The Ministry for the Future: A Novel – And The World Today

I recently finished listening to  “The Ministry for the Future: A Novel” by Kim Stanley Robinson. 

The book focuses on the impacts of climate change in the future. Near the start of the book there is a heatwave that strikes India harder than the rest of the world. 20 million people die.
This makes me think of the link of this event compared to the current wave of covid sweeping through India and what actions they may take as a result?

In the book there are various attacks by environmental terrorist style groups to try to force companies and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. 

While I don’t condone that type of violence, much of history is driven by violence, and usually the history books are written by the winners, who write their violence off as justified.

This leads me to consider the link between “The Ministry for the Future: A Novel” and another book I am reading now, “Rethinking Humanity: Five Foundational Sector Disruptions, the Lifecycle of Civilizations, and the Coming Age of Freedom (RethinkX Sector Disruption) Paperback –  by Tony Seba, James Arbib”. They are not proposing violence for any change, but they point to how technological change could lead to societal change, and has in the past. And how “Organizational systems” need to adapt to times, or collapse. Historically, they have collapsed, but they are proposing that we have the change to no collapse, this time. I recommend this book to everyone. 

Another development in “The Ministry for the Future: A Novel”  is the carbon coin. This makes me think of a paper written by ARK investment group and Square (the company). It is a very short read (5 pages).

“Bitcoin is Key to an Abundant, Clean Energy Future In this memo, we aim to explain how the Bitcoin network functions as a unique energy buyer that could enable society to deploy substantially more solar and wind generation capacity. This deployment, along with energy storage, aims to facilitate the transition to a cleaner and more resilient electricity grid. We believe that the energy asset owners of today can become the essential bitcoin miners of tomorrow. “ – Link 

The implication is that bitcoin can create an incentive to develop clean energy as long as you can incorporate bitcoin mining as a secondary income source for the green energy when it is not being used by the grid. This would allow a buildup of excess energy supply in the grid that would be used by customers as needed but alternatively used to mine bitcoin, and thus create profit, when there is excess.


I am not aware of this happening yet. Although there are plenty of grid scale battery storage solutions that are replacing “peaker” power plants and providing tremendous payback to their developers. So that is a 3rd option for excess renewable grid buildout. 


There are even more reasons besides temporary surges in use for peaker plants. A coal power plant apparently suffered an explosion in Australia and  a battery plant was able to provide instant backup. 

Various battery plants have also paid back their build cost relatively quickly. 

Back to Bitcoin. The largest risk for Bitcoin is it’s challenge to the sovereignty of Ffat currency of any nation. If it does challenge a nation’s ability to collect taxes in their own fiat currency, it will be outlawed. On the other side though, gold is a current store of value that does not fundamentally topple the current fiat money system, but lives alongside it. If bitcoin were to continue in that manner, it would be fine.

I often call the USD (and all other government issued currency) as “backed by bombs”. This is in reference to any government’s “monopoly on violence”.

Meaning that the threat of violence by the government if you don’t pay your taxes, in their designated currency. 

Various governments have already outlawed Bitcoin, such as the Chinese government, despite a large percentage of Bitcoin mining happening in China.


Other overreaching governments such as Turkey have also outlawed Bitcoin.

What does that mean for Bitcoin in the USA? It is unclear yet. Personally, I hope it is regulated and taxed as a normal currency eventually, (and not as as art or gold, which have very high tax rates as collectibles).

Basic Income, Shareholder Value, Health Care, Taxes

I was reading up on Michael Tubbs, the former Stockton Mayor who started a basic income pilot. I was curious why he didn’t win reelection. Here was the story I found.

He has started a larger group of Mayors championing a basic income. That is a great legacy of his career so far.  

In other basic income pilot news, Sam Altman’s Y-combinator is still working on their basic income pilots. And Sam Altman has written a very thought provoking piece on basic income. He proposes this income be funded by the following – “We could do something called the American Equity Fund. The American Equity Fund would be capitalized by taxing companies above a certain valuation 2.5% of their market value each year, payable in shares transferred to the fund, and by taxing 2.5% of the value of all privately-held land, payable in dollars.” 

This year Apple is spending $90 billion in share buybacks, which is about 4% worth of their company value when valued at $2.17 trillion dollars.

As far as how profitable other companies are, the answer is “very profitable”. 

