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Dude, where’s my capitalism?
A conversation with Cliff and Brian
The following is a transcript of a conversation I had with my friends Cliff and Brian exactly two year ago on December 28, 2020. Why share it now? Mostly as an experiment to see what kind of content feels at home in here (will you read all of it?!), but also as a fun artifact of the anxieties we were grappling with back then.
I’ll be honest, it reads like a pseudo-intellectual reenactment of Dude Where’s My Car where each of us try to outstupid each other. It’s inarticulate, clumsy, and embarrassing. But there’s something comforting about having conversations like this, where the goal is not to make a profound statement but to explore and challenge ideas together, no matter how dumb they may seem two years later.
Out of respect for Cliff and Brian (who weren’t stoked about the prospect of publishing this transcript!) I’ve excluded their last names, so please imagine any three idiots talking, not these particular three idiots.
Gabe: I think we should work for six months and then vacation for six months. Some people are summer people, others are winter people, they can choose when they wanna work! I think that's a better kind of work-life balance than what we've agreed to, which is like one third of your life, you're always working.
Cliff: So, let's say you have the summer shift, would you have weekends? How long would your days be?
Gabe: You could still do nine to five weekdays, but just work half a year and don't take a single vacation during those six months.
Cliff: Okay. So you're saying instead of the two weeks the average American has and the six weeks everyone else in the world has, you should just have six months.
Brian: Didn't humans also used to not sleep in one continuous block? Didn't humans used to wake up in the middle of the night and sleep in two blocks before the invention of electric lights?
Cliff: I actually don't know.
Gabe: Are you saying that cavemen just woke up at 3:00 AM and started partying?
Brian: Not even cavemen. People up until the invention of the electric light did it. Like, you can actually find references to it in writing. Like, people slept in two blocks!
Gabe: It sounds like it should be the opposite. Once you have the electric light, you can actually function at night. No?
Brian: No. So the electric light led to the enforcement of a more artificial cycle that comes less naturally to humans.
Gabe: Okay. So when did the nine to five workweek start?
Cliff: I'm pretty sure during a lot of the reforms, at least in the US, around unions and stuff in the FDR era. In the 50s and 60s they were talking about shortening work weeks even more, and for a long time there was this desire to continue to shorten the number of hours that people worked. Then there was basically this explosion in consumerism, especially in the US, where all that shit went out the window and now we work more than ever before. But if you look at European countries, to deal with some of the labor shortages in their countries, they’re looking at rolling things back to a four day work week, at least temporarily. So companies will be required to hire more people so that they can lower their unemployment, which is an interesting approach.
Gabe: I love this because now we have a record of every time Cliff is wrong. So everything you said is entirely wrong.
Cliff: Haha! I'm ready. Tell me what I got right and wrong.
Gabe: According to hrtechnologists.com, the modern nine to five, eight hour workday was invented by American labor unions in the 1800s.
Brian: That's exactly what he said, dude!
Cliff: No, I was wrong about the era. I was wrong about the era.
Gabe: Yeah, he said FDR!
Brian: Yeah, but he said it was a labor reform invention. That's exactly it.
Cliff: Part of my timeframe was wrong, but the area in which it was created and the mechanism by which it was created I was correct on.
Gabe: Yeah, but it's also very wrong.
Cliff: Okay. You see wrong, I see partially right.
Gabe: Do you think that a lot more people work now than they did in the 1800s?
Cliff: Yeah. Like the big thing that's changed in our society is that an entire 50% of the population now has more job opportunities.
Brian: Yeah. Not to mention, we can go into lockdown and all of us can just stay home and all of society continues to function just fine and food still arrives. Our productivity is through the fucking roof dude.
Gabe: I think that's related, right? We've been working nine to five for the last hundred years, but that's just too much work and most of that time is wasted. And now that we're in the pandemic year, people are not working eight hours a day and we're still being productive, sometimes even more productive than we were before.
Brian: Society is like trucking along just fine. Food arrives.
