to live different you must do different

The Ermine has been using some of that extra time you get in retirement to go travelling, after a jaunt round Salisbury Plain with the archaeologists working for  military[ref]It’s seriously unwise to go for a looky-loo on that bit of Salisbury Plain without the military’s help ;)[/ref] and then on to Dartmoor, when I met up with Andy from to talk about the modern workplace. Andy is a driven and hardworking chap so he’s already written the post by the time I get round to writing this, so I will stick with this picture of Haytor on Dartmoor, which is near his neck of the woods.

a fine rock and worthy fo a moderate scramble to get up to
a fine rock and worthy of a moderate scramble to get up to

where we had lunch. Lots of stuff discussed, because he has a different take on the world of work.Very different to mine, particularly how to approach it.

Occasionally a younger fellow has managed to use their initiative to find out how to contact the Ermine by email, along the general lines of all that work philosophy’s all very well, but how does it apply to me? And it’s saddened me that I’ve never had much of an answer to that. My story is a tale that started in a different era, and while many of the tools of the trade are the same, many things are tougher now, while conversely some specific opportunities are much greater now. After that discussion, perhaps there is a way to mitigate some of the adverse changes, of which more in a future post.

We humans are storytellers, but we often narrate the story of our lives in other people’s words

Let’s face it, we call that culture – Romeo and Juliet stand proxy for infatuated lovers even after 400 years. Less inspiringly the Kardashians stand for sucess, and  Donald Trump for alpha maleness, froth and scum float to the top as well as the cream.

All the world's a stage, and this is one of the 'alpha male' castings. I don't get it either.
We aren’t fussy about where we get our stories – all the world’s a stage, and this is one of the ‘alpha male’ cast of characters. I don’t get it either, but he does it for a lot of people.

We borrow from stories and weave the threads into the image of our ideal lives. The story of how work and life fit together comes from many places – it comes from how we saw people do that growing up[ref]which of course puts it about 30 years behind the times we actually try to live it in[/ref]. A lot of it comes from advertising, where clever people tell us stories to try and get us to spend money on things and services. Take a look at Ad Age[ref]I am tickled that they don’t like people using ad-blockers. Reconnaissance behind enemy lines is always a tough game[/ref]’s top 15 campaigns of the 21st century, and the way they talk:

Some of these ad campaigns are here because they changed the way consumers thought about the world around them

Their words turned into your stories… The lead quote was a corker

“Historians and archaeologists will one day discover that the ads of our time are the richest and most faithful daily reflections any society ever made of its whole range of activities.”

Marshall McLuhan

Your life has been designed, and not particularly by you. Most readers of PF blogs[ref]This is a total guess, but you’re not going to be worrying about financial independence and retiring early much lower down the scale. You’ll be worrying about making next month’s rent[/ref] are earning more than the median wage (~£27,000, FTE) – I hazard that this is the point where the fight switches from earning more to spending less, and the spending has a lot of the narrative written by people paid to make you spend more. Sometimes it’s good to see the extreme point to understand yourself – take a look at the phenomena of superyachts, which as PhD researcher Emma Spence has discovered, is basically all about consumerist willy waving writ large. You, dear reader, have to make do with with more house than you need and an iPhone. Nobody needed an iPhone 20 years ago, now everyone is walking around with £500 worth of easily pinched/broken hardware on their person…

That is one tasteless ugly piece of kit, non? And this is the attractive side. Apparently something to do with Philippe Starck, he of the elegant lemon squeezer. Where’s a Viking longboat or Jonny Ive when you need ’em eh?

What you consume is often the most egregious version of others writing the script, other parts of life have elements of this. I got to nearly 50 without realising that I actually had agency over how old I was when I retired. I hadn’t realised this was under my control, FFS – I took the age of 60, the normal retirement age at The Firm, and accepted that without bothering any brain cells with asking why this was so.

Some of the things we can do are constrained by what other people do. The price of housing, for instance, given an endless supply of credit, will tend to find a level where the cost of servicing a loan can be managed by two people working full-time, because that’s what most people in that market are doing. Low interest rates and low inflation won’t help to pay off the loan over a working life, because it makes all the numbers bigger. For some odd reason we think low interest rates make houses more affordable. It just makes them dearer.

Most people don’t get to financial independence under their own steam. To be different you have to do different.

Many people’s idea of financial independence is getting the State pension, roughly when they are 67-70. They effectively outsource the job, although whether that gives a decent standard of living very much depends on whether they are paying rent and/or have other sources of non-work income on retirement. That’s the default setting, both in terms of time and in terms of money.

There are two major areas you can do different to your peers. You can earn more, and you can spend less. The greatest win to be had is, of course, targeting both. Retirement Investing Today is an example of what you can do here. Unfortunately you immediately have a major problem when you want to swim against the tide, and that is that humans are social animals. If you are going to do different then spending less is going to make you look poor to your peer group. And most people just hate that feeling.

Earning more is the obvious other way to go, then. You need to have the talent and the luck, but even if you have those, you tend to take a hit along the spending axis. This is because your work peer group becomes more spendy as they earn more. In practice the axes of spend less and earn more aren’t orthogonal and mutually independent. There’s probably no real way round it, in the accumulation phase you are likely to look on the poor side to your colleagues. I guess this is what seems to makes it easier for introverts to chase FI  – one of the few cases where this trait is an advantage.

Not so easy after all. How about spend less? Fight consumerism by targeting the base of the fire.


You’re changing the story there – in this case the story pumped out by the advertisers of what a good life looks like. After all, good ads changed the way consumers thought about the world around them. I presume this was in the direction of spending more and consuming more, because otherwise, what’s the point? I’m quite taken with the poetic description from Brandalism in this piece of agitprop 😉

Advertising shits in your head – but, first, its torrential, golden flow stains your magazines, your phone, your computer, your newspapers and your streets. Advertising shits all over and dominates our culture. It is a visceral, powerful form of pollution that not only affects our common public and cultural spaces, but also our deeply private intimate spaces. Advertisers want your ‘brain time’ – to shit in your head without your knowledge.

It’s why I run Adblock Plus and Ghostery, both set to 11 – kill ’em all. Destroying advertising as much as possible makes life simpler and more pleasant. It is a shame that at the inception of the Internet, we failed to craft a decent payment model, so advertising and the surveillance model became the original sin of the Internet, but there we go.

I don’t have a beef with real people recommending real things they have trialled, it is the automated stuff like Google Ads that is the problem – anonymised mind-spam sold to the highest bidder. A while ago I went to a meeting in Leeds where I discovered how people think about blogvertising. A very few of you [ref]those that aren’t running adblockers, and if not, why not?[/ref] will see I have an Amazon box on here – all of those are books I’ve read or things I’ve mentioned on here. I was running Google ads, but never saw them, because that’s what AdBlock Plus does for me 😉 When I realised I was running ads for Wonga and consolidating loans, because that’s what personal finance is about to most people I pulled it. Not because I thought any of my readers were going to be swayed to the dark side and toddle off to their local Money Shop to buy some overpriced money at extortionate rates, but because I didn’t want to be part of the problem.

