Tuesday, January 06, 2015

How do we protect ourselves and our families in an increasingly wealth-concentrated world?

I think about the question often -- I want to provide a good future for my wife and my children. I'm smart and capable. To strike it "big," I need to find a way of concentrating wealth. As always, this requires capital, so it must involve some amount of risk (hopefully legal risk). The ones providing capital (VCs, others) don't really have a vested interest in me joining their club (even though they're happy for me to take on all the risk; btw, this plays out in many, many ways across society, from school loans, to retirement savings, to health care).

But I don't want to join their club. I just want "content economic security." I want to be near my children as they grow up, and know that they will get an equally good start to their lives and careers. So how do we set up a system where anyone who wants to take on a manageable amount of risk (i.e., reasonable debt with, say, a 1-3 year breakeven point) ensure that minimal level of security?

I think the real problem is that there are very few truly moral means of obtaining that security. The world is now "small." I'm not saying we're at carrying capacity, but ask yourself: where else is there to go, and what is the next frontier? Can we continue to exploit land and labor in developing countries? Not forever, and not morally (even now).

Those with tremendous amounts of accumulated capital are the ones who hold the pursestrings on all major developments in the world today. But they aren't interested in investing if there aren't major "VC-style" or disruptive returns on their investment. So how does each of us absorb a reasonable amount of risk, get a reasonable return, and do it morally? I don't know the answer yet, but for starters it would be nice to have far, far lower barriers to entry for small-scale entrepreneurs, and it would be nice to decentralize things a bit. John Robb at Global Guerrillas thinks the answer is in blockchain companies.

This chart has been making the rounds recently ... I think it sums up my fears:

I live in that "dip." (Probably on the right side of it, since this graph reflects the global population. Chances are, if you're reading this, you do, too.) Stay tuned as the dip extends further to the left, and the spike on the right gets even more spiky.

UPDATE: I think this graph is telling us that we're heading to a "slow growth" global economy. Question: what would the curve look like in the graph above if there was still lots of room to grow?

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