The Problem is Money

Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it “money!”

The problem is that you don’t have enough money. If you do have enough money, and your problem is ennui, lack of self-actualization, you’re a trust-fund kid looking for meaning, then this site isn’t the right site for you. The rat-faced man isn’t about ascending the Maslow hierarchy.

Strangely, in modern life, you can have healthy family relationships, intellectual fulfillment, artistic sensibility, keen insight into your achievements and failings, and still be stone broke. In peasant life 200 years ago, things worked a little differently. But today, we live in misery and intense competition not despite but in consequence of material abundance.

The generationally unemployed carry mobile messaging and pornography access devices with enough computational power to put a man on the moon, like an Idiocracy version of Star Trek. Urban poors living in food deserts eat like Henry VIII and become even more obese. For those with a low Malthusian threshold, who breed and chill as soon as they have a roof and three meals a day, this is abundance beyond their wildest dreams. For those still attempting to live with some dignity, however, these conditions present insurmountable problems.

For, just as food and toys have become cheap, education and middle-class acceptable housing have become intolerably expensive. Our educated middle class has refused to accept either of two major lifestyle hits: cutting consumption (and giving up the wife’s income) to afford children, or adopting an actuarial, pragmatic approach to life planning. (Clueless people, such as baby boomers, call this “giving up on your dreams.”) Basically, we don’t want to give up brunch, so we gave up families and the old middle-class aspirations.

Part of the problem is that our educated classes are spread too thin. In a sane world, poors would need to do things for you because your value add isn’t in boiling potatoes or folding laundry. Now, you do things for them (it’s called patriotism, asshole,) while they mostly idle around or work in menial capacities for megacorps. It’s comical to see lawyers and engineers working 60-hr weeks who can’t take time to go to the doctor or get a haircut and who run around at 8 pm mowing their lawns and vacuuming their houses. Bonus points if it’s a dual-income household and one is doing all the housework while the other rounds up the kids for bedtime. You feeling rich yet, jerks?

So, like I said before, you don’t have enough money. You can’t seriously mean to tell me that you can afford to get married at 24, buy a house in a safe neighborhood, start a family, work 9-5, fund your retirement, and so forth. Judging by the numbers, very few millennials are doing all of those things and many are doing none of them. In fact, the old middle-class life plan is deader than disco. Entire cities have been rendered unaffordable by the middle class; we’re talking cities where the average house costs around 16.5x the average after-tax family income.

Let’s be clear: if you’re even close to average today, you’re poor. In much of North America, you can’t afford to live anywhere close to your job and you can’t afford to marry. Dress it up all you want, that’s what poor is. Before Levittown, most Americans lived on farms or in tenements, and we’re going back to that today, with young professionals living in efficiencies, 1-BRs, group situations, or homemade “pods” on someone’s bedroom floor. (Note that podbrah still pays about half of the inflation-adjusted cost of a 2-BR Manhattan apartment ca. 1940, except he gets a space about the size of a coffin instead of, yanno, an apartment.)

Even if you get a “1%” job as a surgeon, techie or Wall Street jock, you’ll be in your mid-to-late thirties before you can kick the old middle-class plan off, assuming you execute perfectly for around 20 years straight (ages ~15, when you start seriously prepping for college apps, and ~35, when you’re “made.”) Let’s consider an example. You want to be a surgeon? The typical med student starts at 25 (24 for MD, 26 for DO.) 4 years of med school: 29. 3-6 years for residency: 32-35. Tack on a year for fellowship: 33-36, most likely 35 or 36 for a surgeon.

So there you are, closer to 40 than 30, you’ve got total lifetime earnings of maybe $150,000, and you’re probably about $180,000 in the hole. If you’re a woman, you’re facing an elevated risk of birth defects and, if you start cranking out babies, stunted professional prospects at the very moment that your debt-service issues are becoming acute. You gonna have kids and a mortgage under those circumstances? No wonder people are now pretending that they enjoy downsizing their life plans. What other choice do they have? “Oh yes, I always dreamed of a 1-BR apartment. Childfree by choice! Paying a $2,500/month loan nut to rat-faced men until I’m 47 is definitely better than owning property!” Brunches replace families and roots, and when you die, you’re eaten by your cats. Meanwhile your dad retired at 55 to a lifestyle of Jimmy Buffet, boner pills, Harleys, and his third wife (who will inherit whatever’s left after the beach house gets paid off.)

 

The first step is admitting you have a problem. You need money. Once you recognize this First Ratty Truth, we can make progress.