“We already have American tax payers supporting companies, first banks and GM  in 2008 and now airlines in 2020 when they might go bankrupt, or when they do. But the American People aren’t getting paid back for their support. 

So I think it’s only fair for taxpayers to get a substantial piece of the upside in return for bailing out these companies. And in the process, bailing out their shareholders, who would be left with nothing if the companies failed.

Yes, this is the same point I made last week about a taxpayer bailout of Boeing.

But it’s a point that we should keep in mind every time we see companies line up at the bailout trough. If many of these companies hadn’t spent lots of money to buy back their own stock to prop up its price, they wouldn’t need anywhere near as much money as they need now.

That’s especially true of these four airlines. Almost seven out of every eight dollars the four airlines sent Wall Street from 2015 through 2019–$39.1 billion out of $44.7 billion — went for share buybacks. The rest went for dividends, according to my calculations based on the companies’ Securities & Exchange Commission filings.” – Washington Post

We need to move to a system that focus on humans, not the economy and profits. 

This would be something similar to human centered capitalism, as promoted by Andrew Yang. 

We already have some institutions that their sole driver is not profit. Credit unions supposedly have their owners, who are also their users, needs as a priority, instead of just profit. 

Vanguard is a company that both serves it’s owners and it’s users.

If we increased the base of each companies shareholders to include everyone, there would be more incentive to “help everyone” instead of “maximize profits”.

While researching this I stumbled upon this series of articles about Stakeholder value. It is quite interesting. Here are some top comments, but I suggest reading it for yourself. 

“The most successful firms today are those that pursue what Peter Drucker long ago saw to be “true North” for a corporation: “there is only one valid purpose of a corporation: to create a customer”. Generating fresh value for customers is the foundation the basis for generating benefits for all the stakeholders.” – Forbes

Finally, another thing that would help small business and entrepreneurs everywhere, as well as helping people stay health is Universal health care in the USA.


“You know what would really help me as a business owner? Universal health care. The money we pay to subsidize employee health care is astronomical and grows every year. I’ll happily pay higher taxes to cut out health insurance companies that make $40 billion a year in profit.” – Dan Price CEO


Admittedly this is a fairly loosely held together narrative of ideas I’ve been thinking about lately, but I hope by sharing them it gets other people thinking about them too.

Precision Fermentation

The below is a lightly edited email I sent to a few friends. Because it takes so long to fully research and put together ideas, I haven’t been posting a lot lately. But I want to continue to use this blog to share ideas and have dialogue with others. I am posting this (lightly edited) to see if anyone else finds this sort of information interesting. Enjoy!

This guy (Tony Seba)  has a few very interesting pdfs available (pretty long well put together documents) about future and emerging technologies. Tony runs Rethink. Catherine Tubbs wrote the paper “RETHINKING FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2020-2030” and Tony was a co-writer.

Last I checked the Tony Seba/Home link was broken. But the below link to Rethink Website should work. You can access the reports under the “reports” tab.

https://www.rethinkx.com/

Precision Fermentation is the main topic in “RETHINKING FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2020-2030” 

All free downloads. 

I suspect RETHINKING ENERGY 2020-2030 is good too although I haven’t gotten to read yet.

The technologies are being deployed quickly in lower markets (protein ingredients). 

https://vegconomist.com/fashion-und-beauty/worlds-first-cell-based-collagen-product-zellulin-is-revealed-by-avant/amp/

And there is a lot of funding out there. https://www.fooddive.com/news/record-435m-invested-in-fermentation-this-year-report-says/585444/

I was wondering if ethanol plants could be repurposed for precision fermentation? That’s basically what they do now.

This YouTube video is a summary of a longer interview of Catherine Tubbs who wrote the RETHINKING FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 2020-2030″ it has a link in the video description to the full 45 minute podcast.  Pretty fascinating. 

Can I buy a Tesla in Iowa? – No

Iowa has a Republican governor who claims (like all Republicans) to be pro business. We also have a strong clean energy economy both through our adoption of ethanol as well as windmills for electricity. Because of all these things it is egregious that the best selling electric car in the world is not able to be purchased in Iowa. Tesla cars are unable to be purchased in Iowa due to a law related to dealership franchises, which Tesla does not have.
No one likes going to dealers. They are awful to deal with. They jerk you around on vehicle sale price. They try to talk you into buying something more than you need or can afford. I can’t say I have ever met someone who is genuinely excited about going to a car dealer.
Alternatively, Tesla, which makes the most efficient and best selling EV’s in the world, and which are made in the USA, are unable to be purchased in Iowa, the state with the highest amount of green wind energy per capita.
Tesla vehicle pricing is also clear on their website. Everyone pays the same for a Tesla. 

