Sunday, February 19, 2017

Space to Hear

To genuinely try hear the core issue someone is trying to convey, you have to make space. I call it a Bull Quota. Like suspending disbelief when watching a movie. We all sometimes derail our point by using words that mean something completely different to the listener. The words, sentences and goals we aim for are chunks of meaning. They simplify a life of experiences. Picked from the chaos we have lived. This is why honesty isn't about 'saying it as it is'. Honesty is time spent. It is the commitment to have the difficult conversations, and put in the effort to repair the relationship if it crashes because the unimportant gets in the way of important.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Real Thing

If there was a mysterious flash, and suddenly there was no debt, and no money, all the actual physical stuff would still be here. The numbers are a way of counting, and a way of permitting activity. A coordination tool. If a group of people have no money, but they have skills, they can still help each other. This is why shadow economies work, but don't count. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) counts things you can count. So yes to paid childcare. No to stay at home parents. Yes to Zipcar. No to a friend giving you a lift. Money and Debt are trust tools. They help us do stuff without immediately getting compensated. They help us count things that can't really be counted by giving everything a price. Never forget that it is just a story to help us think. Money isn't a real thing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The engine of Capitalism isn't profit. Profit can be competed away. The engine is reinvestment. Reinvestment is a sign that something is alive. Even if you are making no profit, but you can consistently make something well for exactly what it costs, and sell it, you will be able to create more and more. If you can then find someone to finance the growth, and consistency is the easiest way to do that, you can build a bigger engine. If you aren't making a profit, and you are doing something well - that is incredibly difficult to compete with. In a world with zero transaction costs and perfect transparency, if people can copy you, they will. If someone can see exactly what you are doing, but it is hard, you are pretty safe. Find something you love doing, do it well. Build something worth building. Reinvest.

Boulton and Watt Engine
Steam gets the cycle started

Monday, February 13, 2017


Proust is one of the world's most celebrated authors. I haven't read any Proust. I am unfortunately almost monotongue. I have read 'How Proust Can Change Your Life' which celebrates what paying attention, and looking closely, can add to your life. It also points out the beauty that came from Proust relentlessly editing his writing. Coming back to it. Making notes. Rewriting. Often we move on quickly through thoughts. Too quickly. Both our own, and those of others. Things can be read out of context. How they are understood can depend on the mood of the reader. What they read before. In a world with so much information thrown at us, perhaps we don't do enough chiselling.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Housing Inflation

By lending money to people to buy houses, you don't make houses more affordable. You create money, not roofs. The financial world helps things happen. It acts as a lubricant or a catalyst, but the real drivers are supply and demand. Money and debt are ways of counting. They aren't the things you count. If you want affordable houses, you build more houses. The Catch 22 we find ourselves in is that people see housing inflation as investment growth. When people buy a house (unlike a computer, car or television) they want price to go up over time. One interest group (those with homes) wants the price to go up. The other (without homes) wants the prices to go down... till they buy, then they switch groups. It isn't a solvable problem. It is politically impossible to please both groups. If the game doesn't work, change the game.

If you are crazy, you don't have to fly
If you don't want to fly, you aren't crazy

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Poppies, Crabs & Shields

Tall Poppy Syndrome is when a group collectively hold each other back because any one individual who does well sticks out. Tall Poppies get cut down. In other countries, this is known as Crab Mentality. In a bucket of Crabs, any individual could easily climb out but they grab at each other trying to pull each other down. As such, they all remain stuck. The problem with relative happiness is that it is a zero-sum game. In particular - prestige, power and status. Even if everyone is better off, how we rate compared to our points of reference often carries more emotional weight. Best friends. School friends. Peers. Siblings. Showing how cross-cultural this idea is, a Scandinavian author came up with the 10 rules of the Law of Jante that simplify to the basic idea that you are not to think you are anyone special, or that you're better than us. The 10 rules are known as Jante's Shield.

  1. You're not to think you are anything special.
  2. You're not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You're not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You're not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You're not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You're not to laugh at us.
  9. You're not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Real Asset

Fiat money is currency established as money by law. It has value because the government says so. That matters because what the government says is backed up with tax (payable in that currency), prisons (where you go if you don't pay the tax) and law enforcement (the people who will make sure that happens). Hut Taxes were one of the first ways the British Government forced people to shift from rural subsistence. It led to many revolts. Money isn't a real asset. Ask Zimbabweans. Read about the Weimar Republic in between the two world wars. Money isn't actually a thing. It is a promise or a catalyst - meaningless if no one believes in it. Debt is much the same. Which is why inflation destroys both. If all the money and debt in the world disappeared, nothing would have actually disappeared. Real assets are tangible. They do stuff. They exist outside of the stories we tell ourselves. Money is a story. A powerful story, but a story nonetheless.

Yuan Dynasty Banknotes
The earliest known fiat currency

Not The America (Neil)

I moved to Australia a year ago after spending the prior 10 years in the US. Alongside being a South African, I consider myself a Californian, although not quite an American. I don't identify as Australian yet, but it's early days. 

I spent the last few weeks visiting friends in San Francisco. Every day while there, I was assailed with fresh violations by a regime intent on dismantling democracy and disregarding human decency. This is not the America that I fell in love with and the betrayal is heartbreaking. 

I attended the San Francisco Women's March and while I marvelled at the unity and love of a crowd 150,000 strong standing out in the cold and rain, I felt impotent. Here we all are and yet the lying, the hate, the corruption will continue unabashed. Sadness is appropriate - there is much to mourn right now. Obama's America, my America, is in flames, gutted by soulless mercenaries. What was, is no longer, and we need to fight for our ideals, not a continuation of the status quo. 

Despite my despondence, I hold my head erect, staring into the storm. My bravery is borrowed from the graciousness of those around me. The stranger at the Women's March who gave me his umbrella because I didn't have a rain jacket. The governments of San Francisco and California, who have said they will protect their citizens. The revellers at the Edwardian ball expressing their individualism and creativity. The protesters at the airport, three days in, chanting over and over again "refugees are welcome here". 

I am outside the US right now and my tenure as a US permanent resident can easily be revoked. I have some hard decisions to make on what I am personally willing to risk to stand up for what I think is right. I am not feeling brave or selfless, but I hope that I can fake it long enough to make it true.

Neil, a South African who has made America his home
taking a photo of Chinese New Year Celebrations in Sydney, Australia

--- Other posts by Neil ---