If we want to optimize life, we must first start from our projections of what the world is going to look in the years ahead.
Generally speaking, it is coming to resemble something out of a cyberpunk sci-fi setting, i.e. “low life, high tech”; a world of instant communications, global markets, fewer resources and growing poverty, and intrusive government surveillance.
In fact, it can be reduced to three major trends:
- Informatization: Everything is becoming more interconnected, from online businesses selling Chinese-manufactured goods or India-outsourced services to African peasants looking up local grain prices on their new cell phones. This empowers the entrepreneurial, the tech-savvy, the globalized, and the surveillant.
- Peak Oil: Is a catch-all term for the growing supply challenges facing the global energy industry – slowing or plateauing extraction; decreasing quality (e.g. heavier, more polluting, less energy-dense); rising geological and political risks. This will be translated into higher fuel and energy prices in the years ahead.
- Global Warming: Many parts of the world are going to become adversely affected by the consequences of AGW: floods, droughts, strong hurricanes, wildfires, desertification, etc. Due to its runaway nature this will become evident at an accelerating pace. Consequences will include high food prices, climate refugees and international tensions.
The general theme we have is of a world that will be more fragile and fluid. Job security, already a thing of the past, will not return. Many of today’s middle-classes will become impoverished, and will be unable to climb back out, as happened after Argentina’s economic collapse in 2002. But for the entrepreneur – the person who “shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher yield,” as defined by French economist J.B. Say in 1800 – the world will be an oyster as never before in history.
Rather than wasting time worrying over which degree or specialization to pursue, and how you’re going to pay back the student loans, consider focusing on the following seven “core skills” of the cyberpunk survivalist.
It’s The E-conomy, Stupid
Knowing the driving rules of the global information highway is indispensable to entrepreneurial success today. Do you want to do targeted advertising for your product? Probably nothing beats Google Adwords. Want to find wholesale manufacturers from China who sell stuff at prices 5x cheaper than what you see on Western markets? Ali Baba is the place. Need to develop an involved community that sticks together? You will need a blog (WordPress is the best), a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. Desire to establish yourself as an expert or market your books? You will need a prominent online presence. Offering a specialized information product? You’ll need to sort out your SEO, webpage and newsletters.
Some people like to sneer at the Internet and blogs and social networks, regarding them as a time sink for people with no lives. Of course they have a point if these things take over your life. However, correctly utilized, the Internet and the global marketplace it offers, with zero taxes on digital products, offers countless opportunities for exploiting price differentials between countries – what is called geoarbitrage – and is probably the most surefire way to creating a “muse” today.
What is a muse? It is a term coined by Tim Ferris to describe a sustainable, location-independent income stream. Most muses are Internet based. The idea is to quit your job, fire your boss and enjoy life while automated systems and Indians work for you. You can’t do much worse than read and internalize his book THE 4-HOUR WORKWEEK.
Programming To Prosperity
Short of the total breakdown of industrialism, those folks who can fix programs and write code will always be in high demand and well-compensated. After the Soviet Union collapsed, visiting misery on most of the fallen empire’s citizens, programmers never starved.
If you focus, it is possible to become a fair programmer within 6 months to a year. It is recommended that you start with a practical language like Python, Ruby or Java. The “holy book” of programming is The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, but practically speaking it requires too much intellectual investment unless you specialize in this area.
As for that – I’m not saying you should make it your life goal to get employed by Google or Oracle. You’ll get paid a lot, but do note that terms like “code monkey” and “office plankton” didn’t come from thin air. That said, it is extremely useful to know how to understand programs and be able to write simple Apps.
Languages Get You Likes
Languages are very useful and not anywhere near as hard as commonly thought. Know the top 100 most frequent words, and you already know half the language. Learn the most frequent 1,000 words, and you can have a free-flowing conversation on practically any topic.
In short: Organize vocabulary memorization around word frequency lists; Learn basic grammar; Practice with native speakers. And last but not least, learn about an interesting subject or activity through the medium of the language you’re trying to assimilate. If you’re Muslim and want to learn Arabic, your goal is to read the Koran in the original. Russian has an unparalleled literature on chess. You can use Japanese to brush up on kendo or business management. Use your imagination.
Knowing languages is invaluable to making full use of geoarbitrage for both business and pleasure.
Enter The Hulk
The cyberpunk world is one in which life is cheap and death is free. So you have to get big, fit, and kickass.
The cheat guide to the first two (and prerequisite for the third) is Tim Ferris’ THE 4-HOUR BODY. Read it. I can’t really expand upon it.
To “kick ass”, I recommend Krav Maga. It dispenses with the formalities of traditional Asian martial arts, instead just focusing on what works for the hard men of the Israeli Defense Forces.
