{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Against the tide

What opinion do you have that most of your peers do not share?

This was the thought experiment proposed by SavingNinja. The one thing he asked of participants was for a stream of consciousness outpouring of thoughts rather than a carefully polished article. Here goes…

Against the tide

I let out a frustrated sigh as my forehead rested against the cool glass of the floor to ceiling window.

Far below, endless streams of harried office workers ebb and flow along the footpaths. Uniformly clad in dark business suits, battling their way through the crowds on a drizzly Wednesday lunchtime.

Sensing movement closer to hand, I spied a tiny black ant cautiously advancing across the inside of window pane towards me. At twenty-seven floors above the ground, that ant must have had quite the journey.

Realising it was being observed, the ant paused. We stared at each other, sharing a sense of impending doom.

I blinked first.

Tracing back the path the ant had travelled, I noticed a long column of ants busily marching up the outside of the window frame. They too ebbed and flowed along their pathway, destination unknown.

My lofty vantage point providing an intriguing perspective that struck uncomfortably close to home. The similarities between the ants and the office workers were jarring. From a distance of 27 stories the people appeared a similar size to the ants outside the window.

Dashing out to complete some unknown errand. Important to the individual in the moment, yet inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

With shocking suddenness, a squeegee scraped down the outside of the window.

One moment hundreds of ants purposefully braving the elements and marching ever upwards. The next they were all gone. Washed away, like they never existed, by an abseiling window cleaner.

I felt strangely sad for the lone remaining ant, advancing once more along my side of the glass.

Was it an intrepid explorer? Neil Armstrong venturing into the stars to see what was out there.

Or a rebellious nonconformist? Galileo Galilei standing behind the science, no matter the cost.

Perhaps the ant was being punished? Yuan Huangtou strapped to the kite to see if he could fly.

Whatever the reason, it had been an outlier. Now it was the last of its colony.

Did that prove the surviving ant was right, and its peers wrong? Or was it just random chance?

Perspective is a wonderful thing!

I had just emerged from a brutal board meeting where I had called bullshit on the approach being adopted for a multi-million-pound change programme.

The evidence was on my side: undercooked infrastructure, a calculation engine with a fondness for fiction, and a migration forecast to take decades to complete when the available window was just a weekend.

The politics not so much. Pride, reputations and livelihoods were on the line.

My opinion was unpopular, as welcome as a turd in a swimming pool.

Independent board members have a tough gig. What is best for the shareholders is seldom the same as what is beneficial to management.

That ant and I had much in common. When everyone else is so confidently wrong, it can be lonely and exhausting swimming against the tide.     

History played out as I predicted, but not before the messenger had been shot for bearing bad news.

Ant. Image credit: biswajitmajumder150.

The outlier. Image credit: biswajitmajumder150.

Choose your peers carefully

The key word in this thought experiment is “peer”.

Our peers are the other members of groups to which we feel that we belong.

Qualified to understand our opinions. Worthy of evaluating them. Potentially finding them wanting.

By implication, if you don’t care what someone else thinks, or don’t believe them worthy of judging your opinion, then you don’t consider them to be your peer.

Depending on how arrogant or self-confident you are, that may result in a vanishingly small peer group!

Unpopular opinions

A nice thing about living somewhere that purports to celebrate the ideals of free speech and freedom of expression, is that we can each espouse opinions, no matter how flawed or ill-informed they may be.

Copyright, defamation, discrimination, hate speech, libel, patent protection, and slander legislation each water down those freedoms in their own way.

So too does political correctness and self-censorship.

Any new idea that challenges the orthodoxy is threatening and unpopular to begin with.

Some unpopular opinions make a positive impact and change the world for better.

Others are batshit crazy, and best quietly forgotten.

The important thing is that everyone has the right to believe whatever they choose. That right brings with it the responsibility to exercise that right respectfully.

Media ownership, social media audience size, and the legalised corruption that is lobbying each provide a megaphone for the opinions of those who can afford them.

Unpopular opinions often act as a lightning rod. Intentionally being controversial to stir up the angry mob. The media and “influencers” regularly use them to attract attention, while politicians deploy them to divert it.

What follows is a selection of opinions that I suspect the majority of my peers would disagree with.

Before anyone reaches for their torches and pitchforks, remember Dirty Harry’s view of opinions:

Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.

Taxes should be simple

The tax code should be simple and principle based. It should fit on a single-sided sheet of A4 paper.

