Frugality, Financial Samurai, Mr. Money Mustache, and Early Retirement Extreme

“Hello Mrs. Farnickel.  How are you, today?  Making a deposit, are we?  Great.  We can just put that into your retirement account and make it go to work for you aaaaand it’s gone.” – South Park

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Frugality doesn’t mean that your duct tape can’t match* your car! Splurge!

*if your car is silver

What if you could live the majority of your life without worrying about a job?  What if, instead of hitting the alarm at 5:45AM on Monday morning you could get up when you wanted, and do what you wanted to do?

Scary.  Sounds like International Communism!  The entire world might fall apart!  Beware, the Chinese Overlords are attacking!!!!

Perfectly capable people are exiting the corporate workforce and becoming independent, as in, “I don’t have to put up with another performance review” independent.  Some examples of this are Sam from Financial Samurai (LINK), Mr. Money Mustache – MMM for short (LINK), and Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme (LINK).  I list them in this order from least extreme to most extreme.

Sam lives in Sam Francisco, MMM in Colorado, and Jacob lives on Planet Jacob (Now in Chicago, after looking around a bit on his blog).

Early Retirement the Financial Samurai Way

Sam’s theory is by far the most conventional.  He wants to make enough money from passive investments and activities like blogging that he’s happy.  He thinks that exactly $211,000 a year is happy, because above that he has to give too much money to the government, which makes him not happy.

I think that most people can identify with Sam – he wants to have a big enough income stream (and no real job) that he can go to Tahiti tomorrow for a month and nothing changes, but he also wants to be able to buy all the stuff that he wants (within reason).  He has property (houses and vacation homes) and rental property and other investments.  He (obviously) could make much more – certainly $500,000 plus a year if he wanted to grind it down and devote himself to it.

One of my favorite posts of Sam’s is where he discusses how he can always pick up a tennis game at the public courts with great players who play a lot, but can never get a good game at the exclusive country club because those guys are pouring their lives out in corporate jobs that rip away their soul in exchange for money.  But, on the bright side?  It’s a LOT of money.

Sam doesn’t make the same choice.  Your money or your life?  Sam has chosen his life.

And, even though he doesn’t know me (and this blog doesn’t yet rank) I owe him – his blog gave me a lot of the motivation to restart blogging after my self-imposed eight year hiatus.

Mr. Money Mustache’s Money Machine

MMM notches it up a bit, even though (by everything I can tell) he’s making huge bank (hundreds of thousands of dollars a year) on his website.  It seems that he gives lots of it away.  Because he can.

Mr. Money Mustache is all about flipping the equation.  He and his family live on $30,000 a year (2016).  This isn’t horribly surprising since the average family income in the US is $56,000.  Mr. Money Mustache’s major difference is that he doesn’t have a real job, blogs only when he feels like it, and won’t put up with anyone’s crap.  If you have a deal, you have a deal.  If you need oodles of lawyers?  Probably not your guy.

His thought is the typical lifestyle of someone in the United States is “An Exploding Volcano of Wastefulness.”  He advocates that you save 50% or more of your income, primarily by shunning many of the expense that most of us regularly take for granted, like being a multi-car family; ignore luxury and convenience and focus on true happiness.

Some of his points, along with my commentary:

  • Debt is an Emergency. It’s killing you, and must be treated like an Emergency.  NO FRILLS UNTIL IT’S GONE!  I know I totally violated this rule with the hot tub (LINK), but that really has made us happy.
  • Live close to work. You can bike.  Cheaper and better for you.  I agree, but selling the house because I have to travel 20 more minutes is extreme, so I’m not going to do that right now.  Plus The Boy is a junior in High School.  I’ll skip moving if I can.
  • Don’t borrow money for cars. I agree (LINK).
  • Don’t buy stupid cars. (Same agreement, same link.)
  • Ride a bike to commute. I also agree, but live too far away, and I’m not uprooting the kids for my commute. Note that the car advice alone saves $250,000 in a decade.
  • Cancel Pay TV. Ooops, I start to get a bit scared here.  Three words:  Game of Thrones.  But this is a huge point:  you end up paying money to do something passive that takes your attention and focus, and many times doesn’t make you any better, so you pay for TV three times.
  • Don’t waste money on groceries. MMM has a pretty long post on calories and such here – but he lives on family food budget about 25% of ours, primarily by avoiding high cost packaged/convenience stuff.  We could be better here.
  • Don’t pamper the kids. They’re not in medical school until they’re in medical school.  They don’t need the Princeton of Preschools.  Kids eat paste.  And that’s high school kids.
  • No overpriced cell phones. Again, we can do better here.  Inertia is killing me on this one – the time cost of change.  The Boy gets better service and more data for less than I’m spending.  Just need time to change.
  • Fix your own stuff. This is like a triple reward.  If it’s broken and you mess it up?  It was already broken.  But you learn how to fix things, which makes you better.  And you don’t pay someone else to do it.

We’re buying a new dishwasher because the existing one sucks.  I know we technically don’t even need one, but I like having one.  In this case, Sears® won’t install it.  I’ve done it before, and sighed.  Okay, I’ll do it again.  And save $75 for what will probably be either 15 minutes’ worth of work or an amusing blog post.

But there is a bigger point that I’d like to note – there comes a time when people tend to become more risk averse, and age is a driver to that.  Pop Wilder’s Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) always flashed a continuous noon (or midnight).  He could never figure out how to set the time, and didn’t want to mess it up so it didn’t work, kind of the opposite of mall lawyers attempting to poke their lawyer fingers into a copier to fix it by playing with all the springs and rollers and things.