Brian: The issue is for the majority of human history, we lived in a Malthusian nightmare where 95% of people had food insecurity and also illness. Whereas we have, through science, achieved such massive improvements in productivity that a lot of the old ideas under which we operated are no longer really accurate. As we can see, half of us can stop working and we're fucking fine.
Gabe: A hundred years ago, we were working more than we are working today?
Brian: Unfortunately, it's not the case. This abundant leisure future was envisioned a lot in all types of popular conceptions of sci-fi in the 60s and 70s. But it actually never really came to pass. Americans, on the whole, have been working slightly more hours with each passing decade, or at least more hours than we did in the 70s. Even though we have all this automation, all these other tools, we actually are not reducing our workloads.
Cliff: I don't think it's as bad as before the labor movement. Again, there was a period of time where people would work tirelessly in the fields as farmers. People would just be forced to work insane hours in factories. And then the labor movement dramatically improved those working conditions, and at least in a lot of other countries, that quality has been maintained whereas in the US it's deteriorated over time.
Gabe: So as we look into the next hundred years, do you think we'll work less, more, or the same?
Cliff: I feel like something's gonna give pretty soon, at least in the US. I don't know if it's gonna be a new labor movement or fascism, but I think something's gonna change. The pandemic's been weird. All these things keep running on time, food keeps getting delivered and all that kind of stuff, but I've noticed, at least in the tech industry, a relaxing of this productivity mindset.
Cliff: Yeah, there was this rat race to like constantly be productive and stuff, and I hear almost nothing about that anymore, and I wonder if that's gonna stick.
Gabe: There's also the fact that a lot of people have still worked through the pandemic.
Gabe: And also this idea of “essential workers” is new to me. Was that something that was established before the pandemic?
Brian: Absolutely not.
Gabe: So at some point, somebody was like "okay, these jobs are essential. Everybody else, they're just dressing on top."
Brian: To my mind, that's actually pretty important and pretty valuable because we've always really valued jobs like knowledge workers or being a doctor or, I don't know, being an investment banker. We value these jobs and in America we've always looked down on at and laughed at things like becoming a fry cook or working at McDonald's. But the notion of essential workers is like “wait, actually these are the people that make things and create some kind of value.” Society literally relies on them to function. I don't know if that'll lead to changes in policy or changes the way we regard those jobs. Maybe possibly fucking improving minimum wage. I don't know if it'll lead to any of those things, but it's the first step I'd imagine.
Cliff: I don't know if I have a lot of confidence and optimism given how we treated those people over the past year.
Gabe: It's interesting to imagine a future where the social contract changes and those jobs become higher status than others. In Cuba that's actually the case, but for entirely different reasons. Like the currency in Cuba is pretty bankrupt. So basically there's two coins. There's the coin for the local people and coin for tourists. And the coin for tourists is worth like 20 times as much asthe locals.
Gabe: So what happens is that the jobs that interact with tourists pay like 20 times as much as the local jobs because of tips. So the whole country is set up in a way where taxi drivers and waiters and all these people who interact with tourists all of a sudden have the most money.
Gabe: So the job market becomes: Do you want money? If so, become a waiter. Or: do you want to pursue a career? If so, become a doctor or whatever.
Gabe: It's a really weird, kind of bizarro world where waiters and taxi drivers are ruling the world there.
Brian: Top of the heap.
Cliff: That's interesting cuz I remember talking to a friend who got really into other ways of structuring society and he told me he was totally bought into this idea where basically the shittiest jobs would get paid the most and the jobs that everybody wanted to do would get paid the least. And that would create basically that balance.
Cliff: But it was never clear, like in what sort of system that would remain sustainable, like how you would even set up a system like that. But it's interesting that it almost like naturally evolved in Cuba because of, yeah, this interaction between communism andcapitalism.
Brian: Are either of you familiar with the phrase “luxury gay space communism”?
Brian: So this is a school of thought where basically AI and automation unlock massive amounts of productivity and the ability to travel through space and all that. And we just convert to a pure luxury society where fucking robots give us the ability to just fly all over the fucking universe and have agreat time. It's basically like the movie Barbarella but unlocked via better machine learning.