There are three non-spending areas that cause a lot of hurt for British consumers below 45

Consumer spending causes a lot of trouble, because it’s a never-ending tactical battle fought one little piece at a time. But three strategic changes have caused a lot of damage to the personal finances of people starting out now. Let’s take a look at these

University, and the apparent dearth on non-university alternatives

When I started university in the late 1970s, fewer than 10% of school leavers entered university. It was much easier to fail exams in those days, because they were norm-referenced. It isn’t entirely clear to me what you have to do to fail exams now, because we have lost the cojones to tell some young people, and more specifically their parents, that they simply aren’t up to the mark academically.

In itself that’s not so bad, but because so many more people go to university, the old system where the taxpayer fronted the cost in the hope of getting more tax revenue in the future from the higher earnings became unaffordable. Even if everything else were the same, it would cost five times higher proportionally [ref]I am making the handwaving assumption that the increase in population is roughly tracked by the increase in taxpayers[/ref] to take 50% of school leavers through university than 10% was in the 1970s.

When you flood a market with five times the product, you also devalue it. When I started work, having a degree was a serviceable proxy to indicate I was in the upper 10% of academic ability, and for jobs that suit that sort of thing (engineering, science, research, for me) that was relevant. When nearly 50% of people go to university a degree tells you roughly they are of average brightness or above. Knowing someone is average or more is useful, but probably not something you’d pay £60k for over a working life.

There appears to be no control of numbers going to university in the UK, it’s all about the money, which is a shocking abdication of political will IMO. Contrast this with the situation in Germany where numbers are controlled in some cases. Yes, it goes against the free-market-money-is-all mantra, but it’s also a damn sight cheaper to go to university in Germany. In fact it seems a damn sight cheaper to go to university just about anywhere in the EU other than England and Wales. Shame this option is probably only good for the next couple of years for British wannabe graduates, who are SOL afterwards[ref]It wasn’t me wot did it despite being an old git, I was a Remainer[/ref] 😦

The fundamental problem with university in the UK is the product is getting astronomically expensive at the same time as it is being devalued. University has become an unaffordable luxury. Unlike Germany Britain is also not particularly improving the non-university options, much noise is made of apprenticeships but it is often simply a mask for cheap unskilled labour. The trends in the world of work are running away from unskilled labour. An apprenticeship where the apprentice learns something about a craft is good, but is only good if the craft is likely to remain one done by people in the future at decent rates of pay.


In Britain we used to build social housing but we sold that off to the then council tenants to buy votes. I seem to recall Thatcher expressly forbade allowing councils to use right-to-buy revenues to build more housing. As a result less than a fifth of social housing flogged off cheaply is replaced, I am surprised it’s that high. We used to have credit controls up until 1980-ish but removed those, because the free market always delivers the correct solution, even when it is banks incentivised to lend money to people who have no capital but need to buy an essential good. So we have high house prices and richer banks. It’s not just the banks, anybody with capital, from banks to people who buy up houses and then rent them out to people without any capital at exorbitant rates and no real duty of care to make the joint habitable. So we now have high house prices, richer banks and richer BTL investors. Well, at least somebody is winning I suppose…

As an example of just how out of touch the government is on this, Gavin Barwell, the Housing Minister, no less, delivers himself of the Marie Antoinette-esque recommendation that people should leave their housing equity to their grandchildren, FFS. That is so deeply fucked up it’s not even wrong. We’ve seen this movie before. When you go and see National Trust stately homes

concentrating inherited wealth led us to stately homes and a tiny part of the population owning nearly everything
concentrating inherited wealth led us to stately homes and a tiny part of the population owning nearly everything

you are looking at what happens in a world where inherited wealth accumulates across the generations, combined with a world where the return on labour was very poor. It took a couple of world wars and a lot of technological progress to break that up. Even then, the aristocracy, sharp blighters that they are, simply requested an inheritance tax exemption on agricultural land, got it, and this is why most of Britain by area  is still in the hands of a few hundred family estates who were gifted the land by William the Conk more than a thousand years ago. Obviously they don’t drive the tractors themselves – they get contract and tenant farmers to do the dirty work, kill our birds, pollute the drinking water, flood our towns and cities and then claim subsidies for the activity for shits and giggles  because they can.

What should happen IMO is a total escheat of all property on death[ref]I’d generalise that further but the great thing about land is you can’t hide it in overseas tax havens[/ref]. Those damn grandchildren didn’t work for it, and if they aren’t to get their throats cut by the massed and desperate hordes of people who weren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouths in the accommodation dystopia being created, then the current trajectory of ever-increasing housing costs needs to be shifted. I was able to save enough money through my working life to buy a house from a standing start. That’s getting harder and harder to do as more and more funny money chases property, but no, Gavin and George Osborne, more inherited housing wealth is part of the problem, not the answer. Unless you are actually going to go out and kill all the poor people who are dirtying up your nice world.

The world of work is changing

The accelerating trends in automation and globalisation, are part of a general shift of power from labour to capital that has been going on for the last 20 years. In a double whammy for poorer First World residents, globalisation is amplifying the shift of low-skilled jobs that can be moved to cheaper labour forces. While this is undoubtedly good for business and capital, if you were part of that unskilled labour force in the UK you get so see your jobs go. The last 20 years have seen a tremendous fall in poverty and inequality, but that’s worldwide. Let’s hear it from Tim Worstall – right-wing nutjob and apologist for unfettered free-marketology sans compassion for poor saps less clever than he is, riffing off this paper written by Ayn Rand Chari and Penlan. Take it away, Tim:

According to a World Bank Study, in the three decades between 1981 and 2010, the rate of extreme poverty in the developing world (subsisting on less than $1.25 per day) has gone down from more than one out of every two citizens to roughly one out of every five, all while the population of the developing world increased by 59 percent.8 This reduction in extreme poverty represents the single greatest decrease in material human deprivation in history.

That’s a pretty good outcome from an economic policy and it’s why I support the process of globalization quite as much as I do. Absolute poverty, that peasant destitution, is something I regard as an abhorrence. Killing it off through economic growth I thus regard as not just desirable but a moral duty.

OK, but there’s a problem with this, as the paper points out. For some policies will be good for one set of poor people, those absolutely poor out in the Great Big World, yet bad for another set of the poor, those who are the poor in the already rich societies. And this globalization and free trade mixture is exactly one of those policies that has this effect. Rising inequality in the rich nations is a logical result of adding those couple of billion low wage workers to the global economy. We could predict it would happen, theory tells us it should happen and it has happened: no one should be surprised about that.

I’ve made clear around here a number of times that I both understand this point and also think that it’s a perfectly fair price to be paying. Yes, of course, that’s easy enough for me to say as I’ve not got to pay it. […] But that the relatively lowly paid in the rich countries stand still for a bit while the absolutely poor of the world climb the economic ladder to the joys of three squares a day, yes, I think that a price well worth us all paying.

