Just show up

I happen to live and work by the gym where Kobe Bryant works out. He works out quite early, and today he showed up at 5:45AM for his morning workout. My coworkers tell me that this is nothing unusual for Kobe, and he’s been doing it since his high school days. Mind you, he is a retired player, but hey, Kobe is still Kobe, and I think the fact that he still shows up in the morning to this day says a lot about his attitude and philosophy toward life in general, not just basketball. Now I feel like a coward lecturing to my students about the importance of work ethic, when my daily practice sessions don’t start until much later in the morning (if it starts at all). Apparently, I still have a whole lot I must learn from truly dedicated people like Kobe. He makes me look like the laziest person on the planet, and that’s probably why he makes millions and I don’t.

By the way, here’s a little nugget of insight I’ve discovered over time, for anyone who thinks that practicing is too hard and unpleasant; practicing is actually not hard at all. What’s really difficult is to do the Step Zero, which is to show up for practice. Or in my case, to sit myself down in front of the piano. Once I can overcome that initial step, the actual process of going through the practice is not as difficult.

New York City

When I stepped foot in New York City, I felt a strange sense of familiarity. Here I was, in a city that I had never been in, yet it seemed as if the scenery in front of me was something I had seen before. I even felt like I had come home.

It could be because New York City is similar to my hometown in many ways. Just like Tokyo, you encounter thousands of pedestrians on a daily basis. Many of them seem to be in a rush to get somewhere. They are “strangers” to you, as in they are people whose only connection to your life is that they once walked by you in a busy city street. If your life were a movie, they are part of the “extra”. But let us remind ourselves that in their lives, we are the extra. Just strangers walking by. Most will stay strangers, yet, should you get to know some of them through a stroke of life’s luck that bring you together, you quickly find out that you were not strangers at all. After all, we are all human, and as such, we share much in common. We all seek meaningful relationships, we strive to do the best given our life’s circumstances, we worry about our future, and we ponder about things like the meaning of life and our place in society.

I wrote this piece, “New York City” for my album “Portraits”. The album is called that because these are pieces that portray some aspects of my life that have meant a lot to me.

You can listen to the rest of the album on Spotify and iTunes.

the fear of investing

Many people tell me that when it comes to investing aggressively, fear often gets in the way. But when I talk to them, I quickly find out that their fear is based on their emotions, and just by having more information, they can get over their fears and start investing wisely. Too often, our fears are unwarranted and we don’t even know it.

For example, here are some comments I’ve heard from my friends just in the recent months:

“Other than my real estate properties, I hold a lot of my assets in cash. I just can’t go into the stock market, I’m scared that it is way too overpriced.”

“I just sold all of my stocks recently. I’m glad I did it because the stock market hasn’t gone up at all this year.”

“It took 25 years after the Great Depression for the market to recover. I can’t risk an event like that happening again. I can’t afford to wait 25 years to get my money back.” (This is not true by the way, it doesn’t take 25 years to recover, as I’ll argue in this post.)

All of these fears are understandable. Just the potential of losing money is scary, and I actually used to have the same fear before I studied about this topic more and have come to the understanding that my fear was purely based on the lack of my knowledge.

Having said that, there are a few things that you must understand when investing for the long-term.

You will lose money in some years.
The stock market does not always go up. So if you’re invested in the stock market, you will lose money in some years. I lost close to 40% of my assets in 2008. And guess what? That’s totally okay! You’re actually in good company when you lose money, because even Warren Buffett, the world’s best investor, loses money in those years too. Which leads me to my next point:

You will gain money in most years.
And these years are quite profitable. Way more than enough to make up for the lost years in my first point.

You cannot predict which year will be which.
This is really important. You cannot predict the market. That doesn’t mean the market is completely random. There actually are ways to evaluate whether the market maybe over or under-priced, and one good way is to calculate the price-to-earning (P/E) ratio of a broad stock market index and compare it to the historical average. But even with that information, you still can’t predict what the market will do that year. Take 2017 as an example. It seemed that the market was overpriced at the start of the year. Seeing that the market is overpriced, an investor could have sold all his stocks predicting that it will go down (sadly, some people actually did). Well guess what? By the end of the year, the market gained a whopping 21.7%!

