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Philosophy, the Internet, the World, and I

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Boredom and Doing Things

When you’re growing up as a child, if you weren’t forced into school, most kids wouldn’t go.  If most kids weren’t pressured to study English, math, read, or wake up and bus to school, they wouldn’t go.  However, in hindsight, as a child grows up, he/she can reflect back on childhood and see that learning English, math, how to read, etc. was greatly beneficial to his/her life.

People often say “I don’t want to do it because it’s boring” or “I don’t want to eat vegatables because they don’t taste good”.  I’ll argue that these statements are terrible misunderstandings about life, and maximizing life involves doing things that are sometimes boring or doing things that you sometimes don’t want to.

Going for a run without your headphones may be boring, though it is vital to how our bodies work.  In our not so distant history, we were forced to hunt, build shelter, and be cautious of potential predators.  However, today, much of what our ancestors were required to do can be bought – we can buy abundant food, can buy shelter, and have no predators.  But ours bodies need to be active, moving around.  To compensate for this, doing daily physical activity is vital – both in terms of cardio and resistance training – lifting weights, doing pullups/pushups, etc.

A lot of people say “I don’t like carrots”, or “I don’t like eating vegetables” or “I don’t like going to the gym, it’s boring”.  Does this mean you shouldn’t ever eat them? No.  Just as exercise in modern day is necessary for us to be healthy, eating  vegetables is necessary to be healthy.  While food is abundant today, and tasty, it is killing us.  Eating vegetables that may not taste as good as a bag of candy, a processed hamburger and bun, it is vital to our health, and therefore should be eaten regularly.  It is a bit tough to see, but consuming things that you may not feel like is important, and encouraged.

People today have a hard time simply sitting and doing nothing.  Feeling bored.  In a modern world full of constant stimulation of our devices, TV’s, radios, and music, simply not listening or watching or staring at anything is vital.  Just as running when you don’t want to, eating vegetables that you may not like the taste of, and studying English as a child even though you didn’t want to is important to the quality of a healthy life, sitting in modern day and feeling bored even if you don’t want to is vital to the human mind.  The mind needs time to reflect, process, and be aware of simply the present moment.  Most people today have a hard time sitting for 10 minutes doing nothing.  Try it, do a 10-20 minute meditation session and see how it feels.  Boring, right?

The overarching point is that in order to live a good life – one that is healthy, clear minded, energetic, motivated, and aware – we need to often be doing things that we may not want to do.  The world we live in is far from what we evolved in, so we need to compensate accordingly.  The rise of gyms, meditation apps, and diet plans is a clear indicator of the growing number of people aware that simply living in the modern world without compensating for what we’ve lost is killing us.  It’s killing our bodies, our souls, our minds.  But there is a solution – understand what the human body/mind needs and give it that.

The human body/mind needs vegetables, daily activity, daily boredom, close and caring relationships, and creativity.  Just as people feel better when they’re immersed in a hobby or creating something, society needs more people creating and solving problems.  Your tribe needs you to contribute – contribute to the greater good, something beyond simply satisfying yourself.  Life isn’t about simply doing what you want – it’s about helping people who are less fortunate, creating and solving problems in your circle or beyond, learning and sharing wisdom along the way, and contributing to society.  Instead of thinking what to put on your resume, think how you can use your unique mind and perspective to contribute and make the world a slightly better place than when you arrived on it.

2020 Year in Review

It’s that time of the year again where we look back on the last year of our lives and look forward to the next.  It is useful because it allows us to review what we did right, and what we can improve on in the future. You can see my previous years here:
20102011201220132014201520162017, 2018, 2019.

Here’s a look back in what I did in 2020.


