Now that I'm out of college, I thought it was time to ask my elders for advice about investing in the stock market. They must have seen how confused I looked, because a week later, an investment letter arrived that promised to answer all my questions, and, incidentally, make me rich, fast.
The letter featured a Nevada water company that's guaranteeing to make millions by pumping rural water to Las Vegas. The identity of the water company was not disclosed; to get the real skinny, I had to pay $49.50 to the creators of the newsletter. That's more money than I wanted to spend, but as I read the newsletter, a novel idea occurred to me: Just as the people who got rich during the Gold Rush were merchants, the people getting rich from Nevada's water deals won't be small-time investors but those who enable them. That led me to comb through the newsletter to decipher what made it tick, and I'm happy to share with you – for free! – the gist of what I learned:
- This may come as no surprise, but many of us are greedy. The Nevada water come-on promises that investors will "pocket 381 percent in the short run." This may sound too good to be true, but people want to believe.
- All of us are bored. Create excitement about your investment by making it seem dangerous. The Nevada water solicitation does this perfectly by telling potential investors that tensions in rural Nevada are so high, "ranchers are toting rifles." The image of gun-toting ranchers reminds people of the Wild West, a region practically built by speculators. Reporting that the Arizona Republic "calls it a classic Western showdown" will make the historical connection clear, and since no one knows what "it" is, they can't prove you've misquoted anything.
- Investors yearn to feel smart. Play up the secrecy surrounding the deal by telling your readers that they're part of an elite group that includes politicians and executives. Include quotations from well-respected publications to create an air of authority, which then allows you to be vague on details like dates and names. Another tactic is to choose words that sound like they're part of a lexicon. Examples include like "a mountain of cash hitting the books" and referring to Wall Street as simply "The Street." Your readers will feel so smart they won't bother to double-check the information you do give them.
- Nobody wants to know the downsides. The creators of the water investment guide never once mention the birds, fish and other animals whose habitat is threatened by groundwater pumping, or the rural areas that will dry up and blow away. They tell us that Nevada is one of the driest places on earth, but only so that we understand that water is valuable. They also mention that "city planners are fighting to quench the growing population," but notice how cleverly this is written: Are the city planners trying to control growth or enable it? It's fine to create ambiguities, as your audience will interpret them however it desires.
- Most of us feel helpless. Make the deal seem like it's inevitable, and you will encourage this sensation of helplessness, which most people feel anyway when faced with environmental catastrophes. The water come-on includes water-transfer permit numbers, reassures us that all environmental impact plans have been approved, and guarantees that all the wells and infrastructure for transferring the water are already in place. It even quotes a county engineer's office on the progress of the pipeline (although it doesn't bother to specify which county, (see principles #3 and #4). This final principle is designed to win over anyone who suspects that pumping water from rural Nevada to fill suburban swimming pools is a terrible scheme; not worth supporting financially. The goal is to get them to figure that since they can't stop it, they might as well benefit from it. (This ties in nicely with Principle #1; People are greedy.)
I was so inspired by this get-rich-quick scheme that I've written my own book, "How to Turn Catastrophe into Cash," which will provide you with all the information you need to make big bucks during drought, hurricanes, floods and the global climate change that's predicted to cause deadly heat waves throughout the West. Don't be a victim; exploit what's coming! Mail me a check for $19.99, and get started getting rich.
Lissa James is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org.) She waits to get rich while working on her family's oyster farm in Lilliwaup, Washington.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.