Nobel Prize-Winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (RIP) Explains the Key Question Every Investor Must Ask, and Why It’s a Fool’s Errand to Pick Stocks

This past week, the influ­en­tial psy­chol­o­gist and econ­o­mist Daniel Kah­ne­man passed away at age 90. The win­ner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ic Sci­ences, Kah­ne­man wrote the best­selling book Think­ing, Fast and Slow where he explained the two sys­tems of think­ing that shape human deci­sions. These include “Sys­tem 1,” which relies on fast, auto­mat­ic and uncon­scious think­ing, and then “Sys­tem 2,” which requires atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion and works more slow­ly. And it’s the inter­play of these two sys­tems that pro­found­ly shapes the qual­i­ty of our deci­sions in dif­fer­ent parts of our lives, includ­ing invest­ing.

In the inter­view above, Steve Forbes asks why indi­vid­ual investors per­sist in believ­ing that they can pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly over time, despite ample evi­dence to the con­trary. Draw­ing on his research, Kah­ne­man describes the “illu­sion of skill,” where investors “get the imme­di­ate feel­ing that [they] under­stand some­thing,” which is much “more com­pelling than the knowl­edge of sta­tis­tics that tells you that you don’t know any­thing.” Here, Sys­tem 1 cre­ates the “illu­sion of skill,” and it over­whelms the slow­er ana­lyt­i­cal think­ing found in Sys­tem 2—the Sys­tem that could use data to deter­mine that stock pick­ing is a fool’s errand. When Forbes asks if investors should ulti­mate­ly opt for index funds instead of indi­vid­ual stocks, Kah­ne­man replies “I am a believ­er in index funds,” that is, unless you have very rare infor­ma­tion that allows you to pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly.

Lat­er in the inter­view, Kah­ne­man touch­es on anoth­er impor­tant sub­ject. In his mind, the first ques­tion every investor should ask is not how much mon­ey should I plan to make, but rather, “How much can I afford to lose.” Every investor should assess their risk tol­er­ance, in part so that you can han­dle tur­bu­lence in the mar­ket and stick with your ini­tial invest­ment plan. If you are not aware of your risk tol­er­ance, “when things go bad, you will want to change what you are doing, and that’s the dis­as­ter in invest­ing… Loss aver­sion can kill you.” He con­tin­ues, “Emo­tions are indeed your ene­my. The worst thing that could hap­pen to you …  is to make a deci­sion and not stick with it, so that you bail out when things go bad­ly, so that you sell low and buy high. That is not a recipe for doing well in the stock mar­ket, or any­where.” Ide­al­ly, you should fig­ure out upfront how much you want to put in the stock mar­ket, and how much you want to keep out, so that you can psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly man­age the ups and downs of invest­ing.

From here, Kah­ne­man comes to his most impor­tant piece of advice for investors: Know your­self in terms of what you could regret. If you are prone to regret, if invest­ing makes you feel inse­cure and lose sleep at night, then you should adopt a “regret min­i­miza­tion strat­e­gy” and cre­ate a more con­ser­v­a­tive port­fo­lio to match it. Read more about that here. Also see Chap­ters 31 (Risk Poli­cies) and 32 (Keep Score) in Think­ing, Fast and Slow where Kah­ne­man talks more about invest­ing.

This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our sis­ter/­side-project site, Open Per­son­al Finance.

Relat­ed Con­tent on Open Per­son­al Finance: 

All the Finan­cial Advice You’ll Ever Need Fits on a Sin­gle Index Card

Why You Should Diver­si­fy: A Key Invest­ment Les­son from Econ­o­mist Alex Tabar­rok & Van­guard Founder John Bogle

Essen­tial Advice for Any Investor from Jack Bogle, the Founder of Van­guard

War­ren Buf­fett Explains the Pow­er of Com­pound Inter­est



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Bertrand Russell & Buckminster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live and Learn More

