NASA Study Says Rich People Will Destroy Human Civilization

In the wake of yesterday’s contemplation of my own poor money habits, I thought it fitting to share a story that confirms my poor impulse control in actually helping save human civilization as we know it. Woo, go me.

Apparently, a new NASA study has determined that modern civilization is doomed to collapse and that it’s due to happen in the next few decades. And the reason for this collapse? It’s not climate change or nuclear war; it’s due to rich people. More precisely: social stratification and unequal distribution of resources:

Motesharri investigated the factors that could lead to the fall of civilization, which included population growth and climate change, the New Zealand Herald reported. He found that when such issues interact, they can cause the breakdown of society through the “stretching of resources” and “the economic stratification of society into ‘Elites’ and ‘Masses’.”

Using different scenarios, Motesharri and his fellow researchers found that collapse is difficult to avoid under the current conditions. In these scenarios, they discovered that elite wealth monopolies are affected much later by environmental collapse than common people, which allows them to continue their “business as usual” way of living despite the catastrophe, according to the Guardian.

Human civilization is in its twilight and it’s mainly due to income disparity and the control of resources. The next time someone on Fox News opines that it’s wrong to punish success by taxing the rich, you can point out that if we don’t tax the rich to make them less rich, human civilization ends.

I don’t know about you, not being rich myself, but I’d feel really bad if I was the cause of the collapse of civilization.

Worry not, for there is hope! But if you have a lot of money or if you watch Fox News, you’re probably not going to like what that hope requires. That’s right, it’s time to pucker up and kiss communism right on its big, Marxist-Leninist-socialist-whatever-ist loving lips.

However, the researchers stated that society can avoid collapse with the right policies and structural changes, which can also lead to the creation of a more stable and advanced society, the Guardian reported. The two key solutions are to reduce economic inequality to make sure resources are distributed fairly, and to reduce the consumption of resources by relying less on limited resources and bringing down population growth. With these changes, the “business as usual” model can end and civilization can be saved and evolve.

I don’t know about this. Sounds more like class warfare and typical liberal propaganda to me. Instead of unpleasant policy and structural changes (socialism!), we should “something something something job creators something something it’s what Jesus would have wanted.”

Okay, enough jokes. I actually do believe there’s a real story here, so I’ll turn off the sarcasm for a moment and speak directly. Is the end really “extremely fucking nigh?”

Maybe. On all matters of doomsaying, I remain cautiously optimistic. I generally think that people are good and we’re capable of saving ourselves from destruction. Predictions of doom are a dime a dozen, both from street prophets and well-meaning scientists alike.

On the other hand, civilization is a remarkably fragile thing. It is rather like a spider-web; beautiful and strong but still fragile and in need of constant repair. Civilizations before ours have fallen to war, to social collapse, to neglect, to the failure to adapt to new paradigms.

We’d be arrogant indeed to assume that just because we have the Internet and smartphones, we’re immune to the pendulum of history and the caprice of nature.

Wealth inequality is a real problem, not just in the United States but across the entire world.

A Meditation On Money

I spent last weekend doing exactly two things: I played a lot of the Old Republic and I did my taxes. In terms of maturity points, I calculate these actions balance each other out and leave me with a maturity balance of precisely zero. Which, I suppose, is better than have a negative balance.

Fortunately for me, doing taxes is actually a happy time since it means I’m going to get a nice check coming back from the government. It’s the one time in the year that I can feel good about the obscene amount of interest I’m paying off on some of my student loans. Those big-ass numbers on my 1098-E translate into fat deductions.

I won’t say that I grew up poor. I certainly don’t have the experiences on this list. But I also didn’t grow up wealthy. I remember the electric getting turned off more than once. The cable was turned off and reactivated with enough regularity to set one’s watch to it. Car repairs were something to be feared. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I learned through discussion with my parents just how close to the knife’s edge we were sometimes. To their credit, they tried to conceal the truth from my brother and me as we grew up. Nevertheless, kids are perceptive little buggers and there was no way we couldn’t pick up on things like having the electric turned off or the worries when something broke on the car.

It wasn’t poor, but it was certainly close enough that I picked up a particularly bad habit when it comes to money: extra money has to be spent immediately:

When a windfall check is dropped in your lap, you don’t know how to handle it. Instead of thinking, “This will cover our rent and bills for half a year,” you immediately jump to all the things you’ve been meaning to get, but couldn’t afford on your regular income. If you don’t buy it right now, you know that the money will slowly bleed away to everyday life over the course of the next few months, leaving you with nothing to show for it. Don’t misunderstand me here, it’s never a “greed” thing. It’s a panic thing. “We have to spend this before it disappears.”

I understand this problem.