  • New Years started in Phuket in southern Thailand at a beach club with a few friends.
  • At the end of January, we went to Krabi and Railay in southern Thailand for a week.  A small escape from the pollution in Bangkok.
  • In February, a group of friends and I went to Niseko ski resort in Japan for a week.  Was an awesome experience.  In late February, we celebrated my birthday, with some great friends making me a proper Rubik’s Cube cake.  We also visited Nan and Chiang Rai in February.
  • In March we went to Kolour Music Festival in Bangkok, had a few friends visiting from abroad, and Covid restrictions began.  We also attended a few house parties from our close friends.  I had a few pints of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day just before lockdown in Bangkok.
  • April, May and June were largely spent working on various online projects, running up and down the 24 flights of stairs at my building, and lifting water jugs to stay active, despite not being able to go outside much or visit a gym.
  • June found a new appreciation for the small things in life – visiting a cafe, eating at a restaurant, or visiting a gym.  In the middle of June, a group of us visited Koh Samui, and then Koh Tao, a nice break from the city after lockdown.  The amount of deals on AirBnb was hard to overstate.
  • In July, a group of us rented a yacht in southern Thailand and sailed for a few days.  It was perhaps one of the most beautiful trips in Thailand I’ve done, with an incredible group of people.  At the end of July, we took Kemji’s family to Pattaya for a weekend trip.
  • In August, I did a month of no drinking, while we enjoyed a few friends birthday parties, and I also did cryo therapy for the first time, cooling the air temperature to 200-300 degrees F.  We also did a trip to Naithon Beach in Phuket with friends.
  • September was largely spent going to saunas, working, working out, and hanging out with friends.
  • In October, we went to Chiang Mai with a group, followed by a visit to some friends to Chiang Rai.  It’s always beautiful visiting there.  At the end of October, we had a big group and celebrated Kemji’s birthday.
  • In November we went to Karma Fest in Bang Krachao with a group of friends, and it was an awesome experience along the water.  I also played a decent amount of basketball, and bought a VR headset for the first time (recommended, incredible technology).  We also did a boat trip with my girlfriends mom near Asiatique.
  • In December we moved to a new apartment, and spent 5 days in Phuket for Christmas with a good group of friends.  We celebrated New Years on our roof with friends.


Health: Even with lockdown from the pandemic, I stayed quite active doing stair runs, lifting big jugs of water, pullups, running, and when things were open, going to the gym.  I also tended to eat quite well, though I did indulge in a fair number of parties which involved drinking, a net negative on health.  A work in progress.  Overall I’m quite happy with my health this year.

Knowledge: I didn’t read as many books as usual, but did read a fair amount of articles, magazines, and had a fair number of conversations.  I learned a lot this year, in large credit to the conversations I’ve had with the people around me.  I do plan to dedicate more time each day to actively reading though.

Relationships: With lockdown and less traveling, it meant creating stronger bonds with the people we could hangout with.  I’m happy with the progress made this year with the friends around us, though was unable to visit my family this year, so will hopefully improve on that aspect in 2021.  Not traveling meant more time at home, in Bangkok, which definitely created stronger relationships here.

Business: 2020 was perhaps the most interesting year in business for me ever, and I’m happy with the progress made.  I expect 2021 will be even better as I plan to launch a lot more projects.

I also had the goal by the end of the year to buy a property and restructure my business, both ended being in the works by the end of the year.  I’m happy with the progress on this front.


While I’m happy with the progress made in 2020 for my health, I could definitely cut back on the late nights and the drinking.  I did moderate, but working to improve further and further.

I also meditated a fair bit in 2020, but wasn’t as consistent in my practice as I’d like to be.  Like with anything, I need to work further on consistency.

I’ve slacked a lot in my writing schedule for 2020, perhaps the worst ever.   I plan to get back on track in 2021.


I’m currently enrolled in a 21 day hip opening course to improve my mobility, and I’m enjoying it.  I plan to make flexibility a much bigger priority in 2021.  I’ve also lined up a few 30 day challenges, and hopefully will complete 6-12 30 day challenges in the coming year.  Starting in January, I will be doing 50 pullups each day for 30 days.

I also plan to run more in 2021 to keep my heart going strong – I’ve done a lot of resistance training this year, but only ran in the last couple months while training for an obstable course.  I want to integrate running more into my weekly schedule.

I’m in the process of simplifying life – that is to say cleaning up my to-do lists/email, setting better priorities, and alloting more time each day to reading/thinking.  It’s easy to have the days pass with no real progress, and I want to get a lot of the admin work out of the way so I can make the most of the time each week.

Business wise, I have a lot lined up in the pipeline.  I tend to think that success in business (or in life in general) comes from stepping up to bat and giving yourself as many chances as possible to succeed.  While 2020 was successful to me, I think I can do a lot better in improving my output in 2021, and I’m in the process of doing that now.


Like for everybody, 2020 was an incredibly unique year.  It was perhaps the first year in 8-10 years where I wasn’t on the road every few weeks, or wasn’t traveling abroad for an extended time.  This meant exploring more of the places in my own community in Bangkok, connecting with friends at a deeper level, and traveling within Thailand more.  We also took advantage of all the cheap Airbnb prices all over Thailand, something I’m incredibly grateful to be able to do.