In some parts of the world, especially the US and Latin America, it is useful to get a pistol and learn how to shoot it. In other places like Britain you will have to rely on the kindness of criminals and the helpfulness of government.
If you’re elderly, your biggest enemy is old age. Fortunately, longevity research is going strong and making real progress. It is not impossible that within two decades life expectancy is going to radically increase. A good place to start off with to maximize your chances of living “long enough to live forever” is the Kurzweil and Grossman book FANTASTIC VOYAGE.
The Network Effect
Having a good network of friends and acquaintances is an effectiveness multiplier. Is your friend a graphic designer? Get her to come up with a logo for your business in return for setting up a website, or a massage.
Some people try to befriend everyone Kumbaya-style, while others get tired of the vanities of the social scene and retreat into their holes and cubicles. The real secret to having an effective network is to *filter* friends. If they’re especially positive, helpful, inspirational, or influential, then by all means stay in close contact with them. If they create too much hassle, pessimism or negativity, it’s better to let them go for the better of everyone’s mental health. Don’t forget that you are the average of the 5 people who are closest to you.
How to identify your best friends? Make a list of all your contacts, then rate each one out of 3 on “usefulness” and “influence”, then write a sentence or two about their specific qualities and skills. Bold the names of the Top 20%. Work from there.
The “Gray Arts”
Burdened by unpayable debts? Though you probably lack the political connections to be “bailed out”, you can consider changing your identity and/or taking a lengthy holiday in another country.
Want to avoid them in the first place? Explore the fascinating world of LLC’s, holding companies and trusts that you don’t even personally own.
Don’t want the greasy paws of government fingering your hard-earned assets (that you accumulated by selling Chinese junk and Indian IT products to Western consumers)? The sunny beaches of the Cayman Islands aren’t only for Western banks and Third World kleptocrats. Neither are multiple citizenships.
Down and out in the gutter? Lock picking, pick pocketing and urban evasion skills are the hallmarks of the streetwise professor.
Not that I’m endorsing any of this, but they’re all useful things to “research”, if you catch my drift. Neil Strauss’ EMERGENCY is a good jumping-off point.
What’s invaluable for making profitable long-term investments, making astute business decisions and managing your risks?
It is having a global perspective.
While acquiring specialized knowledge on the product you want to sell or the information services you offer is indispensable, being aware of global affairs – be they current events like the Middle East unrest, or longer-term trends like the development of the energy base or global warming – will save you from big mistakes and multiply your long-term wealth.
Say you want a house as a long-term investment. Is it a good idea to buy it somewhere in Florida, seeing that prices have come down in the past 2 years? Some would say yes, go for it! But anyone with knowledge of long-term climate models will avoid it like a drowning ship. That’s because when everybody finds out about those climate models, housing prices in Florida will plummet, as nobody will be willing to insure houses built in the path of ever stronger storms and rising waters.
Likewise, long-term bonds offered by the PIGS countries, Japan, the US, and the UK are surely no longer safe havens given the runaway sovereign debt dynamics seen in those countries.
Where should you put your money? That’s for another post, but in short, some reliable *longterm* investments that come to mind are: The ARCS states (Alaska, Russia, Canada, Scandinavia); The BRICs (especially China and Russia); Financial instruments that track commodities under stress from rising wealth and growing populations (e.g. oil; Rare Earth Metals) or the companies producing those commodities; Real estate in select places (e.g. Sochi-Abkhazia; Arctic ports such as Murmansk); Biotech; Nanotech; Pharmaceuticals (global aging).
But make sure you research thoroughly before taking the plunge. Oil might be a good investment, but it’s no use if you buy in at $120 / barrel, only to see it plunge in the wake of a global recession and stay at $50 for a year or two. You might go bankrupt before making a profit. The global economy tends to snap when real oil prices get into the $120-150 range, but a price of $40 is likewise unsustainable due to plateauing (or declining) global production and soaring demand from China. If you see oil prices fall back to less than $70 in the next few years, it would make a lot of sense to buy in big.
Back to houses. Speaking of the US, I think the Great Lakes region is the most prospective region for real estate in the next decade. But its a pretty depressing place to actually live in. One unconventional idea is to take up sailing and become a sea nomad.
Full freedom of movement. Access to the Internet via satellite. Most of the world’s great cities are within your range. And contrary to popular myth, it’s not even that expensive. There are communes offering free or near-free sailing lessons in return for a couple hours of volunteered maintenance work per week. Once you get the hang of things, you can buy a comfortable sailboat for $30,000-$90,000, or rent one for $3,000-$6,000 per year, which is an order of magnitude cheaper than the typical San Francisco or London apartment. And in practice you get the advantages of both!
Obviously, you can ignore this if world travel or boats aren’t your thing. But in any case – Think big, Think global.