It’s why people can go bankrupt after winning the lottery. It’s why people can believe that they’re “just barely making it” on a household income of $250,000 per year. It’s why I don’t allow myself to think “if I just had a bit more money, I’d be fine.”

Sure, I have things I need to pay off. My student loans are a monkey I can’t wait to have off my back. More money would help with that, right?

Except that I don’t think that it would, not really. Here’s how my tax return showed me this sobering lesson.

My monthly budget is finally squared away. I’m caught up on all my loans. Nothing is delinquent.  I’m squaring things away on a personal debt that’s been on the books for a while. Things are looking good.

This tax return I’m getting could clear one of my smaller loans entirely and still have a bit left over. But as soon as I saw the number, my thoughts weren’t “oh man, I can pay my loan debt with this!”

My thought was “hey, I could use this on a new Kawasaki Z1000.”

Several weeks ago, I got the new motorcycle bug. My current bike is a 2005 Ninja 500 that I bought from my brother. It’s the bike I learned to ride on and it bears the scars from my efforts. It’s a good little bike but I’m hungry for something newer and faster.

I did some research and even talked to my credit union about taking out a loan. I was this close to signing it before I realized that the monthly payments were going to be uncomfortable. I walked away from it and went back to my old bike that makes weird noises sometimes and has cracks in its fairing, but is still mine. I own both my vehicles outright. No auto loans. But the craving for that shiny new beast is still on my thoughts and every so often, I’ll take a look at craigslist and Cycle Trader to see if there’s a good deal that I could snatch up.

The 2014 Z1000 retails for about $12,000. My tax return could pay off a student loan . . . or it could be the down payment on that shiny new motorcycle.

And here’s where the problem really starts gaining strength. With the Z1000 in my theoretical grasp, the idea of buying a cheaper bike is unappetizing. The truth is, I could buy a good used bike and pay cash. The truth is, I don’t even need a new bike because my Ninja 500 is running well and suits my needs perfectly.

That’s the problem. As soon as my financial grasp increases, so too does my reach. Three years ago, when I bought my first motorcycle, the used Ninja 500 was at the very limit of my means. I had to pay it off monthly. Now that I could pay cash for one, my hunger is for something that I can’t do that with.

This is why I don’t think highly of winning the lottery. I think it’s safe for the ego to assume that if one suddenly came into a big sum of money, their tastes wouldn’t grow accordingly. They would be content to continue to live at the same level of expense. I don’t think most of us are really that wise. I know I’m not. I can say “oh, I’d pay off my loans and then invest the rest,” but I don’t think that’s true. I think those dollar signs would crack my self-control like a raw egg and I’d be getting that shiny new motorcycle before I did anything else.

I’m not even getting back that much money. It’s certainly not “quit-my-job” money. But even that humble amount has my brain telling me to abandon all the financial plans I’ve laid out and BUY THE NEW SHINY. Figure the rest of that shit out later. Spend it before it’s gone and I’ll have nothing to show for it.

I’m resisting that urge. I’ve pulled myself out of my previous financial pit by sticking to a particular plan and every reasonable part of my brain is telling me that sticking to the plan is the right call. There will be other motorcycles in the future. Hell, if I stick to the plan, eventually I’ll be able to buy the motorcycle I want without taking out a loan. The only problem is that I’d be able to do that eventually instead of now.

But even though I know that, I still look at the pictures and I think . . . I think.

Maybe nobody else feels this way. Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe I’m just really that greedy at my core, that I want something that much that it overrides my common sense.

I’m sticking to my plan. I won’t give in. I just wish it wasn’t so damn hard.

Correlation vs. Causation: A Handy Guide For Rich People

Hi. My name is Matthew Ciarvella and I’m a member of the middle class. I’m assuming that the majority of people who visit my blog are also middle class(ish), but I don’t really know for certain. On the off-chance that you are reading this blog and you’re a member of The Rich, please pay attention to the following discussion about the difference between correlation and causation, as it seems one of your number (actually, more than one, but let’s just focus on Tom Corley) has tragically confused correlation and causation, thus bringing shame on the good names of The Rich everywhere.

First, the offender: Tom Corley lists 20 things The Rich do every day (the link will take you to a post by Dave Ramsey defending Corley’s list, due to Corley’s site currently not functioning):

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% of poor.

8. 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor.

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

11. 6% of wealthy say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of poor.

12. 79% of wealthy network five hours or more each month vs. 16% of poor.

13. 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

14. 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.

16. 74% of wealthy teach good daily success habits to their children vs. 1% of poor.

17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% of poor.

19. 86% of wealthy believe in lifelong educational self-improvement vs. 5% of poor.

20. 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% of poor.

Let’s look at what it means to confuse correlation with causation.

