Why James Altucher and Jerry Seinfeld are both wrong about NYC.

If you’ve been watching your social meed-feed, then you know all about the war or words between Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Investor/Chess Player/Sometimes Comedian, James Altucher.
 
If you don’t, then let me catch you up.
 
In this article, James Altucher, said that “NYC is dead forever.”
 
In this article, Jerry Seinfeld called James a “putz.”
 
Pretty much sums it up.
 
So I’m here to break up the fight and say, “Guys, guys . . . are you high or something?  Cuz you’re both wrong “
 
I’ve followed James Altucher for years. I read his book, attended his events, and even purchased his high-priced investing newsletter for his stock tips (he was a successful Hedge Fund Manager before all this).
 
In fact, I found him so inspiring that I invited him and his kids to the opening of Spring Awakening in 2015. He came, had a blast and told me I had “the funnest job in the world.”
 
So, even though those stock-pickin’ tips I paid for didn’t work out (!), I was a fan.
 
But when I read his vir-article, when he declared NYC a zombie town that would never come back to life, I wanted to punch him in his hairdo.  
The article is classic Altucher. It’s smart.  It has a lot of words.  And it has a hedge-funders-like-logic. It’s like he took a lot of Facebook messages and bandwidth statistics and plugged them into his own personal algorithm and beep-bop-boop . . . out popped a message that said, “Sell NYC. SELL. SELL. SELL.” 
And that’s when James moved to Florida.
Now I love me some data.  But there are times when all these statistics and trends and algorithms are just plain wrong.  (Anyone remember the last presidential election?).
This IS one of those times.  
NYC is experiencing one of the toughest periods in its history, no doubt.  And yes, Times Square reminds me of when I first moved here in 1991.  But back then I never could have imagined that it would be the place it became pre-pandemic, with glitzy retail, Disney in residency, and so many tourists you couldn’t walk down the street.
But that’s what happened.  And it will happen again.
Yes, lots of people are leaving NYC.  Many of them artists, as I wrote about here, who have no choice.  And this forced migration is one of the great tragedies of this pandemic.
But the people that are leaving just to leave, and not because they have to?  The people like James?  They’re doing so out of fear.  And that’s never a good time to sell anything.
In fact, to quote a hero from James’s investing world . . .
“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” – Warren Buffett.

I understand the fear.  Believe me. I’ve had it.  I can’t tell you how many times my wife and I looked at each other and said, “Maybe we should head to the suburbs.  Or another state!”

The facts are,  I could commute from anywhere when Broadway got back up and running.

But that would be me making a quick decision based on a short-ish term problem.  It’d be like a drug.  It would make me feel good in the short term because I was doing something, but long term?

What’s interesting is when people make these decisions, they then have to DEFEND their position to everyone they know.  It’s the psychological principles of “commitment” and “consistency” (beautifully described in this book by Dr. Robert Cialdini.) Once people make a choice, they double down on it, to make themselves feel more secure in their own decision (which is evidence that they weren’t secure about the decision in the first place). 

And, that, my friends, is what we’re seeing in James’ article.
See James moved to Florida.  So of course he is going to claim that NYC is dead.  Because if it wasn’t dead, it would be like he left a dying friend on the battlefield. . . he’d never forgive himself.  (Seinfeld was right when he wrote, “Imagine being in a war with this guy by your side.”)
But I don’t want to be too hard on James.  Because again, I don’t know a NYer who has been stuck in the city since March who hasn’t thought of getting out.  So his feelings are valid.  I forgive him of those.   
 
What I couldn’t forgive James is how his article is the antithesis of the basic tenet of his teaching. And why I became semi-obsessed with him in the first place.
 
I’m talking about his 1% rule.
 
James believes that you can accomplish any goal you want in life by trying to get better at that thing by just 1% a day.
 
Improve a paltry 1%. every day over a year and you will crush your goals.  
And it works.
 
And that’s what is going to happen to NYC.  
It’s not going to get better all at once.  It’s not going to get better by next year.  But over time, watch what it becomes.
 
So for James Altucher to say that “I give up on NYC” is the opposite of the positivity he preaches that has attracted so many people to his various businesses!
 
So why did he write that article? Is the 1% rule bull-puckey?
 
No, he wrote that article because . . .
 
1.  He needed to defend his move per the “commitment/consistency” principle we discussed above.
2.  He wanted to get press.
James is a genius. And he knows how to get attention.  And he succeeded. Big time.
 
Enter Jerry Seinfeld.
 
Jerry, I’m a massive fan of yours as well. And it wasn’t your TV show that did it. It was the movie Comedian, which showed us all how hard you are willing to work at your craft. The movie is a great reminder that everyone, including Jerry Seinfeld, feels like an imposter every once in a while.  
 
But the follow-up article that James wrote to your article (I told you James knew how to get attention . . . and keep the attention going) was right.  You’re living a very cushy Hamptons life right now.  And it ain’t so cushy here in Times Square, where today I witnessed a drug deal in front of one of our famed Broadway Theaters.
 
If you want NYC back, Jerry, you can’t just act like Peter Pan and believe it will come back. You have to be back. 
We need you here.  We need you walking through Times Square (with a mask!) to give some of the few tourists a reminder that famous people live in our city.  We need you to ride our subway if we expect other people to.  We need you to help us get aid from the federal, state and city governments. The forced migration can be stopped with the right stimulus . . . so stop calling Altucher names and start calling Congress People.  They will answer your calls, not mine.
 
No, James and Jerry, NYC isn’t dead.
 
But it is sick. Very sick. And sure, maybe some might even say it’s dying.
 
But if your best friend in the world was dying, what would you do . . . sit back and watch? Go on vacation? Only green-light treatments that have been done before?  Yell from the top of your lungs and say, “My friend is dying” and then head to a beach?
 
No. You’d rant and rave for help. You’d try every experimental drug and treatment on the market. You’d do ANYTHING you can to keep your friend alive.
 
So if you love this city like I both know you do, give each other an e-kiss and make up.  Because together you two could do more good than any of our politicians ever could.
– – – – –
If you’re interested in more conversations about what the future of the theater is going to look like in our fair and non-dead city, click here.
 
 
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Comments
  • Ilene D Kruger says:

    I loved that, Ken! What you wrote made a lot of sense!

    Thanks!

  • Landon Shaw says:

    Perfectly stated yet again by the amazing impresario, Ken Davenport! I think you sell yourself just a tad short…I think you would be surprised by how much “pull” and “celebrity status” you bring to NYC. I mean, I wouldn’t know James Altucher if I saw him walking down the street. Nope…I take wise words and musings by Ken Davenport for $50,000 Alex! (I know that the highest dollar amount for a question is $2,000.00, but this is a SPECIAL Broadway Edition of Jeopardy!) I have an idea though that came to me while reading this, that I will send you way…plus a few other things! Hope all is well and just stay in NYC, we need you there!

  • The Real Inspector Hound says:

    “..like I know you both do…”**

    (not trying to be cheeky)

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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