The Cult of Commitment

We live in a society that glorifies commitment. The label “commitment phobe” is a put-down. However, what is a commitment? Based on a nearby dictionary, it is “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

An engagement that restricts freedom of action? How is this a good thing? It is my belief then that commitment-phobia is not something we should be ashamed of. Rather, I am a commitment phobe by choice.

Happiness is an elusive goal for many, but many studies show that an important component of happiness is freedom or autonomy. This is why I believe that the formula for freedom is based on commitment or obligation. If you have less obligation, you have more freedom, and more freedom means more happiness.

However, as many people point out, you cannot be completely free of all commitment or obligation. For example, there are necessities like food, water, clothing and shelter. However, necessities are no longer an obligation if it is someone else’s obligation to provide these to you.

This is where passive income comes in. If you hold shares, bonds, etc. then it is the obligation of borrowers or corporations to pay you.

Hence freedom depends on how much obligation others have to you versus how much obligation you have to others. You want to increase the obligations others have to you and reduce the obligations you have to others.

Commitmentphilia permeates society

About a week ago, during a Saturday, I commuted into the city to have dinner with a work colleague named Paul. We went to an Indian restaurant where I ate yellow lentil dahl with roti and basmati rice. I mostly eat a vegan diet, but when going to Indian restaurants I give myself the freedom to eat some dairy because there supposedly a considerably amount of dairy products such as ghee in Indian food. Paul, on the other hand, kept telling me he was on a low-carb diet, so he ate lamb. It was strange because Paul is quite an obese man, yet he was lecturing me on how carbohydrates make people fat, and I am a fairly slim man. Anyway, I didn’t want to come across as a crazy animal rights activist, so I didn’t talk much about his diet. The topic of conversation quickly moved to how I live with my mother.

Paul lives in the city. He rents an apartment for himself and pays about A$2000 (US$1600) per month for it. Meanwhile, I live out in the suburbs in my mother’s house (my parents are divorced). I pay about half the bills, and I commute to the city for work.

Many people try to shame me for living with my parents, and Paul was no exception. His first argument against me living with  my mother is that it would be hard to date women, and I quickly agreed with him on this. My previous dates did not go well, and I am sure that living with my mother did not help. However, I am well aware of this, I accept that women don’t like men who live with their parents, so the solution is to simply not date. I haven’t been on a date in about three years.

My friend then asked me if I would ever date ever or whether I was going to go MGTOW. I simply told him that I do not commit to anything. I am actually open to dating, but I’m not going to make it a priority in life because, based on experience, I find dating to be quite a hassle. I will not commit myself to dating. I also won’t commit myself to not dating.

Paul was perplexed. He expected me to commit to something. He expected me to have my future planned out. He expected me to be clear about whether I was going to date in the future or not, but my position is that if some perfect girl drops into my lap while I’m going about my life, that’s great, but otherwise I am happy being single.

Paul then asked me if I planned to live with my mother forever or if I planned to move out, and yet again I have to repeat to him the fact that I have not committed to anything. I live with my mother now simply because I don’t want to pay for accommodation. I don’t want to rent nor do I want to buy a house because I do not want to be a slave to the banks. It is a purely economic decision based on an assessment of costs and benefits. I have taken into consideration the shame and stigma of living with parents as well as the inconvenience of living with others, and I have weighed this against the money I’ll save by not renting or buying.

I haven’t committed to living with my mother. Currently it is an arrangement that I like. My mother does not micromanage me that much. There are some moments when she treats me like a child, but she has a job and she is out of the house quite often, so I do have autonomy, and I do have my own car, so I often drive off elsewhere, e.g. work, the library, shopping, etc. There are many moments when my mother has annoyed me so much that I simply drove off.

Currently I accept the arrangement, but that doesn’t mean that I plan to live with my mother forever, nor do I plan to move out. I simply have not committed to anything. There is no benefit in commitment. It is better to simply see how things go and adjust if the cost-benefit analysis tells you that you should. For example, if my mother were really annoying me, so much so that I could not avoid it, then I will just move out, and I can easily rent a cheap one-bedroom apartment somewhere for about A$1000 (US$800) per month. Not only that but if I needed accommodation suddenly, there is always Airbnb, and I have performed numerous searches, and there is plenty of A$30 (US$25) per night accommodation out there. There is simply no need to commit yourself to anything when you live off dividends and rent everything you need as and if you need it.

