Thoughts on Mustachianism

post by adamzerner · 2021-01-09T09:27:36.839Z · LW · GW · 20 comments

Contents

  He doesn't always advise frugality
  Bang for your buck is a very central idea
  Early retirement isn't for all
  Things worth splurging on
  Increasing earnings is intriguing
  Compromising with your partner
  Lifestyle flexibility
None
20 comments

I've always been a Mustachian. Recently I've been noticing myself having some diverging thoughts about it. But despite those diverging thoughts, there's still a lot of core ideas that I really identify with.

Anyway, here are some assorted thoughts.

He doesn't always advise frugality

People often assume he's all about frugality. In reality, he thinks that some things are worth spending good money on. For example, he likes the idea of splurging a bit on a home because of how important it is.

I live in one of the nicer houses in my town’s nicest (to me) neighborhood*. I love the four bedrooms and four bathrooms and the nice renovations I’ve done throughout this place over the past five years. It’s not the cheapest place to live, but to me it’s the best value of living pleasure to the dollar I could create. A house to me is the home base of your spirit, and when you’re living a frugal and natural life, you spend a lot of time at home. As a result, when I compare the sunk cost of my housing to that of other people, I come out behind.

Part of the blame for this is on readers for being uncharitable. But part of the blame is also on MMM, in my opinion. He spends an awful lot of time talking about frugality, giving examples of how you'd be better off by being more frugal. He spends very little time talking about things that are worth splurging on. When you allocate your time that way, it can be easy for readers to get the wrong impression.

Bang for your buck is a very central idea

Think about the following spectrum:

  1. Ramen
  2. Chicken and rice
  3. Home cooked beef and broccoli
  4. Postmates
  5. Sit down restaurant
  6. Fancy restaurant

As you move along it, things get more expensive, but also higher quality. So then, in figuring out what the best point on the spectrum is, you have to think about bang for your buck.

In going from home cooked beef and broccoli to Postmates, I'd argue that the bang for your buck is usually pretty bad. It'll be a pretty big step up in price for food that really won't be (much) better than what you'd make at home.

In going from Postmates to a sit down restaurant, I'd argue that the bang for your buck is usually pretty good (just don't go to Olive Garden). For an extra 5-10 bucks or so you can enjoy some truly legit food.

MMM argues that in many different situations, people usually are at point 4 on the spectrum when the bang for your buck is terrible over there, and they'd be much better at say, point 2. You really won't be sacrificing much by going down to point 2, but you'll be saving a whole lot of money.

I identify extremely strongly with this idea, and I think that many other people do as well.

Early retirement isn't for all

Ok, but what happens when you are rich and have a lot of disposable income? Then maybe it's ok to choose 4 over 2, even if the bang for your buck is theoretically better down at 2.

Many people have enough income to comfortably live a life of 4. However, the catch is that in order to do this, they have to work a 9-5 until they're 70 years old and can retire. To oversimplify MMM's position here: fuck that!

MMM is a pretty big advocate for early retirement. It's really nice to be able to spend your days doing what you actually want to do, not what you need to do to pay the bills. Seems pretty self-evident when you put it that way. Who wouldn't want to do what they want to do instead of what they need to do?

That said, he also talks about how it can be good to retire in your mind. Some people genuinely enjoy their job and would want to work even if they didn't need the money. For them, MMM advocates for continuing your job but still saving up enough money where they'd be able to retire if they wanted to, because doing so provides a valuable peace of mind.

Until recently, I've been a pretty big believer in both of these ideas. Moreso the early retirement one than the retire in your mind one. But a few months ago I think I started to change my mind.

On the surface, it seems like a lot of people are frustrated with their jobs. When I talk to friends and family about their jobs, I often hear complaints about bullshit, deadlines, pressure, politics, and incompetence. And it's usually not the case that they wake up in the morning eager to go to work. Instead, most people look forward to weekends and vacations. Both because they want to escape the bullshit, and because they have other things they want to do that they don't have time for during the work week. This would lead one to believe that people don't prefer work to free time.

The counter to this line of thinking is that it's too short term. Sure, in the short term this is how people feel. But in the long term, they'd be miserable without their jobs. What would they do all day? Where on earth would they derive any sort of purpose in their lives?

