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M&Ms 66: People
I hold an opinion that may not be all that popular right now.
You see, I think Humans are the most valuable thing the earth has ever produced. But we don't treat each other like that.
I believe that without humans on it, this whole place would be a worthless rock.
Of course, what a thing is worth is highly subjective; it is the price someone else is willing to pay to own it. In large parts of the world, supply and demand, a system that humans fabricated, usually dictates the price and worth of owning something.
And what is ownership anyway? In his book The Narrow Road, Felix Dennis highlights how ridiculous the whole idea of ownership is.
"We purport to believe that individuals or groups can "own" the most astonishing things: islands, mines, mountains, forests, rivers, hills, and deserts, even what lies under the ground or beneath the sea—that humans can "own" real estate where dinosaurs once roamed.. such a collective delusion illustrates how silly the chasing of wealth really is.
It defies logic because we are mortal and can take nothing with us.
The getting of money is a game. As the author G. K. Chesterton put it: "To be clever enough to get all that money, one must be stupid enough to want it."
And herein lies an opportunity. While the objective is absurd, the rules are deadly serious."
So why do I think humans are so valuable?
From an economic standpoint, a huge reason the world is so wealthy today is that there are so many humans in it.
More humans alive on earth, has forced us to be more inventive and not in some altruistic way but to ensure our survival. Because of supply and demand and all those silly things we strive for, we've invented more of everything. For example, China had a population of around 700 million in the 1970s, and today it boasts 1.4 billion people.
And what happened to China over the last few decades?
They have modernized at a blistering pace, created massive cities, and by en large are far better off than they ever were before. And not just economically but in terms of life expectancy and many other measurable aspects. It's counterintuitive, but when they had fewer people, a lot more starved.
To illustrate the economic value of humans, we need to look at what happens to places that have lost humans at a rapid pace. There are many examples of this, but lets look at one, the Italians:
In the book The End of the World is Just the Beginning, Peter Zaihan argues that right around the 1990s, the Italians started feeling the pain of not having enough children to replace their aging population. And their economy has never recovered. According to Peter Zaihan, it never will. At least not in our lifetimes. But it does not stop there; according to Peter, most nations are about to follow a similar pattern that Italy followed with their population. By and large, the majority of the world will look like that in the late 20s and 30s.
Nearly every place that modernized and extended life expectancy now has more older folks heading into retirement and fewer people to replace them. In practical terms, this means labor shortages globally over the next few decades. This explains why folks like Elon Musk seem so worried about population collapse; anyone in labor-intensive industries is worried. They will soon have to pay more while making less or risk not making anything.
Everyone is betting on technology to fix this.
But Peter's thesis is that this is a world with fewer people, many retiring, tons of labor shortages, collapsing globalization, and at the same time, capital is necessarily tightening and becoming a lot less cheap. He makes a convincing case; it's unclear how technology solves this, but that's the unknown.
It is hard for technology to solve cultural and human problem.
Pre-industrial revolution adult couples had 4.2 children on average. And, as an example, in post-industrial revolution China, they have 1.2 children per adult couple. Factoring in an aging population and other issues that is nowhere near sustainable levels. Especially when accounting for deaths due to diseases, etc. Over-optimizing into big cities and office cultures of “9 AM to 9 PM, 6 Days a Week” (9-9-6) is not very conducive to having families. The bill will soon come due; Peter says China will face population collapse in the 20s and 30s and will be below 1 billion humans.
This is compelling because populations and demographics are predictable. And even if we invent our way out of some of these problems in the late 20s and 30s, all of this highlights just how valuable humans are.
There are things we can do to protect ourselves, at least somewhat. For one, businesses that are labor intensive will become incredibly hard to scale and sustain. Secondly, many economies are in a lot of trouble from this. Historically, when a demographic and population collapses happens, economies go with it, not just from labor; the loss of consumption is a big reason for that.
Since we can see much of that coming, we should protect ourselves.
But it's not just economies at risk with fewer people worldwide. Everything is. As we have seen recently with Russia, which has had the same type of population collapse much of the rest of the world now faces, it's not like the places facing this pain will go quietly into that good night.
And even more, than war is at risk. A lot of what we have accomplished in the last few decades is at risk.
Don't get me wrong, life and nature are impressive on this planet. But humans are a part of that; at the moment, we are the pinnacle of that process. And maybe on the cusp of spreading this planet's fruits to other planets. Maybe that's why the earth made us and tolerates us in the first place. That’s too philosophical, but what is for certain is that very tangible progress is at risk.
When economies recede, and populations collapse, it will be hard for any of us to worry about anything but the immediate now.
All of this is to say that humans are pretty valuable. And maybe we should start treating each other like we are valuable. You never know; there may be a lot less of us soon.
A few Tweets I loved this week:
When accounting for the broader picture, shortages like this begin to make a lot of sense. My wife is in nursing school, and although she is only a student, set to graduate later, they begged her and other students to work the summer. Because there just aren’t enough people.
But I no longer believe this is temporary.
This study confirms something I had to learn and understand intuitively, people overwhelmingly leave jobs because of a lack of career advancement.
It is understated, but as a leader, one of the most important things you can do is carve a path for people to grow.
We probably should’ve done this all along, but treating people well in this environment is essential.
A few memes I enjoyed this week:
There is a big debate going on about the definition of recession.
A pretty fun take on the “No one wants to work anymore.” No one has ever wanted to work. Or maybe, there aren’t enough working-age people to do the work.
Thank you for reading. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.