The Future of Employment, or, Almost All of Government is a Jobs Program

All right, listen closely.  I was at the unemployment office and I told them I was very close to getting a job with Vandelay Industries, and I gave them your phone number.  So now, when the phone rings you have to answer “Vandelay Industries.” – Seinfeld

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Notice it doesn’t say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?

What are we going to do with everyone?

I’ve been (throughout my life) a proponent of the human race.  I like it.  I may not like certain individuals, but I’ve got a great degree of hope when it comes down to humanity.  And up to now, the equation has been that more people equals more Einsteins, more Isaac Newtons, more Nikola Teslas, and more Stephen Hawkings.  These are shining examples of humanity – folks who helped the human race achieve much more than we would have or could have without their knowledge.  I read an article recently (I am not making this up) about rising obesity rates in Ghana due to KFC® becoming the restaurant of status and choice.  And we know how much Einstein contributed to the secret government project that led to KFC™’s fried, greasy goodness.

There are seven billion of us, and 2.1 billion have the problem of being obese or overweight.  Less than 800 million are suffering from hunger or malnutrition.  This is a victory of the greatest magnitude.  Yes, obesity is bad, but I would much rather have people having heart attacks in their fifties after having a tasty chicken wing versus starvation at fifteen.  Everyone who has that choice would make the same choice, and raise their greasy hands up if asked.

In general, the world is getting better as we as a society create more wealth, as I talked about in previous posts (LINK).  But I’m really concerned as I look forward with simple questions:

How much does the future need us for continued prosperity?  How many people do we really need?  How many can be actively employed in productive work?

There are various reasons that I’m wondering:  Increasing Productivity, AI, Smart Machines, Robots to name a few, though there are other issues as well that we’ll skip today.

I’ve written before that trucking is a sure bet for replacement once self-driving trucks are approved by the Department of Transportation and the various states and a self-driving unit costs less than (about) $400,000 per unit.  After those conditions are met, at least a million jobs (and likely more) will be gone as fast as the autonomous trucks can be produced.  But it’s not just truckers.  It will be fast food workers.  It will be janitors.  It will be an increasing number of lower and mid-skilled jobs throughout industry.  If it can be described by an algorithm or computer program, it will be automated.  A large number of sports articles and financial news articles are now produced with no human intervention.  Journalists would worry, if there were enough of them left to worry.

And jobs that aren’t eliminated will be minimized.  An example:  a structural engineer nowadays runs calculations for a new bridge or skyscraper through a computer program that analyzes the stresses in the structure and optimizes the design for code and seismic conditions.  It then chooses the beams and columns and other structural members based on tens of thousands of calculations and three dimensional finite element analysis, and then pops out design drawings. Sproink.  (That’s the noise the drawings make when they come out of the machine.)

Fewer engineers are required, and the engineers don’t need to be as proficient since the engineering knowledge is built into the program.  Both the number of people and the quality of people goes down.

Another example:  I just bought (for $30) a device the will give me the data I need to order glasses online.  No prescription, no optometrist, no waiting.  Also, no glaucoma check, but I don’t have to take off time from work to visit the doctor.  And the glasses I ordered online cost less than I would pay, even at Wal-Mart®.  I may describe it in Friday’s blog.

Another example:  I had a cold that I was pretty worried was heading into my lungs and I was worried that I’d get pneumonia.   For $60 I got online from my basement (where I was in a cold sweat despite my 101˚F, got antibiotics, and got better.  Otherwise?  A $120 doctor visit where my copay would have been at least $100.  Yes, a real doctor was involved in the visit, but it was incredibly efficient for them – I’d imagine they make $300 an hour.  No office, no actual contact with icky sick people.  It was a great transaction for both of us.

But . . . it means we need fewer Doctors.  And fewer waiting rooms.  And fewer nurses.  Et cetera.

Efficiency is awesome.  It lowers costs, and does that while quality is increased, in most cases.

When economists study inflation, they study the price of the item.  I have a color TV in my house.  When my dad bought his first color TV, he spent (on an inflation adjusted basis) over $3,000 in today’s dollars.  With that kind of money today?  You could buy a 75” Sony® Ultra HD that also has a popcorn maker and margarita blender built in.  So, economists measure how much better a thing has gotten as well as what the thing costs.  They call this measurement “hedonics” because it’s way more confusing than “measuring how stuff got better.”

So, we live in a world where getting sufficient food to eat is easier than at any point in history.  We also live in a world where getting information is easier than at any time?  Want to listen to a song?  Unless it’s the Beatles™, it’s pretty much on YouTube®.  And we can make more things, better, faster and cheaper, than at any time in history.

But why hasn’t efficiency hit, oh, say the Department of Motor Vehicles?  Or the local County office where I go to get license plates?  At both places, you have to stand in line.  At both places, hours are limited, and you’d better get done before quitting time, because they’re serious about closing up at 4:30pm.

In a typical business, the best parking spaces are reserved for the customers.  In government?  The best parking places are reserved for the employees.  And I think government is giving us a hint:  the most important consumers of government are its employees.  You and I are the product.

And why, in a world where I can apply for $100,000 credit at midnight can I only get my driver’s license between 9AM and 4:15PM (closed for lunch hour)?  Why is it harder each year to deal with government?  Why do their budgets keep going up, faster than inflation?

Because nothing the government does is intended to help you, the consumer.  The bright folks that are hired to make wonder weapons?  Jobs program.  We do NOT want people that smart on the street.  The people who work for NASA®?  Jobs program.  They don’t even have to make rockets anymore, and Elon Musk has clearly shown that if he had NASA’s budget he’d be building Burger Kings® on Mars, because he’s have a million people living there in the next decade.  NASA spent money putting together braille books on the solar eclipse in August.  That might explain why we have to piggy back a ride with the Russians to get to the International Space Station.  NASA is a jobs program.  Originally it had a job to get people to the moon.  Now?  It produces new classes of astronauts with no vehicle to fly.  Thankfully they have a budget for cardboard boxes to sit inside and make rocket noises.  There’s even a budget for markers to write “ROKET” and “USA” on the side of the boxes!

The Department of Education, which has taught no classes?  Jobs program.  The Department of Energy, which has never produced a Watt?  Jobs program.  The military?  Parts of it are a jobs program, but most if it is real.  But you better pay attention to what congressional district and state the new weapons will be built in . . .

Your liberal-arts college professor?  Given a job so that they wouldn’t agitate for revolution in the streets, rather, they can agitate for revolution to rich kids who would much rather play Playstation® and X-Box©.

Ever wonder why they rip up a section of street that looks pretty good, and then work it for months?  Yup.  Jobs program.  Not to say that the original Interstate Highway System wasn’t real.  It was.  But now what do we build?  What infrastructure is left?  Dams are awesome for hydroelectric power, but just try to build one nowadays . . . it’s easier to declare war on Ghana.

It really took me by surprises that this was the case – that most government spending is based on the concept of giving people money so that they don’t riot in the streets (dumb people) or so they won’t plot and plan a revolution (liberal arts professors) or build wonder-weapons in a James Bond worthy plot for foreign governments (government scientists)?

Why is government inefficient?  It’s not.  It’s a very efficient jobs machine.  You’re just the product, not the consumer.

But what about the jobs that are already out there?  A recent study says that the average worker works less than four hours a day.