I'm exaggerating in my depiction of this counterargument, but still, I've always found it to be ridiculous. Are you telling me that without their 9-5 cubicle jobs that people can't find excitement and joy in life? Craziness!

Sure, this might be the case at first. It can be hard to fit passion and pursuits into your life when you have the 9-5 (stress; lack of time). So there might be a void to fill at first. But just because people start out with a void doesn't mean they won't be able to fill it! Surely after a few months of watching Netflix, they'll have decompressed, got it out of their system, and they'll be ready to start exploring their passions. Maybe it'll take some time to do this successfully, but when you're in early retirement, time is a luxury that you have. Music, art, science, volunteer work, sports, community service, philosophy, entrepreneurship, travel, friends, family, politics, board games, card games − there are so many things to get involved with!

These are the beliefs I've held until recently. Now, I lean in the other direction.

  1. Thinking more concretely about people I know who either have gotten more time on their hands, or just about what I see them doing if they did get more time on their hands, it seems like it's often more of the same.
  2. People who retire at the natural 65+ age, my understanding is that it's more of the same for them as well. It doesn't seem to me that significant new interests happen very often.
  3. During this covid pandemic, to my surprise, I've realized how large a role jobs play for many people. Many people were eager to get back to the normalcy of the office and seeing their coworkers. And people who lost their jobs, I don't know how to explain it but it just seemed like something important was missing in their life.
  4. A job often provides a strong sense of community, and a strong sense of identity. It's an ingroup that you're a part of.
  5. I think that there is something to be said for social conformity. Having a consistent job is a normal thing to do with your life. On the other hand, retiring early to do whatever is more on the fringe and could be met with confused looks.

Ultimately, I don't think I've done a good job of communicating why I lean in the other direction now, but I do.

Ok, but what about retiring in your mind then? Well, that's something that I'm more on board with. In my experience, job security and the possibility of being fired is something that often gives people a lot of stress. To an pretty irrational degree, if you think about how likely those things actually are and how much harm they'd actually do. But it's still an easy thing to fall victim to, and it's something that I've fell victim to to a rather significant degree, despite my thinking that it's irrational.

Retiring in your mind seems likely to largely eliminate these issues, and that is highly valuable. So then, it seems worth paying a large amount of money for it. You don't pay for it in the same way you hand the cashier money when you buy your groceries; here you're paying for it by allocating your money towards a retirement fund instead of on the material things you'd otherwise allocate it towards.

But I'm also not convinced that retiring in your mind is something that is for everyone. I get the impression that a good chunk of people don't have these issues with job security and stuff providing them with stress. They're in a job they feel comfortable in and aren't worried about being fired.

Overall, I don't feel particularly confident about any of these ideas. I've come to believe that these things can be subtle and not as clear as they may look on first glance, so my error bars are pretty wide. Maybe that's what I should have emphasized in this subheading.

Things worth splurging on

Like I mentioned earlier, MMM has a lot of insighful posts on where it makes sense to cut back and be frugal, but doesn't have many posts on where it makes sense to splurge, even if he believes that it makes sense to splurge in various places. I personally would really enjoy hearing more from him about where he thinks it's worth splurging. Anyway, here are some areas that come to mind that I think are worth splurging on:

Increasing earnings is intriguing

MMM's posts are largely about reducing spending. But what about increasing earnings? I'm not sure.

One thing that comes to my mind is pursuing a FAANG job if you work in tech. Salaries there start at ~$200k/year for developers and plausibly reach ~$300-400k/year as you get further into your career. That's a lot of money!

Another thing that comes to mind is switching from a lower earning career to a higher earning one. Ie. by learning to code and getting into the tech field.

Of course, these options aren't always practical. And I don't necessarily blame MMM for not spending time on them and instead choosing to focus on other things. It's fair if he wants his blog to have a narrower focus, or if he doesn't feel like he has the knowledge to get into career stuff.

Compromising with your partner

It's one thing if you live alone and deal with your own finances. It's another thing if you share your life with someone else. As they say, "marriage is all about compromise". And "happy wife, happy life". (Just examples. There are other types of partnerships of course.)

