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.

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!

Diets Don’t Work, Systems Do

The goal is getting from Point A to Point B as creatively as possible, so, technically, they are doing parkour as long as Point A is “delusion” and Point B is “the hospital.” – The Office

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The view out of the back of Stately Wilder Manor. We’re horrible neighbors to those poor people. 

“Such as are your habitual thoughts, such will also be the character of our mind.” – Marcus Aurelius

I’ve been a person who has used goals as a motivator and scorecard all of my life, and then comes Dilbert creator Scott Adams to tell me I’m doing it all wrong.  Adams writes about systems, and how they’re preferable to goals, and I’ve written about him writing about systems before (LINK).

But, you’re thinking, “Friday is a day for Health topics, John Wilder, and you’re blathering on about systems versus goals.  Have you lost the plot, man?”

Well, no.  This week I read something that was pretty eye opening:

Most Diets Fail.

The data shows a stark wasteland:  somewhere between 65% and 95% of dieters regain all of their weight (and most get a bonus of an even higher weight rebound) within three years.  All of their weight.

Wow.

One researcher noted (LINK to Traci Mann) the reason that diets failed is because the entire biology of the person losing weight fights against them like a rabid Rottweiler tugging on a crate of Slim Jims®.  The body responds with things like a slower metabolism, and significantly higher hunger pangs, since after you start losing weight, your body starts fighting back with more signals that you’re starving, even as you are still 20 pounds more than you weighed in college.

And that makes sense.  Your body is made to survive.  All of the people who were losing chunks of body weight and thought, “Oh, this is fine,” died.  No kids.  And those most likely to live through a famine?  People who can slow their metabolism and get really focused on finding chow.

So, you’re hungry, and your metabolism slows.  You need willpower to fight, right, and you’ll win?

Seriously, do you think Oprah Winfrey, a self-made billionaire and likely one of the smartest 0.001% of Americans, is lacking in willpower?

No, she isn’t.

Further, the willpower of dieters is subject to distraction in ways that non-dieters can’t imagine.  Somebody brings donuts to work?  You don’t have to just resist them the first time someone says, “Hey, John Wilder, would you love a nearly perfect mixture of fats and sugars, covered in powdered sugar and filled with lemon pudding?”

YES I DO!

But I say no.

And when the donuts go onto the counter in the break room near the precious, precious coffee?  I have to sit and deal with their lemon-stares all day long.

To successfully resist, I have to say “no” the first time, and again, “no” every time the temptation is available.

(Once coping method I use to reduce desire for the wonderful thing that is donuts?  I imagine someone was picking their nose and then putting their sweaty fingers on all of the donuts.  Then they don’t look so pretty anymore.)

Again, unless I say “no” every single time that temptation raises its pretty donut face, I lose, but I also understand that, regardless of all of the physical facts associated with hormones, metabolism, and hunger, the person holding the fork is still . . . me.

Some dieters succeed.  Why?

We previously talked about change (LINK) the emotions that drive it, but changing a lifestyle is like changing a habit.

The successful dieters transition from diets being a goal, and making it a system or a value and no longer a goal.  Let’s say your goal is to weigh 120 pounds.  And you get there.  Now what?  Eat whatever you want?  That’s what caused the problem in the first place.

To win, you have to have a system.

And that’s why I hate cheat days.  I mean I hate them because they destroy entirely the results that I’m looking for in a diet.  It undermines the habit I’m creating by saying, “Hey, John Wilder, it’s cool if you want to put a gallon of pudding in your armpits, and eat another gallon.  It’s a cheat day.”

For me, a cheat meal on Saturday turned into a cheat meal plus a cheat lunch, plus a cheat lunch on Sunday, and, well, why not a cheat Sunday dinner.  It legitimized the concept that I could eat ANYTHING at that time and, well, another meal couldn’t hurt that much more, right?

No, a cheat meal is a planned failure for a system, because it idolizes the exact habits you’re trying to eradicate.  Moderation is not my fried, and, looking at the people who actually have lost and kept the weight off?  There’s nothing moderate about them.  They’re fanatical, and driven by the burning desire to change.

So they develop a system, or at least the winners do.  For the rest of us?  Pudding, anyone?

Making Less Than You’re Worth and Value Creation

“And so then Skeletor told Terminator he wanted a divorce, and apparently it’s all going to be finalized soon!” – South Park

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As it’s a short post, here’s a link to the story about the vole above.

“No, John Wilder, I said I want to make less thank I’m worth,” said my friend, who I will call Spock.

I was surprised.  I took it as an axiom, a truthticle (John Wilder Definition:  A quantum truth particle), that the old adage was right – you want to get paid what you’re worth.

Spock continued, “Yeah, if I’m worth what I’m paid, I’m not a bargain.  If I’m worth more than I’m paid?  That’s the guy you keep around – he makes you money.”

