Money is power. Never forget that.

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secretwealth
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Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by secretwealth » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:07 pm

I was thinking of posting this on my journal, but I think it deserves broader discussion.

I'll start with the moral of the story: money is power, having money is good, and you can indeed buy happiness, and peace of mind, and security, and freedom, and comfort.

Now for the wall of text. Please forgive me; I have a lot to say.

I was in academia for years and, as a result, suffered extreme poverty in my 20s without an ability to save. Being in the humanities, postgrad stipends offered very little (I got about $15k-$20k annually), and while I was able to save a little, I've never been able to bring my personal spending below $1k/mo., so I didn't save much. It was a hand-to-mouth existence, but I was okay with that, because I wanted to be a Professor. An Academic. You know, someone important and impressive who people admire for being Brilliant and Well-Read.

In other words, I was a pretentious ass.

Now, I did come to realize this but it took a long time. A lot of time of seeing the other pretentious asses and gradually acquiring the courage to admit that, yes, I was as bad as them, if not worse. At the same time, the crash in 2008 helped me to realize that what I was devoting my days to was really quite pointless in the broad scheme of things, and that less specialization and more generalization would both make me happier, more interesting, and more engaged with the world. This is fully counter to the academic world.

At the same time, I also began to get closer and closer to the pathetic power games at universities. Some are quite scandalous, like the friend of mine who was turned down for a professorship because the department hired the wife of a professor on the hiring committee for the job, or the professor who hired his daughter to a research position and paid her twice other researchers in the same job.

Others were more pathetic, like the fight between two professors for an office with a nice view. Many of the power games were very much counter to the benefit of both human knowledge and students. A scholar in my field whom I admired very much wanted to digitize a data set that had been published only in a very hard-to-use book; her colleagues on the project didn't want to, and eventually strong-armed her off the project. The data is still only available in a very expensive book, as far as I'm aware.

As I climbed higher and higher in academia, I saw more of this, and was increasingly disappointed with the nonsense. Finally, in 2009, I tried to leave, but didn't have the money to go, so I had to take a position and I was quite miserable. Then in 2011 I found Jacob's book and site, and my life changed. I saved quickly, looked for alternative ways to make money, and finally got out in 2012. It's been a little over a year, and it's been the happiest year of my life.

So it might be a bit surprising to hear that I took on an adjunct position at a local community college this semester. I'm doing this for two reasons: 1. My wife is going to school and this way I have an excuse to hang out on campus with her; 2. Income diversification. It's a small amount of money, but it diversifies me from my freelancing, making my income streams anti-anti-anti-fragile. I see it as a kind of insurance, and thus an unnecessary but low-effort income stream. It's only 2 hours a day for 3 days a week, so why not?

So I had my first day of teaching today, and what surprised me was that I had no strong emotional response to being back in a classroom; on the contrary, I felt very comfortable to finally talk honestly and openly with my students. Instead of worrying about my career, finding research, doing what the department thinks is best, or subconsciously affirming the value of my own ego vis-a-vis my students, I could just focus on doing what I thought was best for my students. None of the other stuff mattered--if I did something the department dislikes, then they fire me. So what? I have other income streams and could feasibly ERE if I can endure a slightly high SWR.

In all of my years pursuing the next tin trophy in the academic treadmill, I never felt so empowered as my savings has made me. I spent my twenties eschewing and rejecting money-making career paths as I repeatedly told myself I was "better than them". So did all of my colleagues, explicitly or implicitly. We were Scholars. That made us Better.

Horseshit.

I never felt so insecure, never acted so petty, and never had so little dignity as I did in academia, and now I know it and I can see it in the tenure-track faculty here.

This brings me to why I'm posting this very long rant: So today I needed to get some copies from the copy machine. But it was lunchtime. No problem. I see a tenure-track professor standing outside her office about 50 feet down the hallway, and she calls out, "can I help you?"

I replied: "Yeah, I just made some copies and need to get in."

"Are you adjunct?"

"Yes, I'm new," I said.

"Oh, hi," she said from fifty feet away, extending her hand. She stood there, fifty feet away, just outside her office, with her hand extended, waiting for me to walk to her and shake her hand.

The conversation afterwards was to academics what anus sniffing is to dogs: she asked where I taught before, where I went to school, etc. At that moment I had an intense euphoric rush as I realized--she's playing the hierarchy game that I gave up years ago. The game I don't have to play anymore, because of ERE.

I've been thinking about this for hours now. I made some tremendous mistakes in my professional life, but by far the biggest was worshiping at the altar of academic prestige instead of worshiping the self-reliance that capital accumulation provides. I'd just never thought of money that way, because I hadn't been trained to.

