculed as being this billionaire that was so out of touch, we got a big surge in traffic for that. And as I'm writing this in November, that column is still No. 1 in the Google rankings for “dr. oz money,” and we rank really highly for “dr oz net worth.” Not everybody liked that column, but for the purpose of spreading the WCI message, I think it was a big success.
I would consider avoiding politics from now, but I was a political science minor in college and I follow it closely. Heck, I've even had long talks with you and Jill, our previous content director, about politics, most of which we disagreed on. This probably won't be the last time I write about politics and doctors and money. I wonder what Dr. Rand Paul is up to these days. I'm sure there'd be no controversy there.
JD: Hopefully those who discover our site from the search engines stick around long enough to hear our message of financial literacy, no matter what it was that drew them in originally.
I Got Divorced to Save Money by Joy Eberhardt De Master on June 29, 2022
Josh Katzowitz: One reason I like Joy as a columnist is that her writing style and some of her ideas are a little off the wall. She's dissimilar to you as a writer and with her some of her financial ideas, which I actually think is a great thing for WCI. Plus, she's very open with her feelings and with what she's going through in her own personal life. I thought this one was an interesting column, though I don't think many people agreed with her take (although she did get some moral support in the comment section). You made the point in the comments that “I would never consider this as I see marriage as far more than just a financial contract.” But were you surprised when you saw this column after it had been published?
Jim Dahle: This was an important column to run because I get questions about people delaying marriage or getting divorced just for financial reasons all the time. I tend to explain the financial pros and cons of what they're considering but typically conclude that I wouldn't do that. The reason I wouldn't usually has little to do with finances, though. My religious, social, and cultural beliefs about marriage and family heavily influence my thoughts on this strategy. I hate seeing marriage reduced to a legal contract because it is so much more for us. So, better to have someone else write a post about it as a financial strategy. Part of why we brought on columnists was to give WCI readers a different perspective than mine, and this post was a good example of that.
JK: Yep, we brought on columnists with different viewpoints, because not all doctors are white, male, conservative, and wealthy like you are. Maybe financially, this is something that a doctor would do, because they absolutely need to save that couple thousand dollars a year. But I'll be honest. When I saw somebody say in the comments that they thought it was illegal to divorce somebody for that reason, my heart skipped a beat. That was not something I really considered when I was editing this piece. As far as we know, no matter how somebody would feel ethically about getting divorced to save on taxes, this is something that's a legal thing to do, right?
JD: The legality depends. Getting divorced is not illegal. But if you're getting divorced and remarried to someone several times a year for tax reasons, I think the IRS has a pretty good fraud case. There has to be a limit. But I don't think anyone would argue that limit is crossed by getting divorced a single time. And I'm only “conservative” when I get compared to you! My last ballot had 4 Utah United candidates, 3 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and an independent.
Mobile Home Park Investing 101 by guest writer Paul Moore on Sept. 3, 2022
Josh Katzowitz: Sometimes as an editor or writer, you know you should be prepared for controversy in the aftermath. Like the Dr. Oz column or the Q&A I did with QueerDoc. I did NOT expect controversy with this guest post. You actually ended up writing a response to some of the more scathing comments that we ran about 10 days later, where you talked about the need to charge market rent. But man, people really seemed to take offense at the idea of investing in mobile home parks and then trying to make a profit while doing so. To the point where they were basically calling people who did that “slumlords.” Somebody even compared investing in mobile home parks to investing in tobacco companies. Do you think people really had a problem with the mechanics of what Paul and his company are doing, or was it because people think it's unethical to invest (and to make money) off the backs of people who we assume are lower to middle-class because they live in mobile home parks?
Jim Dahle: The reaction to this one was a big surprise to me, which was why I interacted with so many readers in the comment section about it and did a follow-up post on it. I think it was a case of not so much what was said/written, but how it was said/written. There are a lot of people out there with a poor understanding of economics. Some of them are very intelligent (and a fair number are actually in positions of power in this country). I saw a proposal just the other day of a politician proposing to tax energy companies because the cost of gas is too high. The politician simply didn't understand that you get more of what you subsidize and less of what you tax. (This is why booze and cigarettes get taxed so hard.) I think we all (the author, you, and I) learned a lot from the reaction to this post.
JK: At the same time, sometimes controversy is good for the site. You and I are obviously no strangers to that. But do you get other flak from readers about what they think might be unethical? You mentioned earlier how some readers don't think WCI should take advertising money or charge money for our courses. But what about specific investment decisions you make and/or use as part of your overall philosophy that you then publicize to readers? Or have you actually ever changed part of your philosophy after a backlash where you thought, “You know what? Maybe the readers were right and I was wrong?”
JD: I have readers ask about investing in a shariah-compliant way frequently, and there are lots of people interested in ESG-style investing. But it's pretty hard to find a lot of criticism of my index fund-centric investing style. There's always someone that thinks I'm doing my readers a huge disservice by not telling them to buy whole life insurance or invest in crypto or precious metals or options or whatever their favorite pet investment is. I'm probably a little softer on some of my personal finance beliefs than maybe I was a decade ago. Some of that may be reader feedback. Some of it is probably that I'm just more tolerant because I understand that high-income professionals can do a lot of things “wrong” and still come out fine financially, thanks to their high income. Items on this list might include buying a house in residency, buying cars on credit, dragging out student loans, IDR forgiveness schemes, 100% stock portfolios, rebalancing, not living like a resident, and more.