Paul and I then spoke about something else, but then the topic of conversation veered into financial independence. Paul knew that I wanted to save money by living with my mother, but he asked me why in the world I was saving up so much money. He accepted that saving up allows you to retire early, but according to him, he loves his job, and if he didn’t have anything to do then he would be bored, so he would rather work.

Once again, Paul was showing me how brainwashed he was into the cult of commitment. He has committed himself to working in the future, and this was something he was telling himself so that he can rationalize not saving up for the future. Just because you save up money so that you are financially independent and are capable of retiring early, it doesn’t mean you will. You may be a millionaire but you may decide to work anyway. Nevertheless, being a millionaire who decides to work even though he doesn’t need to is better than a broke man who decided to work because he must (and has an incentive, for the sake of his own self-esteem, to convince himself that he loves his job).

Suppose you are broke and you are convinced that you love your work, so you don’t bother to save. You live paycheck-to-paycheck. You may love your work, but in ten or twenty years, will you still love it? Will the passion stay? What if the organization restructures and you lose your job? What if you get a new manager or new coworkers whom you do not like? Just because you feel one way one day, it doesn’t mean you will feel the same way the next day. However, if you are financially independent but choose to work, you have the option to quit. You can quit to try another job, you can retire, or you can simply not work hard. This is my plan. As I save up more and more, I will not work as hard. I may work part-time. I may even ask my manager if I can work remotely. Otherwise, I may quit and simply do freelance work from coworking spaces around the world such as Hubud, Beachub, or Angkor Hub. In fact, my ultimate dream is to travel the world and work in coworking spaces. Saving up is a necessary part of this dream because I will need to convince my employer if I can work remotely from a foreign country, and if I have saved up enough money to retire, I will not be concerned about whether my employer accepts or rejects my offer.

Conclusion

After my dinner with Paul, when I was on the train back home, I realized just how ingrained commitment is in people’s minds. A man is expected to completely commit his future so that everything is set in stone. There is a standard template for how you should live life, and you’re expected to plan everything out and know exactly if you’re going to move out, who you’ll marry, etc.

But I argue that it is simply better to commit to not committing. You do not know what will befall you in the future. Everything changes, and it is better to give yourself the freedom and choice to adjust yourself as things change.

Technocapitalism, Human Evil, and Sedation Through Technologically Induced Dopamine Spikes

I am a misanthrope because I hate people. It is not one particular factor that makes me disgusted with humanity but various factors. At work yesterday a colleague spoke to me about how he loves to go to the gym to build muscle so he can attract women. He is so superficial and status conscious that it disgusts me, and he is not the only one who behaves like this. This is normal behavior. If you are not working to make yourself appealing in the eyes of others, you are abnormal. You are not trying hard enough to get a promotion, get a wife, and have a family. Society and its cultural norms promotes conformity, superficiality, and a culture of appeasement and slavery.

Something I have been trying to do more of recently is to be more anti-social. I have a habit of catching up with people. I have lunch or dinner with various colleagues and friends, but often these catch ups are nothing more than bragging sessions for others to go on and on about how great they are. Many complain about narcissism on Facebook, but social media merely accentuates what happens in real life, and at least most social media apps such as Facebook allow you to effortlessly block or unfollow someone whereas blocking or unfollowing someone in real life is far more awkward. Nevertheless, I have tried to reject many offers to catch up with people. Sometimes I will just tell people directly that I don’t like something e.g. someone invited me over to a wedding, but I told her that I don’t like weddings. Sometimes I will just make up some excuse not go.

I hate being around people, but I cannot simply walk away from humanity because I need a job in order to build dividend income so that I can shield myself from humanity, so it is a gradual process. I need to learn how to be more assertive so I can be more anti-social so that I can isolate myself more, but at the same time I need to work in order to earn money, and I need to learn how to cope with being constantly exposed to the corruption of humanity yet not being affected by it by being fake and by numbing or sedating myself with technology.

I commute via train, and something that first shocked me about commuters was how fixated they were to their smartphones, but I realized that they are probably like me. Being around people takes its toll. You need to be fake, conform, and be a witness to the superficiality and vulgarity of humanity. When you walk away from work, you have a choice: dwell on it and hurt yourself more, or crowd out these thoughts by consuming something else from your smartphone.

Human history is marked by war and conflict. There is innate in humans greed and ego, and these emotions lead to conflict, violence, and oppression, which result in suffering and pain.