And now I grow paranoid. I think those axioms like "money can't buy happiness" and "find your passion and do what you love, don't care about the money" are propaganda to keep the lower middle class poor and enslaved to their soul-sucking menial jobs, whether in cubicles, on construction sites, or elsewhere.

I can't go back in time and tell my twenty-something self that money is power. But my life can be a warning to those who come afterwards, and if any twenty-something has had the patience to read this entire thing, I hope they read and remember this: money is power. Never forget that.

workathome
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by workathome » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:14 pm

Inspiring story

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by altoid » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:17 pm

secretwealth, thank you for sharing. Can't agree more on the following:

" I think those axioms like "money can't buy happiness" and "find your passion and do what you love, don't care about the money" are propaganda to keep the lower middle class poor and enslaved to their soul-sucking menial jobs, whether in cubicles, on construction sites, or elsewhere."

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by jacob » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:18 pm

Join the Dark Side. We got cookies.

I suspect that there are different levels of power and that there are levels beyond money-power as well.
For example, being able to get things done without money is even more powerful.

I wonder what such a graded scale would look like. The least powerful position seems to be one of no-money and no-no-money-skills, that position of an unemployed specialist. The second least, that of the employed consumer whose livelihood depends on following orders and fitting in. ...

secretwealth
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by secretwealth » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:39 pm

Yes, just like I have been emphasizing income diversification, I would eventually like to focus on skills diversification to be able to do things without money. This is difficult for me--I'm not good with my hands--so I expect the payoff to effort ratio to be unfavorable. Nonetheless, it will be a focus for me. Not now, though--I'm still in the accumulation phase of ERE and when I get to a 2% SWR (or the equivalent thereof, since I'm heavy in real estate), then I will start to focus on the skills side.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by riparian » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:47 pm

When I saw the title I was like, "did I make that thread?" LOL

Lately I've been coming to realize that money isn't just the power to have a place to live, options, security, etc, it's also the power to change society. Consider - I want to change a law. Am I better off getting a degree that will someday enable me to do research, or hiring a lawyer and researcher? I want homeless people in my city to have a warm place to sleep even if they don't fit into the religious rules of the shelter. Should I lobby the state for more funding and better rules, or buy an apartment building? With all that in mind, should I be getting an education or making money?

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Ego
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by Ego » Mon Aug 26, 2013 6:54 pm

Was it power or freedom that you bought? Did you buy it with money or with redundancy (multiple options)? Did you buy anything at all, did you earn it, did you learn it or did you just become it?

Rather than "money is power" could you say "having redundancy makes me free", with money as a footnote?
Last edited by Ego on Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

workathome
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by workathome » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:03 pm

secretwealth wrote: The conversation afterwards was to academics what anus sniffing is to dogs: she asked where I taught before, where I went to school, etc. At that moment I had an intense euphoric rush as I realized--she's playing the hierarchy game that I gave up years ago. The game I don't have to play anymore, because of ERE.
This exists everywhere. I had a similar experience after moving into our house. The neighbors approached us and begin talking about themselves. A few snippets:
* "We're going to our second home this weekend, we go most weekends. It's on a lake."
* "We're buying all new furniture for both our homes"
* "We bought new cars because we have so much money we didn't know what to do with it"
* "Do you have a mortgage?"
secretwealth wrote: I think those axioms like "money can't buy happiness" and "find your passion and do what you love, don't care about the money" are propaganda to keep the lower middle class poor and enslaved to their soul-sucking menial jobs, whether in cubicles, on construction sites, or elsewhere.
Also "money is the root of all evil"

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C40
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by C40 » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:06 pm

The beautiful thing about this is that the money-power scale is not linear. It is a ratio with your spending, and also depends on your skills and creativity.


The money/power formula is something like this:

Power = (Capital) * (Creativity/Skill) / (Spending)



Examples:

PERSON A - Makes $20,000 per year. Spends 98% of it. His withdrawal rate would be 50%. His power comes only from his own charm, good looks, etc. He's in a scarcity situation without an end in sight. He's just getting by. He does know that he could live cheaper if needed so his "bottoming out" situation isn't a nightmare.

PERSON B - Makes $150,000 per year. Spends 95% of it. His withdrawal rate would be 50%. His power comes from SPENDING MONEY. The only way for him to get things from the power is to lose the money. He's in a scarcity situation with the light at the end of the tunnel 35 years away. He has more fun than person A while spending his money, but he does more math and he worries about the future. A few times a year he wakes up in a cold sweat - his "bottoming out" situation is a nightmare.