Short version: don’t lose your youthful desire to tear something up just to figure out how it works.  NOTE:  I AM NOT speaking to medical professionals, especially ones that might work on me.

So according to MMM, follow the above steps and save 50% to 75% of what you make.  After a while?  Just stop going to work, but enjoy all that nice money you made, plus the lifestyle you created.  MMM figures that, once you’ve started living a disciplined lifestyle, 25x your income should last you roughly forever.

Jacob’s Early Retirement Extreme Engine

Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme lives on $7,000 per year.  Combined with his wife, they spend $14,000 per year.  He says he currently has 119 years’ worth of annual expenses saved up as his net worth.  You can probably do that much math, if not, you just might be too short for this ride, the Life Coaster.

Jacob maintains he spends his money much more efficiently than the average person – four times as efficiently.  He uses a 12 year old 12” laptop and, being retired and all, when he wears a suit it’s a $500 suit he bought for $100.

Jacob is probably farthest away from mainstream consumer behavior, and seems to enjoy it – he and his wife lived in a used RV for years.  Me? I have a seven foot stack of books from Amazon in my bedroom that I haven’t read yet.  (Full disclosure – I did read Jacob’s book and there are some great ideas in it).

Me?  I’m not retired yet, and college still looms for Pugsley and The Boy.  The Mrs. and I do have plans, though.  One day after Pugsley graduates from High School we’re moving to a shipping container near the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  Someone has to welcome our new Chinese Communist Overlords!

The Economy, The Fourth Turning, Kondratieff, and You.

“Why? My father would tell the story of impregnating my mother every winter solstice.” – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2

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Like they keep staying in that HBO show, “Winter is Coming” except that it’s here . . . 

I can predict the future, with pretty amazing accuracy.

You can, too.

If I step into the path of the bus travelling at 50 miles per hour (0.0000822 parsecs per year) and it’s only 20 feet away, well, you can predict that future, too.

You might be saying, “But John Wilder, you’re cheating, everyone knows that you can’t step in front of a speeding bus.”  Just because you can do a thing that everyone else can do, doesn’t mean it’s cheating.  And it is predicting the future.

Now can I tell you who is going to win the next Super Bowl©?  Not with the same certainty, but a bet on the Patriots™ wouldn’t be a bad one, which mirrors every year since 2002.  I can predict with nearly perfect certainty a number of teams that won’t make the Super Bowl.

So, now that we’ve gotten the whole, “You can’t predict the future” business out of the way, I’ll describe the future via the past and via the life of Pop Wilder.

Pop Wilder started life in late autumn of 1921, and got his first job counting out dimes to pay to migrant laborers at the age of five.  His father and another guy (Mr. Potter LINK) started a small farm bank, and, there being no child labor laws of significance back then, they put Pop to work.  Pop’s boyhood home was Spartan.  By Spartan I mean very few furnishings, not that he had to go live in the mountains in the winter with only his spear to prove his manhood.  He told me that was just a joke after he made me do that.

On the bright side?  Pez® was invented in 1927.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

I’m pretty sure that Pop didn’t think much about the stock market crash at the time – New York was far away, and it didn’t seem to impact the small town he lived in very much.  But it did change his entire generation – they learned to hate debt, and distrust the stock market entirely.

As entered his most impressionable age, the nation entered economic crisis:  The Great Depression.  I think they called it “Great” because at least they got legal booze back during the Depression.  Part of the economic breakdown included a collapse of a significant number of banks which prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to close ALL banks in the United States for four days, even the ATMs.  Pop’s father had done a good job managing the debts that his bank had, and his bank reopened without incident, unlike 4,000 banks that remained closed.  The Federal Reserve and US Treasury reacted during the crisis by:

Instead he [Treasury Secretary William Woodin] decided to “issue currency against the sound assets of the banks [as opposed to issuing currency against gold]. The Federal Reserve Act lets us print all we’ll need. And it won’t frighten the people.  It won’t look like stage money. It’ll be money that looks like real money.” –  Federal Reserve History Website (LINK)

Printing money is awesome if you can figure out a legal way to do it.

Pop worked at the bank after graduating high school as a teller until December 8, 1941, when he and a million other American men marched to the recruiting office to sign up for an all expenses paid vacation in either Europe or the Pacific.  After Officer Candidate School, Pop was sent to the Manhattan Engineering District until they transferred him to transport duty.

When I was a wee lad, I asked him if he’d ever been shot at.  “No, but I was with people they were shooting at.”  I finally got the joke when I was older.

Entering Spring (High)

Along with a million other GIs at the end of the war, Pop attempted to get into college.  He was told “no,” by the college he applied to, and just went back to work at his Dad’s bank and got married.  Eventually they had my brother, who is also named John Wilder.

When his father died, he became president of the small farm bank.  He and his brother (along with their Mother) became minority owners.  The original deal had Great-Grandpop Wilder sharing ownership of the bank with Mr. Potter 50%-50%, but over time Great-Grandpop had sold his shares to Mr. Potter when he needed extra money.

This was a time of great civic participation, of Pop Wilder’s generation beginning to take over businesses and run them with great caution, but also with great optimism.

Entering Summer (Awakening)

At some point in here, I was adopted into the family.  Dad turned down an offer to join one of the big banks in the Midwest when Mr. Potter matched his salary.  He worked at the bank his father started for 17 more years, but this was the last raise he would ever get.