If a seven-year-old can’t read, understand, and correctly apply it without prior instruction then it is too complicated.

All income should be taxed the same, regardless of origin or type of legal entity:

  • bonuses
  • capital gains
  • commissions
  • dividends
  • gambling wins
  • interest
  • rent
  • royalties
  • salaries
  • wages
  • whatever.

There should be no deductions or offsets. Let self-interest determine if an expense is worthwhile.

Tax-advantaged and tax-deferred accounts should be eliminated. The goal of pensions is enforced savings, which should be achieved via mandatory contributions and age restrictions alone.

Home ownership should be subject to capital gains tax. Gains should roll over when a homeowner moves house, but become payable when they sell and don’t buy again within a given time window, for example when they die or enter aged care.

Help those who can’t help themselves

Social security should serve as a guard rail, preventing people from suffering injury or disadvantage by falling over the edge. It should help those unable to help themselves, providing the specific assistance each individual requires to maintain a minimum acceptable standard of living.

All forms of social security should be means tested, including the age pension. This means test should examine the complete financial picture of the individual, including home equity and private pensions.

While someone owns saleable assets, they don’t need social security.

In cases where social security is required more urgently than assets may be sold, such as unemployment or disability, this should be provided in the form of a loan that can either be repaid or recovered from the future sale of assets.

Education, from nursery through to post-graduate studies, should be free for everyone.

Healthcare should be free for everyone.

Both education and healthcare are investments. A healthy well-educated populous benefits all of society.

There should be no bail-outs, incentives, subsidies, or tariffs. A business, industry, town or region is viable or it is not.

Uncompetitive ones should die off, not be propped up by the taxpayer.

Owning is better than earning

Earn a salary in a business owned by someone else, and your efforts generate wealth for them.

Work in a business owned by yourself, and your efforts generate wealth for you.

Employ others to work in a business owned by yourself, and their efforts generate wealth for you.

If you’re going to be doing the work anyway, you might as well maximise the benefits you realise from it.

The bulk of those interviewed for the “Millionaire Next Door” made their wealth owning a business, and retained it via modest lifestyle choices.

Choose wisely! Most people aren’t well suited to running a business, and most businesses fail.

Leverage is a good thing

The sensible usage of leverage can help achieve your goals much faster.

Mortgages, margin loans, and student loans are powerful tools when used correctly by people who understand the additional risk they bring.

Get it wrong and risk blowing yourself up. Own that risk.

Peer-to-peer lending is a bad thing

Question the business acumen of someone willing to pay over the odds to obtain a loan for a business venture. To reach that point they have already ruled out the more affordable traditional lending routes, either through self-selection or outright rejection.

This whole class of borrowers will likely face liquidity challenges concurrently, in the event of economic downturn or high-interest rates. The market for reselling loans will dry up, at the same time that defaults increase.

The yields are high for a reason, the higher the risk the greater the potential reward.

Innovation is slowing

A common refrain is that the world is rapidly changing, technology is advancing, and the days of the singularity are rapidly approaching. Before long we’ll be like those lazy humans in the movie Wall-E, pampered by robots and incapable of doing anything for ourselves.

Except here is the thing. The rate of innovation, and the pace of change, has slowed markedly. In domains ranging from space travel to antibiotics we are actively going backwards. Stupidity and short-termism triumphing over science and exploration.

We’ve become adept at automating things and making minor tweaks to existing ideas. When compared to periods of genuine innovation like the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, or World War 2 it is as if we are standing still.

Luck plays a large part

I’ve reached the unfortunate age where I attend more funerals than weddings.

Suicides and overdoses aside, I am unable to identify a discernible relationship between how a person lived and when they died.

Aneurysms, cancer, heart attacks and strokes appear to strike randomly. I’ve known more dead gym junkies and marathon runners than lager louts or armchair athletes who met a similar fate.

Perhaps the balance tips the other way later in life? For now it seems that when your number is up you are screwed, no matter how many salads you eat or miles you run.

Healthy living is still worthwhile simply because it makes you feel good. However I suspect the longevity benefits are oversold by underfunded health service struggling to cope with the vast costs of obesity.

Nothing really matters

As Freddie Mercury once sang “nothing really matters”.

If you’re reading this, then in 100 years time you will be dead. It is one of the few certainties in life.

In 150 years time, you will be forgotten. A ghost in an old photograph. An etching on a tombstone.

