Financial independence and universal basic income

Posted by – February 20, 2018

It is interesting to compare financial independence that with what many people want to achieve for the masses via redistribution (a “universal basic income”). Something like that does seems to be bound to happen eventually. In fact, it has already happened from the point of view of, say, a hundred years ago. In Finland it is quite possible to go through a lifetime without working, and never starve, be homeless or go without health care. It can be mental and emotional torture for people today to live that way, but someone from a hundred years ago might consider it to be “free living” (though after actually experiencing it they might change their minds). The same is to some extent true of third world immigrants, for whom employed family life in their home countries can be unaffordable compared to unemployed family life in the west.

The mysterious thing to me is how few of those who really strongly advocate for it to happen *right now* take any serious steps in their own lives to achieve it. It’s a long and hard road to go all the way, especially if you start from a bad position, but even some measure of financial independence can make a big difference. I have successfully nagged at least one friend of mine to go from being out of money or even in debt most of the time, to accumulating some savings. The difference between never having any money and always having some money can be just a few thousand euros you save once, and then you’re free from small-time money worries FOREVER. From that point on, you can maintain the same long-term consumption level you would have otherwise. In fact a little more, because you don’t need to pay interest any more.

So why wait, probably for the rest of your life, for some financial security instead of doing something for yourself today? Perhaps the politically active non-savers are virtuously refusing to get something for themselves before everyone can have it, like those who postponed their weddings until same-sex marriage passed. But I think it is more likely that this fact shows why a substantial universal basic income is impossible in our present (non-automated) economy. People are just fundamentally different. The proportion of people who are willing to sacrifice consumption in the present to a sufficient extent is quite small, so most people must stay about as productive as they are now. They are not willing to lower consumption in exchange for lower productivity. In a democracy, that places some sort of limit on what a UBI can provide (meaning, people will demand excessive consumption through politics).

Of course, that’s also true of private financial independence. It can only ever apply to a small minority. The more people rely on UBI / financial independence, the higher the price of labor becomes, and the smaller the return to capital. The equilibrium of where enough people are indifferent between working or not isn’t going to shift dramatically, and people are going to continue to feel “deprived” at the margin, even as it continues to improve.

(I do know that the real promise of UBI is not free living, but better employment incentives, but Nordic countries are actually the least likely place for that to work, because we perceive strong employment incentives as “harsh”. We prefer to have people nagged and looked after rather than barely subsist on a small UBI.)

Do you want your children to grow up as Dwarf nationalists?

Posted by – February 16, 2018

I got around to watching the first Hobbit movie, and was surprised by how positively it viewed the cause of Dwarf nationalism. Granted, it came out in 2012, and the practice of saying “It’s [current year]!” only got going around 2015 in a serious way as far as I can tell*, so perhaps it predates a sudden boost in progress we have experienced. I wonder would it be made differently today. Eg. all of the thirteen dwarves were white and male.

In general, there’s a lot of “problematic” stuff in Tolkien, so much so that many parents of the SJW persuasion who were Tolkien fans in their own childhood may not be inclined to share Tolkien with their own children. The very contemporarily-minded Harry Potter is a likely substitute.

(Though it could also be that parenthood is destructive of SJW beliefs and that lots of people sort of forget and stop caring about the whole thing after a few years.)

*: The claim from “current year” is much older than this, but I think it used to be in the permissive sense, eg. “it’s the nineties!” = “anything goes!”. Now it’s more in the moral progress sense, eg. “it’s 2018!” = “we abolished slavery, now it’s beyond time we abolish [thing]”.

Abu, do another thing now

Posted by – February 15, 2018

In Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco suggests a technique for making one language look like another:

“Abu, do another thing now: Belbo orders Abu to change all words, make each ‘a’ become ‘akka’ and each ‘o’ become ‘ulla,’ for a paragraph to look almost Finnish.

Akkabu, dulla akkanullather thing nullaw: Belbulla ullarders Akkabu tulla chakkange akkall wullards, makkake eakkach ‘akka’ becullame ‘akkakkakka’ akkand eakkach ‘ulla’ becullame ‘ullakka,’ fullar akka pakkarakkagrakkaph tulla lullaullak akkalmulast Finnish.”

From Futility Closet.

Noam Chomsky: The Strange Bubble of French Intellectuals

Posted by – February 13, 2018

Music to my ears.

From the Crowd Control dept.

Posted by – February 13, 2018

Listening to my archives, I came across the following exchange. At the end of a Grateful Dead concert (1970-09-19, Fillmore East), as the crowd keeps shouting for an encore, Phil Lesh and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan come out.

[Crowd cheer]

Phil: Hey, ah, what we want to say is, thanks very much. But it’s been a really long night and Garcia’s got a cramp in his hand and we’re all tired and Bobby’s lost his voice! So… good night..

[Crowd gets louder, disgruntled]

Pigpen: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Why don’t you guys go home and FUCK SOMEBODY?