Why must we all work long hours to earn the right to live? Why must only the wealthy have access to leisure, aes­thet­ic plea­sure, self-actu­al­iza­tion…? Every­one seems to have an answer, accord­ing to their polit­i­cal or the­o­log­i­cal bent. One eco­nom­ic bogey­man, so-called “trick­le-down” eco­nom­ics, or “Reaganomics,” actu­al­ly pre­dates our 40th pres­i­dent by a few hun­dred years at least. The notion that we must bet­ter ourselves—or sim­ply survive—by toil­ing to increase the wealth and prop­er­ty of already wealthy men was per­haps first com­pre­hen­sive­ly artic­u­lat­ed in the 18th-cen­tu­ry doc­trine of “improve­ment.” In order to jus­ti­fy pri­va­tiz­ing com­mon land and forc­ing the peas­antry into job­bing for them, Eng­lish land­lords attempt­ed to show in trea­tise after trea­tise that 1) the peas­ants were lazy, immoral, and unpro­duc­tive, and 2) they were bet­ter off work­ing for oth­ers. As a corol­lary, most argued that landown­ers should be giv­en the utmost social and polit­i­cal priv­i­lege so that their largesse could ben­e­fit every­one.

This scheme neces­si­tat­ed a com­plete rede­f­i­n­i­tion of what it meant to work. In his study, The Eng­lish Vil­lage Com­mu­ni­ty and the Enclo­sure Move­ments, his­to­ri­an W.E. Tate quotes from sev­er­al of the “improve­ment” trea­tis­es, many writ­ten by Puri­tans who argued that “the poor are of two class­es, the indus­tri­ous poor who are con­tent to work for their bet­ters, and the idle poor who pre­fer to work for them­selves.” Tate’s sum­ma­tion per­fect­ly artic­u­lates the ear­ly mod­ern rede­f­i­n­i­tion of “work” as the cre­ation of prof­it for own­ers. Such work is vir­tu­ous, “indus­tri­ous,” and leads to con­tent­ment. Oth­er kinds of work, leisure­ly, domes­tic, plea­sur­able, sub­sis­tence, or oth­er­wise, qualifies—in an Orwellian turn of phrase—as “idle­ness.” (We hear echoes of this rhetoric in the lan­guage of “deserv­ing” and “unde­serv­ing” poor.) It was this lan­guage, and its legal and social reper­cus­sions, that Max Weber lat­er doc­u­ment­ed in The Protes­tant Eth­ic and the Spir­it of Cap­i­tal­ism, Karl Marx react­ed to in Das Cap­i­tal, and fem­i­nists have shown to be a con­sol­i­da­tion of patri­ar­chal pow­er and fur­ther exclu­sion of women from eco­nom­ic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Along with Marx, var­i­ous oth­ers have raised sig­nif­i­cant objec­tions to Protes­tant, cap­i­tal­ist def­i­n­i­tions of work, includ­ing Thomas Paine, the Fabi­ans, agrar­i­ans, and anar­chists. In the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, we can add two sig­nif­i­cant names to an already dis­tin­guished list of dis­senters: Buck­min­ster Fuller and Bertrand Rus­sell. Both chal­lenged the notion that we must have wage-earn­ing jobs in order to live, and that we are not enti­tled to indulge our pas­sions and inter­ests unless we do so for mon­e­tary prof­it or have inde­pen­dent wealth. In New York Times col­umn on Rus­sel­l’s 1932 essay “In Praise of Idle­ness,” Gary Gut­ting writes, “For most of us, a pay­ing job is still utter­ly essen­tial — as mass­es of unem­ployed peo­ple know all too well. But in our eco­nom­ic sys­tem, most of us inevitably see our work as a means to some­thing else: it makes a liv­ing, but it doesn’t make a life.”

In far too many cas­es in fact, the work we must do to sur­vive robs us of the abil­i­ty to live by ruin­ing our health, con­sum­ing all our pre­cious time, and degrad­ing our envi­ron­ment. In his essay, Rus­sell argued that “there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is vir­tu­ous, and that what needs to be preached in mod­ern indus­tri­al coun­tries is quite dif­fer­ent from what has always been preached.” His “argu­ments for lazi­ness,” as he called them, begin with def­i­n­i­tions of what we mean by “work,” which might be char­ac­ter­ized as the dif­fer­ence between labor and man­age­ment:

What is work? Work is of two kinds: first, alter­ing the posi­tion of mat­ter at or near the earth’s sur­face rel­a­tive­ly to oth­er such mat­ter; sec­ond, telling oth­er peo­ple to do so. The first kind is unpleas­ant and ill paid; the sec­ond is pleas­ant and high­ly paid.