I have personally written multiple of my state representatives and senators to try to get them to make a move on this to remove this law from the books.
Here was my interaction with the state representative (I will tell you which one if you ask me directly). 

Dear Rep.

Iowa is a state that has approximately 40% of it’s energy supplied by windmills. We say we are a green state. But residents are unable to purchase a Tesla, the best selling electric car ever, in our state. This is due to archaic laws and crony capitalism. I urge you to help change these laws. – Axel Hoogland

Reply – 

Dear Axel Hoogland,

Thank you for your email.  I had no idea it was such a problem to buy a Tesla in Iowa. I spoke with another legislator who owns a Tesla and she said it was because of franchisees code. You are able to buy a Tesla in Iowa but it remains difficult to pick one up anywhere nearby. Unfortunately there is not a coalition nor political will to move language forward. I will watch this…it doesn’t seem to be fair nor help us reach our sustainability goals. Please email me anytime.

Yours, Rep.

This is representative of every email I have sent to a politician, regardless of the policy I am addressing. Admitting that it is bad, backpedaling that “there is no will to do anything about it.”


That is why I am sharing my views with the internet. I would ask anyone who thinks that you should be able to buy a Tesla in Iowa to just send your state representative or state senator a short email. You could even copy mine.  (below) 

Here is where you can find the list of Iowa State Representatives. Email any one of them, or all of them!  https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/house

Dear Rep.

Iowa is a state that has approximately 40% of it’s energy supplied by windmills. We say we are a green state. But residents are unable to purchase a Tesla, the best selling electric car ever, in our state. This is due to archaic laws and crony capitalism. I urge you to help change these laws. – Your Name

It seems like a very simple law to erase. The only people who it seems to benefit are the car dealerships, not individuals. So why won’t state politicians change this law?

There was even an 80 pager report in 2016 from the Iowa Economic Development Authority titled “Advancing Iowa’s Electric Vehicle Market” which specifically mentioned the issue that Tesla’s are unable to be sold in Iowa. If they truly wanted to “Advance the Electric Vehicle Market” in Iowa the easiest and best thing they could do would be to allow the cars to be sold here.That report can be found here.

https://www.iowaeconomicdevelopment.com/userdocs/programs/AdvancingIowasElectricVehicleMarketReport.pdf

Page 55 (pdf page 62) shared the information about Tesla/dealership laws in Iowa.

Like all progress that is inevitable, sometime in the next 10 years it is very likely that Iowa citizens will be able to purchase a Tesla in the state of Iowa. I am giving state politicians an easy win here by asking them to overturn an arcane law that is hurting a progressive American Business and hurting Iowans, making them drive out of state to make a large purchase.

Working From Home, UBI, $600 Unemployment

I have seen complaints from Republicans about how the $600/week unemployment benefit has worked out. There are many complaints that it is too much and is disincentivizing people to go back to work. I agree, to some extent. If you give people incentives to not go back to work, they obviously won’t go back! But we should consider if there is a better alternative. $2,400 month (4 weeks) for people is a lot, on top of any other planned unemployment benefits. As I recall Andrew Yang was proposing $1,000 month for people as a basic income. There was huge push back on “How would you pay for that?” despite Yang having a very clear way to pay for it. (see picture below). 

$2,400/month is 2.4x the $1,000 proposed. Why was it so much? My understanding is it was set at $600/week to get “the average” worker too 100% of their pre-layoff income. I am unclear why that was a goal. I think there could be a little personal liability to try to cover a little of your lost earnings when there is a mess like we are in. But what I really want to point out is the PPP cost $669 billion of which most went to workers (per the law) and a bit was available to cover utilities etc. 

Why didn’t we just let people be laid off and collect unemployment, give businesses a much smaller lifeline (25% of $669 billion to cover utilities etc) and let the rest be used for a UBI to some extent. I don’t even care if I was personally left out of the UBI. Give it some arbitrary cut off of $50k or less a year 2019 income. That would have been $500 billion dollars for 4 months. 