It may be tempting to say that the partner you choose should be aligned with your philosophy financially, and if they see things differently than you then perhaps you aren't right for each other. I used to think things like this about finding the perfect partner.

Now I think it's silly. Two people are never going to agree on everything, even on major, important things. So then, if you are in a situation where your partner isn't quite as Mustachian as you are, it seems very reasonable to be less Mustachian as a compromise.

Depending on what the tradeoff is of course. It's one thing if they want you to lease a car you can't afford and generally live a lifestyle that is going to keep you stressed out in a miserable 9-5 until you're 70. It's another if they want to order pizza once in a while.

Lifestyle flexibility

I'm not sure how Mustachian this section is going to be. It's more of me offering my own hot takes, although I get the impression that MMM would agree, and perhaps he's written similar things before.

During this covid pandemic, I've made various changes to my lifestyle.

On the other hand, I see a lot of other people generally not really knowing where to turn as far as changing their lifestyle, and instead waiting impatiently to be able to return to what they are used to.

Thought experiment: what if you were picked up and transported to a new place and socioeconomic status? Could you find joy as a firefighter in Kansas? A street vendor in Brazil? A garbageman in Ukraine?

The way that I think about it, standard of living is partly absolute, and partly relative. Kim Kardashian would have a harder time adjusting to one of those lifestyles than I would. But there's also something to be said about standard of livings being absolute. The quality of food, parks, shopping, entertainment, nightlife, infrastructure, housing.

New lifestyles take some time to adapt to, but if the lifestyle isn't too big a step downwards on the ladder of absolute standard of living, then I'd like to propose that a Mustachian should be able to adjust and find a similar amount of joy in it. To recognize:

I used to enjoy doing it that way, and this way was a little bit uncomfortable at first, but now I think it's actually pretty cool!

This takes some amount of maturity and perspective, but these seem like reasonable goals for a Mustachian to aspire towards.

20 comments

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comment by Viliam · 2021-01-21T23:24:15.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I generally liked the article, but let me disagree with the part of "a soul-crushing job is still the only thing that gives meaning to your life". (Yeah, you didn't write it that way, but that is how I read it.)

People are different. Yes, there are people who retire, or just remain unemployed for a few months, and their lifestyle becomes: "stay in bed till 10 AM; slowly eat some breakfast while watching TV; now it's time to make some lunch; slowly eat lunch while watching TV; now it would be good time to take a walk but meh I will watch some more TV; now it's time to make a dinner; slowly eat dinner while watching TV; now let's watch some good late-evening TV; going to sleep at 1 AM; repeat every day". There is probably a lot of them.

But I also know people who use their retirement time to travel, learn about their hobbies, do various projects. (Also spend time with their grandchildren.) There are entire institutions specialized to provide education or travel for the elderly. So while I agree that keeping regular activities might be necessary to live a meaningful life, those activities do not require having a boss.

On the opposite side, I have seen people stop doing things that were most meaningful for them at the moment, because they needed to find a job that would pay their bills. Retiring early means this will not happen to you. If you e.g. enjoy teaching, you can remain a teacher for the rest of your life, regardless of how much salary teachers get; and even if the school fired you, you could simply offer your lessons for free, or create a YouTube channel.

Speaking for myself, I have a backlog of things I want to do. (Learn some advanced math, make a few computer games, write a math textbook maybe an interactive one, dance,...) In the past, before I burned out at work, and before I had kids, I used to do projects like this once in a while, so it seems likely to me that I could do the same in the future, when the kids grow up, if I could get early retired somehow.

If I sold all my assets right now, other than the home I live in, it would pay my expenses for about 10 years, assuming nothing unusual happens. But if none of those activities becomes profitable during those 10 years, what then? Still more than a decade towards regular retirement. Still having kids who depend on me. Who would hire a 50+ software developer who didn't spend the last 10 years developing software? (I am already the oldest guy in the room, and no, it doesn't make others treat me with respect. I look five or ten years younger than my actual age, but even that is already too old.) I am no superstar, my job skills are kinda average.

Addressing your other points: I am one of those who enjoy the opportunity to work from home, and I dread the probably inevitable return to the office when this is over. Now I can spend more time with my kids, cook my own food, exercise during the breaks between coding. I don't feel alone; I have my family around me. (It would be nice to have a lunch with my coworkers now and then, but I don't really need them around me for 8 hours a day.) I never felt like my job was my ingroup; there was usually a person or two I clicked with, but otherwise my job was the place where I had to spend most of my time instead of being with my ingroup.