When you’ve spent your life trying to appease others and then when you stop because you realize that the opinions of others do not matter, then you feel an emptiness. You felt that life was all about impressing others, e.g. impress your manager to get a promotion or impress a girl to get married. But when you realize this is all a sham designed to enslave you, there is no point in your life anymore, and you must build for yourself a new reason for living. For me it is about escaping, being free, and being autonomous.

I need to learn how to clear my mind. I have heard that meditation is healthy because it allows you to focus and clear out distractions. I am mostly distracted either because I dwell on the evil of humanity or I am engrossed in stimuli that I have consumed in order to distract myself from the evil of humanity. I need to eliminate my exposure to humanity and then if thoughts of humanity emerge in my mind, I need to expel so I can focus on more important things rather than try to displace it with stimuli. The problem is that the evil of humanity is a potent stimulus, so to overcome it you need a stimulus more potent, e.g. pornography, and this is why I believe pornography is so popular. However, if you consume potent stimulus like pornography, you can become addicted to it. It distracts you from the evil of humanity yet it also distracts you from important tasks you need to do.

 

Buy Banks, not Houses #Budget2017

Buy bank ETFs and rent a cheap unit instead.

Recently the Australian government has announced in its Budget 2017 that there will be a bank tax applied to the five biggest banks in Australia. This may affect me because I live off dividends, and much of these dividends come from Australian banks via ETFs. When I mentioned my concerns to others, I was surprised at how much hatred others have for banks in Australia, which is surprising to me.

I am not too concerned by the bank tax, and I will continue to invest in ETFs that invest in high-dividend paying stocks (e.g. HVST) as well as the finance and banking sector (e.g. OZF and MVB).  The reason why I am confident is because I feel that banks can simply pass on the tax expense to borrowers by raising interest rates and fees. Many people may be unhappy about this, but they have the freedom to take their business to other banks.

Banks should also benefit from the cutting of the corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%.

The housing affordability scam

The budget also includes a complex scheme whereby people saving up for a deposit to buy a home can salary sacrifice at most $30k per year into their superannuation fund thereby obtaining tax benefits and then taking that money out to use as a deposit on a home.

This, in my opinion, is such a scam because it is effectively the same as the various grants that the government gave to home buyers. Why put first home buyers through the whole process of putting money into super to get tax benefits and then taking it back out again? Why not just give the expected tax savings to these first home buyers directly?

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The scheme also does nothing to address housing affordability because every economist knows that the price of housing will go down if demand goes down and supply goes up. If there are tax benefits to using super, and if super is used to buy houses, this will only increase demand, which increases prices. Make no mistake, this scheme does not help buyers. It is designed to prop up the market.

Once again, first home buyers are being scammed. The major problem is that most first home buyers don’t understand economics and believe that the government giving them money will help them buy a house. Rather, it will simply drive house prices up even more thereby requiring them to get into even larger debt. The debt that they’d be getting themselves into will also be nondeductible debt, which means they pay more tax than if they had borrowed the money to buy a investment property or other investment e.g. ETFs.

What should you do?

Unfortunately I don’t see the housing affordability issue being addressed because too many people benefit from high house prices, so governments will do what they can to prop up the market. Homeowners benefit from higher prices; banks earn interest from mortgages; and real estate agents, property developers, builders, and lawyers also make money from the property boom. Those hoping to buy a house suffer, but the solution seems to be to help them become homeowners, and when these young homeowners finally buy a house with government support, they have a vested interest in high property prices, but what many of them don’t seem to understand is that they are buying into a very expensive market by loading themselves up with so much debt they effectively become slaves to the bank.

Those who borrow from banks to buy houses believe they are oppressing renters, but really in most cases it is the other way around. Rental yields are so low that the average Melbourne house only produces about 3% in rental yield. If you had $1 million and invested it in a house and rented it out, you make $30k in rent. Had you invested that money in NAB shares as of today you’d be earning 8% dividend yield, i.e. $80k per year if you invested $1 million, which means you could invest your $1 million in bank stocks, earn $80k, rent that house you wanted for $30k, and have $50k leftover. By buying the house, you lose $50k in opportunity cost.

The market will continue to be propped up because everyone benefits, and those who don’t benefit think they are benefitting. First home buyers think that by receiving government money they are closer to buying a home, but they don’t realize that homes will be more expensive. Those who recently bought a home think they are better off than if they rented, but they don’t understand how much they will pay in interest nor will they understand how much opportunity cost there is in owning property. The best slaves are those who believe that they are the oppressors.