Delightfully technocratic, Tim, and for all I know you’re right, it is indeed tough to fault the logic from a strictly rational/intellectual POV, the reason I can be sanguine about it is that while not as rich as Tim I am still on the right side of that inequality divide. You’re a clever cookie, Tim, the the sleight of hand is that price well worth us all paying. Seems a bit rough that it is just the poor who get to pay the price, Tim, might have been a bit more helpful if you’d like to chip in and  help out. As it is you only have to weep crocodile tears and wring your hands, because that’s conveniently precluded by the Ayn Randian logic. The UK poor aren’t standing still, they are going backwards – unskilled jobs are shit and getting shittier, for the simple reason that the value of unskilled work is falling. The second part of Tim’s article is a load of rationalising about why you can’t do ‘owt about that because if you redistribute towards your locally poor you shaft the globally poor- to wit

It’s entirely possible that we could have some policy or other that makes our own, rich world , poor better off. But which at the same time makes the absolutely poor of the world worse off. And if we did have such a policy, and we were also concerned about the poor, then we shouldn’t have that policy. Even though it benefits our poor they’re not in fact all of the poor. And given where our poor are in the global income distribution then they’re almost certainly not the poor that we should be worrying about.

He uses the specific examples of agricultural subsidies[ref]Agricultural subsides subsidise the rich landowners in the UK, I don’t know enough about the US situation to know if it’s different, though I’d say CAFOs, and subsidised high-fructose corn syrup are indicative of a different sort of pathology than consumers sponsoring the aristocracy[/ref] in the US to show how this works, and the EU has its own version of this. [ref]One of the tragedies of Brexit is that a big potential win from it, canning agricultural subsides, was nixed early on[/ref] I can’t fault his logic, but I would pay money to watch him try and develop that line of thinking with some of the people in the UK who have been at the losing end on globalisation. A government isn’t voted in by the people of the world, but by the people of a specific area. The Brexit vote was an example of regional pushback. Trump is another. Poor people find it deeply offensive when rich people tell them their standard of living has to fall to help some bunch of poorer people elsewhere while the rich swan off and don’t take any hit themselves.

This process of requiring more skills is drifting up towards what used to be known as middle class jobs, because it’s now automation that is coming for some of those jobs. When I considered learning something about accounting to become more competent and doing the books for a business, I came to the conclusion, supported widely in the comments, that it wouldn’t make sense to invest in training for something that is likely to disappear or be outsourceable. This is a microcosm of the wider ‘should I invest in university problem’, which is part of the topic of Poppy Noor’s little rant here, though I do think she needs a dose of  ‘if you want to live free, your utopia is irrelevant‘ to get her to be effective about changing her lot in life rather than be right about how it isn’t right.

Being right about how things aren’t right makes for a deep and satisfying rant, but the chat with Andy on Haytor left me wondering how a 25 year younger Ermine would tackle the changed world. It would need to be different from the way that served me okay.



46 thoughts on “to live different you must do different”

  1. Work/study/life is going to be a minefield for the generation who have to make a choice now as to the gamble they make on their future careers. [I’m referring to 1st world countries] They are unique in recent history in having a perfect storm of bad luck: 1- screwed out of a decent start in life by their kleptocratic govts having squandered their nations’ financial reputations by passing on private institutional debt from the crash mainly to non-voters, 2- coming into the job market during an era of unprecedented changes in technology whereby even the time taken to do any qualification of respect sees that knowledge rendered obsolete, 3- corporate capture of the most profitable areas of the planet, so that multinational companies can have more power than govts. & simply play populations against each other, resulting in a race to the bottom for quality of life …..literally the hunger games.

    This means the young have to make a cruel gamble on what option to go for and often have only one shot to get it right, all the while being blamed for their failings by those who kicked the ladder away. I can’t see how this will change, with the establishments so firmly entrenched and most people still oblivious to the reality, they’ll continue trudging back to serfdom.

    For those who can see and are capable of thinking for themselves, it’s a case of evolution on fast-forward to survive. I have a younger sibling at the top of her game and watching her career is like seeing a nature documentary about survival in a harsh environment. Choose some profession that’s relatively robot-proof for competition [an area of IT] work for powerful corporations but at arms length to avoid losing limbs to psychopaths in political collateral damage, [contractor/consultant/freelance] take laser pinpointed courses in the cutting edge new things these companies are fawning over at the time, even if that requires flying to another country & paying X £1000s for the accreditation … long as it bumps up salary a grade as well as stretching employability a few years into the future & putting you ahead of the chasing pack. The soulessness of it all makes FI more relevant than ever in that even if you can be one of these competitive high-earners, you have to build up that parachute [fund] so you can bale before you crack & burn out. Welcome to the 21st century…..


    1. “Choose some profession that’s relatively robot-proof for competition [an area of IT]”

      Hi, I don’t know why you’d think an area of IT is likely to be robo-proof (assuming we can use “robot” as a proxy for AI as well as robots).

      AI will be better at programming then us anytime we get to truly threatening robots, IMHO. I’d suggest becoming something like a landscape gardener or a PR person. 🙂


      1. From my own perspective I reckon you may well be right. Of your two suggestions I’d definitely go the former, but then I like to be outside these days 🙂


      2. @TI, I suppose that’s the $64 ****** [insert amount calculated to assure your FI] question really – what skills will remain safe? I only mentioned IT for 2 reasons, it was what the person in the example does & it seems to be what most of my circle who’re ‘doing OK’ seems to be in.

        The New Britons of the coming Brave New World are going to be poorer sooner than they think, so landscape gardening may come to be seen as a luxury…..

        I’d go with the professional bullsh*ters, [PR/marketing/spin doctors] on the basis that if humans can’t figure themselves out, surely robots have no chance…..


  2. “If you are going to do different then spending less is going to make you look poor to your peer group. And most people just hate that feeling.”
    Yep. I think the peer group is key here. There are studies written on how different socioeconomic groups allocate their spending money. Apparently less wealthy people tend to spend a higher percentage of their discretionary income on things that make them look rich, or what they consider such, to they outside world. Things like cars, jewellery, clothes, wearable gadgets. Rich people tend to spend more on hobbies and houses — stuff that they, their family and their friends enjoy exclusively. I find this rather interesting, especially since a lot of the mainstream advertising appears to be focused on the former.
    I hear what you’re saying about a uni degree having lost a lot of its value due to oversupply of graduates. Perhaps I’m biased, but I still think that education for its own sake is worthwhile. Learning is not all about future earning power. And employers still differentiate between graduates. Now it’s not so much about whether you have a degree vs no degree, it’s more about where you get your degree from. My workplace uses summer work placement as a recruitment tool, as do many other financial firms in the City. Last year one of department heads was asked how many summer interns he could accommodate in his area. He said to the HR he could take four, but unless they were Imperial, Oxbridge or Kings he wasn’t interested. That made me take a look around, and really, it looks like somehow I and a very few other people have managed to slip through the net 😉 There aren’t many of us, so I’m guessing the guy must’ve been off sick on the day when they hired us.


    1. I’d never realised this difference in spending pattern, those studies sound interesting!

      I’d agree that education for its own sake has value, but perhaps a broader education at school age is what’s needed. The cost of university is very high now – I’m not sure many people will get a decent return on investment, although the cost is somewhat capped by the percentage of salary above a threshold repayment mechanism.

