Tag Archives: random

‘Surprisingly Uneventful’

Despite all this ruckus over immigration, I still stand by my earlier prediction that the Trump presidency will be ‘surprisingly uneventful’. All of this commotion will blow over. Silicon Valley is like the 5-6th branch of government (along with the federal reserve, the Ivy League, and Hollywood), given how much influence tech firms are exerting in this immigration debate. Never before has there been so much debate over a singe issue. In a way, this debate is bringing the nation together (in term of everyone discussing the same issue) and is an additional example of how America is the center of not only the economic universe but also the political one.

It seems some on the far-left actually want Trump to be more extreme, if it means weakening the grip of Silicon Valley on the economy and society. They want Peter Theil to not have his Trump cake and be able to eat it too. Some on the left are happy to see that the sainthood of Google is not, after all, immune from the dirty grind of politics. They, the far-left, also want people to stop using Uber. These immigrants, in way, are pawns for the left’s war against Silicon Valley and wealth inequality. Both the ‘left’ and ‘right’ have grievances with Silicon Valley’s tech elite; for the left: wealth inequality, boosting rents and making housing less affordable in certain regions, possible worker exploitation (Apple factory conditions, Amazon warehouse working conditions), ignoring or overlooking data and user privacy concerns, insularity; for the right: pro-immigration (H-1B visas), promotion of liberal and secular cultural values (such as Tim Cook’s outspoken support of gay marriage), and also insularity and elitism.

Recently, Scott Alexander got some push back by some readers because the ‘Muslim ban’ seems to contradict what he wrote in his hugely viral earlier post Are You Still Crying Wolf, in which Scott admonished the media for trying to create a link between Trump and Trump supporters with racists, when no such link existed. Scott is correct to stick with his guns, and that this ban is not evidence of ‘racism’ (a word which in recent decades has since so diluted and all-encompassing as to be practically meaningless anyway). Furthermore, it’s likely to be constitutionally legal. Entry into the US for non-citizens is a privilege, not a right, and under exigent circumstances can be temporarily revoked.

A major concern raised against Scott is that because Trump’s executive order occurred only within the first nine days of his presidency, one can extrapolate that at such a rate things will be considerably worse by his 1460th day, the final week of Trump’s first term. Muslim entry bans today, internment camps tomorrow? As a silver lining for the left, another possibility is that that this executive order is ‘peak awfulness’. Consider 911, which occurred within just the first nine months year of Bush’s first term. Making a similar extrapolation, some expected WW3 and nuclear war by the time Bush left office (assuming the presidency as an institution still existed), but in retrospect 911 was just a outlier – a really bad event that 15 years later hasn’t even remotely come close to being repeated.

But going back to the original point, by ‘surprisingly uneventful’, I mean a boring and uneventful presidency, similar to Obama’s presidency. Both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ probably need to temper their expectations about Trump. For a presidency to be exciting, the stakes have to be high. The Bush presidency was exiting, as there were two high-stakes issues and one medium-stakes one: 911, the invasion of Iraq (medium), and years later, the financial crisis. Obama continued where Bush left off, but by then most of the heavy lifting had already been done–the financial crisis and bear market ended just months after Obama’s inauguration, and in 2011 Bin Laden was killed (thanks to the intelligence work of the Bush administration). ISIS is problematic, but not as bad as Al-Qaeda, in that ISIS’ targets tend to be overseas, sporadic, and less carefully planned, not domestic. Since the financial crisis ended, the news cycle has been dominated by low or medium-stakes events. WW2 was high-stakes; Syria is low/medium stakes because America as a nation isn’t being threatened, nor at much risk. Trump’s ‘ban’, despite all the leftist outrage, is low-stakes.

The Long Peace, and the Slowdown

In an earlier post Our Less Participatory Times, I discuss how political blogging, by in large, peaked in 2012-2013, and I still stand by that. Part of the problem is pundits, bloggers, commentators, and writers in the ‘political sphere’ are starved for ‘something to happen’, so we have to either go in circles, invent or breath life into ‘un-provables’, invent ‘paradigm shifts’ where none exist, or repeat sound bites to fill the void of silence, similar to Parkinson’s law which states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion,” except it’s the media that is doing the filling. Although things have been slowing down since late 2014 or so, they have slowed markedly since early 2016, and even Trump’s win hasn’t been enough to reverse it.

In diagnosing the problem, the slow news cycle [1] (save for Trump’s win), stands out as the chief culprit. Second, the US economy, which has transitioned from a boom-bust cycle to a perpetual, monotonically-increasing ‘boom’, albeit a slow one, is party to blame. Third, the ‘long peace’ as described by Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature, remains intact despite Isis, the deterioration in Syria, the European refugee crisis, and other problems. [2] All three of these tie in with the trend towards increasing stability of large, interconnected systems–the opposite of the entropy some say exists.

