The Triumph Economy and other solutions

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“Remember that you are mortal”

It was the sole goal of the Roman Auriga slaves to repeat those words for the commanders celebrated by the Roman Triumph so that they don’t start equating themselves with gods.

The triumph was the absolute pinnacle of achievement and the goal of any ambitious Roman Citizen. For a day, the whole Roman Empire celebrated your contributions to the empire’s power, wealth, and safety. You were the most important person for that day, and your descendants would look up to that moment when spending time in Lararium – the household shrine.

In Rome, money was only a tool to fund armies and conquests, not a goal in itself. Roman Empire was a Triumph-based economy, in which noblemen worked hard and gave everything to the empire.

I am really fond of the idea of money.

Specifically, rolling in it.

Money is infinitely composable – you can sell three goats and exchange it for half a cow, 2 weeks of work, or help with turning your grain into flour. This composability has enabled billions of us to somewhat work together on creating the modern world. As Yuval Noah Harari points out in Sapiens:

Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

As much as I want to roll in a bathtub full of twenty-dollar bills, I have to admit that amassing money has become a bit of a problem. Wealth disparities are widely publicized, with Jeff Bezos earning 3 average American yearly salaries every minute, and [insert another wealth disparity example here].

But what is an ambitious and effective person to do? Amassing money, fame, and power is celebrated and presented as a worthy goal since high school (especially for boys). Young adults are full of energy, grit, and determination. There are hungry for greatness, but we offer them Netflix, collecting sneakers, and amassing a fortune instead.

What if we brought back the triumph economy?

A triumph for crushing your enemies, a triumph for curing cancer, a triumph for solving social media addiction, a triumph for emission-free energy sources, a triumph for solving supply chain problems… Money and power would again be only the tools meant to help humanity, not divide it.

What would you throw a triumph for?

Think like an engineer

The chat between Tim Ferriss and James Dyson is such a spectacular ride and validation for any engineer. You can feel the sheer joy of a breakthrough, of making somebody’s day a tiny bit better by technology.

Dyson’s big break was making a vacuum cleaner that does not clog from dust. It took 3 years and 5,127 prototypes because he was convinced people to spend a lot of time annoyed at their vacuums. He was right, and the only one who cared enough to solve the problem.

“Whenever I look at anything, I wonder how it works and then I wonder how it could work better. Could I make it better”

Now, James Dyson is releasing a new book, and creating a University, because he thinks engineers can solve the problems at hand:

Partly because I just wish there were more engineers, I just wish that more young people would find engineering fascinating interesting and worthwhile. And I think it’s particularly true now because everybody is talking about global warming and what he’s talking about using fewer resources, recycle ability and all these sort of things using less energy less water and its engineers that can make that happen

Couldn’t agree more – listen to the conversation between Dyson and Ferriss here.

Can you create your own country?

Continuing the topic of unorthodox solutions to the problems of today, Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex fame) wrote a prospectus on Prospera – an experimental city-state growing in Honduras.

The idea behind charter cities is: Shenzhen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the rest of the rich world aren’t rich because their citizens are morally superior to those of their poorer neighbors. They’re rich because they have better legal systems, less corruption, stronger rule of law, and more competent administrators.

Prospera and other experimental communities can try out unorthodox legal and governance systems to better face the modern challenges. The experimental country created in 1776 dominated all the previous powers, so maybe it can happen again?

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I write about the psychological and technical aspects of the Internet, focusing on remote work, online economy, and cognitive load. Every monday.

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