In 200 years time, the only people who may even remotely care you existed are your descendants.

There is the occasional exception of course: geniuses, heroes and tyrants. Remembered by the popular versions of their stories, which may or may not have any grounding in the truth.

When measuring value based upon long term outcomes, this means that very little of what any of us may achieve, earn, enjoy, or own matters in the grand scheme of things.

We are like those ants on the window frame. One moment we’re living our lives full of day to day trivialities and worries. The next we are not. The world moves on.

Understanding this can be liberating.

Deadlines are arbitrary.

Stress is (mostly) self-inflicted.

That thing you’re worrying about at work, or fighting over with your spouse? Doesn’t really matter. No different to the marching of the ants, or the scurrying of the ant-like lunchtime office workers.

With very few exceptions, nobody will die based on the outcome.

In 10 years time, will anyone remember? Will they care?

A year?

A month?

My final unpopular opinion

Relax! Despite what the news tells you, life is actually pretty good.

  • Employment is full.
  • Stock markets are high.
  • Inflation and interest rates are low.
  • Literacy and life expectancy is up.
  • Childhood mortality is down.

It could be so much worse.

You could be that bloke dangling from the end of a rope, suspended 27 stories above the ground. Cleaning windows in the rain.

Dangerous.

Valueless.

Futile.

Talk about busy work!

Or you could be the ant crawling across the window pane. Far from home and all alone.

To hear some alternative points of view check out the other responses to SavingNinja’s thought experiment:


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14 Comments

  1. SavingNinja 15 June 2019

    Noo, taxable gambling winnings would kill the gambling industry (and matched betting :P) Although, the tax system being explainable on a single sheet of paper would be pretty awesome.

    Interesting opinion about innovation, I agree with you that the amount of unique innovations has slowed, but thinking about tech like mobile phones, graphics cards, RAM. Or leaps in Quantum Physics, space observation etc. seems to be going pretty fast!

    A very sad observation about luck. Life is unfair – more reason to live it to it’s fullest!

    Thanks for the Thought Experiment! 🙂

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 15 June 2019

      Thanks SavingNinja.

      Legally untaxed gambling winnings are a great example of the influence peddling that ensures an uneven playing field.

      I think the pace of innovation responds to external factors. With the amount of pension fund and venture capital money sloshing around the economic system at the moment, there should be ample funding available for all manner of research and development. Unfortunately most people want immediate gratification and very short payback cycles on their investment, which conflicts with the gamble that is exploring an avenue for innovation.

  2. [HCF] 15 June 2019

    I was searching for that unpopular opinion all along the post but all I found was rationality and kept me nodding in agreement. Why are these views unpopular? Truth hurts, I guess, and the chase of the almighty dollar is above all else… Why don’t we have some truly powerful human beings who share these views? The world should be a place what you described and everyone should share this way of thinking… it would better for all of us.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 June 2019

      Thanks HCF, sounds like you hold some unpopular opinions too!

      Try flipping the lens, view the world as we are regularly encouraged to:

      • We are all unique and special. Capable of achieving great things if only we want it enough.
      • Try hard. Work hard. Pray hard. Anyone can rise to the top purely on merit.
      • Don’t worry if you fail. Everyone is a winner. The world still loves you just the same.
      • Every second matters. We must optimise to use them productively. Seize the day. Be ever present in the moment. And mindful while doing it.
      • Remember to be grateful for all the random events that have occurred since our distant ancestors first evolved into single cell organisms in the primordial ooze.
      • Recognise the privilege you have enjoyed by not having evolved as a fungus or a dung beetle. Not everything was so fortunate.
      • Eat your vegetables, power lift, recycle, and donate. You can grow up to be big and strong and save the planet one day.
      • Work long and be noticed. It is not the value of what you produce that matters, but the time you spend at your desk. Arrive before your boss. Leave after them. Be contactable 24×7. Send work emails on Sundays. Do conference calls while on holiday. Be seen to be a team player. The world will end if you don’t, you’re irreplaceable after all.
      • Invest the best hours of each day, and the best years of your life working. If you’re really lucky a benevolent boss may show up like the tooth fairy once a year and shower you with unpredictable and non-recurring riches, possibly worth as much as a month’s extra salary… before the tax man takes a big chunk of it away.