JK: Good, I can't wait to read the comments that tell you how wrong you are with those opinions. By the way, we did buy a house when my wife was in residency. In retrospect, that probably wasn't a great move financial-wise. I'll let you know when we pay off the Tesla.
I Just Bought a Tesla (and This Is NOT an April Fool’s Joke) by Josh Katzowitz on July 31, 2022
Josh Katzowitz: Man, I still love this column. It was so much fun to write. You advised me beforehand not to talk about how I financed a large portion of the car, but I ignored you. And for good reason; it was part of the story of buying the car. But then I got roasted for financing it with people in the comments saying I couldn't afford the Tesla (even though I very clearly laid out in the column how we max out our retirement accounts and do the Backdoor Roth and pay off our credit cards every month and blah, blah, blah). Anyway, what do you think? And why is Tesla such a lightning rod for the WCI audience (I'm talking about the car, not the person who owns it!)?
Jim Dahle: I told you not to tell them if you financed it, so you deserved every bit of grief you got. After I spent a decade on this blog telling people they should never have a car loan of more than $10,000, you published a post talking about buying an expensive car on credit and then were surprised to have the audience call you out? Nah, I think you knew that was coming and enjoyed it! Not only do you have thick skin, but you actually enjoy the controversy and confrontation!
You're hardly the only white coat investor that has used a car loan, though. The truth is that most WCIers can make a “mistake” or two and still be just fine financially. Their income bails them out. As far as Teslas, doctors absolutely love them. Not only are they fun to drive because they're fast, but they're like a dual status symbol. Not only do you get to show off that you have an expensive car, but you get to show off that you're environmentally conscious. And that's not even counting the connection to uber-cool Elon Musk (who's apparently now only Uber-cool to half of the political spectrum since buying Twitter) you get by buying his car. I wouldn't be surprised if I buy a Tesla at some point (the garage is already wired for it), but I'll certainly be paying cash for it. It wasn't that long ago that doctors were buying Tesla the car and Tesla the stock. Those who put a huge portion of their portfolio into Tesla stock got what they deserve, of course.
JK: Well yeah, who doesn't love a little controversy? And you're probably right. Sometimes, I do want to stir it up a little bit. But I really wasn't meaning to get ripped by others for divulging the car loan. I just felt like that if I had left that out, it wouldn't have been the full story. You're right, though. I'm really, really, really, extremely thrilled that some people might think I support Elon Musk because I have the car his company makes. But since Musk moved the Tesla headquarters to Austin, Texas, at least I can sleep at night by telling myself that I'm spending my money on local businesses!
JD: I hope you're happy. You got half the staff at Twitter fired.
[Editor’s Note: A reminder. I’m going to publish the 2023 version of Your Crystal Ball Predictions in a couple of weeks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’ll happen in the next 12 months. I don’t care if your prediction is obvious or outlandish, funny or fiendish. You can be anonymous or you can shout your name from the rooftops. I just want to know what you’re thinking. Email me at [email protected] and give me your best crystal ball predictions.]
Song of the Week
As I'm writing this, my family and I just got off a pre-Christmas Disney cruise, and the joy of experiencing Mickey Mouse (and all the ways he tries to make money off his customers) is still on my mind. Disney teaches us that princesses can find their Prince Charming and live happily ever after and that evil stepmothers and wicked octopi will always find their way to ruin.
But what can Disney teach us about finances (other than how it improves its own profit margins by raising ticket prices and adding all kinds of nickel-and-dime fees)? Well, in the case of Ariel from 1989’s The Little Mermaid, we can learn that you can have all the possessions in the world (all the gadgets and gizmos) but you still might long for something simple that is just out of your reach (like, um, walking down a street).
That’s summed up perfectly in Part of Your World, when voice actress Jodi Benson sings the melodies and words created by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman:
“I've got gadgets and gizmos a-plenty/I've got whozits and whatzits galore/You want thingamabobs?/I've got 20!/But who cares?/No big deal/I want more . . .
Up where they walk, up where they run/Up where they stay all day in the sun/Wanderin' free, wish I could be/Part of that world.”
As KQED writes, Ariel “laments that, despite a life of privilege and spoils, there's still a deep loneliness inside her.” As we’ve written about in the past, more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier. In Ariel’s case—and maybe in yours—sometimes a walk on the beach with newly formed legs is infinitely better than an underwater cave filled with treasures.
Tweet of the Week
Current drawdowns from the highs:
Looking just at these numbers it's surprising the S&P 500 is only down 19% pic.twitter.com/7VkL0hHjnL
— Ben Carlson (@awealthofcs) December 27, 2022
What do you think about our most controversial topics? Were there other posts that we missed that made you absolutely steam? Comment below!
[Editor's Note: For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email Josh Katzowitz at [email protected]]