Gabe: So through AI and automation, we can just travel and enjoy luxuries?
Brian: Yeah, basically.
Gabe: What's the catch on that? What's the bad part?
Brian: No real catch, honestly. Sounds pretty good to me. The issue would have to be everyone getting bought in.
This is, for me, one of the biggest, I guess, tragedies of the last 30 years. So we have automation and all of this productivity that's unlocked. For example, now not many humans are required to build a car, basically, a single person is needed where thousands of humans were needed before to produce the same amount of stuff. Like soon the automation will also enable cross-country trucking. So goods will get delivered without requiring people.
Now, that ability of automation to provide things for us should become a pure benefit for society. The only problem is, because it's arising in a framework of a zero-sum game, the number of people for whom this benefit accrues is very small, concentrated just into the Jeff Bezos's and the Elon Musks and, to a slightly lesser extent, the knowledge workers like us. So there's this massive increase of productivity, but only a small number of people are allowed to take part in the value it unlocks.
What it should be instead is: Hey, guess what? We're building this thing and we are untethering productivity from the need for humans to actually spend their hours doing it. We should at least give, I don't know, 60, 75% of that to people as a whole. Because the ability of self-driving cars, rather than being seen as a thing that will disenfranchise people and ruin their lives, it should be seen as like the greatest boon ever because it means that people that were wasting their lives sitting in cars for stupid reasons can totally stop and we now have achieved all of the goals that they were achieving without needing them to spend their lives.
Cliff: I feel like we've gone through many cycles of automation, right? Industrialization was one period where we did that. But I think what's interesting is what we saw around communism. Communism happened after industrialization, and I think the disparities between that and capitalism, weren't as stark at the beginning. And then over time, because continued automation is not incentivized in a traditional communist structure, you start to see the capitalist societies pull away. And even though the wealth isn't getting distributed, more automation is being created. And so their lives are actually improving even though those inequalities are vast. And so I think it's interesting to try to look at like the current situation and say, is it different than the last thing we automated? I think it genuinely could be if we automate generative thought, right? If we find AI that are better at inventing stuff than we are. Then, at that point, incentivizing people to come up with ideas is no longer necessary, and so maybe communism works again.
Brian: Got it. Yeah. Okay, communism needs either the singularity or a hybrid system that still incentivizes invention and also maybe better accountability and tools to prevent the wild amount of corruption and bribery and bullshit that occurred in the USR.
Gabe: In a world where we no longer need productivity to justify our existence, the question is, to me: what do we do to give us purpose? If the world keeps moving forward without us contributing to it, at least in the way that we're contributing to it now, what do we do? Assuming that there's still a minority of people who are still like, moving the world forward. What does the rest of us do?
Brian: That's where the gay comes in luxury gay space communism. Basically the complete elimination over time of all of these bullshit social norms we invent. Basically, we become a hedonistic leisure society. So if you look at the 70s retrofuture drawings, they always feature like a family and a self-driving car, playing a board game. Some people will do that —probably not many— but then, if you take a look at the more forward thinking pieces of fiction around this kind of future, like the Culture series by Ian Banks, lots of fucking my dude.
Gabe: Are you saying that the only thing that'skeeping us heterosexual is productivity?
Brian: Haha! No, Not really. That part of that argument, I'm not making that strongly. But you will be fucking a lot more, cuz you'll be free to just float around and fuck.
Brian: The way we define our lives is fundamentally around work right now. Like you, you are your job essentially. When someone asks something about you, or you introduce yourself, you say "I am a doctor" or "I am a barber," right? When in reality you are not those things, you just perform that task a lot of the time. Fundamentally, that stuff will shift. You can't really have an occupation- centric identity in a world where humans aren't in the driver's seat anymore of occupations.
Cliff: I think you see people already do it, right? Hobbies to me is the example of what people would do with a bunch of leisure time. They'd probably do a bunch of the hobbies that they do anyway. They might just do them more, right? And there's this huge, vast array of hobbies and things that people do to occupy themselves that have no productive value. And often hobbies, they're not just going out to eat or doing something that's really frivolous, but in some ways they can be productive. They're like improving at some skill or competing in something, or building something and creating something. And so, I don't know, I think you'd see just people really investing in their hobbies.