Contrary to many, 2020 was perhaps one of the best years of my life.  It is not something I’d like to say, I wish everyone was enjoying their lives, living their dreams, and pursuring their desires.  I’ve lucked out in the fact that the internet has blossemed even further in 2020, and was well positioned to provide tools, products, and services for people around the world.  We’re at a time in history where we all need to adapt to the new ways of life, grow and learn each day, and connect with one another to make everyone better off.

I believe that we evolved to create, to produce, to provide value to one another.  The more that each of us tries to provide value to society, the better off we are and the better off society is.  Everyone should contribute to whatever extent and whatever means they desire.  If this means bulding a business that helps others, or if it means spending time educating children, I think the only way to truly reap the value you create in the world is to do it yourself, with your ideas.  Then bring together others who share that vision and grow.  Everyone should contribute.

I think 2020 is the year where we all stop blaming each other, the government, or big corporations for our failings.  While these all need to be improved, we all need to take responsibility for our lives, our actions, our discipline, and contribute.  Make 2021 the best year ever of growth, of new experiences, and of contributions to society as a whole.

Here are a few posts I wrote this year, if you haven’t read them yet:

Here are a couple things worth checking out:

And as a repost from last year, here are….

Habits that have a high rate of return in life:

– sleeping 8+ hours each day
– lifting weights 3x week
– going for a walk each day
– saving at least 10 percent of your income
– reading every day
– drinking more water and less of everything else
– leaving your phone in another room while you work

You can see all of my posts from 2020 herehttp://www.patjk.com/posts/2020

I wish you all a happy new year, let’s make 2021 the best year of our lives.

Thanks for reading.

Note: You can follow what I’m reading and things I find interesting daily on my Twitter and/or Facebook page.

The Individual

As I’ve got older, I’ve come to realize a number of things.  One of them is individuality.  Of course, we’re each individuals, with our own minds and bodies, seemingly freely making our own choices given our set of circumstances, motivations, knowledge, ambition, and expectations of what life is.

But within that, there are countless things which can only be done as an individual.  You can’t buy a perfect body, you can’t buy being strong, you can’t buy knowledge, you can’t buy ambition.  These are things that only come from within, from action from within.  You look around the world and see athletes all playing a similar game, attempting to improve their bodies to make them stronger, faster, with more endurance.  Each individual is putting in their own effort, given their ambitions and expectations of life.

And the same is true with the mind.  Professors all over the world are researching their own field of expertise, given what they think is possible to discover.  You can’t buy the knowledge that comes from learning, you can only acquire knowledge through your own pursuit, whether that be reading books, traveling, or talking to people.

So much of life comes down to the individual making their own decisions.  As I’ve grown older (and hopefully wiser), I’ve discovered that so much of what we do in life comes down to our expectations of it.  The change that happens as you get older comes from experience, knowledge, wisdom, or whatever else you may call it, but the underlying change that I think happens most clearly is your expectations change.

When you’re 20 and you think you know everything, pulling all-nighters at a club seems like the best decision.  When you’re 30, the thing stopping you from doing that isn’t that it is no longer fun, it is that the decision to do such doesn’t coincide with your expectations of life.  Why sacrifice a good night of sleep? Why sacrifice wasting the next day?

I can definitely say my expectations of virtually everything in life has changed over the last 10 years.  I’m far more aware of how things work, or at least work within the framework I have of life. Because of it, I see countless more possibilities, and an infinite ceiling above us.  What does being at the top mean mentally? Physically? Emotionally? It isn’t a comparison to do better than others, it is about becoming the best version of yourself.  You only have 1 body, you might as well take care of it.  You only have 1 brain, you might as well make it a good one. You have each day to improve yourself in whatever form that means to you.  Be aware of what your expectations are and why they are what they are.  They will likely change as you change, as you grow, as you learn, as you age.

Expectations influence virtually everything you do.  Perhaps my favorite quote is “if you think you can or you can’t, you’re right”.  Your expectations influence your behavior, and your behavior influences your life.  After all, your behavior is your life.  Your life is what you pay attention to.

We don’t know when the lights will shut off.  Hence why it’s important to make the most of each day.  While cliche, it’s true.  When you look back over the year, do you feel fulfilled of what you’ve done? Are you satisfied with the effort you put in? What changes can you make to do better?

Our experiencing self may forget the aim or the path we’re on. But our remembering self will look back and decide if it was worth it, and adjust our new experiencing self accordingly.