      That CIPD report indicating the massive graduatisation of jobs that didn’t need graduate qualifications before is rough – more people are getting into debt for no good reason other than they have to compete.


  3. I spent some of my discretionary income today – very conspicuously I might add.
    My youngest granddaughter is enrolled in a local preschool where my daughter is the unpaid volunteer president. The place lives hand to mouth.
    The preschool office had an old Microsoft Vista desktop that crashed continuously. I provided another old Dell Optiplex desktop but this one runs a stable version of Linux Mint. It solved the crash problem but try as I might I could not get an ancient HP all-in-one Laserjet to scan properly in Linux. Printed fine but scanner would not connect – I/O error.The office lady said it never had worked under Windows – hardware defective I think.
    So I went to the local office supply, bought a new HP all-in-one inkjet, cable and cartridges and donated it to the preschool. A bit of geeking it up in Linux to get a bleeding edge printer working with a trailing edge desktop and the problem was solved. They are happy; I’m a bit out of pocket but I think I did the right thing.


    1. This is one of the joys of FI isn’t it – there are many operations of great value but which run on a shoestring. Having skill means you can make a little go a long way in the right places. It’s always a good day if something started a SNAFU and ended up working better for a the right nudge in the right direction at the right time 😉


      1. Quite agree – it becomes more about that sense of achievement with little more than the investment of your own free time (and maybe the odd quid or two spent wisely). These days I find my biggest “sense of achievement” is more with natural things like propagating plants, really long walks/climbing mountains or DIY in an area I have to research fully beforehand, and less from anything high tech. I don’t know how much of that is “my age” and how much is everything is just plain over-complicated these days.

        Side note, Ray: I too seem to remember difficulty getting Linux to work with HP AIO scanning though this was a while ago – it’s probably an area that’s been sorted since. I do remember Vista being useless with printers and went back to XP for my very limited Windows needs.


      2. @Mike I find that normally HP is the best for Linux as they provide an excellent driver system (HPLIP) that usually just works. In the case of the LaserJet AIO the printer was fine so I don’t think it was a software problem. I did have trouble with the new ENVY AIO because the driver package in Linux Mint 17.3 was obsolete and didn’t support it. However a manual install of an updated HPLIP saved the day.


      3. Yes, I know about HPLIP. Printer recognition with Linux never seemed to be a problem as far as I can remember – it was the scanning part of the AIO that was. I need to go through all that again soon as I should be upgrading to a later release soon.

        I actually built a complete replica of my network in VirtualBox to allow me to fully test a complete network installation (both Linux and Windows systems) before committing to reformatting hard disks and “going for it”. It allowed me to find various niggles without falling over them on a “live” system 🙂


  4. You slate “Tim” as a cheerleader for Ayn Rand and globalisation, but isn’t it basically fair that someone’s economic opportunities should be less tied to where they were born?

    25 years of opening up the world economy has achieved this


    1. Agreed from a Hobbesian intellectual POV, but it’s also not fair that Tim paints himself out of needing to pay the cost but nominates others less well off than him to take the sucker punch. Then follows up with a very good reason why he couldn’t help them even if he wanted to because it would stiff the greater good.


      1. Eh? it was the 50% target for university I slated, which means we have to charge people up front. 10% university entrants were supported by the taxpayers of a much poorer Britain. I know, because I was there in ’79. I’d never had gone to university under the current system.

        I’d imagine future Tims would pay up front, which is the rational thing to do if you expect to be top of the game and earning a decent screw

        Still doesn’t address the issue that Tim is volunteering others to pay the price for his utopia, while making the case that any redistribution from his ilk is not allowed because it disincentivies the talented to educate the globalised poorest. His intellectual argument is consistent given the premises he’s outlined, but it’s still going to earn him a knuckle sandwich on the street if he puts that line to the local losers of globalisation. It’s that sort of intellectual pretentiousness that got us Brexit and I for one don’t want any more of that sort of thing. At least Tim is telling us that a hard Brexit won’t be so bad. Probably not, if you have a shitload of money 😉


  5. As a long-time lurker just wanted to first say well done for a fantastic blog. Many FI/PF blogs focus on how effective reducing consumption/frugality can be but I tend to think that the financial cost of hedging the three factors you’ve identified completely swamp those ideas.

    I would somewhat disagree with the idea that uni is an unaffordable luxury. Going to one of a select set of unis is becoming an absolute necessity. We’ve moving rapidly into a post-scarcity era for human labour which is driving a bifurcation in income levels. Labour is essentially becoming either obsolete or commoditized; with only a few individuals being highly valued. To be one of those highly valued individuals may still require a degree from an elite university. At a personal level, doing a PhD in a ivory tower subject like quantum field theory was a great period in my life. It was also, however, a technique for someone who came from a working class family, who went to a comprehensive, to get a front-office job in an investment bank, and hence earn 6 (and later occasional 7) figure compensation.

    In a globalized world, I suspect we’re heading toward a very small set of top-tier unis. In the UK, this means probably 5 unis (Oxbridge + some London) will be worth the money. I note that most London private schools are preparing their pupils for entrance to US unis like Harvard, MIT etc. I predict fees for top UK unis will converge with Harvard, so I’m ring-fencing £500k for my two children (it’s just gone up £100k …thanks Brexit). Add that to private school fees (well you need to guarantee to get them into the unis …), ends up being £1mm. On top of this they need an inheritance. Scratch the surface and the UK is still a feudal state based on the inheritance of land/property. So add another £1-£2mm to buy both of them a luxury flat (a.k.a dingy rabbit hutch) in London. Sorry but being frugal by reducing my consumption of lattes just isn’t going to make a dent.

    Is this all utter madness? Completely. Given my occupation, I should be neo-liberal right-wing nut job but I’m pretty sick of being engaged in a financial arms race with other parents (plus I strongly suspect I’m losing). I’m increasingly in favour of LVTs, 100% IHT, the outlawing of trusts and the banning of private schools! Anything to level the playing field. Without this I could have retired years ago!


    1. I really should have done better with that university point, reservations on yours and HS accepted 😉 I suspect the fundamentals support the odd 10% going to university, and if we could have exams that tested actual ability rather than some unknown conflation of coaching + ability we could support these guys with grants at the bottom end.

      I like the pithy summary that “Labour is essentially becoming either obsolete or commoditized; with only a few individuals being highly valued”

      We don’t seem to be looking for any political solutions to that problem – at the moment we are letting the market decide, and the market is eating an increasing proportion of the workforce.

      The economy isn’t a force of Nature, it is a human construct. I have no idea of what the solution would be, but I’d like to feel that someone was looking for one, because it could be heaven – after all the process of life needs less huamn work, or it could be some dystopian hell, with a bunch of people in Galt’s Gulch in a running battle with the massed hordes of the dispossessed, and I’d say that like Stanley Baldwin’s bombers, the hordes would eventually get through.