PERSON C - Makes $50,000 per year and saves 60%+. His W.R. would be 2%. He's rich and knows it. He walks around knowing he has 'fuck you' money. He know's he'll be fine (at the very least) in nearly any future financial situation. His thoughts about the future are of what would bring him joy and fulfillment. He knows he could reduce his spending easily if he decides to. His "bottoming out" situation is just going back to work for a few years.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by jacob » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:12 pm

I prefer to see the [human] world as governed by five rulebooks.

War laws
Cultural laws
Legal laws
Financial laws
Natural laws

Think of laws as conventions, habits, frameworks, whatever ... obviously some can be violated (cultural) and some can't (natural).

War laws (might makes right) are generally not applicable in daily life, and often natural laws (c is a speed limit) are of little consequence to people living in a technological bubble. This makes cultural, legal, and financial (money buys power) laws the backbone of society. Most middle class obey legal laws and respect cultural laws. The upper class obey financial laws and buy legal laws (sponsoring a politician).

I started writing a book based on this idea, but I later found it wasn't terribly original/it had already been done.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by Dragline » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:33 pm

Thanks for sharing, SW. Ain't it great to be an adjunct? Students still respect you (possibly even more if you are a good teacher) and you don't have to kiss anyone's ass or get stuck with the full-timers in their crab bucket. I very much enjoy my adjunctness, even though it doesn't pay squat.

@workathome -- its the "love of money", not the money itself, that is the root of all kinds of evil. More broadly, the craving of stuff beyond needs that causes grief. It's just a tool. And everyone needs tools -- and some skills in using them, just not the same tools or skills all the time. C40 has the right analogy.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by C40 » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:34 pm

I suppose I should add that the formula I put is using a definition of power as the ability to better control your own situation / actions. The more typical definition of Power as the ability to control the actions of others is different.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by skinnyninja » Mon Aug 26, 2013 7:54 pm

Great post.

I was working in an office environment until I bought my freedom with frugality and capital.

What I really purchased was freedom from office politics. I never actually said FU when I left, but I sure felt it.

Being forced to have a boss and engage in office politics is a horrible feeling. Therefore I agree, money is power.

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bigato
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by bigato » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:13 pm

Power = (Capital) * (Creativity/Skill) / (Spending)
It's more like this:

Power = (Creativity/Skills) * ( 1 + (Capital) )

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by ffj » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:29 pm

Thanks for sharing. Being able to walk away or thumb your nose at very poor human behavior is priceless. Much of what you have described goes on in the fire service, especially small departments. Some of the behavior I have seen was truly awful. When you aren't beholden to a boss or job you can keep your dignity and soul intact and even make some positive changes without fear of reprisal. If you let yourself become vulnerable someone will always try to take advantage of you. Every time.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by secretwealth » Mon Aug 26, 2013 9:50 pm

@FFJ: I had a similar experience today that didn't relate to academia per se, but showed the dark side of human nature.

I had to fill out a form to get my faculty ID and parking permit. It included a space for a cell phone and home phone--I left the cell phone line blank. The security guard said, "don't you want to include your cell phone?"

"Do I have to?" I replied.

"No, not really."

"Then I'll just leave it blank."

The guard turned to his supervisor, who called out to me, "you're faculty?"

"Yes," I responded. He waved me into his office.

"You don't want to give your cell phone number?"

"No," I replied.

This is when he got rather huffy. "What if there's an emergency? What if someone starts shooting a gun on campus? How will you tell your students?"

I rolled my eyes. "I'm sure I'll be fine."

I was very annoyed at this whole interrogation--it seemed one of those very small sacrifice freedom for security moments, both created and exacerbated by this small town security guard's hunger for power and importance. The fact of the matter is, this part of the country is very safe and the statistical probability of a shoot-up is pretty fucking low. But thinking it might happen gives him power. Makes him feel important.

The sicker part of this is that events like Columbine, Sandy Hook, and V-Tech give small minds like this affirmation of their value. So, in a twisted and not-so-subconscious way, these people thrive on mass shootings and violent tragedies.

I didn't really know how to react in the situation, except to hate humanity a smidgen more.

There were some other things I heard today--maybe I'm overly sensitive. I heard a teacher in a classroom rambling on about her pet dog. My wife told me about a teacher talking to the class like they're idiots.

Small town community colleges serve an extremely wonderful and important social function, but sadly they're also full of a lot of very insecure small minds. Not that the self-important and oft poorly deserved corrupt snootiness of prestigious universities is much better (on that point, see my first post).

