Quote of the Day, July 3, 2014: “The philosophy of the rich versus the poor is this: The rich invest their money and then spend what is left; The poor spend their money and then invest what is left.”

I’m going to avoid the obvious meaning of the saying, that is money, and I’m going to offer an alternative view, albeit a parallel one.

I play piano. Better than some, and worse than others. I’ll leave it at that. Without going into my long history with the instrument, which included lessons while I was a young boy that I loathed at times, I will say that I fell in love and got the bug during my time at university.

There I met many pianists, guitarists, bassoonists, and all types of musicians of varying skill levels. Some were professionals already hoping to hone their skills under the tutelage of those even more advanced than they. Some may as well have been beginners, seemingly having had decided to make music their major at the last minute while registering for classes. I would have fallen in the latter category, with the exception that music was not my major at all, just a newfound love.

Though I started out behind most pianists I met, my deep desire aroused in me a rare type of discipline. The kind one usually notices in a man trying to woo a woman. I had a goal and a drive to attain it that surpassed my desires for anything else at the time, women included. I found myself “borrowing” any sheet music I could get my hands on. I found myself ditching class in order to practice. I may have ‘allowed’ the secretary at the music department to believe I was a music major so as to have access to pianos to practice on. It was so bad that I even distinctly remember blowing of an incredibly attractive blonde cheerleader (whom I had a pretty sizable crush on at the time) for a party that she really wanted me to attend with her, so that I could solidify a piece of music that I had been working on all week. So instead of partying with her, which would have been the “logical” college thing to do at the time, I instead was running my fingers over the smooth ivory keys of a baby grand deep into the night on a sultry Friday evening.first steps pic

To put it short. What I wanted above all things at that time was proficiency at the piano. I asked questions about the piano. I dreamt about the piano. I played air piano on my binder in class. And most importantly I spend my time and energy on my goal, the piano. Looking back, until my father’s death, which deadened my drive for some time, I practiced piano for an average of 4 hours a day. When my fingers hurt, or when the practice rooms were closed for a holiday, and I had some free time, then I’d go to the party or hang out with the guys. They understood though. They had drives too.

There were those who didn’t understand though. They said they wanted to be good at the piano or perhaps another instrument, but every time there was a party you’d be sure to see them there. Any time there was a cute girl to be distracted by they were ready to give her their undivided attention. On the occasional Wednesday leading up to the Thanksgiving weekend you’d see them in the practice rooms, mostly because everyone else had gone home and they were getting some practicing in to stave off boredom.

Now years later, my close friends, the ones who understood when I wasn’t at the party every Friday night, mostly because they were also ditching the party, and in the practice room down the hall from me, gig all the time. Many have become professionals and live completely off their instrument, or the royalties from music they write or perform. They have become rich beyond their wildest dreams when it comes to opportunities to use the musical talents they have spent a lifetime developing. Our other friends look at us and say, “Well you’re just a lot more talented than I am. I wish I was born with as much rhythm as you,” always thinking that it was some sort of luck of the draw or a genetic disposition that created such a gap in the wealth of musical ability. At this point there is not much to say that they will believe or understand. After all, way back, when we only had two pennies of musical ability to rub together between the whole lot of us, they didn’t understand why we would spend so much time in the practice rooms, giving the piano the first and best hours of our day, and saving the left overs for the parties and the hanging out. They did exactly the opposite and gave the most to the women and the good times, and filled in the gaps with cultivating their skills.

But in the end both got what they desired. They truly wanted the women and the parties and they got them at that time, but now they do not have the musicality because they invested only the left-overs. We at the time, invested only our left overs in women and parties, and often felt left out when people forgot to invite us to get together, being accustomed to us not showing up in the first place. But we gave our best to the piano, and it is what has born fruit for us and continues to grow to this day, for after all, once you’re rich you tend to get richer.

So one gets a frat group of drinking buddies that extends deep into their 20s and perhaps 30s. The other gets a skill that if nurtured, keeps growing and satisfies both them and those around them. Each to his own philosophy, investing first one way, then spending the rest another, or visa versa. The thing is, by the time you’re this age, the musician is the party and always gets an invite, where the guy who’s got no skills but is merely a good time often gets forgotten. Oddly enough the old adage is true, that when it comes to the poor, no matter what type of commodity of currency you’re speaking of, it does seem that even what he has is taken from him. Invest wisely.