$500 billion could have provided a UBI of $1,000/month for 125 million people for 4 months. In 2018 there were only 150 million people working full time so that is nearly the full amount of people! Why did we have to use the PPP, serve less people and make people continue to be tied to their work? We are so obsessed with tying people to a job, it is insane. 

““You’re turning the business into a pass-through for the federal government,” said Joe Walsh, who owns Clean Green Maine, a cleaning service in Portland, Maine with 35 employees. “You’re doing very little to actually help the business.” – Chicago Tribute

It is almost as crazy as the feeling for employers that they “Need to get employees back to the office asap”. Many people have been working from home for 4 months.  If people have been successfully working from home for 4 months, what is the rush to get them “back to the office”? I understand some people need to be in the office. Personally my job has some interaction with manufacturing so I am in the office every day now. But many of my colleagues are successfully working from home. I don’t see a reason to “rush them back”. It seems to me the only reason to do that is because of some deeply ingrained mistrust of employees from the very upper echelons of business that if employees are not being watched like hawks they will be screwing off. Some companies are getting it, like Square, which seems to be transitioning to fully work from home permanently

Another thing I don’t get is how Republicans, “the media” and many essential workers are angry at people who are unemployed and receiving $600/week. On a very surface level it makes sense, you see someone “getting paid to do nothing” while you are a hard working essential person. Think “I am paying for that lazy loser.” Etc. But realistically, most of the laid off people would be happy to have continued to keep working, or at least being able to provide for their families, if possible. There is an odd set of circumstances that some people are laid off adn some aren’t. But the “essential vs unemployed” fight is a fight between THE SAME GROUP OF PEOPLE! Or at least they were part of the same group of people until right before some of them lost their jobs. It is crazy to me that the “essential” people so quickly turned their anger towards the people who are getting money from the government program that it is likely they could have received money from too except for a specific set of circumstances. That person receiving $600 has no impact on your life. You are not receiving less because of that, except for the fact that you all are not demanding a UBI! 

I will share a meme (below) to try to get the point across. Not that I hold anything personally against Jeff Bezos (although many people do). But it’s trying to make a point. 

So, anyone who is working a job currently, please stop being mad at the unemployed people who got $600/week for a few months. Start being mad at the government for a shitty response. Then start writing your senators and House of Representatives and asking why a Basic Income is still not being considered, for ALL!

Andrew Yang

Twelve Reasons to Vote for Andrew Yang – Another good post about Yang!

I am going to put my “outro” at the start here in case people don’t get through this whole post!

Outro

I think it is vital to get a forward thinker like Andrew Yang in the White House in 2020. I am writing this to request that anyone who is reading this specifically consider reading about Andrew Yang more via his book, The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, which as always, I will buy for you if you are willing to read it! The book is even on YouTube if you don’t want to buy it. 

You can also watch many of the podcasts Yang had some such as Joe Rogan or Sam Harris.If you think you can support Yang for president, you can donate to his campaign, and please vote for him in your Primary or Caucus for him in your state!

Start – 

I attended an Andrew Yang event in Waterloo, Iowa recently. I ended up eating with someone who is taking time off their job to work for Yang’s campaign.

He is going door to door, talking with people about if they will support Yang in the Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus February 3rd, 2020, not necessarily if they would vote for him in the Presidential race in November 2020. The caucus, along with Primaries in many other states helps determine who the Democratic candidate for president in November 2020 will be. 

Why is he talking to people about the caucus specifically? There are many people who will vote straight ticket in the general election, regardless of who is their party’s candidate is. I had that realization after talking with some people at the restaurant after the event. “I would vote for a piece of poo instead of Trump.” was the person’s exact words. 

I can understand that sentiment. But I don’t necessarily feel that way. I am tired of voting for the lesser of 2 evils. That’s is how Trump won in the first place. Hillary was a bad choice for a candidate.

Andrew Yang acknowledges that there are a lot of issues in the country right now, which some Democratic Candidates do not, and was one of the main issues of Hillary’s campaign. She said things were fine! Many other Democratic candidates think the only problem is Trump. Yang recognizes that Trump is not the problem but a symptom. Trump recognized a lot of the correct problems. The difference between Trump and Yang is Trump is looking backwards, while Yang is the candidate of the future. Many of the other democratic candidates are just making noise.