Think of the creativity that creates!  How to look busy for eight or nine hours a day when you’re done working after four?  And how long will a business stand for this?  Eventually, in private business, all of the “four hour a day” jobs will be eliminated – the business has to pay taxes, remain competitive.

But government will respond.  New regulations will be created and enforced that require new employees to compile data and report it to the government.  This is done mainly so that the government has excuses to hire more employees, but has the side effect to requiring more private sector compliance workers.

I actually had a job once where, on my start date, my office wasn’t yet ready.  They told me . . . come back in two weeks from now.  Did they pay me for the two weeks?  Yes.  And, who did this?  Yup.  It was a government job.  And, although I saved them several million dollars, they were kinda disappointed.  They wanted to spend their full budget.

But there will be in the next decade millions of people becoming unemployed as their jobs are minimized or eliminated due to clever business disruption, probably faster than the government can create jobs (hint: the government is broke (LINK)).  I’d love to suggest a minimum basic income, but we can’t pay for it.  We can’t even afford PEZ®.

What do we do?

There are millions of people in the United States right now that would love to work.  And millions more in made-up jobs that produce nothing that would love to work in productive jobs.  Around the world, this number is surely in the hundreds of millions.

And we need fewer of them every day.

How about . . . we let someone smart pay them to work on something really important . . . like going to Mars?

Paging Elon Musk . . . .

Unless someone else has a better idea?  Raise your greasy hand and sing out!

Value Creation and Zombie Steve Jobs

“Lies are like children: they’re hard work, but it’s worth it because the future depends on them.” – House, M.D.

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Pugsley, prior to going for his midnight shift in the PEZ® mines.

I was talking to a friend yesterday when he mentioned that he had been transferred to manage a group of newly graduated college kids.  To be clear – this group of college graduates is in no way typical – I imagine that they’re making in range of $80,000-$90,000 a year.  Not Harvard Law money, but still pretty good for the small(ish) town my friend lives in.  So, as a new manager to the group (he’s been managing people for decades, and he’s a good one) he got the group together to explain what he was looking for from them, what his general expectations were of his employees.  In one line that has been standard for him for years, (I heard it from him when Bill Clinton was President) he indicated that he expected the group to put in, on average, fifty hours a week.

Chaos!

Pandemonium!

My friend had become Literally Hitler.

He eventually backed down to forty-five hours per week, and was demoted to just being Literally Saddam Hussein.

As he told the story, I laughed.

The irony is that these college grads that actually do put in the long hours that my friend suggested will soon be so far ahead of their colleagues that their colleagues will never be able to catch up with them:  the harder worker will have more knowledge, more skills, more credibility, and very soon, much bigger raises and promotions.  Their colleagues will call them, “lucky.”

90% of success is showing up on time.  At least 5% is working just a bit harder, so your skills build up faster, especially when you are young.  (The remaining 5% is turtles.  All the way down.)

What’s the point in all this hard work and achievement?  To be rich?  To stress yourself out to the point where you have a heart attack in your 30s and die?

No.

The point is Value Creation.

One of the coolest aspects of the capitalist system is that it allows you (really, forces you in a purely capitalist system) to be of value to your fellow man.  Capital flows to those that create and provide value.  So, in a truly capitalist system, you create wealth for yourself by creating value for someone you might not even know or ever meet.  Bill Gates made money when I bought my copy of MicroSoft® Word™, and yet he’s never invited me for dinner.  Nor will he, unless that restraining order lapses.  I’ve told him to stop calling me, but that man won’t listen.

Value creation is like magic.  You take an idea or concept to make someone else’s life better, and then you create a product or service out of wood, metal, plastic, or just plain computer code, or, like this blog, just out of pure ideas.  If your idea is good, people will buy it, eat it, or read it, but probably not all three, unless it’s breakfast cereal.

Capitalism is simple – you (should) make money only when you create value for someone else.  Value Creation is nearly alchemy.  Alchemy was (at least in part) focused on turning lead into gold.  Capitalism is better.  It can turn cow poop into gold – when sold as fertilizer.  In a capitalist system, we transmute lower valued items into higher valued items every day.

The flows of capital follow the paths cut by Value Creation.  Those people (and businesses) that are best at creating value get more money.  What do they do with that money?  Do they put it in a box?  No.  They use it to create more value.

And that’s what my friend’s newly graduated college students do not get.  The business isn’t there for them to have a great life.  It doesn’t exist to pay them a living wage.  It won’t pay more because housing is more expensive where the business is.  Companies pay based on the value the employees create.  Don’t create more value than somebody else would for minimum wage?  You’ll get minimum wage.  Don’t create enough value for a three bedroom house on two acres in San Francisco?  Your boss and company don’t care.

In the end, it’s Value Creation.  How do you do it?

There are lots of ways, but perhaps the best way to create value is to solve someone’s problem.  The bigger the problem and the greater the number of people, the greater the value creation, and, generally, the greater the wealth that the person or company can expect to get.  The cell phone is a great example – before it existed, people spent no money on it.  After it was invented, people would spend . . . some money on it.  After the phones got data, and the phones got smart?  Massive floodgates of money poured into a product that had never existed.  Apple© went from a value of $30 billion to a market cap of 30 times as much, nearly a trillion dollars after their innovation with the iPod® and with the iPhone™.  They created a new category, and brought value to people in ways that nobody (except Steve Jobs) anticipated.  I hear that their primary focus right now, however, is bringing Steve Jobs back to life, so they can have a new idea.

The effort that went into creating the new products that Apple® launched was legendary.

And it was more than forty hours per week . . . because changing the world takes more effort than that . . . .

Who Wants to Live Forever? Ray Kurzweil, for one.

“No one lives forever.  No one.  But with advances in modern science and my high level of income, it’s not crazy to think I can live to be 245, maybe 300.  Heck, I just read in the newspaper that they put a pig heart in some guy from Russia.  Do you know what that means?” – Talladega Nights, the Ballad of Ricky Bobby

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This might be my best shot at living forever (that’s Pugsley and The Boy) – the apple isn’t too far from the tree.  And the tree has roots.  And those roots are me, and I need nourishment.  As in a glass of wine.  Hmmm, I’ll stop this metaphor right here.  And, yes, Alia S. MacWilder, and Zelda Wilder, you count, too.  I’ll be looking to all of you when I need organ transplants so I can live forever.

The past week had two posts about the debt:  (LINK) and (LINK).  The reason that I put those on Wednesday was that’s the day that we post about Wealth and finance related stuff.  Those posts were intended to work with this post and Monday’s post, since all of them serve to illustrate the aspects of the future that’s arriving quickly and will absolutely impact you, perhaps in most everything you do, and sooner than you might think.  You were expecting flying cars, but the future is much, much stranger than that.  Pig hearts!  Do you know what that means?

I think that one of the things that differentiates humans from animals is that from an early age we know we are going to die.  This shadow looms over us our entire lives, and there are constant reminders of mortality around us, from the seasonal shedding of the trees, to the passing of loved relatives – reminding us that we too are mortal.

And, in one sense, this mortality might be one of the greatest gifts to mankind:  it changes out the old for the new.  Imagine where our current and past politicians are the best we’re ever gonna see.  Regardless of where you sit politically, I know you barfed just a little in your mouth when you read that.  Death forces us to innovate, and to try to create a legacy that’s a capstone to our lives, because we all know that we only have so many days and, like a mayfly, we must do our work quickly lest it forever remain undone.  In the end, our lives are made up only of that precious, limited time.