Fourth, since 2014, the increased importance and discussion of immigration, border, and nationalism, as a consequence of the European refugee crisis and Trump’s campaign. Although these are important issues, sometimes it gets repetitive and predictable. Nationalism and ethno-interests are never going to be ‘highbrow’ no matter how much you dress it up in intellectual prose, because by definition such things tend to be populist and collectivist, in contrast to right-wing elitism such as neoconservatism. Libertarianism [3] is fun in terms of debate and theory, but like a sitcom or other work of fiction, is fundamentally detached from reality. Nationalism, borders, and culture is less fun and more serious, because it’s practical and less theoretical. Between 2012, when NRx was first conceived, to around early 2014, there were themes of libertarianism, technocracy, and Nietzsche, but the 2014-2015 European refugee crisis pretty much ended that, because it became apparent that civilization could not be saved by theorizing and individualistic self-interest–but rather by forging a ‘collective identity’ united against obvious external forces that threaten it. You have to get out of the comfort of the ‘ivory tower’ and take a stand. From Against the Ubermensch:

In the past year or so, we’re seeing a re-branding or transformation of NRx…less Nietzsche’s ubermensch as embodied by John Galt (and the Californian ideology) and more like Oswald Spengler or Pat Buchanan. Maybe the old, pre-2014 NRx may have put too much emphasis on capitalism, individualism, and technology and not enough on culture and identity politics, as man lives not within his mind but as part of a social order and culture. Maybe this is a step in the right direction to broadening the appeal of NRx

[1] this depends on how you define something as ‘eventful’ – I define it as something that changes the way people fundamentally understand the world and the human condition. The 2008 financial crisis qualifies, although barely. 911 does, as does the fall of the USSR, and certainly the second world war. But there is also tendency in retrospect to see events as being pivotal, whereas in the present as they are unfolding, to be less so.

[2] Such, problems although they fill headlines, have not had any negative effect on the US economy, although it has hurt Europe to some extent due to increased terrorism (abetted by incompetent leftist policy in much of central and northern Europe).

[3] As in ‘pure’ libertarianism, not minarchism, partial-libertarianism, or anarcho-monarchism, whereby personal autonomy is maintained in high-trust societies. I generally remain sympathetic to libertarian ideas, but I can understand they have fallen out of favor in the wake of the increasing threat of Islam against Europe.

Inaction and Indifference as Rebellion, and the Decline of the Culture Wars

Activism includes but is not limited to telling people what to do or what to believe. By that definition, mainstream liberalism and conservatism is activist. There is an authoritarian and conformist tone to it that implores the subject to do something; for example, for the left, ‘you must spread your wealth and check your privilege’, as part of a collective ‘good’. But, especially since 2013, both the ‘left’ and ‘right’, particularly millennials, are tired of having to ‘do’ things, to have to ‘believe’ things, or to have strong convictions about things. With the exception of SJWs and, to a lesser extent, the alt-right and Trump, millennials are tired of action and dogma, preferring inaction and indifference. Decades ago, young people rebelled through action (protests, Woodstock, drugs, cross-country motorcycle rides), but now ‘rebellion’ is through inaction: staying home and watching Netflix instead of partying, going MGTOW, abstaining from drugs and alcohol, minimalism, personal finance, learning coding, and eschewing careerism.

As part of the post-2013 rise of ‘introspection culture’ (which is related to intellectualism culture), where ‘boring’ has become the new ‘hip’, naval-gazing and introspective articles, such as the widely-shared personal account of someone disconnecting from the internet for a month How I Got My Attention Back, frequently go viral, as every personal observation, no matter how small, has suddenly found a captive audience. In terms of clicks and viralness, even attention-grabbing headlines about major pubic figures such as Donald Trump find it hard to compete against seemingly mundane and contemplative topics, such as the articles In Defense Of A Boring, Comfortable Life and Why are Adults so busy?, both of which went viral.

With the decline of activism and the rise of introspection, which is individualistic and to some extent self-absorbed, the ‘culture wars’ are dying, as far as millennials are concerned. The post-2009 bull market (which is officially the longest ever), the post-2009 economic expansion (also the longest ever although the GDP growth is still sluggish), as well as a culture, economy, and society that celebrates and prizes individualism (such as taking pictures on Instagram), has also made culture wars less relevant. People see headlines about surging stock prices, stratospheric web 2.0 valuations, and Chinese buying up all the expensive estate estate in America, and we want a piece of the action instead of missing out (FOMO)–but also headlines about social security dwindling, the bad labor market, or how deficit spending threatens social programs, and millennials realize that while culture wars may be a sort of ‘bonding experience’ between like-minded people, no amount chest-thumping about social issues will change anything as far as policy is concerned nor provide financial peace of mind in increasingly uncertain economic times (such saving for retirement, paying for healthcare and education, covering the mortgage, or getting a job). Because of the aforementioned social, cultural, and economic factors, the culture wars ‘lost’ in the ‘court of pubic opinion’ or the ‘marketplace of ideas’, because the ‘generals’ failed to provide a sufficiently compelling case for why people should keep fighting when other issues seem more pressing.

As further evidence of this capitulation, particularly among the millennial-right, in 2016, Peter Thiel’s RNC speech, in which he proudly proclaimed being gay, was met with raucous applause. Such an ebullient response would have been inconceivable even as recently as a generation ago. Additionally, Thiel implored the ‘right’ to focus less on culture war issues (such as the controversy over same-sex bathrooms) and more on entrepreneurshi and innovation. However, conservatism in the individualistic, Randian sense (capitalism, private property, ‘ownership society’) is thriving, which is why Peter Thiel, who is a business and investing genius, not a culture warrior, is beloved by many millennials on the right. Same for Elon Musk.