Yang is the data candidate. He looks at what the data is saying, for example, life expectancy is going down in America, due to suicides and drug overdoses. That’s a problem, but it’s a result of people feeling down, losing jobs, losing economic power, etc.

Although the “Freedom Dividend” (Basic Income), is a policy of Yang’s that gets a ton of attention, I think a more important one is “Human Centered Capitalism”.

There is a saying that goes something like this “You get what you measure.” Since we measure GDP and the Stock Market, we are certainly maximizing those things. But only 20% of people are participating in any meaningful way in the stock market and no one makes money directly from GDP. 

We need to think about people, not just GDP. That’s where Human Centered Capitalism comes in. In Human Centered Capitalism, people come first. If all jobs were 100% automated (a possibility in the future and something that should be a goal) we would have a great GDP and high returns on investment, but how would individual people be doing? With no income, likely not well! We are already somewhat in this situation now. 78% of  people are living paycheck to paycheck, you might even be one of them!
Many people I talk to about this blame the people in this situation. I think that’s a form of victim blaming. 

There are so many factors in each person’s individual journey from child to productive adult. There are many barriers in front of people and very different barriers. We need to help each other achieve our potentials. 

There are many programs available to help people reach their potential, but there is a better way, the Freedom Dividend. This will allow each person some money to help pick a direction to take in life and if it happens they took the wrong direction, they will be able to reevaluate and picka  new direction. The issue with today is if you are stuck in a job, you likely have no way to leave. 78% of people can not leave their job without extreme hardship, due to living paycheck to paycheck. 

Because the government has a vastly larger budget compared to any company, $4 trillion dollars a year, the government has to be a part of solving problems.

People who have a problem with the government being involved in things need to read “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism”. That book cured me from thinking about the government as an evil entity trying to take away everyone’s rights. 

Another on Andrew Yang’s policies, Democracy Dollars, will help get more people into politics via funding, and help lower income people contribute to candidates they like. 

Because of all these things, I think it is vital to get a forward thinker like Andrew Yang in the White House in 2020. I am writing this to request that anyone who is reading this specifically consider reading about Andrew Yang more via his book, The War on Normal People: The Truth About America’s Disappearing Jobs and Why Universal Basic Income Is Our Future, which as always, I will buy for you if you are willing to read it! The book is even on YouTube if you don’t want to buy it. 

You can also watch many of the podcasts Yang had some such as Joe Rogan or Sam Harris.If you think you can support Yang for president, you can donate to his campaign, and please vote for him in your Primary or Caucus for him in your state!

Mid 02019 Update

It’s been almost a year since my last post and I didn’t do an end of 02017 or  02018 post. Since the start of a year is a relatively arbitrary time in our trips around the sun and happens at different times in certain countries I think a minor update could be appropriate. 

A few big things happened this year. 
I started a financial advising business.
I bought a duplex.
I started funding a chicken farm in Haiti. 

In August 2018 I started Highland Wealth Management. I met Mike Finley 4 or 5 years ago. He teaches classes at the college in town about personal finances. I learned a lot from him and continued on from there. I started this business because I saw how inefficient most people’s finances are. My main goal with this business is to save people hundreds of thousands of dollars over their life. This means keeping more money with the investor and having less go to the advisor. If you look at how much most financial advisors take, it’s a lot 1% to 2.5% a year, of your money! The actual value being provided is very very little. With a few hours of time investment with a fiduciary financial advisor, most people can save more money over their life than they will make in years of working.

I bought a duplex in May 2019. As part of my own personal financial journey I thought getting into owning a rental property might be a good idea. I am living in one side of the duplex and renting the other side. Below are the calculations i used to justify this purchase. I assume the return of the stock market is about 9%-10% a year. A duplex has to return above that for me to even consider it. The below also does not take into account the equity build up for the mortgage pay off. 

Many of my friends are into rental properties. I had been living in an apartment for about 7 years so I thought it was time for a change. I think this will help me in my advising business also if people have rental properties I can help them determine if it’s really a good fit for them or not. While some places are good, I have also seen many cases, for example of inherited properties, that people should just sell.

