Thursday, October 19, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Last night Brent Simmons and I went to dinner with Ed Cone, a writer from Wired doing a profile on me, and by extension, my company. At one point, Ed asked Brent why he works at UserLand, when presumably he could make more money at an Internet startup funded by VCs.
Now of course this question makes me uncomfortable, and if Ed wants a genuine answer, he probably should ask Brent the question without me (Brent's boss) there, but I gave it some thought this morning, and realized that I have a story about this that I have not told in DaveNet. It goes like this.
How much money do you need to feel secure?
Ask this question in different parts of the world, and you'll get different answers. In a poor country like India, it might be $1 million. In poorer parts of the US, $3 million. In California where you can hardly throw a pot sticker into a crowd without hitting a billionaire, the answer might be $25 million. When I ask myself this question, that's roughly what my inner-being comes up with.
Of course it's a complete lie. ;->
OK, indulge me, play a little game, dream of having your perfect amount of money. Now, in theory, you feel secure. How would you spend the money?
I've played this game with dozens of people. First they say silly things, like buying bridges, airports, baseball teams, but then I ask, why do you have to own these things to enjoy them? Couldn't you just rent them for the times when you feel like playing with a bridge, airport or team?
Then we get more practical, buying second houses, third cars, vacation homes, big things, that I wonder if most people would be comfortable actually maintaining. Three cars have to be registered three times a year. Your second home needs to be furnished and maintained, even when you're not there.
You say you can hire people to do these things for you? Ahhh, then you spend a lot of your life dealing with employees. Is this happiness? It might not be as happy as you think.
Now what if we add a rule that says you can only buy things that you can actually use? That lets out the second home, and if you have two personal bedrooms, well you can only sleep in one at a time, so you can't have more than one, or one car. But you can have a *great* bedroom, and a great car. Now how much money could you actually spend?
This rule makes the game fun. And try as hard as you can, one person can't actually spend all that much money with the constraint that you actually have to use what you buy.
OK, so when you come up with a number, the amount of money that you can spend in a year, the natural thing to do is to take the number of years you expect to live, and multiply the two numbers to come up with your magic number, the amount of money you need to feel secure. But this would also be a mistake because you have forgotten interest.
Money sweats. Leave money alone and it becomes more money. This can be a problem if you want an excuse to require more money before you feel secure. But if you want to play the game you have to allow for interest, because you will be earning it, no matter what you do. (You could keep the money under your bed, in cash, but we specifically disallow this in the rules of the game, you can't be stupid, you can't throw money away in pursuit of security.)
Now I can define my term. Transcendental money is the amount of money required to transcend time. It makes just enough money to satisfy all your reasonable needs, wants and desires, but no more. You can do the math yourself, factor in the cost of living where you live, or want to live, it's just arithmetic to determine what your transcendental money number is.
Once you have your real number, the true nature of money reveals itself. No matter how much you have, you never feel secure. Sorry, I didn't make the rules, have a talk with your god, or your dog, or whoever you turn to for spiritual guidance. The unhappy ending for all of us is death, we all lose this game, there's no winning strategy, and no matter how much money you attain, you can never feel secure, unless you trust nothingness, because that's where we're all headed.
So money offers a chance, in its absence, to find a happier purpose to life. I believe that no matter how much money you have it can't bring you that secure "I Will Exist Forever" feeling that our hearts all feel we deserve.
Now, having no money certainly offers a chance to postpone living until you get the money. I've been there, done that, got the prize. But I've seen people with huge piles of money-sweating money who believe that if they just double their fortune they will feel truly secure. I can't help these people, but I can help people who are truly poor.
Probe your dreams at a deeper level and see if you can't find a way to do the things you want to do with your life, even if you have no money. You can save yourself a lot of years, learning the old adage, money doesn't buy happiness.