Even though great societal change was underway, the United States had great and broad prosperity and resources were everywhere – we thought that, as a nation, we could spend enough money so poverty would cease to exist.  Everyone was “looking for themselves” as divorce, birth control, and abortion set the seeds for the change that was coming in Fall.  Prior to this time, there was a theoretical link between the dollar and gold.  It was primarily theoretical because individual ownership of gold coins and bullion was prohibited in the United States, though one could own silver coins.

With the severing of the link, the price of gold shot up.

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Even though we had to live through Disco and the BeeGees, we still managed to get things worked out – Jimmy Carter’s values weren’t too far from Gerald Ford’s.

Entering Fall (Unravelling)

Branch banking laws took small farm banks and made them compete with large banks.  Soon after that, banks were for the first time competing across state lines.  What had been a decentralized system (sort of, the Federal Reserve really, really liked New York) became a few small banks, a few regional banks, but most of the assets belonged to the big New York banks.

Mr. Potter was getting old, and he arranged a bank sale and forced the family to sell their shares to the new owner.  The new owner reversed Pop’s policies, and began loaning to people with credit that wasn’t so great.  (“Any idiot with a truck and a backhoe,” per Pop.)  Pop had been proud that he had never foreclosed on a loan – he only lent money to people with sound credit, with income that guaranteed that they could repay.  Pop retired, and the new owner sold to a regional bank.  This happened several times, though Pop stayed on the Board of Directors long after he could hear what they were talking about during the meeting.

“Bone Preserve?  What’s that?”

“No, Mr. Wilder, that’s ‘loan reserve,’ not Bone Preserve.”

In this era the fighting between political parties went from competition to ideological war.

Entering Winter (Crisis)

Pop was on the Board when the bank was declared insolvent in the wake of the banking crisis of 2008, and sold in a fire sale of restructuring.  Pop passed on not long after.

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I saw this written on a blank sign board in Alaska along the Haul Road to Deadhorse.  Thankfully, the sign was accurate – I was indeed right there.

I bring Pop’s life into this picture because I think his life particularly illustrates how and why business cycles form. These cycles are as much out of the psychology of the people who have money as they are about technological innovation or anything else.  This psychology has very significant implications to society.

The one thing that the economic crisis (followed by the war) did for the country was to clear the debt, but in a much bigger sense, it changed the opinion of the American public against debt.  Pop Wilder hated debt, and lectured me about it every morning while I brushed my teeth.  On days that he couldn’t be there, he had a cassette I was supposed to listen to.

Debt was bad, and Pop had seen the impact of it on people’s lives.  What he had seen as a child defined his life and all of the business decisions that he made throughout his life; further, it defined the psychology of an entire generation.  Pop found it immoral to lend money to those that couldn’t repay it, and would often, after a few bourbons, be a bit morose about the crap he had to take from people he wouldn’t loan money to.  He was saving their financial lives, but they hated him for it.  Outside of the tremendous borrowing for World War II, you can see that the current debt of the United States has no historical precedent (except maybe by the Romans LINK).

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As you can see, whatever it is we’re doing here is equivalent to fighting WWII, but I think it probably involves buying a lot of elephant rides. – Source, Wikipedia

And as Pop’s generation slipped via age to no longer control the bulk of the financial assets of the country, the stock market poured booze in the punch bowl.  The monetarily driven Tertiary Economy (LINK) party started in earnest, debt surged, and greater and greater risk slipped into the picture as large pools of money looked for whatever asset bubble existed that year – be it the first Tech Boom, the Housing Boom, the Pez© Boom, or the Oil Boom.  Certainly fortunes were made in all of those booms, but the busts created greater and greater economic dislocation, and our current economic crisis, when viewed through the lens of history, has always led to armed conflict significantly beyond current levels.  It will end when we’re tired of the total war that we’ve created.  Only after that level of conflict will society set the psychology to avoid debt and war in the minds of the young, and only then can Spring start again.

One note: it won’t look like World War II.  The United States has invested trillions of dollars in treasure to make a World War II style war an easy win for us – no one can touch our military at this point in a conventional war.  Whatever war starts, it’s assured they won’t play by our rules.

Debt Cycles, Fourth Turning and Kondratieff

Strauss and Howe described the future in their book The Fourth Turning (AMAZON LINK, WIKIPEDIA LINK).  This book predicted our current problems.  If Strauss and Howe are correct, we certainly haven’t seen the greatest depths of the current crisis, as we observably are still in a continuation of the old order – we’ve not hit the significant break with the past that we saw at the American Revolution, the Civil War, or the Great Depression/World War II crisis.

Strauss and Howe were not the first group to figure this out, and neither was Nikolai Kondratieff (LINK), a Soviet economist working for Stalin’s USSR, though he gets a lot of the credit.  Kondratieff looked at economic cycles from the standpoint of communism and claimed that there was a fundamental instability in the debt and credit cycles in a capitalist society, leading to inevitable boom and bust, which only proud Soviet Communism could solve.  Elevated at first to a high economic post, he visited the United States and an American sent back word that he wasn’t quite Soviet enough.  Kondratieff ended up first in prison, and then finally well, um, sentenced to not breathe any more valuable Soviet air.

What comes out of the other side is (at least) partially predictable based upon the past.

