Ethics: status-quo?

As an outsider to this community, I am curious as to your positioning in terms of ethics.

It seems to me that there isn’t really any ideology underlying the frugalist movement, and that it’s rather born out of pragmatism. But maybe you can prove me wrong.

It seems to me that the proposition is egocentric, essentially relying on others to sustain itself. I can’t see how this lifestyle could work out if a majority would adopt it: who would take care of cleaning the streets, take care of our health and educate our children?

Also, I can’t help but notice that the blog lists broad-spectrum ETF as one of the main investments strategy, which basically means investing in the existing system without taking any sides. For instance, VT is composed of petroleum investments which clearly keeps the status quo regarding the climate crisis. So can you confirm that there isn’t any proposal of nudging the economy into a different place?

I understood the argument of devoting your time to charities “afterwards”. So that would hint to a “lesser evil” strategy maybe? But this doesn’t click for me: why not starting now while you’re young, healthy (and alive btw), asking for a sabbatical for instance? It’s also a bit troubling to me to fund this “charity-time” on the existing economical system, with all its imperfections. If improving the situation is an objective, I think that turning the economy into something closer to fairness and sustainability has more leverage. To some extent, I even think that it’s a responsibility for us Swiss citizens to at least attempt to take advantage of our privileges and the quality education we have received to use it for a worthy goal while we can.
If your jobs are boring - how about risking less pay for something more fun? work or create a startup close to your values, launch into politics, following whatever your calling is but do it now?

Another recurrent motivation I noticed is this notion of spending more time with the kids - but how does this work exactly? When you’ll be 40, your kids will have mostly grown past the years that require your attention. At 15 years of age, the reality is that children mostly prefer spending time with their friends, not their parents.

Thanks for enlightening me if I’m missing something

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What’s wrong with pragmatism?
Ideologies have brought wars and great suffering over the world.

Ad relying on others: A majority isn’t going to adopt this lifestyle. In the end, given a (somewhat closed) economy, market forces would make it unlikely to impossible to do so. Let’s assume a majority of the Swiss population would do so: At current levels of technological automation, there would be a severe shortage of labour. As a result, salaries, wages and would skyrocket - as would consumer prices, due to higher cost of labour. This would render early retirement (in masses) in Switzerland unattractive to impossible for most - and thus make (or force) to keep working.

By the way: do you have an employer? Whether he/she/it is a legal or natural person, isn’t he/she/it “essentially relying on others (yourself!) to sustain itself” too?

A startup? I might lack the formal or other qualifications to do so with reasonable degree of success.

Going into politics is pointless. I will probably never attain a sufficient share of votes for meaningful change myself. Enough of my personal opinions are too radical to do so.

Ad kids: who says I am to have kids at 25 or 30? Why not have them at 50 (as a male)?

Side note: I am thinking about and tentatively planning a sabbatical. That’s risky though, since my job prospects afterwards might be in jeopardy. Also, it might eat up a considerable part of my savings.

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FYI, there’s a few threads touching some of the points, e.g. Socially Responsible Portfolio

Personally I am not convinced ESG ETFs are a great way to do good, it actually might reward people who invest in 'bad" things. Also what is considered good/bad is often questionable, and I personally won’t agree with many of what’s included/excluded, so the alternative would be having something actively managed.

In practice, if you lose 1%/y return, e.g. because you use a feel good actively managed fund (that’s a lot, when compounded!), did you have have more impact than donating this 1% to a charity of your choice (personally I use guidelines from effective altruism for that), or to lobbyist that will work to accelerate banning fossil fuel burning for example?

Edit: also ETFs are not neutral policy wise, vanguard, blackrock, etc. do usually exercise their votes. (which is actually a bit scary, combined they have a lot of control)

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You raise interesting points, thank you.

Concerning the kids, some people have them around 40 and thus it starts to make sense to Retire Early to take care of them.

For what concerns the charities, I have always seen it as an anglo-saxon thing which does not really apply to Switzerland. There are charities and people should feel free to work for them, but we rely a lot less on them and a lot more on the State to take care of the weakest. As you say we can also work on changing politically what is messed up without FIRE. Personally, I have not seen many people on this forum stating that they will dedicate their retirement to charities.