Rus­sell fur­ther divides the sec­ond cat­e­go­ry into “those who give orders” and “those who give advice as to what orders should be giv­en.” This lat­ter kind of work, he says, “is called pol­i­tics,” and requires no real “knowl­edge of the sub­jects as to which advice is giv­en,” but only the abil­i­ty to manip­u­late: “the art of per­sua­sive speak­ing and writ­ing, i.e. of adver­tis­ing.” Rus­sell then dis­cuss­es a “third class of men” at the top, “more respect­ed than either of the class­es of the workers”—the landown­ers, who “are able to make oth­ers pay for the priv­i­lege of being allowed to exist and to work.” The idle­ness of landown­ers, he writes, “is only ren­dered pos­si­ble by the indus­try of oth­ers. Indeed their desire for com­fort­able idle­ness is his­tor­i­cal­ly the source of the whole gospel of work. The last thing they have ever wished is that oth­ers should fol­low their exam­ple.”

The “gospel of work” Rus­sell out­lines is, he writes, “the moral­i­ty of the Slave State,” and the kinds of mur­der­ous toil that devel­oped under its rule—actual chat­tel slav­ery, fif­teen hour work­days in abom­inable con­di­tions, child labor—has been “dis­as­trous.” Work looks very dif­fer­ent today than it did even in Rus­sel­l’s time, but even in moder­ni­ty, when labor move­ments have man­aged to gath­er some increas­ing­ly pre­car­i­ous amount of social secu­ri­ty and leisure time for work­ing peo­ple, the amount of work forced upon the major­i­ty of us is unnec­es­sary for human thriv­ing and in fact counter to it—the result of a still-suc­cess­ful cap­i­tal­ist pro­pa­gan­da cam­paign: if we aren’t labor­ing for wages to increase the prof­its of oth­ers, the log­ic still dic­tates, we will fall to sloth and vice and fail to earn our keep. “Satan finds some mis­chief for idle hands to do,” goes the Protes­tant proverb Rus­sell quotes at the begin­ning of his essay. On the con­trary, he con­cludes,

…in a world where no one is com­pelled to work more than four hours a day, every per­son pos­sessed of sci­en­tif­ic curios­i­ty will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint with­out starv­ing, how­ev­er excel­lent his pic­tures may be. Young writ­ers will not be oblig­ed to draw atten­tion to them­selves by sen­sa­tion­al pot-boil­ers, with a view to acquir­ing the eco­nom­ic inde­pen­dence for mon­u­men­tal works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capac­i­ty.

The less we are forced to labor, the more we can do good work in our idle­ness, and we can all labor less, Rus­sell argues, because “mod­ern meth­ods of pro­duc­tion have giv­en us the pos­si­bil­i­ty of ease and secu­ri­ty for all” instead of “over­work for some and star­va­tion for oth­ers.”

A few decades lat­er, vision­ary archi­tect, inven­tor, and the­o­rist Buck­min­ster Fuller would make exact­ly the same argu­ment, in sim­i­lar terms, against the “spe­cious notion that every­body has to earn a liv­ing.” Fuller artic­u­lat­ed his ideas on work and non-work through­out his long career. He put them most suc­cinct­ly in a 1970 New York mag­a­zine “Envi­ron­men­tal Teach-In”:

It is a fact today that one in ten thou­sand of us can make a tech­no­log­i­cal break­through capa­ble of sup­port­ing all the rest…. We keep invent­ing jobs because of this false idea that every­body has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, accord­ing to Malthu­sian-Dar­win­ian the­o­ry, he must jus­ti­fy his right to exist.

Many peo­ple are paid very lit­tle to do back­break­ing labor; many oth­ers paid quite a lot to do very lit­tle. The cre­ation of sur­plus jobs leads to redun­dan­cy, inef­fi­cien­cy, and the bureau­crat­ic waste we hear so many politi­cians rail against: “we have inspec­tors and peo­ple mak­ing instru­ments for inspec­tors to inspect inspectors”—all to sat­is­fy a dubi­ous moral imper­a­tive and to make a small num­ber of rich peo­ple even rich­er.