But Ray Kurzweil wants to change all of that.  One of his obsessions (there appear to be many:  inventor, author, programmer, Sith Lord, PEZ® dispenser collector) is figuring out a way to extend human life.  And by “extend” he means “live longer,” but he’s attempting to change “live longer” to “live forever.”  As he’s about 70 right now, he has a vested interest in working as fast as he can to get progress . . . right now.

Right now one thing he is attempting to do is reprogram his biochemistry.  Kurzweil is attempting to do this by taking supplements.  Sure, like a multivitamin or two?  No.  At one point he was up to 200 pills a day.  Rumor is that he’s now down to under 150 supplements a day (LINK).  At that level of supplementation, do you even need to eat anymore??

I think I had the green pattern shirt that the goatee guy is wearing when I was in kindergarten.  It was a hand me down (back in the before-time, we wore crap our brother who was seven years older than us wore seven years before, because that shirt wasn’t worn out).

One of Kurzweil’s obsessions appears to be his company (LINK) (note:  I get NO compensation for any link on my site as of this writing, but Ray certainly does from his site) that sells his vitamins and his book.  And I have no problem with the man making a few bucks, and Ray seems to be committed to his lifestyle, so, be an informed consumer if you decide you want to buy some of his stuff, though I will warn you that his anti-aging multi-pack will set you back about $90 a month.  Which is not bad if it works.  I just ordered like $80 worth of stuff.  I’ll let you know what I think after I try it out.  Ray, if you’re reading this, take the $20 you just earned and buy yourself something pretty.

Going back to the list of supplements Kurzweil takes, one of them caught my eye:  metformin.  Metformin is a diabetes drug that appears to be gaining ground as a . . . wonder drug, but by accident.  The diabetics that take it get cancer only 40% of the time as their diabetic counterparts that don’t take it.  Additionally, they seem to stay well longer . . . they’re not as sick as the people not taking metformin.  They die of the same stuff (proportionately) but when they get cancer or heart disease, they’re older.

But, metformin only costs a nickel a pill since it comes from some French weed or something, but you have to have a prescription to get it.  There are a few dedicated doctors working to document the longevity benefits of metformin, but the FDA doesn’t consider aging a disease that you can cure with a pill . . . even though this one appears to have some pretty substantial positive effects.  My cynical mind says that this therapy faces headwinds – it’s cheap, it reduces very lucrative medical conditions (how much does chemotherapy cost???), medical research is not very good (LINK) and there’s nearly zero profit in bringing this off-patent drug to market.

But the promise of metformin is just one example of the breakthroughs that Kurzweil is anticipating.

His theory is that, right now, longevity treatments/knowledge/medicine are adding about a year of life for every year that goes by.  His goal is simple, live long enough to live forever.  And there has been interest in treatments like blood transfusions from young donors (I wrote about that here (LINK)) and a host of tech billionaires, like Peter Theil, are now treating longevity as a personal mission for their investments.  And to me that makes sense – if you’ve got billions of dollars that you made from making the world (and yourself!) wealthier, what better legacy to leave the world than longer life?  If you’re Mark Cuban, I’m not sure if you can spell any of that, but, hey, maybe his kids will invest well.  I’m hoping they can read better than him.

Kurzweil also has a contract to have his head frozen (or his body, my Magic 8-Ball® is unclear) after he dies.  No, not for fun, even though I hear that’s all the rage in Canada.  The theory is that, should they get to you fast enough and freeze you completely enough (and manage to minimize cell damage) that you’re still somehow in there.  Kurzweil was fairly optimistic in an interview about 20 years ago that we’d be able to bring back people from Popsicle™ Land© in 40 or 50 years, if they can peel the foil off and deal with the freezer burn.  And remember to pull the foil completely off the apple-cherry dessert thing.

If you translate that timeline to today, that would be only 20 or 30 years into the future, which seems optimistic to me, but just might be on time for reasons that we’ll go into on Monday (promise).

Why does Kurzweil want to go to all of this effort?  He preaches not only the gospel of living a long time, he wants to combine life extension with life enhancement.  Not only will your life be longer, it will be better.  I think this mainly involves being healthier, but one personal fear of mine is living on because I’m just too afraid to die.  To me, a life should be worthy of living.  If you’re not doing that?  You’re dead already, and no amount of Bookface© or Grand Piano Theft VII® will make up for it – you’re living a programmed life.  If it involves meaning, helping others grow, and killing alien invaders, dying gallantly like Randy Quaid in Independence Day® as we secure our victory against them?  Count me totes in.

But on the other hand?  Living because you’re afraid to die?  One case that I saw was someone who lived on for years merely because they were afraid of death – they liked pizza but wouldn’t eat it.  They like bourbon but wouldn’t drink it.  They like smoking but wouldn’t smoke.  It wasn’t pleasant to watch.  Me?  I’ll quote an earlier post (where I ripped off someone else’s line – it might be Stephen Wright):  I don’t ask for much – I just want to go out of this life like I came into it – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.

And where does all of this end?  With, ultimately, uploading your mind, your consciousness into a machine.

Would that be you?  Would you still have feelings if your body was made of metal, your circuits gleamed?  Would a rose still look like a rose through tearless retina that could store exact HD memories forever?  Will Judas Priest sue me for paraphrasing “Electric Eye”?

True story:  I emailed Wozniak (who funded the US Festival, which is the featured concert venue above) and told him we needed to do it again, since I was too young to go.  As I understand it, the US Festival lost money.  I’ll give Woz credit, his folks responded:  “Ummm, thanks.  We’ll get back to you on that.  If we don’t, please understand that we did hear you, but just found your idea profoundly stupid.”  Actually they were polite.  But my idea was stupid.  Unless Woz really wants to do it again . . . .

I can’t really answer if machine you would even be you.  All the episodes of Star Trek® I watched when I was a kid would say, “No.”  Roger Korby created a machine to house his consciousness, but he wasn’t Roger Korby anymore.  Ray Kurzweil . . . is it a coincidence your initials are the same as Roger Korby?

Man, Shatner could tear up the screen.  And Korby’s hand.

There’s a lot more coming on Monday.  Stay tuned!!

40 Things You Should Know.

“That’s a short list. That can’t be everyone you want to kill. Are you sure you’re not forgetting someone?” – Game of Thrones

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The W3 stands for Wilder, Wealthy, and Wise.  Get it???  Thanks, Dawn!

So, I’ve not done a list.  But, why not?  Jordan Peterson did one (reference LINK and LINK and LINK), so I figured I could do one, too.  Enjoy!