Now, one thing is certain, this movement relies utterly on capitalism and I have the feeling that this is what bothers you a bit. Am I right ?

One point I would like to discuss into more details :

Interestingly, the second sentence is very close to the arguments that are raised when discussing Universal Basic Income.

First of all, people in the FIRE movement still work for perhaps 20 years if not more, so in the extreme case you describe there are still cleaners, doctors and teachers.

Now, to me it seems that the real question is why would teachers, doctors and cleaners want to FIRE ?
My guess is that it is because the compensation they get, in terms of salary and recognition, is not enough to compensate their efforts in terms of time and physical and mental health (among others).
I reckon that if the FIRE movement was widely adopted, as would UBI, it would force the market to pay the workers a salary more proportional to the difficulty and painfulness of their jobs.
Moreover, I do not believe that everyone is happy with being even a bit frugal. Those people would jump at those well paid jobs. All in all, a new balance could be found which, I hope, would be beneficial to society.

A corollary of what you say is also interesting to discuss: if everyone Retire Early then everyone is frugal. What happens to the economy and how do you actually get return on your capital ?
I have given a bit of thought to it and I think that we would end up in a different society with a different balance where people work less, consume less and experience less pressure, meaning that they don’t really retire early but simply enjoy their life more while still working a bit. Again, I don’t believe everyone wants to Retire Early and this is just a thought experiment.

Best regards,

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If a majority would adopt it, few people willing (or having) to do those needed jobs would be able to demand a very very high salary.

For instance, VT is composed of petroleum investments which clearly keeps the status quo regarding the climate crisis.

You don’t really influence the company’s activities by buying or not buying their stocks. If the company is profitable (i.e. it can sell it’s services and goods) it just runs… even if you somehow manage to lower the stock price.

Buying Green Bonds would be the thing that actually could make a difference. With stocks ironically buying specifically the bad ones could maybe make some small difference. Since the “green” buyers could use their voting rights to decide more positive things within the company.

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Also let’s not forget that by buying ETF you don’t give money to the company. The Stock exchange is between buyer and sellers, not the company themselves.

I think a stock can theoretically go to 0 and the company will still be operating. Of course you need everyone to agree to sell it in order to let it go to 0…

Exact short-term and long-term consequences of following ethical behavior, including investment activities, are hard to measure I think. And obviously the definition of “ethical” varies from person to person.
Thanks to @nabalzbhf comment I went through the other thread which mentions this essay exploring possible impacts of shunning out “sinful” investments.
From this read, I still have the impression that making “sinful money” harder to raise, as investors as a whole we can exercise pressure to move the economy into a different direction. If it becomes harder to develop economical activities that are not sustainable, this will accelerate a transition towards a more responsible capital. In the long run, betting for greener alternatives might actually prove the winning gamble because by definition sustainable means less prone to shortages or fluctuations.
From a broader perspective, I suppose it’s a question of what our civilization as a whole ends up spending its efforts into. Dedicating significant proportions of our investments into weaponry or exploiting the same old recipes for energy and so on doesn’t really make us move forward as a species from what we’ve been doing until now. Maybe we can come up with something better and still get rich :grin: ?

Cheeky statement, it’s less egocentric than you think. Those who think that, really haven’t understood it & probably will have difficulty to grasp it. I don’t mean that too provocative, but I really find it very difficult for many people to really get frugalism. They’ll say “aha” to one or two examples, but it’s a bit like religion, you have to live it to really understand it.
Frugal mustachianism with FIRE is a much more sustainable way of life than most others, who buy buy buy & work work work to be able to do that. You think they work so hard & bring oh so much progress to society. Nah, their consumerism & excesses harm the world much more than their “work” brings.
If we could live & be ok with the standard of living of the people of only about 50-100 years ago (our grandparents or great-grandparents), we would only have to work 20% with our modern technology aids.
But of course everyone wants more, bigger, better, faster.
So frugal mustachians work hard (100% or more) for 20 years & can then “retire” by having reduced needs.
We’re not taking anything away from society & the world would be a better place if more would adopt it.