Advertisements

Quote of the Day, June 13, 2014: “Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, but the one who gathers little by little will become rich.”

We all want to get rich quick. That’s because we all either are in a bad financial situation, or simply lack the amount of resources to do what we truly want to do, and either way we want that problem alleviated now. Enter every get rich quick scheme imaginable to play on your emotional desire to have more resources, much more resources with the promise of delivering overnight. That kind of promise gets our emotions to flare and gets us to give in to whatever the scheme is in a frenzy, not because we actually think it’s a smart idea that will actually work, but more because we want it to work so bad we almost think we can will it into existence. We become the guy who spends his rent money on an exotic stock tip that’s supposed to beat the market, or the lady who loses all her friends pushing bath soaps for some MLM, or even the guy who buys a fixer upper and thinks by adding a coat of paint and some drapes he’ll turn around and sell it for $100k more than he bought it for. Or worse yet, the person who simply thinks that by hoping and praying and going along to get along that they will someday simply be given a promotion from their job, or get another job that pays an outlandish salary and then all their prayers will be answered. And of course the worst of all, the habitual lottery ticket purchaser.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these things have a place. Investing in the market is good if you actually have the money to spare and are realistic about the potential returns. This may be heresy to some but there are even a few multi-level marketing businesses that are worth their salt, provide value to their customers and put extra mailbox money in the middle man’s pocket. A couple adept at the ins and outs of real estate who aren’t afraid of a little hammering and sawdust can make millions flipping houses. People do get raises every day, and if they are smart about their extra money, an extra few dollars an hour could mean a complete change in lifestyle. And of course while most of us don’t know anyone personally, somebody out there does win the lottery every once in a while and aside from the taxes and the lottery curse, they could fill a pool with gold bars if they wanted to (although that would be a cool concept for a magazine photo shoot but dumb idea overall).

The point with all this is this. Wealth isn’t the word I want to choose because while it’s accurate, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture in the mind. Resources fits better. There are those of us who have a serious deficiency in resources. There are those of us who are fine but also lack the resources to do certain things that we dream about or want to do. But to suddenly get those resources overnight, while it would seem to be a God-send, and granted there are those of us out there who would do well, for the most part we wouldn’t really know what to do with them. When something grows over time we watch it. We learn its habits. We learn what slows its growth down and what seems to accelerate it. We learn just how much water and sunlight it needs so to speak. It’s almost a relationship, whether it be with a plant or with money and we watched the whole process. This way we know exactly where it came from and how to keep it going. When something springs up overnight we have a rough concept of where it may have come from, but we don’t have that deep understanding that comes with watching something with patience and discipline. I might by a stock today, and for some reason the market makes a jump and I sell it in a week and make thousands. In theory that can happen and that would be very fortunate, but it would be luck more than anything else. It kind of just happened and while I might say that I had a feeling or that company’s logo is my favorite color or whatever, the fact is I don’t really understand how and where that thousand bucks came from. I won’t be able to do it again. And even if I could the odds of keeping that up are astronomical.

Now if I took the time to study changes in the different markets. Look for indicators of booms and busts over several different industries over say, 80 years, then I might have a fighting chance at making some consistent money that doesn’t just grow and then drain out with every cycle. But that wasn’t quick. I had to take the time, a long time, to develop a relationship with the numbers and the financial climate and all of that to become proficient. I know where the money comes from and how it works. Now I can make it grow dependably.

It’s almost like coming into the age of science and leaving the age of magic in the past. When our ancestors relied heavily on the inconsistency of gods and goddesses that lurked within every rock or tree, all with conflicting agendas and different sets of powers to control the environment we lived in, the world was a much darker and seemingly confusing place. The concept of magic worked simply because it worked sometimes and it didn’t work other times. Life was, as they say brutish and short. Enter the age of science and reason, and yes while it has its own problems, for the sake of the illustration I’ll point out that people began to see that there was order to the universe. All things work together according to natural laws, not the arbitrary whims of a goddess over here battling against the desires of a god over there. There was a time when horseback was the fasted mode of travel, and while we saw birds covering great distances in short timespans, we could only fantasize about riding on the back of a Pegasus through the sky to our destination. We hadn’t put in the time yet to understand that those birds weren’t using magic, they were simply using laws built into the environment. The idea that perhaps with the right magic dust or the right incantation one could fly for a moment perhaps. Thousands of years later, after much trial and error, many crashes and many deaths even, we can fly anywhere we want in the world with such consistency that you are more likely to get bucked off a horse today than fall from the sky in a plane. This is because over time we’ve put in the effort and the discipline to have a consistent resource that only keeps getting better and better as the years go by because we have an intimate understanding of how and why it works.