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by George the original one » Mon Aug 26, 2013 10:29 pm

To that latter guard, I probably would have said, "Why would I answer my cellphone if I'm teaching? The gunfire will be a dead giveaway."

secretwealth
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by secretwealth » Mon Aug 26, 2013 10:40 pm

:D

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by Tyler9000 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 12:19 am

secretwealth wrote:I was okay with that, because I wanted to be a Professor. An Academic. You know, someone important and impressive who people admire for being Brilliant and Well-Read.

In other words, I was a pretentious ass.
Ha! You almost made me spit my drink all over the keyboard. I'll be more careful next time.

I find that attitude pervasive in the design community as well, and I absolutely hate it. On a design forum I frequent, they recently had a lengthy discussion regarding how companies should be more lenient with design "geniuses" who happen to also be assholes because they're so brilliant they can't be bothered with common social courtesy. Everyone wants to be Steve Jobs and expects the same worship.
secretwealth wrote:I think those axioms like "money can't buy happiness" and "find your passion and do what you love, don't care about the money" are propaganda to keep the lower middle class poor and enslaved to their soul-sucking menial jobs, whether in cubicles, on construction sites, or elsewhere.
I guess I partly agree. But I personally think there's a middle ground where you can do what you love while also caring about the money. Of course, it helps to love something that also happens to be profitable.

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Felix
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by Felix » Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:30 am

What a brilliant post! Thanks, SW!

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by MountainMan » Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:12 am

secretwealth wrote: The conversation afterwards was to academics what anus sniffing is to dogs.
Thanks for sharing SW, I can relate a lot to your story, made be laugh! In the academic/medical/hospital environment I work in you are judged on the Dr. or Prof. title on your badge, and its colour, red for medic, green for lab staff, bordeaux red for academic support staff, brown for the cleaning staff (which for some obscure reason is very similar to the academic support staff colour), an golden stripes for very important people.
Nearly reaching FI/ERE this year has indeed been extremely empowering for me in this context.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by oldbeyond » Tue Aug 27, 2013 3:13 am

Great post. I was also quite dismissive of money, thinking that the only things it could buy were more of the same crap I already had too much of. Pursuing some kind of cause or passion seemed like the way to go. When I stumbled upon ERE and MMM I realized the value of money for the first time.

I guess this is pretty common. At least in my experience, the people who talk the most about money are usually heavily into consumerism and status-seeking. I've met a lot of wannabe Patrick Bateman-types in my life, but never heard someone boast their savings rate or talk about the value of financial freedom. I guess those people just focus on living their lives.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by sshawnn » Tue Aug 27, 2013 7:13 am

secretwealth,

The op is easily the best post you have ever made! Thank you for sharing!

You have made some heavy changes in your life and your professional views that allow the freedoms you mention. IMO your freedom has been cultivated more by your change of views rather than stockpiling tons of money. (I think the same about myself.)

If I were a student I would MUCH rather have a professor like you than a view craving, self serving, ass sniffing instructor.

secretwealth
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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by secretwealth » Tue Aug 27, 2013 8:37 am

Ego wrote:Was it power or freedom that you bought? Did you buy it with money or with redundancy (multiple options)? Did you buy anything at all, did you earn it, did you learn it or did you just become it?

Rather than "money is power" could you say "having redundancy makes me free", with money as a footnote?
I slept on this question because it's such a good one. And I think I stick by my original word choice--money bought me power.

When I say "power" I specifically mean the ability to not be under the power of other people. Thus I now can combat the power others try to have over me with my own power, which I only have now because I have money to leave any work situation I don't like and I don't have to pursue a career to insure I have a place to sleep and food to eat.

So, yes, I also got freedom as well, but I think that freedom was only possible because of the power I have to resist the power of other people (universities, hiring committees, department heads, journal editorial boards).

At least from this perspective, it paints society in a depressing light: social institutions give individuals power to assert control and restrict the freedom of other individuals. This describes colleges to a T (and also reminds me of the "I will downgrade you if you play with your phone in class. I will downgrade you if you miss two days. I will downgrade you if your political opinions differ from my own." warnings that you hear on the first day of class, let alone the nonsense that goes on in research).

@Dragline: The last time I adjuncted was in the late 90s when I was trying to start an academic career. Boy, is it a different feeling now! I imagine I can do this for several years for fun; I'm very curious how the students are going to react to my shockingly honest and anti-academia but pro-knowledge lectures.

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Re: Money is power. Never forget that.

Post by Chad » Tue Aug 27, 2013 9:10 am

secretwealth wrote: @Dragline: The last time I adjuncted was in the late 90s when I was trying to start an academic career. Boy, is it a different feeling now! I imagine I can do this for several years for fun; I'm very curious how the students are going to react to my shockingly honest and anti-academia but pro-knowledge lectures.
I assume quite well, as everyone sees hints of this "oppression" (I'm not just talking about academic).

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