If you want social conformity, you can found a non-profit, and pretend to be hired by it. Then whatever you do during the day, just pretend your boss told you to. :D

Among the things worth splurging on, from my perspective most of them would be side effects of early retirement. Seriously. "Ever feel like you've got a constant low-level cold?" People who work in open spaces are statistically more sick than people having their own office rooms. "Imagine you want to learn something new." Yep, I already have the plan, and I downloaded the books; all I need now is the time to focus on learning. "Mental health. Stress relief. Lots of things related to health and exercise." Yep, having less stress from work, and more time to exercise would benefit both my mental and physical health. "Living near friends and family." Already mentioned this.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-22T05:44:38.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comments!

"a soul-crushing job is still the only thing that gives meaning to your life". (Yeah, you didn't write it that way, but that is how I read it.) ... There is probably a lot of them.

Sounds like we are in agreement here. Lots of people who would, in practice, regress to a lot of TV watching and lounging around and end up less happy than they would be at a job, even though in theory they should be able to take advantage of eg. the educational and travel programs you mention to live a happier life. But also a good chunk of people who have things they're passionate about and would live a happier life in retirement.

I don't want to make it out as if it's all about passion vs. no passion or keep busy vs don't keep busy though. I think there are also subtle things that make retirement better or worse than being at a job.

For example, I'm 28 years old and spent time a) working as a programmer, b) starting a startup, and c) self-studying. Maybe this is just a quirk of my psychology, but in (b) and (c) I am very critical of myself, basically acting like my own boss breathing down my neck, judging my performance. "Are you doing enough? Should you be meditating more? Working more hours? Less? Using pomodoros? Networking more? Investing more in education? Less? Taking a long mid-day break? Doing journaling count as hours towards my workday?" There are just all of these questions, and I experience a sort of pardox of choice. I've found that having a boss I don't experience those things too much, it's more about doing the standard, expected stuff. These experiences have made me think that there are weird subtle things that can be hard to predict, and that an outside view of looking at how people handle their retirement (or retirement-like periods of time) is more appropriate than an inside view of looking at the gears of retired life and thinking about what happens when you turn those gears.

In the past, before I burned out at work, and before I had kids, I used to do projects like this once in a while, so it seems likely to me that I could do the same in the future, when the kids grow up, if I could get early retired somehow.

I think some people's response to this would be that your past self might be different and stuff, something perhaps similar to value drift. It's a thought that has been in the back of my mind to pay attention to, but for me I don't buy it. Eg. people say that for entrepreneurship, if you re-enter the workforce it's hard to pick back up again in the future, but I've both a) picked back up again and b) plan on picking back up again (currently at a job but planning on starting startups again in the future).

Who would hire a 50+ software developer who didn't spend the last 10 years developing software? (I am already the oldest guy in the room, and no, it doesn't make others treat me with respect. I look five or ten years younger than my actual age, but even that is already too old.) I am no superstar, my job skills are kinda average.

I hear ya there. I had about a 3 year gap in my resume as I self-studied and started a (failed) startup and it seems to have really hurt my ability to find jobs. I'm also on the average side skill-wise.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-01-24T12:31:53.430Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that having a boss I don't experience those things too much, it's more about doing the standard, expected stuff.

Yeah, when you do things for yourself, you need to switch between the "boss mode" and "worker mode". They require completely different approaches.

In the boss mode, you need to think strategically. Sometimes the most productive thing is to say: "Actually, let's not do this, it is a waste of time. Let's do X instead." (Where X can be making a different thing, or deciding to buy/rent something instead of making it for yourself.) You also need to look for new opportunities.

In the worker mode, you need to do what needs to be done. Then proceed to the next thing in your backlog, until hopefully everything is done.

Even if you can do each of these separately, it is difficult to switch between them, because you risk getting stuck somewhere in between, which is a completely unproductive place. The place where you do something for 10 minutes, and then get second thoughts like "maybe I should be doing this differently, or I should do a different thing instead", and then you just can't focus on the work fully anymore.