It’s costly to be NOT invested in the market.
It is tempting to sell your stocks when the market seems overpriced. But when you sell your stocks, you miss out on the potential growth, and history has shown that the market tends to have just a few days every year when the most significant growth occurs (we’re talking multiple percentage points in a single day). The only problem is, nobody can predict when those days will come. So how costly is it when you miss out on the few good days? Consider this fun thought-experiment:

Suppose you had $100,000 on January 1st of 1994, and decided to invest all that money for two decades, ending on December 31st of 2013. That’s a total of 5037 trading days. If you kept all of the asset in an S&P 500 index fund for all of those trading days, you will have a hefty $583,520 sitting in your account at the end of the experiment. Cool! You survived the dot-com crash of 2001 and the housing-crash and financial melt down of 2008 just fine, and you can now retire comfortably on your money. Readers in Los Angeles or New York might disagree and argue that they need a few million dollars to retire, but remember, the reason why people seek to live in these expensive cities in the first place is because of the wealth of economic opportunities close to a center of commerce. But if you are financially free, the prospect of a well-paying job doesn’t factor into your decision anymore. You can pretty much live anywhere in the world at that point.

Now, to continue with the thought experiment, consider this alternative: Suppose that instead of investing your money for the entirety of the 20-year duration, you took your money in and out of the market due to fear, and you happen to miss out on forty of the best trading days during the 5037 trading days span (that’s less than just 1% of the duration). Guess how much you’d have at the end. A mere $81,490. Remember, you started with $100k. You actually LOST money over those twenty years, simply by missing out on those forty days of trading. It turns out that fear could be very costly.

When it comes to making a financial decision, you are much better off going with what the research says, not what your emotion tells you to do. And the research says that the people who stay invested see much better returns than people who try to time the market. So stay invested at all times.

Count your wealth by how much of the economy you own, not dollars.
Money is just a piece of paper. Although it is a pretty useful piece of paper for trading goods, there is no inherent value in it. But so many people think that there is. I even know of an extreme case of a family who holds most of their assets in cash hidden in various places of their house. They do things like that because they think that money is valuable. It is not. When you hold onto cash, you are actually constantly losing wealth over time, because the purchasing power of a dollar diminishes over time. Economists call this “inflation”. Just think about it. A person could buy a hamburger for 12 cents in 1950. Well, that’s not true anymore, in fact you can’t buy much of anything for 12 cents nowadays. So by keeping 12 cents under your bed thinking that you could treat yourself to a nice juicy burger in some future date, you lost all your purchasing power. That’s essentially what happens when you just keep cash. Money loses value over time.

But it is so tempting to compare prices simply in terms of dollars. I’ve met some old people who talk about the “good old days” when everything used to cost cents. Well they forgot one important factor: their wages were much lower then too, and their purchasing power was actually lower in those “good old days”. Most of them couldn’t afford a color TV, for example.

It’s also the same misunderstanding that causes people to think that they got a raise when their salary goes up, because they simply look at their wealth in terms of dollars. If your salary goes up by 1% every year, you are not getting a raise. In fact, your income went down, because inflation raises the consumer price index by more than 1% per year.

When you think that your wealth is measured in dollars, it makes sense that you would have an aversion to loss by investing in the stock market. After all, your $100 today could suddenly drop to $60 tomorrow, and it appears that you “lost” your wealth. But that’s not how I think of it. I count my wealth in terms of the proportion of the world’s economy that I own, because essentially, that’s what I am buying when I invest in index funds. Suddenly, the ups and downs of the market don’t affect my emotions anymore, because even if the market crashes tomorrow, I still hold the exact same percentage of the economy. So my wealth hasn’t really decreased, first, because prices of goods also drop with the market keeping my purchasing power relatively stable, and second, now those shares are at a steep discount! If the market crashes and loses half its value, I can afford to buy double the shares for the same amount of dollars all of a sudden! So the market crash is not bad at all. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for me to keep investing.

