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What Choice Do We Have?

July 3, 2015

As systemic solutions fall short, we must grasp the nettle of making our own arrangements in a time characterized by burgeoning demands and diminishing resources, capital and security.

The idea that our large-scale problems could be fixed with systemic reforms is enticing: replace the thousands of pages of tax code with a simple flat tax without deductions, for example, or the replacement of too big to jail/fail banks with community-owned banks that served the public, not shareholders.

But the attraction of reforms is a siren song, because our system is run by vested interests for vested interests, period. Any real reform is Dead On Arrival (DOA) because any real reform threatens the swag and security of vested interests.

One person's livelihood is another person's vested interest.

Toss in The Enchanting Charms of Cheap, Easy Credit and Our Spoiled-Brat Economy and we have a toxic resistance to systemic reforms that require any degrowth, direct democracy, writedowns of debt, devolution of centalized power, i.e. any real reforms of the unsustainable status quo.

So where does that leave us? With no choice but to submit? No, it leaves us with private solutions, by which I mean arrangements made on the individual and household level that do not assume the unsustainable status quo will magically continue to issue us our "we wuz promised" share of the swag.

Private solutions subdivide into practicalities (securing multiple income streams, choosing where to live, arranging access to healthcare, food and energy, proximity to friends and family, like-minded colleagues, etc.) and what we might term self-fulfillment: aligning our internal goals, priorities, personality traits, values and skills with the practical externalities of daily life.

Longtime correspondent Bart D. recently responded to an email in which I expressed the all-too common sense of being overwhelmed--by work, duties, responsibilities. His response gives us a starting place for choosing our priorities and goals:

"At the suggestion of a 93-year old relative, I spent a bit of time thinking of myself as being on my death-bed and considering what Iíd wished Iíd spent more time doing in my life. Then I went out and did it (and still am). That way, hopefully, when I eventually get there, I wonít have any need to ask myself that question because Iíve already resolved it. (Itís a minor form of Ďtime travelí in my way of thinking.)

After that, I stopped worrying about lots of mundane life things and focused on the next really excellent thing I wanted to do. For me, that meant doing a great holiday with the kids, taking them (and myself) to an interesting and inspiring place, getting out into the wild. As a result of that first inspiration we travelled 3200km across the continent and spent days swimming and soaking in a thermal river in the top end of the Northern Territory. I ended up talking to heaps of people from all over the world as they drifted past Ďour spotí. Each had a little piece of wisdom to pass on.

During that time I completely forgot to think about any of my mundane life troubles and I remained changed after returning home.

Holidays are now my stepping stones through mundane existence. Itís the great luxury I wanted but never had as a child.

Where once I was an ardent Ďsaverí Iím now a moderate spender on things that provide a good life experience. Iíve also cut back on my sense of Ďdutyí to achieve certain things for others. My outlook now is that Iím a part of a greater social machine and there are others in that machine that can (or should) take a turn in bearing the load. I will now let others fail if they donít want to share the load. We canít keep everyone happy all of the time. Just some people happy some of the time. And that includes our own selves."

This reassessment of duty and what is possible is especially critical in times of decline/decay, as the process of decline is essentially one of burgeoning demands and diminishing resources: there simply won't be enough to meet everyone's demands.

This means we have to pick our priorities wisely, so we 1) don't get dragged into the abyss by over-committing our limited time and resources in a vain effort to meet the demands of everyone around us, and 2) by keeping our expectations realistic, i.e. within the boundaries of what is possible without extraordinary effort, wealth and luck.

This process of reassessment implicitly holds the promise of a fulfilling life even in times of turmoil, instability and diminishing resources. As author Michael Grant noted in his history (referenced in Part 2 of my Collapse series last week) The Fall of the Roman Empire, many people opted-out of the decaying Imperial system by joining monasteries that were by design self-reliant and self-supporting. It was not an easy life, as the religious organizations operating the monasteries demanded piety and plenty of hard work. But the order provided security and purpose--precisely the qualities lost as the Empire frayed at the edges.

Some families of great wealth exited Rome and set up self-sustaining private fiefdoms in the countryside--manor houses supported by farms. Tradespeople and merchants impoverished by rising taxes found refuge as laborers on these sprawling estates. Once again, it was not the ideal setting, but it offered security, protection and purpose.

In our era, the questions that present themselves are: where shall we devote our limited resources of time, capital and effort? What is the payoff of our choices, and what are the opportunity costs, that is, what other choices must be abandoned to pursue this path? What trade-offs are we making, explicitly and implicitly? What must we forego to pursue our primary objectives? What is the balance between practicality, duty, risk, security and fulfillment?

Modern life in advanced economies implicitly promises order and security stretching on into the future. That order and security might fray is troubling, for it upsets the foundation of our decision-making and prioritizing.

This calls to mind the wry advice, "Don't let the dessert cart on the Titanic pass you by."

I place Bart's family vacations in this category. We cannot assume limitless growth, security, wealth, resources, etc. Rather, we should align life today with what we have concluded (after much consideration) to be our life's work, purpose, priorities, goals, limits and yes, pleasures, for the essential characteristic of fulfillment is a sense of doing what is most meaningful, what Ralph Waldo Emerson referenced in his famous phrase, ďTrust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

Yes, we must make a living, or have the means of a living. Yes, we must care for others as well as for ourselves. But as systemic solutions fall short, we must grasp the nettle of making our own arrangements in a time characterized by burgeoning demands and diminishing resources, capital and security. Fulfillment is not precluded by decline; rather, it gains in importance with each passing day.

The Mobile Creative credo: trust your network, not the corporation or the state.

This essay was drawn from Musings Report 26. The Musings are sent weekly to subscribers and major financial contributors (those who contribute $50 or more annually).








Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy (Kindle, $9.95)(print, $17.76)
go to Kindle edition
Are you like me?
Ever since my first summer job decades ago, I've been chasing financial security. Not win-the-lottery, Bill Gates riches (although it would be nice!), but simply a feeling of financial control. I want my financial worries to if not disappear at least be manageable and comprehensible.

And like most of you, the way I've moved toward my goal has always hinged not just on having a job but a career.

You don't have to be a financial blogger to know that "having a job" and "having a career" do not mean the same thing today as they did when I first started swinging a hammer for a paycheck.

Even the basic concept "getting a job" has changed so radically that jobs--getting and keeping them, and the perceived lack of them--is the number one financial topic among friends, family and for that matter, complete strangers.

So I sat down and wrote this book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It details everything I've verified about employment and the economy, and lays out an action plan to get you employed.

I am proud of this book. It is the culmination of both my practical work experiences and my financial analysis, and it is a useful, practical, and clarifying read.

Test-drive the first section and see for yourself.     Kindle, $9.95     print, $17.76

"I want to thank you for creating your book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. It is rare to find a person with a mind like yours, who can take a holistic systems view of things without being captured by specific perspectives or agendas. Your contribution to humanity is much appreciated."
Laura Y.

Gordon Long and I discuss The New Nature of Work: Jobs, Occupations & Careers (25 minutes, YouTube)

The Old Models of Work Are Broken


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Extra-Special Bonus Aphorisms:


"There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity."
(Douglas MacArthur)

"We are what we repeatedly do." (Aristotle)

"Do the thing and you shall have the power." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." (E.F. Schumacher, via Tom R.)

"He who will not risk cannot win." (John Paul Jones)

"When we drink coffee, ideas march in like the army." (Honore de Balzac)

"Progress is not possible without deviation." (Frank Zappa, via Richard Metzger)

"Victory favors those who take pains." (amat victoria curam)

"The man who has a garden and a library has everything." (Cicero, via Lee Bentley)

"A healthy homecooked family meal and a home garden are revolutionary acts." CHS

"Do you know what amazes me more than anything else? The impotence of force to organize anything." (Napoleon Bonaparte)

"The way of the Tao is reversal" Or "Reversal is the movement of Tao." (Lao Tzu)

"Chance favours the prepared mind." (Louis Pasteur)

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." (Winston Churchill)

"Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasures." (Rumi)

"The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love and something to hope for." Joseph Addison (via Susan J.)

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, via Wayne H.)

"Passive absorption of marketing-dominated media is the primary activity on the plantation of the mind, and that of course is the goal of the colonial overlords: distraction, passivity, confusion, divide and conquer, and the old stand-by, financial desperation." (CHS)

"While we can always buy back into a trending market, we cannot go back in time and recover a profit lost to greed or complacency." (CHS)

"Whatever remains unconscious emerges later as fate." (Carl Jung)

"Any sufficiently advanced cartel's actions are indistinguishable from magic." (CHS)

"We have no leadership, just cronies and puppets." (CHS)

"The secret sauce in an investment isn't the upside, it's the viability between people who choose to share your dream in business or in life." (Eric P.)

"The ultimate goals of making money are balance and independence from money." (An Chu)

"Central planning perfects the power of threats to bypass the system's defenses." (CHS)

"Independence requires independence of thought, habit and action." (CHS)

"Certainty has another advantage: it's more persuasive than hedged hesitancy." (CHS)

"That which is cheap and abundant will be squandered until it is no longer cheap or abundant." (CHS) (3/5/2014)

"The prime directive of any bureaucracy is to eliminate all accountability." (CHS)

"In a world besotted with the artifice of consumerism, what matters is not what can be commodified and bought but what can't be commodified and bought." (CHS)

"The Mobile Creative credo: trust your network, not the corporation or the state." (CHS)

"The Smith Market Uncertainty Principle: The more precisely we can determine the likelihood of a trend change, the less precisely we can determine the timing of the trend change--and vice versa." (June 20, 2014)

"Smith's Law of Conservation of Risk: Every sustained action has more than one consequence. Some consequences will appear positive for a time before revealing their destructive nature. Some consequences will be intended, some will not. Some will be foreseeable, some will not. Some will be controllable, some will not. Those that are unforeseen and uncontrollable will trigger waves of other unforeseen and uncontrollable consequences." (July 8, 2014)(thanks to Lew G. for retitling the idea.)

Smith's Neofeudalism Principle #1:: "If the citizenry cannot replace a dysfunctional government and/or limit the power of the financial Aristocracy at the ballot box, the nation is a democracy in name only."

"The truth at any cost lowers all other costs." (Robert David Steele)

"Liberation isn't profitable, and more's the pity." (CHS, 11/29/14)

"There is no difference between the path of repeated failure and the path that eventual leads to uncommon success." (CHS, 12/5/2014)

"Focus not on retiring comfortably, but on working comfortably." (CHS, 1/30/15)

"When you're thirsty, it's too late to dig a well." (old Chinese proverb)

"Opportunity, liberty and risk are not divisible." (CHS, 4/15/15)

"Memo to the Fed: you are the enemy of capitalism, the middle class and the nation." (CHS, 6/5/15)

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    My "definition" of success:

    1. Did I make myself useful today?
    2. Did I take care of myself today and avoid burdening anyone with my cares and troubles?
    3. Were I to meet the living Jesus or Buddha at day's end, would I feel ashamed of my conduct during the day, or could I meet his gaze with the inner knowledge that I emulated his teachings to the very best of my ability?


    live free
    live well
    live with integrity
    live with kindness
    be average but with self-discipline


    7 things to aspire to:

    austerity
    restraint
    humility
    responsibility
    patience
    sacrifice
    thrift

     

       

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