Not really though. Again, you are not giving companies money by buying their shares on a stock exchange. …Unless maybe they are just doing their IPO, and selling their own shares for capital.

The value of the company is it’s intrinsic value. You can’t ruin that by trying to push down the stock price. Even if you succeed that only raises pressure for other people to buy because it’s a better deal now. You’re just making it cheaper for other people that don’t care to buy stocks, including their dividends and voting rights.

Also I guess most smaller investors are not directly funding startups, especially not those that have the goal of ruining the earth.

At least in my view, it’s even better than that: Yes, I might work for an ‘evil’ corp like Facebook to get to FI, but afterwards I can contribute much more to society. I don’t plan to sit at home and consume all day every day, but to do stuff that actually makes the world a better place, even if it’s not profitable.

In my eyes, this means that I divert some cash from the Eternal Consumption Machine of Busyness and instead use it to truly make a few lifes better.

really interesting topic @chapuis, I was thinking about this as well.

Personally speaking FIRE is about to be Free to do whatever I like, even work if I like to!

Regarding jobs is not easy at it seems to find a perfect job, or change it if it doesn’t fit.
I think most of us like their job to some degree, but there are always some “toxic” workplace dynamics that make you question yourself.
And you are usually out of your house more than 50 hours a week, too much time devoted to work! To find a balance you can reduce to 60-80% but often it is not a choice.

FIRE can bee seen as a self-made universal basic income, they have nearly the same goal: cover your basic needs and be free to pursue your interest.

sabbatical: In a workaholic society as Switzerland I think not all of us can have this opportunity, only those working for big company or for the state. And btw be on sabbatical for 3-6 months is too short and is not life changing.

Create a startup is great but a risky bet, you need to acquire many new skills, courage, talent, funding, entrepreneurship,…
But yes it can be a solution. Even better be FI and then create a startup :grinning:

Here’s an example of ETF provider doing some activism: https://www.ft.com/content/8809032d-47a1-47c3-ae88-ef3c182134c0

Yeah but that’s BlackRock, right? maybe not the most trustworthy organisation (https://youtu.be/h8TNcYPgGzw)

Have you heard of Banque Alternative Suisse? https://www.bas.ch/fr/entreprises-et-institutions/placer-de-largent/investissements-responsables

For those who don’t have one hour to watch that, what’s the tl;dr? Anything else besides they are the biggest shareholder of most public companies? (news at 11 :))

I actually watched this one when it was on arte.tv a few month ago. It is very interesting and can only suggest you to watch it too. Of course take it more from a neutral point of view, you have to judge for yourself. Basically it is a bit of bashing against blackrock because of it’s monopoly position, owning the majority of lot of companies, exploiting real estate and hence making prices climb, and so on.

What caught me is that at some stage they also mentioned Vanguard making the analogy that Vanguard is not any better than Blackrock, just that Vanguard is much less in the media and more discrete.

In fact everyone should watch this documentary and take out their own conclusions. Myself I don’t have any iShares but I couldn’t find any exciting ETFs for me there anyway.

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Some of this has also been explored here: https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/09/what-if-everyone-became-frugal/

My take on it is that, yes, I do invest financially in the statu quo with all the ethical problems that entails mostly because that’s the easiest and most efficient way to invest. I try to offset this somewhat by donating a fixed percentage of my income to charities and working on “fixing the system” at my level. At a larger scale I am not sure capitalism is indeed sustainable and I am not clear what to do about it.

You may also want to read up about Effective Altruism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effective_altruism

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Personally, I think there are also economic, political and cultural benefits to having people retiring early: getting involved in a political party for free, doing some charity work, helping others with financial tips or other strengths seem like the kind of things one might tackle when having a good amount of time free from a 9 to 5 job.
Not to mention that you’re probably still spending money (hopefully in local shops) to pursue your passions and just live a normal life.

Let me start my reply with a quote from Elon Musk (damn, soon I will be seen as the “Musk guy”):

So, the money you have saved, how you spend it, decides who you give job to. You buy food, electronics, holidays, you give jobs to cashiers, factory workers, hoteliers. You cut back, some hotels and restaurants get closed. Whatever businesses are left will try to cater to whatever basic needs you will still have.

