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I coulda been a hedge fund manager

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opinion Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

When I was in high school, I had a guidance counselor named Mrs. Cameron. She was a sweet woman, gentle of manner, soft of voice. She ruined my life.

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It was her job to give career counseling to the students in her charge. To that end, she would make us take an aptitude test, then go over the results with us.

Part of the test was of the "Would you rather" variety. "Would you rather be a gardener or an engineer?" "Would you rather arrange flowers or build a garage?" And so on.

It was hard for me. I wanted to be neither a gardener nor an engineer. Even less did I want to arrange flowers or build a garage. (I wanted to play shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, but I didn't tell her that. She wasn't much into foolish dreams.)

So I faked the test, putting down answers I thought would please her--and they did.

During her review of my test she said: "Well, you certainly have a wide range of interests, Mr. Kaul. I think you can be just about anything you want to be."

That wasn't what I wanted to hear. (Nor was it true. I couldn't be shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, for example.)

What I wanted was to be told what I wanted to be.

When I pressed her for specifics she went through the list of possibilities: doctor, lawyer, engineer, dentist, plumber, teacher, truck driver, policeman, fireman, accountant -- the usual. None of it appetizing.

Thus was I cast rudderless on the uncharted waters of higher education, where I drifted into journalism. I stand now before you a pitiful, ink-stained wretch, held in angry contempt by the yahoos of the nation, scorned by its intellectuals.

I blame Mrs. Cameron. If only she had told me about other careers -- like hedge fund management.

Did you see that story the other day about the money hedge fund managers make? In 2009, the managers of the top 25 funds made an average of $1 billion.

Yes, that's what I said -- billion with a "B."

Of course, that's an average. Some made more. David Tepper of Appaloosa Management made FOUR billion. George Soros: $3.3 billion.

And to make things even better (for them), they pay a lower tax rate than the rest of us because they've been able to persuade (bribe) Congress to let them claim most of their earnings as "capital gains." That allows them to pay only 15 percent, rather than the top income tax rate of 35 percent.

Just a word from Mrs. Cameron and I could have gone to business school, studied hard, and wound up with my own hedge fund.

What do hedge fund managers do, after all? They manage other people's money. I'd be good at that. Buy low, sell high, that's my motto. Works every time.

Typically, managers take a healthy cut of the profits from their investment of those other people's money.

And should they lose this money? Well that's too bad. They walk away looking for new investors (suckers) without fretting about losing those prior profits. (You'd be surprised how long you can make a billion dollars last if you economize.)

Big-time bankers do almost as well, particularly if they get fired.

The New York Times recently reported the sad story of Charles O. Prince III, chairman and CEO of Citigroup, who was fired in 2007 after presiding over a loss of $64 billion in the firm's value. Yet, as a going-away present the board gave him a severance package of $12.5 million, along with an office, a car, and a driver for the next five years. That was on top of the $68 million the company had paid him through the years.

Getting paid for failure. Isn't that what we all want?

Mrs. Cameron, you were my teacher. You shoulda looked out for me, just a little bit. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.

OtherWords and retired Des Moines Register columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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