The major problem with housing is that it is commonly associated with a debt-fuelled depraved and wasteful materialistic lifestyle. Once someone borrows large sums from the bank, it is not just a massive house that they buy. They increase their spending in other ways, e.g. furniture and renovations. The debt that they hold tricks them into believing that they have more than they actually have.

The solution then is to go back to basics. Own bank ETFs and live cheaply off the dividends. You can rent a cheap self-contained unit in the outer suburbs for less than $250 per week and then wake up early to commute to work via train. Insecure tenancy is not a problem in the age of Airbnb. Renting gives you the freedom to move to different areas to minimize costs and maximize opportunities. Renting also frees up cash flow to enable you to seek out the best investments.

 

You Save 100% of Your Salary? What if You Die Before You Retire?

I probably shouldn’t do this, but I told someone recently that I save 100% of my salary and live off dividends. One of the argument he used against this is that, if you save up a considerable amount of money, you deprive yourself while you save and there is a chance that before you retire, you may die, which means you never had the opportunity to enjoy spending the money that you saved.

This made me think about why I continue to live a minimalist lifestyle and live off dividends.

If you die with lots of money saved up, you could have enjoyed that money. However, for many people, freedom is so important that it’s not the spending of money that makes them happy but the holding of money. This applies to me as well. I love to hoard money not because of what I can buy with it but because of the freedom and autonomy it gives me.

If I had, say, $1 million then according to the 4% rule I can spend $40k per year forever. I never need to work ever again so long as I’m satisfied with a $40k per year lifestyle. There is no need to suck up to some boss, and I can do jobs on my own terms and live according to your own rules. I continue to work, but I do the work that I love. That is freedom, and I care about that more than some shiny Ferrari.

You enjoy your work when you’re not dependent on it

In my opinion, you enjoy working when you don’t care if you’re fired. If something at work bothers you, you simply ask your manager if you can be transferred elsewhere. If for some reason you are fired, just shrug and walk to a job agency or find a new job yourself. Because you live off your investments, it doesn’t matter if you’re unemployed. You don’t work to feed yourself because other people feed you.

However, if you’ve never saved up any money, if rather than living off dividends you have massive debt and spending obligations, you are then dependent on your job, and dependency is slavery.

Slavery has not been abolished. It has evolved.

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: The Elements of a Good Relationship

The quality of your relationships with others (e.g. business, family, or intimate relationships) depends on:

(1) your ability to exit the relationship (dependence is slavery),
(2) your ability to voice your preferences in the relationship (assertiveness), and
(3) your ability to be loyal should the relationship be mutually beneficial.

Property vs Margin Loan vs Internally Geared Funds

I have mentioned in a previous post that I don’t like to buy a house. Instead, from experience, I find that it’s best to invest in ETFs. The reason is because ETFs give you flexibility to invest in what you want. If you buy a house as an investment, you are leveraging into one house, and although the general property market may behave one way it’s very hard to know how your house will perform individually. For example, the house price indexes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics averages out results for a number of different houses. If, say, you have a house in Sydney and Sydney house prices went up 5% this does not mean your house specifically went up 5% but that houses in general in Sydney went up 5%.

Furthermore, if you buy a house to live in, you have nothing but debt (unless you buy a house outright without a mortgage, but this is rare). You have a mortgage that you must pay monthly and any benefit from the investment is in the form of capital gains, which you cannot access until you sell the house. You cannot see capital gains, and you cannot access capital gains. Capital gains are invisible and, if there is suddenly a recession, all your capital gain that may have taken you decades to accumulate may disappear in a matter of weeks or months.

Capital gains do not provide the same sort of comfort that cold hard cash income provides. If you have a house, this problem can easily be fixed if you turn your house into an investment property and rent it out, but even if you had an investment property, the performance of an investment property just doesn’t compare to ETFs, in my opinion. Unless you really know how to pick good property, residential property in general has low yields, and after you pay property management fees, taxes, house repair and maintenance, etc, you don’t end up with much, especially not when compared to ETFs that have been engineered to seek out and pay high dividends.

Property is not a good investment. From my experience with residential property, once you buy a property, suddenly everyone wants money from you and everyone sends in their bills. Once you buy property, you need to pay bank fees, mortgage interest, lawyer fees (for conveyancing), real estate agent commissions, taxes (stamp duty and land tax), and property manager fees. Once something goes wrong in your house (e.g. the shower breaks) you need to get a repairman in to fix it, and he send you a bill as well.

