The first world problem of efficiency

The marvel of modern capitalism and economies of scale have reduced all of our necessities to almost completely trivial purchases.  The true work and effort that goes into doing or creating stuff can quite easily become very opaque to us. Especially when you can purchase a whole 900g of life sustaining oats that will easily be enough for over 1 week of breakfasts for a laughably tiny $1.30.

This opaqueness means we can purchase a truly excessive amount of luxury with even a modest wage. For example, we have all been invited to eat at a café or restaurant before. On the surface it sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to do with your time and money. In the past, I ate out quite often and in general the food and service have been great.  Now you may expect Pat the Shuffler to start complaining about how expensive it is to eat out. But no, I’m here to let you know just how amazingly well oiled that machine is.

Whenever I do eat out, I marvel at the efficiency of the whole operation, pumping out meals at sometimes ludicrously low prices.

You see, when you go out to eat, you aren’t just paying for the food. You are choosing to pay for a whole host of inclusions. The food is a minor cost in the whole operation which includes all of the following:

  • Food (including food delivery)
  • A team of chefs and cooks
  • A team of servants
  • A team of cleaners
  • A host and a manager
  • Utilities
  • An interior designer
  • Rent for a luxurious fully furnished locale to eat in
  • Accountant or financial management software
  • Garbage disposal fees
  • An owner’s profit for funding this little enterprise
  • Other costs I am unfamiliar with due to not being in the industry

In addition to the above, we can continue to break down each one of these dot points into further categories and sub categories.  For example a cleaner requires training, tools and transport. Those tools require manufacturing, designers so on and so on.

When stated like this, it is amazing that restaurants are as cheap as they are! All of this for a mere $20! When lunch specials are offered at $12 a meal it seems like absolute madness!

But it also makes me think. If presented in this way, would anyone who isn’t completely financially independent ever actually choose to eat out?

For example, in an alternate universe instead of asking:

“Hey do you want to eat out tonight?”

What if we asked something like:

“Hey do you want to pay for a team of chefs, servants, cleaners, a host and manager and rent a beautiful fancy locale with a kitchen for them all, so they can bring us some food?”

When said like that it sounds patently ridiculous, no one who isn’t already a millionaire would choose to partake in this activity except on extremely special occasions. Yet truckloads of us gladly and frequently partake in this activity when presented in the former way.

It all starts to become a little more ludicrous when you consider that often people are paying for this opulent luxury on credit.

What the hell are they doing! Remember shufflers, we don’t ever buy luxuries with money we don’t have yet….EVER.

So when I am making a decision about eating out like that, I usually ask myself a simple question:

“Am I yet rich enough to pay for the rent and for a team of chefs, servants and cleaners to prepare my food for me?”

or

“Does the occasion call for such an opulent celebration, in which I spend the equivalent of many hours of work time to pay for these chefs and servants?”

Stating it this way makes the luxury apparent and my answer is almost always the same.

“I am not yet rich enough to afford all of this opulent luxury”

Not only am I not rich enough, but the whole thing just feels a little ridiculous and over the top. I am one of those weirdos that actually feels a bit uncomfortable being served by others like that, especially when they insist on pulling out your chair and placing a napkin on your lap. It all feels quite phony and like forced servitude, which honestly brings me no satisfaction or enjoyment whatsoever.

An awkward snap from earlier this year. I once won a voucher to dine at a high class restaurant. First and last experience, I’d say. 

The well oiled machine of modern capitalism can deliver necessities to you like your supermarket groceries which includes all the growing, sorting and transportation that goes into it, very efficiently. And this efficiency has an overall hugely positive effect on society.

However this gigantic well oiled machine has also produced a trap for even an average income earner. It can deliver an endless supply of luxuries for you to drown in. As you wade through this sea of excess and luxury, it is easy to become accustomed to it. Eventually you will feel like this sea of luxury is actually a normal balanced life. As technology progresses and capitalism steps in to take advantage of this technology, more and more is added to this sea of luxury. In this situation, it is hard to to get some perspective and identify this for what it is.

However, now that Pat the Shuffler has pointed this out, our eyes are completely open to just how far the pendulum has swung. Just how crazy our perception of normal and balanced are. In the Shuffler’s world, there is still plenty of space for luxury, but it used carefully to sprinkle and add flavour to the otherwise balanced and hard working life we have created for ourselves. Not as the main course for us to gorge upon and become sick.

For example;

  • Cake, chocolate and other junk food are eaten but not as a normal weekly event, this stuff does not have a permanent spot in our kitchens fridge or cupboards.
  • Going for a drink with co-workers or friends is fine, but not every week for the Friday night special. Perhaps a few times a year to celebrate months of hard work.
  • We have supercomputers* sitting in our pockets. There is no need to upgrade your supercomputer every 2 years, and when you do there is no need to upgrade to the very latest supercomputer. One that is a couple of years old is still an extremely luxurious, first world privilege.
  • Paying other people to cook for us can still be a fun way to spend an evening. It is done on special occasions, not as a regular date night.
  • Air conditioning is this super product created from modern ingenuity that was completely absent from the lives of even aristocracy up until very recently. It is left off almost all the time, in fact you almost forget it is there hanging on your wall.

In this way we can all get swing the pendulum back a tiny, tiny bit closer to a balanced life, making some of these luxuries actually special and memorable to us. This will have the added benefit of automatically stitching up that hole you had in the bottom of your pocket. Eventually you may even be able to afford the greatest luxury of all.

Shuffling your view on a balanced life

Pat the Shuffler

 

*I am of course referring to your phone

4 Replies to “The first world problem of efficiency”

  1. This was my response on this article on Reddit, when someone pointed out that consumerism is required to reach goals of FIRE.

    “Exactly my thoughts, I’m enjoying the Journey Pat is going through however the same argument (around paying rent, managers, interior designers etc. for a meal out) could be made for almost anything.

    For example, hosting a blog could also be considered a luxury. You’re paying for people who have completed electrical engineering degrees (making sure your server always has power), IT architects (who design the articture to always be up), people who monitor the infrastructure (to make sure they’re always up and relatively secure), sales people (who keep the business running), the list goes on and on (let alone everyone who has developed the wordpress software) all of this for hopefully around $5-10 a month.

    As you’ve said FIRE relies on investing, and I’m sure that some of the investments one way or another rely on people eating at those fancy restaurants – it could be that the rent is included as part of a property-fund, they could be paying the bank fees for the debit/credit cards they accept, or a business meal/deal could be conducted for a mining company that will see profits increase for shareholders.

    Whether we like it or not we’re part of the system that we invest in and to get all high and mighty about how people are stupid for being involved with eating out or going to the shops is getting a little repetitive.

    Pat, I’m all for your journey of discovery and heading towards FIRE, and we get it, you’re better than 99% of the population who don’t have the same worldview as you do. Maybe focus on the money/mathematical side of things, rather than talking down to the people who are ultimately helping you on to your goal of FIRE.

    1. I am 100% in agreement that blogging is an extremely privileged and luxurious thing to do and certainly the result of centuries of successive iterations and advancements in technology to which I have contributed almost nothing. After considering all of this I still find it a worthwhile undertaking because in a tiny way I am contributing to the advancement, even if just to add discussion and debate around issues that I personally find interesting and important.

      I don’t consider myself high and mighty, or other people stupid. Just perhaps that it is hard to recognise what “balance” looks like when we are dropped into a world surrounded by privilege and luxury. And as Jay has commented above see this link from MMM

      http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/09/what-if-everyone-became-frugal/

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