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What if you could improve your social credit score by reading this entire article? Would that be motivation? Well, you would have to know what a social credit score meant. And you would have to actually have such a score.

You don’t have such a score now, but you may one day. The Social Credit System is a proposed Chinese government initiative to develop a national reputation system. Though it is still being developed, the intent is to assign a “social credit” rating to every citizen. The score would be based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

It sounds like some science-fiction horror story of the future. When I first heard about this real plan, I thought of the 2016 episode titled “Nosedive” from season three of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror which is shown on Netflix.

‘Black Mirror’ – Netflix

In that episode, people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have. The scores impact their socioeconomic status. The protagonist, Lacie, is obsessed with her ratings and through a series of interactions with different people and has a rapid reduction in her ratings.

In this future-that-looks-like-today society, they use eye implants and mobile devices so that everyone shares their daily activities. You can also see someone’s current average and that has significant influence on the way they are viewed.  Lacie’s 4.2 rating prevents her from getting a luxury apartment which requires a 4.5 or better rating. Lacie tries her best to game the system.

The proposed China system is not only a mass surveillance tool that uses big data analysis technology, but is also a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market.

A Chinese “super app” called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score that works as “credit for everything in your life.” This “Zhima Credit” scale of 350-950 assesses people’s worth beyond finances and is meant to serve as a “credit system that covers the whole society.”

The Chinese government’s “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)” focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be “societal integrity.” The plans are to have credit scores for all businesses operating in China.

In news story I heard, it said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored – trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police?

Eight companies were picked by the People’s Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

In an example of one person who started with a 600 score and was able to rise to 722, his higher score entitled him to “favorable terms on loans and apartment rentals, as well as showcasing on several dating apps should he and his wife ever split up, and with a few dozen more points, he could get a streamlined visa to Luxembourg.”

Though scores are not visible on a person (an augmented reality vision) and you can’t currently access other people’s scores on the app, your score is nicely color coded, so a 710 sees a “calming” blue background and a 550 will be greeted by an “alarming” orange tone.

Social credit also involves looking at your friends, and if they are all high-score people, that helps you. Bad credit friends are not a good thing.  Sorry Lacie, but we can’t be friends any more. Your score is bringing me down.

 

credit score

An “alarming” score on Sesame credit score

 

We like things to be simple. How to Live to Be 100. Four Ways to Improve Your Sex Life. No one clicks on links to “150 Things You Need To Do To Feel Better.”

When Professor Harold Pollack was doing an online video chat with a personal finance writer about how people often get steered into bad investments by financial advisers, he said (probably without giving it great forethought) that the best personal finance advice “can fit on a 3-by-5 index card.”

He went on to say that paying someone for advice means that “almost by definition, you’re probably getting the wrong advice, because the correct advice is so straightforward.”

I heard him interviewed and he said that after that video went online he got lots of  emails wanting that index card. His comment put him in a metaphoric corner. But he responded by writing the principles he believed in on a card, took a photo with his phone and  posted it online.

It went viral, got big press, got tweeted by regular folks and economists, and became a simple self-help meme.

People realized the advice wasn’t new or earth-shaking. Sort of like following that Blue Zone lifestyle to live longer: not complicated, but not easy to do.

I heard Pollack and Helaine Olen (that original interviewer) recently talking on NPR because – ironically – they have turned the card into a book: The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated

Why do we need a book if it all fits on a card? Well, both of making a living is part of it. Publishers seeing a market is part of it. But in a less cynical response, simple is a start but you need details.

Pollack said (without putting his book on the same shelf) “…why do we need an entire Bible really? We have the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.”

Simplicity can be satisfying, to a certain degree, and also frustrating. “See the ball. Hit the ball,” was something a baseball coach once told me. Good advice, and useless advice, all at once.

How would you interpret his advice to “make financial adviser commit to a fiduciary standard?” Do you know what a fiduciary standard is?  Do you even have a financial adviser? Didn’t he say you really didn’t need one?

I like simplicity. I strive to make my life simpler, cleaner, less cluttered. That can be a complicated thing to do.

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