A Response to a Manifesto

Last week, an 8,000 word blog post called The Alt-FI Manifesto was published on the Freedom is Groovy blog. It got a huge number of reactions in the personal finance community, and none of them neutral.

The post was essentially a lengthy argument that a libertarian approach to financial independence is the correct approach and that the progressives in the field are wrong.

A lot of people (especially early on) shared the article and sang its praises. Many others who joined the conversation found it misinformed and wildly offensive.

The post opens by acknowledging that people will be offended if they “have a delicate constitution” and makes a plea for reasoned discussion if people disagree.

I am going to honor that plea here.

The Ground Rules

Before starting, I want to explain why I am responding and what my ground rules and approach will be. This sounds a bit over the top, but I think it matters here.

There were a lot of people in the twittersphere that said that we should not dignify the post with a response. I understand that view and I respect that decision.

There are others who said that responding is not worth it because people that are so cavalier with offensive views are a lost cause. And I get that approach, as well.

Here’s my view: Right now, we’re all talking about these ideas. While this is a topic of conversation, we have an opportunity to guide this discussion in a direction that is helpful rather than harmful.

Maybe everyone who agreed with the manifesto and believed in those ideas will see that I’m on the other side and not read this response. Maybe they’ll read it through a lens of motivated reasoning and just find something that they can nitpick with me about. Maybe.

But maybe some are honestly interested in understanding where the other side is coming from. Maybe some are legitimately interested in understanding the facts and the nuance. Maybe Mr. G was being honest in his opening plea and he will appreciate the learning experience and is willing to learn why his words were so hurtful to so many.

The Benefit of the Doubt

I’ve said multiple times before that it should not be the job of people of color to educate white people about racism. It should not be the job of women to educate men about sexism. There are some who do and they deserve all the respect in the world, but allies need to be willing to step up and fill that gap so that the burden does not fall entirely on the marginalized.

And, to be absolutely clear, some serious educating needs to be done here.

I’ve had a lot of debates and exchanges with Mr. G over these last three years that we’ve both been blogging and I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Not his ideas. His ideas do not get the benefit of the doubt. They are unsupported, contrary to the facts, internally inconsistent, often incoherent, and, yes, sometimes quite offensive.

But I am going to give Mr. G the benefit of the doubt that these beliefs are not held out of malice, but out of a lack of understanding. I am going to assume that the racist statements are made out of ignorance. I am going to assume that the offensive asides and examples were based on a failure to thoughtfully consider the perspectives of other people.

In short, I am going to assume that Mr. G is a good person that means well but needs to be educated on these points. To that end, I will walk through each of these issues and try to calmly and rationally address each point.

A Warning

And so we begin. With the introductory warning.

“Warning: If you have a delicate constitution, you will likely be offended by what follows. I offer no apologies. It is MY manifesto, after all. If you disagree, I look forward to reading YOUR manifesto, and I will respectfully listen to YOUR views. I’m simply asking that you respectfully listen to mine. This is America—the last bastion of free speech on earth—and there’s no reason why areas of contention can’t be discussed intelligently and affably. Just because they’re buttheads on Fox News and MSNBC doesn’t mean we have to be. With that, I’m taking the plunge…”

As much as it feels overly finicky to dispute an introductory paragraph, I need to respond to the identification of America as “the last bastion of free speech on earth.”

Because that very much depends on your definition of “free speech.”

Freedom in America

Pew Research has found that Americans are more accepting of offensive speech than citizens of any other country. If you’re going to release a manifesto that you think will offend a lot of people, then you will probably get less pushback in the United States than in other countries.

The will of the people is not a measure of how much freedom you actually have, though. Your level of freedom is determined by the laws and regulations that you live under. To that end we have to look at comparative international rankings of freedom to determine whether America is the “last bastion.”

Freedom House does an annual rating of countries based on the freedoms that those countries’ citizens have. Countries are rated on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the most free and 7 being the least. This analysis is based on a comprehensive review of 25 different rights and civil liberties.

In the most recent ratings, America received a 1.5 rating. 45 countries received a perfect 1.0 rating and are more free than the United States. 9 other countries received a 1.5 rating, tying the United States. This means that the United States is somewhere between the 46th and 55th most free country in the world right now.

I was unable to find rankings specifically on freedom of speech. However, one aspect of freedom of speech is freedom of the press. After all, how much free speech do you really have if that speech cannot be expressed in the media? In that regard, the United States ranks as the 45th most free country in the world.

The fact that these different measures of freedom are so similar is quite telling. Even if they are way off, however, it is still easy to see that the United States doesn’t even crack the top 25 anymore when it comes to freedom.

How to Get More Freedom

I know that the comment on America being the last bastion of free speech was not intended to be part of the argument, but I think it is important to make this tangent anyway.

Statements like this are often thrown out there in support of arguments against change. Progressives are accused of having a “victim mindset” when we suggest that the system can be made better and improved. After all, it feels ridiculous to complain about systemic problems in the greatest nation on Earth!

These statistics on freedom show that everyone across the political spectrum should be recognizing that there are places where the system needs to be improved. I want the United States to be the most free country in the world. I want those statements to be accurate.

But we need to accept reality and fix systemic problems if we want to get there. You don’t get freedom if you put blinders on and focus solely on your own “personal responsibility” to the exclusion of systemic issues.

A False Dichotomy

I have found over many years of debating libertarians that they tend to lean heavily on this false dichotomy between taking personal responsibility and working to improve your own situation on the one hand and working to improve the system on the other.

The argument that you have to choose one or the other is a complete straw man and a blatant one at that. I can work my ass off to improve my own situation and then turn around and advocate for policies that would make things better for other people. In fact, that is literally what I do.

Arguing that you have to choose one or the other is just another way of saying that you don’t want the system changed because the status quo works for you. It is either a disingenuous argument or one that you haven’t spent enough time thinking about to realize how nonsensical it really is.

Declaring without question or support that America is the “last bastion of free speech” is a part of that faulty framing.

Okay…on to the substance.

Definitions

The manifesto opens with definitions and I already have concerns.

Alt-FI, Mr. G’s belief system that is being developed in this manifesto, is explicitly a “take-off on the political monikers, alt-right and alt-left.” According to Mr. G, “Alt-right people are righties who reject mainstream conservatism and alt-left people are lefties who reject mainstream liberalism.”

As I said above, I am going to give the benefit of the doubt here and assume that this is an honest misunderstanding rather than an obfuscation of the true backgrounds of these terms. This needs to be corrected, however.

A Brief History of the Alt-Right

The “Alternative Right” (later shortened to alt-right) was a term created by Richard Spencer as a rebranding of American Nazism for the modern era. Spencer was the head of a “white nationalist” think tank and was working on ways to bring white supremacy back into mainstream politics. The popularization of the term “alt-right” was one plan for furthering this goal.

Spencer has stated that his goal is to make America into a white ethno-state. Some of the arguments that the alt-right movement has pushed in furtherance of white supremacy include that liberals are dividing America into racial tribes, that government favors non-whites, that we should be suspect of the fact that members of a minority can have their own groups exclusive of whites, but whites can’t do the same, and that “political correctness” and “social justice warriors” are tools to steal America away from its rightful white owners.

This is important context.

Charges of Racism

Some of the reactions to this manifesto suggested that Mr. G was racist. The libertarians used this to complain about how unreasonable progressives are and how people just call you a Nazi if they don’t agree with your ideas. Mr. G himself said in a comment that “being called a ‘racist’ and ‘Nazi’ is what happens when you challenge the status quo.”

But let’s look at this in the full context. We have a manifesto with a title that references a white supremacy group and which contains multiple arguments that are very similar to ones used by those same white supremacists to advocate for a white ethno-state.

The two most reasonable interpretations of this are that either (a) Mr. G was completely unaware of this context and didn’t realize the racist history of his title and his arguments or (b) he was aware of that history and was embracing it.

In accordance with my statement at the top of this piece I am choosing to believe that (a) is the truth, but I completely understand how people could choose (b) given these facts.

Whichever option you believe, it is clear that the people who responded by calling this manifesto racist were not being unreasonable.

The Rise of Right-Wing Terrorism

This is not just a matter of semantics either. This is not a question of people being too easily offended. It is not a question of people being unfairly intolerant of certain ideas. It is a legitimate safety concern.

The frequency of right-wing terrorist attacks has grown dramatically in recent years, including a 100% increase in the United States just from 2016 to 2017. This should be a real cause for concern for the entire country, but is especially worrisome for people of color, women, and religious minorities, and is likely to be much more front-of-mind for those groups.

From 2008 to 2017, 71% of people killed by ideological extremists in America were killed by right-wing extremists. Compare this to 26% by Islamic extremists and 3% by left-wing extremists (including anarchists). Islamic extremism gets a lot of attention in our country, but it is significantly less of a threat than right-wing extremism.

Less than 24-hours after the “Alt-FI Manifesto” was published, a Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for allegedly building up a stockpile of weapons and ammunition that he planned to use to kill liberal politicians and journalists as well as “leftists in general.” He is allegedly a white nationalist member of the alt-right who called for a “white homeland” and sought to start a race war.

Extremists and Ideas

To be clear, I am not saying that this manifesto was a call to violence or that Mr. G is a right-wing terrorist.

But right-wing extremism is a very real threat and there is research suggesting that the spreading and greater acceptance of some of the ideas within the manifesto are linked to an increase in right-wing terrorist attacks. This is particularly true of views that the government is so big that it is restricting our freedom and views that the government does too much to help the poor, the disadvantaged, or racial or ethnic minorities.

A Department of Homeland Security study that looked at right-wing terrorist attacks and polling data on various issues found that “the frequency of right-wing domestic terrorism incidents was significantly positively correlated with ANES and GSS items tapping the public’s worries about the federal government being ‘out of control’ and their concerns about too much aid being provided to minorities and the poor.”

Again, I am not suggesting that Mr. G was cognizant of these issues or that his manifesto was a call to violence, but it is entirely reasonable for someone to interpret this as promoting a mindset and an environment that emboldens and encourages violent extremists.

“Intolerance”

One of the most common complaints that libertarians have about the response to this article is that a lot of people are refusing to engage with the ideas and arguments presented in the manifesto. It has become a common refrain that people are being “intolerant” of the author’s “alternative views.”

This complaint consciously or unconsciously ignores the full context of these ideas and arguments.

Why would someone choose to engage with ideas that they feel (and reasonably so, given the full context) are dangerous and put people’s lives at risk? Why would they choose to legitimize and amplify those ideas by trying to have a good faith debate?

The charge that these people are just intolerant of views that are different from their own is unfair and dismissive of their very real experiences, emotions, and fears.

Competing Tribes

After establishing the etymology of “alt-FI,” the manifesto starts by dividing the financial independence community into two competing tribes.

Alt-FI is essentially defined as a libertarian approach to financial independence. This is in contrast to Mainstream FI, which is defined as financial independence “from a socialist or collectivist perspective – especially as it relates to the safety net, higher education, and healthcare.”

It goes on to say that FI writers with the socialist perspective “far outnumber” writers with a libertarian perspective. Putting a point on this, Mr. G says that he thinks he is the only libertarian writer in the financial independence space.

There’s a surprising amount to unpack here.

Collectivism

First, because “the safety net, higher education, and healthcare” are addressed in detail later, we’ll set them aside.

Next, because Mr. G later identifies me as an exemplar of the “Mainstream FI” community, I am taking the liberty to respond to his definition of that community by saying that “socialist or collectivist” are not applicable labels.

The easiest part to knock down is “collectivist.” Based on the context, I assume this is referring to the Ayn Randian vision of collectivism as an enemy to individualism rather than the dictionary definition of collectivism.

Under that definition, I don’t know of any collectivist writers in the financial independence community. If you know of any, feel free to point them out and explain your reasoning, but I’ve never seen any.

Socialism

The term “socialist” has taken a strange turn in American usage recently.

There is one group of people that uses “socialist” to refer to countries, exemplified by the Scandinavian countries, with large safety nets. Another group uses “socialist” to refer to countries, exemplified by Venezuela, that elected “populist” leaders that implemented kleptocratic governments.

These vastly different definitions mean that we really can’t have a discussion of “socialism” in this country. We can’t have a conversation when people are speaking vastly different languages. Instead, we need to actually dig into the policies that people are proposing and debate them on their merits.

This isn’t happening here. Instead, “socialist” is used as a signal to folks on the right that these ideas don’t need to be taken seriously, because they don’t work (in countries like Venezuela). To that end, socialist is not so much a descriptor here as an attack.

I know the type of person that the manifesto is referring to here. We are people that believe that the government should do more to help those in need. We are people that believe that diversity matters. We are people that believe that we should be fixing systemic problems and addressing bigger picture issues rather than just keeping our heads down and focusing exclusively on our own personal success.

Based on that, I’ll be using the term “progressive” to describe this group going forward rather than “socialist,” “collectivist,” or “mainstream.”

The Mainstream

Before moving on, I suppose I should address why I am not using the “mainstream” label. In short, we’re simply not the mainstream.

Everyone loves to be the underdog. It is a much more enticing narrative and a much better story to tell ourselves and others. I get it.

But the idea that there are only a few oppressed libertarians in the financial independence community is wildly off base. Similarly, the idea that progressives are the majority is very wrong.

My first instinct in reading this was that libertarians are the majority. On further reflection, though, I think that’s probably wrong. The majority of financial independence writers are probably those writers who stay away from anything touching on politics at all costs.

(There is a good argument to be made that failing to address politics is equivalent to supporting the status quo. I am sympathetic to this view (and have argued it before) but I think in the context of this manifesto it makes more sense to set these people aside as it appears to be weighing one vocal group against another.)

Libertarians certainly outnumber progressives, at least among the big-name blogs and the blogs that have been going for a while. (I can’t speak to the prevalence overall because new blogs are created so often that I can’t keep up and I haven’t been good at reading many blogs lately. Maybe there has been a wave that I have entirely missed, but I’d be curious to see evidence for that.)

One obfuscating factor here is that libertarians often don’t see libertarian politics as politics because it is advocating for more “personal responsibility” as a result of the policies and social changes that it advances. This means that advocating for lower taxes doesn’t feel political, while arguing for raising the minimum wage does. Libertarian positions are the default in the personal finance community and a departure from the default feels more political and noteworthy.