Resources that come quickly and easily usually fade just as quickly and easily. That’s simply because we don’t really understand how we got it. Stocks feel like gambling. MLMs feel like money just grows out of feelings. Flipping seems kind of like playing Monopoly HGTV Edition. A raise or a promotion tends to feel arbitrary, and winning the lottery just means for whatever reason God likes you today. None of these things mean anything particularly useful to the recipient if they come easy or quickly. But if the skills and luck required for these and other forms of gaining resources are learned over time so that they actually stick in the mind and the mystery fades behind how they work over time, then even when things do happen quickly, the recipient has a firm understanding of the whys and hows and can use lucky breaks to continue to gain more resources is a much more controlled way.

Quote of the Day, March 9, 2014: “Don’t seek gain, seek growth.” (Extended Version)

This quote comes from my pastor, but it harkens back to a conversation I had two weeks ago with another gentleman about what the trouble is with our society and business, and in particular, with Christians and business. It all stemmed from him speaking about how when he first had kids he found an interest in finding out what the best way to educate them would be. He started out looking for a concise definition that he could accept for the word “eduction.” Education is something that we speak about all the time in our society. Our politicians talk about it and how they are going to fund this school and that set of teachers, and all in the sake of education, but they never really speak about what education is or what it’s for. Our parents want us to get a good education, and our teachers push us to get good grades and go higher and higher in our education but it’s still never quite defined for us. Is an education literally that piece of paper they give you at the end stating that now you have an education? Does it mean you can recite poetry and recall obscure battles and what dates the occurred. The definition that this man said he finally settled on after years of search was this: (Paraphrase) Education is preparing someone to respond to and engage with the world in an appropriate manner. I can guarantee that is a paraphrase although I’m doing my best to recall his exact words. I do believe the ones I’ve chosen speak to the heart of what he said though. He found that the idea behind education was teaching a young person that there is a big world out there with all kinds of ideas, and tools, and facts, and dangers and wonders and that person will need the intellectual and emotional tools to be able to interact with that world in a way that is #1 beneficial to them, and #2 should be beneficial to those they are interacting with.

Now in today’s day and age we usually harp on education for one thing and one thing only. Yes sure we pretend that you should get a good education so that you are a well-rounded person, or a productive member of society or something of that lofty and idealised nature, but the real reason people say get a good education because they believe that is the way to make money, and money is how you get what you want and need in this world. It is true that without some kind of education, you definitely will not have what you want, nor what you need in terms of money or much of any other type of success. But that education does not need to come from a class room. It can come from what has become far too much of a cliche for me to use without blushing; “the streets.” It can from from wisdom passed on from your parents. Or it can come from an institution set up for the purpose of educating young (or old) people. It can come from many types of places but the reality is that if you don’t learn how to engage with the world in a manner that correlates with what you want, which usually means giving someone what they want first, then you will not make it, nor will you make anything better.