These are exactly the things that you would not cut back on, so there would be plenty funding for them. And probably good teachers would be paid more to educate better.

Eventually, this money would also find its way into technological research. Faster computers, cheaper energy. The more long-term investors there are, the more it’s worth to invest in technology.

So, to conclude, I think if all people in the World were frugal Mustachians, you would have fewer jobs catering to pure direct consumerism, and more R&D jobs. As a result, our technology would develop faster.

I think you have a point. Investing in VT is optimized for the highest return at its level of risk. If you care for ethics or ecology, or if you want to invest more in technological growth, you will either lower your expected return or increase your risk. I myself have been considering investing in TSLA or ARKK for a while, because of this.

I think, however, that by being frugal, and investing in VT, you are already pushing the World in a better direction, which is not so consumption-oriented. With slightly adjusting the allocations of your little (in a global scale) portfolio, you’re not going to make a difference anyway. If you’re in a position of power, be it in a company or in politics, this is the place to make serious impact. Your real job is the place where you make conscious and educated decisions about who to do business with.

@1000000CHF @Julianek I would love to hear your input on these matters.

TL;DW:

  • Sustainable investing lowers expected return
  • Sustainable investing does make cash more expensive for unsustainable investing and makes it less likely that they make investments
  • Finding a portfolio that matches your believes is hard

Personally I’m not convinced that it makes sense to go that route. That is why I donate >5% of my gross income to effective altruism. I’m fine with working a few years longer if it means that 10+ people, who would have died of Malaria, live.

Your wish has been granted :wink:

It is interesting how deep the belief that “consumption is the cornerstone of the economy” is anchored in the public opinion. We can look at history to see what happened when the population saves the majority of its income instead of spending it. This gives Singapore, which went in 40 years from a swamp full of mosquitoes to one of the wealthiest nations in the world. if you are interested in the subject, you can read From Third World To First, the memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew.

Consumption is not the engine of society. Investment and innovation are.

There are many ways to answer this question:

  • one is to say that if there is a shortage of people willing to clean the streets, the pay for these jobs will go higher. This is exactly the same reason that software developers are well paid: it is not because they are smart, but because there is currently a massive need for their skills.
  • Let’s push further the thought experiment. if everybody is wealthy and does not want to clean the streets, why should they? I’d bet this would get automated pretty quickly. If we would have asked your question 150 years ago, this would have been “Who will till manually the soil in the fields?”. Thankfully somewhere there was an investor backing the guy who commercialised the tractor.
    The trend has been historically to automate laborious and unpleasant jobs, and i don’t see why this would change.

As said in this post, you need to make the difference between primary and secondary market. In short, the ETF investor money does not go to the various invested companies, but to the previous shareholders of these companies. The firms never see your money.

As a result, ESG investing is quite a nonsense, as the investor does not have any impact on the “bad” companies. This is however a shiny branded product with juicy fees that the investment industry will market with great energy to investors… And what a fabulous business MSCI has created for themselves!

At a deeper level, here is how I see it: as long as customers will be willing to pay good money for the goods/services of a company (evil or not), a market is thereby created and there will be capital flowing to this market.
If you want to change society, don’t act at the investor level, this will work only marginally (as explained above). Act directly at the customer level, by providing him a better solution that will satisfy his needs. if a “clean” product is more attractive for the consumer than an “evil” product, it should not take long before the evil company is out of business (with the obvious exception of addiction-based businesses (drugs, sugar, tobacco, gambling…).

If you translate this to the climate crisis, you may shout at the western population so that they don’t consume so much and even accept to “un-grow” (whatever that means), but this will not occult the fact that there are 4 billion people in Asia who want to get out of poverty and will laugh at you when you mention the climate. Not starving is more important for them.

On the other hand, if you provide them with an energy that is cleaner, cheaper and healthier than gas, they will be eager to switch. So the focus should be on better energy ventures rather than shaming people into un-growth. But you need innovators and investors for this.

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