And Spock was right, his argument as logical as his Vulcan blood is green.

If I go to work and don’t create more value than the amount I’m paid, unless I work at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the Customer Hostility Division, I’m going to get fired.  This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s just that companies can’t survive hauling around with comatose employees that don’t make it money.

To put it simply:  If I don’t make (much) more money for the company than they pay me?  They’ll find a way to make sure I work for the competition.  And if someone (or a cool robot) can do the job for less than they’re paying me?  I’m probably going to be doing a lot more blogging in all the free time that I’ll have.  I will have been Terminated.

Not killed, though at one company I worked at:

HR told the story of a gentleman that worked there who was fired.  The HR Personbot2000™ told them that they were going to be terminated.  Having been a recent transplant (with correspondingly iffy English skills) from a country where the voters regularly re-elected the dictator with a 99.9% majority, the employee panicked, and barricaded himself in his office.  The standoff lasted until the Personbot2000® got another employee to translate to the fired employee that he wasn’t going to be killed, he just didn’t have a job there anymore.

No one in the world has been happier to find out he was “only” fired.

I digress.

One way to make sure that you’re creating value is to be where the value is created.  I know that sounds circular, but understand that more than just working hard is required to create value.  Another example:

I was living in Alaska, and loving it.  I had a great job, loved the weather, friends, and the family loved the place.  One day the phone at work rang.  It was an old boss.  Come to Houston, he said.  He wanted me to work on a project that would impact the lives of (literally) millions of consumers, and be the biggest project of my life so far.  We didn’t want to move, really, but the opportunity to work in the hottest (at the time) sector of the economy on a huge project was too much to turn down.  Plus it was hard to breathe with all the money they were forcing down my throat.  So we went.

In this instance, a small team was working on an investment of billions of dollars.  The revenue per employee was massive.  The team worked unconscionably long hours for years to put the project together and bring it to completion.  I can count multiple days where my savings to the company was over a million dollars.  And multiple days where I had to ignore huge problems to go work on even bigger problems.

Creating value was easy in such a target-rich environment, as was working 14 hour days and not exercising.  But the food was awesome and the houses were cheap because Houston is as hot as the surface of the Sun.

In the end?  The projects were finished.  And me, too.  I moved on to another economic sector, but my big lesson was:  If you want to find an easy way create value, go to where the big money is changing hands.

Makes logical sense, as Spock might have said . . .

Another short post – the notes for the second half of this post will show up in Monday’s post, since they are broader in nature, and provide a better understanding of the workings of the world economy and didn’t really fit well with the above stuff. But enough shop talk . . .

Seneca’s Cliff and You

My heart attack didn’t kill me, so why act like it did? See, Tim, it was the Roman philosopher Seneca who said “if we let things terrify us, then life is not worth living.” – Home Improvement

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There is nothing that says “I’m never giving up” like a stop sign duct taped to a lamp post.

Back in 2011, I was reading Italian chemistry professor Ugo Bardi’s blog (LINK) and was struck by his quoting of the dead Roman, Seneca, who wrote that “increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.”  I know it sounds like he’s writing about Adam Sandler’s acting career, but in reality, Seneca’s talking about everything, and it struck me as a universally applicable truth:

Everything that can be built, is built relatively slowly fighting entropy all the way.

And when it’s built?

The greater the effort, the higher it has risen, the faster it falls.

This is especially true when it comes to organizations – large companies that have been in business for decades close up in an afternoon.  Sears was founded in 1893, 114 years ago.  It became larger and larger over time until in the 1980’s it encompassed not only its department store business (the last remaining bits today) but also the Discover Card, Allstate Insurance, Land’s End, among other brands.

Today?  It’s (possibly) worth less than a handful of magic beans.  Nearly certainly by 2020 Sears will be just an answer to a trivia question.

And if you look at life, you see the same pattern again and again, that progress in your own life is built up only slowly, mainly over the course of years.  And losing it?  It’s a precarious balance, and (sadly) in the end all of our Jenga™ blocks fall down.

That was one of Seneca’s other lessons – you absolutely know that your blocks are going to fall over, and, most importantly, the blocks don’t care.  There will be a time when you will lose.  A business venture might fail, a book might not end well, or a blog post might be much shorter than you’d usually expect (this is foreshadowing).

In my personal life, I’ve seen this happen again and again – when I was first out of college and working for a big company, I put in 80 hour weeks for nine months to build a project – the biggest that company had ever built up to that time.  They bulldozed it fifteen years later – and I assure you it was done in a month and a half – it came down a lot quicker than it went up.

After I got my Master’s I put all the notes, all the disks, and everything associated with my thesis in the fireplace.  It was May, but I still put a match to it, willing to pay for the air conditioning just to give my academic career a Viking funeral.  It was over.  The months of research, the months of writing, all up in a matter of 20 minutes.