Make today a special day.

Having Time Off

Time off is time where you don’t have any obligation to do anything, no plans, just downtime to relax and focus on whatever your mind wishes.  In modern day, most of our time off is spent watching TV, or playing on our phones, craving the small dopamine releases that these devices give us, which gives us the urge to keep checking our push notifications, Facebook, and Instagram.  The result is that society is never comfortable sitting and doing nothing – being with nothing but our own mind and thoughts.

But this wasn’t true throughout history.  Our lives often revolved around working to survive, but also included vast amounts of time staring into the abyss of the sky, reading constellations, thinking about life, and creating.

Studies show our creative mind is paying the price.  Downtime without mental stimulation is where the brain processes its inputs and creates meaning out of it all.  It is where creative thought flourishes.  Instead of waking up and looking at your phone first thing to get the dopamine, resist the urge and instead write down 10 things you’re grateful for, 10 things you want to accomplish in your life, or 10 things you can do today to make the world better.  Pushing your brain to come up with ideas and thoughts enables you to get better at it, it enables you to become more creative.

Or, immediately when you wakeup, start a timer and practice mindfulness.  Do it for 30 days in a row and you’ll not only notice how distracted your mind is, you’ll become a more calm, relaxed individual.

Spend time in nature.  Test this.  Every time I go days without electronics or stimulation, my mind becomes incredibly creative.  It comes up with ideas, solves problems, creates motivation.  I come back from nature more motivated than ever to work through my ideas and build things.  Friends who’ve done 10 day Vipassana retreats say the same – your mind thinks in ways that are hard to otherwise imagine.

I recently finished reading “Stillness is Key” which is Holiday’s effort to express the vital importance of simply being, not being distracted by continuous stimulation which the modern world provides.  It’s tough to overcome, but possible and we’re better off for it.

It’s about being present, not feeling the urge to do something, but to be fully immersed in the moment of your existence.  It’s easy to look around a cafe and see everyone looking at their phone, locked into the matrix of existence that isn’t here.  It is us living our lives staring at pixels on a screen, which trick us into thinking it is reality.

Stillness is where relaxation happens, where ideas flourish, where you can process your emotions and feelings.  Where you can work through your problems.  Where you can be fully present.

We are incapable of seeing what is essential in the world if we are blind to what’s going on within us.

-Stillness is Key

Often the most obvious things in life are the hardest to see.  Something as simple as seeing your thoughts for what they are, thoughts.  It is perhaps the most obviously thing directly in front of us everyday, but for most of the time, most people don’t see their thoughts for what they are.  They fall victim to them and let them take over their emotions, and their lives.

In his book “Deep Work”, Cal Newport stressed the importance of having blocks of time with no distraction to simply focus on the task at hand.  People for millennia have stressed the importance of mindfulness practice – having periods of daily downtime to simply pay attention.  And for most of human history, we didn’t have the amount of distraction and stimulation as we do today, and we’re all paying a price for it.  Our creativity diminishes, our mind becomes overwhelmed, and our motivation fades.  The only way to cope with this is to practice mindfulness, avoid constant stimulation,  spend more time in nature, in this reality away from technology.

With the current coronavirus issue and people being told to be at home most of the time, there is a lot more downtime for most people. It’s easy to waste this time, but it is a huge opportunity to spend time creating, learning, reading, spending time with your loved ones, or starting a new business.  Use this time to get better.  One quote I’ve heard is “things don’t get better, you do”.  While somewhat true, the world as a whole is getting much better (read Rational Optimistic, Enlightenment Now).  When things recover, you’ll be glad you put in the effort in this downtime, and you can carry the momentum forward.

Take time off your devices, away from the TV, go into nature, and simply be.  You’ll be surprised what your own mind discovers about itself.

If our brains were simple enough for us to understand them, we’d be so simple that we couldn’t.

Choosing to Suffer

As I’ve written about before, all of our experience – all joy, all suffering, all emotion, all sensation, all feeling, fundamentally comes back to our consciousness, what we can perceive to exist.  Because of this, every conscious thing does not want to suffer (as defined as unwanted pain), and wants well being – being content, feeling pleasure, joy, fulfillment – the opposite of suffering.  There are reliably ways to increase suffering, and reliably ways to reduce suffering.

Modern day life is riddled with media which is designed to scare us.  It is important to recognize this so we don’t fall victim to it.  The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one, and the media no doubt contributes to widespread societal suffering, unnecessarily.