The separation of roles is easier when one person is in the boss mode all the time, and the other is in the worker mode all the time. (The risk of this approach is that now important information is split between two people, so neither sees the full picture.)

I wonder if it would help to separate these roles temporally, something like: on Sundays you are in boss mode only (you are not allowed to work on the project, you can only make decisions and document them), and the rest of the week you are in worker mode only (you implement the backlog, then take a break; and strategic thoughts you can only note on paper that will be processed the next Sunday).

And... this might be also the problem some retired people have: having to play both roles, for the first time in their lives, after spending decades practicing something else.

I had about a 3 year gap in my resume as I self-studied and started a (failed) startup and it seems to have really hurt my ability to find jobs.

This depends on country a lot. (From European perspective, the American job market is just brutal. You guys work lots of overtime, barely get any vacation; women get a 15-minute break for childbirth. And when you get sick, you get fired for low productivity, which means you lose your health insurance, which means you lose all your savings to pay the medical bills. I might have exaggerated a bit here.)

I was also punished for a gap in my resume, but not too much. I spent 5 years as a high-school teacher, then I realized this job also sucks (the work is 10% teaching and 90% babysitting), so I might as well return to the profession that sucks but at least pays well. Finding the first job was difficult; it was the worst programming job in my life: most stressful and least paid. But after a year my resume was like "yeah, I had a 5y gap, but that was in the past, now I am a developer again". And after that, my resume is like "these are the three or four most important jobs I had, there were also a few minor ones I didn't list here, feel free to ask", and no one asks.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-24T20:48:25.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, I like that idea of boss mode vs worker mode. I think it'll help me and I'm excited to give it a try.

Interesting to hear about your experiences as a high school teacher. Teaching is one of my favorite things to do and a part of me in the back of my mind whispers, "Maybe you should just go be a teacher since you like it so much." But I have a pretty strong impression that like you're saying, and like most things that people are passionate about, things change a lot once it's a job.

I like how you worded that, "now I'm a developer again". I think that's exactly what I'm working towards right now. I spent 1 year on self-study, 2 on a startup, then this past year was a 3 month contract, some freelancing, and some more self-studying. Now I just started a job and am 1.5 months in and am looking to get that "I'm a developer again" status.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-01-24T21:53:57.954Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Teaching, and being a teacher, two different things. I used to make some extra money tutoring math, and I enjoyed the experience. Once in a while I taught groups of adults; I liked that too. Sometimes I gave lectures on various topics.

Being a teacher means less autonomy on choosing what to teach (you need to follow a curriculum). When the teenagers are unmotivated, they won't hesitate to remind you about it all the time. If half of the class is interested in the topic, and another half is bored, you spend most of your energy dealing with the other half. (When someone wasn't paying attention to me, and read a book instead, I pretended not to notice, because it was much preferable to actively disrupting.) Then you have to do the paperwork, teach classes for your absent colleagues (on subjects you don't know, so it's often just: "kids, read the book").

Here are some articles from a teacher in UK, where the situation seems exceptionally bad, but it's a difference of degree: 1, 2.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-25T00:30:56.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting about tutoring. I would imagine that even there, a) you wouldn't really have autonomy about what to teach, because the clients would mostly be students who are taking a class looking to get a good grade, which would usually involve memorizing the teachers passwords, so your job would be helping them memorize these passwords. And b) even if there was no test you needed to get the students to pass, eg. maybe someone learning to code, I'd imagine that usually they'd be interested in something analogous to "getting the code to work" rather than being intellectually curious about deeper stuff.

In which case I would expect tutoring to not be much fun either. Did this stuff match your experiences at all?

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2021-01-25T21:43:47.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My tutoring typically started with "debugging" student's knowledge. The problems were usually deeper that the student reported, and full solution required fixing the underlying problem first.

For example, suppose the student has a problem with quadratic equations. But after doing some background check, it turns out they are quite confused about what happens when there is a minus sign before the parenthesis. Now of course, if they don't get this right, then no matter how much time you spend explaining quadratic equations, they are going to get half of them wrong whenever the problem starts with something slightly more complicated, that you first need to convert into the standard quadratic equation.

