Income vs Production

And other economic fuckery

Contrary to what everyone tells you, I don’t think the economy is doing too hot. Nobody knows where to park their money. Everything is at an all time high. Real estate, startups, stocks, crypto.

I called my friend the other night and we chatted about it, and I think it really can all be tied back to a pretty large critical flaw in the economy:

We now favor income producing assets more than product producing assets

Let me explain:

Let’s say you go to a bank, in two parallel forks of our current universe, to get a million dollar loan.

  • Fork A: You want the loan to buy a quadplex in Austin Texas

  • Fork B: You want to start a factory in Austin Texas

The bank will happily approve you for the mortgage, given this is safe, even at a 3.5% interest rate for an FHA loan.

Starting a factory in America is probably a bad move. It’s “risky” in comparison to underwriting a housing loan. There is less likelyhood of this being approved. Overtime, this compounds, because the economics of scale get ruined for starting businesses in America, and we’re forced to rent labor from oversees.

We used to measure wealth in product, but now we measure it in market cap. This, coupled with a stepping off of the gold standard, means the economy is just trending up, almost indefinitely.

And, this results in an economy on a rip for anybody who can “own” something. Ownership has always been key, but it’s important now more than ever because frankly, I think people will realize that the USD is pseudo worthless due to the massive disparity it has between the two American classes.

These companies who can afford to or have invested in production, will continue to be on a rip, and they’ll continue to extract boatloads of value.

How do we democratize the production economy? How do we return to the roots of Gross Domestic Product? I think the only way is better tooling. Otherwise, the economy is going to collapse once the level of angel investor landlords reaches critical mass.

Things Of Importance

Creating Meaning

People are weird. But, are people actually weird, or is it pretty simple what most people want? Most people chase one of the following:

  • Money

  • Fame

  • Fulfillment

  • Partners

Broadly speaking, this encompasses a good chunk of the population. Add more shit to the list, get more nines.

However, I think people really only chase the following: Fulfillment and happiness. I think, if you gave every person on the planet 5 million dollars, the suicide rate would actually go up not down. Not at first, but I’d bet within 1-2 years it’ll uptrend.

Actually, let’s run through that.

So everyone has 5 million dollars. It’s a great time. You and your friends drink for free every, everywhere you go. You buy fancy fast cars, useless toys, etc. You fly to far away places, spend large sums of money, and you feel happy. For a bit. Probably.

And yet, this doesn’t work indefinitely. At some point the money, or the dopamine released from spending that money, stops hitting on the same level. Why? I don’t know, but I can posit.

I think truly being happy can only come from a feeling of fulfillment. And we’ve got a huge ass problem on our hands, and I believe it’s what leads to mid life crisis’, suicide rates escalating, depression rising quickly, etc. And it’s something other than your doctor using his script pad like a blank checkbook.

Here’s my problem: it’s easier to create meaning from something than to create something of meaning

This, coupled with people’s desire to feel important, is a deadly combo.

If you went to a job, and your job was, as so many people put it “meaningless” (Of which a very nonzero percentage of people believe), what do you do? You’ve got a couple options:

  • Switch jobs

  • Create importance of this meaningless job

  • Do literally nothing

People are predisposed to a couple things which trends the answer towards #2. Humans want to feel meaning, and most humans don’t like change. So they create meaning from nothing, which sounds wonderful but I’d argue it’s actually one of the most detrimental things facing our society.

Many people who create meaning don't actually create something that’s meaningful; they simply create more work. More meetings, more rules, more things to make themselves feel important. At some point they become bored, like most humans, and move jobs. Now there’s so much shit in that job that you have to hire someone for it. They’ve created a job from nothing, but it’s not a meaningful job. From there, the cycle continues.

I personally believe you can use this framework to trace back the vast majority of corporate bloat, company disfunction, political disfunction, and many other things. This really begs the question though, how do you prevent it?

I think the only way to do this is to think to yourself “Is this one of the most important things I can be working on”. If it is, seek to create meaning from that. If not, go draw meaning from elsewhere.

Where you spend most of your time should be where you derive most of your meaning, but don’t create meaning because you’re forced to spend your time there. Say no to empty fulfillment, say no to bloat, and say no to people who are trying to mortgage your time for their meaning.

The Internet Is Noisy

Play status games, win status prizes

I’m finding it exceedingly frustrating for the average person to build.

On the software side, everything is fucked. We went from having cutesie Ruby on Rails apps deployed instantly on Heroku. Now, it’s “Build scale into your app from Day 1” and “Bake sharding keys into your app with our automated schema tooling engine”

Why people need to learn about Docker/Ansible/k8s, frankly at all, but definitely before they deploy their app, is criminal to me, but I’m working on it.

In comparison to what’s described next, building environments for automagic dev/deployment seems trivial. It’s not, but what follows is frankly impossible, because we’re dealing with humans and not computers.

Welcome To The Status Arms Race

The internet is really noisy. I’m talking, fucked up levels of noise. And not just in a “Wow everyones on TikTok/Twitter/etc”. Everyone is online, particularly those who seek status.

I miss the recesses of the internet where magic happened. I remember spending late nights back in 2011 hardware hacking with men 3-4x my age, over IRC and videochat (Can’t happen now, parents are way too cautious). It was fun, but it was calm. Every day after school I’d log into this magic world where people just built shit, for fun.