Gabe: Maybe the first wave will be that everybody just does what they love. There will be less compromise in what you do cuz you no longer need to do something to make a living and you can just spend your time doing what you enjoy. I think that to me seems linked to what we're seeing now with influencers and creators and people that are monetizing their hobbies or their passions and somewhat circumventing the corporate machine and creating their own entities, granted that rely on the corporate machine, but at least creating their own kind of income revenue source so that they can focus on what they love and provide that directly to an audience.
I wonder if the ultimate expression of this is that we all become influencers or we all become creators in the sense that we monetize what we love and deliver it directly to an audience.
Brian: Yeah. To some degree, what you're describing is almost, I think, the worst case outcome, which is what we live in now, right? Where we have automation, but everything is still treated as a zero-sum game and as a result you are now fucking busting ass endlessly to try to rise to the top and everyone has to be an entity that markets itself, you know?
Cliff: Yeah, I feel like there's an authentic version of that, which is basically: you're an artist who wants an audience for your work, but what you care more about is that the audience is passionate about your work and contributes to the experience of making that work. And then there's a separate kind of audience development that's about monetizing your work and creating value for yourself out of it, that if you got rid of the need to support yourself, you might not have to go after that. When I think about influencer marketing and marketing yourself, it's not just to find the right audience for your work. It also gets twisted into the monetization where you're really trying to find an actual market for your work, right?
Gabe: Yeah, but in a world where the money side is taken care of, automation and AI are providing enough for you to have a normal life...
Gabe: You are still gonna be trading a different currency, right? It's not gonna be money, it's gonna be attention or eyeballs or whatever.
Brian: Social capital, absolutely.
Gabe: Yeah. You will chase fame or status regardless of the money. If money goes away from the equation, you’re still gonna chase a different type of currency.
Brian: I'm totally with Gabe on this. You can already see it in Instagram where there's not a direct way to monetize, but people pursue positional scarcity to this wild degree.
Cliff: The thing about attention as currency and as an economy is that it's the definition of unessential work, right? Because it actually provides so little value to keeping people alive. I don't know if it's ever gonna become the main currency. If you ask kids what they wanna be when they grow up, a lot of them say “YouTube stars,” but the other huge advantage of being a YouTube star, other than being famous, is you also have a ton of control over your finances.
Gabe: I would challenge the first point that it feels unessential. If we think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization and belonging in community is a pretty fundamental human need. And, hypothetically in the future where survival is taken care of for you, then that becomes the essential thing to pursue, which is how to connect with and feel part of something larger than you are.
Brian: Yeah, I agree.
Cliff: I guess my question is: is it going to remain so individualistic? I just feel like that is such an american thing. This hyper rugged individualism that we've infused it into the social networks that were invented in the US and that people wanna be part of something. I feel there are other potential communities that can exist that aren't so focused on just fame.
Brian: I feel like cult membership would go through the roof, wouldn't it?
Gabe: At the very beginning there was always hierarchy in our tribes and our civilizations. And so pursuing fame and is just another expression of trying to be at the top, right? Right now, we just happen to be a society that thinks of attention as a currency to be pursued. So people want the most attention; they wanna be the most famous, cuz they wanna be at the top of the hierarchical structure that we've constructed.
Brian: It sounds to me like you're just describing pursuing a kind of positional scarcity.
Cliff: But I think when you look at what you're talking about, where basically only a very small portion of people make decisions and have a huge amount of power over culture and the direction of a society, that is an extreme level of hierarchy that I don't think you see replicated across the natural world.
Gabe: Maybe the goal is to go from a structure where only a few people are in power to a structure where power is more distributed. But regardless of the structure, I think there will still be a pursuit, at the individual level, to become powerful. To cross the threshold from follower to leader. And I think, you know, that threshold will be defined by different things. Right now is money and wealth. In the future it might not be that. It might be more attention, or it might even be things like creativity or emotional maturity. You know, the things that robots cannot accomplish. Maybe those things will define the threshold. But there will always be a threshold that people are trying to cross to become leaders.