  1. Tell the truth. This will have the beneficial added benefit of changing your behavior so you’re not ashamed of what you do.    The whole truth.  Even about that.  And that.  People might not like you, but they’ll respect you.
  2. Showing up on time is important. It shows respect.  It also is easy to track, if you’re a boss wanting to get rid of people.  Even if you do a great job, you’ll be the first to go if you show up late.  Unless you bring doughnuts, and, honestly, that wears thin after a while.
  3. Don’t give up. How close were you to break-out success when you gave up?  Even Johnny Depp succeeded, which proves that anyone can!
  4. There are no friends like those formed in youth. There are no pretenses.  The cruel calculus of testosterone and estrogen has yet to set in.  Greed is not an issue.
  5. Be nice. Life is already really hard for some people.  Don’t be their villain, unless it pays really well, and even then karma is . . . tough.
  6. When you speak, you own the space between the words. You have the ability to turn your words into something amazing, since infinite possibility lies between one word and the next.
  7. Don’t do things you hate, or things that make you feel like a failure. Putting yourself in situations like that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  8. Apologize.  But only when you are wrong, which, if you read this blog, is rarely.  Never apologize unless you were clearly and completely wrong.
  9. Be of value. If you don’t contribute, you’re part of the problem.  Which problem?  All of them.
  10. Don’t make yourself into a victim. Almost everybody is where they are because of their choices.  Own your choices, and own your outcomes.  No one likes victims.
  11. If you really are a victim? Act like you’re not.  Because even if deserved?  No one likes victims.  And if you have enemies?  They’re mad because you’re living well.
  12. Opportunity is found where responsibility is neglected.
  13. Solve someone else’s biggest problem – that’s the road to wealth.
  14. Remember, giving someone something creates a debt in their mind. The larger the gift, the bigger the debt.  And nobody likes someone they owe a lot of money to.
  15. If you don’t want to go to bed because you don’t want to get up tomorrow? Fix your life.
  16. Have children and have them early. But only if you have a spouse.  And can keep your spouse.
  17. Cooking your own food is cheaper. And it gives time for conversation.  Some of the best conversations occur around the barbeque grill and the deck late into the night.
  18. Be tough when you have to be. To be kind when toughness is required results in tragedy.
  19. A pleasure repeated too often becomes a punishment, unless it’s Game of Thrones®.
  20. Beware of ignoring public opinion. Public opinion resulted in witch burning, the guillotine and Hula Hoops®.  You don’t want to be on the wrong side of opinion at the wrong time.
  21. Don’t see conspiracy when simple laziness, plain stupidity, or normal greed would explain the situation just as well.
  22. Schools used to be run by school boards. Now they’re run by unions and lawsuits – none of these groups have the students in mind.
  23. You don’t win ‘em all. If you’re the Cleveland Browns®, you lose most all of them.
  24. You are the sum of your experience, your intellect, your body, your surroundings, and the people you interact with. You also control your own change.  So, get up.    The you of today isn’t ready for tomorrow unless the you of today is changing to meet those challenges.
  25. Betrayal of trust is often unforgivable. Never trust someone who betrays you.  Forgive?  Maybe.  Trust?  Nope.
  26. Real changes don’t happen until an emotional experience occurs.
  27. You have your shot – would have and could have don’t exist. (Unless the Many Worlds Theory of quantum mechanics is correct, in which case all things happen, so have another beer.)
  28. The best (and maybe only) way to win at gambling is to own a casino.
  29. No matter how awesome your idea, it has no value unless you make it real. This takes risk, execution, and work.  Which is a lot more difficult than talking about your wonderful idea.
  30. Unless your boss is a good boss, your being younger and smarter than him won’t impress him, it will make him jealous or fearful. Neither of those things are good.
  31. Know the strengths and weaknesses of your (biological) parents. You’re not too much different than them.  At best, you can avoid their weaknesses.  At worst, you’ll follow every one if their downsides.
  32. Tip well, if you can afford it. Waiting on tables is tough work.  And if you do tip well?  They’ll remember you and take care of you.  It’s nice to show up and find the right bottle of wine waiting for you.
  33. You’re not going to win the lottery. Unless it’s the one that Shirley Jackson wrote about. (LINK)
  34. If you’re travelling in winter, travel on the top half of your gas tank. It doesn’t cost any more.
  35. Keep your napkin in your lap while at the dinner table.
  36. Always use deodorant.  And if in doubt?  Have a breath mint, too.
  37. Keep in touch with people who have helped you, so you can help them. And because you’re a person.
  38. If you have too much stuff – your stuff will own you. Except books.  You can have as many of those as you want.
  39. The only way that you can know another person across centuries is to read what they’ve written. Have you written anything worthy of reading by your great-great grandchildren?  No?  Get to work.
  40. You’re going to die, and we all die alone.  Understand that the only person with you throughout your life is . . . you.  Be prepared to keep yourself alive in any emergency you can imagine.  Otherwise you’ll never see the end of Game of Thrones®.

The Cold Equations, 1973, Alice Cooper, and Government Debt

“We’re doing him a huge favor!  And do you realize how extreme this is to go from no debt to good old fashioned American debt? That’s the way to do it. Plus, I’ve been envisioning someone else paying for this thing the entire time.” – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

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This was before a hurricane in Houston, almost all the shelves were bare.  Not the last hurricane.  So, after the Apocalypse?  You can still get food from Weight Watchers®.

This is the first post . . . the second post in this series is here (LINK).

The Cold Equations is a short story (you can find it here and read for free (LINK) on .pdf so you should read it today) that I remember reading as a young lad up on Wilder Mountain.  I think I read it in an old, moldy paperback from the Junior High library on a long bus trip.

The story sets up a moral choice, and a tough one.  But don’t we face those every day?  Don’t we look at the short term, the now, and not realize there are vast implications for our future actions?  Like if I eat all the PEZ® now, there’ll be none left for later?

I’m guilty of not looking at the big picture, too.

When I think about personal finance, most of the time what I’m thinking about are smaller strategies:  what mix of bonds and stocks should I have?  Index funds or mutual funds?  Managed funds?  How much of my net worth in real estate?  How much car should I buy?  Do I really need the signed Battlestar Galactica helmet?  (Answer:  YES!!!!)

And these are meaningful questions, and really have been the most meaningful questions for essentially all of my life:  these were the right questions to ask.  And, even though the economy has had ups and downs, for the most part, we’re like ships in pretty calm water.  Storm from time to time?  Sure.  But we’ve never see a hurricane.

Outside of technology (which I’ve discussed here (LINK) and which I will likely revisit soon) probably the two biggest factors in determining your personal financial future are government debt, which we’ll discuss in this post, and future payments that governments must make, which we’ll discuss next Wednesday.  I was originally going to discuss it today, but like government debt, this post got bigger faster than I was expecting.

Government Debt and Why 1973 is Important:

I’m picking a start date for my look into government debt as 1973.  In my opinion 1973 was a pretty big year for debt.  Before 1971, if a country, say, France, had a $100,000,000 in dollars, they could back up the semi and trade those dollars for gold at $35 per ounce.

This really happened.  France decided that they had a lot of dollars, but they decided that they liked gold even more.  So, like a kid at the arcade with 5,000 Skee-Ball® tickets, they brought all of their dollars up to the counter and asked for gold.  And a gummy eraser.  And a set of the glasses with the nose and fake mustache.

Nixon decided he liked his gold more than he liked France, so put out an emergency order that the Skee-Ball© window was closed, and that France could keep their tickets.  This set in a chain of events that determined just how many dollars could even exist . . . .

In 1972, Nixon ordered that the dollar be devalued from $35 per ounce of gold to $38 per ounce of gold.  I’m not sure anyone listened because we’d stopped converting dollars to gold.  And, in 1973 the decision was made to allow normal American citizens to own gold, something that President Roosevelt had made illegal in 1933.  The gold/dollar link was severed, so the US could print as many dollars as they chose.