      The route to FI taken by high-income individuals will always follow the path of other high-talent occupations which is a more classic FI/RE. I think this is because of the fundamentals – you’re only at the very peak of the game for a short while, and these are all-encompassing jobs where very slight differences matter. Logic points to focus on the earnings, but to be aware of the limited duration of the intense burn 😉


    2. @Gravytron – If ever there was a post demonstrating money (and brains) doesn’t bring you happiness then you’ve penned it. It would seem it simply brings you a more expensive set of problems to solve.


  6. Some of the quips in the film “Crazy People” kind of sum up advertising for me (“…we know what you want – THIS is for THAT…”, etc – cheers Dudley ;-)), but then I was anything but the stereotypical IT contractor during my time.

    I remember working in one firm’s IT department along with a couple of other guys who’d only recently started contracting. It sounded horribly like one of them was going to struggle to pay that quarter’s VAT having just been into a Porsche dealership with too much dosh, no restraint and (almost certainly worse) no thought about ongoing “costs of ownership” ! There comes a point (usually with a cold shudder up the spine) where you don’t want to hear any more because you know big trouble’s not far away.

    All I could think about was “enjoy it while it lasts, because it never does” (just occurred to me someone says that in “Wall Street”, don’t they ?). From day one, I saw contract work as something either I was going to tire of eventually (living out of a suitcase all week hundreds of miles from home), or it was going to tire of me (changing technologies and skill sets), probably rather sooner than I’d like. The impermanence of it all said to me “save for a rainy day because sooner or later it’s going to do so (and some probably)”. This was long before the near-biblical deluge of 2008 and the aftermath we’re perhaps still coming to terms with even now…

    I read Survivor’s last paragraph with particular interest – I’d been through most of that by the time I’d had enough and could quit on my own terms, thank God ! This was well over a decade ago too.

    Those few quick thinking, smart individuals who make it in today’s environment are going to have to think, react and run faster to stay ahead. As city traders in the ’80s knew, there’s only so long you can cope with that intensity of work before you have to get out. That’s bad enough but, picking up on Ermine’s sadness about not having “an answer”, I worry about the vast majority for whom the opportunities simply aren’t going to be available for the taking in the first place, whether from relentless automation or whatever.

    I agree that the much larger numbers going to university have simply raised the bar, so (as hosimpson alludes to) employers effectively become more picky about WHERE you went to university, not merely that you did so. In my day, a decent degree in something useful (engineering, computing, etc) was a damned good start on the CV and would get you a number of serious interviews. Ugh, enough…

    Returning to a bit of fun with advertising: “The trouble with having an open mind is other people keep putting things in it” Yep, I run AdBlock Plus too. I buy stuff when I NEED it (and have determined the right model/spec/price, etc) not when someone else says it’s new/fashionable/groovy/whatever and I “ought to have it”. I still have a brain and it’s the one bit of me that never gets washed thanks very much…

    After that smartphone/battery business the other day, I CERTAINLY have no “need” for a Galaxy Note 7 or whatever it is.


    1. Contracting cashflow sounds like a tough one for people to crack when they start off.

      As for smartphones, the jack of all trades and master of none story was supported last week – I thought I would try Viewranger and GPS on my smartphone to find some prehistoric stones on Dartmoor. Just as well I had a paper map, as unlike every other GPS, smartphone GPS is effectively doing a cold start if there’s no network coverage to do the assisted GPS. Viewranger had synchronized to the satellites about halfway through the walk back 😉 I did discover since that this is totally solvable using an external Bluetooth GPS to feed into the phone. Then it comes down to the second problem which is the screen is hardly visible outdoors.

      I guess if I needed a Samsung campfire I would have been all set…


      1. The number of times I’ve come across someone on top of one of the Lake District fells, not sure where they are, and trying to resolve it via a small unreadable screen on some electronic gadget or other. They often seem amazed that I can pinpoint (on my paper map mind) where we are and probably a good half dozen summits in surrounding views.

        I’ll stick to a copy of Wainwright’s Pictorial Guide (still amazingly accurate in most cases despite being 50+ years old) for that area and/or a decent O/S map, and an old Nokia 3110 if I need to contact someone. It’s been enough for two full circuits of all 214 fells over the last eight years.

        “Samsung campfire” … bloody hell, that’s expensive 😉

        Thinking about it, the Nokia only needs recharging about once a week or so and gets pretty good reception in places smartphones seem to have trouble. I need reliable comms (for a subsequent pick up in another valley or, God forbid – never happened yet, an emergency) not flash gadgets up there.


      2. For similar reasons to you I went for a cheap dual-SIM plastic Nokia for walking on the grounds the RF and battery life performance was better and dual networks gave me more chance of a connection.

        Dartmoor was an odd navigational challenge – the convexity of the terrain meant that the distant horizon was easily lost. I was a right berk and managed to leave my compass at home, though I had the handheld GPS compass and one in a watch. Neither can really hold a candle to a good basic compass. And the map was a right pain to wrangle in the wind. I confess to being tempted by consumerism in the form of a Garmin GPSMap64 with OS mapping. but for the moment a bluetooth GPS + viewranger does the same sort of thing. Good at what they do but only really good at the small scale of locating a site once you’re within a few hundred metres – a paper map gives you so much more in one go and scores for general wayfinding IMO.


      3. With Lakeland being the 3D shape it is I usually have to be a bit careful about updating my “ground crew” (aka non-walking friend or relative with “the wheels” :-)) just before leaving the last summit/ridge to drop down to the valley and a pickup point. It usually means sending a quick text with the intended location and waiting for a “got it” text back again before leaving high ground, just to be sure we’re (probably literally) “still on the same page”. Seems sensible since I’ve been known to start off in one valley, climb up and over/along two others and drop down to a third !

        I’ve found these days I can dispense with my old relatively heavy rucksack and just fit all I require in a good weatherproof jacket. It’s got enough pockets for lunch box, water bottle, map/wainwright, mobile phone, spare laces (never needed so far) and compass (once forgot it but almost never need it anyway). Over eight years of fairly regular walking all over the place I’ve found, besides a pair of near all-season Paramo trousers and dependable waterproof German-made boots, I’ve never yet found a real need for anything outside that list.

        It’s quite refreshing to map out and complete 15-16 miles with 5-6000 feet of ascent over that terrain often in changing conditions, and not have any money (it’s one of the few places you can go where it serves absolutely no purpose :-)) or keys (ditto) with me – just me and a single objective for the day (and, acknowledging old Wainwright, take time to marvel at the views once in a while) !

        For me, there’s also a strange mystical feel to examining an O/S map of the area too which I don’t think I’d get from peering into a screen. It’s a feeling of the history of the place in the lines of the contours, I don’t know, something about old fashioned paper which is lost in a high tech version. I can’t explain it but I can feel it somehow, it’s odd.

        I need to thank the likes of Richard Askwith and his excellent book “Feet in the Clouds”. Now he’s a fell runner (definitely a minority sport if ever there was one) and I’m a mere fell walker but I’m sure there’s a shared sense of freedom, escapism, whatever in being in “splendid isolation” up there for a few hours (or maybe days in his case depending on the event). Certainly the last thing you’re thinking about is consumerism or the state of the economy !


