A lot of my blog posts this week had to do with money, wealth, and politics, so when I was searching for an old post to bring back, this one made me stop and reflect for a while.
My opinions and perspective have changed a bit since I wrote it, but the fundamental message is still one that I agree with. I’ve trimmed out some of the parts where I think I was wrong, and left the stuff that still resonates. Hopefully it resonates with you as well. Either way, feel free to let me know.
I’ve been reading in bed on my smart phone recently, which is probably a bad idea because it makes it harder to go asleep. At the same time, it tends to get my mind rolling, and at 3am my thoughts tend to go some really interesting places. Sharing those thoughts is probably going to get me into trouble, but hey, you might find them interesting, so why not?
When I was eight years old, I knew I was going to be a writer. There was never any question about that. I spent all my free time making up stories. However, I knew I never wanted writing to be my job, because 1) everyone hates their jobs, and 2) everyone knows that writers can’t make a decent living. Even at eight years old, I had bought into some of society’s most pervasive myths about jobs, careers, and how to make money.
Americans are generally horrible with money. We struggle to keep budgets and put all sorts of things on credit, and pay more than twice what our houses are worth by signing mortgages we barely even read. Because we’re so horrible with money, we tend to see it as a magical force, something that can solve all our problems and make us happy. Rich people are like wizards or sorcerers, so far above the rest of us that we can hardly fathom their ways.
Nowhere is this stupidity more apparent than in the fact that most of us spend our lives working for some sort of hourly or salaried wage. Wages and salaries are basically the same, in that they convert time into money. That’s why we all measure income in terms of dollars per hour, or salary per year. But for anyone who understands how money works, that is stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Money comes and goes, but time? Time is one of the most finite and precious resources known to man.
All of us are going to die someday. Most people are scared shitless by that fact, so we try to ignore it or put off thinking about it until we have to. But not all of us get the opportunity to put our affairs in order before we die. And even if we do all live to be centenarians, our time on this Earth is still finite. It’s non-renewable, too—you can’t go back and relive that day or that hour or that minute once it’s passed.
Converting time into money is basically trading gold for lead, or wine for water. Yet that’s exactly what we do, because money is this strange, magical force that so few of us understand.
Questions like “where do you work?” “what is your job?” and “what do you make?” are much more common than “what do you do for a living?” That’s because most of us have bought into this idea that money comes from working for someone else. While we’re on the clock, the company owns us and anything we produce. That’s the pact we make in exchange for this magical substance we call money.
It wasn’t until college that I started to become disabused of my childhood notions about writing for a living. First, I came to realize that lots of people love their work—that just because you do something as a job doesn’t mean that you’ll come to hate it. But it wasn’t until I graduated unemployed in the middle of a recession that I was disabused of the notion that writers can’t make a living.
People say that about every career—that is, every career except accounting. That’s because accountants are the ones who count the magical money. They’re the ones who know where it comes from. Their jobs are the ones that the people with the magical money will always need.
But there are other ways to make money—thousands of ways. Millions, even. It’s not about time it’s about producing something that people want and need. But when you’re working for yourself, that’s hard. You have to own up to your work—the failures as well as the successes.
When you work for a corporation, it’s easy to shift the blame. It’s a rare case where one person is solely responsible for bringing down the whole collective enterprise. But when you work for yourself, you can’t blame anyone else when things go wrong. You’ve got to take the risk.
That’s why everyone says that you can’t make a living as a writer. They say the same thing about any career where you strike out on your own.
In the end, though, it’s all just silly. Money isn’t a vague magical force—it comes from the value you create. It comes from producing something that people are willing to pay you for. And you don’t need to sell your time at $11 an hour or $44,000 a year to do that. You just need hard work, a great idea, and the ability to learn from your mistakes.
So can you make a living pursuing your dreams? The answer to that question depends entirely on you.
So it’s the middle of June, and I really should have finished Patriots in Retreat by now, but it’s been difficult to stick to any kind of writing routine, and the story is at that place where everything seems broken and writing through it is like slogging through a swamp.
Call me crazy, but I’m starting to think that’s not healthy. In Brandon Sanderson’s English 318R class at BYU, he always said the most important thing was to power through and just finish the damn thing–that you can always go back and “fix it in post”–but while that’s good advice for a new writer who hasn’t ever finished anything, I don’t think it works very well for my own writing process.
I think that what I need to do is take every weekend to cycle through the entire story from the beginning, not necessarily to rewrite it all, but to bring it into line with the stuff that unfolds later. Invariably, when I get to the three quarters mark of my WIP, it feels like the whole thing is barely holding together and that I’m writing myself into a train wreck.
