The Money Problem

This is Problem #1 on my list of The World’s Biggest Problems.

Money vs. Meaning

How much money would it take for you to quit your job and chase your true passion?

  • Everyone has a number where they’d be financially ‘free’.
    • The gap between this number and your current wealth is your money problem.
  • Most people would quit if they had $100K+ to cover their next 1-2 years.
  • Many people need $10K or less to start their passion project.

Almost everyone has a money problem.

  • What percentage of your time is spent making money?
    • What could you be doing with this time if you didn’t need more money?
  • How can you spend more of your time now doing what you really want to do?
    • This is the fastest answer to your money problem.
  • Most people reading this post are privileged enough to have “big money” problems.
    • E.g. “Should I get a job or start a startup?”
  • Most people in the world have real money problems.
    • I.e. >50% of their waking hours are spent making enough money just to survive.

What if we focused less on money and more on meaning?

  • We have a society-wide meaning crisis because our lives are oriented around money.
  • The world’s smartest people are too focused on making more money.

The Four Types of Money Problems

1. Poverty is the most obvious money problem.

  • Studies show between 50-78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
    • Most Americans can’t take a week off for a vacation, let alone a new project.
  • The median wealth per adult in the world is just $7,522.
    • Most people can’t compound their wealth because they’re forced to keep spending it.
  • Almost half the world’s population, 3.4 billion people, still struggles to meet basic needs.
    • How many great inventors, artists, activists, etc. have we lost to poverty?
  • We need to free everyone to reach their full potential.

2. Middle class incomes are not keeping up with middle class costs.

  • “In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary. By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.” — Oren Cass
    • This Middle-Class Crunch requires families to have two incomes and/or work overtime to cover these costs.
Source: The Cost-of-Thriving Index via The Washington Post

3. The professional class is stuck at jobs that pay well but are unfulfilling.

  • Any extra money goes into stocks or crypto to try to escape the grind.
    • When life savings get turned into a green or red number on an app, it turns the money problem into a video game – another casino on your phone.
  • This class tends to inflate their lifestyles faster than their income.
    • Families are a classic trigger – a house, spouse, and kids add up fast.
    • Too much of this inflation is a mimetic, “Keeping Up with the Joneses” mentality.
      • Beware of anything you do to look good instead of feel good.
    • These people have more access to debt and usually overuse it.
      • Student loans, mortgages, car loans/leases, credit cards, and BNPL make money feel cheap, but the result is a middle and upper class that’s constantly in debt.

4. Rich people have a rare kind of money problem.

  • This is commonly called Golden Handcuffs.
    • High salaries, bonuses, and equity all serve to keep very rich people working.
    • There is a high opportunity cost for these people to switch paths.
  • “Family Office Rich” is on another level.
    • Once your money has its own managers, it works for itself, not you.
      • “Wealth preservation” becomes the never-ending game.
  • Money benefits the rich most, so they’re least incentivized to fight the system.
    • We need a few ambitious billionaires to use their wealth to solve money problems.

The Problem With Debt

It’s a privilege just to have no debt in today’s society.

  • The US median household debt ($59,800) is higher than the median household income ($59,039).
    • This forces people to stay in jobs that they hate just to keep paying their bills.

Debt traps people in cycles of payments that can last decades.

  • The negative effect of compound interest makes it very difficult to escape this cycle.
  • When you’re working just to pay off debt, it feels like you’re losing the game.

We need to find more progressive ways to reduce the debt burden.

  • Student loan forgiveness most benefits the middle and upper class professional class.
  • We should cap APR at <10% to keep credit cards and payday lenders from being so predatory.

Why is Money a Problem?

Most people spend their core hours working for someone else at a job they don’t love.

  • This is a core cause of our society-wide meaning crisis.
    • We’re working to make more money, not to improve ourselves or others.
  • There are trillions of hours wasted every year on this largely meaningless work.
    • This time is one of the greatest untapped resources in the world.

In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren’s generation would only work 15 hours per week.

  • “The course of affairs will simply be that there will be ever larger and larger classes and groups of people from whom problems of economic necessity have been practically removed.”
  • So much of the work done by humans from the beginning of civilization through 1900 was simply for survival.
    • In 1900, just under 40% of all Americans lived on farms.
      • This number is about 1% today.
  • Industrialization promised abundance.
    • But this abundance is not equally distributed.
  • We need a new science of progress.

Too many of the world’s smartest people are stuck running a money-maximizing function.