      4. Contracting cashflow when starting off, hmm. Well, I started small slow and, initially a little bit “am I doing the right thing here ?” nervous about it. I was semi-forced into it in a way…

        At the time, I was a permanent employee in a small but innovative software house. Through the grapevine, our MD became aware of a firm that was doing an IT project in-house but had found it needed a developer with strong Informix skills quite urgently, skills I had and were certainly “current”. So, a deal was struck (rather above my head of course) and I was placed on site with them. I never did find out what I was being charged out at.

        I remember coming back to the office on a Friday evening to submit expenses claims and catch up with the guys. It turned out we were about to get taken over by another much larger software house. Each week, I’d return to discover yet another colleague had felt the imminent winds of change whistling through and decided they didn’t want to be a part of what was coming. We had a small, “everyone gets on and works well together” setup and saw that likely to disappear fast.

        So, inevitably, “I approached the management” 🙂 I wanted to leave too but didn’t want to drop anyone in it because my Informix contract work was far from complete, and it was their contract not mine at that point. After a bit of horse-trading, I was released to go strike my own deal with them and everyone was happy. As a result I got a relatively gentle introduction to contract work. In hindsight, I think the other parties involved in the discussions felt they’d dropped themselves straight in a balls, hearts and minds situation but I was too young and fair minded to go exploiting that to the extent many might have 🙂 Besides, you never know when you might need a bit of goodwill returned in future…

        I remember much older colleagues being very skeptical, telling me contract work was risky, I didn’t have enough experience, etc. I do remember wondering if they had a point with all that, but considering a few years later there were kids going contract straight from university, Jeez, I was a seasoned pro by comparison !

        I didn’t make any immediate changes to the way I had been operating. As a permanent employee I wasn’t being that well paid (small firm trade-off to some degree). Basically, I continued pretty much the same way I had been (unlike “Mr Porsche”, see my other comments), as if the increase in income hadn’t happened. It rapidly gives you some breathing space in case of gaps between contracts. Believe me, they’ll happen eventually, even to the best: I remember the months spent waiting for phone calls back during the 2000-01 recession, then 9/11 happened…

        There’s nothing worse than having time off when you’re not comfortable (financially or otherwise) about having to take it. From day one, I resolved never to land myself in that situation if at all possible, and that means (to me) being very careful about expenditure. As a contractor, I never found I had to spend a lot on anything anyway – it’s not like a conventional business that has high fixed outgoings, plant maintenance costs, etc. There’s really none of that. It’s learning to become disciplined in relation to the potentially lumpy nature of the income.

        At the time of 9/11, I knew another older IT colleague who was considering going back to a permanent job for a couple of reasons. One (I think) was for some stability and pension considerations in the last few years upto retirement. Another was that he had specialist experience in the airline industry which a major cargo delivery firm wanted/needed. Everything was just about ready to sign, then 9/11 happened and literally overnight the entire project was put on hold, things got shelved, funding withdrawn, the lot ! I think it was a full six months before the situation got sorted out.


  7. @Mike – I suspect nobody is really winning under the status quo, I have an insight in this particular case because my sibling is honest about her true feelings with me – which is that it’s an exhausting existence & while she’s someone most would envy for being at the top [status] of what is worshiped in current society ……day-to-day life is as anxious & uneasy as for anyone else on the street. I wouldn’t have believed this if I didn’t have a personal connection, I always thought that those quips that the rich are not always happy was horsesh*t for the rest of us so we wouldn’t riot against their rule.

    Looking back at my corporate days, the big egos comprising the top of the food chain didn’t look that happy either despite their 6-figure salaries for sometimes turning up & breathing. [lifestyle inflation equalised things out ironically] So it’s ironic [in a sad way] that the sustainability of our world seems to be being burned so cheaply that even the 1% aren’t fully enjoying the experience. The difference being that they have any real choice…..

    I’m guessing that the university option is splintering into 3 types, those who go to elite institutions for whom the past gains still hold true. [worth the money because you’ll be sorted out for life] Then a similarly tiny niche of those who can afford to do it as a luxury to learn more on what they love …..& finally the majority who haven’t yet realised they’re wasting their time, energy & money sabotaging their lives before they’ve even begun because they swallowed the brainwashing whole.


    1. It’s the hammering of the majority that’s becoming a tragicomedy. £60,000 is two thirds, in real terms, of the largest amount of money that I have ever borrowed in my entire life. Even now where I have assets considerably more, I would find it very hard to borrow that amount of money for what has become a very speculative venture. That we are asking people at the very beginning of their adult lives to make these judgement calls seems harsh, and much harsher in my view than telling 80% of the wannabe graduates “Sorry, you just aren’t bright enough”. At least then they could go get on with the rest of their lives, preferably entering some of those occupations identified by the CIPD that didn’t historically require academic qualifications.

      Although I don’t always agree with him, you might like George Monbiot today 😉


      1. Re the George Monbiot article: pretty scary stuff and I can’t say I’m that surprised if what you said in earlier articles about older colleagues in the office were anything to go by either (essentially “give the job up before IT gives YOU up !”)

        What with various scam phone calls, emails, etc it also wouldn’t surprise me to find people are becoming less communicative with strangers than they used to be. Hell, a lot of people are barely aware who they’ve got as next door neighbours these days ! Sad really.


    2. I suspect you’re right about nobody winning. Even the guy at the very top of the pyramid has to worry about the challengers immediately below. That’s going to be stressful particularly when there’s several of them and only one of you ! They refer to “creative destruction” in free market economic circles, don’t they ? I know what they mean but it’s a term that makes my teeth itch.

      Your sibling has my sympathies – I can only get any idea if I try to imagine doing now what I used to do years ago – not easy given the way I feel about “risk management”, “must have someone in the frame if this all goes pear-shaped”, etc these days.

      I used to sell myself as an IT consultant. However, convention had it that such people settled for doing a lot of listening to the client’s employees, thinking, then writing a huge tome with their recommendations in and handing it with great ceremony to the client (along with a large bill in a rather more out-of-sight fashion). It was abundantly clear to me that said consultant never wanted anything whatsoever to do with actually implementing any of this, not least because they only ever seemed to have a “block diagram” understanding of how it was all going to work.

      “sometimes turning up & breathing” – yeah, I saw more than enough of the type in my time too. I guess my “roll sleeves up and get it working” attitude was always at odds with them.

      In my much younger, naiver/more confident “I have the skills, I can get this done, trust me !” days I went the extra mile by suggesting I was the one to implement my own document’s recommendations. Since I arrived at “consultant” from a well ground technical base, I was comfortable with that and I think it fair to say this went down pretty well and thankfully generated decent amounts of follow-on work. I guess I’d be regarded as a Jack of all Trades now but it wasn’t a problem then. I can’t say I didn’t have a few sleepless nights along the way, but compared with the contents of Richard Noble’s book “Thrust” which I’m currently enjoying reading, nothing remotely serious.