On purchasing/financing the property. I ended with a 30 year loan at 4.25%. At the time if I’d bought a house the rate was 4%. They were able to raise the rate .25% on a duplex “just because”. That being said, since I was owner occupying the property, I was able to get a 30 year loan with a lower rate than if I was buying it commercially. At the time a commercial loan was 5% and the term was only 20 years, instead of 30. I like the lower rate and longer timeline because it allows a better, more sure, cash flow. For me, cash flow is a key thing for a rental property. I also purchased a place that needed very little as far as work done to make it livable, actually no work. While there are a few cosmetic things I could fix such as a few holes in the siding or other little things like that, this property did not require any major renovations. For me, that was a good first choice.It even came with tenants in one side. That was also nice as when I signed the mortgage the old owners signed a $250 prorated check for the rest of that months rent! The next day as I was moving in the tenants paid me for the next month. So while this has all worked out well for me so far (4 months in, through summer), I still can not say it’s for everyone. There are many other blogs and sources of information on rental properties if you are interested. Or ask me any questions you might have!

If you recall from my 02016 year end review, I had bought into a solar field at the power company at my old apartment. When I moved I had to sell those back to the company. I recooped about $880 from that investment that was $1080. In the end it was about a wash as far as money goes. But the environmental impacts were a positive that were not directly measured, at least not by me. 

I took the money from that sale and bought an electric lawn mower for my new house! I bought an Ego 21” deck, self propelled (push) lawn mower for $500 at Home Depot. While I could have gotten a cheap gas powered push mower for as low as $100, a self propelled Honda gas mower can be as much as $500 also so purchase price was not really more expensive than a comparable gas mower for the Ego electric mower. This was my first foray into electric vehicles (after my self build electric bike, which used a kit, and was a bit of a failure, in execution. The concept of electric bikes is still good. There are many good electric bikes built by manufacturers. I would recommend one of those over a kit). (I also have an electric coffee mug which I really like.) I am very happy with the electric lawn mower. I use the self-propelled all the time as well as the mulching, using as much energy as possible, which leads to the shortest battery life. It usually mows my whole lawn, which takes about 30 minutes. In the off chance it doesn’t I just plug the battery in, which fully charges in 1 hr, and finish up the last 10 minutes of mowing. Not having to deal with gas or oil or spark plugs is fantastic and one reason I expect electric to take over for most gas application in the near future. 

I started a chicken egg business/farm in Haiti with Jhon. I have mentioned Jhon before as far as helping him via paying for his schooling. Jhon told me of an idea he had for a chicken farm. He believed he would be able to sell eggs to local stores. I was hesitant but provided enough money to buy 30 chickens ($15/chicken) as well as to build out a coop, a few hundred dollars. Jhon set up all the business as far as having someone take care of the chickens, his cousin, someone deliver the eggs to business, a neighbor, as well as a different person to collect the money. Jhon is actually studying in a different city than the chickens are. This is a great hands off business, as far as the day to day running. Jhon said the alternative for eggs is they are shipped in from the Dominician Republic. The price of a chicken is $15 and the monthly return is $2/chicken. In less than 1 year a chicken has paid for itself! If the chicken lives 2 years it’s provided a 220% return! After about 3 months of seeing the business work with 30 chickens I decided to purchase 70 more to get the business up to the full size Jhon initially envisioned. The farm now has 100 chickens.

Jhon is using this money to fund the rest of his college himself. I am no longer paying for his college directly! This is very exciting for me for 2 reasons.

  1. I don’t have to continually put money in with no direct return to myself.
  2. Jhon is creating a self sufficient business. He will learn and earn through this business.

I recently finished a book called “The Prosperity Paradox: How Innovation Can Lift Nations Out of Poverty”. Along with other books I’ve read like “Toxic Charity” and “When Helping Hurts” I think that investing in business, teaching a man to fish, is much more valuable in the long term than just giving money. I am hoping to continue to support Jhon in his various entrepreneurial ideas going forward.

Target Date Funds

Here is a link to a video I made about Target Date Funds.

These are great times to be investing! Today is literally the easiest time in all of history to invest. It is also the cheapest time in history to invest. There is an incredible product called a “Target Date Fund” available for “Joe Investor” that is actually a very good tool.

A target date fund is set up to buy thousands of stocks and bonds (diversity) for the owner of the fund. It also automatically transfers more money to bonds (safer) as the fund owner reaches retirement age. This can be the only fund you need in a retirement fund, if you want.

A target date fund usually has a name like 2055 Target Date Fund. Here’s a link to Vanguard Target Retirement 2055 Fund (VFFVX)
There are target date funds available for every 5 years. 2010, 2015, 2020, etc
You can see from the picture below the comparison of the asset allocation of a 2025 vs a 2055 target date fund.