  • In the 1990’s, it was Goldman Sachs. Now it’s Facebook.
    • “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads.” — Jeff Hammerbacher
  • We wanted to feed the world. Instead we got free two-day shipping.
    • Humans inflated their definition of “necessities” faster than their incomes.
      • Now we’re even less likely to get leisure and retirement than our grandparents.
  • What if these people were all solving The World’s Biggest Problems instead?
    • “One of the most valuable things you can do with your time and with your life” is to raise others’ aspirations. — Tyler Cowen

Fuck You Money

What does “fuck you money” really mean?

  • Fuck you money = freedom.
    • It’s the precise net worth where you finally feel comfortable telling everyone who tries to control you (bosses, spouses, etc.) to fuck off and let you do what you really want to do.

Most people know their FU Number.

  • When I ask middle class people for their definition of fuck you money, many say $1M.
  • Most business and tech professionals with $100K-1M+ net worth will say $10M.
  • I’ve heard numbers as high as $10B from people who have $1B+!

The problem is that people inflate their FU Number as they get richer, so they never reach it.

  • Almost everyone answers a number 10x+ higher than their current net worth.
    • This drives them to keep earning more money because they promise themselves that they’ll do their dream projects once they achieve it.

I want to convince more people that their FU Number is lower than they think.

  • It’s easier to change your comfort level with risk than to change your net worth!

What If Money Was No Object?

I always ask the question, “what would you like to do if money were no object? How would you really enjoy spending your life?”

“When we finally got down to something, which the individual says he really wants to do, I will say to him, you do that and forget the money, because, if you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you will spend your life completely wasting your time.”

— From What If Money Was No Object? by Alan Watts

We treat money like an infinite game when it’s really a finite game.

  • There is only one infinite game.
    • We’re the characters and our universe is our map.
    • Every action we take makes our world a little more or less utopic.
  • When we over-optimize for money, we make ourselves suffer.
    • We treat ourselves like Sims characters, forcing our bodies through exhausting cycles of work, training, relationships, and play all to make some fake money and status numbers go up.

The secret truth is that most of us don’t really care about money.

  • We want the freedom that money can provide.
  • It’s increasingly normal to say you don’t care about making money.
    • Effective Altruism’s rise, especially in Generation Z, has normalized the idea of money being an input in the game, not the game itself.

The Five Solutions to the Money Problem

1. Effective Altruism

2. Personal Capital

  • A fund to invest directly in high-potential inventors and creators and share in their success.
    • Creators: Get funded pre-idea and be free to do your best work.
    • Investors: Back creators’ whole portfolios and align yourself with their success.

3. Founder Accelerator

  • I want to create a fund to invest in the best founders before they create their next startup.
    • Mission: Give founders 1+ years of freedom to work full-time on their next startup idea.
    • Strategy: Be the first investor and Shadow Co-Founder to the most promising founders.

4. Fast Grants

  • A fund to provide $1-100K in less than a week to the most promising ideas and projects.
    • Create an open global application so anyone can access this funding.
    • Make a funding decision quickly with 1 application + 1 video.
    • Grantees agree to open access to all research and patents, and share profits with fund.
  • See: Emergent Ventures

5. ISAs for Everything

  • Universities, community colleges, and vocational schools should all adopt Income Share Agreements (ISAs) as an alternative, or ideally replacement, to student loans.

Summary:

What would you be doing if money wasn’t an issue? Why aren’t you doing this now?

  • Whatever you answer is your true calling.
    • The only barrier is money.
  • The job you’re doing now is your money problem.
    • It’s possible for you to quit your job now and do what you really want to do.
  • This is a version of the Hamming Questions:
    • “What are the important problems of your field? Why aren’t you working on them?”

What Would You Do If Money Didn’t Exist?

  • It’s possible for you to drop everything and do this now.

“Imagine all the people living for today.” — John Lennon

  • Money makes people work now for an asset they can spend later.
    • By solving people’s money problems, we can get more of us focused on today.

Altruists, Progressives, Populists, and Optimists, Unite!

  • Solving the money problem is key to unlocking peoples’ Hidden Ambition.
    • What would these people be doing if they weren’t stuck in their current job?
  • Let’s free people to chase their highest potential!

Money is Problem #1 on my list of The World’s Biggest Problems.

  • This idea is a work-in-progress. If you’d like to riff on it, hit me up @neilthanedar on Twitter!

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is an entrepreneur, investor, scientist, altruist, and author. He is the founder & CEO of Utopic, his startup studio. He is also the founder & chairman of Air to All, a 501(c)3 nonprofit medical device startup, and Labdoor, a consumer watchdog with $7M+ in funding and 20M+ users. He previously co-founded Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has worked with community organizations since 2007 and political campaigns since 2016 to fight for better education and economic opportunities in Michigan.