What should we do instead? We should con­tin­ue our edu­ca­tion, and do what we please, Fuller argues: “The true busi­ness of peo­ple should be to go back to school and think about what­ev­er it was they were think­ing about before some­body came along and told them they had to earn a liv­ing.” We should all, in oth­er words, work for our­selves, per­form­ing the kind of labor we deem nec­es­sary for our qual­i­ty of life and our social arrange­ments, rather than the kinds of labor dic­tat­ed to us by gov­ern­ments, landown­ers, and cor­po­rate exec­u­tives. And we can all do so, Fuller thought, and all flour­ish sim­i­lar­ly. Fuller called the tech­no­log­i­cal and evo­lu­tion­ary advance­ment that enables us to do more with less “euphe­mer­al­iza­tion.” In Crit­i­cal Path, a vision­ary work on human devel­op­ment, he claimed “It is now pos­si­ble to give every man, woman and child on Earth a stan­dard of liv­ing com­pa­ra­ble to that of a mod­ern-day bil­lion­aire.”

Sound utopi­an? Per­haps. But Fuller’s far-reach­ing path out of reliance on fos­sil fuels and into a sus­tain­able future has nev­er been tried, for some depress­ing­ly obvi­ous rea­sons and some less obvi­ous. Nei­ther Rus­sell nor Fuller argued for the abolition—or inevitable self-destruction—of cap­i­tal­ism and the rise of a work­ers’ par­adise. (Rus­sell gave up his ear­ly enthu­si­asm for com­mu­nism.) Nei­ther does Gary Gut­ting, a phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame, who in his New York Times com­men­tary on Rus­sell asserts that “Cap­i­tal­ism, with its devo­tion to prof­it, is not in itself evil.” Most Marx­ists on the oth­er hand would argue that devo­tion to prof­it can nev­er be benign. But there are many mid­dle ways between state com­mu­nism and our cur­rent reli­gious devo­tion to sup­ply-side cap­i­tal­ism, such as robust demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism or a basic income guar­an­tee. In any case, what most dis­senters against mod­ern notions of work share in com­mon is the con­vic­tion that edu­ca­tion should pro­duce crit­i­cal thinkers and self-direct­ed indi­vid­u­als, and not, as Gut­ting puts it, “be pri­mar­i­ly for train­ing work­ers or consumers”—and that doing work we love for the sake of our own per­son­al ful­fill­ment should not be the exclu­sive pre­serve of a prop­er­tied leisure class.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

Bri­an Eno’s Advice for Those Who Want to Do Their Best Cre­ative Work: Don’t Get a Job

Hear Alan Watts’s 1960s Pre­dic­tion That Automa­tion Will Neces­si­tate a Uni­ver­sal Basic Income

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Robert Reich’s UC Berkeley Course on Wealth & Poverty Is Free Online

Once the Sec­re­tary of Labor under the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion, Robert Reich spent 17 years teach­ing at UC Berke­ley. This past spring, he taught his final course there, and it’s now avail­able online. Above, you can stream 14 lec­tures from “Wealth and Pover­ty,” a course “designed to pro­vide stu­dents with a deep­er under­stand­ing of both the orga­ni­za­tion of the polit­i­cal econ­o­my in the Unit­ed States and of oth­er advanced economies, and why the dis­tri­b­u­tion of earn­ings, wealth, and oppor­tu­ni­ty have been diverg­ing in the Unit­ed States and in oth­er nations.” Usu­al­ly attend­ed by 750 Berke­ley under­grad­u­ates, the course is also “intend­ed to pro­vide insights into the polit­i­cal and pub­lic-pol­i­cy debates that have arisen in light of this diver­gence, as well as pos­si­ble means of revers­ing it.”

