No real opinions here, none held strongly, just some observations I recently made about the scale of some of the numbers I was interested in, with some quick thoughts added. I couldn’t find this data easily, so I had to compile it from the list here.
US Billionaires 2018
Total Count: 585
Avg Age: 68
Median Age: 68
Avg Net Worth: $5.29B
Median Net Worth: $2.80B
Total Combined Net Worth: $3.096T
US Federal Budget
FY17 Revenue: $3.316T
FY17 Spending: $3.982T
To simply put this in perspective, if the all the present billionaires in the US liquidated and gave away their entire wealth, it would:
1) Fund the US Federal spend of 2017 for 9 months
2) Fund the US Federal deficit for 4.6 years
Other things to observe
Most of the increase in wealth of the wealthy comes from investments and capital returns, and these are not subject to income tax. They are subject to capital gains tax, which after 1 yr of holding assets are limited to 20%.
As an example, if you had enough cash lying around that you could bet on cryptocurrencies when they were just a fad, you could’ve made 1000+% return on your investment in 2-3 yrs, yet paid only 20% tax on it. In fact, the average return on a class of crypto investments made in 2017 was a whopping 136,000 percent. Yes, those are 3 zeroes. Yet, you’d only owe 20% capital gains tax on that, regardless of your income level or net worth.
On less volatile assets, if you had $1bn invested in the S&P 500 in 2013, by the end of that year, it would’ve grown to $1.3bn. So you’d have earned $300M in one year, just with the capital you had lying around. And regardless of your total net worth or your income level, you’d just pay a capital gains tax of $20% on it.
These are some ways how the rich keep getting disproportionately richer.
We were once stuck in a snowstorm. It was pretty bad. We knew there was a big chance we wouldn’t make it. We had time to confront the situation and talk about it. And we both said that we had no regrets in life, there was nothing left unsaid, nothing left undone, and we were ready for the end if that’s what this was going to be. It was an interesting way to feel validation for the habits and values we have tried to have.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by competing priorities and obligations and when we can no longer find time to reflect we can end up in a reactive mode. I have tried to counter that by creating habits and have lately ended up in a scheduling practice that looks like this:
I block out my schedule for the beginning of the day, the week, the month and the year. Creating that space helps me make sure that I’m listening to myself clearly. And it also gives me the clarity and focus to prioritize and make progress on things that are of the highest value to me.
This ensures that my actions and work come from a place of assuredness and confidence and I don’t feel like I am putting things off that need attention for too long.
E.g I spent the first day of this year alone, by myself, in the Russian Tundra, and got lucky enough to see the Northern Lights. It was a very rejuvenating and energizing experience and the perfect way to start the year!
My Apple Watch ⌚️ got a software update this weekend and now I can take ECGs on it. Looks like it’s already saving lives:
“Fine I walk in and sign in. They ask what’s wrong and I’m embarrassed. ‘Ok so there is a new watch feature….hahaha….I’m silly but can we check this?”
“I did not know that this comment was a quick queue pass for Patient First. I’m taken right back and hooked up. The technician looks at the screen and says “I’m going to get the doctor”
“Doctor comes in, looks at the screen, looks at me and says “You should buy Apple stock. This probably saved you. I read about this last night and thought we would see an upswing this week. I didn’t expect it first thing this morning.”
It was so easy to set up and worked so flawlessly. Apple’s still got it 🙂
Standing just below the summit of Mt Hood in Oregon, we are looking up at the climbers making the final approach. This is one of my favorite pictures. This is a picture of me not summitting Mt. Hood in Oregon.
We had been training for the whole season. Mt Hood is an excellent training hike for other higher, glaciated climbs in the area. We drove up from Seattle and arrived at the trail-head at 10pm. Then we slept in the car. We woke up at 2am. It was very very windy and quite cold. We started going up at about 3am. Alpine start. My body was cold. I was very exhausted and sleepy. And every part of my being told me to get back in the car, turn on the heat and sleep till sunrise. But the right thing is often larger than us.
So ice axe in hand, crampons on our shoes, we commenced climbing on the icy incline. It was steep. A very perfect mountain in many ways. If I was asked to draw a mountain when I was 3, this is what I would have drawn. Straight inclined edges. Ending with a nice tip on the top.
At 5:30am we paused for a bit. The light was beginning to break over the horizon. It was beautiful. Surreal.
We continued climbing, and we finally reached this spot. 4,400ft / 1,300m of climbing on full deep snow.
This was just below the bergschrund. It was dangerous to continue. It was too icy. And too busy. Too many people. One slip by you or someone else and you could go tumbling down the gully.
To continue we’d have to rope up. We didn’t have time. We had to get back down in time to meet some friends for brunch at noon in Portland. And we had absolutely no cellular network. So we couldn’t get in touch and let them know we would be late. So we decided to turn around.
We had failed at our original goal of summitting. But we got the gift of extra time to enjoy this spot. It was awesome. You could smell the sulphur mixed with the icy alpine air. It’s an active volcano. And that’s when I took this photograph using my 70-200mm lens.