With the exception of condoning obvious criminality that violates the non-aggression principle, such as the exploitation of minors, taking a moral ‘high ground’, in recent years, has become an untenable position in our era of moral ambiguity. For one, it’s a lost cause. For decades, spanning four presidential administrations, as well as talk radio and TV, the ‘right’ has nothing to show for its efforts, as American culture and society has inexorably moved ‘left’. Also, wrapping yourself in a cloak of moral sanctity and piousness leaves one exposed to charges of hypocrisy should one’s own indiscretions come to light. Rather than pressing judgement, it’s easier, but also more robust, to just not care. Moralizing, which includes SJW-activism, is sometimes an unwanted imposition that goes against one’s capacity for self-determination and self-regulation. ‘Our’ values, as in the ‘right’, are the bedrock of civilization, and leftist values are anathema to this. But to have strong values at all, from throwing in the towel on the culture wars or the rise centrism is, in and of itself, becoming an anachronism.

The Sweet, Boring Middle

Don’t read Marginal Revolution much anymore-find it kinda boring (too much economics minutiae and trivia)-but that reflects a deficiency of my own attention span and intelligence to appreciate it, not the inability of Tyler Cowen to be interesting. And evidently, his website is very interesting judging by the immense amount of traffic it gets, so my opinion is obviously an outlier. And again and again, as I discussed a month ago regarding Scott (both Scott Adams and Alexander), the greatest growth in the ‘intellectual middle’. The middle is the ‘sweet spot’, by courting both sides without having to have opinions that are ‘too extreme’ as to dissuade too many people from reading or sharing. For those on the ‘extreme’, how many would compromise some principle for a lot of traffic? I imagine many would, as that is the economically rational thing to do. Contrary to Daniel Kahneman and Michael Lewis who insist everyone is irrational, most people become rational decision makers when faced with easily quantifiable choices like choosing more money (or clicks, social status, etc.) versus less.

As part of the post-2008 ‘Cambrian explosion’ of intellectualism, Tyler’s blog is much more popular now (along with other ‘smart’ sites such as Slate Star Codex, Bryan Caplan’s Econ Log, Ribbonfarm, Wait But why, Scott Adams’ Dilbert Blog, and many, many more) than as recently as a few years ago, in agreement with this trend. But it gets even better–by pulling out ‘intellectual passport’, one who is in the ‘intellectual middle’ need not have to ideologically conform or compromise to be accepted, but rather be granted entry and be accepted into various ‘extreme’ but high-IQ groups (such as most of the alt-right) by virtue of being smart and authentic. That goes against much of social theory convention that says one must conform to be accepted. By being authentic, even if such views are counter-narrative, you gain more respect. Dissembling one’s motives and perceived pandering, even if one is ideologically close, has a repulsive effect, which explains why the alt-right has so strongly repudiated a handful of individuals, who despite otherwise agreeing with the alt-right on many things (such as being pro-Trump, pro-immigration control, anti-SJW, etc.) were perceived as only being involved ‘for the money’ and appropriating the alt-right ‘label’ for personal gain.

Regarding Tyler Cowen and Bryan Caplan, both unapologetically support open borders but oddly enough are highly respected by various alt-right and reactionary groups, their articles frequently cited. This has to do with intellectualism (both Tyler and Bryan are very smart) and authenticity (neither of them compromise or pander (and they don’t need to given how popular their sites are), and such steadfastness is respected), as discussed above–but also various shared narratives play a role, specifically a shared dislike of majoritarian systems, as described in Intellectual Solvent, Part 3:

Both smart left-wing and smart right-ring bloggers can relate to be ill-served by majoritarian school systems, that neglect the talented in favor of bringing the slowpokes and troublemakers up to speed. The same also applies to work settings, of the talents of smart employees being underutilized and or unappreciated, and this frustration crosses political lines. Both sides agree that incompetent people seem to be ‘running the show’, not the best and brightest, although in achieving opposite desired goals.

There comes a point where your’re so competent, pandering and compromising is unnecessary, and echoing Heidegger regarding authenticity, I think that’s what everyone should aspire to. George Carlin never had to compromise his angry, nihilist message to be accepted: audiences of all political makes found him funny, because, ultimately, he was a good comedian. When you read Paul Krugman or even Ann Coulter, there is the sense of desperation “I need to be accepted…I need to be edgy, funny, and partisan”, and that histrionic, excitable style of internet writing doesn’t work anymore [1]…better to be competent, even if that means being sightly ‘boring’, like Tyler Cowen.

[1] It works if you already have a huge audience that you built in the 90′s and early 2000′s as in the case of Ann Coulter and Paul Krugman, but not in the post-2013 era.

Intellectuals choose correctness over consensus

Related to Identity, IQ, and Incoherence of the Alt-Right

Intellectuals care more about correctness (or what they perceive as being correct) than consensus; for collectivist and identity-driven movements, it’s reversed. For example, Francis Fukuyama, considered one of the intellectual ‘founders’ of neoconservatism, went from in 2001 ‘co-signing William Kristol’s September 20, 2001 letter to President George W. Bush to “capture or kill Osama bin Laden”, but also embark upon “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”‘ to, just two years later, demanding Rumsfeld’s resignation. Fukuyama signed a similar letter in 1998 directed at Bill Clinton. Although the subsequent deterioration and financial cost of the occupation vindicated Fukuyama, such an abrupt about-face after only two years did reek of perfidy and betrayal. Not surprisingly, Fukuyama and Kristol are no longer close friends.