“Wealth and Pover­ty” will be added to our list of free Eco­nom­ics cours­es, a sub­set of our larg­er col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Robert Reich Debunks Three Eco­nom­ic Myths by Draw­ing Car­toons

Kurt Von­negut Pon­ders Why “Poor Amer­i­cans Are Taught to Hate Them­selves” in a Time­ly Pas­sage from Slaugh­ter­house-Five

Hand-Col­ored Maps of Wealth & Pover­ty in Vic­to­ri­an Lon­don: Explore a New Inter­ac­tive Edi­tion of Charles Booth’s His­toric Work of Social Car­tog­ra­phy (1889)


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How to Solve the Prisoner’s Dilemma: A Gloriously Animated Explanation of the Classic Game-Theory Problem

Imag­ine two pris­on­ers, each one placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment. The police offer a deal: if each betrays the oth­er, they’ll both get five years in prison. If one betrays the oth­er but the oth­er keeps qui­et, the betray­er will walk free and the betrayed will serve ten years. If nei­ther say any­thing, they’ll both be locked up, but only for two years. Unable coor­di­nate, both pris­on­ers will like­ly betray each oth­er in order to secure the best indi­vid­ual out­come, despite the fact that it would be bet­ter on the whole for both to keep their mouths shut. This is the “pris­on­er’s dilem­ma,” a thought exper­i­ment much-cit­ed in game the­o­ry and eco­nom­ics since the mid­dle of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

Though the sit­u­a­tion the pris­on­er’s dilem­ma describes may sound quite spe­cif­ic, its gen­er­al form actu­al­ly con­forms to that of a vari­ety of prob­lems that arise through­out the mod­ern world, in pol­i­tics, trade, inter­per­son­al rela­tions, and a great many oth­ers besides.

Blog­ger Scott Alexan­der describes the pris­on­er’s dilem­mas as one man­i­fes­ta­tion of what Allen Gins­berg called Moloch, the relent­less unseen force that dri­ves soci­eties toward mis­ery. Moloch “always and every­where offers the same deal: throw what you love most into the flames, and I can grant you pow­er.” Or, as he’d put it to Chewy the gin­ger­bread man, “Betray your friend Crispy, and I’ll make a fox eat only three of your limbs.”

Such is the sit­u­a­tion ani­mat­ed in glo­ri­ous­ly wool­ly stop-motion by Ivana Bošn­jak and Thomas John­son in the TED-Ed video at the top of the post, which replaces the pris­on­ers with “sen­tient baked goods,” the jail­er with a hun­gry wood­land preda­tor, and years of impris­on­ment with bit­ten-off arms and legs. After explain­ing the pris­on­er’s dilem­ma in a whim­si­cal man­ner, it presents one pro­posed solu­tion: the “infi­nite pris­on­er’s dilem­ma,” in which the par­tic­i­pants decide not just once but over and over again. Such a set­up would allow them to “use their future deci­sions as bar­gain­ing chips for the present one,” and even­tu­al­ly (depend­ing upon how heav­i­ly they val­ue future out­comes in the present) to set­tle upon repeat­ing the out­come that would let both of them walk free — as free as they can walk on one gin­ger­bread leg, at any rate.

via Aeon

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to Game The­o­ry & Strate­gic Think­ing: A Free Course from Yale Uni­ver­si­ty

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Famous Thought Exper­i­ment, the “Trol­ley Prob­lem,” Nar­rat­ed by Har­ry Shear­er

The Famous Schrödinger’s Cat Thought Exper­i­ment Comes Back to Life in an Off-Kil­ter Ani­ma­tion

Watch a 2‑Year-Old Solve Philosophy’s Famous Eth­i­cal “Trol­ley Prob­lem” (It Doesn’t End Well)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Karl Marx & the Flaws of Capitalism: Lex Fridman Talks with Professor Richard Wolff

Lex Frid­man, a Russ­ian-Amer­i­can com­put­er sci­en­tist and arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence researcher, hosts a pop­u­lar pod­cast where he often inter­views aca­d­e­mics and helps them reach a sur­pris­ing­ly large audi­ence. In recent weeks, he’s had long and wide-rang­ing con­ver­sa­tions with NYU social psy­chol­o­gist Jonathan Haidt, Prince­ton his­to­ri­an Stephen Kotkin (on the his­to­ry of Rus­sia and the Ukraine war), and Stan­ford his­to­ri­an Nor­man Naimark (on geno­cide). Above you can now find his con­ver­sa­tion with Marx­ist econ­o­mist, Richard Wolff.