So I kinda imagine the mathematical "tech tree" in my head, and check the previous nodes first, and so on recursively, if necessary. Then gradually build up the correct knowledge.

In school, this would be one student among 20 or 30. There is no time to do this background check with one of them, and definitely not with half of them, no matter how much they need it. Also, you are constrained how much time you can spend at each topic. If it's not enough for some students, well, sucks to be them, but we must move to the next topic.

(Currently, there is a reform in math education that tries to get the fundamentals right, even if it costs somewhat more time at the beginning, because then kids can progress faster, while actually understanding everything. One day I would like to write a post about it on Less Wrong, but I am not a teacher anymore, and my contact with teachers who use this method is limited because of covid.)

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-25T22:58:45.772Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see. I find that sort of debugging quite enjoyable.

However, I find that students often are very impatient when it comes to traversing deeper down the dependency tree, and instead impatiently just want to "get it working/get the answer" and move on. There are three separate instances in my life that I can think of where I experienced this recently: 1) a backend dev learning frontend stuff, 2) someone entirely new to programming I was tutoring, 3) a college student taking precalc.

comment by chemslug · 2021-01-10T00:47:13.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this post!

To me, the early retirement option has always seemed like it was better suited to people who had unrewarding jobs that paid better than any of the jobs they would like more (for MMM, this was programming).  On the other hand, even if you like your job it's hard to see how having substantial savings in case of layoffs or unforeseen circumstances could be a bad thing (see Richard Meadows' post on this point).  Thus, like you, I've started leaning toward the "retire in your mind" option.  I also find that the parts of my job I like the most require physical infrastructure that is effectively only accessible within institutions, so I favor a path that lets me retain access to that while not worrying about the periodic layoffs endemic to my chosen industry.

I don't think we can learn too much about what people want to do with large amounts of free time from what they have done during Covid.  The pandemic has brought a new set of unpleasant constraints.  Inability to travel or see friends and loved ones without inducing lots of worry and guilt might make you pine for office politics!

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-10T01:34:17.122Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the input!

To me, the early retirement option has always seemed like it was better suited to people who had unrewarding jobs that paid better than any of the jobs they would like more (for MMM, this was programming).

Yeah. And I think I've always underestimated how many people have a job doing exactly what they want to be doing. For me, I really, really enjoy teaching and could see myself wanting to spend my life doing that. I could also see myself at the right programming job wanting to do that forever.

On the other hand, even if you like your job it's hard to see how having substantial savings in case of layoffs or unforeseen circumstances could be a bad thing (see Richard Meadows' post on this point).

Well, I wouldn't go that far. There is a tradeoff in play. You could go on a lot of awesome vacations with that money you'd need to retire in your mind :)

I also find that the parts of my job I like the most require physical infrastructure that is effectively only accessible within institutions, so I favor a path that lets me retain access to that while not worrying about the periodic layoffs endemic to my chosen industry.

As a programmer, I see some parallels here. Mainly that you get to interact and learn from other smart people when you work at a (good) company, but also that you get to solve problems that you otherwise wouldn't get to work on alone. Caveat is that if you look hard enough you can find these things in the world of open source.

I don't think we can learn too much about what people want to do with large amounts of free time from what they have done during Covid.

Hm, I think that's a good point and that there's definitely truth here. But I also think that there are things that we can learn. Covid means people can't do certain social things with their free time, but it doesn't prevent them from doing things like art or music. So if people don't take up art or music during Covid with their excess free time, that seems like reasonably strong evidence that they also wouldn't take up art or music in a non-Covid world with excess free time.

Replies from: arunto
comment by arunto · 2021-01-10T07:35:42.938Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So if people don't take up art or music during Covid with their excess free time, that seems like reasonably strong evidence that they also wouldn't take up art or music in a non-Covid world with excess free time.

Not necessarily. Fear and anxiety can inhibit exploratory behavior.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-10T08:02:53.198Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, to some extent. My impression is that the evidence is somewhere in the ballpark of moderate to strong. I could see an argument for why it should be considered weak, but it's hard to see an argument for it being zero evidence (I'm not sure if that's what you're implying or not).