Inevitablism

In an earlier post, I discuss the criteria that constitute a religion:

Not sure if Gnon works as a religion, because religion is both prescriptive (such as the 10 Commandments) and descriptive (Book of Genesis), not just descriptive. Religion is deontological, meaning it prescribes a set of moral rules for its adherents, although such rules or motivation may not be grounded in realism.

For demonstrative purposes, consider a hypothetical religion I call ‘Inevitablism’.

First the ‘descriptive’. Some say the ‘only constant is change’. It’s actually the opposite: things seldom change, with the exception of a few blips here and there (such as 911, Trump’s win, and the 2008 financial crisis). Instead of surprises, everything seems inevitable and predictable. This is analogous to the theory of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary biology, in which species undergo little evolutionary change until sudden cladogenesis. Major events such as the 2008 financial crisis, the First and Second World Wars, and 911 are analogous to ‘mass extinction events’, that create new epochs and species and terminate old, pre-established ones. The last mass extinction was 65 million years ago. Statistically speaking, we’re due for another one, but it may not happen. Likewise, there is no rule that say the post-2008 ‘epoch’ must end either.

As further evidence of how things tend to remain constant more often than not, the post-2009 bull market and economic expansion is the longest ever despite the endless predictions of recession and crisis. Same for failed predictions of hyperinflation and dollar collapse. Web 2.0 valuations still keep rising long after pundits in 2012 said it was a bubble. There’s still war and terror in the Middle East despite trillion of dollars thrown at the problem. Inevitability is the absence of surprise, because everything is deterministic based on pre-existing trends that are long-standing.

Inevitablism postulates things stay the same, except the big get bigger, much in the same way chaotic interstellar dust under certain circumstances congeals into orderly discrete masses such as planets, or entire solar systems. Much like our own solar system, these systems tend to be very stable. This explain why the post-2009 bull market and economic expansion is so enduring, why Microsoft, after many decades, is still dominant despite attempts by competitors to create alternatives to Microsoft products. Or how America remains a dominant economic and military force, is impervious (relative to other countries, like Greece, Brazil, Turkey, and Spain, that have more civil unrest and weaker economies), and is more important and influential than ever (the ‘post-America era’ many predicted as a consequence of the 2008 financial crisis never materialized, as America rebounded from the crisis stronger than ever, while Europe and other foreign economies remained weak). Or as described by Wait But Why:

Secondly, a bigger point: no one person has the power to RIP America, no matter what they do. America is bigger than you or me, and America is much, much bigger than Donald Trump. America is a 320-million-person melting pot, run by a government made up of thousands of people working within a twisty, convoluted set of branches, ruled by a 240-year-old instruction booklet that specifically makes it impossible for any one dick to ride a wave of populist anger into a position where he can RIP America. America is un-RIP-able, at least by the hands of any president.

Also, society and the economy is becoming more efficient, which means fewer opportunities, or at least for entrepreneurs who aren’t in web 2.0.

One can liken it to a pre-planned society and economy, where all we’re just going along for the ride strapped in. This is kinda like Stalin and Mao’s 5-year plans, but over much longer time frames, affecting both individuals and economies, and without the Communism. There is free will, but success is constrained by both economic and biological factors. In referencing the Atlantic article on free will, one may have ‘free will’ to try but to not succeed, which is related to compatibilism:

Although there are various impediments to exercising one’s choices, free will does not imply freedom of action. Freedom of choice (freedom to select one’s will) is logically separate from freedom to implement that choice (freedom to enact one’s will), although not all writers observe this distinction

…and a relevant quote by Arthur Schopenhauer:

Everyone believes himself, a priori, perfectly free – even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life. … But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns…[126]

Now the ‘prescriptive’. To take advantage of America’s winner-take-all economy, invest in multinational companies that have market dominance and inertia, or to invest in a combination of a large cap indexes (such as the S&P 500), medium-duration treasury bonds, and medium-duration investment-grade corporate bonds. This also includes large cap tech such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon, all of which have outperformed the broader market indicies. This is how ordinary people can piggyback off existing successes instead of wasting time money and effort trying to create their own.

Related: Post-2008 Capitalism: A Guide

Also related is self-improvement, which is more important than worrying about things outside of your control or that have little impact on your life, because Inevitablism implies the best predictor of tomorrow is today, so why be emotionally invested in things that are impervious to your hopes or desires and that have little possibility of changing. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to throw you a lifeline. That you have to do on your own, such as by investing your income in stocks (related to the above paragraph) or real estate and being frugal. This means stop watching the news.

The final component is eschatology and salvation. The latter gives an incentive for adherents to follow the religion in the hope they will be saved. For Christianity, salvation means going to heaven for believing in Christ as your Lord and Savior. Christian eschatology describes Christ returning to earth, Final Judgement, to judge the living and the dead and rapture souls to Heaven to join his Kingdom, as described by the Nicene Creed “…he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. … We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” For Buddhism, salvation is the attainment of ‘Buddhahood’ by following the Noble Eightfold Path to become’enlightened’, achieve ‘nirvana’ and ‘liberation’, and end suffering (Dukkha, one of the Four Noble Truths). Jewish eschatology, according to the Hebrew Bible, foresees a Messiah, a king and savior to rule over the Jewish people during the ‘Messianic age’…”the Messiah will be descended from his father through the line of King David, and will gather the Jews back into the Land of Israel, usher in an era of peace, build the Third Temple, father a male heir, re-institute the Sanhedrin, and so on.”