How this carried over into business, and therefore connects with the quote is this. He said that whether all of us like it or not, and whether the other half of us believe it’s still the case or not, the fact remains that our society is heavily Christianized. This means that while there are plenty of us that do not subscribe to Christianity, or even subscribe to a deity at all for that matter, the culture we find ourselves in has been created and sustained by Christian peoples for the last several hundred years. Whether you think of it as lasting influence or baggage, the fact remains that the majority of our ideals are Christian ideals. This is on a subconscious level and wont’ easily be taken from us as a culture, though on the conscious level we may seek to attain these ideals in what appear to be radically secularised ways. For example, both our political parties seek to help the poor and the needy. One party simply thinks that the other is going about it the wrong way. One says the only way to help is to teach people to help themselves. The other says the only way to help people is to sort of do it for them in a way. Independent of which one is right and which one is wrong, both  take for granted that it is a good thing to help the needy and they get their reasoning in the first place from their shared Christian cultural ideals. If we didn’t have these ideals then we would be having debates on whether is was right or not to help the needy in the first place. Aside from being taken over by a culture that has radically different religious roots we will never see a debate on whether taking care of the poor and needy is a good thing or not in North America or Western Europe. We will however debate on how  to get this done, but never whether it should be done. Christianity teaches that those who are strong should take care of and make accommodations for those who are weak. Christianity teaches that those who have plenty should take care of those who are in need. Those are the givens in our society at a subconscious level, whether there are many other cultures who teach that those who are weak should show deference to those who are strong. This is why men hold doors for women, slavery of minority ethnic groups is outlawed, and children can’t work until they are 16. The confusion comes in when they play out on a day to day basis and we can see that we still have some maturing to do as a society. One place where we seem to have gotten confused, as a people, and as a still subconsciously Christian people is in business.

Business has become a dangerous word because it’s a slippery slope toward the word Big business which is certainly a curse word. And if big business is a curse word then ‘profits’ must be one of the most vulgar of all. In short this is because our subconscious religious heritage teaches us that there is more to life than what can be seen or touched. That is to say that there is not only more to our existence than material world but that there are things that actually supersede the material world. And all that money can buy are material things. It also teaches us that those who place too much importance on the material, at the expense of putting importance on the immaterial are fools and can lead to wickedness. And to top it all off, we have a directive to take care of the needy, and we almost always think of the needy in terms of material resources. There are plenty out there who ignore this religious and cultural directive to the point of doing the exact opposite and actually oppressing the needy. Because our culture is rather duplicitous at the moment, being intent on freeing our conscious behavior from the tyrannical shackles of Christianity and religion, but being forever subconsciously tied to it, we start to lose track of why  we believe some things are right and somethings are wrong, but still have an innate drive to carry out those rights and avoid those wrongs. When this confusion sets in, as it has for some time our society grows more and more politically chaotic and culturally schizophrenic. Instead of the potential oppressor being kept in check so as to never fall into the temptation of using his strength for ill, he becomes the very oppressed himself, in an effort to combat the ill dreamed up in a nightmare of one of the potentially oppressed, to give the oppressor a taste of his own medicine, a medicine that he hasn’t even necessarily concocted yet. Like a doctor sues book where fictional creatures are getting stars tattooed and then removed on them so fast that nobody can quite tell who the original perpetrator was, or if there ever was one, we take what is good, but has potential for evil, and then do that evil to them in the name of what is good, convoluting both entirely. Over time this develops not only a natural hatred for those with strength, any kind of strength really, which allows for many different kinds of people to fall into the category of being loathed by a confused society that is grappling with an innate sense of right, without acknowledging its source: corporations, men, whites, the rich, the religious majority, the educated, those with white collar jobs, the banking industry, the oil industry, attractive people, tall people, popular kids in school, whoever. If they have power, even if they aren’t wielding it, even if it’s only perceived power, because we’ve kept our ideals but thrown out the ‘manual’ so to speak, they are suspect and probably got that power from doing something bad.

Business and profits are no exception. The idea behind profits though, is that in the truest sense of the word, it does not mean gain, which is n excess of wealth, of fat really. And admittedly so, it has become that to many of us. When profit becomes gain, the acquisition of more and more, the consumption of more than is sufficient, then they are tainted and not only seen as greedy or distasteful by our fellow man (usually because of his own greed and jealousy) but it also goes against how God wants us to profit. That is because it is hard to gain in the sense of acquisition without taking form others. The true sense of the word profit is to grow. When we succeed in business or in any other part of life, we often retain excess with which we use to grow the good we are already doing. Success in business finds the growth of not only the business but the customer and the laborers as well. That is why the demonization of business and profit is understandable, seeing as we are culturally too confused to recognize good strength being used well versus ill-gotten strength being used poorly, and the fact that there are plenty out there who would prove this demonization to be justified with the way they conduct themselves. But this demonization is ultimately incorrect because it cannot recognize the need for and the command to grow as being contrasted against, but equally important to our command to take care of the needy. Growth strengthens those involved, while gain decays.