      I guess all that fits in my “they were good days back then – it’s all different now” view of things. The problem is I still have a mindset attuned to how things were when I packed up and walked out the door for the last time. It’s not a fair comparison and I know that, unfortunately. Talking to my father about his career, it’s the same: “I’m glad I packed it in when I did” sort of thing. Yet, whilst each generation has no doubt had tough times, this time it does feel a bit different. I’m not the best person to comment further since I’m no longer a part of the working environment to experience it all first hand. I watched the recent “Dispatches: Britain’s Wealth Gap” and it does feel like there’s a serious danger of an inter-generational divide coming if we’re not careful.

      I read Oliver James book “Affluenza” quite a while back. I vaguely remember an observation along the lines of the increasing stress and anxiety of the modern world works to the advantage of the major corporations because it allows them to pick and choose amongst a multitude of (increasingly) desperate candidates. I can’t help thinking this isn’t actually a healthy situation for EITHER side of the deal in the long run.

      The whole “50% university” target further boosts that, especially when graduates are starting out with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt (obligations to others).

      Thinking back to the fuel protest that took place around 2000, I was working a good 250 miles from home at the time and was fortunate it didn’t leave me stranded at the wrong end of the country. As it happened it didn’t actually cause me a problem because I think it began and ended during the same week I was on site. I remember debating with someone about why that failed. Of course it failed ! Everyone was full of enthusiasm, “up for it”, “something must be done”, etc… right up to the point when someone pointed out the crucial bit of small print in the terms and conditions in everyones mortgages. So they packed it in and went back to work. Yeah, what was that about “when you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow” ? Quite, checkmate.

      In some ways, you could say that the ridiculous boom in property prices in this country has only enabled us to shoot ourselves in the foot in that respect – it’s essentially become a financial set of handcuffs hasn’t it ? I’m still amazed by the dumbness of some people I make the mistake of talking to on the subject of property. Ermine’s right about low interest rates and low inflation being a problem with regard to paying off a mortgage, yet people still think it’s “affordable” because the monthly payments are “affordable”. I wonder how many have pushed the boat out still further by buying something more expensive as a result of this pleasantly unexpected “affordability” (this feels horribly like a bigger version of that guy and his Porsche in my earlier comment). Complete aside here, but on the subject of modern cars and their “affordability”, I know of a guy who had to have a new headlamp unit and it cost well over a grand apparently because it came with all the electronic driver circuitry too ! We’re not talking exotica here, just a sportier, tweaked version of the manufacturer’s regular model. Four figures for a bloody headlamp ! Is it me or is that just insane ?! Sorry for the distraction…

      I suspect it’s related to the whole high income versus retained wealth misunderstanding that seems to happen when we get another of those “can’t make ends meet on two hundred grand” stories. I really should learn to stop reading those damned things – I’m not gleaning anything from them any more other than stupidity seems to have no bounds.

      “Lifestyle inflation”, hmm. That sounds to me like the new improved version of constant danger of being the wrong side of the “Micawber” rule, and ending up with sod all to show for all your hard work, or just buying too much consumer crap. Maybe I’m not conventional in that respect. I accept most people probably do feel peer group pressure, etc. I don’t. I couldn’t care less about “keeping up with the Jones”, etc (especially if it means spending astounding amounts of money on whatever hideously unattractive lumps the motor manufacturers are selling these days – there’s not many cars produced in the last decade or so I’d want to own even if money wasn’t a consideration).

      I’m a little wary of the “sorted out for life” bit – I can remember people saying things like “computing, eh ? you’ll be sorted for life then !” These were usually just well-meaning friends and relatives, but even better placed observers didn’t see it turning out the way it did. I did well enough but it certainly didn’t see me to anywhere near “normal” retirement age. The thing that saved me was not squandering money whilst I was earning well. That, and learning to read the wind direction when firms seriously started farming stuff out to Eastern Europe, India, etc or paying a fraction of the rates for kids with plenty of knowledge of the latest whiz-bang software packages, but no real-world experience of using them.

      Universities will no doubt “sell” whatever is considered to be in demand at that moment. What makes anyone think they’re experts on what’ll be in demand over the next 40-50 years (assuming that’s still a reasonable expectation for a working lifetime) ? Given the rate of change taking place these days, I’m beginning to wonder if some of my short-term contracts of old will look like long-lasting “permanent” assignments to some people in future. I can’t recall doing one of less than six months and my three longest together spanned an entire decade !


      1. > “can’t make ends meet on two hundred grand” stories. I really should learn to stop reading those damned things – I’m not gleaning anything from them any more other than stupidity seems to have no bounds.

        It’s a bit of a larf, though? Specially when you can take apart some dude who’s being nuked by the precious cost of private schooling.

        Part of the trouble with education now is that it’s become much more curriculum – targeted, whereas to match to a changing world across 40 or 50 years you need to teach people how to learn. I went to university 35 years ago, when Google wasn’t heard of, but what they taught me at Imperial still meant Google worked better for me than for some others in The Firm.

        > I wonder how many have pushed the boat out still further by buying something more expensive as a result of this pleasantly unexpected “affordability” (this feels horribly like a bigger version of that guy and his Porsche in my earlier comment).

        That’s going to be a big and nasty bang at some point, a debt jubilee of stupendous size. Wonder if it will be before people find out they haven’t paid off their mortgages by retirement in 30 years time. The trends aren’t good – my Dad paid off his mortgage in his 40s, it took me to my 50s…


      2. > “It’s a bit of a larf, though?”

        I suppose you’re right but we all find things funny or irritating depending on our mood that day. I mostly read these stories with a disbelieving sense of “can these people really be that stupid ?” or “some people just never know when they’re already better off than most of the world’s population – just never able to figure out ‘how much is enough’, huh ? Well that’s gonna end badly !” Maybe I ought to post the next one my copy of Oliver James’ book “Affluenza”. Hopefully they might get something out of reading it.

        We all have to learn there are some things we just can’t have in life – tough but no less true. Perhaps it helps that I don’t suffer from “peer group pressure” (not sure I’ve ever done really) but I don’t feel I “have a right to” anything more than the usual: shelter, warmth, enough to eat, and maybe (assuming the current dispute doesn’t end up destroying it) access to a half decent health service that’s no doubt seen a lot of my taxes over the years.

        I certainly agree about being taught how to learn throughout your life – that’s a highly relevant “building block” in my view.

        With regards to debt (and I’m one of those old schoolers who always includes a mortgage in such calculations) I was totally free of it by the age of 36, having already discharged two mortgages by then. I doubt it’ll surprise you to hear I’ve not darkened a lender’s doorstep since.

        One thing I remember from my dim and distant childhood, whilst I was learning I just couldn’t have something I really wanted at the time, one day my father said: “in this life you either learn how to do things yourself or pay someone else to do them” (in which case you’re going to have to learn how to sell your time/stuff to other people in exchange for the money needed…)

        These days I’m getting pretty good at certain areas of DIY, and you know something ? It’s actually satisfying, particularly when you realise you’ve often done a better job than if you’d paid someone else to do it. Sure, I deliberately take longer and attend to details others would probably say are unnecessary, but it’s a good feeling KNOWING it’s been done right because it’s YOU that’s done it. Just take the time to read up about things.

