Friday, August 04, 2006

Waking Up is Hard to Do

The fascinating thing about the capitalist system is it compels billions of people to wake up each day and go to a job that most likely they find unpleasant. Achieving this level of coordination is a feat no short of remarkable. I feel so sleepy and crummy every morning when I wake up, yet some how I’ll pitch up for work, even if I know I’ll spend the day valuing plain-vanilla coconut derivatives. Tom Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities, captures perfectly how I feel when my alarm sounds in the morning:

The telephone blasted Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding it intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it rolled like mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple and his right eye and his right ear. If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out.

There are a variety of reasons that motivate people to wake up and go to work, but the end result is stunning—people make things and people stay out of a trouble. On the first point, the entirety of human progress over the last 300 years [or at least improvements in standards of living] can be attributed to productivity gains that have compounded over time. People show up in the morning, maybe a bit disheveled and sleepy, but eventually, after a few cups of coffee, they do something. They improve some code, find a new way to make a product, or if they’re extremely ambitious, write a blog. Over time, these modest improvements compound upon each other in a staggering way. If 300 years ago, you started with $100 in capital and every year just improved it somehow by about 5%, you’d have $225 MM today. If interspersed every 50 years was some sort of productivity revolution (like computers, factories, transportation), before then settling into steady 5% growth, you’d have $1.9 BN today. So if over the course of they year, you just make thing 5% better than last, you’re doing sweet!

The other notable feat of capitalism is that it keeps people occupied. If you’re working 95 hours a week as an investment banker, frankly, you don’t have time to throw Molotov cocktails at your foes. Imagine how pissed your boss would be if you didn’t have the document ready for a client meeting because you had gotten in a fracas with some ethnic rivals. He’d have a frickin’ aneurism!

Boss: Rohin, we’re meeting with Procter & Gamble in 30 minutes to discuss the Gillette acquisition. Is the document ready?

Rohin: Well, no, not so much really. I was hoping maybe you could just “talk to” the main points instead of presenting the slides.

Boss: [face reddening] What do you mean?

Rohin: Well there are no slides really. I was working on the pitch last night and I went out to pick up some sushi for dinner that I planned to eat back at my desk. As I was walking back to the office, I saw [insert rival ethnic group here] folks milling about in front of a Starbucks. I was filled with an uncontrollable rage and started throwing sushi at them. Piece by piece, I flung sushi at them for hours. I even hit one of them in the eye with wasabi! This fellow may have had the last laugh though as he poured a non-fat latte on my Thomas Pink shirt—the dry cleaning bill will not be pretty.

As much as the boss may have sympathized with my cause, I just cost him $7 MM in income this year if we had won the business. That's a house in Westchester with a pool!

So my solution to solving all ethnic and political conflicts – give them jobs as investment bankers or possibly as management consultants or coconut arbitrageurs.


molly blair said...

Gee, why hasn't anyone thought of this solution before??

Rohin for President!

Anonymous said...

You failed to mention that you go to sleep at 9:30pm every night!

Anonymous said...

The public is hungry for more entries!

Anonymous said...

you really like coconuts, don't you? perhaps you took some university econ course where you solved problem sets involving coconuts on an island. i know i did...