It is also hard to argue that the progressives have a larger voice in this debate when Rockstar Finance, the largest platform for aggregating personal finance blogs, regularly shares libertarian-minded financial independence articles and generally stays away from progressive ones. (Rockstar announced its support for the manifesto immediately after it was published.)

I do think that the progressives in the financial independence community have become more vocal over the last year or two, especially on Twitter. This can make it seem like we are a larger group than we really are. Especially where Mr. G started blogging in the same class as a circle of folks (myself included) who have become more vocal progressives over time, I can understand how he could overestimate our numbers.

Alt-FI Privilege

On to the first substantive issue.

The manifesto opens a discussion on privilege by providing an alt-FI definition of privilege and his version of a progressive definition of privilege.

The alt-FI definition of privilege is essentially affirmative action. This is an argument that these marginalized groups actually have it easier than white men. The examples that are provided include women having a different standard to meet on the Marines’ Initial Strength Test and people of color getting into colleges with lower average SAT scores.

I don’t want to get into a full-length discussion about affirmative action because it is a complicated topic and this response is over 14,000 words without it. But it is worth a quick overview to dispel the notion that affirmative action should be considered a “privilege” belonging to disadvantaged groups.

Diversity and SCOTUS

The policy known as “affirmative action” was first upheld in a Supreme Court case called Regents of the University of California v. Bakke in 1978. The case revolved around a medical school that had policies in place to give ethnic minorities a stronger chance of being accepted.

There were multiple purposes behind this policy, including “(i) reducing the historic deficit of traditionally disfavored minorities in medical schools and in the medical profession; (ii) countering the effects of societal discrimination; (iii) increasing the number of physicians who will practice in communities currently underserved; and (iv) obtaining the educational benefits that flow from an ethnically diverse student body.”

The first two reasons essentially address the fact that we don’t have a level playing field in the United States. Some people start with advantages that others do not have while others need to work to overcome extra disadvantages. Suggesting that affirmative action is a privilege for disadvantaged groups ignores this reality.

Schools are looking for the students with the most potential, not necessarily the students with the best SAT scores. SAT scores are one measure of potential, but arguing that they are the only measure of potential (which is implicit in saying that getting in with lower scores is a privilege) is ignoring the fact that we did not all take the same path to get to that test.

Diversity Benefits Everyone

I also want to quickly highlight reason (iv): “obtaining the educational benefits that flow from an ethnically diverse student body.”

Having more diversity and a wider variety of life experiences represented in class provides a better education for everybody, white people included. Affirmative action benefits both the disadvantaged person that it helps directly and also everyone else in that school or company or community.

Citing an earlier case, the Court said that “it is not too much to say that the ‘nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure’ to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.”

I could go on forever on this, but I won’t drag you through that right now. If you’re interested in more on this I’d recommend reading the decision, as it is rather interesting. There is also a wealth of information out there on the benefits of diversity to companies if you’re willing to put a few minutes into searching. Here are a couple starters from Harvard Business Review: Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter and The Other Diversity Dividend.

Progressive Privilege…

The manifesto next provides a definition of privilege on behalf of progressives. The definition provided here is either a complete misunderstanding of the progressive view of privilege or a straw man intended to make progressives seem unreasonable.

“From what I can gather, it seems to mean having more cultural, financial, or human capital than others. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if that superior cultural, financial, or human capital was acquired justly, and it doesn’t matter if the tools and attitudes necessary to build cultural, financial, or human capital are free for everyone to use or mimic. If you grew up in a two-parent household, with parents who made middle-class incomes or better, and who passed along virtues and attitudes that were conducive to gaining worthwhile skills and building wealth, your success, should you have any, really isn’t valid. You’re kind of a cheater. And unless you acknowledge your ‘privilege,’ and continually flagellate yourself over it, any advice you have for those struggling financially is damn near worthless.”

This is…not what we believe.

…Or Not

The short version? Growing up in a two-parent household with parents who made good money and taught you important virtues and attitudes and skills is an amazingly powerful privilege! That’s a super helpful start to life and I personally feel profoundly lucky for being born into such a situation and grateful to my parents for everything they did in raising me.

But that doesn’t undermine anything I’ve accomplished. It doesn’t make me a cheater. I don’t have to “continually flagellate myself.” The advice I provide is not worthless.

I just need to remember that I’ve had advantages that others have not. I should respect my readers enough to give them that context and I should respect the stories of others who have had a different life experience.

The Longer Version

I wrote a very lengthy piece on privilege a few months back. I spent a lot of time talking to people that didn’t believe in privilege or didn’t agree with the way they thought the concept was being applied. I wanted to fully understand the argument against privilege before I responded to those concerns.

I think that article is worth reading in full (although I may be a bit biased), but here is what I said about the definition of privilege:

“One of my biggest takeaways from these conversations was that a lot of people had strong feelings about privilege without having a strong understanding of what exactly it entailed. The political and emotional reactions to privilege have outstripped the basic meaning.

“So for our purposes, here is how I am defining privilege: An advantage that you have in life that you have not earned through your own hard work.

“Privilege, at least in the modern discussion, is generally based around a situation that you are born into. Being white, being male, and being born into a wealthy family are all examples of this, but plenty of others exist as well.

“What I found was that when we strip the issue down to this level, most of the people that reached out to me actually agreed with the concept of privilege.”

Seek First to Understand

This, to me, is the most frustrating part of the privilege discussion.

There is a lot of emotion and anger and no attempt to actually understand the issue before letting that anger loose on the world.

This manifesto includes 2300 words on privilege that are based on a complete misunderstanding of what progressives believe about privilege. This is a lot of unnecessary anger that could have been avoided by simply asking a progressive what they think (or reading my article!) rather than making assumptions and guessing at what’s really in their minds.

For anyone that is serious about personal responsibility and self-improvement, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a powerful and timeless read. Habit 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Admitting the Value of Privilege

After providing this faulty definition of privilege the manifesto goes on to say that “acknowledging the role that good fortune and luck play is an important part of being intellectually honest.”

That’s our point!

That’s the whole thing!

We agree!

And then it goes on for 1800 words about the “ugly side” of “how the word is used.”

Privilege as a Smear

The first header is “It’s Too Often Used as a Smear” which argues that you should never “accuse” someone else of having privilege because “it’s not being used to further anyone’s understanding of anything.”

Instead, he says, using the term privilege is “effectively saying, ‘I don’t like what you said, I can’t refute you intellectually, so I’ll just accuse you of having a trait that most people have been conditioned to find objectionable.’” (If this were true, it would be a lot like calling a group of people “socialist” or “collectivist” rather than engaging with their actual ideas.)

I’d be interested to see examples of the behavior that Mr. G is referring to here. It’s possible that someone has used privilege as an attack because they didn’t have an intellectual ground to debate an issue, but I haven’t seen that in the FI community.

As I said before, I put out a call for anti-privilege folks to discuss the issue and after talking to lots of people about this, nobody pointed out any individual instances of FI writers doing this.

Instead, what came out was that the discussion of privilege makes people feel defensive about their own success. It means that instead of the idea of privilege being intentionally used as an attack, it is often instinctively being interpreted as an attack by the recipient.

Getting on the Same Page

That is a problem, of course. We cannot reach a consensus if we can’t have a conversation, and we can’t have a conversation if one side feels they are under attack. This is true even if there is no intention to attack.

From the progressive side, I have advocated for a more careful use of words in this discussion. The goal is to convince people to recognize the full context of their success, not to make people feel guilty or ashamed of things beyond their control.

While conservatives mock liberals for being “snowflakes” if they get offended or defensive, we should be better than that and acknowledge that people can be overly sensitive and defensive on this issue and try to be more cautious in our word choice.

At the same time, misinterpretation of someone else’s intentions is not a valid ground to dismiss their ideas. While it may sometimes be helpful for progressives to work on being more careful with their delivery, the libertarian side needs to be more open to having these discussions, less sensitive and defensive, and less knee-jerk dismissive of people just because they disagree with them.

Demographics of Privilege

The next section doubles back to a variation on the affirmative action issue.

This time it is to say that every demographic has some level of privilege over some other groups, so why are the terms “male privilege” and “white privilege” the ones used most often?

The first example of a demographic that the manifesto argues is privileged is women. What are the privileges of being a woman you might ask? Well, it is less socially acceptable for men to hit women than to hit other men. Also, women dominate “several well-paying professions.”

(As a quick aside: Teaching should absolutely be a well-paying profession, but I think Mr. G missed the mark on describing it as such here.)

The manifesto then caps the privileges of women section by proving the other side’s point. “Women also do better than men in school and are far less likely than men to be incarcerated, homeless, suicidal, injured at work, or killed in battle.”

According to this manifesto, women do better in school and are less likely to be incarcerated, homeless, and suicidal, and yet they only dominate a handful of professions. Men do worse in school and are more likely to go to jail, yet they still dominate the vast majority of professions as well as the halls of power and the top eschelons of major corporations.

Sounds like there are some hidden advantages to being a man that women just don’t have.

(Another quick aside: As Military Dollar noted, women are less likely to be killed in battle because historically men have refused to let them serve. Tough to argue that you value freedom and liberty above all and then say that lacking rights is a privilege.)

Privileges of People of Color

The manifesto also includes a series of “privileges” that it argues belong to other demographics.

“Asian-Americans are the most successful ethnic group in America by a considerable margin.”

“Hispanics certainly have ‘privilege’ when it comes to immigration.”

“Blacks certainly have ‘privilege’ when it comes to athletic prowess.”

There has been a lot of talk over whether the manifesto is racist, and these statements are a major part of that discussion. Libertarians have pushed back against the racism charge, with some arguing that this is just a statement of facts about race and others saying that the charge of racism is an overreaction.

As I’ve said, I am giving Mr. G the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he is misinformed about these issues, not that he is racist. That said, I completely understand where these statements, especially in the context of the alt-right discussion above, would lead others to a different conclusion.

This is Racism

Even if Mr. G is not racist, however, these are racist statements.

The reason that these are racist statements rather than facts about race is that they are not facts. They are not supported by any evidence. The manifesto does not provide any data. There is literally no justification for these statements.

Instead, they are based on racial stereotypes.

Not only that, but they are based on racial stereotypes that could have been debunked with a few minutes of googling.

Seriously. I just googled “Asian American Success” and the very first link is to an academic paper entitled The Myth of Asian American Success and Its Educational Ramifications. If that is too niche for you, then please familiarize yourself with some literature on the “Model Minority” myth.

The stereotype of African-American superiority in sports is also easily debunked. There have been a whole slew of studies and research papers on this going back decades, with titles like “The Myth of Black Sports Supremacy,” “The Myth of Black Athletic Superiority and the Dumb Jock Stereotype,” “The Myth of Racial Superiority in Sports,” and “The Myth of the Racially Superior Athlete.”

(I can’t address the statement “Hispanics certainly have ‘privilege’ when it comes to immigration” because I don’t have the slightest clue as to what it is intended to mean.)

I understand why people are so defensive about the charge of racism, but promoting racial stereotypes as facts without doing a minute of research to see whether they are actually true is entirely unacceptable. These statements are the textbook definition of racist.

Privilege and White Men

With that all out of the way, let’s finally get to the question of why the terms you hear most often are “male privilege” and “white privilege.”

The short answer is that broadly speaking white men in our society have the most advantages and are least likely to notice them. White men overwhelmingly dominate positions of power across the government and the private sector. This means that either white men happen to be smarter, harder working, and more charismatic than everyone else, or we have some advantages that we should acknowledge.

There are people, like the alt-right, that believe that white men are simply superior to everyone else. Personally, I believe that the disproportionate success of white men relative to other demographics is because others have to face hurdles and obstacles that we don’t.

This is hard to recognize as a white man because we don’t live those other lives and experience those other experiences. We don’t see what other people go through or struggle with.

When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Here’s how I addressed this after talking with people that disagreed with the idea of privilege:

“Recently on Twitter there was a big discussion about women jogging. Women from all backgrounds were chiming in to discuss their experiences. They talked about not being able to go jogging alone after dark. They talked about the different precautions they needed to take before going out. They talked about telling people the exact route they were going to take beforehand.

“I’ve never had to do any of that. When I was in college I would take a break from writing a paper by going for a jog alone through the streets of Washington, D.C. at 1 a.m. I did not tell anyone that I was going for a run, never mind tell anyone my route. I made up my route as I went along to keep things interesting.

“This is obviously just one small example, but it is indicative of the fact that there are challenges that I don’t have to face that I don’t even realize I don’t have to face. That’s how privilege works.

“The fact that I am a straight white man from a middle-class family does not mean that my life is easy or that I don’t face challenges. It means that there are hoops that other people have to jump through and challenges that they have to face that I don’t even see.

“There are plenty of people that achieve great success despite having to jump through those hoops. There are plenty of people that fail to achieve success even though they don’t have to jump through those hoops.

“There are plenty of people that have to jump through some hoops and not others. A poor white man and a wealthy black man have different sets of hoops to jump through. The white man’s race does not negate the challenges of poverty. The black man’s wealth does not negate the challenges of race. Neither negates the fact that they both have privilege in one form and disadvantages in another.

“The point is not to compete or to see people (or yourself) as victims or to inspire guilt. The point is just to recognize where you have had advantages or where others have faced challenges that you did not need to face.”

Intellectual Laziness

The next problem that the manifesto identifies with the privilege discussion is that it is “intellectually lazy.” I don’t think I need to spend much time pointing out the hypocrisy in this statement after our discussion on the racial stereotypes, so we’ll just move on to the argument.

“How does requiring certain people with ‘privilege’ to publicly flagellate themselves over their ‘unfair advantages’ help those without ‘privilege?’ In other words, how does the gnashing of your teeth over your fine, middle-class upbringing help those who grew up in single-parent households and had to deal with less than stellar schools and neighbors?”

First, again, we are not asking anyone to “publicly flagellate themselves over ‘unfair advantages.’” The point is to provide full context to your readers. This helps your readers who are in a different situation know how your advice applies to their life.