In business it is always better to focus on growth rather than gain. A child that ‘gains’ retains fat that is of little use to him and often slows him down. Aside from genetic reasons this often happens because of a sort of gluttony or a greed with food or the wrong types of food which ultimately makes the child weaker and weaker. A child who grows is eating the right kinds and the right amounts of food allowing him to get stronger and grow and do even more things as he approaches adulthood.

A business have profit, presumably because they are providing a service or a product that others need. They are not only providing this to people but doing it in an organized fashion that is dependable for their customers. This is a good thing and this good earns them profits. Some heads of companies take more and more of these profits and squander them on frivolities or keeping up with the business owner down the street. This luxury will eventually turn into fat because it is neither a wise nor helpful way to use those profits. But a company may also use those profits to do the good they are already doing, but more of it, or better. This is growth which in turn helps even more people on the outside but strengthens the company on the inside. Growth and change for the better is always a good thing. Acquiring for the sake of having more and more is not and usually leaves us with less or in a weakened state in the end. That’s simple enough.

Quote of the Day, March 6, 2014: “It’s quite a rare skill to be both professional and frank.”

It’s not necessarily a profound notion, but it was to me when I first realized it. I had always thought that to be professional meant, at it’s heart, to be frank with people. After all, beating around the bush is bad news in business. So are things like fine print, political-correctness and breaking things easy to people. Business is about relationships, but it’s also about numbers, and while relationships can often require a bit of fineness and polish, numbers are cold and hard. Numbers don’t have feelings. People often say that numbers don’t lie. Well in that way, numbers are like words. Word don’t lie either, but you can arrange them in a way that makes them misrepresent the truth. The same goes for numbers. The difference is, that whether the numbers are lying or not, they say it without emotion, without courtesy, but without being abrasive as well. They just say what they have to say, frank and matter of fact.

But as I grow older I find that while I might have said that business is always about relationships and numbers, I’ve always unwittingly sped across the relationships and emphasized the numbers. Numbers are the frank part, but relationships are what makes the professional part professional. The question I’ve yet to answer is how to be truthful, up front, say what you need to say, and yet still be enigmatic enough to conceal details about your own business that are, frankly, nobody else’s business. Sometimes what you need to conceal is the very thing you need to reveal in order to truly get your very relevant point across.

Like a game of poker, its understood that we all have enough relationship to play the game and keep to the rules, and I’ll even show you, or at least make you feel as though I’ve shown you, my cards in so long as it helps move the game forward. But also like poker, it’s also understood that I’m not showing you everything, and that anything I do show you is either by design so that you’ll give me what I want, or a slip up on my part to be taken advantage of. Now of course in theory, and in the practice of most honest businessmen, the idea of the game, unlike poker, is not to see you go bankrupt. After all the world runs by all of us moving and gaining and losing and doing and creating and destroying in a big self-perpetuating network of activity. But there is a certain sense that aside from ideas like true modesty and true humility, there is an element of professionalism is only modest with respect to the idea that my modest keeps you from thinking I’ve got a good hand, or that my stiff upper lip keeps you from realizing that I’m on the ropes and that one well placed sucker punch could finish me at this moment. I suppose like most other things in life, it involves a balance, two poles of tension on which one end is complete divulgence of pertinent and relevant information and the other is stone-faced bluffing.

There is another professionalism however, an older, more noble sense in which there is nothing necessarily to gain from the situation, and yet I’m still going to protect the names or reputations of the parties involved in a various matter. Something like a journalist protecting his sources, or and executive taking full responsibility for a mishap that actually involved a few of his underlings as well. But perhaps these are the situations that so perplex me at times. When truth and information matter to a situation, how does one appropriately say what is true, while still not throwing others under the bus. If you want an accurate solution, is it not prudent to collect real data? Suppose I had better work on my poker face.

Quote of the Day, December 20, 2013: “Pride is the most dangerous of vices and all other vices can be boiled down to just that.”