Replies from: arunto
comment by arunto · 2021-01-10T15:21:32.403Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me it seems to be more in the range weak-moderate, but I agree, it is definitely not zero evidence.

comment by Mary Chernyshenko (mary-chernyshenko) · 2021-01-10T09:57:06.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You know, about that garbageman thing... you most probably won't be happy, but if you are the garbage truck driver, you're going to bring happiness and be The Hero for some very sincere people below age four.

comment by remizidae · 2021-01-09T13:05:16.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for these thoughts, they resonated with me as an ambivalent Mustachian.

The tension between Mustachianism and effective altruism might be relevant to some on this site. You CAN both save aggressively and give to charity, especially at a high income. But you cannot make both your #1 priority: you have to choose. MMM himself seems to have chosen saving first, and giving to charity after financial independence (he advocates on the blog for effective charities, which I admire). This is my strategy as well on the principle of saving yourself before others. But the really committed EA people seem to choose charity first, with perhaps an emergency fund or retirement savings but nowhere near the level of savings that MMM would advise. Perhaps these people are more confident about their future earning power or prioritize themselves less. Or maybe it’s a difference in attitudes to work in that some MMM folk seem desperate to get out of the workplace.

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-09T20:49:41.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the compliment :)

Hm, in thinking about it it seems to me that the tension you describe is moreso a matter of the time value of money than it is about where you choose to allocate your money.

Suppose that you earn $4M over the course of your career, and want to spend $2M on yourself over the course of your life. You can 1) focus on saving your money first and donating it later, or 2) donating it now as you earn it. In both cases the amount you're spending on yourself versus others are the same, but in the former case you are the one who benefits from the time value of money (earning interest) instead of the charities. (Additionally, perhaps charities can put money to better use now versus later.)

This matter of timing that I describe seems like a question that is separate from the question of how much to spend on yourself versus others. Eg. spending $2M on yourself over a lifetime versus $1M versus $3M.

Perhaps this is also something that EAs and Mustachians disagree on? I'm not sure. My impression is that a large majority of EAs are ok with or even recommend a lifestyle that is at least as spendy as a Mustachian lifestyle, if only for the purpose of: standard of living → happiness → productivity gains → better at making money that could be used altruistically. But I also recall hearing philosophies that are more about: "you can feed ten families in Africa if you eat ramen instead of chicken and rice".

Replies from: remizidae
comment by remizidae · 2021-01-11T14:33:04.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

>Suppose that you earn $4M over the course of your career, and want to spend $2M on yourself over the course of your life.

There's also a difference between MMM and EAers over how long to work. A Mustachian might earn $1M, retire, and donate any funds they happen to have over what they need. The EA person might work for decades longer, make $4M and donate $3M. So there could be very big differences in total amount donated even if the Mustachian and EA person spend the same amount on themselves. 

(Average lifetime income is in the range of $1M, is beside the point, but I couldn't resist looking it up.)


 

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-11T18:59:13.775Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that is true for a typical Mustachian, but at the same time there's nothing about Mustachianism that says you should do this. The idea is to be frugal and retire early because retiring early allows you to pursue what you are passionate about and stuff. If making more money and donating it to effective causes is what you are passionate about, Mustachianism doesn't say to avoid it. (That's my interpretation of it anyway.)

(Average lifetime income is in the range of $1M, is beside the point, but I couldn't resist looking it up.)

Huh, that seems low, at least for a wealthy western country. Iirc average income in America is around $50k. Over 40 years that is $2M. Adding on interest makes it even more.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2021-01-10T22:56:54.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People often assume he's all about frugality. In reality, he thinks that some things are worth spending good money on.

From my limited reading of MMM, he's pretty intolerant/dismissive of people who have different beliefs about what is worth spending money on, which is a pet peeve of mine. 

Replies from: adamzerner
comment by adamzerner · 2021-01-10T23:48:41.066Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't share that impression. A central and overarching claim that he makes on his blog is basically that everyone is doing it wrong. I think it is difficult to make that claim while also appearing tolerant. Given that it is the claim he is making, I think he does a solid job of also appearing tolerant. Could be better, could be worse.

In my reading of his blog, he strikes me as someone who values open-mindedness and epistemics, and generally a lot of the same virtues we value here on LessWrong. I think like everyone else he can get carried away and have some biases and stubbornness shine through, but at his core I don't think he is the type of person who would be intolerant.