(Roosevelt had confiscated all of the gold coins and bullion in the hands of Americans in 1933 at the price of $20.67 per ounce and made it illegal for Americans to own gold.  After he had all the gold?  He said it was worth $35 per ounce.  Nifty way to make an instant 70% profit, if you’re the government.  If you or I did that, they would just compare us unfavorably to Bernie Madoff.  And that’s just the hair!)

So, I picked 1973, because that approximates the date when the US dollar was completely free of any constraints put on it by a gold standard.  And also, coincidently when Alice Cooper released his classic album Billion Dollar Babies.  Or is it really a coincidence?  Regardless, my choice of 1973 as a starting point isn’t arbitrary.

billion dollar babies

A fine album – you should buy six or so.  Album Picture via Wikimedia – © believed to be with Warner Music.

DANGER:  FALLING DOLLARS AND GRAPHS AHEAD

In the graph below, I’ve listed the Debt of the United States over the years since 1973.  I first converted the annual figures into 2017 dollars using magic the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, so we don’t have to worry about pesky inflation in this graph.  H/T to The Balance (LINK) for pointing to all the appropriate websites for the data.

basedebt

When I first started inputting the data, I was surprised at how familiar the shape of the curve of the debt was – and when I tried a fit of the data to an exponential curve it matched very nicely.  You can see it on the graph.  The exponential curve is a pretty standard formulation.  I’m not going to get all mathy, but the R2 =0.97 shows that a large amount of the variation you’d expect to see is explained by the curve that’s fit to it.  An R2 =1.0 is perfect.  Thanks, Excel®!  More on the curve fit later.

The dashed line represents the ratio of the national debt (how much the US owes as a country) divided by the Gross Domestic Product (how much the country produces in a year, both goods and services).  It uses the right side scale, so you can see that now the national debt is more money than all the goods and services the United States produces in a year are worth.

Hmm.  Oddly, Japan leads the list of countries that have a high debt to GDP ratio, primarily because no matter what the government does, the citizens just won’t take on debt, so government takes it on for them, in order to fund more comic books, vending machines, and seven-eyed fish.

Perennial economic basketcases Greece, Lebanon, and Italy have higher debt to GDP ratios than the US, but the United States is 12th out of 100 or so on a list where you really don’t want to be at the top.  Admittedly, most of the countries on the bottom of the list don’t actually use money, but rather trade goats for transistor radios and nine-volt batteries so they can listen to 1970’s disco music, which is all the rage now.

But let’s get back to the overall debt.  If it is a good fit for the past, I can try to use that same curve to project 10 or 20 years into the future, as I did in the graph below:

Debtintofuture

If the projection holds, in 2027 the debt will be above $30 Trillion dollars.  That’s $30,000,000,000,000.  Some people work a whole year and don’t make that much money!  And in 2037, the debt will be a little higher at $55 trillion dollars.  But those are 2017 dollars, and we live in world where inflation exists.  Here’s that graph:

debtplusinflation

This graph shows we’ll be facing a debt of $55 TRILLION dollars in ten years, and a tidy $135 TRILLION in twenty years.

For grins, I deleted the last 10 years of data, back to 2006, from the projection from the inflation adjusted numbers.  Result?  It projected the current level of US debt almost exactly.  That equation seems pretty accurate:  it’s good at predicting the future.

But when I deleted 10 years’ worth of data from the graph where inflation exists?  Yikes!  It would have projected a current debt of about $28 trillion versus the $20-ish trillion we’re at right now.

The last ten years have produced inflation that is very low, and interest rates that are at all time historic lows (like all of recorded history low).  Both the low inflation and low interest rates have acted to keep the debt much lower than it would normally be.  This tells me our debt is very sensitive to inflationary swings (as a first year economics student would figure out and give me a resounding “duh” after thwaping me in the forehead).  The ultimate rate of inflation will eventually determine the final shape of the debt’s growth, but we can get to the right range with these estimates.

The Cold Equations don’t lie.

I don’t know about you, but these numbers seem . . . impossibly large.  And large in such a fashion that I can’t really see how the system can work.  Ben Stein’s dad was famous for saying, “If something can’t continue forever, it won’t.”  Interest on that $55 trillion in ten years or so at 5% would be 70% of today’s entire federal budget, for just one year.

This is Ben Stein.  Anyone, anyone feel like getting me a beer?

The interesting thing to me is that everyone thinks that there is a choice involved, and that every aspect of the current system in the United States isn’t baked into that equation.  But I tested the equation with data from before the housing crash.  With data from before Obama.  Hate to tell everyone, but we could have elected John McCain or a bowl of quivering strawberry Jell-O® (but I repeat myself) as president for the last eight years and we would be in exactly the same place.  It’s not parties, it’s not individuals.  It’s the system.

And what are the consequences of trying to stop?

$1.1 trillion was added to the debt in the government fiscal year ending in 2016.  This amounted to around 5% of US GDP.  US GDP grew by less than 2% that year.  Remove the deficit?  The US economy shrinks by 3% in that year.

The “Great Recession” saw the economy contract 5.1%.

So, yes, addiction to government debt is bad.  The only thing keeping the country out of recession is adding more debt.  But the Cold Equations indicate that exponential growth can’t continue forever.

The Part Where Wilder Answers His Own Question

So, why does this continue now?  Why doesn’t somebody jump out in front of the speeding train and yell, “Stop!”  (I think I answered my own question there.)

It’s convenient.  The United States creates dollars out of either paper or electrons, and then ships them halfway across the world to buy something real, like a car, underwear for Johnny Depp, or a barrel of oil.  They take our made-up dollars as payment, and ship us the stuff.  Then they take the dollars and recycle them into our system and buy the debt through Treasury Notes and Bills.  If that’s not a tax, I’m not sure what is.  It’s really an awesome deal if you’re the United States.

Eventually someone will create a currency or mechanism to compete with the dollar.  China is desperately trying (LINK) having created a mechanism to trade oil not in terms of dollars, but in terms of gold.

Will that system take down the dollar?  Likely not.  The sheer size and psychological trust the dollar has accumulated over the past hundred and fifty years won’t go away with just one alternative Afghan (the people not the blanket) herdsmen trade actual dollar bills.  In Zimbabwe when they turned their currency into the equivalent of a mathematical joke, they traded US dollars to actually buy stuff.  And inertia plays a big part.  You don’t tear down Rome in one day, week, or month.  And, as the Romans showed (LINK) a strong army goes a long, long way to having whatever you say is money be accepted.

The second thing that keeps this system going:

It’s that the system has evolved to grow continually.  Jerry Pournelle (who may have been the architect that brought down the entire Soviet Union while writing entertaining science fiction), (1933-2017) described it well in his Iron Law:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers’ union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

This is why NASA can’t launch spaceships, the Department of Education doesn’t teach, and the Department of Energy doesn’t produce power.  It’s not that these bureaucrats are bad people, they’re simply focused on personal preservation – they want to have a job until they retire, and enough petty power to make them feel that they’re important.  The best way to ensure that is to surround themselves with a staff of fifty.  And all of this is in harmony with the equation.

If you notice, both sides pick things to fund, and both sides will defend the other side’s projects to the death.  Republicans complain about Obamacare, and then add more funding.  Democrats complain about the military, and then add more funding.  Each side is careful to preserve the one thing that Washington is good at . . . spending.

What’s the favorite baby in Washington?  Billion Dollar Babies!