Regarding inevitability, and related to NRx and the Dark Enlightenment, eschatology has many possible forms, including the creation of a techno-commercialist state, economic and societal collapse or stagnation (both of which are unlikely, in my opinion), techno-secession, transhumanism and possibly even the creation of something resembling The Matrix. By ‘becoming worthy’, such as through self-improvement, reading, and investing, one can prepare themselves for the possibility of this new regime change. But if nothing happens, self-improvement and investing is worthwhile in and of itself, anyway. Even when prophecy fails, that doesn’t mean the teachings and parables, and how they are applied to everyday life, are for naught. David Hume, however, disagreed that religion is always a conduit for ‘good’, arguing it can also justify evil “The greatest crimes have been found, in many instances, to be compatible with a superstitious piety and devotion; Hence it is justly regarded as unsafe to draw any inference in favor of a man’s morals, from the fervor or strictness of his religious exercises, even though he himself believe them sincere.” Because the ‘religion’ or ‘zen’ of NRx is inherently pacifist and doesn’t seek to impose its will on others through force or coercion, this should not be problem.

Our morally ambiguous times

Years ago in a philosophy class I posed the question of whether it was more virtuous to have never sinned or to have sinned and then reformed. The evidence suggests the latter, as redemption and America’s culture of authenticity have become increasingly intertwined. ‘Authenticity culture’ celebrates individualism, particularity intellectual endeavors (such as stock trading or winning math Olympiads). This is the opposite of politics, which is collectivist, dumbed-down, and elevates the ‘everyday man’.

It’s not uncommon for reformed prisoners to give motivational talks to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, who socioeconomically tend to be the complete opposite of the typical maximum-security prisoner, yet modern wisdom is that these two diametrically opposed groups can somehow mutually benefit from each other’s rapport. Other times the roles are reversed, with the entrepreneurs working directly with the prisoners:

Enter Defy. Defy’s mission is simple: “to transform the lives of business leaders and people with criminal histories through their collaboration along the entrepreneurial journey.” I received an invitation from Brad Feld and Mark Suster to join a group they were assembling for Defy; we were part of a group of CEOs, founders, and VCs who traveled to the prison to serve as judges for the pitch competition taking place that day.

Part of the appeal of ‘reform’ is how post-2008 American economy and society prizes quantifiable results (the ‘ends’) over the means (‘ethics’). The value or intrinsic worth of a person is measured by their intellectual, social, or financial status, with things like ‘morals’ and ‘ethics’, neither of which are as easy to quantify, pushed to the periphery. For example, financiers Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky, for which jail was a pit stop on the road to success, given their philanthropy are now forgiven and celebrated. Redemption becomes just another just another way to ‘cash out’ after the dubious venture has run its course.

Rather than going down the boring path of ‘strait and narrow’, many desire to to emulate those who became wealthy by taking shortcuts at the possible cost of ethics. And who can blame them: millions of people who ‘did the right thing’ only find themselves with poor job prospects, unpaid bills, and piles of student loan debt to show for it, and to add insult to injury, are snubbed or looked down upon by a culture and economy that sees these people are either invisible or victims of bad personal choices, not forces outside of their control.

In the past, America looked up to those of upstanding moral character but otherwise were kinda dull or were part of a group or team. Although the rugged individualistic characters portrayed by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood may be exception to this, such characters weren’t intellectual, relying on physical prowess more so intellectualism. America’s brand of individualism has a strong intellectual bent to it – think Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, in which the the ‘ends’ (liberating information) justified the ‘means’ (breaking the law). Rather than the ‘justice league’, it’s the rogue programmer who seeks justice. Or like Michael Burry, as documented in The Big Short, a smart person (a Randian hero of sorts) who in 2007 bet against the housing market (and the prevailing economic consensus) and became wealthy (combining wealth, intellectualism, and individualism…see it all ties together).

Marxist philosopher Slavoj Žižek situates the Randian hero in Rand’s fiction in the “standard masculine narrative” of the conflict between the exceptional, creative individual (the Master) and the undifferentiated conformist crowd…

Author Stephen Newman compares the Randian hero to the concept of the Übermensch created by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, saying that “the Randian hero is really Nietzsche’s superman in the guise of the entrepreneur”.[13]

In Less Than Zero, a 1985 novel by Bret Easton Ellis, disaffected, rich teenagers of Los Angeles drive around, do drugs, and party – except now it’s older people who are doing this, minus the drug and partying, permanently delaying adulthood to live lives of introspective excess.

A recent article about how smart people prefer to be alone, went viral and is relevant to America’s culture of individualism and the rise of ‘introversion culture’.

Smarter people can more easily adapt to their surroundings in the modern world, so they don’t need close relationships to help them with food and shelter, like our ancestors did. Or, in the modern equivalent, the Wi-Fi password and a spare phone charger.

From memes on Instagram that celebrate solitude and ‘being alone’ over socializing, to people choosing ‘hustling’ instead of the ’9-5′, it seems everyone is like this. For example, memes about choosing money over friends and socializing, frequently go viral:

One can argue we’re in an era of moral ambiguity…no one really knows what is right or wrong. Major pop culture productions like the hit HBO show Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, that blur the lines between criminality and everyday life, are a contributing factor or a symptom of this confusion. There is the contradiction between how culture promotes extreme sanctimoniousness, but also condones amorality, if not outright criminality, on the other.

