When the economy tanks, psychics prosper

I should have seen this one coming.

After all, the economy’s been in the crapper for several months now. Things are bad and getting worse, with the bottom not yet in sight. So who could prosper in this environment, except for repo men and liquor stores?

Psychics, of course:

NEW YORK (CNN) — The housing crisis will deepen, the country could fall into a depression and laid-off workers may need to start their own business.

New York psychic Roxanne Usleman says the bad economy had been good for her business.

If this sounds like the advice of a financial planner or an economist, think again. It’s a reading from psychic medium Roxanne Usleman.

As the economy tanks, Usleman’s business is booming.

“It’s more types of people I have never seen before,” says Usleman. “Men in the business world, high-powered jobs, stock market, Wall Street.”

Since last fall, she says she began to see a new type of client — a “logical, [A-type] of personality.” Many of them are “just completely lost,” says Usleman.

Relationship advice, typically the bread and butter of the psychic business, has been supplanted by something new.

“Should I merge with this company? Should I bring in a partner to my company,” are the kind of questions Usleman gets from her clients.

I hadn’t realized that the desperation had gotten that bad. On the other hand, given how badly these guys’ decisions have turned out and how the Wall Street class, through their shortsightedness and greed have managed to plunge the world into the worst recession since World War II, the wag in me can’t resist wondering if their following the advice of a psychic could be any worse. I do, however, have to acknowledge one person quoted in the story as an early frontrunner for the award of Understatement of the Year:

Financial adviser Ryan Mack says adding the cost of a psychic reading into an already stretched budget is not a good investment.

“Regardless of what the stars say, regardless of what the map says in terms of — if Pluto is lined up with Mars,” says Mack. “You have the ability within yourself to save, to plan and to be diligent.”

Yep. Of course, I can’t resist asking: If Usleman is such a good psychic, why didn’t she see the economic disaster we find ourselves in coming?


  1. #1 Mu
    February 9, 2009

    Maybe she did see it coming, including all the benefits for her line of work. Which is why she assured the chairman of Lehman brothers that the housing boom would continue for another 20 years.

  2. #2 Rose Colored Glasses
    February 9, 2009

    A psychic is about as good at predicting the future as a coin flip, which has a lot more going for it than a wall street banker, a hedge fund manager, or a stockbroker.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2009

    A psychic is better than a coin, which is why they still have work. A coin is utterly random. A skilled psychic can do much much better than random.

    Interesting discussion at the beginning of this podcast of a casual visit to a psychic by a semi professional skeptic:


  4. #4 IasonOuabache
    February 9, 2009

    Excuse me… I need to go brush up on my cold reading skills. I’m gonna make me a killin’!!!

  5. #5 Brian X
    February 9, 2009

    I have to say that in a similar vein, I’ve often considered getting in the business of sprucing up useless junk, adding a couple of zeros onto the price, and selling it off to idle rich morons as Veblen goods. The only thing that makes me think it’s not such a good idea is that there are certain people with less money who might be taken in who should be warned away from whatever the product might be, but one cannot do that because one might blow the gaffe. There’s no margin in ethical scamming…

  6. #6 DLC
    February 9, 2009

    A skilled cold reader can do better than random, to the subjective judgment of the person receiving the reading.
    But they don’t score better than randomly selected “horoscopes”.
    See Flim-Flam by James Randi.

  7. #7 logos
    February 9, 2009

    “worst recession since World War II”

    Since this is a science based medicine blog, perhaps we should also practice science based economics. That would make this the worst recession since 1992, or perhaps one the recessions of the 1980s.

    A number of examples of the propensity to overstate the severity are illustrated on the Carpe Diem blog http://mjperry.blogspot.com/

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2009

    I would think reading auras would be the way to go. Simpler than horoscopes, more overlap in ‘meaning,’ and it requires a personal visit, which costs more. I’d do auras.

  9. #9 Donna B.
    February 9, 2009

    I’d figure out a way to do it email, so I wouldn’t actually have in person contact with anyone wanting a psychic reading.

    I would say the transmission of their thoughts and questions through the intertubes strips away negative ions and distractions, allowing me to read their true self.

    And of course there is special email address set up extra filters to complete the process. They will be given this email after the money hits my paypal account.

    This could work!

  10. #10 AnthonyK
    February 9, 2009

    Yes psychics ,always predict the future exactly correctly, but unfortunately only in retrospect. Assuming one who actually believe themselves and their psychic power, everything that happened explains what has happened. They have a fantasy mindset which sees the significance of past portents in the present – they always saw it coming. Add to it that poor and desperate people in any culture invest in magic and chance and you have the best attitude to go to witchdoctors and shamens. I guess it’s all hope, as an upside, but a putrid nest of lucrative rubbish as a downside.
    I just don’t think we should be at all surprised at woo flourishing.
    Human Nature.

  11. #11 Anne
    February 9, 2009

    I like this post; good eye. I tend to give wide berth to the supernatural, because I like to believe that just about anything is possible. I actually appreciated Michael Crichton’s treatment of psychics in his book “Travels.” He went in with an open (if skeptical) mind, and came out thinking something was definitely “there” in terms of extrasensory ability, but that the person trying to harness the phenomenon was rarely able to control it (e.g., make accurate predictions). Granted, Crichton misinterpreted some global warming research in writing “State of Fear,” but that’s not the same kind of inaccuracy. The psychic thing was based on his own experience.