As a FI-centric analogy, it is much easier to save 50% of your income when you are part of a two-income household with no kids and high incomes than it is if you are a single parent with a middle-income job. The former has advantages over the latter and providing that full context allows the single parent to set appropriate goals and expectations rather than feeling like FI is impossible because they can’t do what the married person is doing.

Recognizing privilege here is not about the married blogger beating themselves up or feeling guilty or anything like that. It’s about providing the full context and recognizing that other people face more challenges than them and may not be able to achieve what they have achieved with the same level of effort.

Laws and Policies

Mr. G goes on to say that “I suppose it might help if this demeaning self-flagellation ritual led to more effective laws and policies. But exactly what laws and policies are currently forcing poor young girls to have children they can’t afford – a significant factor in the perpetuation of poverty? What laws and policies are currently forcing poor children to take the free education they’re provided for granted – again, a significant factor in the perpetuation of poverty.”

I have to point out that this is an ironic argument to make while accusing the other side of being intellectually lazy.

Essentially, the manifesto points out two issues that Mr. G believes (without any evidence presented) contribute to the perpetuation of poverty that he believes (without explanation) cannot be addressed by laws or policies, and uses that as a rationale for dismissing the whole concept of laws or policies being helpful in addressing poverty.

Poverty and Decision-Making

There are many many reasons that it is difficult to climb out of poverty. And many of these reasons are hard to understand if you haven’t lived through that experience.

For that reason, I highly recommend reading Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, which is a book about poverty written by someone who lived that experience. She discusses the systemic challenges and issues but also the bad decisions involved and why she made them.

Poverty also literally saps your ability to make good decisions. Read Scarcity by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan for a recap and analysis of the research in that field of study.

Blaming the Poor

The point is that there are all sorts of complex reasons why the poor stay poor, even when some of those reasons sometimes look like bad decisions. Focusing on those issues that look like bad decisions allows people to blame the poor for their own poverty rather than making any changes to the system that could help.

Focusing particularly on having “children they can’t afford” or having children out of wedlock are favorites of conservative politicians because they add a dimension of moral superiority that allows their constituents to feel less empathy and thus less desire to help.

(Here are a couple articles that discuss the specific topic of poor women having children. I am sharing them both because they are interesting discussions and because they include links to all sorts of research (in the first article) and lots of data and charts (in the second).

Poverty and Education

The second argument, that the reason poor children stay in poverty is that they’re taking their education for granted, is also entirely unsupported in addition to lacking any sort of nuance or context.

Even if it were true, however, then our next step should be to figure out why it was true and fix that problem. If you truly believe that everyone is equal and nobody has privilege, then why do you think that this one group disproportionately disregards education based solely on how much money their parents have? This would be a disadvantage based on the situation into which you are born and we should try to understand and address it.

Besides that, it is well documented that the poor receive a worse education than the rich (as the manifesto acknowledges only a few sentences earlier). There are plenty of laws and policies that could help address the unequal quality of education, contrary to the manifesto’s cursory conclusion.

Privilege and Policy

There are also all sorts of other laws and policies that could help to address poverty.

As suggested by the manifesto, acknowledging privilege and the advantages that we have had in life helps us understand the struggles and situations that others face. This discussion can help build support to address the unfair obstacles that others have to face and hopefully will lead to laws and policies creating a more level playing field by helping remove those extra obstacles.

Again, I feel the need to emphasize that the goal is to remove the unfair obstacles that some people have to face rather than to make it harder or add new obstacles for the people with “privilege.”

It is not an attack on the privileged or an undermining of their success or efforts. It is a recognition of the people that have to jump through extra hoops.

Privilege as Determinism

Continuing the “intellectually lazy” argument, the manifesto suggests that the progressives believe that “one’s starting position in life is automatically one’s ending position.”

This is another straw man. And a quite nonsensical one at that.

By definition, anyone in the financial independence community believes that they can improve their situation. The whole point of the movement is to make smarter decisions and learn how to get off the standard consumerist track so that we can make our own plan for our lives. Why would we make that effort if we believed that we had no control over our futures?

This is another example of the false dichotomy between working to improve your own situation and working to improve the system. We can do both at the same time! Financial independence has space for intellectual nuance.

I can work my ass off to make good decisions and put myself into the best possible situation. I can study and improve myself and start a side hustle and get promotions. I can improve my savings rate and make smarter investment decisions. I can make and pursue a plan to retire early.

I can also recognize that my path to do that has faced fewer obstacles than others and argue that they should get the same opportunities that I have had. I can (and do!) provide advice in my writing for how others can follow my path while also recognizing that some people have to jump through extra hoops based simply on the circumstances of their birth.

The recognition of privilege is the recognition that some groups have it harder. It is not an excuse for people who don’t put in their best effort. It is not an attack on people that have achieved success. It is definitely not a suggestion that someone who has it harder cannot be successful.

This type of attack on privilege is either based on a complete misunderstanding or a disingenuous desire to set up an easy to beat straw man.

Financial Moronity

The next section, “Perpetuating Financial Moronity” knocks down the straw man that was set up in the last section. Essentially, it argues that we should not give people a pass for failing to take personal responsibility for their actions.

This section doesn’t need much response on the substance in that it is based on underpinnings that are already established to be faulty. The point again is that you can teach financial skills and encourage smarter decisions while simultaneously working to address systemic barriers.

Crediting the Privileged

Next the Manifesto attacks “the notion that…the privileged don’t deserve any credit for maintaining or advancing their so-called advantages.”

This is another misconception about privilege that could have been quickly and easily dispelled by asking any progressive their thoughts. Hard work should be rewarded. Persistence should be rewarded. Ingenuity and creativity and productivity should be rewarded. No argument from us on that front.

We’re simply asking people to recognize that you may have had opportunities that others didn’t. Give a nod to the journeys that others face.

We’re not saying you don’t deserve your success. We’re saying that there may be others who have worked just as hard but haven’t achieved success. We’re saying that there are a variety of outcomes and not everything is within our control.

Success of an Inherited Business

The example given in the manifesto is of a friend of Mr. G who inherited a business from his father, worked his ass off to keep it successful and then worked like crazy to transition to a new business when the industry died out. The argument is that progressives treat this type of person with “snarky dismissal” rather than “admiration.”

Again…ask a progressive!

That friend worked hard and achieved success. Congrats! That’s excellent! You deserve to be rewarded for your hard work.

Just remember the boost that you had from inheriting a successful business. It does not take away from your hard work, but it gives valuable perspective when comparing yourself to what others have achieved with their hard work.

Diversity

Finally moving on from the subject of privilege, the manifesto next addresses diversity.

“Alt-FI people simply don’t give a shit about diversity,” the manifesto says before immediately contradicting this sentiment. “They believe that concerning oneself with the demographics of a meet-up or conference is … inappropriate and ridiculous….”

So the alt-FI position is that not only is diversity not something to be valued, it is in fact something that is inappropriate and ridiculous to consider.

Progressives, we are told “are diversity mongers and are very uncomfortable when anything in the FI community lacks diversity.” When seeing a meet-up or event that is made entirely of white people “they all agree that ‘something needs to be done about it.’”

Wait, But Why?

To illustrate his point, Mr. G points to a photo from a FI meet-up that appears to be entirely made up of white people. He says that that’s fine and compares it to players in the NFL and the NBA, who are majority black. (While management offices and ownership are majority white. Hmm…)

This ignores the extremely relevant question of why diversity is lacking, which is an inappropriate question to ask under libertarian thinking. The problem is that when you remove the blinders and think about this in the FI context, it raises some serious issues.

Presumably Mr. G is okay with the lack of diversity in the NFL and the NBA because they are made up of the most elite athletes that have reached those levels at any given time. So what if they happen to be black, right?

But what does that say about the fact that the financial independence community is overwhelming white? Are we saying that white people are smarter? More gifted at money? Are we saying that people of color have no interest in retiring early?

(Suggesting that a libertarian believes that white people are smarter is often seen as a low blow, but this is a legitimate question for a number of reasons. Mainly, a lot of libertarians legitimately believe this! They tend to lean on IQ statistics from a book by Charles Murray, a fellow at a conservative think tank. The “alt-right” is entirely built around the idea that white people are smarter and better in general. One of the commenters agreeing with the manifesto in its comment section has already raised the suggestion of white superiority with regards to FI with the requisite reference to Murray’s book.)

Being “colorblind” sounds great in theory, but it means that you have to either (a) ignore the real world happening around you or (b) believe that white men are more successful, wealthier, and in more positions of power because they are inherently better than everyone else. Neither of those options are appealing to me.

The reason a lack of diversity exists matters. And we can’t get there without taking our blinders off, noticing that lack of diversity, and thinking about big issues.

Colorblind

Mr. G talks about being raised in the 60s and 70s and taught that we should be a “colorblind society.” “The dream of a colorblind society, where we’re only judged by ‘the content of our character,’ is one of the noblest aspirations I can think of.”

I agree with the sentiment! I would love to live in a society where we are only judged by the content of our character. The question is: How do we get there from here?

The libertarian approach to this is just to act like we’re already there. If we as individuals start acting colorblind, then society will magically become colorblind. It’s The Secret for race relations.

It’s also wrong.

While individuals were learning to be colorblind in the 60s and 70s, institutions were continuing to redline neighborhoods. Realtors were pretending that houses were already sold when black families came to look at them because they didn’t want housing prices in the neighborhood to go down. Opportunities to build wealth and stable lives were being denied to the black community.

It’s harder for white people to notice this if they’re actively refusing to pay attention to diversity. And it is harder for systemic issues in America to get fixed when white people don’t notice them.

Raising Non-Racist Kids

If you know me at all, you will not be surprised to hear that I read a lot of books when I found out that I was going to be a dad.

One of these books was NurtureShock. I don’t have the book in front of me (I got it from the library) so I can’t quote it directly, but it addressed some really interesting studies on raising kids to be “colorblind.”

The idea is intuitively appealing. Kids aren’t born racist, so if you just never acknowledge race then they shouldn’t learn racism as they grow, right?

The problem is that if you don’t talk about race growing up or are actively raised to be “colorblind,” then keeping intellectual consistency requires accepting that the prejudices inherent in our systems must be justified. If men are more often business leaders, then it must be because men are better business leaders. If white people are more successful, it must be because they are smarter or work harder.

In short, the studies found that raising kids as “colorblind” makes them more likely to adopt racist and prejudicial views. Instead, you need to actively talk to you kids about race and racism if you want them to grow up avoiding racist opinions.

Accepting Reality and Fixing Problems

The main problem with the colorblind approach is that even if we as individuals become “colorblind,” that does not mean that all of a sudden everyone is being judged by the content of their character.

Black men are given longer jail sentences than white men for committing the same crime.

Black drivers are far more likely to get pulled over than white drivers. And once they get pulled over they’re far more likely to have their cars searched.

Black and white Americans are equally likely to use drugs, but black Americans are twice as likely to be arrested for it.

These problems exist whether or not you choose to think about race. If we want to live in a truly colorblind society where people are honestly judged on the content of their character, then we need to have the courage to identify and fix these problems rather than pretending they don’t exist or hoping they go away on their own.

Ignoring this reality and choosing not to “give a shit about diversity” is not only burying your head in the sand, but it is a vote in favor of the status quo.

In short, both the “alt-FI” tribe and the progressives want a society where everyone is judged based on the content of their character. The difference is that the progressives are willing to fight to make that happen and the libertarians simply pretend that it already has.

Tribalism

Okay.

The next section addresses “tribalism.”

And I just need to stop for a minute and highlight the first sentence before we move on to the substance.

“Alt-FI people are very uncomfortable with tribalism.”

Wait, what?!

The entire premise of this manifesto is that there are two tribes within the financial independence community. The noble underdog “alt-FI” tribe is valiantly fighting against its nemesis, the unreasonable and intolerant “mainstream” tribe.

The entire 8000-word article is built on tribalism. You don’t get to turn around and pretend you aren’t comfortable with tribalism.

Alright…let’s move on to the substance.

Tribalism in FI

The manifesto notes that tribalism builds trust and cooperation within the tribe, but fosters mistrust and poor treatment of people outside the tribe. Because of this, tribalism should be avoided.

“Alt-FI people believe you subdue the nasty side-effects of tribalism by frowning on tribalism and keeping tribalism out of the FI community. There’s no Caucasian way of doing FI, and there’s no black, gay, or woman’s way of doing FI either.”

On the other hand, progressives “believe you subdue the nasty side-effects of tribalism by encouraging the ‘right kind’ of tribalism in the FI community.”

This reference to the “right kind” of tribalism is at the end of this section but appears to be a reference back to the beginning of the section. There, the manifesto highlights that there are women-only conferences and people who proudly wear the label “feminist” in the financial independence community, where man-only conferences or people calling themselves “masculinist” would be frowned upon.

Feminism

Let’s tackle the feminism part first.

Feminism is the belief that women deserve equality. It is a movement that seeks to lift women up so that they can be on an even playing field with men.

If we apply that definition by analogy to “masculinism,” we would find that a “masculinist” believes that men deserve equality with women. Therefore, it would be a movement seeking to tear men down so that they can be equal to women.

Obviously that isn’t what Mr. G meant here. Instead, the analogy to “masculinism” suggests a belief that people who call themselves feminists either believe that women are inherently superior to men or that feminists seek to create a system where women are in charge of everything and subjugate men.

Again, this is a misunderstanding that could have been clarified by simply having a discussion with a feminist about what they believe rather than making ungenerous assumptions about their motivations.

The All-Women Conference

The all-women conference is a bit tougher for me to explain in that I am not a woman and have never had the experience of being a woman.

Here’s what I can say.

First, the personal finance community is very male dominated. There are just a lot more men than women writing in this space. Given that, I can understand how a space where you are surrounded by people with a more similar experience to yours could be an easier and less intimidating entrance into the financial independence community as well as a valuable place to share your voice and hear others.

The response of women when Tanja set up the Cents Positive retreat says a lot about how valuable something like that can be. Women were excited before the retreat and gave glowing reviews after it. This shows that there was a legitimate need for this type of space within the financial independence community.

Can you imagine a need for an all-male retreat? “Want to get together and talk about money in a space where we don’t have to worry about women dominating the conversation?” Uh…no thanks, dude. Men don’t need that space because we already dominate the communal space.