When you invest consistently, you naturally end up buying more shares when they are discounted due to downturns, and that leads to a significant wealth over time. Market downturns are actually to your advantage.

It won’t take 25 years to recover from a crash.
This is partially related to my last point. If you simply look at it in terms of dollars, it does appear that the recovery from Great Depression took 25 years. But you know by now that your wealth is not to be counted in dollars. Remember, this was a deflationary period when the prices also went down, so if you just look at purchasing power alone, it turns out that the recovery only took 4.5 years, not 25. Plus, this person was assuming that he invested ALL of his assets right before the market crashed, and didn’t invest a single dollar after it crashed. But that’s not what you’d be doing if you’ve been reading my posts. You will likely start investing way before the market crashes and see significant growth in your funds that makes the loss of a crash not hurt as much. And even if you do get unlucky and invest a significant amount of money right before a crash, as long as you keep investing after the crash, you will still be in golden shape.

So there you have it. Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the market, and are not that afraid to invest. There’s no telling when the next crash is. It might happen tomorrow. It might happen in 20 years. It doesn’t matter. Just keep investing.

Simplicity is fun.

Yesterday, I wrote about getting stuck in traffic and how fun that was because of how rare that is in my life. There is actually a broader point I wanted to make, which is that events in your life that are rare are more enjoyable than those that happen frequently, and understanding that part of your psychology can help you hack your life in a certain way to make it much more enjoyable.

There are many examples of this.

For one, I don’t subscribe to anything. No cable, no Netflix, no Spotify, no Amazon Prime, and I actually don’t even own a TV nor a computer. While these services may appear like a good deal because you get to consume as much entertainment as you want for a very low price, having constant access to entertainment actually diminishes the positive life-energy that you can gain from them. Plus, seeking for “good deals” is not the best way to go about life. We will fare much better by optimizing our surrounding to improve our quality of life rather than stuffing our minds and bodies with unnecessary stuff, however cheap they may be.

I actually still do watch TV once in a while, at Best Buy. I walk into their state-of-the-art surround-sound and TV display room, and enjoy a good showing of Planet Earth 2 (or whatever they happen to have on display), and let me tell you, it is a pretty amazing experience! It’s been so cool to see the improvements in TV technology over time, because when I walk into a Best Buy store after not having visited one in a few years, I am shocked to see that what used to be an amazing feat of technology that costed $2000 are now being sold for like $200, and there is an even more amazing piece of technology out today that has claimed its place in the $2000 range (apparently called “4k” now. Did you say 1080p? That’s so yesterday). But do I come home with the TV after this really cool TV-watching experience? No. Because I understand that as soon as I bring one home, I will just get used to it, and it won’t feel as amazing anymore.

Last week was TYCTWD (Take Your Child to Work Day) at Google. I signed up to teach one of the computer science classes, and the kids had a blast skipping a day of school to learn about Google and our work in machine learning, and also about computers and society at large. But what was particularly interesting to me was to see the kids’ joyous reactions to the free gourmet meal at one of Google’s cafes. They think it is the best thing ever, and it reminded me of my first days at Google. The meals are amazing! Or so I thought at first. Then I just got used to it. Now, it’s just food. I even catch myself complaining sometimes, “that dish was a bit strong on the spices”, “Taco Tuesday again? We just had one two weeks ago!” “Why not serve lamb chops or scallops more often?” Wow, what a snob I am. But you see the point? Even something as amazing as free gourmet meals at work, a very special perk that pretty much nobody else in the world gets, will quickly start to feel ordinary if you get it every single day.