  1. The peak of the Crisis has not yet been reached.
  2. Signs of the peak can and must include doubt as to the final outcome as well as an event so significant it removes current barriers that separate the majority of citizens.
  3. In the past, the Civil War and Great Depression resulted in significant expansions of state control. These eras were times of national (post Civil War) and then (post WWII) international expansion.  Although it is likely that there will be economic contraction, it won’t necessarily lessen state control.  In Great Britain everything went socialist (for a time).
  4. Religious and civic engagement will rise, this is a constant post-crisis theme.
  5. There will be a sense of shared purpose – variance between Democratic/Republican party platforms will decline.
  6. Civil war is possible. Continuation of a unified United States is not guaranteed.
  7. Pez® production will be temporarily suspended to make more pantyhose for our troops.

Now you’ve reviewed a chunk of the history of the United States through the life of a man who viewed an entire economic cycle and was the perfect age at the invention of Pez™.

We know that life will change, and at some point the Patriots® will stop winning Super Bowls©.

Can you think of other predictions?

Share ‘em below.  And share the post!  Pop Wilder and Pez© compel you.

Rome, Britain, and Money: Why You Can’t Find Fine China after the Apocalypse

“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. . . The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. . . A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”- Patton

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Is it just me, or is that Tom Cruise’s profile on that coin?

In the spring of 407, a Roman citizen stood on the dock and watched as the last Roman Legionnaire placed his sandaled foot on the deck of a boat, preparing to cross the English Channel.

That last Roman soldier turned and looked back at the island as the sea winds blew on the fair spring day and powered his ship to Gaul (now France).  He had voted for his new Emperor – Constantine III, a usurper and common soldier in Britain.  Constantine III had decided to take his Legion across to set up power in Europe, and eventually march on Rome to solidify his claim to the throne.  Constantine died in 411, beheaded after abdicating his power.  Legend says that Constantine III was the great grandfather of Arthur, but those days are lost to history, and anything said about them would be nothing but speculation.

But the Roman on the dock, waving goodbye to the Legion, he is the one that has always fascinated me.  What were his thoughts as he watched the ships containing virtually the entire organized military of Britain sail off?

“They’ll be back soon.”  That’s always been my bet.  He expected that the Legion would return after Constantine III took Rome.  Or, worst case, another Emperor would send a Legion in – for the last 360 years the Romans had at least some presence in Britain.

The man, we’ll call him Marcus, walked back to his villa that overlooked the sea.  He had central heating, and a personal bath that was likewise heated.  He was fairly well off, as he made significant money importing plates from southern France and selling them to almost everybody.  They were cheap, and everyone dropped plates, so he had a guarantee of repeat business.

The winter came, and the Legion didn’t return.

The spring came again, and with it came the Saxons, raiding in force.  Again in 409 the Saxons raided.

And in 408 no plates came.  The stone masons that Marcus had hired to build an addition to his villa didn’t show up.  Marcus took his treasure of coins from his business, and buried them so that he wouldn’t lose them in the raids.  He never told his son, Lucius where the coins were buried, so when Lucius buried his father five years later in the shadow of the burnt and wrecked villa, he was within two feet of hitting the pottery the coins were buried in.  It wouldn’t have mattered much, since by that time coins were used less frequently, and most deals were built around bartering one thing for another.  Without the army there, most people didn’t care all that much about the copper coins.

Lucius lived through 450, and heard of the last request for the return of the Legions to the Emperor in Rome as the Saxons decided to stay.  The Emperor’s surviving Legions were busy elsewhere.

Rome never returned, even though on Rome’s version of Facebook®, FaceusLibrium™ some scribe wrote that under the “Relationship with Britain” box that “It’s Complicated.”

Wow, that was dark, am I right?

I’ve been thinking about Marcus for about 20 years.  This is the first time I gave him a name, but I do know that there was a Roman citizen who watched as the last soldiers marched on to the boat, and I do know he expected them to be back – sooner rather than later.  Rome was forever, right?

Some of the Roman roads in Britain are still in use today – the Romans were excellent engineers, and built to last, which shows that they never built dishwashers.  Roman place names still echo down the centuries, not the least of which is Londinium, the Roman name for Scotland.  Okay, I’m kidding, the Romans called Scotland “Jim,” because, well, why not.

But after the dark days started, things changed.  Let’s take the plates that Marcus imported.  That was a real thing.  In the south of what is now France, an entire industry was created that made china plates and bowls, and these were shipped throughout the Roman Empire.  Fortunately Pugsley didn’t work there, as he would have accidently broken scores of plates each day, but each time in a humorous way so that they would still love him, because after all, Jerry Lewis is considered a genius in France.

When Empire ended, so did the trade in plates and bowls.  And archeologists love ceramic plates, because every family has their own little Pugsley that drops crockery day and night. (Truth be told, The Mrs. and I were out on the deck last night when we heard the tell-tale crash of plate under influence of gravity and a tile floor turning it into a future archaeologist’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Plate Fragments Dating from the Time of Emperor Pugsley Wilder the First.”) Trade itself also dropped off, since people are notoriously bad at sending their ships and cargo to places that have no money and no law.

Where I get too close to today.

One of the symptoms of the failing Roman Empire was its currency.  The Romans had a currency known as the Denarius.  This is not the same as Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and is not planning to invade Westeros.  The denarius got its name because, (I swear I’m not making this up) it was originally worth 10 asses.  Not just any asses, but the Roman bronze coin called the asses.  Why, what did you think I meant when I said asses?

Anyhow, the Roman denarius was quite popular – it was silver, and was the more common coin used in Rome.  It was so common that its name is still in use today – the Spanish word “dinero,” meaning “burrito with sour cream” is derived from the denarius.  And as it was the common currency, it was how soldiers were paid and how most people bought wine and proto-Pez®.  Rich people used gold to buy bigger things.  (An aside:  One coin name that amused me was the “solidus,” which gives me the thought that one Roman said to another, “Pray, Cassius, do me a solidus.”)