The Power of Representation

Second, representation is more important than I, as a white man in America, can really comprehend.

Growing up, I never understood the argument that we needed more representation for the sake of representation. Did an African-American kid really need to see a black president to know that he could grow up to be president? Did a woman really need female role models in her field? This is America! Anyone can become anything! You don’t need a person to look like you in order to see yourself doing their work or achieving their feats.

But then again, every president had looked like me. Every field has role models that look like me. White men had become everything. So how could I fully grasp the counterfactual?

To have even an inkling of the importance of representation, I needed to look to other communities. And I did.

I saw black mothers crying and hugging their children in Grant Park after the 2008 election.

I saw women tearing up and cheering and overflowing with emotion while voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

I saw the black community’s reaction to Black Panther and the Asian-American community’s reaction to Crazy Rich Asians. And the representation there was on a movie screen.

Look. I can’t really explain this all that well because I can’t fully grasp it. I know that other white men in the United States can’t either. And that’s fine.

But we need to recognize that other people’s experiences are valid. Our life experience is not more important than someone else’s and it does not give us moral superiority. The fact that we don’t fully comprehend the importance of representation does not mean that representation is not important.

We know that representation is important because we can see how important it is to so many people. Believe them.

Policy Differences

The next section is just a straight-up discussion of policy debates between libertarians and progressives.

The libertarians want less government and “don’t believe they’re entitled to ‘free’ healthcare, ‘free’ college, ‘free’ daycare, or ‘free’ anything.”

The progressive positions are described a bit more…colorfully. First, Mr. G describes exaggerated versions of progressive positions coupled with snarky “eff you”s to taxpayers. Then he apologizes for the snark and says that these positions are “the primary reason [he] truly admire[s]” the progressives. “They want more government because they hate suffering and squalor.”

Once you remove the snark and the exaggeration, this seems like a relatively fair description of the difference between libertarians and progressives. Progressives are willing to pay more in taxes if it means that we can do more to help the less fortunate. Libertarians want smaller government and lower taxes.

I…don’t really have anything to add here? Obviously you know where I stand on this spectrum. But I’m not going to convince libertarians to change their entire worldview and ideology with a cleverly-written paragraph. Any debates on this topic will likely be more productive on a policy-by-policy basis.

The Case Against Nuance

The next section appears to be an argument against nuance in the financial independence community.

Alt-FI people “believe that the FI community’s core tenets – better known as the pillars of FI – will work for every inhabitant of the United States, and it’s their job to show how they’ve used these core financial tenets to improve their respective lives. It’s not their job to provide a user guide for every financial tenet that is applicable to every inhabitant of the United States.”

Essentially, the argument goes, the job of bloggers is simply to show how the “pillars of FI” apply to their life. It is the job of the reader to figure out how to apply what they’ve learned to their own life.

Progressives, on the other hand, provide more “buts” and qualifications when they make FI points. This added nuance, according to the manifesto, is a sign of deep disrespect for their readers. We allegedly believe that if we simply tell our story then our “readership will become confused, detached, and angered.”

But because Mr. G “can’t read minds,” he provides an alternative explanation for why we include nuance in our writing: We want to “strut [our] moral plumage.”

In Defense of Nuance

I don’t really understand this argument.

Can’t we just include nuance in our writing because we believe our audience would appreciate nuance? I provide a lot of nuance and detail in my writing because that’s the type of writing I like to read. The world is complicated and I like to learn about complicated things. I have no interest in reading the same 6 simple approaches to FI over and over again.

I respect bloggers that tell their story. I don’t look down on them or take issue with what they’re doing. More people telling their stories and talking about their personal journeys to financial independence means that we can reach more people with more different backgrounds. That’s great.

But I don’t think that my deciding to write articles that seek to capture the nuance and intricacy and complicated nature of the world is disrespectful to my readers. And I don’t understand how it could be a signal that I believe I am morally superior to people that take a different approach to their writing.

How Much Tax is Too Much Tax?

The manifesto next moves on to “paycheck freedom.” The argument here is essentially that taxes shouldn’t be too high. Once effective tax rates hit a certain point, you no longer have control over your spending decisions.

That’s a fair enough argument in theory. The important question becomes where you draw that line, which becomes tricky.

What economic metrics do you use? Do you start with the cost of the basic needs of the government? Or do you look at the cost of living and guarantee that each individual keeps at least that much of their paycheck? Do you compare the United States to the OECD countries and set a target benchmark? How do you determine the nitty gritty details of how much taxation is too much taxation?

The manifesto bypasses the deep thinking required to give real heft to this idea and instead just picks a number. Or…picks a few numbers.

At the beginning of this section it says the cap on taxes should be “30 to 40 percent?” (I didn’t add the question mark. That’s in the original.) This is the maximum amount that a person can have taken from their paycheck before they have lost their freedom. Based on apparently nothing at all and announced with all the certainty that adding a question mark to the end of a statement implies.

After a few paragraphs of argument, the approach changes to determining how much money the government needs. Under this approach, the manifesto declares that 25 percent of income is enough to pay for all necessary government services at the federal, state, and local level. What evidence supports this number? Mr. G tells us that it “strikes me as more than enough.”

Well…glad that’s settled.

Do Your Homework

I’m open to debates over whether taxes are too high or too low. I love that shit. I will dive into policy debates all day.

But you need to put in real thought.

We write about budgets and spending all the time! We know how this works. If you’re going to drastically cut the government’s income, where are you going to cut it’s spending?

With a cut this drastic you’d have to make some major changes. Do you stop paying the national debt and crash the global economy? Do you stop paying Social Security and take away income that many seniors rely on and that people have spent their whole careers paying into? Do you eliminate Medicare and Medicaid and tell the poor and the elderly that if they can’t afford care then too bad for them? Do you cut our military spending down below levels of other countries? If so, which specific parts of the budget get cut and how much money will that actually save you?

Do we make up for the lost money from personal income tax with a drastic increase in corporate income tax? Estate tax? Do we create a wealth tax or a national sales tax?

Do we give as many state and local projects to the federal government as possible to save money with the larger government’s stronger negotiating power? Or do we pass everything to the smallest possible government in the hopes that the folks on the ground have ideas for saving money?

These are all discussions that we can have if you want to talk about taxes and spending. There are a million different ways that conversation can go. But if you want to talk taxes and spending you need to be willing to put in the work.

Especially if you’re going to talk about this while simultaneously calling your opponents intellectually lazy.

An Offensive Comparison

I’m just going to briefly touch on the analogy that Mr. G uses in this section comparing reproductive rights to low taxes.

“If the government takes away reproductive freedom, women will lose a crippling amount of autonomy. One could rightfully say, then, that ending reproductive freedom is the tyrant’s way of controlling a woman’s body and crushing her autonomy.

“Well, it’s the same thing when it comes to paycheck freedom.”

No it isn’t.

If you don’t have the right to control your own body, then you don’t have the right to control your own body. If taxes are too high, then you have less money. These are not the same.

Healthcare

With taxes solved, the manifesto next moves on to healthcare.

“Alt-FI people don’t fear death.”

That’s great! Fear of death is natural, but conquering that fear can be a powerful tool for living a fuller life.

“…This is particularly true as it relates to healthcare.”

Oh…this will be interesting.

A Horrific Proposal

Okay, here’s the main argument that the manifesto makes about healthcare:

If you can’t afford to pay for your own care, then it is better for you to die than for other people to pay higher taxes to save your life.

The manifesto acknowledges that most people “are probably horrified by this possible outcome.” (True!) It then includes four reasons why this is okay.

Taxes and Slavery

“No one’s rights are being violated.” The argument here is that sick people aren’t “entitled to money earned by others” and that nobody was “put on this planet to be anyone else’s slave.”

This is supported by the idea that “Alt-FI people have a profound belief that justice and coercion are mutually exclusive.”

It doesn’t come right out and say it, but I assume the references to “coercion” and being a “slave” are in reference to the taxes required to pay health care costs for those who can’t afford it. (The section opens with a reference to “money earned by others” and then doesn’t provide any other detail about what is being railed against.)

First, taxes aren’t slavery. Slavery is slavery. Can we please, please, please stop acting like anything we don’t like is the same thing as slavery? These things are not even mildly similar.

If you honestly believe that taxes are the same thing as slavery, then move. Get out of the country and find one with lower taxes. There are plenty out there.

Second (and on the substance), this “support” is actually just a restatement of the thesis. This is like saying “It’s better for people to die than for me to pay higher taxes because I shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes to prevent people from dying.”

Healthcare by Charity

The next argument is that nobody would actually die because Americans give a lot of money to charity.

This argument is essentially “I shouldn’t have to pay to prevent someone from dying because someone else will probably pay.”

I mean…maybe. But I’m not at all comfortable with linking your chance of living and dying with your ability to market a Go Fund Me. It’s wild to even consider the answer to the question “Should poor people die because they’re poor?” being “Meh…some rich person or charity will probably save them.”

This manifesto makes a lot of calls to “liberty” and “freedom,” but for my money the first part of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not one that we should overlook.

Government Waste

The third argument is that the “government could be a better steward of the tax dollars it already receives.”

Sure. But the solution to “crony capitalism” is combating crony capitalism. If you want to reduce military spending, then advocate for reducing military spending. You can do those things without arguing for the decimation of the safety net.

Arguing that there is government waste is an entirely separate issue from whether people should die if they can’t afford healthcare.

Medical Tourism

The final bullet point is that there is good medical care available for cheap in other countries. If you can’t afford care in the US, you “could easily get [your] heart surgery abroad.”

Plenty of people practice medical tourism. That’s fine. That’s their choice. But medical tourism is not an alternative to providing good medical care here in the States.

One obvious problem is that you need to be able to afford to travel abroad. That’s not a small feat for the folks most in need of affordable medical care (even ignoring the fact that only 42% of Americans have a passport.)

Another is that medical tourism is not practicable for ongoing issues. It becomes very expensive to get multiple rounds of chemotherapy in a foreign country. Needing kidney dialysis three times a week would require either tons of paid time off from your job or the ability to go without a paycheck for an extended period of time.

This is simply not a valid alternative to providing quality care to our neighbors.

Preventing Untimely Death

The healthcare discussion ends with the idea that you won’t have expensive medical bills if you just make good decisions.

“[T]he specter of untimely or unjust death is quite remote for people who 1) live in a free, first-world country and who 2) have embraced virtuous habits and attitudes. In other words, if you fix yourself and live right, you don’t need anything beyond basic government and freedom to have a long and fruitful life.”

This is just false.

You should live as healthy of a life as you can. You should try to make good choices. Exercise, eat a balanced diet, try to get enough sleep, etc. That’s all good.

But it doesn’t prevent everything.

Children get cancer. Babies are born with health problems. People in crosswalks get hit by cars. Students and concertgoers and worshipers in synagogues get shot for no reason at all.

We should take responsibility for our own health as much as we can, but there are plenty of things that are outside of our control. Whether you survive should not be determined by how much money you have. Or how much money your parents have in the case of children.

Healthcare is REALLY Expensive

Before leaving this topic I want to touch on the sample patient that the manifesto uses throughout this section.

We are told to consider a “man in his 60s [who] has a heart issue that requires surgery.” This man has “$20,000 in an emergency fund.”

First, 44% of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency. That’s a long way from a $20,000 emergency fund.

Sure, we should encourage them to build a bigger emergency fund. But do they deserve to die if they can’t?

Second, $20,000 disappears really quickly in the world of healthcare.

The average cost for cancer treatment is $150,000. And that’s just an average.

Prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could include lifetime benefit caps. These meant that once the insurance company paid $1 million or $2 million in healthcare costs for a person, they could simply stop covering them.

A significant number of people hit these caps, which gives us a good idea of how much care they needed. This means that in a world without insurance, a significant number of people will need to spend over $1 million in health care costs.

This is especially brutal for children, like this boy who had over $2 million in medical costs before he was six months old. There is no emergency fund, nutrition plan, or exercise routine that would have helped that boy or his parents.

Government, but Cheaper

The next section is more of a big picture look at government.

“Alt-FI people aren’t fans of democracy” because “history has proven that majorities aren’t always beacons of wisdom and virtue.” Instead, they support something that the manifesto calls “libocracy,” which is defined as “constitutional republicanism with limited government and checks on the majority so the inalienable rights of all are protected.”

Which is…what we have?

Mr. G says that government should pay for things like “roads, courts, money, national defense, environmental laws, etc.” as well as “schools, food stamps, Section-8 housing, Medicaid, etc.”

Which is…what it does?

This is followed by a callback to the manifesto’s unsupported argument that all government spending should be based on an income tax cap of 25%. Apparently this means that we should have the same government we have now, but we should get to pay less for it.

Again, if you want to argue for different taxing and spending levels, then do that. I’m all for that! But put in the work and use facts and numbers and details. We’re personal finance writers. We know that if we’re going to have a lower income then we need to specifically identify where our spending is going to be cut, by how much, and how it will impact our lives.

The Opposition

Next we move on to a discussion of the opposition, myself included.

Mr. G and I have very different political ideologies (oh, you noticed?) but have had respectful discussions and debates about those issues over the years. He lists out a number of other progressive bloggers that he has debated respectfully and even more that he enjoys reading.

I appreciate this shout-out, and, more importantly, I appreciate the stated commitment to respect and openness to other opinions. (Although, as noted elsewhere in this response, there are multiple statements in the manifesto that suggest a dismissal of, or lack of respect for, the experiences of others. This is an important part of respectful debate and open exchange of ideas.)

Mr. G believes that because he admires and respects progressives that means that the libertarian FI tribe does the same. Because he believes that we’re “smart, decent people who are admirably toiling away to make this country and world a better place” he thinks that his whole tribe takes this approach.

I can assure you: they do not.

Attacks on Progressives

I can count on one hand the number of libertarians in the personal finance space that have disagreed and debated with me respectfully when I write or tweet progressive opinions.

It is far more likely that I will get attacked personally. I can’t even count the number of libertarian-minded (or alt-FI in the framing of the manifesto) folks who have responded by insulting me and resorting to ad hominem attacks rather than debating the issue with any level of respect.