You can see that the 2055 target date fund has a larger percent of stocks, since you will be retiring in the future so you’ll have time to recover from any stock market dips. You can see the 2025 target date fund has a higher percentage of bonds to reduce volatility.

Click below picture to zoom.

Here is a picture of the path that Vanguard uses to transfer money to bonds as you age.

Here is a link to the Vanguard site where they share more data.

vanguard target date

Here is some further reading on if a Target Date Fund is right for your or not.

The pros, cons of using target-date funds in 401(k) plans
5 things you should know about target-date funds

If you want to start investing and have no idea what fund to put your money in, figure out what year target date is available for closest to when you will be 65 and put your money in that fund while you learn a bit more about investing.

What Is Good?

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. –  Aristotle

What is good? What is truth? How do you know when you find truth? These are some very important questions I have been trying to ask myself lately.

To know how to fix things you first need to know how things work. One thing I have been rather interested in lately is how the brain works. In light of that I read and listened to a few books about the brain.

The Man Who Wasn’t There – Anil Ananthaswamy
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain – (Audiobook) David Eagleman
The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry– (Audiobook) Jon Ronson

One incredible thing to me is how many extremely intelligent people don’t seem to be the most logical. Many of the murderers you hear about are actually very intelligent people. This leads you to question why someone like that would be drawn to doing something that we are told is hardwired into our brains to be avoided.

After reading this article about people who became serial killers and how they had normal childhoods, I came upon the case of Alexander Pichushkin. The gist of his story is that he was hit in the head by a swing and damaged his frontal cortex. This caused him to became a crazed murderer. I am not sure what happened in the years between the swing incident and his first murders besides that he was bullied some and his grandfather died. The point of this story is that it’s pretty scary to think that each of us is one bump on the head away from becoming a murderer.

In another story, recounted from “Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain”, I believe, was told of a respected older man who became caught up in gambling and pedophilia. This is a link to a similar story but not the exact one. The man in the story had a tumor removed and he appeared to return to normal. Months later, the symptoms appeared again. It was discovered that they had missed a piece and the tumor had returned. It was again removed and I believe he made a recovery. Again. Astonishing to think that perhaps something like that could affect a person so much. I am not suggesting we should go set all these people free by any means, but I believe understanding the real cause of crimes has real value.

Moving on in the understanding people and actions as well as trying to determine truth, I thought I’d take the time to read a book by a certified madman, Ted Kaczynski, more commonly known as the Unabomber. Now most people might take pause at that. “Do you want to kill people Axel?” they might ask. I can assure you I am not interested in that. I am in pursuit of the truth. Kaczynski was actually quite a brilliant man. He studied at Harvard at the age of 16 and eventually earned a Ph. D in Mathematics from The University of Michigan and eventually was a professor at the University of California, Berkeley by the age of 25. Subsequently he determined that technology was opposed to freedom and that the only way to let people be completely free was to destroy all technology. This lead him to bomb universities, airplanes and businesses related to technology.

The thing about Ted Kaczynski is that despite all his craziness and evil actions, he really has some profound thoughts. i would say that one of his main beliefs was that because of the proliferation of technology people have much less that they have to do to survive. Because of this we are prone to making up “surrogate activities” for ourselves. These activities could be anything we all a hobby. From building fancy cars, learning about astrology, intricate wood working, learning and adhering to any set of silly religious beliefs that don’t help us survive and spending time convincing others of those beliefs, making any collections, lifting weights and just about any other activity you could consider. He even considers many jobs as surrogate activities as we do them more out of interest for money and developed interest in a subject, instead of for survival.

In paragraph 40 he points out “But if they work under rigid orders handed from above that leave them no room for autonomous decision and initiative, then their need for the power process will not be served.” This could point out why many people feel unsatisfied in jobs where they are not required to think and are only cogs in the wheel. This is where the surrogate activities come in. People will feel powerful if they are accomplishing some goal that they have some control over.

These are some thoughts that have been crossing my mind in the last year as I search for a sense of purpose in this world. Wanting to do good is noble but we are certainly unable to determine the consequences of our actions many generations from now. I am reminded of a story by Ravi Zacharias. Basically it is a story where a series of bad and good things happen to a man while his neighbor comments on the goodness or badness of each situation while the man just accepts each think, commenting that “How can you tell what is good or bad luck?” It eventually ends on a positive note, giving the listener the feeling that all bad things can work out to good eventually. I’m not sure how I really feel about the story. I certainly question it.