Coming back down was fun. And we made it to brunch on time. We were exhausted. And had built up an appetite. And the food tasted delicious.
We sometimes focus so much on the end goal, we forget to notice all the gifts we receive along the way. Almost never is a failure a dead-end. It always opens an opportunity for something else. If we can adapt, adjust our goals, then we may end up turning failures into cherished successes.
I am glad I didn’t summit Mt Hood that day. I was able to shoot one of my favorite pictures as a result. The mountain still stands. And I’m still alive.
I moved to the United States because it inspired me. No where else in the world did I find the security, equality and opportunity to positively impact the world that the United States provides. Something I still entirely believe today, which is why I have made this my home. When I moved here, I was impressed by the humility of the Americans I met. They were self critical and had the objectivity to focus on continuing to improve the system. This was refreshing. Where I came from, there was not much civic engagement, and people complained without taking much initiative to actually do anything.
However, many of my American friends nowadays have become more cynical than ever, focusing entirely on the negatives and have lost the appreciation for all the good this system has brought to the world. Countless people around the world (including me) have come out of poverty and exploitation because of the American system of liberalism and economics. Yes, the United States has been involved in some really bad situations and has caused great harm in many instances. But there’s absolutely no doubt that it has been a net positive influence on the world as measured by most metrics we all care about.
We may not realize this but cynicism is often a sign of privilege. If we can afford to be cynical, maybe we haven’t experienced how bad and unfair life can be without the imperfect systems we criticize. And maybe we have less to lose regardless of the course we take. Before we promote huge course corrections, or propose booting the current orders in favor of alternative systems, we have to do the research to understand humans, to recognize that we are flawed, acknowledge that no system is ever going to be perfect, and that it’s a function of the fundamental nature of reality itself, not due to a lack of effort or foresight.
Many of us Americans like to believe that we are some of the most ignorant people in the world. This is good self-deprecating humor, but this is actually not true at all. We can’t keep criticizing ourselves while incorrectly idealizing everyone else. That actually makes us dumb. There’s ignorance everywhere. But an ignorant farmer in India has less impact on the world than an unfairly self-critical American. So the burden is very high on us here to understand the harm we bring by our cynicism, and our actions and inactions.
Quotes from the article below:
“The dramatic change of course after 1945 was not due to some sudden triumph of our better angels or embrace of Enlightenment principles that had been around for centuries, nor was it the natural unfolding of Universal History in the direction of liberalism. Liberal ideals triumphed because, for the first time, they had power behind them. A new player arose on the international scene: the United States. It possessed a unique and advantageous geography, a large, productive population, unprecedented economic and military power, a national ideology based on liberal principles, and a willingness, after the war, to use its power to establish and sustain a global order roughly consistent with those principles.”
“The architects of the new order were not utopian idealists. They believed in the inherent sinfulness of humans, the competitiveness of nations and the tendency of all orders to collapse. They had stared into the abyss and seen the depths to which humankind could fall. They knew the world they created would be flawed and costly to defend, but they believed an imperfect liberal order was better than none at all.”
“We tend to view the decades after 1945 through the lens of the Cold War, and Soviet communism certainly preoccupied Americans. Yet the response to the Soviet threat, which included the deployment of U.S. forces permanently in both Europe and East Asia and the creation of the global alliance structure, produced a geopolitical revolution. Within the confines of that system, normal geopolitical competition all but ceased. Nations within the order, in Western Europe and East Asia, didn’t compete with each for military superiority, form strategic alliances against one another or claim spheres of influence. Since no balance of power was necessary to preserve the peace among them, as it always had been in the past, they could shift substantial resources and energy from military to economic and social purposes.”
“Yet American hegemony was never so intolerable as to drive other members out. On the contrary, nations banged on the door to come in. Participants in the order, then and now, have shared the implicit understanding that however flawed the American-led liberal world order might be, the realistic alternatives would almost certainly be far worse.”
“Today many Americans seem to have lost sight of that eminently realistic judgment, and this has happened, unfortunately, just at the moment when the world is slipping back into old patterns. Autocracy, not so long ago dismissed as an anachronism, has shown a strength and resilience that Franklin Roosevelt’s generation would have recognized, while the democracies suffer from paralysis and self-doubt, as they did in the 1930s.”
Facebook is investing in features that are bound to reduce “engagement” as it was measured the old way. The old metric was “time spent”. Now the new metric is time spent “with intention, being inspired and feeling positive.”
Short-term investors saw this and decided that it’s a bad thing – as engagement goes down, so will revenue. And FB stock took a hit. But if we take the long view, we can see how this strategy is like to pay off.
(FB’s revenue model was similarly questioned several years ago when users were moving from Desktop to Mobile. The fear then was that they couldn’t show as many ads on mobile as they could on desktop. But what actually happened is that as the number of ads went down the price of ads went up as there was limited space to show them on mobile.)
There’s this guy that stands at a busy intersection in Mumbai. He is there every day. Smiling. I saw him the first time in 2006 or so. He has been doing this for at least 12 years now as one of my friends confirmed today (July 12, 2018) that they saw him there!
The sign reads:
Follow your own dharma (duty / virtue / morality / religion).