For the last several years, I’ve tried to just write through that, only for one of two things to happen: either something else catches my interest and I decide to put the WIP on the back burner for a while, or it actually does turn into a train wreck and I have to set it on the back burner for a while in order to approach it with a new set of eyes.
Needless to say, neither of those outcomes is very productive.
Now, I don’t think Patriots in Retreat is broken. I think there’s actually a really good story in there, but it needs a little more excavation in certain parts before I can pull the whole thing out in one piece. This was my first time in years experimenting with the cycling process, and I don’t think I did it enough. Next WIP will be another experiment.
Long story short, I will probably have to push this one back another two weeks, which is going to push the release schedule for Sons of the Starfarers back another month. I’ve got another short story I can use to fill in the gap, but it is a bit of a personal disappointment.
Why is it so difficult to keep my own self-imposed deadlines? Am I really that flaky and unreliable? Not in other aspects of my life. Maybe my writing process really does need a complete and fundamental overhaul. Should make for some interesting future posts.
In any case, that’s what I’ve been up to. I really really really want to write a couple of short stories in a universe that may turn into a recurring one, but those will have to wait until Patriots is finished (hopefully early next week). On the publishing side of things, I’ve got a new short story and short story bundle out—more on that tomorrow! Lots of other stuff too, but it’s mostly behind the scenes, so not worth talking much about atm.
Patriots in Retreat will be finished soon, it’s just in the “this sucks and I’m a horrible writer!” phase. Which, hopefully, I’ll find a way to remove from my writing process altogether, because it isn’t healthy. When I figure out how to do that, I’ll let you know.
How did Trump become the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth?
A lot of people are asking that question, while a lot of other people already know (hint: it wasn’t the Russians). But I want to get beyond the circus that is Washington DC, and answer that question by asking another:
Can politics solve our nation’s greatest problems?
I think there is a dawning realization among Americans that it doesn’t really matter who lives on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Republican or Democrat, the outcome is pretty much the same.
Never at any point in living memory have we been so politically divided, but the party distinctions have become increasingly meaningless. Trump campaigned on providing universal healthcare. Clinton campaigned on escalating our military involvement in Syria. Which one was the Republican, and which one was the Democrat?
In the previous post, I said:
I am convinced that the grand key to understanding United States history in the 20th century—and by extension, current events in the 21st—is a deep knowledge of monetary policy and the financial system.
What is that system?
It is a system of debt. Pure and simple. We have turned our debt into money, and made every other form of money illegal. And the rest of the world has followed us gleefully off the cliff.
Washington is bankrupt. Literally bankrupt. Every year, the Treasury runs an internal audit, and every year, that audit fails. The government’s single biggest asset on their balance sheets is… $1 trillion in student loan debt. Social Security is insolvent and, according to the government’s own reports, will completely run out of money in less than twenty years.
So if Washington is bankrupt, why haven’t they declared bankruptcy? Because they can just keep printing money through the Federal Reserve.
Because of this, the US dollar has lost about 97% of its value since the Federal Reserve system was established in 1913. A time traveler from the new Wonder Woman movie couldn’t buy $5 worth of stuff with $100 of our dollars today. And to keep up this Ponzi scheme we call “money,” Washington has gone nearly $20 trillion in debt.
How much longer can we keep that up?
If we could grow our economy fast enough, and never stop growing, we could keep up the Ponzi scheme for a very long time. But growth is no longer a solution, because the debt is bigger than the economy. The debt is the reason we can’t grow.
If we could innovate fast enough, we could lower the cost of living so much that the poor don’t realize that they’re poor. To some extent, we’ve already done that. But the effects are too uneven: startphones and computers are super cheap, but houses and health care are practically unaffordable.
Which brings us to serfdom.
Let’s go back in time a couple thousand years. Before the days of the empire, the Roman dream was that every family would have their own plot of land, making them independently wealthy, and the head of every family would take up arms in defense of his country whenever called upon by the state. This was not all that different from the Jeffersonian ideal of the yeoman farmer.
Then the Punic wars happened, which, for the Mediterranean world, was basically the ancient WWI and WWII. As Rome became a major world power, the military-industrial complex made a few select elites fabulously wealthy, who kept the masses pacified with welfare handouts.
But the endless cycle of foreign wars came at a heavy cost. Decades of budget deficits and an unsustainable national debt forced the Romans to debase their currency, which completely collapsed. Trade halted, the middle class lost everything, and the 1% became fantastically wealthy, buying up all the real estate and forcing everyone else out. The Roman dream was dead, replaced by a form of bondage called serfdom.