A story from my life. I believe that I am doing good via a charity I volunteer at. Cedar Valley Gearheads. The gist of our work is that we fix cars and give them to people who are without a vehicle. Most people I talk with seem to really think this is a great ministry and list the reasons. People will have much easier access to food, medical care, jobs, the list goes on. I tend to agree with them. Now what if one person we gave a car to was killed in a car accident a week later by someone running a stop sign. Would that lead me to question if I am really doing good? It might.

Kaczynski’s main problem seems to be the belief that no technology can be used for good and that it will all eventually be used for evil. He does concede in paragraph 128 that “each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears desirable.” but further points out “all these technical advances taken together have created a world in which the average man’s fate is no longer in his own hands or in the hands of his neighbors and friends, but in those of politicians, corporations executives and remote anonymous technicians and bureaucrats whom he as an individual has no power to influence.”

I think this paragraph is instructive as it shares the helplessness that Kaczynski feels. I think that was his downfall. This, along with his other thoughts about the “power process” can probably give much instruction to those in power, to give workers enough room to exercise ideas, as well as in our individual lives to help us choose activities that will give us the feeling of being in control.

Another interesting topic that Kaczynski brings up in thinking about the application of future technologies. He specifically mentions gene manipulation. As mentioned before all technical advances considered by themselves appear desirable. For gene modification what if you could remove all blindness and deafness before people are born? Surely we’d want that? Also removing the predisposition for other common inherited diseases would certainly be a positive benefit. But what if as Kaczynski discusses in paragraph 124 “Somebody (probably the upper middle class mostly) would decide that such and such applications of genetic engineering were “ethical” and others were not, so that in effect they would be imposing their own values on the genetic constitution of the population at large?” Certainly this would at least make some people pause and consider if genetic engineering is such a good idea afterall.

Ultimately, I am a firm believer in progress and certainly Ted Kaczynski was a crazy man. There is no way his complete plan would ever have been enacted, which is good, but we should consider some of the situations he brings up. I would suggest reading the book “Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think” by  Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler for an alternative view of how the future with technology will be much better than Kaczynski thinks it will be. As to the point of what is really good though, I think it is important to continue discussing these questions with each other, especially taking the time to understand where someone else is coming from before we assure them they are wrong. We just might learn something.

Change Ourselves. Change The World

“Everything done was done by a human. You are a human. You can do it.” – Axel Hoogland

Be the change you wish to see in the world. – Ghandi

“We are not the rational beings that traditional economic theory assumes… Financial institutions and regulators need to accept the reality of (behavioral) biases and design products and policies around them.”Dean Karlan – Yale Economist and Founder of IPA

“Bucky championed a design revolution, maintaining that it was far easier ‘to reform the environment than to attempt to reform people.’” Page 10 Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth

It is very disheartening to me that these two great minds, Buckminster Fuller and Dean Karlan have both basically given up on the ability of people to change. They have decided that it’s easier to provide situations that can steer people a little in the right direction instead of asking people to wake up and see the complete truth. As I’m only 26 years old perhaps I am still coming at the world with a bit of a naive view but I think that it may be thinking like this that has gotten us in our current situation of people plodding mindlessly through life. If we assume people aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions why would it ever occur to them that they would be able to?

Words have power and if people are continually told that something is to complicated for them to understand, for example the stock market, of course they will be afraid of it and be willing to pay massive amounts to people to manage their money. Now that is just a waste of their money. I could become a mutual fund manager right now and beat 90% of fund managers by just investing in Index Funds. I would become rich but I would be engaging in the dumbing down of society as well as basically robbing them. Luckily there are already places like Betterment that are taking that over by robot and hopefully in the next 10 years they will have that market locked up and the mutual fund managers will be done robbing people.
I still have a fundamental belief that if we share as much information with people as possible they will be able to make good rational decisions. To be able to do this there are a lot of inherent biases we need to remove from people’s minds. The first is the thought that “someone else is so much smarter than me. I could never do that.” My favorite self created quote to combat this situation is “Everything done was done by a human. You are a human. You can do it.” If that doesn’t sum up the world I don’t know what does. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and change the world by changing yourself!