And it is certainly not just me. I see this with FI and PF folks who write or tweet progressive thoughts all the time.

[My initial draft included examples of other progressive bloggers being insulted and attacked for sharing their opinions, but I decided that I don’t want to highlight other people and make them targets all over again just to make my point.]

Respect for Libertarians

After asserting that the libertarians are respectful of the progressives, Mr. G next asks if the progressives are respectful of the libertarians.

“I like to think so, but I have my concerns,” he tells us, because the progressive wing of the FI movement “strikes me as very intolerant of anyone who has strayed off the progressive plantation.”

First (again), let’s knock it off with the slavery comparisons.

Second, I’m sure there are progressives who are mean or disrespectful towards libertarians for no reason. Any time you have large groups of people, some will be assholes. However, the fact that you can list almost 30 progressives off the top of your head that debate with you respectfully and I can think of 3-5 (depending on how far you are willing to stretch the idea of “respectful”) libertarians that have done the same with me should tell us something.

Respect for Ideas

Another point here is that we can’t always look at respect for competing ideas and theories in a vacuum.

I am a progressive who has made an active choice to try to have open discussions with everyone that wants to debate me in good faith. I am also a white man and I have the lived experiences of a white man.

Here’s why that matters.

The extent to which many progressive ideas and proposals are offensive to libertarians is that they would often require the libertarian to pay higher taxes, which he does not want to do.

On the other hand, many libertarian ideas are offensive to people because those ideas are dismissive of the lives and lived experiences of those people.

When you say that giving up more than 25 percent of your paycheck is pretty much the same thing as women losing their right to make their own reproductive decisions, that minimizes the importance of reproductive freedom.

When you say that white privilege is not real, you dismiss the realities of day-to-day life for people of color. You are telling them that you don’t believe the statistics that show that their lives are harder and that they have to work harder to achieve the same level of success.

When you say that women shouldn’t have their own conference you are telling them that they don’t deserve a safe space because their perceptions of their own experiences in dealing with the men in this community are wrong and unworthy of consideration.

When you cite racial stereotypes as facts without doing a moment of research, you are saying that you are more interested in proving your point than understanding the truth about people’s lives.

Mr. G and I can sit here as white men and debate these ideas as abstract concepts and theories and ideologies. But I completely understand the positions of people who feel that these arguments are dismissive of their realities and their experiences and not worthy of a good faith response.

If you want your ideas to be treated with respect, you need to treat not just your ideological opponents’ ideas with respect, but also your opponents themselves. You need to recognize that they know their own lived experience better than you do. You need to acknowledge that their lives and experiences and perceptions matter just as much as your own.

You can’t complain about people failing to show respect for your ideas when you fail to show respect for people and their experiences.

The Manifesto’s Conclusion

We’re approaching the end of the manifesto and this final section includes the keys to financial independence and a summary of arguments (of sorts).

The keys include the standard advice to spend less than you earn and invest the difference. Grow your income and reduce your expenses to increase the gap between the two. Buy insurance, invest in index funds, make good investment decisions. And do good.

This is followed by the “main features of the alt-FI worldview.”

“Alt-FI people don’t care about diversity” because “alt-FI people are color-blind.”

As we explored above, individuals declaring themselves to be “colorblind” actively prevents us from moving closer to equality of opportunity.

“Alt-FI people abhor tribalism, especially as it relates to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.”

We’ve already explored this, as well, but the key here is the clause that begins with “especially.” The entire concept of Alt-FI is an elevation of tribalism. It is taking the financial independence community, dividing it into tribes, and declaring that one tribe is better and more moral than another. That type of tribalism is great in this worldview. Just avoid acknowledging any distinction based on “race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation.”

“Alt-FI people prefer freedom to Leviathan.”

This appears to be a newish argument that is a variation on the idea that small government is good. It sets up another strange false dichotomy, however.

Leviathan, when used in the context of government, refers to Thomas Hobbes’ book of the same name advocating for an all-powerful government that has authority over every aspect of people’s lives.

Nobody wants that. This is not a debate between “freedom” and an all-powerful government. It is a debate over whether government should do a little more or a little less. Casting this as a matter of principle and absolute is a tactic to avoid having to address specific policies, facts, and details.

“Alt-FI people believe that the government doesn’t have an unlimited right to confiscate your paycheck or income.”

Again, this is not actually in dispute. The question is not “Should the government be able to take all your money?” but rather “What level of taxation is fair and appropriate for funding the programs and priorities that we want our government to fund?”

“Alt-FI people believe in extreme ownership.”

This is a more extreme version of the false dichotomy between personal responsibility and systemic problems that we debunked earlier.

“If your financial life is in tatters, the main culprit is you….And don’t give alt-FI people any guff about ‘400 years of oppression.’ No one alive today is 400 years old, no one needs 400 years to master some worthwhile skills and attitudes, and no one is stopping anyone from learning any worthwhile skill or adopting any worthwhile attitude.”

This is…yikes. Where to start?

400 years of oppression does not mean that oppression stopped 400 years ago. For any libertarians that are honestly open to other ideas, I highly recommend you read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 article The Case for Reparations. I don’t expect you to read it and find yourself in favor of reparations. Instead, I want you to read it to get a better understanding of the compounding confiscation of wealth that the United States has committed against people of color that continued throughout our history and into today.

Dismissing “400 years of oppression” by saying that nobody is 400 years old is a big waving flag that you don’t have the necessary context in which this discussion needs to happen. (It is also another example of showing disrespect by dismissing the lived experiences of an entire group of people.)

Everyone can and should take responsibility for their actions. Everyone can and should do everything they can to lift themselves up. At the same time, everyone can and should be working to fix a broken system.

This is not an either/or situation. Life is complicated. Ignoring those complications does not make life easier or simpler.

The Conversations We SHOULD Have

And there we have the “Alt-FI Manifesto.” A combination of vague and unresearched policy ideas, offensively uninformed statements about race and gender, and a call to tribalism based on a gross misunderstanding of others’ ideas.

There’s a productive way to talk about these things, but this ain’t it.

We should talk more about policy and politics. I’m all for that. The personal finance community has a tendency towards ignoring policy and politics despite the important role they play on our wallets and our lives as a whole. Ignoring politics does a disservice to our audiences.

But if we’re going to talk about policy and politics, we should make it a productive discussion. Start with some research. Bring some facts. Ideology is fine. If you’re for smaller government, then be for smaller government. But at least understand the implications of your positions on your readers and advance a coherent argument for their importance.

We need to talk more about race and gender. As we learned above, declaring ourselves “colorblind” and actively ignoring race and gender is counterproductive and harmful. This means that discussions on race and gender, while uncomfortable, are imperative if we want to achieve a society where people are truly judged by the content of their character.

But if we’re going to talk about race and gender, we can’t start from the assumption that stereotypes are facts. We need to do basic research before entering the conversation. We must respect the life experiences of others and be careful not to diminish them. Conversations on race and gender need to start from a place of openness and respect if we want them to be at all productive.

It’s great to talk about ideas that we disagree with. There is real value in reaching beyond our respective echo chambers and exploring competing ideas and theories. Just as diversity of experience provides a benefit to everyone involved, diversity of ideas can be beneficial.

But if we want real intellectual diversity rather than just rallying our own tribe to score points we need to accurately represent the competing ideas. If we want to have productive discussions, we need to seek first to understand before seeking to be understood. We need to show a real openness to new ideas rather than just distorting them to make our own views look more reasonable.

There are a number of very valuable conversations that we should have about all of these things. But this manifesto is not a good start.

84 thoughts on “A Response to a Manifesto”

  1. This is truly amazing. Incredibly well thought out and refutes each bit of the “manifesto”. I also think he isn’t a racist person, but people who aren’t racist can say racist things. It took me until I was 19 (!!) to realize using the phrase n****r-rigged was HELLA offensive and I should stop. I’m not racist- I didn’t know any better because I was surrounded by people who also thought nothing of it. Once I started to question why I said things or thought certain things, I realized it was because I was around people who did them, not because I actually believed those things. Now I actively work to amplify those voices around me that have been repressed in the past. It’s the least I can do.

    1. Whoah, really? Until the age of 19 while living in America? Why do you think this is and where were your parents and educators and all of this?

      I remember the kid had this talk in front of us in gym class when we were in the six grade, or 11 years old. One kid said that the N-word and we had a serious, serious talk at the international school of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

      Do you think this ignorance about racism is one of the reasons why minorities prefer not to live in certain cities and states?

      I really hope more Americans get a chance to live abroad for an extended period of time and for goodness sake get fluent in another language! I think people will be amazed by how much more empathy and understanding they will obtain once they start living amongst different types of people.

      Mastering a new language is a great first step.

      Sam
      Financial Samurai recently posted…Is It Worth Having A High Deductible Health Plan To Be Eligible For A Health Savings Account?My Profile

      1. I attribute it to living in the middle of nowhere flyover country in the late 90’s/early 00’s culture. Trends spread from the coasts inward and it takes awhile for things to catch on. My parents/teachers/leaders were right there with me, not saying a word because it wasn’t seen as a problem then. Now, of course, things are vastly different. If I said that now, I would catch hell (as I should). I didn’t have a non-white person in my classes in school until I was in 5th grade. How was I supposed to learn about different cultures when everything I was exposed to was just like me? The most culture I got exposed to was Mulan, the Disney movie. I started to learn about different races and cultures when they started coming to our school district, which was consistently rated in the top 25 High Schools in the state. They were welcomed with open arms, and when something was said that was a problem, it was addressed and we learned why that behavior wasn’t ok.

        I think more minorities should move to those certain places. Not everyone in those certain places is willing to learn, but their very presence will change people’s opinions and open their eyes, like mine were when we got S in our class in 5th grade.

        My grandma, an otherwise sweet lady, felt the need to bring up the fact her cleaning lady’s kids were mixed. Every time I told her to stop mentioning it, that it wasn’t relevant, but she was old and too ingrained to change her behavior so she didn’t stop until she died. I am so very grateful I got to meet international camp counselors through Girl Scout camp each summer. They opened my eyes to the world out there and sparked my desire to visit different places and learn how they live their lives.
        Gwen @ Fiery Millennials recently posted…Affinity Fraud in the FI CommunityMy Profile

        1. Gotcha.

          Instead of having my Nordie’s move to less diverse cities and states, where they might face more hardship. What about white people who live in the states move to a more diverse cities and states to learn more about diversity and different cultures instead?

          Don’t you think it would be easier for a white person to get comfortable anywhere around America than a minority?

          It is mind-boggling to me that your teachers and your parents didn’t explain racism As an important issue. Surely history classes taught about the civil war, the civil rights movement etc no? If not, that is kind of concerning and a reason why the country is so divided.

          I think Americans have too much of a “come to me attitude“ where everybody else is expected to speak English around the world instead of us adapting to other countries.

          Growing up in Asia and visiting Europe, so many people speak so many languages. I think that’s a big benefit.

          Sam

          1. So…… like moving to DC? Because that’s exactly what I did. And I love it. Unfortunately, not everyone can just up and move like I did. People get pretty attached to their roots, for better or for worse. I WAS taught about racism, but the people I grew up with didn’t SEE it as racist. Much like Mr. Groovy’s comments. The difference is, I know better now because I have experienced the world.
            Gwen @ Fiery Millennials recently posted…Affinity Fraud in the FI CommunityMy Profile

        2. Yes! More movement. Getting out of one’s comfort zone, seeing America, and the world, and hanging out with people who come from different backgrounds are great things.

          I absolutely believe there will be more harmony and understanding with more movement.

          If folks like you can share more stories about your upbringing and why you viewed other people the way you did, and then share the evolution, I think that would also be amazing. Because it would provide more understanding as well.

          More understanding = more love.
          Financial Samurai recently posted…Is It Worth Having A High Deductible Health Plan To Be Eligible For A Health Savings Account?My Profile

    2. Thank you, Gwen. It’s nice to know that you don’t suffer from worst-reason bias either (see my “A-FUCKING-MEN” comment below). And I vehemently contend that I didn’t write anything racist (again see my “A-FUCKING-MEN” comment below). I made reference to Hispanics and “immigration” and to blacks and “athletic prowess” to show that the mainstream FI definition of privilege is messed up. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s in misconstruing the mainstream FI definition of privilege. And this is one of the main reasons I wrote my manifesto. I want to know if my understanding of how mainstream FI defines privilege is correct. Is that so “vile” and “disgusting”? Again, I haven’t done more than skim Matt’s post. I hope after reading it I’ll finally have a concrete definition of privilege. Peace.
      Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

  2. Thank you for doing the work necessary for this well-thought out response. It’s exhausting work which is made lighter with many hands.

    Also–Nurtureshock was one of the biggest influences on my parenting from the beginning. I feel so very lucky to have read it before my kids were born, since it gave me a strong framework for how to talk to them about everything from race to sex to disability to anti-Semitism to gun violence.

    1. Thanks, Emily. And Nurtureshock was crazy helpful to find before my son was born. I even made a note to myself to come back and read it again when he got a little older and some of the other topics became more relevant. I had just pulled a bunch of random parenting books from the library and lucked out that it was in the stack.
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

  3. Adding Nurtureshock to my list of books to read. Hand To Mouth was apparently already adddd to my goodreads list a year ago – maybe you recommended it then? Time to request it from the library. If you get a chance, I’d love a reading list from you 🙂

    Also, I want to quote this whole damn thing. As you know, I wrote up a long Twitter thread in response, but even that got me anxious and shaky, so I think that’s where it ends for me. And unfortunately, as you’ve said, the best chance at getting a real honest listen is from another white man, like you.

    And as someone who went to Cents Positive, it was one of the most incredible weekends of my life, and it absolutely was different from a mixed gender event. Same goes for the Women’s personal finance Facebook group – some places do just need to be safe spaces.

    1. “As you know, I wrote up a long Twitter thread in response, but even that got me anxious and shaky, so I think that’s where it ends for me.”

