This edition of Stoic Street Smarts isn’t about economy and finance, but I have to start by explaining the idea of inflation. Don’t skip this part, even if you know the idea.
When most people talk about economic inflation, they’re referring to an increase in prices and a fall in the purchasing power of money. They’re paying more money for the same goods and services, and they don’t like it—especially if their wages haven’t increased to match the increase in the cost of living.
Inflation happens for many reasons, but people assume that all reasons signal something is wrong with society. Yes, printing money causes inflation, but so does economic growth. A natural disaster or war that drives up the price of a good causes inflation, but so does a surge in demand that outpaces supply. When consumer spending rapidly increases for a popular item, suppliers may struggle to keep up, leading them to raise prices.
Fundamentally, inflation solves the “supply and demand” problem. Any time demand persistently exceeds supply across an economy, the effects of inflation present themselves. This effect is the same that drives the increased cost of:
- Living in a major city (demand for space is greater than the supply of it)
- Buying plane tickets at the last minute (demand for the remaining seats is greater than the supply of them)
- Sideline tickets for a football game vs “nosebleeds”
While increasing the money supply and events constraining output drive inflation, the root cause is too many dollars chasing too few goods. Whenever purchasing power surpasses productive capacity, suppliers will leverage their pricing power to curb demand, avoid shortages, and reallocate purchasing power while devaluing the currency.
Inflation also happens when the money supply stays the same, but the available goods decrease. Since the sellers have to make a certain amount of money, they have to raise their prices (since there are fewer to sell) and to avoid shortages (since they’re now closer to running out of goods).
Most people don’t call this inflation, but it’s the same idea: the same amount of money buys less of the same good than it did before.
This is the fundamental mental idea. From now on, think of inflation like this:
Buyers have too much money. Since sellers don’t have infinite goods and services to meet everyone’s increased buying ability, they must raise prices to keep from running out. Or sellers have too few goods, and they must raise the price to make enough to live.
How does this relate to your lifestyle and habits?
Behavior and lifestyle are subject to inflation
The older you get, the harsher people are on you for not having it together.— Ed Latimore (@EdLatimore) October 22, 2020
What was cool at 20 is questionable at 25.
What was questionable at 25 is loser shit at 30.
What was loser shit at 30 makes you a ghost at 35.
Human behavior is subject to inflation as well.
When you’re a teenager, no one expects much out of you. Sure, there are outliers of extreme ability and achievement, but no one looks to a teenager to have their life figured out. Although they are autonomous, they’re still the responsibility of their parents.
By your late 20s, you’re expected to have met specific measures of life proficiency. For example, you’re not dependent on your parents.
By this age, everyone at least expects that you can hold down a job and pay for your existence in this world. You may still be overcoming the mistakes of your youth or the effects of a shoddy upbringing, but the only consistent societal marker of growth here is that you can pay your bills and you aren’t a criminal.
By your late 30s, you’re expected to be an adult. This age is where a division happens.
On the one side are people who are at least keeping pace with the average income level, health, and relationships. The other side is populated by those who did not do the hard things to increase their earning capacity or viability for a relationship or let their fitness deteriorate.
The greatest non-innate difference between teenagers and adults is their responsibility levels.
Even at age 19, when you’re technically an adult, you can’t take on much responsibility. Unless you have children or you’re caring for dying parents, you have virtually no responsibility. But your life doesn’t have the trappings of many rewards either.
If you’re 35 and haven’t taken on any responsibilities that have forced you to grow and mature, you’ll still have the value of a 19-year-old, but you’ll be measured against others in your age range.
For example, while it’s nice if a guy has his own place, most 19-year-old girls won’t care if another 19-year-old boy still lives with his parents, works a low-wage job, and spends his free time drinking and playing video games. Most boys her age will have a similar level of value, so it’s more like hitting the jackpot if she lands a top athlete or a trust fund kid than it feels like settling if she doesn’t—especially if the guy is attractive.
The same goes for friendships as well. At 19, everyone’s idea of a good time is drinking a case of beer, ordering pizza, playing video games, and partying in someone’s basement with cheap beer. However, if your idea of a good time at 30 still regularly involves getting drunk and playing video games all day, you have nothing more valuable to devote your time to.
Any friends you have will be equally of low value. That lifestyle is passable at 19, but at 30, now anyone you date will feel like they’re settling. Even if they’re just as low-value and immature, losers don’t like spending time with other losers. Those are just the only people who will spend time with them.
Lifestyle inflation is similar to economic inflation
In economic inflation, the same amount of money buys less of the same goods. In lifestyle inflation, the same behaviors are less acceptable as time passes.
Just as some economic inflation is inevitable in a growing economy, some lifestyle inflation is inevitable as access to opportunities increases.
For example, when I was 18, the year was 2003. Dial-up internet still existed, wireless internet was barely commercially available, and the first iPhone wasn’t released for another four years in 2007. Paylpal was barely a year old, and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube hadn’t even been invented, so the phrase “social media” wasn’t even in our vocabulary.
18-year-olds today have access to all of these things, giving them more opportunities at an earlier age. Therefore, it’s more common for 18-year-olds to have substantial incomes.
In this way, the natural inflation that has occurred spreads more opportunity, so even if the same percentage of people take advantage of them, more people are, making the progress seem less impressive.
If you’re 35, living in your mother’s basement, and barely making minimum wage, you’re out of shape and aren’t working towards bettering yourself in any meaningful way, the effects of lifestyle inflation have also hit you.
Because most people in your age range have attained a level of responsibility and autonomy that you lack, your value is much lower. It’s lower because, by this point, your peers will have acquired these things.
As their value has grown, so too has what they demand from the people they spend the most time around. Because you’re still doing the same things and living the same way as a less valuable person, then you get left behind.
The relationship between value and responsibility
Let’s define “value” because this is the word that trips people up. By itself, this noun speaks to the exact nature of the usefulness or worth of something. Typically, we understand what is meant by the context.
Everyone knows that when I say, “This watch has a lot of value,” I’m not speaking of its importance to life any more than when I say, “Air is valuable,” I’m not talking about how much it costs.
So, going forward, when I use the word “value,” I am speaking of utility to society. It’s an assessment of your ability to contribute to and survive in the world without resorting to deception, destruction, or relying on another adult.
Responsibility forces the demand for an increase in utility and value. Young adults have almost no obligations, so they have little value. A surgeon with three children has a lot of responsibility and, thus, a lot of value. The amount of responsibility you have in the world is a proxy for your value.
If you find your life lacking in meaning or money, the solution is to take on as much responsibility as you can. Of course, this responsibility should come with the capacity for growth. The idea is to be as non-fungible as possible. The more quickly you can be replaced, the less valuable you are.
All paths to life improvement involve increasing the value you can add to the world. The value you add to the world depends on the challenges you’ve taken on and successfully overcome.
If you’re 35 and still struggling with the challenges of a 20-year-old, you’ll have the “spending power” of someone who had their spending power reduced by inflation.
Don’t miss another issue!
I’m a former heavyweight pro-boxer (13-1-1) and alcoholic (Sobriety date 12/23/13), current writer, and aspiring chess master. I was raised in the projects by a single mom and failed high school, but I eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics.
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