For any two correlated events A and B, the following relationships are possible:

  • A causes B;
  • B causes A;
  • A and B are consequences of a common cause, but do not cause each other;
  • There is no connection between A and B; the correlation is coincidental. (Source)

That’s the basic structure, although there are other permutations.In Corley’s case, he’s doing something a little bit different. Corley is guilty of a reverse causation fallacy. This is a good example and explanation of a reverse causation fallacy:

The faster windmills are observed to rotate, the more wind is observed to be.Therefore wind is caused by the rotation of windmills. (Or, simply put: windmills, as their name indicates, are machines used to produce wind.)

In this example, the correlation (simultaneity) between windmill activity and wind velocity does not imply that wind is caused by windmills. It is rather the other way around, as suggested by the fact that wind doesn’t need windmills to exist, while windmills need wind to rotate. Wind can be observed in places where there are no windmills or non-rotating windmills—and there are good reasons to believe that wind existed before the invention of windmills. (Source)

Thus, Corley’s argument: The Rich are observed to read more, eat better, and exercise more than the poor, therefore reading more, eating better, and exercise cause a person to be Rich.

So if poor people will just not eat junk food or gamble or watch TV or would read more, they will become Rich themselves! It’s so easy! Get ye to the organic produce aisle, poor person!

Can you spot the flaw in Corley’s logic?

Is it possible that poor people eat junk food not because they are gluttons craving sweet, sweet heart disease and obesity, but because junk food is cheap? Or, if you prefer, cheap food is junk. It works either way. If you’re shopping on a poor person’s budget, you’re not going to be enjoying the organic, farm raised produce that costs five times as much. You make that dollar stretch as far as it can and that means frozen food. It means the dollar menu. It means loads of salt, sugar, calories, etc. In short: junk.

But how is it that poor people don’t have time to work out four times a week? After all, it’s not like having a personal trainer or home exercise equipment or a gym membership makes exercising easier, more interesting, or more enjoyable, right? It’s not like a poor person is working a thankless job with brutally long hours for less than a living wage that would leave them without time to exercise, right? If you’re poor, you don’t have a job. You should have lots of free time if you don’t have a job, right? If you had a job, you wouldn’t be poor, unless you’re stupid and fritter away all your money on, I don’t know, drug addiction or gambling or something.

Tom Corley thinks that these good behaviors like reading more, exercising, and eating well are the reason he’s Rich, but that’s the reverse causation fallacy. Much as windmills don’t cause wind, doing these things does not cause Richness. Richness is what allows Tom Corley to have the time and money to do these things, because he does not need to worry about niggling little details like starving to death or getting evicted or having the electricity shut off at the end of the month or paying any dozen of another bills or needs.

If you checked the earlier link to the list itself, Dave Ramsey follows Corley’s list with a long, Christ-laden defense of why Corley is right and everybody who is attacking/mocking/picking him apart is wrong and stupid (my paraphrase). I don’t have the inclination to go through all the ways Ramsey himself is wrong, too, but he does make the same mistake as Corley originally, in assuming that your choices are what make you The Rich. Thus, if you’re not Rich, you made bad choices. Not being Rich, according to Ramsey, has nothing to do with the extensive system of privilege that a person such as Dave Ramsey has enjoyed his entire life, a system that excludes people who do not fall into a narrow band of physical characteristics that cannot be chosen or changed.

There is one final thing I want to mention about Ramsey’s rather silly Christ-wants-me-to-be-rich defense of Corley. Ramsey explains that he, like all the other poor people in the history of ever, was poor once. But then he worked really hard and God blessed his efforts and helped him become The Rich as a reward.

Which, if you think about it, is deliciously ironic. Let’s follow the chain of events:

Ramsey is poor. Ramsey believes in God. God rewards Ramsey by making him into a Rich Person. Jesus says in holy, infallible Scripture-that-is-not-open-for debate-or discussion-or-interpretation-so-don’t-even-try:

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

God has made Ramsey into a rich man even though it’s going to later make it impossible to receive his eternal reward. That’s a dick move, God; making a guy rich just so you can screw him over later.

I’m going to pause with the sarcasm and address this final point directly: if you are rich, it is due to privilege. It might be the privilege of being born into a wealthy family that was able to provide good opportunities and education, or it might be the privilege of the right place, right time, or having a particularly good idea or any number of other confluences. You are not rich because you are a good person; consequently, being rich does not make you a good or bad person. These things are unrelated. You can be a good or bad person regardless of your richness. You might have worked hard for your wealth or it might all be a trust fund and you never worked a day in your life. It doesn’t matter in this context.

It all comes down to privilege. Privilege is what gives some people the choice between wealth and poverty and gives many people the choice between poverty and poverty.

Which is to say, privilege gives many people no choice at all.