Time Management and The Celebration of the Mundane

It’s weird or interesting how certain stories go viral and what such viralness says about the state of American society, media, and culture today. On one extreme, stories about Trump and Aleppo go viral, being shared many times, but these are big stories involving important people and important events; such virnalness is expected. But then on the other extreme you have mundane stories going viral, that don’t involve terrorism or major political figures, such as a recent article by The Guardian Why time management is ruining our lives, which got over 400 comments and was shared on Facebook over 12,000 times, in addition to also going viral on Reddit and elsewhere. The viralness of ‘boring’ stories about day-to-day stuff is in contrast to the excitement of the imminent Trump presidency, terrorism, or ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

This phenomena of boring stories doing so well is related to the post-2013 anti-democracy movement, and how people are walling themselves from the hype of the mainstream media to focus on their ‘inner circle‘. You have the cacophony of Trump and all this stuff going on, but people have had enough. Democracy and the mainstream media are linked, because they both involve persuading the masses to care and participate; without the participation of the masses, both cease to exist. The media needs your attention; democracy needs your votes. This is also related to millennials choosing to live a ‘boring‘ life of self-sufficiency, self-improvement, and frugality, in contrast to their activist-minded, work-driven, spendthrift boomers parents who want people to ‘get involved’, and also how institutions and conventions such as democracy are being challenged.

As for the content of the article itself, the author conflates time management with efficiency and productivity, but they are not always mutually inclusive: the former is deontological; the later two are quotients (results divided by time). One can be very assiduous about doing calculations with pen and paper, but this is an unproductive and inefficient use of time when computers can do the job in a few seconds. In pre-2008 culture and society, good-paying jobs for mediocre, obedient people were abundant, and as epitomized by Dibert, point-haired bosses ruled, in contrast to today where productivity, efficiency, and quantifiable results (value creation) are more important than diligence and conformity, and the labor market is much more competitive. In pre-2008 society, employees weren’t creating as much value as they thought they were (or that companies wanted), and a lot of overpaid jobs were lost to never return. People were practicing good time management but the were fired anyway. Managing your time is less important than learning how to create value. Too many people are stuck in a ‘pen and paper’ mindset thinking that they can just get by with hard work.

The culture of Silicon Valley, which despite its leftism is on a per-capita basis the richest region in the world, values wily ingenuity over obedience. Elon Musk of Tesla, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Travis Kalanick of Uber, all from the Silicon Valley and are the antithesis of the pointy-haired boss and are among the most successful and well-respected CEOs and founders alive, don’t care about your time management strategies – they care about results, first and foremost. Uber’s whole business model is about making the transportation industry more efficient. Economic and labor trends suggest that the world is becoming like Silicon Valley, not Silicon Valley resembling the rest of the world. Silicon Valley, which exited the 2008 crisis unscathed, is a role model for the rest of the business world. Hard work and diligence, in and of itself, is not a virtue anymore – value creation and signaled competence is.

Explaining America’s Economic and Social Stability, Part 2

In posts Explaining America’s Economic and Social Stability and The Trajectory of America, I outline a generally optimistic assessment for America as to why it has done so we compared to most countries an will continue to do so. Unlike many on the ‘right’, I don’t foresee collapse or upheaval anytime soon but rather a continuation of America’s global economic and militaristic dominance.

America leads the world in:

GDP growth. America has the highest real GDP growth of all major developed nations, although it’s still not much growth. Germany and France have had close to zero percent compounded GDP growth since 2007.

Academic output in the sciences, as well as intellectual property. This includes leading the world in patents, Nobel laureates, and academic papers.

Currency and bond market: The US dollar is the strongest currency of all developed nations.

The biggest stock market gains of all developed nations, since 1995.

Finally, the strongest profits and earnings growth and expansion of all major countries except perhaps China (which has faster growth).

So why is America so successful and resilient? Here are some additional reasons:

America is magnet for top foreign talent. Elite universities such as MIT, Harvard, Caltech, and Stanford are flooded with applicants by high-IQ foreigners who want a part of the American capitalist dream to start the next Tesla, Google, or Facebook. Having the world’s best and brightest helps the economy, although it creates diversity, which may dilute and displace preexisting cultures. According to a report from the Partnership for a New American Economy, 36% of the top 25 U.S. public tech companies were founded by people born outside of America.

But why are all these smart, talented people immigrating? Because America rewards exceptional talent more so than any other country, both through the free market and a media and culture that rewards individual exceptionalism. Countries like Germany, Japan, Norway Switzerland have much more restrictions and regulations for entrepreneurs, higher taxes, and less prestige and accolades for top talent. Being exceptional in Norway doesn’t bring as much recognition as being exceptional in America. You can immigrate to America, be really smart and successful, make a lot of money, and be super-famous. Nowhere else in the world is that possible quite like in America. Arnold Swartenagger, for example, couldn’t have been who is is today if he stayed in Austria. Unfortunately, because of its welfare state and liberalness regarding immigration policy, America, much like Northern Europe, attracts many unproductive immigrants too.

The free market in America bolsters the economy and takes weight off the political sector. This means there is more redundancy. Redundancy is a crucial reason for America’s stability. Right now there is a tug-of-war between the forces of decay (welfare parasitism, bad politicians, non-productive immigrants, SJWs, etc.) and the private sector (which is productive and funds the parasitic class). If the latter is stronger than the former, which is presently is, collapse can be avoided, and the economy can keep growing. If its equal, the result is stagnation (which is what is happening to Japan, but there are other explanations than parasitism). One reason why China, despite being Communist, has done so well is because of its quasi-private sector. Same for South Korea vs. the despotic wasteland that is North Korea.

