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In publicity photos, Gen X financial tipsters the Motley Fools always don goofy caps ‘n’ bells headgear, but not a swatch of actual motley; from the brows down, brothers Tom and Dave Gardner are strictly blue suit and rep tie. Leading to the question, Just how foolish, really, are the Motley Fools?
The Old Town Alexandria-based brothers are popular with their fansmainly fellow twenty- and thirtysomething Warren Buffett wannabes struggling to liberate a little investment capital from the zinfandel budgetfor the mixture of irreverent humor and no-jargon cash management tips they include on their web site and in books like the new You Have More Than You Think. And sometimes the Fools come through with both the talk and the walk: In You Have, they label Visa execs “insects” for charging triple the interest found at your local bank. Very gratifying. Even better, they follow that up with the revelation that a single phone call from a card holder demanding a drop in rate from the customary, larcenous 18 percent to 12 percent or so usually does the trick. “Apparently, that’s cheaper for them than hunting down new customers,” says Tom.
That kind of tip, which originated not with the Gardners but with an online “fool” (the term for members), causes the brothers to haul out their favorite adjective for their outfit: “revolutionary.” Tom says that 80-90 percent of what comes through the Motley Fool site reflects the investing experiences of memberswhether gratifying or rueful. That makes Motley Fool both more democratic and more reliable, Tom says, than the big full-service investment houses, which he claims often push the stock offerings of client companies.
But just how populist are these Fools? The Gardners were originally Georgetown boys (Dad, now retired to Vermont, was a lawyer at the Federal Reserve) who were schooled first at St. Albans and then at exclusive New England prep schools Groton (Tom) and St. Paul’s (Dave). Both majored in English (at Brown and UNC, respectively) before circling back to the D.C. area to found Motley Fool.
And boiled down, their financial advice is as high-bourgeois as their background. Yes, they hate credit cards (and screaming red Miatas and conspicuous consumption in general), but only because they drain away funds from life’s one true grail, investing long-term in the stock market. Even more frequent in You Have than the (sometimes pretty funny) jokes are the endless variants of “If you had invested just $100 in IBM in 1963…” The brothers’ all-time favorite pick is Coke (“If you had invested $1,000 in Coca-Cola in 1919…”); they dub the company “The First National Bank of Coca-Cola” for its reliably high returns. Indeed, their investment line basically comes down to, “Pick a really blue-chip stockthe Gap, Nike, Gilletteand hang on to it ’til your kids’ kids are ready for Yale.”
Not exactly “revolutionary.” For all their japery, the brothers seem driven mostly by a sort of exasperated noblesse obligea desire to help certain gauche ’90s poseurs get it right. Real rich people don’t spend, for God’s sake. They invest and sit on their capital ’til Herbert Hoover rises from the dead. Please.John DeVault