When you catch a fly and it turns out to be your mother

The following article was published in the 2017 edition of the college magazine, Kshitij  2017 in an edited form.

What you are about to read are two odd pages in an unlikely place-our college magazine. What you’ll read presents me a challenge to present to you in abstract what should have been a reasonable article. But then again, it’s something personal and the mundane articles don’t deserve a place here-thus I justify this disarray of thoughts.

I‘ll try to make this article as nerdy as possible, albeit as real and as confusing as our lives as possible! (That’s the record number of as’s you can put in a whole sentence. Let me see how smart you’re to figure this one out?)

“Who moved my cheese?” by Dr. Spencer Jhonson, I read this book when I was in school and what did I learn- that you got to sniff your cheese reserves and make sure you find another one before your reserves deplete. Why I’m talking all this jargon in the face of nothing? And why am I putting it so plainly that it’s almost uninteresting? Because sometimes even I can’t help to marvel how these random ideas I picked up while reading are suddenly making sense and forming a big picture in times of crisis.

Despite of the fact that I’m writing this for our college magazine, I’ll try to make it as informal as possible because my agenda is to connect to anyone who’s reading this and strike a conversation (if only in their heads!); over the course of this article I’ll be throwing some random references so if anyone wants an access to these articles or wants to have a small discussion- you can mail me right away at parth.vt@somaiya.edu (yes I’m accessible! Do you feel homely enough to read at peace, now?)

The array of books that crosses my mind all at once includes- “Rich dad, Poor dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki, “The raddest man on the planet” by Tim Urban, “The meaning of it all” & “”What do you care what other people think?” & “Perfectly reasonable deviations from a beaten track” (all three of them) by Richard Feynman and couple of more books and a few more articles most of you will never lay your hands on. But what’s the point of all this? Well, obviously I’m bragging here but apart from all the attention I get, I want to conclude for myself what have I learnt from all these things I read in books? (And here you were thinking I’m writing this article for you? Disappointed?)

(Please stop wondering about the title!)

I hereby conclude this society operates on a stigma of fear. Period. I figured out from my personal experience that it’s unwise to make people read stupid things for long and conclude that the answer is 42! Well “Hitchhikers guide to galaxy” by Douglas Adams is mostly harmless though, so anyway you can give it a read if you want to. But there is an important parallel which can be drawn between this uncanny science fiction book and understanding why Jeff Bezos is pouring in $42 million to build a 10,000 years clock in a desert in West Texas! Well, it’s all about imagining the future and it’s all about the crazy ideas we get when we’re drunk in delirium and want the world to change.

Are you scared? (Oh I’m referring to my conclusion that all of us operate on fear!) Well probably you aren’t and that’s alright. I caught a fly when I was reading, “Rich dad, Poor dad” and I pondered upon the following comments:

“A job is only but a short-term solution to a long-term problem”

“How can I afford to never work again?”

Our current educational system focuses on preparing today’s youth to get good jobs by developing scholastic skills. Their lives will revolve around their wages, or as described earlier, their income column; and after developing scholastic skills, they go on to higher levels of schooling to enhance their professional abilities. They study to become engineers, scientists, cooks, police officers, artists, writers and so on. These professional skills allow them to enter the workforce and work for money.

To become financially secure, a person needs to mind their own business. Your business revolves around your asset column, as opposed to your income column.

Most people

Your profession -> Your income

Rich people

Your assets -> Your income

******

Now let me throw into this, a few snippets from my favourite blog, Wait but why- by Tim Urban (There is term for guys like him, they’re called Polymaths)

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We get this graph from the Moore’s Law, it is a historically-reliable rule that the world’s maximum computing power doubles approximately every two years, meaning computer hardware advancement, like general human advancement through history, grows exponentially.

To understand what this exponential change may bring for us I want to throw in references from all the articles I have come across and try to make sense out of it. However, first I must confess to you all, that this article is very much my personal journey for the past couple of months; I’m in my final year and in my quest to make my career plans I caught a few flies here and there while reading random books and they have been buzzing around ever since. Until now, that I realized these annoying little creatures are the mother of all my anxieties- giving genesis to my identity!

Note: Please be careful and don’t lose yourself mid-way in the article. In this article you’ll have exposure to the space age optimism of Ray Kurzweil (Director of Engineering at Google) as well as the pessimism of technological slowdown as proposed by Peter Thiel (Cofounder of PayPal and first professional investor of Facebook)

Let’s see what we have:

“There are two different technological limits. The first limit is a physical one, due to the laws of physics, such as the impossibility of building a perpetual motion machine. The second limit is economic; it is physically possible to dig a canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean across the continental United States, but it is not economically feasible. This paper addresses the economic limit, as we will reach this limit before the physical limit.