Cliff: Sure. One thing though I wonder is when you remove some of these incentive structures like wealth, what percentage ofthe population inherently wants to pursue those things? Because one thing I think is hard to pull apart is, again, the capitalistic incentive structure. If you told everyone, "hey, to do what you like to do, you don't actually have to be super popular to monetize it, we'll just pay you to do that thing," how many people would still pursue being really popular?
Gabe: I just think that the desire to be recognized and admired is much more powerful than the desire to have money. You see that with trustfund babies, right? Like, once you have money, you still pursue the incentive to belauded.
Brian: Look at Trump. Trump is well known for just trying to present himself as part of the wealthy elite, even though he was always largely rejected as a little bit of a clownish figure. He's been wealthy for his entire life, but he is so desperate to get this socialcache that he lacked.
Cliff: But isn't Trump an example proving mypoint? Which is basically that he was one of the few rich people who spent all his time trying to get popular, whereas most of the elites spend very little time bringing attention to themselves. And so they found his constant pursuit of attention as tacky and that's why he was outcast from thatgroup.
Brian: I can't really speak to that, but there's another great example in Jeff Bezos trying to buy his way into all of these elite filmmaking social circles.
Cliff: Yeah. I think actually looking at really wealthy people is an interesting version of this because we focus on the wealthy people who are very famous and they're actually a really small proportion of the insanely wealthy. And I think when you look at a lot of wealthy people, they aren't famous. They're trust fund babies. They don't draw attention to themselves. They're not the Paris Hiltons of the world. They're the Walmart kids who just have an absolute fuck ton of money, but aren't going after fame.
Brian: So there's neuve rich versus old money. And obviously I don't have that much experience with this, but I have the perception that neuve rich are this kind of tacky attention-seeking, trying-to-flex, show-off-your-wealth type things, right?
Cliff: I think for the people who are neuve rich, the way they got that way was by getting people on board to what they're creating. A big part of entrepreneurship is selling your idea and getting visibility around the thing that you're creating. Elon's a really good example of this. He produces a bunch of stuff, but he's a huge marketer, especially of himself. And I think that a lot of neuve rich people are incentivized to draw attention to themselves in order to be moved into that echelon.
Whereas once you have a bunch of money, there's no incentive structure to do that anymore. You've already achieved the wealth. So now it's they have other incentive structures, which are often all kinds of things more like: "how do I look in the society of other wealthy families?" and “how do I abide by some rules there in a semi-religious way?" Right?
Brian: And in my mind, this actually perfectly supports what Gabe was saying though.
Cliff: How so?
Brian: Because they're in a different social strata, one that's remote from us. Within that social strata, there is a set of rules and things that are good and things that are bad and they are just maximizing for success within that strata.
Cliff: My point is it's not attention. There's actually all kinds of other social and community values that we see across lots of different societies that has very little to do with attention. I don't understand why those things won't be more powerful when you remove this incentive structure that gives a lot of value to attention.
Brian: Yeah, I've been looking at this not from the point of view of directly trying to become an influencer, but just from the mindset of seeking some form of positional scarcity, which is not necessarily always going to be becoming an influencer.
Gabe: So maybe fame or the pursuit of influence is a failure of your community to provide a structure that you feel that you belong to. Maybe there are communities that have a really strong set of incentives and dynamics that once you belong to that structure, you have a set of values that are good and bad. But maybe because those communities are maybe not as strong in some cases, people lean on fame to create some of the dynamics of belonging. Maybe the loneliest people become influencers to create a sense of community with a faceless mass.
Cliff: I'm more down with this.
Brian: Yeah, that sounds very legit to me as an absolutely famous influencer myself.
Cliff; Even just our little group is an example of this. The times when I seek fame is when I'm realizing it's preventing me from achieving things within the incentive structure that we have —basically helps you find jobs— or it's feeling unconnected to a certain group that you want to be part of. I don't know, I've met a lot of influencers who I've been shocked how shy they are based on how outgoing they are online. And it's pretty clear that they feel pretty comfortable communicating in that way online rather than in person.
