Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my life — on a best-case scenario. I’ve now followed that line of thinking as far as I could reasonably go at this point. A lot of details are still to be fleshed out, but this is the spirit of my long term plan:
- First step, which I’m currently working at: I save up “enough” assets. I have a specific savings threshold that is “enough” according to my definition: I can then retire and support myself and my wife in the country of our choosing with a lifestyle we think we’ll both like. My wife can keep working if she wants (and she thinks she’ll want to do that), but I’m done.
- I then am in principle reasonably free to do whatever I want, perhaps for the rest of my life (unless there’s some economic downturn that affects us, or the world heats up too much, of course).
My current thinking is that I would probably study, write about, and research whatever I want. ML is at the top of my list right now. I have about 70 A4 pages with notes about possible projects (short stories, essays, applications of ML). I’ve also always loved just reading books and surfing Wikipedia. I might be able to do just that forever and not tire of it, if everything else fails. If I do tire of it, I can always go back to work. This may change, but freelancing as a programmer currently seems like it’ll remain viable for some time.
- On the side, I also try to do some good. Whatever my morals and capacity allow me to do. You can save a life with around 3000 USD nowadays; I did not know that until recently.
- I keep at this until I die, hopefully pursuing some singular line of thinking, or form of art, or human activity, as far as I can personally go. Or just living my life day to day, like most people. But knowing that I have the choice to do what I want to do. No excuses.
- When I die, and when my wife dies, the bulk of the money goes to someone that wants to do the same thing I did, in a way that is true to the spirit of what I achieved (if anything) thus far — or at least relates to it in a personal way that is somehow novel or interesting. If I wrote some fiction books, the person can write their own fiction. If I researched AI (and likely got nowhere), the person gets to do research along similar lines. If I did a bunch of random stuff, the person can do their own random stuff.
- The person in question could be chosen by a committee — if no-one else wants to do it, some freelancers from the Mechanical Turk of the future might do the job. Or a smart cryptocurrency contract, if that even works. It could also be a decision taken by a selected group of people that like or relate to my work, if such a group of people ever exists. They would become in practice the board of a virtual foundation (foundation sounds fancy, but I picture something thrifty — nothing that takes up a too significant fraction of the overall resources available for this project). No matter the mechanism, it’s about choosing the right person for the “job” — although it’s more like a grant, or tenure.
- This person is, in some way, a better me. There’ll always be better people out there, people with great potential, that lack the right opportunities (some of which I did have). This is about giving people opportunities they don’t have in the current system.
- Just to be safe, this person shouldn’t be able use the money to buy a Lamborghini or pursue undue luxury. Too many luxuries would in some way break the contract, and another person would be chosen/hired. This probably means the foundation needs to live on and apply some degree (hopefully light) of oversight.
- If this still sounds like too good a deal overall (free money to do nothing in particular!), here comes what many people would consider the catch: the person may have kids (my wife and I don’t, which makes this whole thought experiment at least theoretically feasible), but they may not leave to their offspring any part of the assets of the foundation, or the wealth they amassed while under “employment” by the foundation. Inheritance as it works now preserves wealth along a genetic line — I think it is the root of a lot of undue privilege. I don’t believe in it. It’s fine if you do — both ways of thinking can coexist in this world. But the job may be easier for people that don’t want kids, or at least don’t believe that their main purpose in life is to make the world better just for their offspring.
- When one grant beneficiary dies, the process repeats.
- Grant beneficiaries may contribute to the wealth of the fund, if they want. Nobody has to work by definition, if things work out well, but everyone may work if they so choose. They just can’t work for their own personal gain, or that of their offspring or relatives or close friends. Charity is, of course, OK. If a beneficiary produces wealth while holding the grant (a discovery, winning the lottery, or just steady well-compensated work as seems to be my case), the wealth belongs to the foundation.
- If the money becomes enough (compound interest and luck over long periods of time could add up) more than one person could get a grant. Whatever they need to do what they consider their life’s work: different people need different sums. They’d all be part of the foundation regardless. The foundation keeps its overhead low and gives grants to as many people as is reasonable. There’s a moral quandary here about which kinds of lifestyles you support; some should surely be worse (and cheaper) than mine, so more people can benefit. Perhaps none should be much better. But they should be good enough to enable people to live comfortably and relatively anxiety-free.
- Perhaps after some time some fraction of the accrued wealth does go to the people participating, in full, and they are free to do whatever they want with it even after they “quit”. It could be risky for the foundation in the long term, but it could also be the right kind of freedom to allow future generations within this system. I cannot figure out the needs of all future people. Perhaps a different kind of foundation would be superior to this one in the future. Alternatively, a more sophisticated governance method for the foundation could be set up: the members can decide on reforms. But some principles are considered part of the constitution, and ought not be changed lightly.
- If people participating ever want to switch lifestyles, they can leave. If no more people are interested in this deal, the foundation closes and its assets go to a variety of reasonable charities.
- If the money runs out, the game is over.
- That’s all.
You could say that this whole plan sounds like a kind of sick preservation of the ego; but is it really worse in any major way than just having kids? This system, when compared to regular genetic line inheritance, could potentially work to reduce inherited privilege and reduce social disparity to some extent. Any qualified interested person could in many ways deserve my inheritance more than any kids I might have. But, critically, the position need not even go to the best qualified person available according to objective metrics (such as past studies or quality of work). Perhaps it can and should more often go to a person that is potentially good but unproven — less privileged than others. Someone that didn’t inherit their way to a good school in a first world country, or that wasn’t able to attend school for some reason. This would be partly about leveling the ground. This way, no matter what this is prompted by at some unconscious level, it would benefit someone that can be said to deserve a better chance. The main motivation may not even matter in the big scheme of things.
You could say that this is evil because, as I mentioned before, you can save a life with 3000 USD. Why not donate it all when I die and save as many lives as possible? Well, doing this was my previous plan. And perhaps that one is better in the end; I might just do that instead. But I do plan on giving away part of the money this way (as I mentioned earlier, only the bulk of the money would go to the foundation when I die). I believe this could be the better decision in the long term. Think about it: if I do this and the idea ever catches on (the probability of which is astronomically and comically low, but probably non zero after I post this on the internet and it gets crawled by archive.org), there’s potential for lots of people effectively donating a fraction of their wealth to charity in the same way. Also, some percentage of them would be living in some hopefully constructive way. They may focus on ethical, technological or cultural advances that in the long term reduce the need for charity. Hopefully eventually eliminate the need for it altogether. Enacting my plan would then be a way of preserving an idea that is potentially useful in the (granted, optimistic) limit.
Of course other people doing this could set up their own rules. Foundations already exist; I haven’t invented them. But this particular kind of foundation, which in some way preserves and furthers personal goals, could end up being something new. People may tinker with the core idea a bit: change the fraction they donate and use the rest to set up more heavily goal-oriented stipends, for example. Reward different kinds of behaviour.
As long as they keep the essentials of the idea (no luxury, pursue life with curiosity, try to do something with your freedom, help people), I’d like to call the group of people doing this Flancia. Whatever they build while they pursue this lifestyle becomes part of Flancia, too.
I am privileged (and lucky, which is another name for privilege), but perhaps not particularly talented. Whatever I try, I am more likely to fail than not. But I like to think that people will come after me that will be better at this — they’ll perhaps achieve what I only tried to do. Or at least they’ll give it their all and best. And help each other.