I’ve never really been a great capitalist.
When I was younger, people would say things like “you don’t know the value of a dollar” or “you don’t know what it’s like to have to work for money” like it was a faulting of privilege or an impairment for having never been starving. As I got older, as life happened, I was fortunate to never starve, but there have been times I’ve been hungry.
Looking back at this now, my mindset with money comes from more from neurodivergence than any kind of privilege or poverty. I know what a dollar can get me, and I know the numbers in my accounts have real world meaning, it’s just these things are all abstractions until they aren’t. To make them real, I ascribe my own value to them, usually based on return on investment of dopamine. How much for this level of happy?
Over time, as I made more money, this made to larger and larger amounts for larger and larger pools of dopamine. I went through hobbies, places, and people, chasing after higher highs, not putting as much in long term investment. Where’s the dopamine hit in a savings bond?
I think there is something to be said for life experiences. I know I have a ton of them now I wouldn’t have had, and some of those influenced personal growth, inspiration, and creativity. I hope to make some money with that at some point, and maybe that’s the real long term investment.
The thing is, life experiences, dopamine, and long term financial stability are all on this flat plane for me. I know things must be done for all of them, but prioritizing any one of them for too long is hard. So, I have to think about all three… or at least, that’s what I’ve been doing.
Now that I’m aware of it, I know that awareness will drive its own change in priorities for me. I perceive it as a risk, and even a flaw, that I don’t always prioritize long term financial security. Why start a business when I can work for a perfectly decent one for a while? Why monetize something I’m doing when I’m just doing it for the joy (read: Dopamine) ?
It’s another step in unpacking my midlife ADHD diagnosis.
I’m in month three of my break from work. I’m not hurting, but I’m starting to feel the ding of finances at my door. My lease is coming up, I know I need to make a final decision about relocating. I know I’ll need to have some proof of income when I do, or at least I think I will… I worked for so long I don’t know how people get established without a job. The thought has never crossed my mind, but I’m sure any freelancer or contract worker who had to relocate in uncertain times has run into this problem.
So it may stand that I’ll need to look for a job or some sort of income not for need of money, but for need of establishment. Legitimacy. It’s not a thrilling concept for me.
Looking back at my time at Apple, it was a revolving dopamine machine for me. Crazy fires at work fed the dopamine. I’d get rewarded in more crazy things and more pay. The more pay on paper wouldn’t have meaning to me, but the dopamine that would get me did. It was a cycle until ironically, the crazy things at work shifted from problems I could solve to something I couldn’t – a reduction in stimulation. I was half shelved and bored.
Many people look at my career at Apple and see someone with drive and ambition, when I was just chasing the next level of dopamine. The more chaotic it got, the more I loved it and the more I gave into it. While on one hand this makes me wonder if I should do startup work, I also don’t think that’s healthy. There should be some dopamine in day to day work, but not chasing the fires like I did before. I’ve learned that’s not healthy, even for me.
I realize I haven’t written at all about my time at Facebook. From a work perspective, it was a positive, healthy time. I don’t have anything bad to say about my personal experience or my team there, from hiring to leaving. Most of what I have to say about that company is about its products, upper leadership, and social impact, all of which I may or may not write about in the future.
So the value of things for me historically has been driven by the dopamine. I’m an addict. It’s why I never got hooked on cigarettes, drugs, or other stuff. I’m already hooked on my own good-good juice and it’s just a means of optimizing the delivery system.
Thankfully, I have healthy things that ground me with this. I have positive relationships, I have time and ability to meditate and have a spiritual practice, and I have learned developing skills and talents have long term rewards. I have benefited from the experience of building a life or three and doing it well.
Recently I read a phrase in the book Polysecure which talked about people going through major life events associated with sexual or spiritual discovery as having a crisis of deconstruction. That term has rolled around in my mind the last few days. Have I been going through a crisis of deconstruction the last several years? It would seem so, given the work I’ve done and progress I’ve made. I’ve deconstructed close to everything.
If so, when does reconstruction begin? Has it already started? Was rebirth begun during the death? I have this feeling of being near wholly empty, yet having already come so far. While in this time of quietness, I feel the fires of creation most, worried if I’ll hold my form or be scorched away in the process. Depending on the metal, there can be a thin line between malleable and melting. Which am I right now?
So I’m not a good capitalist because I don’t do things for money. At best, money is an awesome byproduct, but I’m motivated by challenge and action than by even getting something which can get me more dopamine. More and more, I want to do things that leave a positive impact on the planet and people. I was challenged with that at Facebook, and moreso when it became Meta, which is a whole other story.
I also don’t like that others have to do things for money, and that it has to be a predominant thought on most people’s minds. There is abundance for all when our focus isn’t on material or monetary wealth. There’s no reason we should have people going bankrupt for medical bills, or not be able to afford a home somewhere near where they would like to live or work.
The rent is too damn high because our policies encourage hoarding and capital investment. They don’t encourage the working class to buy and own their homes long term, and by that I mean multi-generational. Think about it.
John goes to work at a factory and takes a job earning just enough to qualify for a 30 year mortgage. On his income (laughably), he can support his nuclear family to buy exactly one home, own two cars, and ostensibly put one child through college. He has a pension at work and when he retires, his home is paid for, his child is through college, and he has the pension and some savings along with social security.
This laughably idyllic scenario sounds like a win, but then things fall apart.
The pension fails from corruption and bad investment, or maybe a corporate board takes it away. John didn’t plan for social security to cover it alone, so takes another hit. Along comes a reverse mortgage company, and John sells his house back to the bank in payments that favor the bank.
When John dies, he has no savings, no assets, and his house is back at the bank. His kid never realizes the wealth from the house, and never builds on it.
The only winner here is the bank, who got John coming and going. Banks don’t profit from long term, multi-generational home ownership. They profit from new mortgages and new investment. We talk about numbers of home ownership in the country as a benchmark, but really we’re talking about the number of mortgage agreements. Move to the next place! Buy a new home! Bigger! Better! Modern!
We’re at the point where anyone who isn’t in on this ponzi scheme is a victim of it. The multi-home investor, individual or corporate, is the single greatest challenge to affordable home ownership. This self-assured, if-I-can-do-it-you-can-too upper middle class and above is when capitalism goes from stock abstractions to the real deal – they own something of value which will yield earnings. They’re your landlord, your Airbnb superhost, or maybe even your parents. They’re the ones the system has worked out for, and really, the minimum line requirement for long term financial success now.
So this is why I’m a bad capitalist.
I know that line for minimum financial success. Two mortgages, one you live in, one a rental property. I’ve seen that line for about ten years now. I’ve had access to get in that line for at least five years. Yet, I haven’t. I’ve had no interest in doing it. Part of it is because there’s no dopamine in it for me, the other is I want to prove it’s possible without working that formula. Spite. Yay for self-awareness.
What I want increasingly now is a way to change the game. I hate that game. It’s not that I’m not competitive, it’s that it’s loaded, and it’s loaded against regular people who fall victim to it at no fault of their own. It’s what’s driving our growing homelessness. It’s what is driving rising income inequality.
I’m a bad capitalist because I see the game, but I don’t want to participate in it.
Maybe this is where the crypto bros’s pitch comes in. Maybe that strain is what appeals to people who dive into crypto. The thing about crypto is as currency it’s another media for the same style of economy. There’s some cool tech there, and I’m sure there are more interesting things to do with it than pump and dump schemes, long or short term.
I think we need a new vision. I don’t want to be a landlord. I don’t want to run an airbnb. Yet that is where the economy drives us.
I’m open to ideas and thoughts in comments. Keep ’em respectful, please.