I have a friend who lives atop a hill overlooking the city of Orange. About once a year, I would attend a dinner party at her house where she brings together scientists and engineers in the area. The view is quite spectacular, and I enjoy every minute of it, sipping a good wine and having an intellectually stimulating conversation learning about various things happening at the forefront of science and technology. I realize then just how much I appreciate a nice home with a view. But would I buy that house? Never! Not because I can’t afford it, but because I understand my own psychology. The view is enjoyable because I go there once a year. If I owned that backyard, it’ll just become the norm, and I would no longer appreciate it. Same exact reason why I don’t own a luxury car. I love it when I get to catch a ride with some of my friends who own luxury cars, precisely because I don’t own one and I rarely get the opportunity to ride in one. Recently I got to ride in my friend’s Tesla and he demonstrated to me its acceleration capability. It was like a thrill ride at an amusement park!

We can improve our lives by simplifying our surrounding environment. The less we have, the more we enjoy everything in life.

I relived a day of high school

Today, I visited Six Flags to take care of some paperwork for my music gig, and what a fun day it turned out to be!

First, I got stuck in traffic. I know that doesn’t sound like fun, but as someone who lives walking distance from work and the grocery store (the only two places I frequent), driving through traffic has a kind of a specialty factor because it is such a rare occurrence. As I sat in my car, I reflected on how blessed I am that this is not my routine every single day as is the case for so many residents of this city often referred to as the traffic-capital of the world. I thought hard to try to remember the last time I was stuck in traffic. I couldn’t.

When I got there, my appointment coincided with a high-school hiring event that they were having, and I got to talk to some of the students. They were dressed up very nicely, and one was hoping to land the first job of her life. I know that working a job is one of the best ways to learn some crucial life-lessons that will propel them far no matter what the job is or what they decide to pursue in the future, because every job has its unique challenges and makes students think critically in a very different way from an academic setting. And a job that is mostly outdoors in the midst of summer in Valencia, CA can be quite tough, as far as I can tell. Looking back on my life, my first job as a busboy and dishwasher taught me that money is hard-earned, and it turned an embarrassingly clueless and entitled kid into a somewhat responsible person who can function in society.

I chuckled a little bit when one staff member thought that I was one of the interviewees, told me that I should never wear jeans to any job interview, and handed me a math test. I guess I still look young enough. I contemplated whether I should tell them that my degree is in aerospace engineering, and any math test short of problems involving some second-order differential equations or the free-body diagram analysis of a passenger on X2 (their popular 4th dimension roller coaster) would be an insult to my intelligence. But curiosity got the best of me and I took the test just to see what it is. It wasn’t easy! Not because of the math concepts, but because the problems involving pictures of various U.S. currency were printed in black and white. It turns out that dimes and pennies really look alike without the help of color.

I didn’t expect I would get so much kick out of a day of driving, paperwork, and an unexpected math test. Life is fun when I can find the humor in all situations and just roll with it.

You don’t need a to-do list

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” -Annie Dillard

 

Do you keep a to-do list? I suggest that you replace it with this:

Step one: Throw away your to-do list.

 

Once I heard a doctor say that the people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness are the people who live their lives to the fullest. I guess that makes sense, I mean, if you were suddenly told today that you were going to die soon, wouldn’t you also start living as if today were your last, and just cut to the most important thing that you had wanted to do to make a difference, whatever that may be?

I say that we abolish these to-do and bucket lists completely because frankly, if you need to keep a list in order to remember the things you want or have to accomplish, those things must not be all that important. When is the last time you forgot something that is really important to you? Never. If you forgot, then trust me, it wasn’t that important. So let’s not confuse what’s important versus what all of the world’s marketing gurus have convinced us are important when they actually aren’t. Those are just distractions, and they do not deserve a place on your to-do list. Plus, keeping a list of things that you may or not get to do someday equates to spending a significant part of your limited time and energy on imagining some vague future all the while forgetting to make most out of the only moment that you have been guaranteed, which is this moment right now. Your focus and attention would propel you much further if they are spent on your actions today rather than on some fantasy of tomorrow. And perhaps ironically, focusing on today will actually give you a better tomorrow, because every day of your life is significantly shaped by what you have accumulated in all of the “today’s” that came before. So if something is REALLY important and you have the urge to put it on some to-do list with the hopes of getting to it, don’t even bother writing it down, and just take care of it today instead.