IQ matter a lot, too. Countries with social and economic stability tend to have average national IQs of around 100. Low-IQ countries are more dependent on natural resources (for exports), foreign capital infusions, and IMF aid, because these countries are too dysfunctional to create viable industries and self-sustaining economic growth on their own. Their economic growth comes from hyperinflation and foreign credit infusions at super-high interest rates, not self-sustaining, organic growth. Despite a lot of low-scoring groups, America’s national IQ is above 100, as are the Nordic countries and parts of East Asia. It also helps, as stated above, that America poaches top talent from all over the world, but this makes other countries worse-off due to ‘brain drain’.

Private property and rule of law is enforced. This is extremely important, because chaos and socialism equals capital flight. Compare Soviet Russia to present-day Russia to see the stark difference.

Finally, America doesn’t give anyone, including top politicians, much power. The United States government is very big, with many senators, congressmen, and governors, as well as the intricate presidential line of succession and the peaceful transfer of office. Again, this goes back to redundancy. Having many people running things, without much power bestowed on anyone, means the effect of incompetence and or malice for any one individual is lessened. Also, the strong private sector lessens, to some extent, the power and importance of government.

Autocracies are viable and better than democracies if the autocrat is competent, but autocracies can fail if there is neglect and incompetence. This is because it’s hard to depose an autocrat, but also because the autocrat has much more influence over things are run than in an oligarchy or any of other form of government where power is distributed. Some examples:

1. Hitler, who rebuilt Germany after the Wiemar-era hyperinflation and the Great Depression, but was undone by disastrous military campaigns that destroyed the economy and eventually the nation, and nothing could be done about it.

2. Extreme examples include Fidel Castro, Mugabe, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and the Kim dynasty of North Korea.

3. King Saud, an incompetent Saudi king who was abdicated in 1964 by the house of Faud after a decade of economic mismanagement.

Redundancy means that even the assassination of presidents (such as JFK) have only minimal impact on the overall economy and national stability, whereas assassinations of autocrats can plunge nations into prolonged war and turmoil. Even natural deaths can be problematic, as in the case of king Bhumibol Adulyadej who died in 2016, creating uncertainty for the future of Thailand’s economy.

Ideally, you want the most competent in power, but this is far from reality, and sometimes competent leaders can later become incompetent. The bureaucratic state, much like America’s pubic school system, suppresses exceptional individual talent and is sclerotic, but it also limits potential harm by any one individual. If a country is struggling after a prolonged depression or war, having a competent autocrat can quickly get things off the ground (a business analogy being Steve Jobs, who in 1997 returned to Apple and saved the company) without being encumbered by bureaucracy, but being that America is a superpower, all it needs to do now is just coast along. It doesn’t need the added risk.

Advice to Ignore

The worst types of people are those who pretend to have your best interests and then spread bad advice either unintentionally or mistakenly, but usually for their own profit and or self-aggrandizement.

1. “Sell your stocks! The US economy is doomed!”

Every single doom and gloom prediction since 2008 has been wrong:

-predictions of double dip recession
-predictions of bear market
-predictions of economic contagion (from Greece, Portugal, and Spain crisis)
-predictions of avian, swine, SARS, and pig flu crisis
-predictions of Ebola crisis
-predictions of Trump victory causing economic crisis (experts predicted stocks would crash if Trump won. Trump won, and stocks have surged.)
-predictions of a second housing crash
-predictions of post-Breix economic crisis
-predictions of a second financial crisis in America
-predictions of hyperinflation
-predictions of dollar collapse
-predictions of student loan crisis

All wrong

Had you listed to the doom and gloom losers, you would have missed out on the longest bull market in the history of the US stock market. Yes, although the bull market can end at any time (but I predict it has much much further to go), keep this in mind: going as far back as 100 years, even accounting for the 2008 and 1929 bear markets, stocks have historically posted 10% average annual returns (including dividends). Had you bought the S&P 500 in 2005 and not sold, you would be up 86% right now (and that includes the entire 2008 financial crisis).

The S&P 500 keeps making new highs, enriching myself and others who ignored the media and didn’t sell:

I predict the post-2009 bull market has much further to go.

Yes, QE and easy monetary policy plays a role, but not as big as many believe, as I discuss here.

Peter Schiff has been wrong about everything since 2008, whether about gold rising (gold has crashed), the dollar crashing (the US dollar has been the best performing currency since 2009), US recession (8 strait years of GDP expansion), bear market (S&P 500 at new highs, longest bull market ever), or about hyperinflation (CPI around 2%, although healthcare, rent, and tuition has far exceeded the CPI). All of his predictions, market forecasts, and investments have failed, enriching himself in the process through fees but making all his clients poorer. What a loser! SAD!!! (as Trump would say)

The whole doom and gloom business is about selling overpriced [1] gold and other bad investments to unsuspecting buyers. As everyone knows, Alex Jones ignores topics that threaten his income stream and ‘respectability’.

2. “Never go to college!”

These people are annoying. Here’s an example: Ivy League Schools Are Overrated. Send Your Kids Elsewhere, by William Deresiewicz.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses;

It’s not like parents have to mull over sending their kids to Harvard or No-Name U. The decision is already made after the rejection letter, which 95% of Harvard applicants will receive.