Frid­man pref­aces the lengthy con­ver­sa­tion by say­ing, “This is a heavy top­ic, in gen­er­al, and for me per­son­al­ly, giv­en my fam­i­ly his­to­ry in the Sovi­et Union, in Rus­sia and Ukraine. Today, the words Marx­ism, Social­ism and Com­mu­nism are used to attack and divide, much more than to under­stand and learn. With this pod­cast, I seek the lat­ter. I believe we need to study the ideas of Karl Marx, as well as their var­i­ous imple­men­ta­tions through­out the 20th and 21st cen­turies.… We need to con­sid­er seri­ous­ly the ideas we demo­nize, and to chal­lenge the ideas we dog­mat­i­cal­ly accept as true, even when doing so is at times unpleas­ant and dan­ger­ous.”

You can lis­ten to their engag­ing con­ver­sa­tion above, or find it on var­i­ous pod­casts plat­forms. Along the way, Wolff under­scores the glar­ing defi­cien­cies of cap­i­tal­ism, and why pop­ulists on the left and right are now look­ing for alter­na­tives. And Frid­man asks whether cap­i­tal­ism, despite its faults, may still be the best option we have. Wolff and Frid­man undoubt­ed­ly have dif­fer­ent world­views, but the con­ver­sa­tion is civ­il and deep, and worth your time.

Relat­ed Con­tent

A Short Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Karl Marx

5 Free Online Cours­es on Marx’s Cap­i­tal from Prof. David Har­vey

Marx­ism by Ray­mond Geuss: A Free Course

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Dying from Overwork: Disturbing Looks Inside Japan’s Karoshi and China’s “996” Work System

By most mea­sures, Japan boasts the high­est life expectan­cy in the world. But that rank­ing, of course, does­n’t mean that every Japan­ese per­son sees old age. Though the coun­try’s rate of vio­lent crime is low enough to be the envy of most of the world, its sui­cide rate isn’t, and it says even more that the Japan­ese lan­guage has a word that refers specif­i­cal­ly to death by over­work. I first encoun­tered it near­ly thir­ty years ago in Dil­bert com­ic strip. “In Japan, employ­ees occa­sion­al­ly work them­selves to death. It’s called karōshi,” says Dil­bert’s pointy-haired boss. “I don’t want that to hap­pen to any­body in my depart­ment. The trick is to take a break as soon as you see a bright light and hear dead rel­a­tives beck­on.”

You can see the phe­nom­e­non of karōshi exam­ined more seri­ous­ly in the short Now­ness video at the top of the post. In it, a series of Japan­ese salary­men (a Japan­ese Eng­lish term now well-known around the world) speak to the exhaust­ing and unceas­ing rig­ors of their every­day work sched­ules — and, in some cas­es, to the empti­ness of the homes that await them each night.

The CNBC seg­ment just above inves­ti­gates what can be done about such labor con­di­tions, which even in white-col­lar work­places con­tribute to the heart attacks, strokes, and oth­er imme­di­ate caus­es of deaths ulti­mate­ly ascribed to karōshi. In a grim irony, Japan has the low­est pro­duc­tiv­i­ty among the G7 nations: its peo­ple work hard, yet their com­pa­nies are hard­ly work­ing.

Ini­tia­tives to put a stop to the ill effects of over­work, up to and includ­ing karōshi, include manda­to­ry vaca­tion days and office lights that switch off auto­mat­i­cal­ly at 10:00 p.m. Among the lat­est is “Pre­mi­um Fri­day,” a pro­gram explained in the Vice video above. Devel­oped by Kei­dan­ren, Japan’s old­est busi­ness lob­by, it was ini­tial­ly received as “a direct response to karōshi,” but it has its ori­gins in mar­ket­ing. “We want­ed to cre­ate a nation­al event that bol­stered con­sump­tion,” says the direc­tor of Kei­dan­ren’s indus­tri­al pol­i­cy bureau. By that log­ic, it made good sense to let work­ers out ear­ly on Fri­days — let them out to shop. But Pre­mi­um Fri­day has yet to catch on in most Japan­ese enter­pris­es, aware as they are that Japan’s eco­nom­ic might no longer intim­i­dates the world.