Pride comes up a lot in life. It’s not a surprise as it’s the original sin, and can be found in the roots of all other sins. Pride is the essence of all that is evil, because pride is a refusal of reality, and a placing of self above your environment. Seeing as we as humans, have bits and pieces of logic, and have bits and pieces of rationality, but are by no means rational or logical in our core, Pride, or this inability to accept the true cause and effect nature of life, is an inhabitant of all of us. It has a hold of each of us to varying degrees to be sure, but it does exist in all of us. That’s not the surprising part.

 

What’s troubling is that these days Christians and non-Christians alike have built up a whole encyclopedia of the nuances of the do’s and don’ts of life, starting a telling little white lies, taking a pit stop at thou shalt not murder (unless asked to by your federal government), and ending  with the most heinous of all sins…looking at porn. But the weird thing is, the root of all these bad thoughts, terrible plans, and disgusting acts is a sin that is so often overlooked as a vice of the young and fool-hearty, something that a young man will mature out of, and that a young lady will simply loose in time. It is lurking in the shadows of all sin, feeding it and nurturing it into habit and lifestyle, but we treat it as a harmless or at best, and annoying and unfortunate personality trait that one will simply grow out of.

 

But I assure you, the rich man never sins until his pride compels him to believe that his riches give him superiority and rights above those of others. That’s where he begins to abuse his wealth and hurt other people. The publican (politician) is on the straight and narrow to selfless public service until pride gives him license to abuse his power and use his clout to manipulate both citizen and country for his own personal gain. The young man on the street, poor and abused as he may be is still an honest person desperately searching for the tools to get out of his situation until pride allows him to believe that his need and desire takes president over that of the woman walking nearby whose purse he’s about to snatch. Even the woman whose unhappy with the husband of her youth is still an honest lady struggling to do right by her man and her children until pride tells her that her desire for happiness and satisfaction is more important than the pain it will cause to her husband and her children when they discover that she’s started seeing her yoga instructor on the side.

 

All these things we distain openly, but why do we treat the root cause without much concern? Pride, as a wise man once put it, is simply a refusal to accept reality as our environment presents it to us, coupled with an unrealistic elevation of our own being within that new reality that we’ve constructed for ourselves. From this small tweak in perspective springs forth all forms of racism, sexism, bigotry, and malice.

Quote of the Day, September 10, 2013: “The easy road often becomes hard, but the hard road often becomes easy.”

Pretty sure this is a variation on one of the quotes from the past but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite sayings because as I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of adulthood it seems to prove itself over and over and over again in almost every way.

 

Today it comes from an encounter I had with a plastic surgeon. It was outpatient surgery using a local anesthetic so to keep my mind off of the tugging and strange sound of cutting that I could hear because he was working near my ear, the physician talked with me. We talked about the weather (rain), what we like to do for fun; you know the usual at first. But then said he was listening to public radio the other day and heard an interesting story.

 

They were doing some research on jobs and college degrees and they were on an unnamed college interviewing students about their coursework decisions. According to the radio program the last few years the most common degree by far has been psychology. The problem is that when we get out of school, psychology degrees end up earning near the bottom when it comes to entry (and long term) income. That’s because of three common misconceptions, and I’ll let you decide which one today’s quote of the day is referring to.

 

Misconception #1: Most students tend to think of a psychology degree and then envision themselves graduating and working in their own private office where people walk in, lay on the couch, look up at the fancy Kandinsky artwork on the ceiling and say, “well Doc, it all started in my childhood…” We see ourselves charging $100 and hour to talk to someone about how their mom not buying them a Lego set when they were 7 led them to their mid-life crisis now 50 years later. What we don’t realize is that we are actually thinking of a psychiatrist not a psychology. The basic difference there is that the psychiatrist is able to administer drugs and the psychologist cannot. And that apparently is where the money is, however it takes a lot more schooling and a lot better understanding of anatomy and neurology.

 

Misconception #2: Most students don’t realize that the vast majority of psychology degree-type jobs are in social work, which is usually government work. Now there is of course nothing wrong with working for the government, and it is actually really worth while and helpful work, however the government is not really known for its high paying entry level positions.

 

Misconception #3: According to the radio program most of the students interviewed picked psychology as their major because the coursework itself was said to not be very difficult. And in our Cs (and sometimes Ds) get degrees culture, that can be what a lot of students opt for. The problem is that it’s relatively easy compared to say engineering, but only for about 4 years, or a little longer if you go on to graduate work. Then you are out and the easy wears off fast.