Gabe: So there's a direct correlation between an influencer and how lonely they are, right? Like the more lonely you are, the more likely you are to become an influencer. And if we move into a world where more and more people seek to become influencers, that would mean a world where most people are lonely and feel like they don't belong to the community they've grown into.
Cliff: And so bringing it back to what we've been talking about with this thing, I don't totally understand why, if you automate everything and allow people to live the lives they wanna live, that would lead to giant swaths of the population feeling really lonely. I would think that people would have more freedom to do the things they want to do to not feel lonely.
Gabe: Maybe the rise of influencers is not due to AI but due to the information age, and the fact that we have access to knowledge of the entire world? And therefore we can now be envious of life in the other side of the planet where like, maybe a hundred years ago, that was less the case. So the more I understand the world and the more I see that life in Japan is more akin to the life that I wanna live, the fact that I don't live in Japan, makes me feel lonelier and like I belong less in my geographical community. So maybe the information age is actually breeding a lot more loneliness because of the knowledge of how other people in the world live.
Brian: This is a completely insane point. The information age is not what causes loneliness. In fact, the information age is what's allowing people to find communities that are not necessarily limited to geographic ones more so than ever. I think that it might enable some of those people to not get the kind of human and physical interaction that we seem to need to some degree as like biological organisms and whatnot, but I don't think that the visibility of other cultures is leading to a world of feeling isolated.
Gabe: It leads to engaging virtually more. And if the tools that we have to engage virtually incentivize this “influencer” behavior, then the more you engage virtually, the more likely you are to fall trapped to the incentives.
Brian: I think it's the drip that does it. Let's say I'm a college lad and I'm on Insta, and I'm looking at the other college lads and one of them is showing off the drip. He's got this sick fucking look. He's a sneaker head. He's got a look book (is that still cool?) and he's showing off this lifestyle that's very impressive. That's where the envy comes from. It's not from seeing that people in Japan have a better sense of community than me.
Gabe: The drip transcends technology, though. The drip is an innate human trait.
Brian: I don't know about innate human trait, but I do see that maybe it's less the alienation of being able to see all cultures all around the world and more the beginning of a universe of endless envy that comes from people's ability to simulate a lifestyle and an existence and present that simulation online, even though it's a complete fabrication in many cases.
Gabe: What I mean is: the desire to present yourself grander than you are is universal and innate. The tools to resent it might be the key here that are unlocking this to an unprecedented level.
Brian: Absolutely. Yeah. Like right now, my ability to reach many people with a fake picture of me and a shitload of nice cars is greater than it's ever been in human history.
Cliff: I keep coming back to capitalism as a shitty incentive structure. Why do these systems get pushed in a way that exploit the worst in humanity? Because their incentive structures have nothing to do with that, right? They have to do with capturing eyeballs for as much time as humanly possible.
And this is the communist manifesto's whole point, which was basically that capitalism is not humanist in any way whatsoever. It has no tie to the values that people care about and that it's its own beast that needs to be fed on this completely arbitrary axis that isn't helping individual humans be better versions of themselves.
And so I think if you change the incentive structure and you remove saying you need to make money off this thing, I think you'd see a ton of tools that allowed you to do that. But because there's no incentive to, we don't build any of that stuff.
Brian: Are you familiar with the notion of externalities in economics?
Brian: Externalities are things that are not properly factored into the cost of goods. And the most common example of this is air pollution. So in the course of making a car, we are paying for the parts plus the design, plus the labor. Air pollution that gets created along the way is a very real cost, but it is not reflected in the price. One solution that could move us towards better incentives is if we capture externalities like the amount of social destruction things will do.
Cliff: But then we'd have to agree on the value of those things. But that said, I think other countries do a better job of this.
Cliff: Democracy has the potential to capture that, but we don't live in a very strong democracy right now.
Brian: We live in an era where we've consistently both called government feeble and incapable and taken the steps to ensure it is but I think that it's totally possible to have a kind of continual process of examining and re-examining the social costs of things and tweaking those values over time. Granted, it does rely on a lot more cooperation and well-informed debate in a democracy. A dictatorship could do it better though, probably.