Back when the denarius was just getting started, it was really silver, 95%-98%, and was stable at that weight and purity for around 250 years.  As you can see in the graph below?  At the later stages of Empire the coin was worth nearly nothing, being smaller and having only 5% silver.  The denarius is the ancestor to . . . the penny.

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Would you buy this stock?

The Roman Empire was really strong – it had great Legions, and even better roads.  For the Romans, the road was military technology, and the roads allowed their Legions to move farther, faster to the borders of Empire than the barbarians that they had to constantly fight possibly could.  This consistently terrifying military allowed the Romans to rule an Empire for a long time, because it allowed them to also stipulate that Roman currency would have to be used.  You might say he who has the gold, makes the rules?  I’ll counter that with he who has the best military in the world says what gold is.

In that manner, a Roman Emperor finally decided that he’d stop using silver (except for a whiff) in the denarius.  He could make the currency worth less, because he had Legions that were expensive, but could also be counted on to enforce the currency laws of the Empire.  Essentially the Empire was so strong that it could use the military to enforce use of the currency.  And this system worked for quite a while, (like everything) until it didn’t.

And what happened to all of the currency when the Romans issued the crappy, near worthless denarius?  People took the good stuff and kept it.  “Bad money drives out good,” is known as Gresham’s Law, which he sent in a letter to Queen Elizabeth I.  Others had stated the law before he did, including Copernicus who wrote a whole book about it the year Gresham was born.

This has happened even in the United States, and recently.  Back when we used to pretend our money had value, we used actual silver in the coins.  Congress decided that was silly – if we had to spend money to make money, then we cut out the profit margin of government, so in 1960’s they passed an act that removed silver from US coinage.  If you wonder why you never find a 1962 quarter in your change, it’s Gresham’s Law:  everybody took all the coins that had actual value (the good) and replaced them with base metal coins (the bad).  Bad money drives out Good.  And that’s what happened with the Romans, too.

The Roman denarius was worth less than 1/2000th of its original value when it was discontinued, but all of the cool silver ones were melted down pretty early, because they were worth more than their face value, like a 1962 quarter is worth $3.36 of our current bad money, which is backed by . . . nothing, except the Army, Navy and Air Force.  And the missiles.

But, back to Britain!

In Britain the archeologists looked at the plate parts.  They found that 100 years after the Romans left, the king ate on plates that were . . . crappy.  These plates, in fact, were worse in every respect to the plates that a common citizen of Roman Britain could buy quite cheaply 100 years earlier.  The British had forgotten how to make plates, and had to figure that technology out all over again.

Literacy took a hit, too.  If the Romans had a Department of Counting People Who Can Read, that information is lost to us, but when you look at excavated Roman cities, there was sufficient Roman literacy that graffiti artists would leave nasty “Your Momma” jokes almost everywhere.  “Epaphra glaber es.”  That translates to, “Epaphra, you are bald.”

Yikes, Epaphra isn’t very popular, but somebody also wrote that “Epaphra is not good at ball games.”   But if we have enough people who would write on walls about the food, the barmaid, or their girlfriend, we had way more people who could read and write in Britain 100 years after the Romans left – it’s likely that Marcus could, and probably his son, Lucius could read as well.  But reading became less important of a life skill than “not getting murdered by the Saxons” as time went on without Roman rule.  If Lucius had a son, he’d not ever learn to read much at all.

It’s because of this that we end up not having much of a written record of Britain during this time frame – whereas we know Epaphra sucked at football and probably needed to wear a hat, we don’t even know when the Battle of Badon took place.

What happened there?  Oh, just that maybe King Arthur defeated the Saxons in a comeback victory straight out of a Hollywood boxing movie.  So we don’t know when.  We at least know where, right?  No.  There are guesses, but the Battle of Badon details are lost to history, though some accounts (written hundreds of years later) said that Arthur mowed through the Saxons like a Doberman pinscher through a pot roast.  I hope I get someone like that writing about me in 200 years . . .

One of the great things about civilization and a rule of law (besides this blog) is that it allows for us to have cool things, and not have the Saxons up in our face all of the time.  But for forty years after the Roman Legions left, the people of Britain were hoping and expecting that they would come back.  Our world is an interconnected web of commerce and information that allows our life to happen in amazing comfort.

And it’ll always be this way, right?

Careers, Industry, Location, AI, and College

“Well, Newsweek says it’s good to change careers, right after they laid off all their editors.” – The Simpsons

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Is it just me or do JFK and GHWB have tiny heads? Are all presidents made of concrete?

There are numerous aspects of your life that you can’t change – height, eye color, favorite flavor of fruit Gushers®, or the amount of backhair that you want to grow long so you can feel the wind blowing on it, wild and free.  Some of these even have a significant impact on your career – taller people make more money (that’s true), and people who like grape Gushers© best are more likely to want to have their career revolve around astrology.  And those with hairy backs should probably avoid employment in a Velcro™ factory.

But there are factors that are entirely within your control, and math provides some pretty good guidance on how to maximize your pay through career selection or a career change if you’ve still got some time between now and when you’re disappointed by your Social Security check and those stupid kids and their fancy Zima® wine coolers.