The collectivism of collectivism

Posted by – February 12, 2018

In a low tax society, the wealthy always have the option of casually bearing the modest burden of taxation and then mostly ignoring politics. If they don’t like the school system, they can build private schools. The same goes for health care, public transportation, libraries – most services that aren’t a natural monopoly. And even water and electric systems can be to some extent privately substituted. I’m thinking of some South American countries (though I’m not really well informed). Supposedly in South Africa whites rely on private security more than they do on the police.

In a high tax society, that becomes impossible (except for the very rich). The tax burden is just so high that very few people can afford private alternatives. In the Nordic countries total tax receipts are over 50% of GDP. We squeeze everyone who earns any money quite hard, and then everyone has to fight over the pot. We certainly don’t redistribute it all to lower income earners, we distribute it in a thousand little ways to various stages of life, industries, occupations, life situations, hobbies, societies. Everyone gets a piece. Sometimes it seems that not much goes on in Finland unless it can be somehow supported by public funds.

This has a unifying, society-building effect in two ways. First, people are more motivated to engage in politics, because that’s where the money is. Farmers, public sector employees, parents and pensioners are a few groups who might in another sort of society be not so engaged in politics, but in a high-tax society are both motivated and powerful political influences. Everyone is clamouring for a piece of the pie, but in some sense everyone is also “in it together”. Even people who are relatively wealthy. The stakes are so high that people really don’t want to see the money wasted. Some of it does get wasted, of course, but not before vigorous politicking and dealmaking on all sides.

(Though it is quite possible that a lot of people are only “in it together” for ethnocultural reasons, ie. nationalism, and the solidarity will eventually dissolve if the nation dissolves.)

Second, it leads to more shared experiences. Having fewer private systems means that the rich and poor have fairly similar lives. There is also a strong motivation to frame the results of politics as shared, treasured values. Finnish people commonly believe the heavily subsidised food grown in Finland to be especially “clean”, and public money is spent on advertising this. The default assumption in everything is that our systems are good, precious and embody us in some way. If something is wrong in Finnish schools, healthcare, or anything else, it is seen as an anomalous corruption, probably due to cuts to funding or some moral failure on someone’s part.

(We are not even the worst in this. Swedes can be unbelievably pompous in their belief that everything is done in the best possible way by their public systems and that their general consensus is correct. They’re probably often right, but this must lead to a tremendous societal myopia and some sort of karmic comeuppance in the future. We Nordics have a “nice” reputation, but in some ways we are the real “ugly Americans” in terms of intellectual arrogance.)

On an ideological level, I don’t really personally like this sort of collective setup, but I can’t deny that it is culturally deeply embedded here (and therefore shouldn’t be meddled with too much), and that it has something to do with social cohesion, which I do think is important.

My non-career

Posted by – February 9, 2018

A slightly embarrassing moment: something I’d done at work was being written up, and I was asked what my PhD thesis topic is (I haven’t completed any academic degree). This made me think of how unusual and hard to explain my working life is, although much in the way that newspapers have been saying everyone’s working life will be.

My main job is as a research assistant, which is a low-level job. Unlike in most low-level jobs, I do a variety of quite specialized tasks. I write code, I study and come up with ideas, I communicate with other researchers and people who want me to do something for them, I write (parts of) papers. The main part is “academic programming”, meaning programming where the number of users is quite low and expectations about usability and reliability are somewhat relaxed. So my job is quite varied and usually interesting, which I like. Low-level also translates to some extent to low pressure. I can mostly work independent of location.

The downside, I suppose, is the low status and remuneration. There isn’t really any way for me to progress inside academia, which is one reason why I also pursue other paths. For money, I’ve taught courses in specialist subjects, and lately I’ve been able to break into consulting. For on-site consulting I’m billing 100 euros an hour plus VAT (less for offsite work), which means my productivity can already be quite high. I get the impression it would not be very difficult for me to get recruited into the private sector for a “better job”.

At least for now, this sort of on-off mode where I can focus 100% for short periods of time but don’t have to be sustainedly productive 40+ hours a week is quite good. It suits some of my strengths, and probably more importantly, my weaknesses. I can burn out easily and get stuck on problems I don’t really want to or know how to solve. I’m sometimes completely unable to go through necessary formalities. A higher status job would not be very forgiving of those traits. People who don’t have my weaknesses can get compensated a lot better than I can, but that’s just one bit of bad luck I have. Everyone has flaws. I have had lots of good luck too.

I wouldn’t even mind doing some of my old jobs on occasion, tutoring and translating, where the pay can be ok if you pick and choose jobs and can work fast. In general, any odd job that happens to suit me. Like my highest-paid (by the hour) work I’ve ever done, voice work for the metal band Nightwish, a job I had no previous experience with and happened quite randomly. I can’t resist quoting from a Nightwish band biography:

“I had an idea of a song with a young boy reciting a poem,” Tuomas says. “The trouble was that no Finnish twelve-year-old could pronounce English right, so I had to find a native speaker. My mother’s sister, actress Miitta Sorvali, knew the English-Finnish director and writer Neil Hardwick well, and my mom remembered that Neil had a son called Sam. I called him and asked him to do the poem, and Sam agreed right away. It was just funny that when I talked to this fifteen-year-old boy, he seemed like such a citizen of the world, and was actually familiar with our band. Sam said he’d be free to record the poem anytime, I just had to give him a call. He even knew where Finnvox [studio, I actually had to look it up -SH] was, and promised to meet us there.”