Gabe: So we're talking a lot about the future and where things are headed. I think that's fun but ultimately meaningless unless it affects how we behave in the present, right? What should we do today to move the needle in the direction that we think is best? With these dystopian futures that we're talking about, how do you think that should affect the way we behave today?
Brian: I think that looking at what we build and what it amplifies is valuable. I'm not really sure what the takeaways for how to actually act on that, but...
Cliff: I think one way to act on that is if people are able to forego the traditional capitalist incentive structure, I wish more people would. I wish more people building stuff would focus on other types of incentives that they want to achieve with what they're making.
Gabe: I think the key to what you're saying is what is that point, right? Because you have somebody like Jeff Bezos who has infinite money and they are still pursuing more money. And you could argue that the three of us are past that point where we can forego capitalist incentives and we choose not to. So like where is that point and how is it defined?
Cliff: No, I think that's the right question. How do you help people understand that point and pursue that?
I've heard this about doing design work for the government. There's some designers who started this movement to say like, “Hey, basically forego tech salaries for a year and a half and do something for your country and become a designer for America.” You don't have to say “I'm never going to make another dollar” but you can say “I'm gonna take a sabbatical of two years and I'm gonna use that time to build something that doesn't enrich myself.”
Brian: There's a great model for this, it's just the open source community. Like literally from the 90s, all these people just building a ton of things with no direct compensation attached to it, that became the basis of the entire internet that we all rely on.
Gabe: Yeah. But at an individual level, like how can you benefit from that other than with attention?
Cliff: This is the problem.
Brian: So for the open source community, all of these tools that the internet runs on were made by these people. And then eventually there is money that comes from that in that you end up building things that are so needful that you get hired as consultants, you get brought on to help maintain things, and then in some cases the actual companies will employ people that contribute to a lot of these tools.
Gabe: What I'm trying to do is like extrapolate some sort of formula. The most basic, simplistic formula would be like: make X amount of money and once you make that much, don't make more money and focus on getting other incentives. And obviously we can't reduce it to that extent, but how can we create some sort of value system or set of guidelines to understand at which point you've got enough and have the room to give?
Brian: $30 million should just be the ceiling for personal wealth. You don't fucking ever need more than that.
Gabe: But there's always a bigger boat, right? There's something some 30-millionaire can't afford and he wants to become 50-millionaire.
Brian: Sure. Fuck him. No one makes more than 30 million dollars anymore. Fuck it.
Gabe: There's three people having this discussion in a room somewhere, but in their mind the number is not 30 million, the number is 50 thousand. And in that case, all three of us are evil in their mind.
Cliff: Okay, so what's your goal? So let's say your ultimate goal is just to have more people work on more open source things and more things that are not monetized. If that is your goal, I think that putting hard caps is not agreat strategy.
A better strategy is instead to popularize some ways to achieve that and let them choose when to do that. That's why I think saying: “hey, us three will take a year off and work on something that does not contribute to us monetarily, everybody take the pledge and whenever you wanna do that, you can do that” would be, I think, more effective than saying “the second you reach a hundred thousand dollars in your bank account, you stop working.”
Brian: Just stop right now. No one fucking needs more than 30 million. But also, I'm gonna be totally real: I am not able to stop earning money at this point, I will fucking be booted out of my home instantly by a combination of private interests and the government.
Cliff: Yeah, I mean for me it was something that I thought a lot about when we were buying our house, cuz I feel like it's the smallest amount of size that we can comfortably live in with a family. We could have afforded more, but it would mean that my wife or I couldn’t support us in this house if the other one isn't making any money. That gives us flexibility to take risks and explore passionate things outside of our jobs if we want to. Making that choice is really hard, though. I still to this day am like, fuck, I wish I had an office that wasn’t my bedroom.
Brian: Yeah. You're not at 30 million yet, so that's why.
Cliff: Haha! If I was at 30 million, I'd have an office. I wouldn't think about it.