Some suffering is necessary, other suffering is unnecessary.  A close relative passing away causes suffering to us because evolution has taught us to build strong bonds to the people in ours lives that matter most.  Suffering over their loss is likely necessary and integrated within us such that we value people when they’re here and suffer when we lose them.  Suffering typically diminishes over time such that we can “move on” and focus on other things in life that are important to our well being and survival.

It’s the season of politics in the US, particularly a seemingly important election in the US.  As I wrote about last month, I look at politics as a big psychology experiment.  It is always interesting to see how people react to various politicians and what they say about different things.  My Facebook newsfeed is filled with people in rage about what the other party said or did, leading to arguments in the threads which are endless.  Both sides are arguing, not from the foundations of the arguments but from a high level, meaning that they can never agree based on the differing foundational values.  As Tim Minchin said, “it’s like hitting beautifully executed shots from the opposite ends of two different tennis courts”.  The first step is to get into the same court.

Politics causes immense amounts of unnecessary suffering.  Hatred, rage, disgust all lead to suffering – and not of suffering of other people, but of you, the one hating, the one raging, the one disgusted.

Politics matters, no doubt about it, but we only can control it so much.  As a result, is it worth suffering over? We can only focus on things within our control (such as voting, for example).  If we let things outside of our control cause suffering, then we’re in for a life of endless suffering.  If we focus on our own responsibilities in our lives, then life becomes a project to grow, to learn, the help others, to build the best life we see possible in our own mind, given our expectations of what life is supposed to be.

Throughout life we have to control how we spend our attention.  In the age of abundant information, one of the best skills that a person can acquire is being able to choose what to consume, and how to react to what is consumed.  If what you consume makes you suffer, you have two options – 1) choose not to consume information that makes you suffer, or 2) consume the information but react to it differently such that you don’t suffer.

Life is short.  It is short for everyone, and no ones wants to die.  As Steve Jobs said “even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there.”  As soon as we recognize truly how short it is, it is our responsibility to not only make each day a good day, but do everything we can to not suffer unnecessarily.

Whenever you feel yourself angry, sad, hateful, upset – ask yourself, is this worth suffering over?

The answer is almost always a firm no.

Choosing what to suffer over and what not to suffer over is vitally important.  Because no one wants to suffer, the first step is recognizing that you are unnecessarily suffering, and then taking action not to suffer.  The most common solution is to simply shut off the news, notice yourself feeling the emotions you’re feeling, and practicing some more mindfulness, which I’ve written about before.

Without a doubt there is a lot of unnecessary suffering in the world, and we should all work together to relieve it.  Does all suffering originate in the person? Yes, but there are reliably environments which contribute to more suffering (such as living a society riddled with disease and famine), and there are reliably environments which reduce suffering (such as eating dinner with your friends and family who you care about).  But when we shape our environment to one that is conducive to living a live with less unnecessary suffering, we’re better off.

In summary:

  • Life is short, ask yourself in every situation where you notice you’re suffering, is this worth suffering over?
  • Turn off the daily news, it’s designed to scare us.  Instead, focus on your hobbies, or using your creativity to produce or create something.
  • Practice mindfulness daily so you’re more aware of your own emotions.
  • Stay physically active, the mind and the body are one.  How you treat your body influences how you feel.

Make today a good day, and tomorrow a better one.  Life is the collection of the small steps we take to get to where we want to go. Don’t choose to suffer over stuff that doesn’t matter.

Have more to add to this post? Comment below, would love to hear your thoughts/feedback. 

Are the rich to blame?

Politics – a topic that seems to have a love-hate relationship with everyone.  It targets core belief systems, it creates powerful emotional reactions, and it matters.  Politics shape whether a country prospers or fails, it is the system by which societies manage each other, commerce, and relations.  My interest in politics has less to do with the daily media (which I avoid), but more to do with how politics is a big psychology experiment – where it changes how people behave, what people believe, what matters to people, and sways how people think.  It is behavior psychology at it’s finest, and it is fascinating.

There is a lot of negative sentiment towards the rich, especially towards the elite – the millionaires and the billionaires running the worlds biggest companies.  It is an interesting discussion for a number of reasons, but I think it represents some misunderstandings about the world, economics, capitalism, and the greater good.