But, perhaps, Seneca might have been a bit wrong.  He spent his life building his ideas.  And we’re still talking about them today.  Perhaps there is a force that defies entropy – that can withstand ages.

Perhaps it is those very ideas.

And Adam Sandler’s hair.

AI and Future of Work

“Since when did AI Stand for artificial insanity?” – Andromeda

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A machine for making Pez!  Or the back side of an Airline Departure board.  I forget.

The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!  The Middle Class Apocalypse is Coming!

Today is Wealthy Wednesday, so this post is about Wealth, and the future patterns associated with wealth and work based on the trends we can all see today.  On Monday, the Weekly Wisdom post talked about significance and the importance of work, and that post is here.

I’ll give you the TL;DR version – Work is important for health and well-being.  A great job has certain attributes that tie to the significance of the work, which lead directly to health and well-being.  Humans were made to work.  We actually like working when it makes a difference, when we make a difference to the world.

But what about that Apocalypse thing you mentioned up above?  It seems like that just might be important?

The economy is changing now at the most rapid pace, well, ever.  What we’ve seen over the past few years has been an economic recovery that’s been rough, especially for the middle class.  Most jobs that have been created appear to not be as good, not pay as much as the ones that have disappeared.

This trend is not over.  It’s actually just starting.

And, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens®, it has all happened before, though Han Solo didn’t die the first time they blew up the Death Star.  Or the second time.  Third time was the charm.

Four hundred years ago on the planet Earth, workers who felt their livelihood threatened by automation flung their wooden shoes called sabots into the machines to stop them.
Hence the word sabotage. – Star Trek, The Undiscovered Country

Not the last use of Sabotage in Star Trek

The Last Time We Were Here

The industrial revolution was an extraordinary dislocation among the working class in the Western world.  Extraordinary advances in power (steam engines) and mechanical devices (looms, tools) made standardized manufacturing of a consistent product on a grand scale possible.  Spoiler alert!  In the long run, this led to much greater prosperity and a constantly rising standard of living that created the greatest wealth machine in the history of mankind – Europe and the USA.

But along the way?  Lots of people were displaced.  If you were a knitter, you now no longer need knit knickers neatly, because a machine was massively manufacturing many muumuus.  To put it gently, you no longer had a knitting job.  Take your needles and shove off.  And the machine is better at knitting than you.  And you suck at running knitting machines because you have ADHD.

Being faced with this type of situation, the average person in at the time reacted calmly and happily watched as the trade or craft that they had engaged in their entire lives was extinguished like M&Ms® at a Weight Watcher® relapse?  No.  Inspired by (potentially fictional) leader Ned Ludd (the origin of the term “Luddite”) they rioted.  They raided the countryside, molested the cattle, and inspired really bad art:

Ned Ludd

Via Wikipedia – This image is in the public domain in the United States. 

Oh, my!  When I go down in history, I’d like to have a much better picture of me, not one where I’m wearing a polka-dotted Muumuu while my gigantic form looms over my tiny minions as the Alamo burns in the background.  And what AM I wearing on my head.  Is that a beaver??

I guess it’s an understatement to say that the change was difficult, but it did lead to mass producing important things, like nails, sewing machines, scarves, and, eventually, Pez®.

And it led, finally, to the creation of the middle class.  The factories had to have managers.  Engineers.  Equipment manufacturers.  HR.  Accountants.  Payroll clerks . . . and these factories finally allowed the concentrated application of experience and knowledge to the problems of industry.  Some owners of factories became extraordinarily wealthy.  Some geniuses, like Lord Kelvin?  He basically invented thermodynamics and spent his summers on his massive yacht wandering around the Mediterranean with the Kardashians.  Not the ancestors of the Kardashians, but the same ones we see on magazines all of the time.  I am convinced that the Kardashians are:

  1. Evil, and
  2. Immortal.

But I digress.  The middle class is stunningly important to economic and governmental stability.  It’s a place for middling to high IQ people to go and strive, to go and find meaning in their work and in creating civic organizations and clubs and golf.  All that brainpower tends to go toward helping people in all of society get wealthier over time, and makes society better as they get wealthier – a truly virtuous cycle.

If they weren’t doing this?

Well, if smart, capable people aren’t doing great stuff to make society better?  They get all Emo and Occupy.

Imagine if Rage Against The Machine actually had a job down at Dad’s hardware store? Would they be singing barbershop quartet instead?

Michael Lewis has written several books, like Liar’s Poker and Moneyball.  He’s talented.  But his first degree was in Art History.  Admittedly it was from Princeton, but it was . . . ART . . . HISTORY.  He ended up being a bond trader after getting a degree in economics from the London School of Economics before landing the bond trading gig, but, really, these sorts of opportunities don’t exist for current liberal arts grads.  And, like Ned Ludd, current liberal arts majors all dress up in polka-dotted muumuus and put a beaver in their dreadlocks and protest.