But I feel that the Cold Equations will point to a place where this cannot last.  And when you violate the Equations?  Your choices dwindle . . . to zero.

End of Empires, PEZ, and Decadence

“We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.  And even if this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.” – Dunkirk

DSC01388

A marker of the change from Conquest to Commerce.  Hey, we have Porto Rico!

Sir John Glubb had the unfortunate luck to be born with a name that is most frequently associated with near-drowning experiences, but from his title of “Sir” it looks like he did okay.  He first was commissioned as an officer in the British Army in World War I (World War I was the one without the Japanese).  After that, like the United States, he spent the next 30 years meddling in the affairs of the Middle East.  He first went to Iraq, then was in charge of the fighting force of Jordan.

No, not Michael Jordan’s personal army of ninja warriors – they’re called the JNB, or Jordan Ninja Brigade, but something called the “Arab Legion” of Jordan (the country) that was considered for a time the most effective army in the region.

Eventually Sir Glubb and King Hussein of Jordan came to an agreement – Sir John would stop coming to work and the King would stop paying him.  Glubb retired to England where he did a LOT of writing.  What brought Sir Glubb to my attention was one essay, called “The Fate of Empires and Search for Survival.”  You can download the .pdf here (LINK).  It’s pretty straightforward.  I’d first read this several years ago, but was more recently reintroduced by a link from The Patrick Henry Society (LINK).

As we’ve discussed before, there are others that predict history on a cyclical basis (Fourth Turning – LINK), and there are various ways to look at a significant societal change, from the articles on the Roman Empire (LINK), how Collapse Happens – Seneca’s Cliff (LINK), to a general theory of the Collapse of Complex Societies (LINK).  These are interesting stories – life goes on day after day in a continual sameness until . . . everything changes.

Now, that’s not to say that everything changes all at once.  We study the French Revolution in school (or at least I did) and went from the:

  • French Revolution to the
  • Terror to the
  • Rise of Napoleon to the
  • Fall of Napoleon to
  • Friday the 13th Part II Rise of Napoleon to
  • Napoleon III, Final Chapter

It takes (at most) a week to go through that period of history.  And it’s pretty exciting stuff, if presented well.  An entire stable society is tossed into an upheaval that results in massive change.  And when confined to a school desk it seems that if you lived in France, that all of this change was happening at warp speed!

But the Bastille was stormed in 1789, and Napoleon died in exile in 1821.  The events we covered in a week played out over 32 years, which is more than a generation.  If you were born in 1789, you could have fought at Waterloo with Napoleon.  This change would have seemed natural to you if you were in France, and the only way you can observe it (beyond freshman world history class) would be to take time to look at the events of the world in a bigger-picture way.

So, Glubb, being fired and all, spent his time in study of the rise and fall of the world’s empires.  (All quotes that follow, except where noted, are from Glubb’s essay.)

However this may be, the thesis which I wish to propound is that priceless lessons could be learned if the history of the past four thousand years could be thoroughly and impartially studied.

-Glubb

Glubb then pulls out a table and points to start and end dates for several empires and makes the assertion that empires have a maximum lifespan of about 250 years.

Empire Span
Assyria 859-612 B.C. 247
Persia 538-330 B.C. 208
Greece 331-100 B.C. 231
Roman Republic 260-27 B.C. 233
Roman Empire 27 B.C.-A.D. 180 207
Arab Empire A.D. 634-880 246
Mameluke Empire 1250-1517 267
Ottoman Empire 1320-1570 250
Spain 1500-1750 250
Romanov Russia 1682-1916 234
Britain 1700-1950 250

Okay, my criticisms first.

  • He’s cherrypicking Western Civilization and the Middle East. What about Japan?  China? The Disney® Empire?
  • How did he pick the dates? There is a degree of subjectivity there.
  • He totally had to make up something to explain Rome. Rome doesn’t really follow his 250 year model.

That being said, you could make an argument that his dates are sorta right.  And he produces anecdotal evidence to back up his assertions in his text.

Likewise, Glubb notes that these durations appear to be roughly tied not to technology (it varied) communication speed (varied widely for the world-spanning British Empire and the Greek Empire), or contiguous nature of the empire (see Britain again).

I can even (sort of) support his dates on the cases I’m familiar with.  Everyone would agree that the British Empire was gone by 1970.  1960?  Probably most?  1950 might be a bit early.

DSC02988

Possibly, this statue knows (nose?) that he doesn’t help Glubb’s thesis. 

So, if this 250 maximum life (*Rome Not Included) isn’t related to technology or geography, Glubb reasoned it was related to human longevity, and his theory was that it represented 10 human generations.  Differing generations of people in the empires reacted in different ways based upon their experiences in the progression of empire.  He even broke down the empire’s phases:

  • The Age of Pioneers/Outburst – In the US, Glubb argues, the age of the Pioneers was spent conquering the continent. Other places, a dominant culture takes over the nation.  This is the era of television shows involving guns and bears.
  • The Age of Conquests – Immediately after the energy of the Outburst, the nation forms a military that leads to conquest. Television?  Guns, no bears.
  • The Age of Commerce – On the newly conquered land, per Sir John, every factor is in place for massive expansion of commerce as new systems are established and older trade barriers fall. “The proud military traditions still hold sway and the great armies guard the frontiers, but gradually the desire to make money seems to gain hold of the public.” Television? Not much.  It’s like an accounting show.  Some railroad robber baron shows.

“The ancient virtues of courage, patriotism and devotion to duty are still in evidence. The nation is proud, united and full of self-confidence. Boys are still required, first of all, to be manly—to ride, to shoot straight and to tell the truth. (It is remarkable what emphasis is placed, at this stage, on the manly virtue of truthfulness, for lying is cowardice—the fear of facing up to the situation.)”

  • The Age of Affluence – All the commerce leads to wealth. Television:  Soap Operas and shows involving women in bikinis.  The wealth leads to a change in values:

“The first direction in which wealth injures the nation is a moral one. Money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men. Moreover, men do not normally seek to make money for their country or their community, but for themselves. Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the Age of Affluence silences the voice of duty. The object of the young and the ambitious is no longer fame, honour or service, but cash. Education undergoes the same gradual transformation. No longer do schools aim at producing brave patriots ready to serve their country.”

  • The Age of Intellect – A few great schools are the hallmark of the early Empire. By the Age of Intellect, every Podunk town has a community college.  Television:  Community®.  And the effect isn’t good:

“Thus we see that the cultivation of the human intellect seems to be a magnificent ideal, but only on condition that it does not weaken unselfishness and human dedication to service. Yet this, judging by historical precedent, seems to be exactly what it does do. Perhaps it is not the intellectualism which destroys the spirit of self-sacrifice—the least we can say is that the two, intellectualism and the loss of a sense of duty, appear simultaneously in the life-story of the nation.”

  • The Age of Decadence – This passage I found striking in Sir John’s essay: “The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.”  Certainly Johnny Depp would be a celebrity in any age, right?  Television here?  Men in bikinis.