The professionalism of young Sam Hardwick made a deep impression on Tuomas. “When he arrived at the studio, I had to ask him to wait for ten minutes or so. He just pulled a book from his pocket and sat down to read,” Tuomas says. “I gave him the poem, and he read it through a few times. We did some editing, and Sam just sat down on the studio floor and read his book, after which I asked him to read the poem a couple more times.”

“When I started talking about his reward, he wouldn’t hear anything about it. He just said, ‘That’s okay, it was fun.’ I insisted on giving him at least a couple of hundred Finnish marks [I think it was 500 -SH], and then he left. A very puzzling young man, but a real pro and a very nice person. He later did the beginning of ‘Bless the Child,’ too, and once again everything worked like a charm. [This time I got paid a fair bit more -SH] ‘Dead Boy’s Poem’ continues to be a sort of a signature song for Nightwish. After Wishmaster came out, the song was voted on our web site as the best Nightwish song ever. There’s certainly something about it that defines us, and—for me at least—the poem is the absolute high point of the song. So Sam Hardwick made a big contribution to our music.”

Ideally I’d like to just keep learning stuff and do something really valuable once in a while when the problem and setting is right for me. For that to happen, I’d have to be paid more like 500 euros an hour for consulting, which is probably not realistic.

In itself, low pay isn’t such a terrible thing for me. I was lucky to be born to successful parents, have practiced frugal living for a long time, and can substitute some investment returns for income. If I hadn’t sabotaged my financial life by having children, I’d be more than ok. Spending money doesn’t much increase happiness for me, rather the opposite sometimes. In fact, the plan is for the amount of salary I need to keep going down, due to increasing returns from investments and learning more and more about how to live cheaply. Ultimately, I would like that amount to go to zero (“financial independence”).

Overall, you could say I don’t really have a “career plan”, but I feel I have a pretty decent “life plan”. It has some risk of failure, but so do more conventional life plans.

RIP John Perry Barlow

Posted by – February 8, 2018

To many of my friends he was the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but to me he was the writer of many memorable Grateful Dead lyrics. He also wrote this list called Principles of Adult Behavior in 1977:

1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him in the same language and tone of voice.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

My Jordan Peterson meme

Posted by – February 8, 2018

Maybe I should do all my thinking in this meme format, a sort of Internet age Hegelian dialectic:

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To clarify, I think Peterson is great. From the point of view of the 2nd brain (that quote is from a profile in The Atlantic on Peterson by, I assume, a smart person), I can accept that I may be a stupid person.

Huokaus

Posted by – February 3, 2018

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From an Internet comment, three excellent reasons to oppose large amounts of inequality

Posted by – January 31, 2018

I desire this independently of a desire to increase living standards / lifetimes / happiness overall, and I desire this for three reasons – the first is that I see high levels of inequality as an existential threat to society. The second is that I would not consider the current distribution fair, if I was to be incarnated into a human chosen at random. The third is that the more unequal society is, the less the ethical premise of capitalism (that it is right to reward those who fill market needs because they are equivalent to human needs and desires) is valid. Which I feel is important seeing as it is the dominant method by which we decide what gets done by the ensemble of human endeavour.

A few striking examples from the world of stereotypes

Posted by – January 30, 2018

After a disappointing performance at Wijk an Zee, the strongest female chess player in the world, Hou Yifan, is now ranked number 97. She is one of two women ever to be ranked in the top 100.

Since 1984, there have been 72 finalists in the 100 metres sprint in the Olympics. All 72 have had West African ancestry.

Among heterosexual-identifying women, having had a same-sex partner in the past is about 500% as common as it is for heterosexual-identifying men. Among gay-identifying women, having had an opposite-sex partner in the last 12 months is about 350% as common as it is for gay-identifying men.

A way to divide people

Posted by – January 30, 2018

Some are interested in whether or not stereotypes and prejudices are accurate, others are not. The former people see the division as “scientific / rational vs. emotional / political”, the latter see the division as “pro-prejudice vs. anti-prejudice”.

The road to 1984

Posted by – January 29, 2018

Here’s quite an interesting introduction to Orwell’s 1984 written by Thomas Pynchon.

How did we get here?

Posted by – January 19, 2018

The feminist belief that the “patriarchy” is an unmixed evil, and that destroying it will be universally beneficial for both men and women, is an incredibly strong statement. How likely is it that the course of human sociobiological evolution at the very fundamental level of sex and power should have put us at a local minimum, a hole we can get out of to the benefit of everyone?

Pilvihavainto

Posted by – January 9, 2018

Talvella aurinko paistaa niin viistoon, että saattaa käydä kuten juuri nyt: pilvien reunat heijastavat viistoja auringonsäteitä niin että ne tuottavat lisävaloa normaalin varjostamisefektin sijaan.