I don’t know if it was childhood innocence, or the industry transformed, but now everyone who seems to seek status comes to tech, and San Francisco. Those people who tinker, and build, are overshadowed by the Stanford Grad VC Scouts who come here for the prestige.

These people are better at schmoozing, they’re more charismatic, and they’ll bubble up to the top, because management and likability have better multiples than sitting in a room, fiddling and hacking. The only hope the builders have is to either:

  1. Play the games at a disadvantage

  2. Double down on building

There’s a third option: Get so exceedingly good at both you make them look like amateurs in either domain, but that one’s a little harder

Point is: we need more builders, and the incentives are stacked against them. We need more people who, given a pile of money + status and a pile of toys + time, will choose the latter any god damn day of the week.

These are the people I’m interested in hanging out with.

The tinkerers, the people who desire to bring magic into the world. Not the people who schmooze and enjoy a $1000 bottle of wine. I’ve done it, it’s cool, but it’s like dreaming of owning a fast car; I’d really hope you’d grow out of it, or realize the magic in it it comes from it’s scarcity.

So I ask: where do you find those people? I’ve had this discussion with almost every person new I come into contact with, and we never came to a good conclusion.

I suspect it’ll be somewhere in biohacking forums; I suspect it takes a full outcasting from conventional society, like I was for modding old consoles, to create these nice little magic pockets.

However, these magic pockets are sadly poetic, in the sense that, they can’t exist at scale, because the status seekers, the one’s who are in it for the money, come and ruin the actual party with a party of their own.

If you find one of these, cherish the magic moments while they last. If you’re so inclined, send them my way. I promise to never perpetuate the murder of that magic.

Bad Language

As an engineer, communication is almost more important than code

As I move through my engineering career, I’ve been able to retro a lot of shit. Times I’ve caused production dataloss (Always have a migration rollback plan) and times where I’ve just fucked up working relationships. As I look back throughout my career, I have basically one big regret.

I was fucking bad at communicating. People used to tell me this, in nicer, fluffier words. “Make sure you keep your tickets up to date”, “Alright how did your week go?”, etc. I always chalked it up to a PM being a PM and just kinda trying to get a status update or whatever.

I REALLY wish someone had sat down with me and told me the following:

“You suck at communication and consistency and it’s holding you back as an engineer. It doesn’t matter how good of a programmer you are; if the person assigning the work can’t get a read on how long things take, what you’re up to, etc, they’re not going to assign you the bigger shit because it’s an execution risk”

My last manager KINDA got there, but I think he was too nice about it.

Throughout my career I used to wonder why I had to fight tooth and nail to build cool shit. I think part of it comes down to working at big companies and everyone kinda wanting it, but in retrospect I realize I was just bad at communicating, or rather didn’t think it mattered.

It REALLY matters, and it’s taken me until I was on the other side of the table to realize that.

It’s also an exercise in framing things in such a way that the incentive to fix the problem accurately conveyed to the person. All I ever wanted to do was build cool shit.

If someone had told me “Hey listen we don’t trust you to build those big systems because they NEED to be done and you’re not consistent. If you want to build and lead out these things you need to do better at this; it’s literally a non starter” I would have fixed it when I was 19 instead of at 23-24.

So, hopefully, junior engineers can read this and realize, while you might be able to carve code like nobodies business, that’s not as important as you might think and in fact it might end up holding you back.

The Button

Click click -> outcome

I’ve been trying to think about how to build neat shit. Not just neat shit, but shit people will use, lots, and really enjoy using.

Most of the things that I enjoy using work by turnings complicated tasks into simplistic outcomes. Uber is the most trivial example; it’s literally a button. A button for food, a button for transport, a button for human nature. It orchestrates a complex system of things and turns it into “Your food/ride will be here in 3 minutes”.

When I think about shit I like, it’s always a button. To move a train, a plane, a person, etc. Simply turning the complicated into the simple action seems to largely be a foolproof

And yet, people don’t seem to put buttons on their homepage. They don’t make their product one-click accessible. People might say “Oh this is hard we make a complicated product that does a lot of things”

No. Fuck that. If you make a product that cannot be distilled into a button, I think you’ve lost it. I think you should really consider if what you’re building is too complicated for your user. What do they want to do, can that be distilled into a button? Why not?

I chatted with a founder the other day who builds a mail templating company. They’re doing quite well in enterprise, but they want to increase their growth in, idk what the opposite of enterprise is, commercial? I basically said “Why don’t you just put the mail templating engine on a page, and let people design and shoot off emails?”. Now, everybody who has ever done a LICK of email CSS knows how ass this is. It’s terrible. If I know there was a drag and drop editor to send nice mails, and it hooked into an API, I’d be all over that shit. Instead, it’s buried inside a signup form, an onboarding process, and a few other things.

Think about the button. What does your product ACTUALLY DO. You’re going to have plenty of people window shopping your site, if the entropy to show them that “ahah moment” is really high, fucking nobody is going to actually do the thing you want them to do. This is why Uber, Airbnb, Google, Pinterest, etc are all GREAT at what they do; they’ve managed to convert something extremely complicated into a trivial action. That’s the button.

There’s some stupid ass quip in here about how the only resource people have is time but whatever. I don’t know how to end this blog post nicely, and I’m not in the habit of deleting or sitting on a blogpost, so I suppose this will mark the end.

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