        I’d love to get back to something that’s more your line actually – playing with electronic circuits. I used to have tremendous fun as a kid with those old Thomas Salter kits that were around at the time. I know they’d look primitive these days but they were fun at that age 🙂


    3. I’m slightly less cynical about the university option, but I do think that if the young person isn’t smart enough to get into a Russell group institution then they shouldn’t go at all.

      I’d take that a step further for the “liberal arts” subjects, if they can’t get into Oxbridge then don’t bother.


      1. We’re not that far apart then 😉 These stats from 2012 indicate that in the year after taking A levels, 1% of those went to Oxbridge and 8% went to other Russell group universities.

        In my day 11% of school leavers went to university. If anything your criteria are slightly tighter – presumably not all school leavers take A levels.

        The tragedy is that the remaining 41% are paying a serious amount of money for an empty dream. If we didn’t make people go to university for the jobs the CIPD marked as not historically needing university, these less able students would get three years of their lives and ~£40k back.


  8. @TE – Agreed, he nailed it this time, Britain conquered so much of the world’s surface in its heyday through the brilliant use of divide & rule, so nothing has really changed, it’s evolution – in social animals isolation is a slow death. His description of the mental ailments is also accurate, most of my social circle would be considered at least moderately successful by today’s standards, yet have at least one of those afflictions as the price…….

    I wonder if the new adults coming up to make choices now will decide that the odds are so stacked against them that they lose hope, eschew consumerism & define themselves by new more social values – simply on the logic that the game is so stacked against them there’s no point even trying … just opt out. Ironically that would break the Neoliberal mold & force a new system of values & living.


  9. First off as a longtime lurker, thank you Ermine for an excellent, well written and thought provoking blog – much appreciated.

    We live in a capitalist society & the way to get ahead in such a society is to build capital (there’s a clue in the name after all) – yet the world we live in seems to be going out of its way to make building capital as difficult as possible – high university fees, crazy house prices, insecure jobs & rampant consumerism all conspire to trip the unwary into failing to build capital and fall into the trap of living hand to mouth from paycheck to paycheck.

    The title of this article sums up getting ahead in one sentence, sadly the process of living a different/better life involves more swimming against the tide than ever. Equally sadly most people seem happy to distract themselves from how badly the system is stacked against them with more consumerism rather than consider different options.


    1. > the way to get ahead in such a society is to build capital (there’s a clue in the name after all)

      I like that pithy summary – thank you!


  10. Good title. It pretty much sums up all of my 3000 word blog post essays in a single sentence.

    ‘Advertising shits in your head’ almost caused a mouth full of tea to acquaint itself with the PCB I was debugging at the time. Explaining to the client could have been interesting. 🙂

    Thanks for a great day out anyway. You know that you guys are always welcome ’round our gaff’.

    Looking down the Teign from the summit of Haytor is definitely a good bit of symbolism to represent the triumph of having some degree of FI and control of your time over being Dilbert Mk2, having a performance review and buying a BMW. But I fear that I may be preaching to the choir…

    As far as the injustices of the world go, well (don’t tell too many people, but) you heard me have a teensy bit of a rant last week. I agree on many points.

    However, I’m going to stick to usual form and say that, to help people who are in my generation (but who may be less fortunate than me) we should put our energy into showing them how to be resilient to the changes and take control of their own lives as far as possible.

    It is what it is, for better or worse. It’s the hand that has been dealt. Absent any other details, accumulating financial resources and consuming less than average would be a bloody good start for pretty much anybody so I think all of us PF blogger types are at least helping to some degree.


  11. Interesting post. Not sure how I feel about your comments on university. I was lucky enough to have my fees paid by going to an Oxbridge college which could afford to cover them for me, and for what it’s worth maybe even still gives me a similar academic street-cred to the (low end of) 10%-ers of the past, but I don’t have the emotional distance yet from university to check my own bias on the matter. I suspect you’re right, though, that a degree generically doesn’t count for much in the UK these days, and that university and subject choice plays a larger role than it used to.

    A degree is very much part of the old paradigm though, part of the worldview that defines success with reference to a “good” degree, a “good” job, or retirement on a “good” pension. Whilst my generation has some genuine problems with the basic necessities of life – affordable housing probably chief amongst them, as you say – it’s hard to put a value on things like the internet, cheaper travel, or even things like the freedom, say, to live openly as a homosexual. I think part of the horror of the older generation at the degeneracy as well as the deprivation of the youth is that there is a generational difference in what yardsticks are being used.

    You ask how a 25 year younger Ermine would tackle the changed world. I don’t think that matters – enjoy the fact that it’s an academic question! But if there is an answer, then for me it’s got to be “with flexibility”; after all, it’s not the strongest who survive but the most adaptible.


    1. Well called to highlight what’s improved – the much greater diversity, improved communications, better health-care and -outcomes and in many ways greater freedom of action are massive wins across the last 30 years.

      On university, I think SpreadsheetMan nailed it earlier. It’s going to be a really bad era that hopefully never comes when going to Oxford wasn’t worth it 😉


  12. In Canada at least you can make a living without a degree in some lines of work. Right now I am getting some heavy landscaping done – flagstone sized rocks bordering my driveway. The guys doing it are a father and 2 son team – friendly, hard-working, honest, conscientious. They have thousands of dollars worth of equipment to saw and remove asphalt, dump and pack gravel, and vibrate paving stones. But most of the stonework is done by hand. The landscape contractors lay stones in summer, seed lawns in autumn and plow snow in winter.
    The two sons work with dad in the business. The daughter is getting a degree in Nursing at a technical university. I think they’ll all do fine – assuming the rest of us have some cash to employ the landscapers.


    1. Construction is a classic industry where a degree isn’t needed. Unfortunately in the UK this has been subject to a lot of competition from other parts of the EU ,where freedom of movement has been used to undercut the UK minimum wage quite legally.

      I worked with networks on the Olympics in 2012, which was a massive construction site. I was amazed at how few people are on building sites nowadays compared to the construction sites and legacy bombsites I played on in the London of my schooldays.


      1. Canada has its immigration issues as well, but we aren’t part of a customs union (yet.)
        Where I live in the boonies most residential construction (the only kind really) is dominated by small independent developers. These folks use their cronies in electrical and plumbing trades to do the actual work.
        The homeowner can use other independent contractors to do stuff that isn’t DIY once the home is occupied. Believe me this stone laying job is not a do it yourself project – not at my age at least.
        So everybody survives I guess. The problem is that the barrier to entry is low for some of these jobs and there is a lot of competition – especially in the winter for snow clearing. Right now it’s cheaper to pay a contractor to clear away the snow than it is to buy a snowblower and do it yourself. And don’t even think of shovelling it. Not where I live – no way.


  13. I’ve just noticed that you are shimming up the rock in that pic – fair play, thats extreme baby! I hit 40+mph down the B3387 down from haytor to bovey tracey on a fold up bike with 16″ wheels back in June, that was also pretty terrifying. Its a nice neck of the woods, was staying in Ilsington


    1. That certainly did look extreme, from our nice vantage place on the ground 😉 40mph on a Brompton eh, gotta watch out for those potholes!


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