      The truth is while some of the above may be true some of the time, the bulk of it won’t lead to happiness, health, wisdom nor wealth. Yet they are endlessly repeated, and used as a yardstick to measure if we are living life “correctly”.

      Deviation defies convention, and involves following unpopular opinions.

  3. weenie 16 June 2019

    I’m with the ninja, I’d not like the tax on gambling winnings but am fine with everything else.

    Oh and apart from elimination of tax-advantaged/tax deferred accounts, doesn’t that kill off ISAs and SIPPs? I quite like having both.

    I do see the sense in making the state pension means tested, although part of me is hoping this won’t start until after I start taking it or, if before, that I skate under the threshold.

    I agree with you in that life is pretty good despite what’s in the news. Am I wearing rose-tinted glasses? I don’t think so, I just think that things could be a lot lot worse.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 16 June 2019

      Thanks weenie.

      Yep, much as I love my ISA, I believe they should go. All income should be taxed equally.

      SIPPs should exist to provide individuals with investment choices for their compulsory age restricted pension contributions.

      However they should lose their tax deferred status. After tax income going in, no tax free employer matches, and any income or capital gains generated within should be subject to tax just the same as standard taxable accounts.

  4. liberatedotlife 18 June 2019

    > If you’re reading this, then in 100 years time you will be dead. It is one of the few certainties in life.

    I beg to differ. I might be, but maybe not.

  5. Cashflow Cop 18 June 2019

    I agree with it all. Really struggled to pick something out I disagree with.

    It’s okay though. The thing is; I imagine most people who frequent PF blogs are logical and accept these points. Our peers on the otherhand, no so much.

    One thing before I scoot off to bed.

    I could be that taxes are deliberately complex to provide loop holes only wealthy individuals and large corparations have the finances to get around. It does nothing but exacerbates income inequality.

    Maybe it isn’t deliberate. Maybe the horse has bolted, where after years of ill-thought rules, exccessive regulation, add-ons and ammendments, the system has turned into a tax frankeinstein. The monster has been created and it’s too late to put it down.

    In either case, leaders lacking in moral courage or leaders who are incompetent.

    The result is the same.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 19 June 2019

      Thanks Cashflow Cop.

      The tax code is certainly a Frankenstein monster!

      An uncomfortable truth is that a lot of policy tends to be written by the industry it seeks to govern. The recruitment policies of the agencies tasked with administering that policy resemble a revolving door, with industry professionals crossing the street to gain “regulatory experience” before returning to their more lucrative careers. Collectively this and lobbying combine to ensure problems are persisted rather than resolved.

      Add in some pork barrelling politicians buying votes, and it results in the mess we have today.

      However, very few people care. When was the last time any of us saw, let alone participated in a protest march rebelling against a daft tax regime or closing loopholes?

      • Cashflow Cop 19 June 2019

        I had no idea that was the case.

        Then it is clear political leadership absent of any backbone to sort it out. Yes, this might lead to uncertainty. Yes, business might threaten to leave and actually do it. But with all the Brexit shenanigans, we might as well start all over on the tax regime.

        I’m rather naive guess.

        • {in·deed·a·bly} 19 June 2019

          The challenge with starting over is so much of our existing financial arrangements have been put in place to work within the current system. People would protest that it wasn’t fair, they were being screwed, etc. No matter how much of an improvement a new regime may provide.

          An example of this in action was the impact on private landlords when financing costs ceased to be tax deductible. In many cases once profitable investments suddenly loss making.

          Another example is the ever changing rules around “disguised employment” that impact how freelancers provide their services.

  6. HK Expat 20 June 2019

    How about an even simpler tax system, which doesnt charge tax on already taxed income/gains so allows everyone freedom to spend or save income and have the same financial outcome (no unfavourable tax consequences for either alternative, as opposed to savings being taxed twice and disincentivised.)
    16.5% on company profits, 15% on salaries (to encourage higher salary than company profit retention). No CGT, no dividends tax , no VAT and no inheritence tax. Admittedly higher social housing to subsidise the living costs of the less well off, but simple and “fair”.
    That is Hong Kong’s tax system, and essentially that of Singaopre- both derived from english law systems.
    Unfortunately as you say once a benefit is given, even if originally temporary, its frightening how quickly it become a “right” which is why the UK system is in the mess it is!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 20 June 2019

      Thanks HK Expat.

      That is an interesting approach, definitely worth giving some thought to. Are education and healthcare free in Hong Kong and Singapore?

What say you?

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