I read Walton’s “Made in America” book a few months ago, which was him essentially advocating for free market enterprise – allowing companies to operate businesses and consumers to make their own choices about what to purchase, when to purchase, and for how much.  Bezos, currently the worlds richest human, gives the book to every executive he works with to get a grasp for how to build world changing companies.  Bezos, like Walton, very likely sees doing good in the world as creating more capital for the world.  And that is not to say just for himself.

Walton goes into detail about not only how and why he created Walmart, but how much wealth Walmart created for the world.  It not only made the Waltons fabulously wealthy, it made a lot of people wealthier – including all the associates who setup Walmarts, all the people who bought Walmart stock, all of the managers who have worked for Walmart, all of the employees who decided to make a career out of working at Walmart, and all the consumers who shop at Walmart that otherwise would be paying higher prices elsewhere.   You can make the exact case for Bezos – even though he has amassed a fortune of over $100 billion, Amazon currently has a market cap of almost $1 trillion, which means he’s created over $900 billion for other people, not counting all the wealth created that isn’t factored into the stock price (such as people who make money selling on Amazon, shipping companies, labeling companies, consumer savings, etc.).  Some of that wealth has taken market share from other companies (such as a mom and pop shop that used to sell the same product at twice the price), but it also includes a huge amount of new wealth that otherwise didn’t exist, including all the people that work for Amazon now that otherwise would be working elsewhere.  It is important to look at all these downstream effects when looking at company profits, taxes, wages, etc.  The reason Bezos, Gates, or Jobs became so rich is because they innovated, and built something that society valued.  But the takeaway isn’t that they became incredibly rich, it is that the result of those businesses, it made a lot of people wealthier, and created a massive amount of wealth for the world.

The point here is that while doing good in the world can be donating money, time, energy, or other resources to those in need, it can also be done by creating technology, business, or creating wealth for the world in which people work, create, and use the business to create further wealth.  Walton suggested in his book that the good that the Walmart business has done for the world is far superior than any of the billions of dollars that the Walton’s have given away in their lifetime as philanthropy.  As a society, we often look at the philanthropy that the rich do, but we miss the “good” that these people have done by simply creating business and commerce in the world.

This view of reality is interesting, and worth thinking about more.  In Tyler Cowen’s “Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals”, he makes a moral case for economic growth:

Growth is good. Through history, economic growth, in particular, has alleviated human misery, improved human happiness and opportunity, and lengthened human lives. Wealthier societies are more stable, offer better living standards, produce better medicines, and ensure greater autonomy, greater fulfillment, and more sources of fun. If we want to continue on our trends of growth, and the overwhelmingly positive outcomes for societies that come with it, every individual must become more concerned with the welfare of those around us and in the world at large and most of all our descendants in the future. So, how do we proceed?

So with this said and noticing how Walton and Bezos likely see doing good for humanity, are these characters as evil as they’re thought to be?  Should we hate these people, and praise them for their service?

One of the common arguments about these big companies is how much more the executives make to the employees.  While it is worth discussing, wages are determined by the market (or the government), not necessarily by the company.  If Amazon pays their average employee $15, they do it because people are willing to work for that wage.  The only caveat to this is if no other options or jobs exist, but that is rarely the case if we generalize society as a whole.  Why are wages for computer scientists higher in the US than in Thailand? Why does a Youtube engineer make more than a grocery cashier? The market.

There are more jobs available today in the world than anytime in history, and the US has record low unemployment rates.  Amazon did, however, set a $15 minimum wage themselves, doubling the average minimum wage in 2018.  An important note is that wages, more often than not, are created out of a market.  If there aren’t people willing to do the job for $15, wages will go up.  If there are a lot of people willing to do the work for $15, wages may drop or remain the same.  While not true in every case (such as a monopoly or lack of competition), it is generally true for the world at large.

It’s important to understand these dynamics, as well as the downstream effects of them.  A recommended read on the topic of minimum wage, taxes, and markets is “Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics“.  It’s short and discusses a lot of these topics in basic terms.  I tend to believe that much of the disagreement between conservatives and liberals, in America in particular, is caused by varying understanding in downstream economics, as well as what role governments play in society and how large they should be.