I also challenge the notion that there is a correlation between life’s satisfaction and the quantity of things you get to do. There are many wonderfully content people whose lives are centered around just one thing that is important to them. Even though that one thing can morph over time and that is only natural for anybody seeking growth, it’s still one thing at a time. The rest of life is fluff; stuff that will take care of themselves if you focus on your one thing.

This may not just be general life advice; it might even apply to more specific endeavors, such as your art or your work. Success and satisfaction come from not letting the small things get in their way of what’s actually important, so we can all start by figuring out what that thing is. And we surely don’t need a list to remember it, because after all, it’s only one thing. The challenge is not in remembering it, but sticking with it despite all of life’s distractions that constantly surround us.

The power of boredom

Some of my friends find it absurd that I don’t have internet at home. Maybe it’s not just that, but coupled with the facts that I have never owned a smartphone other than the company phones that my jobs have required me to carry, and my occupation being a software engineer at Google. The questions I often hear are along the lines of “You don’t have internet? But you work for the internet!”

While I am in no way advocating that everybody else do the same and live like me, it turns out that the internet, for all its upsides of giving you constant access to any information you might need at anytime, can also be a detriment and a source of distraction that prevents you from producing your best work. There are huge advantages that come from disconnecting yourself and incorporating moments of boredom to your life.

While boredom may sound like a negative thing, it has actually been a very important part of my life and my work both as a musician and an engineer. It is precisely in these moments of doing nothing that I am the most creative. Many of my musical melodies were born of these moments. So were the solutions to many of the difficult engineering problems I have faced. And it turns out that life without the internet is actually not “boring” at all, because these creative bursts also happen to be the moments when my brain works the hardest, and I end up experiencing my deepest sense of satisfaction.

If you don’t believe it, just try it and you’ll see for yourself. No, I don’t mean you have to go cancel your internet and phone plans right this moment, although you totally could and maybe you should in the near future, but for now, just unplug your wireless router and turn off your phone for an extended period of time. You’ll discover that you’re actually not depriving yourself at all by cutting yourself off from the digital world. It is rather liberating and satisfying that you can totally be at peace even in moments of boredom. And who knows, you might even produce your best work that you never knew you had within you.

Lessons from the Japanese language

What I love about the Japanese language is that an individual word often tells a story, and gets to the core of what that word is actually about.

For example, when I translate the following Japanese words literally back to English, this is what happens:

Physics – 物理学 “butsu-ri-gaku” – the study of the reason for the way things are

Engineering – 工学 “kou-gaku”- the study of the making of useful things

Music – 音楽 “on-gaku” – the enjoyment of sound

Note that music is to be enjoyed, not studied.

 

Here’s another one I love:

Happiness – 幸福 “kou-fuku” – Happy and Lucky

Now, this is deep. Happy AND lucky, not just happy. Let that sink in for a moment.

When we think about the word “happiness”, we often think of it as something that we are currently missing, and therefore need to go looking for. Isn’t that right? I mean, why else would so many people read all these self-help books, or click on articles we see on Facebook with titles like “13 Incredibly Smart Tips to be Happier”?

Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Maybe happiness is not to be sought after, but rather, something that we all have already.

Your life is your art

Today marks the last day of my short and sweet two-week stay in my hometown, Tokyo.

First thing that I immediately notice about Tokyo whenever I come home is the amazing efficiency of its public transportation system. Trains run right on the dot to the second, and this is nothing short of a miracle if you are used to transportation in other cities, especially considering the sheer number of people that depend on this system to work this well in order for Tokyo’s economy to keep on going day in and day out. If Tokyo’s public transportation were to suddenly cease to exist, the hit to the economy will be on the order of billions of dollars every single day.