Serfdom came in a number of different flavors:
- Slaves, who had always existed in the Roman world and continued for some time in the Medieval. Landlords got tax benefits for holding slaves.
- Villeins, who were bound to the land and worked for the landlords. In exchange, they enjoyed protection and tax relief. Theoretically.
- Coloni, or sharecroppers, who leased land in exchange for labor and a portion of their harvest. They were eventually taxed out of existence.
- Freemen, who technically weren’t serfs, but were only a raid or a bad harvest away from becoming one. They were basically renters.
The corvée was a tax, paid in labor, that non-landowners owed by law. Basically, for every XX days out of the year, you worked for the state. It continued even after the abolition of serfdom, until the revolutions of 1848. My Czech ancestors paid the corvée, which is probably one of the reasons they and their children emmigrated to the United States.
But wait—we pay the corvée too! It’s called the federal income tax: for XX days out of the year, you work for the state. The taxes are even higher if you’re self-employed or a small business owner.
Except… not everyone pays the income tax. In fact, nearly half of Americans pay no income tax. Why? Because the politicans know that they can use the welfare system to buy votes. If you’re on welfare, who are you going to vote for: the guy who plans to cut your handouts, or the guy who says that the wealthy should pay their “fair share”?
And sitting at the top of it all are the central bankers.
The medieval serfs were bound to the land and worked for the landlords. In contrast, modern debt-serfs are bound to their debt—national debt, student loan debt, mortgages, consumer debt—and work for the banks.
So I ask again: can politics solve this problem? Can we find a political solution to our national debt?
Unfortunately, there is only one political solution: default on the debt. If we default on entitlements like social security, there would be chaos, riots, and anarchy… and we still wouldn’t pay down hardly any of the debt. If we defaulted on our treasury bonds, it would send a ripple of financial panics across the world, destabilizing the flashpoints in Europe and Asia before returning to our shores. Stocks, mutual funds, and pensions would all be wiped out. Almost the entire savings of the Baby Boomer generation, gone.
But there is another option, though it’s hardly a “solution”: kick the can a little further down the road. Print the money, devalue the debt, and inflate the currency to oblivion.
This is the path we’ve been on since 1913. This is the reason why our dollars buy a little less each year. And this is the reason why we, as a nation, are backsliding into serfdom.
We’ve seen this happen before. Rome fell because of it. Europe came under the yoke of serfdom as a result of it. Our ancestors fled to this country to escape it. And now, we are repeating it.
This isn’t a political problem: it’s a math problem. The numbers just do not add up. The next financial crisis could very well be the “extinction level event” that puts the final nail in the coffin of the US dollar, throws the world into a global war, and sends the United States into its greatest existential crisis since the Civil War. The Republicans don’t have the solution, and neither do the Democrats, because the problem is not political.
This is what the end of politics in America looks like. We’re watching it happen in real-time. Our politicians have become the clowns in the bread-and-circuses routine. Meanwhile, the central bankers are shackling us in chains with every dollar that passes through their hands.
What are you going to do about it?
This attack was a warning.
It could have been much worse. There could be more than a dozen dead congressmen right now. We could be in a national crisis as severe as 9/11, or more.
This was a premeditated and carefully planned act of domestic terrorism. It is clear that the attacker was politically motivated. Millions of Americans share his extreme views. Thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, believe that his actions were justified.
It is only by the grace of God that the attack was thwarted. As Congressman Loudermilk said, “God was there.”
I believe in a God who is intimately concerned with the details of our individual lives. I believe that His hand guides the events that shape us, and that He takes a particular interest in the course of the United States.
He has given us our individual agency, the freedom to choose between good and evil. That is a gift that He will never take away. No matter how violent we are toward one another, no matter how much anger and hatred fills our hearts, He will not violate our agency nor revoke that Liberty wherewith He has made us free, but will leave us to our devices until we return on our knees to Him.
This attack was a warning. We would do well to heed it.
Several months ago, I came to the conclusion that the United States is between three and fifteen years away from an existential crisis as great as the Civil War. Will this crisis turn into a second civil war? I believe there’s a significant chance that it will. Certainly we are on that path right now.
Wake up, America! You talk of wars in far off countries, but you know not the hearts of men in your own land. Even now, the voices of evil speak louder in your ears than that which will shake the Earth. Treasure up wisdom, and remember: if you are prepared, you shall not fear.