The characteristics of the Age of Decadence is given particular emphasis by Glubb:

  • Defensiveness – (Here Glubb means the country doesn’t care about duty or honor, just keeping luxury and comfort.)
  • Pessimism
  • Materialism
  • Frivolity
  • An influx of foreigners
  • The welfare state
  • A weakening of religion

Decadence is due to, per Glubb:

  • Too long a period of wealth and power
  • Selfishness
  • Love of money
  • The loss of a sense of duty

I’d argue that Glubb’s “reasons for” Decadence are subject to argument, but they’re not out of the question.  I’d argue to add the increasing coddling of children so that we don’t ever let them experience true hardship, at any costs.  My parent’s playground had a merry-go-round that cut a kid’s legs off when he fell down.  My playground put planks over the spot where he fell through.  My kids?  Soft fluffy pillows are under the swings, and games like “tag” are unapproved, whereas games like “competitive sitting while quiet” are looked on with approval by the school’s cadre of lawyers.   I could take live ammo to school and once found a live tear gas grenade on school property.  Today’s kids?  Plastic knives are out of the question.

But I think that there are few who would argue that the United States isn’t (currently) the biggest empire the world has ever seen.  The United States has 800 military installations in 70 countries.  The United States has convinced the world to use the dollar as the world currency.  When Nixon took us off of gold-dollar convertibility (a “temporary” measure) it amounted to the United States being able to tax the entire world.  How?

We used to send them dollars that we printed up, in exchange for cool stuff, like iron ore, oil, and other raw materials.  They took these dollars that we just made up.  Profit margin for the government?  100%.

Nowadays, printing up those dollars is just too painful and expensive.  We now just exchange electronic information so that electronic dollars that we “create” are shipped via the Internet to other countries.  And, for whatever reason, everybody agrees that this is a good deal, and they keep sending us stuff, like cars and other finished products.  But we have our standards.  We still make our own Pez®.

pez

PEZ®, it’s what does a body good.  Like Brawndo©, which has what plants crave.

So, I’d call the United States an empire, both economically and militarily.  And while the world has benefited from the peace, the United States has benefited economically to an unprecedented degree.

And if you look at the points that denote Glubb’s “Decadent” stage of empire, I’d say that there is empirical, scientific evidence for at least six of the seven points.  Now it should be noted that Glubb noted these points in other civilizations as well.  He noted that in the Arab Empire, Arabs becoming a minority in their own capital and women studying for and being allowed in what they considered traditionally male professions, like being lawyers.

What happens on the other side of Empire?

It seems like Britain is still there.  They went through a very rough patch as the British Empire crumbled.  Economic output dropped, and children were required to wear gloves without fingers, be grubby and put soot on their ruddy cheeks.  But as it adjusts to a new role in the world.  At the start of World War II (the one with cool tanks) the Royal Navy had 1400 ships, and it was the largest navy in the world.  Now Wikipedia claims they have less than 70.  And most of those are used to haul lime, rum, and fish and chips to their sailors.  And, as of this writing, the Royal Navy has zero aircraft carriers.

And, it’s understandable – their empire, like Paula Abdul’s career, is over.

DSC01335

This is what a Royal Navy Ship of the Line looks like in 2017.

I think that, economically, Britain has gotten a temporary reprieve due to the North Sea oil reserves, plus their sales of merchandise related to Lady Di.  Otherwise, I think that their trajectory remains on a downward arc.  Recently I read a story that indicated that infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) was in pretty bad shape outside of London, which would again be indicative of the end of empire – constrained resources can no longer support the infrastructure created at the peak of empire.

What does this portend for the United States?

If the Roman model is in play, we’ll end up with a Caesar – a ruler that will follow many of the previous forms of government, but also be a more despotic ruler.  The courts and legislature will exist to support him.  A leader of this type would reinvigorate and replace the current pessimism, materialism and frivolity with a renewed focus on maintaining and expanding the power of the empire at the expense of freedom and liberty.  After a rough patch, most people will be okay with this.  Good points?  Cool buildings and triumphal arches.  Bad points?  Purges of people who believe that President for Life Carl XV isn’t tall enough.

It’s possible that we head the other way, the soft slipping into fractured irrelevance that other empires (like Britain and Spain) have undergone.  The bigger cracks would be the fall of the currency into irrelevance . . . be like how, in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Mike went bankrupt: “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”  At least we have all that cool stuff we got from China, right?

There would be big disconnects on the way down, but then long periods of uninterrupted economic and social malaise.  But the end of empire isn’t horrible.  At least we’ll send our version of The Beatles® to the new empire.  My bet is that it will be into the new world capital of our Canadian Overlords.

Greater Ottawa, anyone?

Dr. Jordan Peterson, Truth, and Even More Truth

This is the second of three posts on Dr. Jordan Peterson – his website is here (LINK). My first post on Dr. Peterson can be found here (LINK).  The third post can be found here (LINK).

“J-Roc raps about gangsters and guns, pimps and hos and Compton.  The guy’s not from Compton.  He’s a white kid from a trailer park.  He should rap about what he really knows which is living in his mom’s trailer eating peanut butter sandwiches.” – Trailer Park Boys

DSC02040

When I think that society is too complicated, I then remember that I couldn’t even take this picture without the help of the millions of elven technicians that live in my camera.  Then I cry.

As a reminder, Dr. Peterson is a psychologist that teaches at the University of Toronto, but don’t hold that against him:  he seems to be one of the good Canadians at this point, though a bit fixated.

On what is Peterson fixated?  Dr. Peterson seems to be obsessed, and not with Pez® or Japanese tentacle pudding cups like a normal man.  No, Peterson is obsessed with the truth.  Earlier this year in response to a question on Quora, (LINK): “What are the most valuable things everyone should know?” Dr. Peterson didn’t come back with a 250 page book priced at $43.50 (I’m talkin’ about you, Dr. Tainter (LINK)) but rather a fairly simple 40 item list.  I’d suggest you go over and read it – it’s not bad.  My list would be different, but you’ll have to wait for a new post for my list – this post is all about Peterson.

I’ve often heard it said, if you want to know who someone is, just ask them.  I was reading an article on the web where these psychiatrists were attempting to figure out a test to give people to determine if they had narcissistic personality disorder.  The best test they’d yet determined was to ask them, “Are you a narcissist?”

Narcissists seem pretty proud answering, “Yes, I am!  Because I’m so awesome!”

Nice.  So, with that in mind, let’s listen to Dr. Peterson.

Dr. Peterson’s first rule is:

Tell the truth. 

Simple.  I think we all learn to lie about stuff as soon as we learn about consequences.  We all start out as horrible liars, since being three years old doesn’t exactly pop us to the top of the “able to make up good, convincing lies” chart unless your parents are very, very stupid.

After playing with lies, if we are very, very, lucky we learn that lies are really, really bad.

I’ll tell you my story, because I’m just enough of a narcissist to think you might be interested.  Because I’m that interesting.

I’ve been divorced, and can attest that divorces are very expensive because they’re worth every penny.  My first wife and I didn’t have personalities that really matched very well.  To top that, neither one of us was very good at telling the truth to each other – it was like a US-USSR arms race where, instead of stockpiles of nuclear weapons, our Cold War involved an ongoing series of falsehoods aimed at one another.  She was relieved to move out.  I was relieved when she moved out and was replaced by Boris Yeltsin (for a short time).  It took tanks and a promise of vodka to get Boris out of the house long enough to change the locks.