They’re protesting against a global labor market.  They might have the best degree that you can get, but legal aides are now competing against actual lawyers (and smart ones, too) in India who’ll do 250 hours of legal and case research for some pita bread and half of a Coke®.  The first part of this wave of globalization was the outsourcing of labor that went into manufacturing.  For the last 15-20 years mid-level engineering and legal research has joined the globalization push.  It’s had the effect of making the world more average, and if you’re talking pay, I assure you that you don’t want to work for the world’s average wage, which for some types of work is a cot and a promise not to play any music by Bob Segar®.  If you’re bad?  You have to listen to “Turn the Page.” Again and again.

A significant trend in jobs is to make them so anyone can do them.  If you’re reading this blog, I’m certain that your IQ is much higher than the average, and you’ve probably got bones made out of titanium, and might be able to bend steel bars with your mind.  Many jobs that remain are standardized by procedures to the point that very little IQ is needed.  The job is made to suit the lowest common denominator that might show up to be hired.  And these jobs will actively discriminate against your middle class employee template – they don’t want smart people in these jobs.  Smart people think, and if you think?  You might be wrong.  And in this world of hyper litigation?  They might have to settle a lawsuit because you started thinking that cooking oil was a lot like floor wax, and fifty old people slipped and fell on Crisco© oil in the produce section.  Many employers don’t want thinking.  Bad for business.

New forms of work are showing up as well – the “Gig” economy, where people get paid for doing things like hanging your pictures or walking your dog or by driving you around in their own car for Uber©.  The job market is fundamentally changing now, and we all can’t support ourselves by just Ubering® each other around.  Nor will we be able to – Artificialish Intelligence will eventually replace all the Uber™ drivers.

And that’s the big kahuna.  The large enchilada.  The massive Pez®.  Global low wages, procedural jobs that kill the soul?  Those are nothing compared to Artificialish Intelligence.

(According to Google, I, John Wilder, am the one who has coined this term!  Huzzah, me!)

What is Artificialish Intelligence?  My definition is that, really you don’t need a full-blown sentient intelligence for the vast majority of tasks you’ll automate, you just need the bare minimum of subroutines, rules, and algorithms to get the job done.  For most things, that isn’t really all that much.  We’ve had cars that can drive themselves for a while.  And soon, they’ll be everywhere.  Who needs truck drivers when the trucks drive themselves?  Who needs Uber© drivers when Uber™ has a fleet of cars that don’t complain, and, more importantly, don’t get paid?  As soon as competent Artificialish Intelligence appears in a field, there’s no point in a human ever doing that task again, unless they like doing it.  Unfortunately, if you’re one of the 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people who drive for a living?  Yeah, 90% of them will lose their jobs.  Not an if.  A “will.”

If you count the sheer number of accountants and tax preparers that have lost work due to TurboTax®?  Yeah, lots, and TurboTax™ probably does a better job than many tax preparers, with a lower error rate.  This trend of Artificialish Intelligence destroying jobs is not new.

Ever feel like your job is to pass the butter?  And it’s actually not at all required to add too much intelligence to most of our devices.  Who needs an automatic vacuum or smart cell phone that has a mood?

I’m not sure of the new jobs that will be created due to the changes I’ve noted above, but I do have suggestions if you’re starting out in your career that might help . . .

  1. Be born rich.
  2. Be a friend to billionaires.

Really, the jobs that are very hard to automate or turn global are things that have a barrier, like the following categories:

  1. Government Jobs. The barrier is pretty obvious to this one – Congressmen don’t have to go home to their constituents and explain that they’ve outsourced the Department of Commerce to Uzbekistan.
  2. Distance Barriers. Some things have to be done locally – most construction, plumbing, tree services, and these are jobs that will be a bit harder to automate, though they will change significantly.
  3. Regulatory Barriers. Plumber, Electrician, Pharmacist, Doctor, Lawyer . . . each of these have barriers that are require credentials and licensing.  I would add Teacher to this list, but distance learning won’t be kind to that profession after a decade or so.
  4. Extreme Knowledge. It can be done, being a specialist in a very narrow field.
  5. Be a Creator. You can’t outsource a Steve Jobs from Sebastopol, nor a Bill Gates from Bratislava.  Nor a Scott Adams from Albania.  These are unique talents due to their ability to create.  Can everyone be a Creator?    But the good news is that there are still Government Jobs!

I have only a limited understanding of what the world of work will look like in twenty years, but the changes will be very drastic, and I’ll be posting more about this in the future.  In the past, if you were making copper pots by hand, when the machine took your job and started pressing them out of sheet copper, you had no real way to see that a world of thermodynamics, engineering, and advanced wealthy complex society could form out that stupid job-stealing machine.

But you could see the beaver clearly.  That’s why you kept it in your hair.