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6 thoughts on “The Problem is Money

  1. My friend linked your site and I really love your writing style. Looking forward to rat tutorials! Curious:

    In a sane world, poors would need to do things for you

    In the gig economy it’s increasingly easy to get “poors” to render every microservice you can imagine. Why don’t the middle class take advantage of this? Too cash-strapped? Or not ratfaced enough?

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    1. Thanks, looking forward to doing ratty tutorials as well, friend. I’ll be posting once a week for now — posting has an opportunity cost, as a wise man once said. I hope I continue to write blog stuff that you enjoy.

      Great point re the gig economy. It has definite similarities to the servile relations of earlier times. But I think the differences are instructive too.

      You don’t have history with a gig employee and you can’t trust him with anything requiring meaningful access to your family. Note that a big part of what Uber, Air BnB, et al. do is reputation management and enforcement. That’s fine for ordering a jitney, but not acceptable for doing anything more intimate, and consider that the servant’s role in family life is famously intimate even though it’s within a hierarchy. Also, gig workers don’t find it worth their time to be on call. In sum, gig workers are much less useful than servants and are not motivated by the need to earn your trust beyond the bare minimum. It’s less a case of “poors doing something for you” than of casual work like shoveling driveways after a snowstorm or spray-painting house numbers on curbs for the county.

      In pre-industrial and early industrial economies, differences in human capital were mediated through substantially hereditary control of property. A nobleman might well be less “skilled” than his administrative staff in any modern sense of the word “skilled.” This began to change during the industrial era and a lot of new money sprung up, but nevertheless, to a significant extent, talented people often lacked the opportunity to move up socially. Hence the A Tree Grows In Brooklyn-type scenarios of highly capable women working as schoolteachers and social workers and whatnot. Today, they would probably be lawyers, pharmacists, and so forth.

      Under conditions of widespread access to education, the re-emergence of a servile class is indicative of a general decline in human capital. If your skills are so slight that the most economically productive use of your time is as a human sign, non-CDL driver, etc., it’s good that there’s a way to get you gigs but it’s bad if you can’t do more. Strangely, we are a highly educated society with a low skill density. And yet, we are a society founded on an assumption of “middle class-ness” and the state will not allow your standard of living to fall below a certain level.

      So, in short, the old servile economy was based on having a lot of reasonably talented people around who were desperate for long-term employment. But the new gig economy is based on having low-skilled people around who need extra cash. (This is one aspect of the universal basic income theory: wages should not need to be enough on their own to support a worker.)

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      1. Great article. I’ll be enjoying this blog I think.

        Now we all know money is easy to get, Just mint it and hand it out. Its just making sure the supply of tokens doesn’t exceed the supply of goods.

        Still the the results of lack of money and a lot of people realizing they are never going to get it are in the words of The Week

        America’s Birth rate is Now a National Emergency

        https://theweek.com/articles/642303/americas-birth-rate-now-national-emergency

        The elite wanted homo-economicus and they got him and her and since they don’t have free social capital that says reproduce any more and it won’t work on homo economicus anyway , the perfectly predictable thing happened, people whose wages were arbitraged quit having children.

        This of course means less subject for the elite to misrule and less income which than leads to the obvious solution, more immigration. Problem is only people having kids are immune to consumerism or typically rather lower IQ less impulse control types. They are exactly what the society doesn’t need and it still erodes the economy

        If we stopped immigration though ,reversed it is fine because really the world especially the developed doesn’t need more people

        In any case, its a logical, sound and healthy way to cope and if the West were homogeneous and even it were to decline to say 60 million over decades, everyone’s life would get better

        As for your idea above that a servant economy is a good idea, I must differ with you. First the number of servants we need is lower simply because of technology . One person, maybe two for a mansion is plenty . Its not enough to even dent unemployment

        Also I think its generally good if the elite mow their own lawn. First it humbles them a tiny bit and second very few of them are actually productive or useful. Most of what they do is make work for the connected or in many cases outright harmful or malicious

        If we could keep them at home more, they’d cause less trouble

        For the very few who do things that really matter, they can hire their own people and will but its a tiny fraction.

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  2. Well spoken. And about the surgeon– remember after all that time to get a high income- he will be taxed to death at higher rates and harassed constantly.

    You work, they take, and take, and take.

    The issue is, you can’t tax fun, and ease and partying. But you CAN tax productiveness that comes out of sacrifice. And so the parasite grows and grows,

    Like

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