      Angela, I’m just some schmuck blogger in North Carolina. Nothing I write should ever drive anyone to become “anxious and shaky.” I’m really not that important. Just take a step back and think about my most contentious points. I think mainstream FI is too obsessed with diversity, I think the mainstream FI definition of privilege is faulty, and I think mainstream FI is playing with fire when it comes to tribalism. And I’m perfectly open to the possibility that I’m completely wrong on these points. And that’s why I put them in a post. I looked forward to bloggers like you and Matt challenging my ideas. Think of my alt-FI manifesto as an academic exercise–because that’s all it is. It’s not a battle for the soul of the FI community. No “anxiety” and “shakiness” should be any part of this exercise.
      Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

      1. Mr. Groovy,

        Please understand that you are not just “some schmuck blogger.” You are one of many many many people that Angela and I and a number of other women in the space have encountered who are basically saying “what’s important to you doesn’t matter” and “please debate me on this.” (And Angela and I are both spared from race-based pushback and only deal with sex-based pushback).

        When Angela says that it caused her anxiety to tweet about this, it’s not enough for you assure her that there’s no need for her to feel that. Recognize that she is anticipating not just your reaction, but the reaction of so many people who agree with you. And I know that you don’t see it this way, but the folks who agree with you are a huge segment of the population.

        I know that this kind of thing is difficult to get across to someone who has not experienced it. However, I have no doubt that you have some small thing about yourself or your life that you have to explain over and over again or have to field stupid jokes about over and over again.

        For instance, my last name is Guy, and I have heard more iterations of “It’s a girl who’s a GUY!” or “Here come the GUY girls!” than I could possibly count. On a regular day, this is annoying but not a big deal. But in the days after my father died, a stranger made a crack about my last name, and I nearly ripped his head off. My reaction may have seemed over-the-top to the jokester, and it made sense to him once I mentioned that I was in mourning. But he could not see that I had been dealing with these stupid jokes my entire life and he was not at all original for making a joke about it, and my reaction had to do with both my grief and the untold number of times I’d smiled weakly at a stupid joke about name.

        I feel like Douglas Adams did the best description of this phenomenon in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul:

        “I’m a private detective.”

        “Oh?” said Kate in surprise, and then looked puzzled.

        “Does that bother you?”

        “It’s just that I have a friend who plays the double bass.”

        “I see,” said Dirk.

        “Whenever people meet him and he’s struggling around with it, they all say the same thing, and it drives him crazy. They all say, ‘I bet you wished you played the piccolo.’ Nobody ever works out that that’s what everybody else says. I was just trying to work out if there was something that everybody would always say to a private detective so that I could avoid saying it.”

        Now imagine a minor irritation like this happening over and over and over and over again about something over which you have no control and which you share with a large group of people. Something more than just how your name is spelled or how tall you are or what instrument you play or what job you do. And how you react to an irritation like this over and over again will not only cause the person irritating you to judge you personally, but also judge people you’ve never met who share the trait with you. That pressure causes anxiety and shaky hands.

        All the while, the person who is committing this irritation, who truly means no personal harm, is still seeing it as an intellectual exercise or a joke or an opportunity for debate or even a compliment, and the onus is entirely on the person who has to deal with it daily to walk on eggshells to react “appropriately.”

        Can you now see why your reassurance that there’s no need for anxiety isn’t going to lessen the anxiety? This isn’t theoretical for us. This is our lives.

        1. Hey, Emily. Thank you for your heartfelt reply. Here are my initial thoughts.

          “Please understand that you are not just ‘some schmuck blogger.'”

          I respectfully disagree. I am a schmuck blogger.

          “You are one of many many many people that Angela and I and a number of other women in the space have encountered who are basically saying ‘what’s important to you doesn’t matter’ and ‘please debate me on this.'”

          Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I pride myself on being considerate to anyone who visits my blog and I pride myself on being super considerate of anyone who disagrees with me. I have absolutely no ego when it comes to my worldviews. I tell people how I came to my beliefs and I welcome their feedback. And if someone shows me I’m wrong, I proudly inform him or her, “You’re right. I screwed up.”

          “Now imagine a minor irritation like this happening over and over and over and over again about something over which you have no control and which you share with a large group of people. Something more than just how your name is spelled or how tall you are or what instrument you play or what job you do.”

          I couldn’t agree with you more. My whole life I’ve had weird opinions, especially political opinions. And I don’t fit nicely into any ideological camp. I’m not a Republican, and I’m not a Democrat, but for my entire adult life, I’ve been labeled a conservative. And for my entire adult life, I’ve had to respond to statements like, “You’re for gay marriage? I thought you were conservative.” “You want to reduce military spending? I thought you were a Republican.” So yes, I know all about irritation. And you should see the baffled looks I get when I tell people I’m a freedomist–someone who wants the government “out of my bedroom” and “out of my paycheck.” I then spend the next half hour explaining what I mean. And I know they’re still not getting it. What fun!

          So those are my initial thoughts. I wish I could spend more time responding to comments like yours, but there are only so many hours in the day. And I don’t know if you noticed, but I’m kind of getting my ass kicked over my manifesto and I have a lot of comments to answer. Please stop by my blog whenever you get a chance. I would love to have more conversations like this with you. Cheers.
          Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

    2. I have definitely recommend Hand to Mouth on twitter before, so that might have been me. My latest recommendation is My (Underground) American Dream by Julissa Arce. It’s by a woman who grew up as an undocumented immigrant and rose to become a Goldman Sachs VP. It is a super interesting story and I learned a lot that I did not know about the experience of being undocumented.

      Your twitter thread was great and I appreciate you writing it. I made sure to read that thread and as many other reactions from women and people of color that I could find before I wrote this. Speaking up is always meaningful and valuable, even when difficult. (And obviously anyone that tells you your emotions and reactions are wrong or invalid is wrong. Sorry that you have to deal with that.)

      Thanks, Angela!
      Matt recently posted…How to Be HappierMy Profile

  4. I am still processing a lot of this fallout, but I think you already know that you and I feel similarly in a lot of regards (not all!).

    What continues to be most disheartening to me is the way that a handful of us were used in the original piece.

    I’m happy to see you write this rebuttal, and I think there’s a lot written here that we can all learn from and be spurred to reflect on. Sometimes, we have to learn to sit with the things that make us uncomfortable and ask ourselves why. Hard truths are hard; that doesn’t make them wrong. I do very much dislike when people weaponize the rhetoric of privilege because it seems to do nothing more than cause people to double down against it (see: Twitter).

    What heartens me most about all of this is, not only the rich conversations that have sprung up about it here and in other spaces online, but also the fact that the future seems so much more adept at navigating it the uncomfortable truths and vast differences of others’ experiences. We just started our civil rights unit in class, and the juxtaposition between their reactions to discomfort and adults’ reactions to discomfort is…jarring.

    Thanks for taking the time always, Matt.
    Penny recently posted…Celebrating Money Wins – Volume 14My Profile

    1. “What continues to be most disheartening to me is the way that a handful of us were used in the original piece.”

      I respectfully disagree. I didn’t use anyone. There are people in this community who disagree with my weird views vehemently but have nonetheless treated me very well, and I wanted to thank them for that. No malice was intended.
      Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

      1. Hey, Mr G!

        My verb was too generic (I was on my lunch break and my eyeballs were exhausted. Thanks, Matt.) . I should have said positioned.

        I’m not interested in any kind of us versus them group rhetoric. There’s room for everyone at my table to talk money and FI…as long as people are kind.
        Penny recently posted…Celebrating Money Wins – Volume 14My Profile

        1. Well said, Penny. Like my full Twitter basically said – I welcome debate and discourse, as long as it is done with kindness, and that it is not actually damanging possibly dangerous to anyone involved. That rhetoric is exactly what makes it impossible to discuss other points lumped in together.

    2. Agreed, Penny. I draw a lot of hope and inspiration from the younger generation today. It’s really easy to lose faith based on the day-to-day news or the dumpster fire of Twitter, but talking to kids is a great antidote.
      Matt recently posted…The Philosophy of HappinessMy Profile

  5. You articulated my thoughts on this discussion, way better than I could.

    “Recognizing privilege here is not about the married blogger beating themselves up or feeling guilty or anything like that. It’s about providing the full context and recognizing that other people face more challenges than them and may not be able to achieve what they have achieved with the same level of effort.”

    I have no problem recognizing that I have had more opportunities to be successful than others. However, I have not acknowledged this in my writing. This has challenged me to think about things from this perspective, as I think it needs to be part of the discussion.

    When I read the manifesto, there were parts of it that I agreed with. For example, not feeling guilty about how I was born: race, sexuality, location, etc. I think you did an excellent job explaining that you aren’t calling us to feel guilty about the things we have no choice in. Me being a white male in the mid-west doesn’t disqualify my experiences or what I’ve learned.

    But to think someone who is smarter than me and who works harder than me, may not be able to be as successful as me because of their race, sex, sexuality, etc. makes my skin boil. I’m against any systems that would give me an advantage over other people because of these things.

    This article confirmed that I am most likely a progressive. I’m all about talking about reducing government waste, but I have no problem paying taxes to help my brothers and sisters (which is everyone!).
    Chris Roane recently posted…Financial Suicide: The Death Cycle of Credit Card DebtMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Chris. Glad you were able to pull some useful information out of this back and forth and I appreciate your introspection.

      “But to think someone who is smarter than me and who works harder than me, may not be able to be as successful as me because of their race, sex, sexuality, etc. makes my skin boil. I’m against any systems that would give me an advantage over other people because of these things.”

      This is a great point and something most people tend to overlook. It is so easy to see things from the angle of “How does this affect me?” that there is a lot of value in stepping back and looking at how we are fitting into the system relative to other people.
      Matt recently posted…How to Be HappierMy Profile

  6. Howdy Matt,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m always pumped when folks can talk about racism and issues involving equality.

    I faced so much racism growing up overseas and in Virginia for high school and college. But it has helped make me who I am today. It’s giving me so much motivation to achieve financial independence sooner rather than later so I don’t have to be beholdened and deal with racist BS.

    But I am curious to know your opinion on why Asian Americans, who are a 5.6% minority, and Who often come to this country as a first generation with a poor grasp of the little English language, why we are excluded from affirmative action.

    We face a similar challenges in the workplace were not as many colleagues or managers look like us, which hurt our promotion chances. We don’t have a lot of representation on TV. And we certainly face racism to varying degrees as well.

    Why do you think the government and universities aren’t willing to help my people as much?

    Also, I would love for you to imagine being Asian and having Asian children we need to score higher on their test scores and get higher grades to have a similar look. Now imagine if you were poor or are a single parent Asian household. As a parent, how would you feel? What solutions does this Asian family have but to spend more on preparation and work harder?
    Financial Samurai recently posted…Is It Worth Having A High Deductible Health Plan To Be Eligible For A Health Savings Account?My Profile

    1. Hi Sam,

      Affirmative action is a complex topic that deserves much more attention and nuance than I gave it in this piece. My understanding of the framing of affirmative action hurting Asian-Americans is that it is not from affirmative action generally, but is limited to elite universities. Asian-Americans should still receive boosts from other pro-diversity and inclusion programs.

      Even the elite university piece of it is more complex than that, though. It is often framed as saying that Asian kids face a higher bar for their grades and SAT scores, which is never really how it worked. Even there, the data is based on an older version of the affirmative action rules that are out-of-date and have been drastically cut back.

      There’s also a case winding its way through court right now arguing that Harvard discriminates against Asian-American applicants. This will most likely make it to the Supreme Court, which means that all of the best arguments for and against will be presented in amicus briefs and we can both read to our hearts content and understand the intricacies better. 🙂

      (Also, based on the Court’s current composition, they will presumably end affirmative action at universities anyway, so it may all be a moot point.)

      Here’s an interesting piece on affirmative action and Asian-Americans that provides much more nuance and detail than I possess on the issue: https://www.vox.com/2018/3/28/17031460/affirmative-action-asian-discrimination-admissions
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

      1. OK, so no real opinion on this topic and what many would say is a double-standard. It’s a smart stance to be neutral this topic, but I hope you will at least recognize this interesting situation and perhaps one day fight for equality here too.

        One thing to think about is what happened in California when affirmative action at universities was abolished at public schools. Cal Berkeley and UCLA’s Asian population went up to 40%.

        Is this unfair or bad? Tough to say. It depends on how you define an academic meritocracy.

        Discrimination is not OK just because you aren’t being discriminated against. And if we are to fight against discrimination, we should fight against discrimination for all people.

        But I’m not taking any chances that anybody but Asians will fight to end discrimination against Asians since we are such a small minority. Therefore, the only solutions is to work harder, be our own business owners, and rely on family.

        Sam
        Financial Samurai recently posted…Is It Worth Having A High Deductible Health Plan To Be Eligible For A Health Savings Account?My Profile

      2. Hey, Matt. I have some problems with your response. You sound just like our military leaders who argued against openly gay people being allowed in the military. They thought that that kind of discrimination was okay because the matter was complex and nuanced. I doubt many progressives agreed with our military leaders. So why is discrimination against gays clearly wrong but discrimination against Asians “complex” and “nuanced”?
        Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

        1. Hi guys,

          Please allow me to respond to you both and clarify, because it appears that my comment was unclear. First, I am not neutral on the issue and I am not okay with discrimination against Asian-Americans.

          When I said that it was complex and nuanced, I meant that the subject of affirmative action and how it is applied is a complex discussion. Its application has been tweaked and changed and winnowed over a series of Supreme Court decisions that make it difficult to explain in a blog post, nevermind in a comment. As an example, the current standard is that race may be considered only as a factor of a factor of a factor. That’s a weird standard and requires a deep dive to figure out what it really means in practical terms.

          The article that I linked dispels a couple of the misleading points that you made, Sam. (Not that you are trying to be misleading, but that the points themselves are misleading talking points that are usually taken as fact.)

          Attendance of Asian students went up at the top UC schools when affirmative action was eliminated. That is true. But acceptance rates did not. This means that the the elimination of affirmative action impacted how many Asian students wanted to go to UC schools, but not how many could. This in itself is an interesting phenomenon to explore and try to understand, but the point stands that the acceptance rates were the same with and without affirmative action. There was no penalty for Asian-Americans. Affirmative action had not been hurting them at all.