From the well thought-out UI design on the signs all over Shinjuku station that direct people to the exact platform amongst the dozens of platforms of all the different train lines that run through there, to the software-driven timely announcements that inform people of the status of the trains about to arrive and how they can stand to make getting off and on the trains efficient and quick, to the railroad employee who sets up the ramp for a customer in a wheel-chair and contacts some other employee at some other station about the exact train, car and door number where this person is expected to get off so he can be greeted and helped off the train at his destination, to the IC cards that every passenger carries which electronically records the origin and destination of each of our trips to automatically deduct the correct fare without anyone having to stand in line, all of these little things are executed in perfect coordination to transport millions of people every day so they all get to their respective destinations at the exact time they had planned to get there. To me, Tokyo’s public transportation is a work of art, and the people that made it are artists. This is art because it is unique. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Speaking of art and Tokyo, I am thankful to have met one artist, Bidu, on this trip.

I use the term “artist” in a general sense. To me, an artist is a person who creates something original. Just because a person draws, plays music, or writes, does not mean that that person is an artist. In contrast, one does not have to partake specifically in those activities to be an artist. For instance, Bidu is a kitchen worker at Google Japan. Perhaps not what people imagine when they hear “artist”.

When you use a Google product, do you think about the people that made it possible? Probably not, but even if you do, maybe you just think about Larry and Sergey whom the public often credits as having built everything Google. If you’re a bit more versed in how software works, maybe you think about the engineers who wrote the code. But I bet you don’t think about the kitchen worker. But Bidu is just as crucial to Google’s products as anyone working at Google.

Bidu is an artist. If you work for Google and have been to the cafe at the Tokyo office, you know who he is, because he most likely greeted you with his big smile as soon as you walked in and asked how your day was going.

On my first day, I just smiled back, and told him that I’m slightly jet-lagged, but otherwise great. I got my food and sat down.

Second day, he greeted me again, so I smiled back again and sat down, but this time close to him where I could hear him as I ate my food. I noticed that he is a bilingual, talking fluent English and Japanese depending on who came in.

Third day, I sat facing the direction where he was working to see him work. I noticed that he actually does more than just greet people. He helps people find what they’re looking for, directed the traffic as the cafe got crowded, transports clean utensils and bowls from the kitchen to the pile as they run low, cleans little spills here and there as people grab the food, and manages to throw in conversations with many people all while doing his job, forming connections. Then a blind person walked in. He immediately took notice and gave him the run down of the stations and the kinds of foods available at each, and made him a plate of all the foods that he wanted.

Fourth day, I noticed that he is actually not just bilingual. He was chatting up with one of the employees in French, so add that to his list of languages.

Fifth day, I got really curious so I asked him if he spoke any other languages. It turns out that he is not just trilingual and his mother tongue isn’t even Japanese, English, or French. He is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and he grew up learning one of the indigenous languages spoken in his home.

One day the following week, I did not sleep well the previous night so came in a bit tired. He noticed and told me, “You look tired. Grab some coffee, great food, feel refreshed, and ‘ganbatte’ with your job.” (Ganbatte is one of those Japanese words that don’t have a direct English translation, but it’s kind of like “Fight On!”)

You see why I call him an artist. He is not just following some manual of what a kitchen worker ought to do. He is paying close attention to the needs of the people, and is creating an awesome dining experience for the people that come in during their busy and often stressful workday.

We are often led to believe that the dent we can make in this world depends on our job titles. Well, that is simply not true. A job is just your platform, and to quote Khalil Gibran, “work is love made visible.” The art that you make depends on you, not your title. This is true specially in this day and age when the needs of the world changes so quickly and whatever job you trained for will get outdated very quickly. But no matter what life has led you up to this point, if you have a job, somebody is paying you to do what you do, which means there is value in what you do. So are you going to treat it as such, and make art with it? Or are you going to be a cog in a machine and treat your job as some menial task? The choice is yours.

Fallacy of a tariff

This week, Donald Trump announced that he is imposing tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, tweeting “To protect our country we must protect American steel!”