 

Apparently the highest entry level pay these days if for a Petroleum Engineering Degree; around $120k a year. Who’da thunk? I hear it’s pretty tough coursework though.

Quote of the Day September 5, 2013: “Self-interest and Altruism Point in the Same Direction.”

Today’s quote comes from the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun than You Think by Bryan Caplan. I don’t know much, or anything about the author, and to be honest I’ve only read the first 15 pages of this book. I was visiting my in-laws recently and they have hundreds, perhaps thousands of books. When I get some down time I often pick one off one of their shelves and give it a whirl. As I poked through their collection this one stood out. I’m pretty sure because babies are on my mind now that I have a 7 month old around the house. Just like being married, or anything else worth while for that matter, he’s a lot of work but incredibly rewarding. Now that I’m counted among the billions of parents in the world, I notice all the talk about how to teach, how to discipline, and even thoughts on how many you should have.

Many people today suggest that you should only have one, two or at the most, three children. It’s simply socially responsible they would say considering our culture’s obsession with overpopulation. And it is true as our globe now supports more than 7 billion people, that the number boggles the mind and has visibly risen by a few billion in many of our contemporary’s life times. Some say they don’t know much about population but for them personally, the thought of many kids, or even kids at all seems way too burdensome. But then there are others who say just the opposite. Children aren’t work. They are actually enjoyable. And as far as being socially responsible, the only responsible thing is to have children, and lots of them. This is the position the author Bryan Caplan takes.

When he says, “self-interest and altruism point in the same direction,” he’s saying that it is actually in the self interest of the few and of the many to have more kids. Individually he says that the reality is that kids are work, but not nearly as much work as they are made out to be. Also that they are a lot of work when they are young, but long term they pay off dividends in adult friendship, those who will take care of you when you are older, or even assets in a family business. Long term views aside, they are actually quite rewarding in the day to day as well. Also many people are far too worried about “screwing up” their kids by not being the perfect parent. His view is that the odds are kids end up turning out more or less normal anyway and that parents obviously should be careful to instill work ethic, knowledge, and values, but that they shouldn’t give themselves too much credit. Kids will turn out more or less fine. Also statistics say that most people who have kids, when asked later on in life, say they wish they had even more and very few say they regret having kids altogether. Meanwhile others who did not have kids usually say that they do, in fact, regret not having kids.So he establishes that it is in an individual’s self-interest to have more kids than they would have.

Where it links with altruism is that he also makes quite a case in favor of the idea that the more our population grows the better life will be. He is quite convincing (even if I end up not being in this little summary). He contests that we are not becoming overpopulated, and that historically, humanity has always and only flourished as our populations have increased. The more humans means the more ideas, and more solutions to the problems of the day. More exploration and more support from back home. More humans may mean using more resources, but it also means more of us to discover how to utilize the more resources that we need. Also he notes that in the 1940s there were 10 workers to every 1 senior living on social security. Today there are about 5 workers to every 1 senior. This trend means social security and other programs like it that depend on the young to produce so that the old or infirmed can be taken care of are on their way out. If we as a nation had more children in a macro sense, we could ensure that the pyramid-type programs we have set up have a base to remain sustainable. And on an even more macro and nationalistic note, countries, historically and statistically, that have viewer than 2.6 children per person cannot sustain their own numbers over time, simply due to the normal death rate that all countries experience. So if you think of the United States, for instance, as an island with no people coming in or out, only deaths and births, every person on average would need to have 2 to 3 children to simply keep the same amount of people around over time. Now since countries like the US are not closed doors, if US citizens have fewer kids than necessary to sustain their own numbers, the continent of America will not cease to be populated, but instead it will be populated by other cultures that do have more children.

I supose this could be viewed as a good or a bad thing, depending on what you think about American culture and what you think about the cultures that would overtake it. Either way it is an interesting view about having more kids is selfish, but it is also very generous and altruistic. We often think of those as mutually exclusive terms. I won’t get into them here but there are many economic theories and social and theological approaches that share that view. Obviously the self-interested who rob a bank, or commit a murder are doing things in self-interest alone and they do not actually help others. But there are other behaviors that accomplish both apparently.