The afore­men­tioned low pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, along with a rapid­ly aging and even con­tract­ing pop­u­la­tion, con­tributed to Japan’s loss of its posi­tion as the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­o­my. It was over­tak­en in 2011 by Chi­na, a coun­try with over­work prob­lems of its own. The Vice report above cov­ers the “996” sys­tem, which stands for work­ing from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m, six days a week. Preva­lent in Chi­nese tech com­pa­nies, it has been blamed for stress, ill­ness, and death among employ­ees. Laws lim­it­ing work­ing hours have thus far proven inef­fec­tive, or at least cir­cum­ventable. Cer­tain pun­dits nev­er stop insist­ing that the future is Chi­nese; if they’re right, all this ought to give pause to the work­ers of the world, East­ern and West­ern alike.

Relat­ed con­tent:

“Inemuri,” the Japan­ese Art of Tak­ing Pow­er Naps at Work, on the Sub­way, and Oth­er Pub­lic Places

Why 1999 Was the Year of Dystopi­an Office Movies: What The Matrix, Fight Club, Amer­i­can Beau­ty, Office Space & Being John Malkovich Shared in Com­mon

“Tsun­doku,” the Japan­ese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the Eng­lish Lan­guage

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

What is the Secret to Liv­ing a Long, Hap­py & Cre­ative­ly Ful­fill­ing Life?: Dis­cov­er the Japan­ese Con­cept of Iki­gai

Charles Bukows­ki Rails Against 9‑to‑5 Jobs in a Bru­tal­ly Hon­est Let­ter (1986)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: An Animated Video Explaining Key Ideas in Ray Dalio’s New Bestselling Book

Over the past five years, Ray Dalio, one of Amer­i­ca’s most suc­cess­ful investors, has pub­lished a series of books, each meant to impart wis­dom to a younger gen­er­a­tion. The first book, Prin­ci­ples: Life and Work, shared the uncon­ven­tion­al prin­ci­ples that have guid­ed his life and career. It became a best­seller, sell­ing well over one mil­lion copies. Next came Big Debt Crises, a study of finan­cial crises and how nations nav­i­gate them. Final­ly, he has just pub­lished his lat­est best­seller, Prin­ci­ples for Deal­ing with the Chang­ing World: Why Nations Suc­ceed and Fail. A his­to­ry of the rise and fall of empires over the last 500 years, the book uses the past to con­tem­plate the future, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fate of the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. As was the case with Prin­ci­ples, Dalio has pro­duced an ani­mat­ed video that explains key ideas in the book. Released in ear­ly March, the video has already been viewed 8.6 mil­lion times. Watch it above, and con­sid­er pair­ing it with his oth­er ani­mat­ed video, How the Eco­nom­ic Machine Works.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Prin­ci­ples for Suc­cess by Entre­pre­neur & Investor Ray Dalio: A 30-Minute Ani­mat­ed Primer

Eco­nom­ics 101: Hedge Fund Investor Ray Dalio Explains How the Econ­o­my Works in a 30-Minute Ani­mat­ed Video

Ray Dalio & Adam Grant Launch Free Online Per­son­al­i­ty Assess­ment to Help You Under­stand Your­self (and Oth­ers Under­stand You)

Brian Eno Shares His Critical Take on Art & NFTs: “I Mainly See Hustlers Looking for Suckers”

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

It can feel, in our inequal­i­ty-addled world, that we have lit­tle left in com­mon — that there is no “we,” just us and them. But mul­ti­ple crises dri­ving us apart have the poten­tial to unite the species. After all, a rapid­ly warm­ing plan­et and glob­al pan­dem­ic do threat­en us all, even if they don’t threat­en us equal­ly. Do solu­tions exist in the cre­ation of new forms of pri­vate prop­er­ty, new ways of mov­ing cap­i­tal around the world? Can the extinc­tion-lev­el byprod­ucts of cap­i­tal­ist com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste be mit­i­gat­ed by inge­nious new forms of finan­cial­iza­tion? These seem to be the argu­ments made by pur­vey­ors of cryp­tocur­ren­cy and NFTs, an acronym mean­ing non fun­gi­ble tokens and — if you haven’t noticed — the only thing any­one in the art world seems to talk about any­more. Why?