  12. #12 ben
    February 10, 2009

    I’m puzzled as to why anyone believes that this thinly-sourced story is in any way … true. Pyschics lie about everything else, but when they’re reporting a massive boom in business because of the recession, well, you can take that to the bank!

    “Should I merge with this company? Should I bring in a partner to my company,” are the kind of questions Usleman gets from her clients.
    << No. Those are the questions Usleman *wishes* she got from her clients. She doesn't. She does not distinguish between truth and fiction. This sort of pathetic wish-fulfillment fantasy is particularly incredible right now -- companies are not being politely presented with the choice to merge with others; companies are not pondering whether to bring in partners. This is what a simpleton or a child fantasizing about what important businesspeople do would imagine they do. Usleman is a liar. She's telling lies. And a normally sceptical readership has decided that she's telling the truth now, for some mystifying reason. She's not. She could, of course, open her books and prove things one way or the other.

  13. #13 I Measured Me, Therefore I Am
    February 10, 2009

    I know this will sound crazy, but many people believe some fantastically powerful, invisible, and ultimately nonexistent creature is magically changing the outcome of everyday events in their favor. No, no, I’m not talking about heavily medicated psych patients. These are normal people, just like you or I, except deluded. I don’t know how many “normal” people are deluded in this way, but I suspect it’s in excess of 5%.

    Most of these people are harmlessly deluded when it comes to business, though. They may credit one of these invisible creatures when things go well, but they really just rely on their own knowledge and experience in making the decisions.

    But someone’s business plan loses all credibility in my eyes if I realize they’re taking advice from a psychic, or praying for help in making a bad idea successful. I question their ability to make wise business decisions if they rely on something that cannot possibly affect the outcome.

  14. #14 Marilyn Mann
    February 10, 2009

    Feng Shui practitioners seem to be doing well these days:


  15. #15 Imhotep
    February 10, 2009

    I think some of you would be very surprised to know that your “world leaders” consult with psychics. The Reagans did; the Clintons still do.

    Every field has it’s charlatins. Not all neurosurgeon’s are quacks, just because a few are does not mean they all are.

    Psychics are making tons of money now, primarily because their business is FEAR driven! The funny thing is that psychics are cutting their prices due to the economy and the sudden rise in numbers of “available psychic readers”, so some of you may be too late in starting that new profession for extra cash flow. I know this because of the emails I get for psychic seminars are all showing “special savings” and “new special rates”!

    I am surprised Obama didn’t add psychic readings to the Stimulus Bill……maybe he did and we just haven’t found it yet.

  16. #16 John H (Precognos Inasnum)
    February 10, 2009

    We had an odd situation here in the UK with respect to psychic charlatans and hucksters. Up to last year clairvoyants/mediums/psychics etc seem to have been protected by the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951).

    “””Genuine””” mediums were protected and only hucksters proven to be frauds were convicted. As such we rarely had any convictions – maybe one every few years. (I make no comment on what the hell a “genuine psychic” is)

    Last year the UK introduced new Consumer Protection Regulations. Here, mediums/psychics are to be held accountable for the quality of their service just like any other industry. This is assuming they charge for their services, which most obviously do.

    Obviously they were up in arms about this (and naturally they didn’t see it coming ! Couldn’t resist that one).

    Reading the law . . . .

    . . . . it would appear that if the “prediction” or some such psycho drivel does not pan out you can sue them.

    The next step is to enforce a sign above their business premises which states “For entertainment purposes only”.

  17. #17 catgirl
    February 10, 2009

    Wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper to just buy a magic 8-ball?

  18. #18 Denice Walter
    February 10, 2009

    @ Donna B : There is an internet service called LivePerson.com, where the gifted ones(cough)offer up their services for a fee and the company takes a large cut. I just read about a person who lost her job and is now doing readings,offering relationship and occupational advice.Really.You can’t make stuff like this up.

  19. #19 Donna B.
    February 10, 2009

    Good grief. I thought I was making it up, but no it already exists.

  20. #20 Alan Kellogg
    February 10, 2009

    Caller: Hello, Madame laFarge? I’d like to have a reading done.

    laFarge: Very good, but first I’ll need your card number.

    Caller: You’re the psychic, you tell me.

  21. #21 Tracy W
    February 11, 2009

    Anne: I tend to give wide berth to the supernatural, because I like to believe that just about anything is possible. I actually appreciated Michael Crichton’s treatment of psychics in his book “Travels.” He went in with an open (if skeptical) mind, and came out thinking something was definitely “there” in terms of extrasensory ability, but that the person trying to harness the phenomenon was rarely able to control it (e.g., make accurate predictions).

    The thing for me that pushes psychic abilities into my mental category of “basically certain not to be true” is that people have been studying this since 1882, and still haven’t proved that it exists, let alone come up with any new and surprising applications. Todays’ psychics are merely claiming to be able to tell the future as they have been claiming back to at least Roman times. Compare this to the development of electromagnetic fields. Since their discovery we have been able to use them to make lights go on, to communicate across very long distances (radios), to record and play back sounds and images (tape recorders, TV) to do mathematical calculations, to move things, to “see” inside people’s bodies (MRI scans), etc.

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