0666 – consider the economics of pricelessness pt 1

I want to spend a vomit thinking about the economics of pricelessness.

Why am I thinking about this?

I think it’s because – I feel strained in my life. I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions, and that I need to find some sort of solution to this because it’s not sustainable.

There are a few possible solutions, or partial solutions, to mitigate this frustration.

  1. Identify and eliminate ‘pulls’ that are not actually ‘real’. That is, if I have some imaginary fears or expectations or wants that can be removed, I should remove them. If I haven’t already done this, it’s because I haven’t needed to. I’ve been clinging on to illusions and fantasies and whatnot.
  2. Identify and establish a more coherent narrative for myself to fit everything into.
  3. Prioritize and put together some sort of timeline/roadmap. A personal roadmap. The plan will never be able to work perfectly, but planning reveals all sorts of useful insights, so it’s worth doing.

I just thought of a simpler way of thinking about this. There must exist some truths about the environment that I’m operating in. Currently, my understanding of these truths is vague and imprecise. And so I am operating in clunky and inefficient ways. I’m not getting very much “done”. This was somewhat acceptable for some period of time, but it is starting to feel unacceptable to me now.

A part of me feels an impulse to “just quit my job and become a writer”. The precise manifestation of this impulse is interesting to me. Will such a leap work? Statistically, this is known to be a bad idea.

On meaning

You never actually ‘achieve meaning’, you just feel like you’re about to. Like you’re always on the cusp of something. This is something I have to factor into my decision-making.

Consider transactions

I tweeted about a couple of related things earlier – first, that it’s a slightly uncomfortable but probably true fact that it’s possible to buy goodwill if you’re smart about it.

Then – do you think of the human game as transactional or priceless? I’d like to believe that it’s priceless, or live in a context where it’s priceless, but reality doesn’t give a shit about what I think.

We live in a world where lots of privileged people would prefer to not have to think about things like “how much is a human life worth in dollar terms” if they can. This is a privilege of living in sheltered, middle-class type existence. The very rich and the very poor are both relatively used to making these sort of decisions all the time, I believe, but we don’t hear very much from either group.

A poor person might have to choose between paying for an expensive medical treatment or putting food on the table. This isn’t an academic exercise in a philosophy class, this is a real decision people have to make every day.

Child labor is something that’s happened around the world and continues to happen today. It was common during the British Industrial Revolution. Why did it happen, why does it happen?

(Sidenote about how frustrating it is to read Money/Finance sections of the newspaper, which leave out so much.)

Lots of people seem to be wired and/or conditioned to be disdainful of transactional relationships. Paying for sex is generally considered a bad thing, even if you’re single. Why?

What is a set of things that people don’t feel comfortable about?

  • Buying and selling people (slavery)
  • Sugar daddies
  • Selling used underwear
  • Putting a specific monetary value on a human life for insurance purposes
  • Paying for someone to spend time with you
  • Paying for therapy, counselling (someone to talk to you)
  • Going on dates with the sole intent of getting free dinners and drinks
  • Paying your children to do chores and get good grades
  • Tracking every single expense you make

Maybe, but I’m not sure:

  • Pointing out that poor immigrants’ lives are demonstrably worth less that locals
  • Poor people in general are ‘worth less’ than wealthy people

There are a couple of quotes from Lee Kuan Yew that are very transactional:

  • Mr Jeyaratnam says we’re obsessed with profits. I say, ‘YES! That’s how Singapore survives!’ If we have no profits, who pays for all these? You make profit into a dirty word, and Singapore dies.

Some bits from Venkat’s post that are really worth thinking about:

  • “Middle class people do not hire other middle class people outside of a few approved exceptions such as doctors, lawyers and accountants; they work for the rich and hire the poor.”
  • “Above all this, the middle class script involves a certain aversion to talking about or dealing with tough financial decisions. It is considered unseemly. Decent people don’t talk about money, let alone risk. If you work hard and play by the rules, the money should take care of itself. If it isn’t doing that, you are probably looking for dishonest and exploitative shortcuts like the evil rich or doing dumb things like the stupid poor, and deserve what you get.”

Ribbonfarm also notes that middle-class people generally feel uncomfortable paying other people to do things apart from clearly-defined services (plumbing, accounting, etc).

There’s something called the ‘middle class financial script‘, where you escape the need to think about financial things in transactional terms, and just ‘go with the flow’, picking the default settings – a job, a mortgage, periodic vacations and so on.

The reddit comments about the ribbonfarm essay – “explaining the generally shared intuition that monetary transactions corrupt”.

Corrupt what, exactly? How, exactly?

  • Is Your Life Worth $10 Million? (Nope, but your grandchild’s will be.) – “You’re richer than your grandparents, so your life is worth more than theirs. That’s why you live in a safer world than they did: As life gets more valuable, we strive harder to protect it.”
    • ” Should a town of 100 people spend $6 million on a piece of equipment that is likely, over the long run, to save one life? Not if a life is worth only $5 million. Buying the equipment means forcing the average taxpayer to spend $60,000 for a level of safety that’s worth only $50,000 to her.”
  • One-Fifth of an American
    • “When the immigrant crosses the border, Americans lose $3, and the immigrant gains $7. To oppose that, you’d have to count an immigrant as less than three-sevenths of an American.”
    • “The $3 loss came from $10-an-hour Americans. And we usually think of a dollar as more valuable in the hands of the desperately poor. The most conservative standard assumption is that the value of an extra dollar is inversely proportional to your income, so an extra dollar is worth five times as much to a $2-an-hour Mexican as it is to a $10-an-hour American. The immigrant’s second dollar is worth a little less, and the third a little less than that.”
    • “Accounting for all that, it turns out that the immigrant’s $7 gain is worth about five times the American’s $3 loss. In other words, to justify keeping the immigrant out, you’d have to say he’s worth less than one-fifth of an American citizen.”

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