Hoarding Money

One of the things we often hear is the rich are hoarding money.  Part of this could be true, but lets step back and look at it a bit more.  Once you have money, it’s easier to make more – you can take more risks, have access to more opportunities, and have more time/resources to spend finding the best ways to invest it, not counting more time to simply learn and think.  As a result, the rich often get richer even if they aren’t “hoarding money”.  That doesn’t therefore mean the rich just want to get richer, it is simply the mechanics of how economics work, and perhaps a flaw with modern capitalism.  For example, an American can save up money, travel for 2 weeks on that money, while still saving for retirement.  Most of the world cannot do this (and one big argument for capitalism is to make more countries become developed so more people have the luxury to do this). I think many of the richest people in the world are all trying to figure out how to do good with their money, not simply trying to “hoard it”.  And trying to determine how to do the most good isn’t an easy answer, and one that should be diligently thought out.

If you were Jeff Bezos, what would you do? Or in other words, what do you suggest Jeff Bezos do? Or Bill Gates?  Stop and think about that.  Your intuition may be misguided. One may say they should give it all away.  If Bezos gave away $100B, he’d still have $14B, is he still a “hoarding” then? Bill Gates is giving away $10B each year, but is still making more than that, making him wealthier, is he still “hoarding”?  Instead of giving away the money, what if the money was used to create bigger businesses and drive more economic growth in the world? Is that better than giving it away? There is also the time horizon factor – giving away $100B now may alleviate a lot of suffering in the present moment, but would it simply kick the issues downstream to a later time rather than solve them fundamentally? These are all tough questions, and ones that everyone should think about, not just the richest.  But the point of these questions is to genuinely consider them.  If you were worth $10M, $100M, or $1B, what would you do? These questions are tricky and don’t necessarily have right answer, but the best answer probably isn’t to give it all away if we want to maximize the amount of good we’re doing in the world.

While capitalism has it’s flaws, what is a better system? We can criticize the broken systems in place, but we have to be careful as if we don’t have a better alternative, it’s hard to convince people to do otherwise.  We should be working to build the best society we possibly can, and that means understanding how the society came to be, why it is the way it is, and how the mechanics of society actually work, rather than simply assuming things.  We all need to better educate ourselves by reading, discussing with people from the other political spectrum, being more aware and open-minded, and thinking about the greater good rather than just about ourselves.  The world is complicated, but avoiding people from the other party only makes the problem worse, not better.

Because of the complexity in peoples desires, drives, motivation, knowledge, etc., we need a system for freedom of choice, enabling people to freely make choices based on their own desires and values.  Again, there isn’t a purely perfect system, but capitalism is perhaps the best system for this so far.  And it’s worked.  I’d highly recommend reading Steve Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” book.  It is a much needed read for most of the people dreading modern society – people are stuck in mental prisons driven by the media, which plays on our negative emotions.

Conservative vs. Liberal

If you ask most people in the world what they wish for society to be, it is a society where everyone is happy, healthy, and wealthy, free to make their own choices and fulfill their own desires.  The vast majority of disagreements arise from how that is best done.  Is it best done by increasing taxes and making governments larger? Is it best done creating a more free market with more open trade? Is it best done by investing mostly into our education system where people can think for themselves?  These are all questions that don’t have clear answers, all we can do is openly discuss the pros and cons to each and try to better understand the downstream effects of all of these things.

While I tend to lean liberal on most issues, I believe that governments are incredibly inefficient with money, in large part due to no competition or accountability for spending or performance.  Politicians are rarely scored on their direct effects on society, but more on how they make people feel.   As a result, I think governments shouldn’t be larger, they should be smaller.

The fact that wealth is taxed in proportion to growth, by definition, means governments will grow in proportion to the economy growing.  This doesn’t make sense as governments don’t necessarily need to be larger as an economy gets larger, it may be better that people keep or spend more of their own money rather than it going to the government, which is known to be wasteful.  With this said, many governments perform well with high tax rates and have built in systems into their government which maintain accountability.  Though this is true, we don’t know how well the society would function if taxes were lowered compared to higher as we don’t have those controlled.  It is plausible that Norway may be wealthier, happier, and healthier with lower taxes than they are currently, but we don’t know the answer.  Therefore, it is a fallacy to think that simply because higher taxes have worked in one place that they will work in another.  The other major factor in “higher taxes” is that it isn’t just a function of higher taxes, it is how the tax revenue is spent.  The Scandinavian countries with higher tax rates tend to have far more efficient spending programs than the US, for example, where the US spends $800B/year on military while the Scandinavian countries spend little on military.  It is complicated, but high taxes aren’t necessarily good.