Bri­an Eno has put his opin­ion on the mat­ter quite blunt­ly in a recent inter­view. “NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a lit­tle piece of the action from glob­al cap­i­tal­ism,” he tells The Cryp­to Syl­labus. “How sweet — now artists can become lit­tle cap­i­tal­ist ass­holes as well.” He obvi­ous­ly dis­ap­proves of using art sole­ly to gen­er­ate prof­it, but then if we know any­thing about Eno’s the­o­ry of cre­ativ­i­ty and influ­ence over the past sev­er­al decades, it’s that he believes the guid­ing rea­son for art is to gen­er­ate more art.

“If I had pri­mar­i­ly want­ed to make mon­ey I would have had a dif­fer­ent career as a dif­fer­ent kind of per­son. I prob­a­bly would­n’t have cho­sen to be an artist.” There’s utter­ly no use in try­ing to peg Eno as techno­pho­bic or out of touch; quite the con­trary. But the fic­tion­al finan­cial prod­ucts that have invad­ed every oth­er sphere of life have no place in the arts, he argues.

When asked why NFTs are tout­ed as a sal­va­tion for artists and the art world by cryp­tocur­ren­cy vision­ar­ies, includ­ing many of his friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors, Eno replies:

I can under­stand why the peo­ple who’ve done well from it are pleased, and it’s nat­ur­al enough in a lib­er­tar­i­an world to believe that some­thing that ben­e­fits you must auto­mat­i­cal­ly be ‘right’ for the whole world. That belief is a ver­sion of what I call ‘auto­mati­cism’: the idea that if you leave things alone and let some­thing or oth­er – the mar­ket, nature, human will – take its course unim­ped­ed you will auto­mat­i­cal­ly get a bet­ter result than you would by tin­ker­ing with it. The peo­ple who hold beliefs of this kind don’t have any qualms about tin­ker­ing them­selves but just want a sit­u­a­tion where nobody else gets to tin­ker. Espe­cial­ly the state.

That the sale of NFTs have only ben­e­fit­ted very few — to the tune of $69 mil­lion in a sin­gle sale in a recent high-pro­file case — does­n’t seem par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­ble­some to those who insist on their ben­e­fits. Nor do the cre­ators of NFTs seem both­ered by the enor­mous ener­gy over­head required by the tech­nol­o­gy, “an eco­log­i­cal night­mare pyra­mid scheme,” writes Syn­th­topia — of which Eno says: “in a warm­ing world a new tech­nol­o­gy that uses vast amounts of ener­gy as ‘proof of work’ — that’s to say, sim­ply to estab­lish a cer­tain age of exclu­siv­i­ty — real­ly is quite insane.”

Eno read­i­ly answers ques­tions about why NFTs seem so glam­orous — it’s no great mys­tery, just a new form of accu­mu­la­tion, com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion and waste, one in par­tic­u­lar that adds noth­ing to the world while has­ten­ing a cli­mate col­lapse. NFTs are the “ready­made reversed,” David Joselit argues: Where “Duchamp used the cat­e­go­ry of art to lib­er­ate mate­ri­al­i­ty from com­mod­i­fi­able form; the NFT deploys the cat­e­go­ry of art to extract pri­vate prop­er­ty from freely avail­able infor­ma­tion.”

The dis­course around NFTs also seems to lib­er­ate art from the cat­e­go­ry of art, and all that has meant to humankind for mil­len­nia as a com­mu­nal prac­tice, reduc­ing cre­ative pro­duc­tions to dig­i­tal cer­tifi­cates of authen­tic­i­ty. “I am try­ing to keep an open mind about these ques­tions,” Eno admits. “Peo­ple I like and trust are con­vinced [NFTs] are the best thing since sliced bread, so I wish I could have a more pos­i­tive view but right now I main­ly see hus­tlers look­ing for suck­ers.”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

What are Non-Fun­gi­ble Tokens (NFTs)? And How Can a Work of Dig­i­tal Art Sell for $69 Mil­lion

What Is Blockchain? Three Videos Explain the New Tech­nol­o­gy That Promis­es to Change Our World

Cryp­tocur­ren­cy and Blockchain: An Intro­duc­tion to Dig­i­tal Currencies–A Free Online Cours­es from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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