Where Are All The Birds?
How the world currently incentivizes bunting
Warning: This blogpost is bleak.
It is my solemn belief that we, as a species, are absolutely fucked. I think there’s a less than 1% shot we make it to type two civilization, and a 20% shot that “collapse of an empire” occurs in our lifetime (next 100 years).
Now, why is that? Why is my esteem for humanity so damn low? I think we’re in the world greatest short squeeze, and I don’t know if we’re going to make it out of this one.
Why have we not been to the moon in 50 years, let alone colonized something? Did we just get bored of space? No, that’s not it. Why haven’t we tried to feed a million people? Scale self sustaining systems to millions of people?
My hypothesis: It’s gotten harder and harder to get to average, and it’s only going to get worse.
Hyper inflation of student loan debt, housing debt, stagnation of wages, etc have all lended themselves to make purchasing power piss poor in comparison to the golden age. Thiel and Weinstein are right; something got fucked during the 70s and we might not recover from it.
This difficulty means that people have less room for error to get to baseline “success” in life. The conventional path for our brightest minds is; head to school, graduate with 50-250k in debt, and now you’re supposed to do what? The only thing that makes sense is to join some soul sucking company and start filling away at that 250k ball and chain we were told to pickup. In what world can anybody build anything of consequence when the cost of failure is a lifetime of debt? Compare this to graduating debt free in the 70s, in a flourishing economy, where you can get a place for $500 inflation adjusted and start working to get cash in the bank. After a year, you could take your safety net and go do whatever with it.
We now have this catch 22 where innovating/building something is a HUGE privilege, so it’s no wonder we haven’t been to the moon in 50 years. Those privileged enough to innovate are also the least likely to, because they don’t see how truly fucked the world is for the vast majority. And, on the off chance they do, it comes in the form of some Wine Recommendation engine backed by millions in venture capital. Why? Because the cost of failure is still high enough that the wealthy feel it. It’s a rat race, with the finish line growing rapidly over the years due to inflation. That target net worth at retirement will likely 5-10x by the time you actually retire, so you can’t afford to lose.
People have become so averse to the cost of failure, because the cost of failure has been silently growing over the years. Whether that’s tech companies thinking in quarters, founders not building riskier businesses due to lack of safety nets, or venture funds not backing those riskier businesses because they need to return the fund.
Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from Tim Ferris’ chat with Astro Teller about this
Now, this question makes a ton of sense at a company level, because they get lots of shots on net, but if we tweak it a bit, and I give YOU, personally, the choice between a guaranteed 1 million dollars, and a 1% shot at 1 billion dollars, which would you take? I’m betting the vast majority would take the former, despite the awful expected value payout, because you’ll probably never get that shot again in your life.
This is exactly what’s happening in the world right now, and it’s because people do not feel that their needs are adequately being met, so they don’t have the flexibility to take these risks, despite the returns being there if you roll the dice many times. Fact of the matter is, someone born today will likely have less shots to reach for the stars than someone born 20 years ago, and that’s fucked.
Innovation happens when you’ve got JUST enough room to fuck up and be okay. Innovation happens when you can afford to take risks, because you know it’ll pay off in the long run. Innovation happens in non-deterministic slices, closer to decades, not in quarters.
Want more spaceships? We need to invert the downward cycle that’s currently happening. We need to let people shoot for the moon, because, right now we’ve chained a lot of birds down and asked “Where are all the birds?”.
Free the birds.
Great article. Whats worse is so many of us (indebted prospective entrepreneurs) desperately want to roll the dice on the $1Bn payoff (i.e. paradigm shifting idea), if we could just get to some very modest level of financial safety first!
Or, at least, we feel this way.
Observing those who've made it that far already, it seems theres a spectre just as heavy haunting in the zeitgeist that inhibits these people from rolling the dice just the same.
Moloch, is that you?