  1. Characteristics of the Industry

The choice of industry that you work in will have an amazing impact on your net worth during your career.  Ideally, you’ll chose an industry.  Since you’re reading this, I assume you’re smarter and better looking than 98% of the population and have, instead of an odor coming from your armpits when you sweat, a faint piney smell naturally graces the noses of those around you.  But, like I said, you’re smart – even if you don’t first love what you do, you will certainly learn to like it a lot if it gives you great results.

All industries are not alike, since some of them throw off a lot more money than others.  There’s a reason Apple® has a $500,000,000,000 in cash along with a collection of spleens and spare kidneys – it’s insanely profitable.  Your local Mom and Pop café and pest control store?  Not so much, they can’t afford any internal organs.

To be clear, there are great jobs in every field – there are people in retail sales who do wonderfully – there just aren’t a lot of them.  So, first suggestion, if you want to go fishing, don’t start in a puddle.

I went off to Wikipedia (LINK) and found a great summary of industries in the United States.  It dates to 2002, and no one has updated it for a while because all of the Wikipedia Admins are off updating the Justin Bieber page.

 

I took the percentage of people working in the sectors, and then divided it by the percentage of payroll they got, and the results were pretty amazing.  At the bottom, getting only 37% of the average income, were hotels and restaurants.  If you want to make bank instead of beds?  Not the industry for you.  If you want to make beds instead of bank?  Head on over to the Hilton®.

  • The best, earning more than twice (!) the average national payroll, was “Management of Companies.” Over 2.6 million people worked in this category, and it is a Tertiary Sector (last post) part of the economy.  Keep in mind, people that work in, say, the hotel as mangers are called out in that category.  These people are employed as managers as an industry.  Amazing! And also not a surprise – the bosses are pretty good at negotiating their salary up as well as yours down.

 

  • The next best was Utilities, earning 187% of the average income, but there are only a few jobs (660,000) in this industry, so it’s a bit harder to get in. This is a Secondary Sector job, so tends to be much more stable than the Tertiary Sector work.

 

  • Finance and Insurance, are third on the list, with 168% of the average income. This didn’t surprise me at all, since, like the managers, the golden rule of “He who has the gold, makes the rules,” applies, and these folks are the gatekeepers to the gold.  Over 6.5 million people were employed in this sector, living off of your insurance and interest payments.  These are Tertiary Sector jobs.

 

  • The next was a nerd tie: Scientific/Technical/Information, making 152% of the average wage. It is a revenge of the nerds, since they make more money than most of the football linemen that gave them wedgies, but less than the preppy tennis players who dated Buffy.  These are also Tertiary Sector jobs.  Notice the pattern, here?

What’s missing from this list?  Doctors!  The medical field is less than average as far as pay goes.  The four bullet points above account for 19% of the workers in the country, but make 38% of the US payroll.  So, if you’re hunting for a job that pays well, it’s hiding up there.

  1. Location, Location, Location

Cost of living has a huge impact on our ability have spare money to invest and save for our future, or to spend on something nice, like mosquito repellent or Chiclets®.  Living in a high cost area, like LA or New York City?  Yikes!  Sam over at Financial Samurai got a huge number of hits (and me for a reader) when his post about Scraping By On $500,000 A Year (LINK) exploded all over the internet.  In it he created a hypothetical family that was just squeaking by on $500,000 a year.  It was controversial because so many people failed to feel a lot of sympathy for the family and yelled at their computer screens to the fictitious family on how stupid they were.  Not the brightest bunch, right?  Anyhow, I responded with how to Live Large on $50,000 A Year (LINK).

Location matters, and most of the time you don’t get paid city wages to live in the country where you can buy a house (not a great house, but a house) for $10,000 straight up (this is true).  Generally, though, the wages don’t go down as much as the house prices do here in the sticks so you’re net ahead.

There are some great upsides to small town living – there’s less to spend your money on, commutes are generally better, and if you forget to close the garage door ALL NIGHT LONG (thanks, Pugsley) you find that everything is still there in the morning.  (In truth, one night Pugsley forgot to close The Mrs.’ hatchback on the Wildermobile II, and left it open all night.  We found a cat inside, and some spiders, but that’s it – not a thing missing.

The downside of low cost (and high trust!) living is that it is much harder to meet and make connection with high-powered folks who could help your career.  For instance, when I lived in Houston, I knew a guy who is friends with a former President.  He gave me his baseball tickets for one game.  The view is below.  And no, I didn’t bother them.  Generally, you won’t make/meet that kind of people in a small town (though there are exceptions, like Batman – LINK).

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The guy directly in front is a Secret Service guy.  When Pugsley dropped a cup of ice, his head whipped around like Justin Bieber on a merry-go-round as pushed by The Rock.  He assessed the three year old as “not a threat.”  He doesn’t know Pugsley!

  1. How likely is the job to be outsourced/done by Artificial Intelligence?

Much more likely than you think.  The BBC has a website (LINK) that calculates the likelihood that your job will be automated within the next 20 years.  The internet has already killed formerly lucrative and widely held jobs, like travel agents – used to be one in every little town – now? Gone.  Newspapers are on the way out.  As I mentioned before, truck drivers are “soon,” and then we’ll have a surplus of people who like biscuits and gravy without a job.

 

Trends in information will drive careers, too.  How long until competition from people like hurts traditional publishers?  Already there.  Pewdepie has more reach than the Wall Street Journal (this is true!), and that’s good – this flourishing of media outlets will effectively kill the gatekeeper, allowing us ever greater freedom of information sources.  But the people at CNN won’t like it a bit as they compete against . . . everyone.  Anderson Cooper might have to find a job cleaning pools, or delivering cotton candy to orphanages.