Regardless, I could see the impact that lies and distrust had made in my life, and I made a personal vow that, no matter what I did in the future, I would always tell anyone in a future relationship the Truth.  No lies.   And I have told the Truth, regardless of the outcome to The Mrs. since we met.  One time I called home, late, while I was still at work.  I whispered into the mouthpiece, “Can’t come home right now.  Governor of the state is in the office right next to mine, surrounded by news media, talking to my boss.”

The Mrs. only reply was, “Okay.  See you when you get here.”

By this time, we’d been married almost eight years, so, based on my constantly telling the Truth during that time, plus during every interaction before we got married, I think I could have called up and said, “Honey, been picked up by a UFO, and they have Elvis and we’re going out for ribs and beer.  Be back before 11pm.”

This may or may not be what happened to me.

She might have believed that was what was really happening, but she would certainly have believed that I thought it was the Truth.

And this has paid off during my entire relationship with The Mrs., in dividends, though certainly she knows better than to ask my opinion on anything where she doesn’t really want a True answer.  Has it caused friction?  Very rarely.  It did today, because I told her my opinion, and was told (essentially) that she didn’t want that right now.  Sometimes Truth is not what we want.

But in every case, it has led to harmony and trust.  If you have a partner who always tells you the Truth, you know you have someone who is on your team, always.

But back to Dr. Peterson.

In response to the Question on Quora, he listed 40 points.  By my count, 16 of them (40%!) dealt directly with Truth.

Here they are, quoted with permission, with my commentary:

  • Tell the truth. Discussed above.  The core of Dr. Peterson’s points.
  • Do not do things that you hate. If I were to quote Shakespeare, I’d quote Hamlet here: “To thine own self be true.”  Oh, I guess I just did.  This is Truth to self.  Your hate (if everything else is set right) will be based on the dissonance of what you’re doing and your best self.  You’re avoiding Truth by doing things you hate.
  • Act so that you can tell the truth about how you act. Directly related to the above, the idea of having to tell someone, Truthfully, what you did prevents you from doing things you would be ashamed of.  Which would include eating a whole bag of Ruffles®, unless it saved an orphan in some way.
  • Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient. Again, this is more “Truth to self.”  As my coach in high school said, “Wilder, when you cheat on those pushups, you’re just cheating yourself.”  I kid.  I never cheated on pushups in high school.  I cheated on squat-thrusts.  But, when cheat yourself from the Truth of the meaningful, you end up with the never ending squat thrusts of the expedient.
  • If you have to choose, be the one who does things, instead of the one who is seen to do things. I had a boss who was always seen doing things.  In reality, he mainly was responsible for ensuring we had a constant Internet connection, mainly by surfing for things that amused him.  But if there was a way to be seen by his boss doing the “right” thing?  He would move faster than a miniature poodle on a porkchop to get in the credit zone.  I’m pretty sure he’s never been happy, especially since his strategy is to always look good, but he has none of the skills to create great outcomes.  My corollary:  Do things, and be seen doing them.  You can have both.  But never stop doing things.
  • Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that. Again, the theme of being Truthful to oneself continues.  But this is aimed at being Truthful to the long term you.  If you cheat that you, you’ll always have regrets, and probably termites, too.
  • Try to make one room in your house as beautiful as possible. “Who says that fictions only and false hair become a verse?  Is there in truth no beauty?”  Okay, I stole that from the poem “Jordan (I)” by George Herbert, 1593-1633.  And that’s creepy, because I only learned the poem’s name or author tonight – to me it was just the title of a sub-par Star Trek episode (the one where Spock goes temporarily blind).  But outside of the creepy factor of researching a poem to find that it has the same name as the person you’re writing about, beauty is truth, and truth is beauty.  The elegance of pure math.  The sudden discovery of a True thing.  The Wilder corollary to this one:  ugly things around your house steal your energy.  Fix them.
  • Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens. Again, Truth to self.  I have seen people with amazing skills and talents just stop on their way upward – because they are afraid to fail.  I’ve done that myself, until a very visionary leader told me, after I’d explained what he wanted was hard to do, “Wilder, just do it.”  Nine times out of ten when he told me that, I achieved it.  The tenth?  He got fired.  But he got a severance package worth about $1.4 million.
  • Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or artistic achievement. There is truth in beauty.  There is also truth in the stable social constructs that have created wealth, peace, and Pez® for thousands of years.  Tear them down?  It’s easy.  But can you tear them down and put up something even better?  Probably not.  Can you make them better?
  • Make friends with people who want the best for you. Again, Truth is your primary commodity here.  Friends who want the best for and from you will tell you the Truth.  Others won’t.  One time I saw the head of operations for a company walk down the hall with about three feet of toilet paper trailing behind his waistband, top center behind, like a big, white, fluffy skunk tail.  Nobody else saw him.  I didn’t tell him when he walked out of his office, somewhat flushed and embarrassed.  He made small talk until he realized I wasn’t going to say, “Hey, saw your toilet paper tail and I’m going to tell everybody!”  And I didn’t tell the office.  He was a nice guy.
  • Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world. How is it possible that you have the answer to world peace, and there’s a towel on the floor in your room?  Or your son hates you?    Thought so.  Fix the things around you so you understand the Truth required to fix the world about you.  I’m still working on cleaning my room, so, my advice is suspect.
  • Be precise in your speech. Precision in speech means . . . you say exactly what you say you mean.  Which is?    The Truth.  And if you go back to Orwell, removing words, or making them mean things they don’t removes the ability to even make certain arguments through language, so at some point the Truth isn’t even possible to utter anymore.
  • Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.  By not teaching Truth to your children you cripple them to find Truth on their own. And finding Truth by yourself is harder than finding a clean spot on Johnny Depp’s sink.  As smart as your children might be, they are not wise, and need you to guide them through Truth so they might find Wisdom, and through Wisdom enough money to pay for your retirement home some future day.
  • Do not hide unwanted things in the fog. We try to hide Truth from ourselves every day.  We look in the mirror and manage to not see what anyone else in the world can plainly see.  While there is no reason that you have to tell the world your deepest regrets, you should at least be able to see them and understand that they are True.
  • Read something written by someone great. Great people write Truth, that’s why what they write is great.  The more profound the Truth, generally, the simpler.  But a great writer can, in 200 pages, take you on a journey that wraps you around and through a path where you walk to Truth.
  • Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know. As much as we search for the Truth, we learn more every day.

Here is a Peterson theme:  Truth in a Post-Modernist context is always relative and always the product of the culture that created it.  It ceases to be objective Truth, and becomes a relative truth.  From the points above, you might predict that Peterson would reject Post-Modernism because it denies the very existence of Truth.  And you would be right.

The battle lines are set: Modernism vs. Post-Modernism and the very existence of Truth.

What amazes me is that it is clearly explicable in our world that there are objective facts that are True, yet in a Post-Modernist viewpoint, nope, not so.  Therein lies the ultimate fight between Peterson and Post-Modernism – Peterson is on the side of Truth, and his opponents deny that Truth even exists.

There are too many points, too many places where Truth is not the relative product of a culture to even begin to argue that truth doesn’t exist.  (If you must have an example:  there is a force we call gravity that causes mass to clump together.  Truth.  Gravity is not a social construct.  There are cultural Truths as well, but I’m not going to open that can of worms with this post.)

So, I’ll allow that the narcissistic side of my personality is pretty sure that you’ve enjoyed this, but the Truthful side knows that you did.

As for me?  I’m with Dr. Peterson.  Go with the Truth.  It’s a winner.