          (This is not to say that earlier iterations of affirmative action had not be harmful to Asian-Americans. I don’t have enough data at hand to say one way or the other, but those numbers on differing SAT scores that people tend to lean on are from the earliest iteration. But the UC example suggests that the modern iteration of affirmative action does not harm Asian-Americans’ chances. My reference to the SCOTUS amicus briefs was to say that they will show us all the strongest arguments on both sides and the data to back them all up. It is possible that the UC data is anomalous or otherwise non representative and that there is some information that both sides are overlooking that will be highlighted and change all of our perceptions.)

          Your other point about only Asians being willing to fight affirmative action as discrimination against Asians is also addressed in the article. Mostly in that the majority of Asian-Americans support affirmative action, but white people lean on them (and spread misleading talking points about affirmative action’s impact on them) as a more sympathetic case to try to get rid of affirmative action. The current suit for example is being pushed by white people who looked for Asian-Americans to be plaintiffs after their last case with a white student failed.
          Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

          1. To clarify, do you believe affirmative action also includes helping Asians?

            Because it sounds like you at least believe affirmative action does not hurt an Asian person’s chance of getting into particular private schools. And if that’s the case, why is there this Harvard lawsuit and other lawsuits in the first place?

            I support affirmative action in school. The gray area lies in supporting minorities who come from very wealthy backgrounds who have all the opportunities and access in the world. I wish we focused more on helping the poor.

            As a business owner, you’ve got to focus on hiring the best candidates, no matter their race due to extreme competition. Otherwise, your business will fail. If race is part of the business plan, then that is a different nuance.

            I’m happy to provide data depending on your viewpoint.

          2. (Replying to Sam’s 2/26 11:22 comment – for some reason it wouldn’t let me thread any further.)

            Thanks, Sam. Happy to read whatever sources you’d like to provide. This is an area that I haven’t done worlds of research and I’m sure there are things that I’m missing.

            I do need to parse your question a bit to answer it – I apologize if that seems semantic, but I want to try to be clear.

            If you mean do I think that affirmative action broadly (i.e. expanding diversity in all areas, including companies, leadership, etc.) should help Asian-Americans, then I do.

            If you mean do I think that affirmative action specific to elite universities currently helps Asian-Americans, my guess would be that it does not, although I don’t have data to say conclusively.

            I fully recognize that Asian-Americans face a lot of discrimination and are unfairly passed over for jobs and promotions with ridiculous frequency. Given that Asian-Americans are proportionately more likely to go to elite universities, why are there so few in management or c-suite offices of major companies? We as a society need to do a much better job of countering this obvious discrimination (as well, of course, as the many types of discrimination that are harder to quantify).

            Regarding your question about the lawsuit: As someone that defends lawsuits for a living, I can assure you that lots and lots of lawsuits are filed alleging things that are not true. 😊 We’ll see where the evidence and arguments come down on this one. (Here’s an interesting piece discussing these that was written by professor of Asian-American Studies when the case was filed – https://www.chronicle.com/article/Actually-Race-Conscious/244727)

            To your other points:

            – I also think we should focus on helping the poor more.
            – I disagree with your comment about how businesses should ignore race, for the reasons discussed in the piece. There is a lot of value to be gained from diversity and finding the “best candidate” does not necessarily come down to the best test scores or grades or even the best resume.

            As I said before, I’m happy to read whatever information you want to send me. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn in this field.
            Matt recently posted…The Philosophy of HappinessMy Profile

        2. As an Asian person, I do hope Matt also fights for the rights of Asian minorities as he does for other minorities and disadvantaged people. To discriminate in this fashion is disappointing. To not recognize Asians as also minorities is plain blindness.

          It is obvious from my Asian upbringing and the countless other examples of friends and friends with Asian kids applying to colleges that the standard is higher for Asians to gain entrance versus other minorities.

          I think you mean well Matt, but it is comical for you to disregard the plight of Asian people in America and our experiences growing up here!

          We do face racism. We do have a disadvantage getting promoted and paid, even after facing higher hurdles to get into some universities. Can you listen and accept our feedback?

          Please fight for all minorities and disadvantaged people Matt. You are showing your privilege as a white male, and I’m not even sure you are aware of the irony.

          1. Hi Andrew,

            Thanks for your feedback. I certainly recognize that Asian-Americans face significant discrimination and are subject to all sorts of racism in the US. As I said to Sam, the lack of Asian-Americans in management positions and c-suite offices is glaring and unacceptable.

            Of course I had no intentions to discriminate or to disregard anyone’s experiences. That is quite contrary to how I believe we need to move forward with productive discussions. To that end, could I bother you to point out what specifically you felt was dismissive of your experiences or discriminatory towards Asian-Americans? I want to be able to learn from any mistakes that I make and be more cognizant moving forward.
            Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

          2. Response to Feb 26, 12:52pm comment.

            Matt,

            It’s the way you disregard our beliefs about affirmative action and discrimination as Asian people who’ve lived through it. Affirmative action clearly does not help Asians based on the test score differentials, and to not even acknowledge this is willful ignorance, or some would call racist.

            When someone shares their experiences, believe them. And you will see this discrimination in play when your child gets into high school and has to apply to college too one day.

            It is strange you advocate for African Americans and Hispanics, but don’t advocate for Asians, an even smaller minority group.

            Why do you think that is? One theory I have is that your people aggressively oppressed African Americans and Hispanics, hence why you are now trying to actively advocate for them. Whereas your people haven’t had enough time to oppress Asians yet.

            But please, don’t let me assume. You tell me from your own point of view why aren’t you as strong an advocate for Asians as you are for other minorities and women? Why not ALSO have affirmative action policies for Asians too?

            A

          3. Hi Andrew,

            I respect your differing opinion on affirmative action in universities, but I disagree that my position shows a disregard for the experiences of Asian-Americans.

            In researching the intersection of affirmative action at universities and Asian-Americans, I made sure to center my research on Asian-American sources and opinions so that I was not getting a distorted view of the topic. The pieces that I cited in response to Sam’s comments are written by Asian-Americans, including a professor of Asian-American studies. Additionally, the majority of Asian-Americans support affirmative action, so I don’t quite see how my agreement with their position is dismissive of the Asian-American experience.

            Additionally, I noticed your recent comment on the original manifesto in which you declare that Paula Pant, despite being Nepalese, is not Asian enough “based on who she lives with, hangs out with, and where she lives/has lived.” Later in your comment you describe her as “Paula, who some don’t consider Asian.” This is the very definition of dismissive and, along with your intentional distortions and misrepresentations of my positions, makes it quite clear that you are simply using a convenient personal attack to undermine an argument with which you disagree rather than having a legitimate concern for the respect of other people.
            Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

    2. These are all very good questions, FS, and as an Asian, I bet you know a lot more of the answers than me, a white male.

      One thing that helped me understand some of the history behind the stereotypes more was this 5-minute segment of an episode of Adam Ruins Everything. The show dispels various myths using comedy to keep people engaged. I recommend watching the entire episode (and all the episodes for that matter). I don’t think this answers your questions, but I present it as something that taught me a lot of important context that I didn’t know, which is at least a start.

      Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pg1X1KkVxN4
      Lazy Man and Money recently posted…Our Frugal New York City VacationMy Profile

      1. Please don’t be lazy and just spend 5 minutes learning about Asian Americans from a 5 minute video. There are plenty of well-written and full-length documentaries about our history.

  7. Thank you for this. You put into words everything that, lil ole enraged me (who only made it partway through the manifesto before giving up in disgust/apoplexy), couldn’t formulate properly. I’m glad someone was able to go through it so meticulously and refute the issues. Thank you a million times over.

      1. What I hope, and I imagine many other people hope, is that rather than using your “mental chops to refute his withering critique”, you use those mental chops to understand what Matt is saying and to perhaps grow in your understanding of the world.

        1. Haha! I love it, SD. But I think you might have to check your progressive privilege. Why do progressives feel that the only way someone can grow is if they become more progressive? But I will grant you this, my friend, if Matt makes a convincing counterargument I will gladly mend my position. And I have no doubt, that he will make a number of convincing counterarguments. The man’s annoyingly smart. Peace.
          Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Abigail. I’m sure it was made much easier by the fact that as a white man I was a step removed from the most offensive content that was so exhausting and enraging to so many people. Happy to use that to help whenever I can.
      Matt recently posted…What’s Next?My Profile

  8. Thanks, Matt, I appreciate the suggested reading. There’s always more to learn and I’m willing to do that work.

    This was a second and far more offensive retread of Mr. G’s beliefs that non-white people are less than white people, though the success of a few Asians were held up as proof that we’re a meritocracy the first time, and it’s exhausting that people support that dismissal of our colleagues’ lived experiences. As Emily said, there’s clearly far too much work to be done in this area (as evidenced by the amount of shares and enthusiastic support given to his ideas and his post) which makes allyship critical to the long work ahead.
    Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life recently posted…My kid and notes from Year 3.11My Profile

    1. Thanks, Revanche. There is definitely a lot of work to be done and a lot more progress that we need to make, myself included. I try to read as widely as possible, but there is always more to learn.
      Matt recently posted…What’s Next?My Profile

  9. OK I will finally step into the water here, but only to make a micro point. The very first thing you get into is the freedom index of our country. Mr. G claims we’re Number 1 and you point out, with citations, we are more like #44.

    This is great place to jump in and show how complex and subjective much of this back and forth is. Freedom of speech is the real meat and potatoes of this claim because that is in effect what we are debating. The index you are citing is complete garbage for any realistic ranking of these countries in a ‘freedom of speech’ setting.

    Here is what I mean, Germany is set at #10. Yet is is a jailable offense to deny the Holocaust or give a nazi salute. I do not even mean hate speech here because that is European Union wide. In America, we all hate nazis, but you can be one in full uniform if you like.

    Germany also shut down a leftist website before the upcoming G20 summit because it might stir up trouble. Imagine that kind of censorship here.

    France is ranked higher than us at #33, they use they anti hate speech laws to punish even the mention of the BDS movement on behalf of pro Palestinian groups that are left wing in nature.

    France also convicted and fined a guy for insulting the president by holding a sign saying ‘Sarkozy was a jerk’. Imagine all the people here and what they get to say about our president.

    Belgium, number 7 and Canada, number 13 are both using the same language to bar any criticism of Israel as anti-semetic. At least for now, we in the USA are allowed to seperate those into different notions.

    United Kingdom, number 40, arrested a teenager for saying that UK soldiers in were low life scum and should go to hell. Arrested and charged, given a fine and community service. Here we are allowed to say soldiers suck and should go to hell, you might get a counter protest, but you would not get arrested.

    The world is a complicated place.

    Cites available upon request, I just did not want to get all citee. I like PF posts because they do not usually get political. I hope we all get back to that.

      1. Hi Othala,

        Fair points, all. That is the main reason that I chose not to cite those as “freedom of speech” specific metrics, but broader measurements. I couldn’t find any good metrics on freedom of speech specifically. Maybe we’re number 1. Maybe we’re number 5. Maybe we’re number 25. Without any good data you are absolutely right that it is entirely subjective.

        (I think my argument still stands that the description of America as the “last bastion of free speech” is unsupported in the original piece, but you are correct that I did not displace that descriptor with anything supported by strong data.)

        The reason I broadened out, though, was to make the point that everyone across the political spectrum should see things that they should want improved at the structural level. Our freedom of the press needs a lot of work and there are all sorts of other political freedoms and civil liberties that our libertarian friends should want to fight for. This was intended to be part of the argument knocking down the false dichotomy between working on your own success and working to fix the system.

        To that end, I feel this still stands up. But you make good points and I may have inelegantly shoehorned that argument in where it didn’t belong.
        Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

  10. Edit already. Point of clarification, the USA is not great in terms of access to abortion or euthanasia rights and that causes our ranking to slip on the old ‘freedom index’. I just felt that of course the most relevant criteria for arguing about our ‘true number’ meant in terms of Freedom of Speech and Expression.

    Maybe ‘garbage’ was a strong word.
    OthalaFehu recently posted…Early Jobs; Restaurant SubcultureMy Profile

  11. A-FUCKING-MEN!

    I love it, Matt. This is exactly the conversation I wanted when I penned my manifesto. There are some things in our community that I don’t like, and I stated why I don’t like them. And if I’m wrong, I want to know why.

    One of the things I’ve always prided myself on is being open to sound arguments. I state why I believe something, and if someone shows me I’m wrong with reason and logic, I’ll change my belief. And I’ve done it many times on my blog. For example, early in my blogger career, I penned a post titled “Ten Reasons Not To Go To College.” One of those ten reasons was rather snarky and James from Retirement Savvy (remember him?) called me on it. So I revised the post to “Nine Reasons Not To Go To College.” And there have been many more instances where I’ve admitted to mistakes or faulty thinking.

    There’s a lot to unpack here in your response. And from just a casual reading, I see I’m going to have my hands full defending my positions. And that’s the way it should be.

    For now, though, I have only one quibble. I don’t think Hispanics have “privilege” because of immigration, and I don’t think blacks have “privilege” because of athletic prowess. I was pointing out that those two charges could be made because of mainstream FI’s nebulous definition of privilege. Here’s what I wrote regarding mainstream FI’s definition of privilege.

    “From what I can gather, it seems to mean having more cultural, financial, or human capital than others. ”

    I then went on to write…

    “It seems that every group in America has some degree of privilege if privilege simply means having more than other groups or doing better than other groups”

    I think the mainstream FI definition of privilege is thus faulty. And I tried to point it out by showing that it could be leveled against Hispanics regarding immigration and blacks regarding athletic prowess. So I think anyone who has a beef with this part of my manifesto, it’s not because of racism, it’s because of my understanding of mainstream FI’s definition of privilege. And if my understanding is wrong, I want to know why. How does mainstream FI define privilege? (You may have provided such a definition. I just haven’t had the time to read your post thoroughly yet.)

    And from my brief scanning of your post, I did see one thing that gave me pause. The part where I wrote about “straying off the progressive plantation.” Admittedly, that was a ham-fisted way of making a point. It’s just something that popped into my head. It does have negative connotations, and I should have phrased it differently. Got work on that.

    So those are my initial impressions, my friend. You obviously gave me a lot to chew on. I’ll be coming back over the course of the week to defend–if I can–various aspects of my manifesto.