“The rate of innovation peaked in the year 1873 and is now rapidly declining. We are at an estimated 85% of the economic limit of technology, and it is projected that we will reach 90% in 2018 and 95% in 2038.” – A possible declining trend for worldwide innovation, Jonathan Heubner (2005)

“Even if (advanced) economies resume their historical high-growth trajectory, we project that 30 to 40 percent of income segments may not experience market income gains in the next decade if labor-market shifts such as workplace automation accelerate. If the slow-growth conditions of 2005–12 persist, as much as 70 to 80 percent of income segments in advanced economies may experience flat or falling market incomes to 2025.” – Poorer than their parents? , McKinsey Global Institute (2016)

“From 1970 to 2014, with the exception of a spike during the 1973–74 oil crisis, the average wage share fell by 5 percent on an indexed basis in the six countries we studied in depth.” – Poorer than their parents? , McKinsey Global Institute (2016) (In economics, the wage or labor share is the part of national income, or the income of a particular economic sector, allocated to wages (labor). It is related to the capital or profit share, the part of income going to capital, which is also known as the K–Y ratio)

“Taxes and transfers directly affected how declining market incomes translated into disposable income, and in some countries made a significant difference in reducing or even reversing the flat or falling phenomenon for some income groups, including middle income households.

(But) In the future, governments may find it difficult to sustain this level of spending without substantial revenue increases; government debt as a share of GDP increased over the past seven years in five of the six countries we studied.(Central government debt is close to 100 percent of GDP or higher in the United States)” – Poorer than their parents? , McKinsey Global Institute (2016) (Disposable income is income remaining after deduction of taxes and social security charges, available to be spent or saved as one wishes.)

“In the next three years, the large pharmaceutical companies will lose approximately one-third of their current revenue stream as patents expire, so, in a perverse yet understandable response, they have begun the wholesale liquidation of the research departments that have borne so little fruit in the last decade and a half.” – The End of future, Peter Thiel (2010) (On why innovation in medicine and biotechnology is likely to stall; It’d be unwise to rely on private sector to work on innovative solutions here and we’ll need to look up to public sector or philanthropic interventions, which in turn will press the government hard to increase their revenue income-in short taxes)

image2

(Image courtesy:  The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance Chaired by Jim O’Neill, December 2014)

“The results show a considerable human and economic cost. Initial research, looking only at part of the impact of AMR, shows that a continued rise in resistance by 2050 would lead to 10 million people dying every year and a reduction of 2% to 3.5% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The secondary health effects of AMR: a return to the dark age of medicine?

Rising drug resistance would also have alarming secondary effects in terms of the safety of childbirth, including caesarean sections, with consequential increases in maternal and infant mortality. The 20th century saw childbirth in high income countries move from being something that carried significant risk to something that we take for granted as being safe: the world witnessed a 50-fold decrease in maternal deaths over the course of that century. Much of this progress could risk being undermined if AMR is allowed to continue rising significantly.” –  Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations, The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance Chaired by Jim O’Neill (December 2014)

“While expenditure on long-term care is certain to increase with the ageing of the population, the effects on health care expenditure are disputed. It is clear that if appropriate measures are implemented in time, population ageing does not inevitably lead to significantly higher health care expenditure.

The decline in the share of the population of working age that will have to finance the health system can be addressed by measures that enable more older people to remain in the labour force” – How can health systems respond to population ageing? , WHO (2009)

A major public policy concern in the long-term care field is the potential burden an aging society will place on the care-giving system and public finances. The “2030 problem” involves the challenge of assuring that sufficient resources and an effective service system are available in thirty years, when the elderly population is twice what it is today.

What type of economic burden might be considered overwhelming? Existing literature never explicitly defines this but the sense is that the burden might be considered overwhelming if: (a) tax rates need to be raised dramatically, (b) economic growth is retarded due to high service costs that preclude other social investments, or (c) the general well-being of future generations of workers is worse than that of current workers due to service costs and income transfers.” – The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers, HSR, James R Knickman and Emily K Snell (2002)

(Courtesy: Jobs are over- The future is income generation, Heather McGowan)

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******

Amid all this chaos of the future, the only thing which helps me maintain my balance are ideologies of Richard Feynman and my learning from Robert Kiyosaki. I have not yet touched the upon the impact of Artificial Intelligence and Automation on the jobs (because I feel it has already been given its share of attention) but from what we can make out from these above references is that while choosing our career we need to be aware about the uncertainties in future and should not rely on our profession as our chief source of income.

“If you have any talent, or any occupation that delights you, do it and do it to the hilt. Develop your talents wherever they may lead! Damn the torpedoes-full speed ahead!”

“In physics the truth is rarely clear and that is certainly universally the case in human affairs. Hence what is not surrounded by uncertainty can’t be the truth. Nothing is certain; we live in a charmed life.”

These words by Feynman make me steadfast and hopeful for the future.

Fare-thee-well!

Parth Thakkar

Final Year (Mechanical Engineering)
parth.vt@somaiya.edu

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