Income Inequality

One of the reasons many hate the rich, on top of what has been discussed, is income inequality.  People value fairness, but since the wealthy often have access to things that most people do not, it creates an unfair society.  It doesn’t necessarily mean all rich people got rich playing unfairly, most of the wealthy people in the world earned it either by luck, hard work, or a combination of the two.  Some people have no desire to become rich, so we can’t ensure an equal society, we can only ensure fair rules.  Freedom and equality aren’t compatible – we all excel at different rates.  A purely free society will end up un-even, and a purely equal society means taking away freedom from people.  All we can hope for is a system where people have the ability to pursue their own desires, or what people call equal opportunity.

Paul Graham wrote a great piece on income inequality here, which is worth reading:

The most common mistake people make about economic inequality is to treat it as a single phenomenon. The most naive version of which is the one based on the pie fallacy: that the rich get rich by taking money from the poor.

Usually this is an assumption people start from rather than a conclusion they arrive at by examining the evidence. Sometimes the pie fallacy is stated explicitly:

…those at the top are grabbing an increasing fraction of the nation’s income — so much of a larger share that what’s left over for the rest is diminished…. [1]

Other times it’s more unconscious. But the unconscious form is very widespread. I think because we grow up in a world where the pie fallacy is actually true. To kids, wealth is a fixed pie that’s shared out, and if one person gets more, it’s at the expense of another. It takes a conscious effort to remind oneself that the real world doesn’t work that way.

In the real world you can create wealth as well as taking it from others. A woodworker creates wealth. He makes a chair, and you willingly give him money in return for it. A high-frequency trader does not. He makes a dollar only when someone on the other end of a trade loses a dollar.

If the rich people in a society got that way by taking wealth from the poor, then you have the degenerate case of economic inequality, where the cause of poverty is the same as the cause of wealth. But instances of inequality don’t have to be instances of the degenerate case. If one woodworker makes 5 chairs and another makes none, the second woodworker will have less money, but not because anyone took anything from him.

Even people sophisticated enough to know about the pie fallacy are led toward it by the custom of describing economic inequality as a ratio of one quantile’s income or wealth to another’s. It’s so easy to slip from talking about income shifting from one quantile to another, as a figure of speech, into believing that is literally what’s happening.

Except in the degenerate case, economic inequality can’t be described by a ratio or even a curve. In the general case it consists of multiple ways people become poor, and multiple ways people become rich. Which means to understand economic inequality in a country, you have to go find individual people who are poor or rich and figure out why. [2]

While there is a lot of talk in the US about income inequality, an important note and one worth thinking about is that the vast majority of Americans are the wealthiest people in the world.  With that said, what are the things that the average American does with their resources to help the poorest people in the world? By analogy, it is somewhat similar to the wealthier people in America to a working class American.  Americans earn 10x more than most others in the world, after adjusting for living costs (PPP).  Even the poorest Americans live a standard of life better than most of the world.

It is worth thinking about when discussing income inequality.  If we look at it on a national level, or a global level, there are issues to be solved, and we should all inform ourselves about these issues and do our part.  I tend to look at most things at a global level sine we’re all on this planet together, and I think nation states should focus more on global decisions rather than just trying to make their own country “great”.  If America declines and people in America are making less money, that doesn’t mean the world is in decline.  Perhaps a lot of that wealth is being moved into poorer countries, making the rest of the world wealthier, it’s not easy to say if that is bad or good for the world.  We don’t want people to decline in wealth or well being, but considering how much wealthier America is to the rest of the world, it would make some sense to see the world become more even over the longer run as poorer countries become wealthier and growth is quicker compared to western countries.

The average American vastly underestimates how rich they are compared to the average human in the world.

“According to the Global Rich List, a $32,400 annual income will easily place American school teachers, registered nurses, and other modestly-salaried individuals, among the global 1% of earners.” (?)

How we fix income inequality, make everyone more free and wealthier,  more open minded and aware, how we improve education, and how we better work together are all difficult questions to answer.  All we can do is openly talk about them, put our perspectives out to be corrected and discussed, and in the process, keep our emotions in check and not become overly biased or emotionally attached to politics as we know.  All of these issues are solvable, and we will solve them.  But we have to criticize the bad ideas, not the people who perhaps have the same goal as us, but just see a different way of getting there.  It’s impossible for us all to understand everything in the complicated world we live in, all we can do is learn as much as we can about as much as we can, and stay open minded, knowing that what we believe and know may not be the entire picture.

After all, life is too important to be taken seriously.  Look at politics for fun, to learn, and engage with people, but don’t let it polarize your family, friends, and society.  We all share this planet together, lets work together to make it a better place, and that starts, with you.