why you should never ask “what if everyone did this?”
Have you ever thought when you heard an interesting idea:
“Ok sounds good but what if everyone did this? Would society / the economy / the ecosphere collapse?”
It’s an interesting question and one I’ve thought about a lot with regards to the whole FIRE thing.
First of all, we need to define “this”. There are many ways to skin the “more freedom” part of the FIRE cat:
- Gunning for full FI
- Part time work
- Starting your own business/side hustles
- Passive income
- Couch surfing
Even within those groupings there are many different ways to side hustle, you can combine the methods in different ways and obviously there are a myriad of products to invest in to generate passive income.
the heavyweights have spoken
It’s a question that the FIRE heavyweights have already spoken on, but ERE (x2) and MMM’s what if everyone did this question is a more specific one i.e. what if everyone became extremely frugal compared to the norms today.
This is a hypothetical question and a different one to the one I think is worth answering. Because I see most people in the FIRE community using a variety of tools to achieve their freedom and whilst some sort of frugality is surely the underpinning of all of them, let’s face it we are not all ERE or even to MMM’s standards.
So back in the real world, my answer is unfortunately a bit of a cop out:
It’s a moot point because not everyone will ever do this.
It would also appear, in my opinion, some people actually enjoy the shackles of a job or at the least find it so hard to go against the status quo they would prefer a life of servitude rather than question it. Evidence for this:
- People working far longer than they have to
- People dying soon after they retire
- People who moan about their jobs but then do sweet FA to remedy the situation
- The huge swaths of negative comments on most FI articles that hit the mainstread media
- The severe lack of entrepreneurial spirit in most people I meet
- The hugely conservative nature of most people and preference for no change (see The Status Quo bias here)
Even in the world of FIRE people can be ridiculously conservative and are saving up million(s) before even thinking about quitting a job that sounds like hell on earth (to me at least!)
Quickly going back to the entrepreneurial spirit thing, which you could view as the difference between being a producer and a consumer, consider this:
- When I post a new blog post it now gets around 1000 views in the first few days
- Out of those readers only around 20 (max) will comment
- Out of those comments around only half have started a blog (1%)
This means one of two things, either I’m writing really boring posts and people aren’t getting to the end, or there is a huge disparity in the number of people who are interested in producing and those who are interested in consuming things.
This is obviously a niche example but you see these kind of number drop offs everywhere on the web (forum members/viewers vs active posters vs moderators/forum owners) and also I believe in the real world (workers vs share holders vs actual business owners).
This also makes me think how many of the readers are actually practising to any extent what they read on here or other FIRE based blogs? I have a feeling it’s less than I would like.
- 20% reading the blog post are actually living with some kind of FIRE values
- 4% (20% of 20%) are active and interested enough to comment on it
- ~1% (20% of 20% of 20% = 0.8%) are interested enough to start their own blog about it
I guess the overall point I’m making here is that even if there seems like there are hundreds of blogs out there wanging on about FIRE, and even the occasional story in the mainstream news about people who’ve FIRE’d early, the actual uptake on them compared to the whole population is extremely small. Let’s base it on the numbers above and run it for the whole population of the UK which google tells me is around 64 million. What if every single person in the UK heard about FIRE and read a few very persuasive articles on why it’s a great thing. Would everyone instantly drop their consumer lifestyles and become frugal monks, causing a mass economic crash due to the lower consumption? I very much doubt it…
- 64 million people hear about it, read all the articles and have a good think about it
- 12.8 million people make at least some small changes to their life style (meaning 51.2 million do absolutely jack shit about it)
- Of those, 2.56 million people actively chase FIRE by following the traditional work until you have enough route (remember most people are very conservative by nature or at least are by societies expectations)
- Of those only just over half a million will do something entrepreneurial like start their own business and find side hustles to make up their income
Do I think our economy has the capacity to absorb an additional half a million people ditching their traditional jobs and doing something different? Of course it does!!!! And this is with the whole population exposed to these ideas. The real truth is that it is still only a tiny fraction of people who even read such articles, even the ones on the mainstream media sites.
the money shot
If there is one thing I want you to takeaway from this post is this:
It may come across that everyone is out there doing their thing and you’ve missed the boat on the latest money making opportunity, side hustle or micro business idea, but the real truth is that most people think exactly like and therefore don’t bother in the first place.
Therefore there is plenty of space in the market/world for you to also do your own thing as well.
Just take blogging again as an example, the FIRE blog landscape seems very busy but there are new blogs popping up all the time with new and interesting things to say.
Another example is Huw with his Kindle publishing. There are probably millions of Kindle books out there already but there was plenty of space for him to get in there and within about a year start making a very decent living out of it, with some very hard work of course!
So don’t ever ask what if everyone did this, how many people are already doing this, and for heavens sake definitely don’t ask what is everyone else doing 🙂
I guess the real question should be:
What is holding you back?