This is a completely illogical policy. It is not at all based on sound economics, and the result is a significant net-negative on America’s (and also the world’s) economy.

It is shocking to me that tariffs are still a thing. Politicians all over the world keep making this mistake, and I am starting to wonder, are they really ignorant, or are they simply doing this to gain votes from ignorant voters even at the cost of the damage done by their stupid policy?

The fallacy in this kind of thinking stems from a simple omission: the mistake of only regarding the positive effect on a small subset of the economy (in this case, the American metal industry) while ignoring the negative effect on the economy of the country as a whole.

So let’s actually think through this issue and figure out what happens to America’s economy as a result of the imposed tariff on metals.

First of all, we must recognize the reason we import any commodity in the first place. The United States imports foreign metals because there happen to be other countries who produce that same metal more efficiently than we do. This makes perfect sense, why would we pay more for an American metal, when we can just import the same exact metal from another country for cheaper?

A person thinking only about the American steel industry then comes to the erroneous conclusion that foreign metal industries are bad for America, because we should be producing more of the metal here “to put America first, and to bring back our jobs.”

This results in a policy like this tariff on foreign metals. Now, those foreign metals are artificially made more expensive in the United States. Because of this, other American industries that need metal to produce their products are now forced to eat the cost by either buying the artificially expensive foreign metal, or the already expensive American metal.

And here is the problem. Now all of a sudden, an American car, say, that used to be made out of inexpensive metal imported from overseas, is suddenly forced to be manufactured from more expensive metal made in America. To the consumer, that means this car is more expensive than it used to be. That naturally leads to the consumers buying less American cars and switching over to cheaper alternatives such as Japanese cars. At best, we “saved” a few jobs in the American steel industry at the cost of jobs lost in the American car industry. In addition to those lost jobs, the American consumers also now have less money, because many goods are now costing more than they used to. The effect of that lost money is hard to trace, but it means less money in the system that could have been used to buy some product in some other industry, so that unknown industry is now short of the need to create that product which directly means less jobs in that industry. I used cars as an example above but the damage is actually distributed across a countless number of industries.

It doesn’t take a doctorate degree in economics to understand the damage of such an erroneous policy if we just simply follow the exchanges. Yet we keep falling for it. To me, there’s no better reminder that our education system has failed to do its one job: to educate citizens to think critically. It concerns me greatly that we continue to fail to make informed decisions based on sound logic and reason. Why don’t we ever stop to think to ourselves for a second, “wait, why is this politician doing this, and what’ll actually happen as a result?” and calling them out for their stupidity without resorting to tribalism and choosing sides based on the politicians’ image, party loyalty, or our views on just one or two issues that we happen to care about that doesn’t even matter that much, like gun control, our fight against terrorism, and many other statistically insignificant things that the profit-driven news programs made us believe are the most important issues? All this while ignoring issues that are actually much more significant. It seems crazy to me that so much of our recent discourse has been about our outrage at things like lack of gun control or Trump alluding to arming of teachers which was no more than a ploy to garner attention, while we go on ignoring things that harm a lot more people, like the lack of equity of access to education, dangers of bad nutrition, and the countless subsidies, tariffs, and regulations that politicians have enacted throughout history that do nothing more than to harm our productivity and, naturally, our quality of lives.

After explaining all of this, some people wonder, “but isn’t it bad for us to support other countries’ economies by purchasing their goods, making us less competitive?” Ok, a fair question, but actually, no, not at all. If other countries are willing to sell us their goods, we are paying them with the money that, in order for them to get any value out, must be invested back in America. It is an exchange. Mathematically, the amount of all imports and exports for any given country must always balance out. If not in forms of tangible goods, then in the form of currency exchange that will eventually be traded for a tangible good in some future timeframe. By enabling free global trade, we enrich the entire world’s economy. This isn’t a controversial issue: economists of all political inclinations agree on this point, other than the fake economists who make a living through their ties to special interests. If we instead artificially cut off the flow of trade, we impoverish more people.