Episode 41: Bryan Caplan on Education, Immigration, and Procreation

Economist Bryan Caplan is always fascinating.  He seems to just pick really interesting and provocative things to explore with the tools of economic thinking.  We discuss how he got into economics, his work habits, belief in personal bubbles, and explore three of his research areas.  Bryan was super easy to talk with and the conversation never slowed.

His first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter is here.  (This short article in Reason magazine summarizing some main points is also excellent.)

His second book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is here.

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

My Sports Affiliations

Sports fandom is one area where I consciously choose to engage in irrational bias and allow events completely out of my control and irrelevant to my daily life affect my mood.  It’s part of the game and what makes sports fun.  If you felt no joy or anger the game would lose its value.  The ability to be transported by immersion in the sport is the beauty of it.

I occasionally get weird looks when I root for various teams or players because not all of my teams are based on geography or something simple to identify.

I’m from Michigan, so the fact that all the major pro sports teams from Michigan are my favorites makes sense.  I love the Lions, Tigers, Pistons, and when I occasionally pay attention to hockey, the Red Wings.  But I’m a fan of several other teams too.

As for college, I’m a Michigan State guy.  Best basketball and football programs in the state (Yep.  I said it.), and one of the best in the nation.  I don’t care about the institution, but I love their sports.  Dantonio and Izzo are amazing and embody the attitude proper to great sports in the Great Lakes state.  I didn’t go to MSU, but if you grow up in Michigan you will be a fan of U of M or MSU.  I chose correctly as a boy.  My brother likes U of M.  Go figure.

I love the Chicago Cubs.  I grew up equidistant from Detroit and Chicago and spent far more time in the latter.  I went to Wrigley several times in my baseball loving childhood and Ryne Sandberg was my favorite player.  The Cubs are almost as much of a home team to me as the Tigers.

I love the Pittsburgh Steelers.  This one doesn’t have much reason.  Since I was a kid I just kind of liked them.  I loved Bill Cower and I thought maybe when he left I wouldn’t care as much.  Nope.  Still love them.  There’s something about the franchise that is just right.  They’re what I imagine the Lions could be if they were good….in other words, if everything about every bit of the Lions history and culture were completely different than it is.

I love the New England Patriots.  Check that.  I love Bill Belichick.  If he left, I wouldn’t care about the Pats.  Belichick is the greatest coach in the history of pro sports by a mile.  What he’s done in this age or parity is three times better than the next best coach.  Every year – even every week – they are a new team, built specifically to win that game.  And it works.  Everything that’s not supposed to work in the NFL Bill makes work.  It’s unreal.  The more others hate him, the more I love him.

I loved the 1990’s Chicago Bulls.  Because I love Michael Jordan.  Greatest athlete in the history of pro sports.  Those Bulls teams were amazing, and their reign coincided with when I became interested in basketball more than baseball, plus the Pistons were on the decline so the Bulls were a natural team for me to love.  I don’t care much about the Bulls either way now, but those old teams were the best.

I love the current Golden State Warriors.  Certainly because of Steph Curry, who is the greatest present day player and the only one since Jordan who is truly changing everything about the game of basketball.  But it’s not just that.  Draymond Green has an explosive play style built on grit and the attitude to match.  He’s from MSU.  Of course he does.  It’s definitely not the franchise I love, but the current mix of personnel.  This team has a legit shot to come close to the ’90’s Bulls team.  Take in greatness when you can.

That’s about it for teams I love.  I like some individual players a lot too.  Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, and Drew Brees come to mind.

As any good sports fan, I’m also often motivated by irrational hatred.  Of course I hate my team’s traditional rivals.  The Michigan Wolverines, the Bears and Packers (but especially the Bears), etc.  But I also hate some other teams for various reasons and sometimes no reason at all.  I hate the St. Louis Cardinals.  I hate Pretty much all New York teams except the Yankees.  I hate the Boston Red Sox.  I hate the Dallas Cowboys.

There you have the lay of the land in my world of sports fandom.  Now we can irrationally pretend to like or dislike each other during big games.  Just remember, all of my teams are better than all of yours.

Laziness is not About Lack of Labor

Laziness leads to boredom, and boredom is the greatest crime against oneself.

Laziness is not about physical labor.  You can be bored to tears doing manual labor all day long and you can be engaged and fulfilled while lounging in a hammock.

It’s hard work to live an unboring life, but it’s the work of the mind and heart.  It takes relentless self-discovery.  You can’t stay interested on a diet of quick hits of easy excitement.  You need to unearth the self at the core of your being and live in accordance with what you find.  You have to relentlessly purge the things that deaden your soul, bore you, and make you unhappy.

It’s far easier to just go along.  It’s easier to do things that appear to be work but require little mental focus, discovery, or honesty.

But it’s not worth the cheap sense of leisure.  Living an interesting life requires the deliberate act of being interested in everything within and around you and exploring it.

Boredom is death.  Laziness is terminal illness.

“Millennials” and Entrepreneurship

I hate the term “Millennial”.  For some reason, it makes me want to vomit.  Still, it’s a widely used label for people in the 20-30 ish age range and I must admit that there is enough cohesion to some of the traits of this generation to warrant a unique label.