Investing in high-dividend paying ETFs is completely different. You use an online broker (e.g. CommSec) to buy ETFs listed on a stock exchange, and then you sit back and watch money flow into your bank account. That’s it.

What about leverage?

One of the benefits of property is leverage. Because you borrow money from the bank, you have more assets exposed to the market, which means potentially higher gains. However, leverage works both ways. If the asset price does not go up enough to compensate you for the interest expense, you will lose money, and when you are leveraged, you will lose a lot of money.

That being said, leverage is a legitimate strategy if you want to accept higher risk to get higher returns. You are effectively moving up the efficient frontier.

Leverage is easy to achieve using ETFs. There are two options: (1) invest in leveraged ETF (e.g. the Betashares Gear Australian Equity Fund (ASX: GEAR)) or (2) apply for a margin loan to borrow money from the bank to buy stocks or ETFs.

Based on the modelling I have done, all these options (property, margin loan, and leveraged ETFs) have somewhat similar returns, so it doesn’t matter which you do so long as you feel comfortable with the risk you are taking. However, that being said, I think that out of these three choices, property is the worst because once you sign up to borrow money from the bank, you have a monthly mortgage that you must pay. You basically have a noose around your neck. If you don’t pay it, the bank will sell your house, and you will incur substantial transaction costs. When you have a margin loan, many people will try to scare you about the dreaded so-called “margin call” but this I think is overblown. The bank will only step in to induce a margin call when your debt levels are high relative to the value of your assets (they look at your loan-to-value ratio or LVR). They do this because, if you have a high LVR, the risk you are taking is too high, and the bank will get worried that the size of your debt will be too high relative to the size of your assets, which means you may owe the bank money that you may not pay. As part of their risk management, banks will monitor your LVR and intervene to lower your LVR if you raise it too much. This applies not only with stocks but also with property.

Banks will intervene to lower your LVR if you have not been paying your mortgage. If you miss a mortgage payment or two, the bank may allow it because your LVR will not be too high, but if it goes on for too long and your debt levels start to rise too much, the bank will intervene to sell your property. Therefore, regardless of whether you have a property or a margin loan, the bank will still intervene if the LVR is too high. So long as you keep watch of your LVR and make sure it is not too high, you will be fine.

When managing your LVR, the problem with property is that you have zero control over your portfolio. Once you buy your house, there’s littel you can do to affect the volatility of the asset. You have zero control. However, if you own a portfolio of shares or ETFs, you can control how much volatility there is in the portfolio by buying specific listed assets. Managing volatility is important to managing your LVR because volatility affects the value of the portfolio, which of course impacts the denominator in the LVR. If you use a margin loan to leverage, say, into the Chinese stock market (e.g. the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (ASX: IZZ)) then the risk you face (and therefore the probability of a margin call) will be much higher than if, say, you invest in stable assets such as global infrastructure (e.g. via the AMP Capital Global Infrastructure Securities Fund (ASX: GLIN)).

There is a much easier way of leveraging that involves zero risk of a margin call, and this is by investing in internally geared funds. With internally geared funds, you don’t borrow. Rather, you take your money and invest it in the fund. The fund manager collects your money (as well as money from other investors) and uses this to borrow money from the bank in order to invest in stocks. Because debt is handled by the fund manager (rather than you yourself), you don’t owe anyone anything ever. Betashares currently offer two listed internally geared ETFs: GEAR, which leverages into Australian stocks; and GGUS, which leverages into US stocks.

According to the Betashares website, the fund is “‘internally geared’, meaning all gearing obligations are met by the Fund, such that there are no possibilities of margin calls for investors.”

Gearing via an internally geared ETF, in my opinion, is the optimal strategy unless you want to borrow money yourself so you can claim the interest expense as a tax deduction. However, that being said, if you borrow money yourself, because you are only one man (or woman), you will typically pay between 4 to 6 per cent at current rates, but if you invest in a leveraged ETF, the fund manager is responsible for borrowing, and the fund manager has access to low institutional interest rates (supposedly around 3%) thanks to its buying power. You are therefore able to gain even greater leverage with internally leveraged ETFs.

Conclusion 

I used to be very much against gearing because I strongly believe that debt is slavery, but now I accept that gearing can be a legitimate strategy so long as you have robust downside protection. I believe that no matter what you do (when investing and in life in general), it’s good to take risk because more risk provides greater return, but risk must be managed. It is okay to take risk so long as you have a safety net or a fallback plan if everything goes wrong.