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Hello and good day!

 I spent six or seven years during my twenties studying economics deeply.

 It was my hobby and many who knew me at the time considered it to be the most boring hobby of all times.

 I don't recall why exactly I became so enamored with the study of economics in the first place.

 I know that I continued on with it for a long time because I found it's explanatory power so enlightening.

 As a result of my love for the topic, for six or seven years I accumulated thick treatise after thick treatise.

 I read the fat books, underlined passages that I liked, and kept the monsters on my bookshelves as trophies.

 When we moved from San Diego to Seattle about 15 years ago, I donated my entire collection.

 The books were too heavy to pack up and move and also, I had studied the subject to death.

 The time had come for me to move onto something else.

 Here is one of the insights that I love most from economics.

 In any transaction, you have what is called a double coincidence of wants.

 I've got money but I'd prefer to have the thing that you are selling.

 You've got a thing for sale, but you'd prefer to have money.

 We both want what the other person has more than we want what we already have.

 By trading, we both improve our perception of our position in life.

 This seemed to me like a pretty good and pretty simple foundation for an economy.

 If both people in a voluntary transaction win, because they both feel like they are better off than they were before the transaction, people could go around improving their lives more or less at will.

 And if a person didn't feel like they'd be better off making a purchase, they could always abstain.

 To the extent that nobody interferes with the voluntary nature of these transactions, the transactions must inherently make the world a better place, because people wouldn't engage in them unless they felt their lives would be better as a result.

 From there, you can start to figure out what the necessary institutions would be to maintain the integrity of voluntary transactions.

 For example, you couldn't allow people to lie about the quality of their wares.

 Cheating ruins the nature of a trade because a person isn't actually receiving what they think they are.

Hence government regulation of weights and measures, etc.

 As you can imagine, I was not a very fun dinner party guest during this period of my life.

 If you allowed me to get going on this topic, I would go on and on, explaining what I considered to be the proper institutions needed to govern a just and prosperous economy.

 As I look back on that phase of intellectual development, I can see that I had three very important blind spots.

 First, economics only considers commercial transactions.

 These days I'd argue that commercial transactions, while extremely important and pervasive, only have a very small influence on what it means to live a good and happy life.

 Purchasing decisions can augment the enjoyment of an already happy life.

 But in general, you can't buy your way to happiness.

 Happiness seems to me now to be much more of an inside job.

 You have to work on yourself and your thoughts and your lifestyle to bring about contentment.

 Excellent and delicious chocolate can be a nice icing on the cake of a good life, but chocolate alone probably doesn't give anybody the peace of mind they are seeking.

Second, I didn't realize that economics is not a moral system.

 In my schema, the principal driver of an economy was each individual's desire and ability to get what they want.

 By facilitating this, I thought that you must inherently increase the overall wellbeing of a society.

 But there is a big flaw in this thinking.

 What if a lot of people want something that harms them?

 For example, cigarettes, or excessive alcohol, or drugs?

 A person may want these things because they are addicted, not because they think that it actually improves their life.

 Shooting up may momentarily ease the pain of addiction, but nobody thinks that getting doped up makes the world a better place.

 There is a lot of grey area here.

 A certain amount of recreational inebriation seems alright. But then it can cross over into something harmful.

 Where is the line?

 Moral quandaries like this need to be addressed by spiritual leaders and philosophers.

 Economics is very limited in scope.

 The third leg of my ignorance was a failure to understand that idealism has very meagre application in this world.

 The perfect system that you have drawn up in your mind never exists in real life.

 I remember an incident that occurred just after Brexit happened.

 We had a shipment of cacao going from Switzerland to Scotland.

 We have a long-time client in Scotland who buys cacao from us to make chocolate. From one year to the next all the regulations changed, and the paperwork burden increased fivefold.

 It drove me absolutely crazy because nothing else about the transaction was different. Same product. Same people. Same boats. Same borders.

 The only difference was a change in administration.

 A bunch of government workers arbitrarily decided that they wanted a lot more paperwork filled out.

 But why?

Why would people voluntarily decide to make life more difficult?

 Shouldn't they want to make things easier?

 I was all riled up and on my philosophical high horse, but in the end, I had no choice but to fill out the paperwork.

 You learn this in business.

 Nothing is ever ideal. Nothing. It never is.

 You have to deal in reality and strive towards ideals.

 By expecting the world to be an ideal place, you are setting yourself up for constant disappointment.

 If you get off economics and get into history and literature, you'll realize that people right now are about the same as they ever were.

 Technology changes.

 Style of government has changed.

 But people have not changed very much at all.

 If you don't believe that, crack open Shakespeare or the Bible.

 You can read about all the government revolutions, wars, love affairs, strife, adventure, and beauty that you can handle.

 Here is the upshot of all this, I think.

 I genuinely believe that most people are mostly good.

 This is a very strong foundation for ongoing improvement in the world.

 Empirical evidence bears this out by the way.

 The modern world could not exist unless billions of people had worked together in cooperative harmony over long periods of time.

The natural state of things is raw nature.

 Humans have built the world we live in by working together, which is extraordinary.

 On the other hand, there will always be drama and conflict and that is because each new generation comes into the world as a blank slate and must learn lessons anew.

 You'd think it would be obvious to children that they ought to keep their rooms clean.

 It is obvious to me and you.

 But this isn't the case.

 You have to constantly beat it into their heads for years before they internalize the lesson and act upon it.

 History will absolutely repeat itself unless good people teach the lessons of the past.

Ideals must be taught and strived towards, with the understanding and acceptance that they will not be reached.

 The best way to preach ideals is through improving our own conduct first.

 Leading by example is the best way to teach.

 And probably the second-best way is to drop knowledge on youngsters when you get the chance.

 Thank you so much for time today.

 I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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