If Ivy League schools are worthless, why so much demand? All those applicants must be wrong – how foolish of them for seeking the high wages and connections those schools bestow. But this author, who owes his own success to going to going to Columbia and Yale, knows the answer. Do as he says, not as he does.

I counter the anti-college folks and their arguments in more detail here. Pretty much all of these people who say to not go to college became successful due to going to college, and now are are telling young people to not go to college. Again, do as I say, not as I do.

Many of these people who say to never go to college are either retired or already successful, but what about people in their 20′s and 30′s who don’t yet have a nest egg or a good-paying job. Yes, college is full of SJW-scum and indoctrination, but the anti-college folks don’t offer much in the way of viable, realistic alternatives. For people of above-average intelligence, a degree in a STEM subject is still the best path to prosperity and entering the ‘middle class’. Even majoring in philosophy or economics is better than not going to college. Or you can install shitty WordPress templates, competing with $2/hour Bangladeshis, which is what some anti-college folk recommend as a way to make money without a degree. A $60-200k/year STEM job sounds a lot better, IMHO.

Ignoring all the alarmist student-loan-bubble-media-sensationalism, you can go on Reddit and easily find dozens of success stories of college graduates in their 20′s and 30′s making a solid income, buying a home, and paying their student loans. The truth is on Reddit and 4chan, not the doom and gloom sensationalist media that creates the narrative that college is always a scam and that every graduate is drowning in debt and unemployed. Yes, some are, but many aren’t, and your odds of success improve if you major in STEM. The media always overgeneralizes.

Also, there is tons of student load aid available, and although it adds to the total national student loan debt, it’s something to take advantage of if you’re going to major in a high-ROI field such as STEM or accounting. And also, there are tons of payment and deferral plans.

There are some other alternatives to college: Uber driving, auto repair, HVAC, and IT certification, and many people make good money with those professions. The problem is absolutism (college is always bad/good). It depends a lot on the individual.

3. “You must always rent!”

Even after accounting for the 2006 housing bubble and burst, over the long-run, buying is still better renting. Home prices in some regions, such as the Bay Area, have doubled since 2010:

Between 2013-2015, on this blog, I correctly predicted that home prices would keep rising due to scarcity, foreign demand, private equity, the somewhat improving economy, and other factors, and I keep being right as home prices make new highs month after month. Home builders suffered the most from the bursting of the housing bubble, creating a situation of too much supply, to now, of there not being enough.

US home prices hit new peak, up 5.5% in September: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller

…average home price for September was 0.1% above the July 2006 peak in nominal terms. The National index reported a 5.5% annual gain in September, up from 5.1% last month. The 10-City Composite posted a 4.3% annual increase, up from 4.2% the previous month. The 20-City Composite reported a year-over-year gain of 5.1%, unchanged from August.

Building long-term wealth through real estate seems better than pissing away your money every month to landlords who will keep jacking your rent at a rate that far exceeds inflation.

Here is an excellent info-graphic about why buying is better than renting. After 1-2 years, buying becomes cheaper than renting. If you look at Reddit, there are hundreds of examples of people making a lot of money with real estate either by renting-out properties and or from the price appreciation.

4. “Check your privilege!”

The only proper response is ‘Fuck You’ unless you’re are in some sort of professional setting where your paycheck or diploma is dependent upon your cooperation, in which case you unfortunately have no choice…which is also why self-sufficiency, investing, and minimalism are so important, even it if means ‘downgrading’ your lifestyle, in order to minimize’s one’s exposure to corporate-culture-PC-bullshit.

5. “You Must Self-Publish a Book!”

I have long been a critic of self-publishing. In short, it sucks as a way to make money. Success at Amazon self-publishing is primarily a function of personal branding, not literary merit. The average book sells zero copies and the average author makes little to no money. Traditionally-published books, on average, sell more copies than self-punished ones. It’s also expensive and time consuming writing, editing, designing, and formatting the book on your own. Yeah, if you just want to publish a book for the sake of having a book, go for it, but don’t expect to make much money from it unless you already have a large brand.

6. “Quit Your Job!”

Every few months, James Altucher writes the same article on why you should quit your job, and every time it’s still bad advice. 85-95% of small businesses fail within 10 years. Despite stock prices at record highs, the labor market still sucks for most people, so if you quit your job, you may find it nearly impossible to get re-hired. It’s much easier to get rich by keeping your job, living a minimalist lifestyle, and investing the saved moeny in the S&P 500 and or in real estate. That’s how wealth is created.

[1] Dealers who advertise on sites such as Info Wars typically sell gold at a huge markup. If the gold spot price is, for example, $1,300 an ounce, they may charge $1,600 to the unwitting buyer. Usually it’s in the form of a ‘collector coin’ to justify the huge markup. After including shipping and handling, it gets even worse.

Whether it’s bid/ask spreads, exorbitant mutual fund fees for piss-poor performance, or overpriced precious metals sold by unscrupulous dealers, much of the financial service industry exists because of ‘asymmetric information’ in which unsuspecting buyers overpay and firms pocket the difference between the actual price and the executed price (what the customer pays). That’s why low-cost index funds and liquid ETFs like SPY (a proxy for the S&P 500), GLD (a gold ETF), are ideal, because this ‘difference’ is tiny.