  1. What credentials are required?

Lastly (for this post) when contemplating a career, what credentials are required?  As I’ve mentioned before, only a few college degrees make any sense nowadays.  Anthropology?  French literature?  You’d be better off in a coma for four years – at least you wouldn’t spend $100,000 plus on a degree best suited for working as a barista.

Additionally, the costs for college are heading up much faster than inflation – and have been for years.  The reasons for this are really simple – a goldfish will grow to match the size of his tank, and my butt will grow to the size of my jeans, and a college will grow to consume every possible dollar of federal student aid and student loans that a student/parent combination can take out.  And buy climbing walls, and safe spaces, and pay for new girl’s luge/rifle team uniforms.  Ohhh, and have you seen the latte machine?

For many in the future, I’d suggest you skip college, unless your career demands it.  There are a few jobs that require the credentials you get in college:

  • Doctor – includes all types. Some of them, however, have salaries that don’t justify the cost of medical school.  That’s right – medical school used to be a slam dunk win, let’s buy the Mercedes.  Recently I read of a doctor that had student loans high enough that she would never be able to pay them off.  And student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  Only release?  Death or moving to Canada, which is like death, but with better food.
  • Lawyer – Used to be a great ticket to the upper middle class. Still is, for some, but the median income of lawyers keeps dropping over time.  A good corporate lawyer will always be needed, but paralegals in Bangladesh can do the work more cheaply than a new associate.    And when Lawbot2000® hits the court room?  Look out!
  • Professor – Overdone – unless you’re politically connected, you’ll die a pauper. But one with leather patches on your tweed jacket.
  • Engineer – Still pays out, but losing its ability to pay out as costs increase. Lots of managers come from here, but automation will pull even more jobs.  Plus, how many trains are there, anyway??
  • Accountant – Required, and a lower tier school will do just fine, if you can avoid the AI rollout that will eliminate most of the jobs.
  • Teacher – Will eventually be replaced by “coaches” who help students after they watch the Led Zepplin of tutors on the web.
  • Veterinarian – Still costs a lot, and probably is dicey as far as payout right now, and soon kittens will be self-repairing.
  • Optometrist – I can see this being automated out of business. See this, get it?
  • Dentist – This profession is eliminating itself through technical advances – fewer dentists are needed now than in the past because they’re so darn good.
  • Psychologist/Psychiatrist – Talking about this field just depresses me.

So, keep in mind it’s all changing, and maybe with stem cell therapy, in ten years you can be taller, too.  Just think the salary that 6’10” tall you (that’s 8 meters tall) will command!

Economic Sectors and Where the Wealth Is

Do you know why all the world hates a Lannister? You think your gold and your lions and your gold lions make you better than everyone. May I tell you a secret? You’re not a golden lion. You’re just a pink little man who is far too slow on the draw. – Game of Thrones

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If only we had Master of the Card back during the conquest of the Americas – they could have gotten rich shipping credit cards back to Spain!

What is wealth?

In our world, wealth is the accumulation of tangible or intangible stuff that makes us better off.

Vague enough for you?  If a nation has of any of the following, that nation has wealth:

  1. Forests – they can make toilet paper. Or toothpicks.  Or Justin Bieber posters.
  2. People – they can make things or do stuff. Like accounting. Or making novelty t-shirts.
  3. Oil – they can make precious carbon dioxide – it’s what plants crave™.
  4. Pez© – they can mine the precious, precious Pez® ore.
  5. Cows – they can make ice cream or jerky (but not at the same time).
  6. Pez™ – Worthy of double inclusion because it’s Pez©. Plus, just say “Pez™ ore” out loud. I dare you.

At some point in history, an unnamed (because I’m too lazy to look it up) economist started thinking.  This is unusual, since economists are not normally prone to actual thought, as they tend to cluster in economist flocks and just repeat the same thing the other economists are saying in a herd behavior learned to prevent any one of them from being proven wrong.  It might be that this economist was being particularly unherdish that day?  Anyway, it was his thought to divide the economy of a nation into sectors.  He chose the term sectors so that he could pretend to be a starship captain and say things like “Chart a course for Sector Three, Mr. Sulu”, because that’s a lot more interesting than being stuck as part of an economist herd for the rest of your life.

Being crazily creative, he named the first sector the “Primary Sector.”

The primary sector is all about raw materials and extracting them – pumping oil, logging trees, growing quinoa, conjuring pigs from the underworld, and basset hound harvesting.  And you don’t have to extract it for it to count, unextracted resources are part of the base wealth of a nation, but you don’t get any money (most of the time) until you extract the resource.  It’s like picking your nose . . . but I’ll stop there.

Really, the primary economy is the basement of wealth creation.

It’s also trouble.

Nations that depend wholly on raw material production are associated with all sorts of negative outcomes, from being less developed (overall) and being less productive . . . for an example, let’s pick on the Spanish, because, after all, who hasn’t picked on the Spanish?

Spain managed to find tons of gold (more than 150 tons) and silver (more than 7,000 tons) in one century alone.  By find, I mean “take”, but that’s a longer story, and not the one I’m telling now.  The Spanish Conquistadores shipped the loot back to Spain, and the Spanish used the money to . . . be the lazy 16 year old trust fund kid who lived in Daddy’s other mansion.  The vast wealth allowed the Spanish to hire servants for their servants, and, hire people like the Dutch and French to come on over and do work the Spanish wouldn’t do.  (Sound familiar?)  The only things missing from this picture are Facebook®, Twinkies©, and PS4™.