I’ve written before about some of the characteristics of this generation compared to others.

I was just asked a few questions about Millennials and entrepreneurship yesterday.  Here are the questions and my thoughts.

What challenges do they face?

The single biggest challenge is in the mind and habits.  This is the most schooled generation in the history of the world.  Nearly every second of their lives has been planned, structured, poked, and prodded by external authorities.  Intrinsic motivation has been all but suffocated by positive re-enforcement and praise.  Learned helplessness is the norm.

This is a tremendous struggle for this generation.  They have never created their own structure or built things without preset guidelines and lots of “good jobs”.  It’s sad, and it’s not their fault, but they’ve got to unlearn a whole lot of garbage before they can unleash the entrepreneurial spirit they were born with.

What special concerns do they have?

This generation is very concerned with doing work that they find meaningful and enjoyable.  That is a huge plus.  They also have a big concern for doing things that are popularly viewed as “good for society”, which is a huge negative.  It results in a lot of signaling and posturing to be “sustainable”, “social”, with little understanding of what the terms mean or the causal relationships involved.  But the underlying thrust is still a legitimate, positive concern, and that’s to gain more than just survival, but meaning and self-actualization.

What do you think?

Do you think I got it wrong?  I’d love to hear thoughts, objections, and questions.  Submit them via the Ask Isaac form and I’ll try to respond on the blog or in the podcast.

Episode 40: Tim LeVan Miller on Accounting and Rock ‘n Roll

“Nobody has the right to tell you you’re selling out”

Tim LeVan Miller is an accountant by day, composer and musician by…everything else. We talked about his beginnings in music, how he took a different turn in college, and his choice to separate what he does for a living from what he loves.

Check out his music on timlevanmiller.com

This and all episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

Knowing What You Don’t Need to Know

It’s not that important to know things.

Two things are far more important than what you know.  What you can learn, and what you know you don’t need to know.  Maybe I’ll write a bit more about the importance of being able to learn another time, but today’s post is about knowing what you don’t need to know.

We’re surrounded by information.  Every new environment is jam-packed with people, assumptions, objects, ideas, processes, rules (written and unwritten), and data.  The vast majority of it is not necessary for you to achieve what you want to achieve in that environment.  But a handful of things are absolutely indispensable.  That is why the most valuable skill for success in diverse circumstances might be the ability to quickly identify what doesn’t matter.  Discern what is not of fundamental importance and ignore it.

Nearly everything taught in schools can be ignored.  So can nearly everything in a government or HR training video.  These are the easy ones.  Most people can intuitively gather from a young age that these things are unnecessary to successfully navigating the world (though harsh punishments may induce them to pay just enough attention to avoid manufactured pain).  It gets harder when you enter a social scene, family party, or workplace.  It’s harder still if you want to be an entrepreneur and enter the vast market with no blueprint.

The most successful and contented people I know are brilliant at being ignorant.  They are not stupid people nor are they unable to learn almost anything of interest or value to them.  But they are conscious of their chosen ignorance of the vast majority of facts and subjects and skills.  They know what they don’t need to know and they don’t waste effort trying to learn it.

This typically requires genuine humility and self-confidence.  Most people feel pressure to know a lot of useless stuff because it will save them the embarrassment of ever appearing to not know something.  This is ridiculous and sad.  Someone without broad swaths of conscious ignorance in many areas is usually wasting a lot of time and stressing over people-pleasing without ever gaining much self-knowledge.

There is no inherent value in knowledge of a fact.  When you enter a new situation the limiting factor to getting the most value out of it is not how much you can learn, but how much you can identify that you don’t need to learn.

This is the other side of the 80/20 rule.  Sometimes figuring out your 20% – what activities you will get the vast majority of your return on – is too hard.  It’s sometimes easier and no less important to identify the 80% of things not bringing you sufficient value and stop learning and doing them.

Book Review: Rise Above School

My Amazon review of this excellent book by my good friend, radical, entrepreneur, blogger, podcaster, and fellow unschooler Jeff Till.

This book is worth every dime for the “58 arguments for home education” alone. A list so powerful, simple, and clear it’s hard to imagine ever seeing school the same or wanting to send your kids there after reading.

But Rise Above School is much more than that. The author presents an incredibly honest and accessible story of his own process of moving from unthinking adherent to the educational status quo to a parent embarking on a radical unschooling lifestyle. The core insight is one of empathy. What your kids suffer through – bus stops, early alarms, homework, single-file and cinder block cells, lunchrooms, bullies, age-segregation, boredom – is something you would not want to put yourself through, or your spouse, or employees. How then can you do it to your kids?

Jeff is not romantic in his portrayal of home education, nor bitter in his exploration of schooling. He’s refreshingly down to earth. Though moral and practical arguments underpin his advocacy of home education, he shares plainly some of the more compelling reasons in simple things like daily life being more fun and less boring. No need to construct elaborate curricula. Just enjoy your kids. Let them sleep in. Play video games with them.

Rise Above School is an ideal intro to the concept and arguments surrounding education for someone a little disillusioned with mass schooling, but unsure what to do. Start with this book.  If you like where it takes you, Jeff includes a list of additional books and resources for those who want to go deeper.

Buy Rise Above School on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.

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