Mrs. Money Mustache and I just had the pleasure of taking a nice grownups-only train trip to Montreal to celebrate her 39th birthday. We took an evening to meet up with a UK-born writer named Robert Wringham who happens to live there, because I’m a fan of his fancy square magazine called the New Escapologist.
As luck would have it, he invited me to run a little story in the latest edition of this fine publication, so I decided to share it here as well. He told me the issue is loosely based around the idea of Utopias, which sounded very interesting to me. Here’s what I came up with:
A Badass Utopia
by Mr. Money Mustache
For the New Escapologist
I was particularly excited to get a chance to contribute to this edition, because I fancy myself to be both an escapologist, and a planner of utopias.
In my own part of the Internet, I write about early retirement – the monetary tricks that you can use to build up enough wealth to escape from mandatory work. My wife and I used them through our 20s and made our own escape at age 30, and now eight years later we are working on sharing our own take on these timeless ideas with the rest of the world.
But I’ve found that a big part of writing about early retirement, is trying to express why anybody might want to do it, and why it is a good rather than selfish idea to promote worldwide. There has to be a reason other than money for writing a blog like mine, unless you’re lying about being retired in the first place. So a big part of the job is trying to gently nudge the world towards becoming a Star-Trek-like Utopia: an advanced civilization with less violence and more fun, and many other tantalizing aspects.
In a Mr. Money Mustache themed world utopia, we’d combine all the good parts of human nature, with all the amazing powers of human culture to neutralize our admittedly plentiful shitty parts.
For example, we know that humans can be brave, heroic, dedicated, and caring, as mothers and fathers are when raising their children, and warriors are when sacrificing everything for their clan. We can be brilliant too, like the teenagers of Nordic countries which regularly outsmart the world’s largest technology companies, and packed with Honeybadgerlike determination like the guy in Colorado who has spent the past 40 years hand-building a 16-story castle from gathered rocks. We’d want to keep all of those good qualities in our new society.
But there is no doubt that we can produce some awful asshats and douche rockets as well. From the petty office water cooler backstabbers all the way down to dictators and ethnic cleansers and the armies they brainwashed, we have the ability to slip into dangerous groupthink, no matter how insane it becomes.
So in this utopia, we’ll have a culture that produces more honeybadgers and heroes, and fewer of the troublemakers. With psychology and science as well as good old-fashioned love, we will provide the right support for the kids and get them on the right path. Let’s just assume this part works out, so we can move on in our tour of the utopia.
Work is probably one your first questions: Will we have to work?
Yes, I think we will need to keep the idea of jobs and money, because it’s a good way to measure your efforts and motivate you to go out and do something. If everyone was born with automatic no-work-required privilege, I think our brains would short-circuit and we would lead bizarre and unbalanced lives. But the difference would be what we do with the proceeds of the work.
In the Badass Utopia, people would work for money, but then invest most of the proceeds to start generating additional income for themselves. They’d work really hard, which would generate a lot of money. But counterintuitively, this would lead to them buying not a lot of cars, but a lot of investments.
After about 10 years of work, each citizen of the BU would have saved so much that his investments would now be fully funding his limited lifestyle needs. He would now officially be economically free – free to work, or not work, as he sees fit, without having to worry about running out of money.
Many citizens would take the opportunity to do something that doesn’t involve getting paid. There would be legions of loafers – people tossing frisbees and playing guitars in the parks. The sweet aroma of marijuana would float around without secrecy in public places.
But there would also be volumes of volunteers. School classrooms and libraries and soup kitchens would find themselves with an unlimited supply of talent, just there looking to help out and meet new friends. The quality of these institutions would rise astronomically, to the point where welfare offices would become Executive Awesomeness Centers, where a rare troubled person walks in and is immediately offered a catered sandwich and a cup of tea, then ushered into a wood-paneled luxury office, where an unstoppably inspiring life coach is waiting to get things back on track immediately.