And I don’t blame the Spanish one bit.  If I’m sitting on a billion or so dollars, I’d probably hire the Dutch and French to paint my house instead of making Pugsley and The Boy do it.

Anyway, this vast wealth took a productive, hungry, strong people who had a lot of gold into a people who hadn’t invested in an economy or infrastructure and had spent all of the gold within 200 years.

During the Spanish-American war, new steel American warships took on (by took on I mean “sank”) the Spanish Navy.  The state of the art US Navy with rifled cannon that could strike miles away with accuracy went up against ships that had cannon that were smooth bore and were older than the French Revolution (really).  I was the equivalent of The Rock going up against a six year old with a stick.

The war lasted 10 weeks, and that was because Spain couldn’t Tweet a surrender.

Spain had been weakened by her Primary Sector wealth.

The Secondary Sector

The secondary sector of the economy takes the stuff produced by the Primary Sector and turns it into something of actual use.

Sure, we all love crude oil, but besides bathing our birds in it, what can you do with it besides sell it to someone who will turn it into something useful?  Oh, you could eat it, but, it gets old after a while.

So, we take the Pez© ore we mined in the Primary Sector and smelt it into the Pez® bullion that we all covet so.  We turn cows into steaks and sell them.  We turn wood into boxes for the fidget spinners we have delivered from France.  We turn people into Soylent Green.

To best picture the Secondary Sector, imagine sprawling factories producing steel plate, dishwashers, tanks, computer chips, and canned soup.  To create this industrial giant requires massive construction, investment in roads, bridges, seaports, airports, building of factories and manufacturing equipment.  Beyond that, it requires investment in the people who will run the factories, from the labor on the factory floor to the engineers who design the equipment, to maintenance personnel who fix the equipment, to the manufacturers of the spare parts.

An industrial economy is a learning economy – there is a new problem to be solved every day to make the Pez® ore smelters produce 1% more Pez© per day.  Sure, everyone knows the basic principles of x-ray lithography for producing semiconductors, but how many could produce a single functioning computer chip, even given a week and the ultimate set of repair tools from the 1950s?

I thought so, only 75% or so of you raised your hands.

The secondary sector produces tremendous numbers of jobs for the economy, and those jobs are generally the gateway jobs to the middle class and a means for social mobility upwards.  Solving problems in the Secondary Economy generally often led to great wealth for the inventor involved, unless you were Tesla.  Then you died broke in a hotel room with a pigeon you loved (Wilder True Fact®).

The Secondary Sector took the wealth produced by the Primary Sector and multiplied it.  It took $1 worth of paper and turned it into $100 worth of books.  It took $300 worth of steel and turned it into an engine worth $2000.  That increased wealth flowed to people all up and down the line, including the people making the purchases.  A car made in 1998 is categorically better in almost every respect than one made in 1968.  A Camaro from 1968 has about the same horsepower as a 2018 Ford Taurus SHO, so the wealth increases to both the manufacturer as well as the consumer as competition and constant innovation improved the quality of the product and the efficiency of production.

The Tertiary Sector

The Tertiary Sector are the services that the nation produces.  So, we went from the base wealth in extractable resources to extracting them to turning them into something useful.  Services are . . . everything else.  Technically, trash companies and nurses and teachers and bloggers and hotels and restaurants are tossed into this branch of the economy.  And they do valuable things, especially the bloggers, but they’re not where the money is.  The real money is in FIRE.

What is FIREFinance, Insurance, and Real Estate.

The miner mined Pez®.  The smelter produced precious Pez™ bullion.  FIRE makes more money off of Pez© than anyone:

  1. They make money by selling stock in the Pez© Company.
  2. They make money by selling futures in Pez™, betting on what the price will be a day or week or year in advance.
  3. They make money by selling bonds so the Pez® miner can expand his operations.
  4. They insure the Pez© ore smelter against the all too common Pez™ smelter explosion.
  5. They sell the Pez® miner a house. And loan him the money.  And insure the house and . . .

You can see that the main profits of the economy are pretty well sucked up by FIRE.

In general, it’s also sucked up by a fairly small number of people.  I mean, sure there are millions of people engaged in the above, but when you look at where the money flows, it gets pretty concentrated up top, and no, I’m not a member of Occupy Wall Avenue or whatever it’s called.

The amount of payroll that goes to folks in Finance alone is 1.5 times the amount that goes to manufacturing, on a per person basis.  So where do our best and brightest (who want money) go?  Finance.

The financial sector creates (in some cases) wealth out of nothing – so when people buying stock get spooked, the stock market can drop in value an amazing amount in a short period of time (remember 2008-2009?) and cause the wealth to just vanish.  The farm is still there, producing basset hounds, the trees are still there, converting sweet carbon dioxide into oxygen and wood, yet the markets collapse.

As we move up the economic ladder we move progressively from the tangible (a hunk of coal) to the intangible (computer storage that says you have a million dollars, not even a real million Susan B. Anthony coins to back it up).  And the intangible multiplies the profits.  When you turned $1 of paper into $100 of books?  You had physical assets.  In stock, the price is based on how many books the investing public thinks you can make and sell over the next few years, and what sort of profit that might generate.  Tertiary wealth, in many instances, exists only because we all agree it does, and we stop believing?  It disappears as fast as George R. R. Martin’s ability to write a coherent sentence (that man is NEVER going to finish).

The economy in the United States continues to move from a Secondary Sector economy to a Tertiary Sector, which has broad individual implications, which I’ll discuss in the next post.