Money on its own can never fully satisfy our desires—for power, safety, predictability, ease, connection, or anything else. It has no telos. Yet we need money to survive and achieve our dreams.
Money is moral. Financial decisions build societies and shred them. If we want to thrive as individuals, families, and organizations, we must constantly negotiate close relationships with a morally impure system.
Money is the site of some of our most deepest delusions, most passionate fights and heart-breaking, failed attempts to build a working world. Yet as with any other mystery or muddle—sex and politics, morality and mortality, spirituality and fashion—we can each develop a subjective approach to money that is effective and well-informed.
If our wants determine our realities, then it makes sense to look at money through the lens of our particular wants:
- I want to pay off my debt within 3 years.
- I want to stop fighting with my spouse about our mortgage.
- I want a nest egg that can support me indefinitely during my retirement.
- I want to understand how the President’s trade policy will affect my country’s future.
- I want to support the short- and long-term interests of my company’s shareholders.
- I want to understand the risks of buying [a house, gold, Ethereum, etc.].
- I want to convince other people that Universal Basic Income is a [good/bad] idea.
The resources below can help. I am not an expert financial planner, CFO, or economist. But I am very interested in how money and personal psychology intertwine; how financial imperatives drive business behavior; and how decisions about trade, currency, and monetary policy shape civilization. The resources below offer accessible, general overviews of these topics, with some fascinating deep dives as well.
Some general observations:
Money is emotional. Take the time, early in life, to teach yourself about money, and separate facts from emotions.
Money is boring for many people. Learn about it anyway. Most things worth achieving in life have aspects to them that are very, very dull.
Money is just one measure of value. Physical health, personal safety, strong social ties, free time, cultivated equanimity, and bright career prospects all have value as well. Factor these into your choices about money. Many people borrow uncritically from other aspects of their “wealth” to create more money, and end up poorer for it.
Everyone is in a different situation. There is no investment approach that works equally well for everyone. Don’t blindly copy what someone else is doing or saying—their context might be completely different than yours.
Risk can be shifted but not reduced or eliminated. You can do everything “right” and still lose. That said, if you are clear about your financial goals and confident in your choices, you will sleep better at night.
Disregard averages. Predicted investment outcomes are not normally distributed. Because of the distribution, most people do worse than the average. Be conservative with your expectations, and to the extent possible, develop a working understanding of statistics.
Our current historical moment is specific and different. To understand the current, ongoing collapse of neoliberalism and how it affects individual and societal investments, see this list of resources.
Some conventional wisdom always applies. Even in challenging and changing times, people can make smart, effective, contextual choices about money and avoid blind spots and cognitive traps that tend to lead to poor investment outcomes.
Personal investment basics
I Will Teach You to Be Rich, Ramit Sethi—Solid tips and tricks to get out of debt, automate bill payments and savings, and optimize income. Targeted at young people.
Mint.com—A free tool from Intuit for managing expenses, investments, and goals. In line with the principles of I Will Teach You to Be Rich.
A Random Walk Down Wall Street, Burton G. Malkiel—An accessible overview of the two most common investment approaches—technical analysis and fundamental analysis—with a strong argument for conservative expectations and conservative investment approaches in line with the Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH).
Vanguard—A low-cost investment management firm aligned to the principles of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.
When Society Becomes an Addict, Anne Wilson Schaef—A clear-eyed look at pervasive social pressures in the West to use money (and sex, relationships, drugs, and work) to guard against unwanted feelings. An antidote to compulsive spending.
Changes since the 2008 financial crisis
Pragmatic Capitalism, Cullen Roche—A thoughtful summary of how quickly-changing 21st century global economic conditions may—or may not—make the conventional wisdom of A Random Walk Down Wall Street moot.
The Big Short, Michael Lewis—An engaging story of why the 2008 crash occurred, through the eyes of a handful of investors who saw it coming.
The Myth of Diversification: Risk Factors vs. Asset Classes, Sebastien Page—A warning from PIMCO that stocks and bonds are no longer risk-diversified against each other, contradicting the traditional advice of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.
CB Insights Fintech research and conferences—A good pulse point for understanding how new technologies like blockchain are changing the financial services sector.
Howard Marks Oaktree memos—Timely, widely-read analyses of current market conditions and trends.
Global economics basics
Economics Rule: The Rights and Wrongs of the Dismal Science, Dani Rodrik—A concise summary of what economics is and how it works.
The Globalization Paradox, Dani Rodrik—A historical analysis of how global trade has built and hindered civilizations.
All the Presidents’ Bankers, Nomi Prins—A history of corruption and behind-the-scenes influence of American monetary policy.