And some odd characters would choose to continue working, producing more things just for the joy of creation. Artists and musicians, but also writers and engineers, carpenters and welders and plumbers. Even today, there are people out there who enjoy creating things whether they need to get paid for it or not, and we certainly wouldn’t want to stop them from producing. And there would even be money to pay them.
You see, there would still be plenty of customers, just a different mix of them. First of all, everybody would still need food and houses, bikes and cars, water and electricity. People still need to do the work to create those things, and they’d still expect to get paid. And there would still be babies and new families, which means children and schools and a stream of new people entering the work force even as others graduate from it. There might be less demand for $5.00 coffees or slot machines, but it would be balanced by more demand for libraries and parks and bike paths, all of which take work and money to produce.
And let’s not forget about energy. In the Badass Utopia, we’d naturally want to ditch the fossil fuels we’ve been wasting our time with in recent decades, and replace them with something appropriately modern. This will take a lot of engineering and more work, as we put up square miles of solar panels and great fields of wind turbines, and invent spectacular batteries and other ways to store our energy. The market for this stuff will be huge, as every citizen of BU will of course insist on buying only modern energy. But it will take an awful lot of investment capital, which works out well because of the incredible enthusiasm for investment these fancy citizens would have.
Politics would be a pretty interesting place. With every citizen of every country educated and engaged, any corrupt or misleading politician would be laughed off of the stage and punched in the face after the first speech, so the field would evolve into a civilized and thoughtful profession. Politicians would be elected solely on intelligence and effectiveness. Campaign advertising would not exist, since all the televisions would have been abandoned long ago. The candidates would simply publish their proposed policies on their websites, which would be among the country’s most popular online destinations. Debates would take place in written form, with rhetoric and oversimplification a thing of the past. Policy decisions would be based on science rather than cultural or religious traditions. But the politicians would also have really excellent beards, mustaches or hairstyles, and be wicked banjo or kazoo players, and not let you forget it at the town hall meetings.
And man, would we ride bikes a lot. The towns would start to reinvent themselves to be big blocks of beautiful people-and-bike-oriented space, with cars not allowed in due to the unnecessary danger of mixing giant metal machines and soft human tissue. The vehicles would be stored at the edges, where you could sign one out if you needed to transport something heavy or get yourself out to some remote area of the country. The trillions of dollars saved from unnecessary personal autos and highways now would easily pay for electric high-speed trains and 24-hour rapid transit to get anywhere within a big city you need to go. With plenty of money left over to fund free vegetable gardens on every corner where you can just run in and pick a broccoli or cucumber to crunch raw as you walk down the street.
We’d all have sex, use non-destructive drugs, and stay up late on school nights a lot more often than we do now. The community parks and squares, and front porches, rather than restaurants and bars, would be the place where people gather every evening. We’d kick around soccer balls, cook things on the grills, and circle around to make the best songs in impromptu outdoor sessions, which we’d always record. Outsiders would always be welcomed and people would migrate slowly around the neighborhood throughout the evenings so as to take it all in.
And we’d swear more than we do these days. We’d do it more often, more explosively, and with astonishing creativity. News anchors would rise in popularity not by the quality of their hairstyles or the whiteness of their teeth, but through their skill in sliding in a nice F-bomb into the most appropriate places (and their journalistic integrity and ability to piece together broad social trends into a concise and entertaining dialogue, of course).
But this amazing life all starts with hard work and saving most of what you earn, while valuing knowledge and warm personal connections instead of cold impersonal stuff. From there comes enlightenment and freedom. Then we’ll get to Badass Utopia soon enough, as long as we get started on it right now.
This particular story will appear in the upcoming August 1st edition of New Escapologist. It’s an intelligent mix of homegrown content and illustrations, and contributions from guest writers (our mutual friend Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme wrote a piece for issue 5 back in 2011). You can read more from this mixed crew of international unusual people at their website newescapologist.co.uk which also has a blog section.
An older article on the same idea – more focused on the economics and why I think they would still work: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/09/what-if-everyone-became-frugal/