By Charles Hugh Smith
The price we're paying to keep
our heads above water steepens while the pay-off is
dropping off a cliff.
October 11, 2019 "Information
Clearing House" - A good friend related a
story that goes directly to the heart of what's
broken in our way of life. My friend went to a
reunion in Silicon Valley attended by the most
successful cohort in America: super-smart, highly
educated people in their mid-40s who have achieved
the highest levels of professional accomplishment
and built enormous financial wealth, with net worths
not just in the millions but in many cases in the
tens of millions of dollars.
These are people at the apex of the American
economy and society, those who did everything right,
worked hard and grasped the brass ring of
Yet when the meeting broke into small groups and
individuals were asked to speak briefly about their
lives, more than a few people teared up and began
weeping. My friend was struck by the disconnect
between their tremendous success and their personal
misery--of failed marriages, of being trapped in
their jobs, in feeling their sacrifices weren't
worth it and in sensing the shallowness of their
success and the poverty of their inner lives.
Not every super-successful person was miserable,
of course; some had shifted gears to lower-paid work
they found more fulfilling and others still loved
their careers. But what was near-universal was the
desire to get the heck out of Silicon Valley and
leave its pressure-cooker lifestyle in the dust.
It takes a great deal of honesty and inner
strength to admit in public that conventional
success hasn't delivered the glorious fulfillment
and happiness we're scripted to expect.
Ours is a culture of forced
optimism. The scripts of forced
optimism are repeated daily in
endless loops: the "fix" for misery is
gratitude (hence everyone interviewed
after a "win" must express gratitude and
humility) and a menu of self-help
tricks: mindfulness, better management
of our productivity, etc., in a
near-infinite profusion of "5 things you
can do to improve your life" lists that
gush out of America's prodigious
All of this is intended to obscure the reality
that even the wealthy are poorer in everything that
really matters. We measure "wealth" in financial
terms, but as the super-successful and super-wealthy
discover, financial wealth doesn't translate into
well-being, fulfilling relationships, agency, health
or the other forms of intangible capital that
make up "real wealth."
The book also examines the constantly hyped faith
that technology will inevitably make us all
richer, the implicit premise being that every
technological advance is automatically making our
lives better in every way, every day.
A corollary of this forced technology optimism is
that robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will
inevitably generate trillions of dollars in profits
that will enable us all to 1) quit working because
robots will do all our work and 2) draw a
substantial monthly "dividend" from this endless
gusher of tech-generated profits.
Nice, except every one of these assumptions is
demonstrably baseless. AI might enrich the few
who own the platforms and monopolies, but even that
is unlikely, given that these technologies are
rapidly being commoditized.
These are difficult dynamics to understand,
but if we want to become wealthier in meaningful
ways (including sustainable financial wealth), we
have to understand these concepts at the deepest
level. If it was possible to explain these
complex realities in a 200-word list of 5 easy tips,
I would, but alas, it took 38,000 words just to
manage a modestly comprehensive overview.
As all the costs we don't even measure pile
up, we're all getting poorer whether we are able
to admit it or not. A society / economy that's
fragmenting and failing is not making us all richer,
despite the signaling device of a rising
stock market and gamed statistics (unemployment at a
50-year low, etc.).
This book is also the result of my personal
journey through burnout, a topic I discussed
earlier this year in Burnout
Nation. The price we're paying to keep our heads
above water steepens while the pay-off is dropping
off a cliff. While we're constantly told to focus on
the rising value of our stocks and homes (if we have
any meaningful equity in either one, which many do
not), our well-being, health, social mobility,
agency, trust in institutions, non-financial capital
and security are all declining.
Burnout forces us to re-assess costs, sacrifices
and pay-offs in a wrenching reckoning that can no
longer be put off. The recession that is slowly but
surely unfolding will increase the stress on many of
us, and force all sorts of personal reckonings on
people who have spent years avoiding just such a
My goal in writing this book was to help
everyone going through a personal reckoning
understand the impoverishment meted out by our
broken socio-economic system, an impoverishment
that may be invisible even as we sense it weighing
more heavily on us every day.
How do we turn around this decline in
everything that matters? The first step is to
recognize and measure all forms of capital, tangible
and intangible alike, and make a personal balance
sheet of all the forms of capital we own or have
access to, and prioritize which ones are the most
important to us.
There's much more in the book. Please take a look
at the first
section for free (PDF). There's a 15% discount
on both the digital and print editions through the
month of October.
Charles Hugh Smith is the proprietor of the popular
He is the author of numerous books, including
Why Everything Is Falling Apart: An
Unconventional Guide To Investing In Troubled Times.
Do you agree or disagree? Post
your comment here
Note To ICH Community
We ask that you assist us in
dissemination of the article published by
ICH to your social media accounts and post
links to the article from other websites.
Thank you for your support.
Peace and joy