    Finally, Matt, I just wanted to thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt. All too often, people, regardless of their worldviews, exhibit a strong degree of worst-reason bias. They conjure up the worst reason someone may believe something and assume that everyone who believes that something does so for the worst reason. I used to suffer from a strong case of worst-reason bias. But somewhere along the line, I recognized that people could disagree with me for noble or benign reasons. Heck, people, even little ol’ country bloggers like myself, can just make mistakes. I never thought you suffered from worst-reason bias, and my casual reading of this post confirms that. Thank you, sir.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…The Number One Joy of Financial SecurityMy Profile

    1. I look forward to your response to the community’s response! I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from the posts and everybody’s reactions as well.

      The main thing is a reinforcement that people are a product of their time and environment. From Slowly Sipping Coffee saying he grew up a racist in a racist household in the South, to Gwen not knowing the N-work was bad until 19 growing up in Minnesota, to your own beliefs in your Alt-Fi manifesto based on your age and surroundings.

      The key is to grow and learn from others.

      For 20 years, I’ve been in my bubble of living in New York City and San Francisco, where there is every type of person imaginable. Sure, we definitely have our problems, but for the most part, there is a lot of love and acceptance of all people.

      Besides my college days in the south at William & Mary for four years, I haven’t experienced Southern, MidWest/Heartland living. Also, there aren’t as many bloggers living on the coasts, so all this dialogue is very educational.

      So many new post ideas have emerged!

      Fight on

      1. To clarify, Sam, I grew up in Illinois. I knew the N word was bad, but the phrase I stated above was still used liberally and without malice by me until I was 19. I never used the N word solo or to describe any person. I used it solely in the context of rattling death traps of cars. But that was when I realized the word AND phrases that include the N word are bad. For a few years after that I changed it to ghetto rigged which is still offensive and I have also quit using it. Nowadays I don’t pass judgement on any car on the road, which I feel is the best outcome. I also said I got “gypped off” which is offensive to the Gypsies and have stopped saying that. College was a great time of growth and learning for me.

        1. All good Gwen. We’re all just learning. Nobody is perfect.

          I’m definitely in my diversity bubble here in San Francisco and I’m trying to educate myself too.

          For example, the picture Mr. Groovy used with you I believe in the Camp FI meetup would not be possible here in SF, unless it was for a white people only meetup. San Francisco is a minority majority.

          And because the FIRE blogosphere is predominantly from non-coastal cities, I’ve got to do a better job at understanding and recognizing this culture if I want to grow as a person and as a business.

          I’ve been overly focused on my journey and folks who’ve taken similar paths, and it’s best to broaden out or just go really basic and generic.

          So many fun things to think about for the future!

      2. Sam — I like the way you think.

        The main thing is a reinforcement that people are a product of their time and environment. From Slowly Sipping Coffee saying he grew up a racist in a racist household in the South, to Gwen not knowing the N-work was bad until 19 growing up in Minnesota, to your own beliefs in your Alt-Fi manifesto based on your age and surroundings.

        The key is to grow and learn from others.

    2. Hi Mr. G,

      Thanks for engaging. I appreciate the willingness to step back and consider other opinions and new facts.

      Let’s wait until you’ve read and digested before having this discussion on the substance. The points that you’ve raised in your comment are addressed in the piece and trying to discuss without full context will likely result in talking past each other.
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

  12. I stopped reading this so-called ‘manifesto’ immediately after the author proclaimed: “Blacks certainly have ‘privilege’ when it comes to athletic prowess”… I was partially shocked at the fact that this was actually written as if it were absolute fact rather than a tired stereotype. But, as an African-American man that grew up in North Carolina, I have heard this level of ignorance before. This led me to assume that the remaining beliefs & opinions would probably be a waste of my time to read…

    Your well thought out response has pretty much confirmed that thought to be true.

    ***Dismissing “400 years of oppression” by saying that nobody is 400 years old is a big waving flag that you don’t have the necessary context in which this discussion needs to happen. (It is also another example of showing disrespect by dismissing the lived experiences of an entire group of people.)***

    What you said here is perhaps the overarching theme of why I think many people were upset with what was written. If you are going to make inflammatory and bold statements, you should at least have some actual knowledge or do the necessary research to support your claims. It’s pretty clear that the author had neither and simply relied on his own opinions when he wrote this piece. In order to facilitate a true dialogue, it’s really important to have a level of understanding of what the other side of the table has experienced. Showing that level of respect beforehand goes a long way towards making sure that same respect is shown back to you.

    I’d just like to say THANK YOU for writing this response from YOUR perspective as a white man that actually cares enough to approach many of these touchy subjects with real facts, empathy, respect, and honesty. This was a joy to read!
    DJ @ PenniesToWealth.com recently posted…Impulse Spending Almost Got My Butt Kicked! (Here’s How I Stopped)My Profile

    1. Thanks, DJ. I appreciate your comments and kind words.

      “In order to facilitate a true dialogue, it’s really important to have a level of understanding of what the other side of the table has experienced. Showing that level of respect beforehand goes a long way towards making sure that same respect is shown back to you.”

      This is so true and so lacking from much of our discourse today.
      Matt recently posted…How to Buy HappinessMy Profile

  13. Matt —

    I commend you for engaging in this conversation, not because I’m on one side or the other, but because I appreciate the process of dialogue, which leads to understanding and progress. The internet is an outrage machine and so I appreciate these good examples. We can disagree but we don’t need to ruin each other.

    I think I agree with many people in thinking that diversity is valuable and important while tribalism can be fractious. The difference between identifying with a “tribe” and being a “tribalist” is probably worth unpacking. We all need connections and community, but when do those identities move from constructive and to destructive, exclusionary, and distrustful of outsiders? Hasn’t in/out thinking and vilification of the “other” been at the root of war for centuries? These are honest questions.

    I’m going to share here the same comment I shared on Groovy’s blog. This comment is not an exhaustive review of all the issues, just one thought about “tribalism” in the very negative sense rather than “tribes” in the good sense. I know this won’t resonate for everyone. I’m hoping the more we hear each other’s stories, the more we will see each other as unique, maybe thoughtful, human beings who have a long way to go.

    Re: Tribalism

    I can’t unpack your entire post but this is a key point for me. I felt great sadness the day one of my boys came home from 1st Grade and asked, “Am I white?” His grandparents on one side are Jewish New Yorkers, wonderful left leaning people. His grandparents on the other side are French and Polish Midwestern farmers (the French and Polish sides did not always get along, by the way) who are salt of the earth, and raised to avoid politics. We don’t emphasize these backgrounds too much, other than to say isn’t that interesting and also isn’t it great that these family backgrounds can come together freely? My wedding featured a priest and a rabbi and a bunch of people celebrating the fact that the human race has matured enough to let that happen. Huzzah.

    Why should a 7 year old now classify himself “white” when it was a bad idea to begin with? Should we be reducing his interesting family background to a single and not particularly useful element? And why should he start thinking differently of his friends? One friend’s mom is from Senegal and dad is from Bolivia. Another friend’s mom is from India and dad from the Philippines. Does he need to start classifying them? And what would be the purpose of that, other than confusion?

    My issue with tribalism (in the form you describe) is that it’s myopic, unhelpful, and it ultimately breaks down to absurdity. Spend some time in cultures around the world and our particularly American way of looking at some of these issues looks quite silly. Black/white makes no sense in rural China. These distinctions are not universal human truths and focusing on them turns us into the kids from Lord of the Flies. However well-meaning, emphasizing tribal identity does not make things better. You’ve probably heard of Sam Harris’ podcast — he’s very cogent on these points.

    Imagine an alien landed on our planet and saw us arguing and fighting about tribal distinctions … an intelligent life form would be right to think, “Hmmm, lots of potential here but these humans are focused on all the wrong things. I’m going to turn them into batteries.”

    All for now, looking forward to seeing the fur fly online. –R
    Rich recently posted…The Bright Sides of Death and TaxesMy Profile

  14. Hi, Rich. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Agreed completely that vilification of the “other” is a problem. To that end, it is very different to hold an all-female conference so that women have a space to feel comfortable talking about money versus to hold an all-female conference to plot the downfall of man. The enemy is not necessarily people forming groups, but people forming groups and then using them to attack people outside that group.

    Regarding the story from your comment – The answer to “Why should a 7 year old now classify himself “white?” is that whether he does or not, society is going to do it anyway. Whether that is right or wrong, it is reality. The same is true for the 7-year old black child. Society will classify him as “black” and will treat him accordingly. How society classifies your child determines how society treats your child. It isn’t right, but it is reality.

    The idea of race may be absurd in rural China, but that doesn’t mean that ignoring it here will magically make racism disappear. As I laid out in the piece, there is real racism in America. The question is whether we are going to ignore it and declare ourselves “colorblind” or address it and work towards a more fair and equal America.

    My son is not yet able to talk, but if he came home and asked if he was white, my answer would be “Yes. And here’s what that means…” As I also laid out in the piece, there is significant research showing that we have to have these uncomfortable discussions about race with our children if we want them to grow up and not adopt racist views and attitudes. You can still teach him about the complexities of his background. You can tell him that he should be proud of his multicultural and multi-religious background. But avoiding the discussion on race doesn’t help anyone.

    Conversations with kids about race are tricky and uncomfortable, but unless and until we live in a truly equal society, we still need to have them. For another viewpoint on race discussions with your kids, I highly highly highly recommend reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is a letter to the author’s son about race in America from the perspective of a black man. It really puts the conversation into perspective.

    I wish you were right that these types of discussions were unhelpful and absurd, but that’s just not the America we live in today.

    Thanks, Rich.
    Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

    1. I appreciate the response Matt. Loved this statement: “The enemy is not necessarily people forming groups, but people forming groups and then using them to attack people outside that group.” Agree.

      That said and quite respectfully, I do not agree that I *need* to tell my 7-year old to classify himself according to whatever “society” (who, exactly?) foists on him or perpetuate society’s (surely imperfect) classifications, for the reasons I noted. I find it astounding, for example, that after generations of discrimination around the world, Jewish people would be considered by some as simply “whites”. I’m not sure if that’s progress or a sign of oversimplification. All that said, and I mean this sincerely, I don’t have any problem with other parenting approaches to the question — these are personal family decisions and conversations that will evolve over time.

      I’ll tell you what happened next for me. Instead of being prescriptive, I asked what he thought. We then had a very interesting discussion at a 7-year-old level about him and his friends, how they all look different, how they come from different places, and whether or not that matters. I asked if his friends (with Senegalese and Bolivian parents or Indian and Filipino parents) were black or white or something else? Why or why not? (I’m not divulging in this forum what his friends looks like, on purpose.)

      I think for a kid, being curious and thoughtful is more important than having a “right” answer. This may true for adults as well to be honest. (Note: on some questions, like should we treat people disrespectfully based on their backgrounds, there would be a right answer — but this was not the question at hand.) My only issue with your reply is that you imply that I’m ignoring racism as a parent. I disagree. On a personal level this situation is the reality of my son’s life not reduced to preset and inaccurate categories, and I was trying to teach my son to think things through and have a big perspective.

      I guess my overall point here is that in our attempt to find our way to better human relations, honest and well meaning people can and will disagree on the methods. We haven’t cracked the code yet, clearly, so we should be open to various approaches and avoid the in/out attack mentality as you noted. –R
      Rich recently posted…Monthly Money Check: Rich On Track, Close To A Cash Windfall –June 2018My Profile

  15. Hey, Matt. Let me start by saying, “Damn, you’re good.” This response to my manifesto is nothing short of spectacular. Where the heck did you find the time to write it? You do work, don’t you? And you do have a newborn son, true? Awesome job. I admired you before you wrote this response. Now I admire you even more. I’ll be responding to your various points over the next couple of days. No way can I respond in one sitting. I’m retired and there are still too few hours in the day. So I’ll be nibbling at your response, so to speak. Okay, my friend, here we go.

    “The Benefit of the Doubt”

    Thank you. I think too many Americans suffer from worst-reason bias. They conjure up the worst reason someone may hold a certain position and then assume that anyone who holds that certain position does so for the worst reason. That’s faulty logic. And, sadly, worst-reason bias is currently being used on you. Apparently, some folks on Twitter think you’re racist against Asians because you don’t think Asian-Americans should benefit from affirmative action like other minorities. I have no doubt that you’re as far from being an anti-Asian racist as one can possibly be. And when I get on Twitter today, I’ll be coming to your defense.

    “Freedom in America”

    I completely agree that we aren’t as free in America as we should be. That’s what Chapter Ten in my book–The Groovy Guide to Financial Independence–is all about. And there’s ample evidence that many countries are freer than we are. So you get no argument from me on this front. The only problem I have is that my manifesto never addressed the state of freedom in America directly. I only stated that America is the last bastion of free speech on earth and we should use that freedom judiciously in the debate my manifesto was sure to spark.

    “Definitions”

    You don’t like that I described my wing of the FI community as alt-FI. My main response to this is that you got to check your progressive privilege. Progressives are very smart people and they’re very influential in big education, big journalism, and big entertainment. But they don’t make the rules for everyone. Just because you and other progressives have decided that the “alt” abbreviation has noxious roots and can’t be used in polite society doesn’t me I have to abide by your decision. I have just as much right as you and other progressives to define words and shape our language. I don’t care that bad people use “alt” or are labeled by their detractors as “alt.” I used it for benign reasons and I’m not going to back away from it. As I said, I have just as much right as anyone in this country to define words and shape our language, and I intend to put a happy face on the abbreviation “alt.”

    “Progressive Privilege”

    You described privilege as follows:

    “An advantage that you have in life that you have not earned through your own hard work.”

    Here are my problems with it.

    1) It covers both good fortune (e.g., being born to wealthy parents) and preferential treatment (e.g., affirmative action). Shouldn’t we be making a distinction between advantage that doesn’t come at the expense of others and advantage that does? I think we should. One is impersonal. No one decides which babies are born to wealthy families and which babies are born to poor families. The other, however, is personal. Those who run our Ivy League colleges, for instance, apparently think there are too many Asians in their schools and they’ve put a cap on the number of Asians accepted.

    2) In theory, your definition applies to privilege beyond being male, white, and well-off. In practice, though, it never does. Case in point. At my government job, the head of our union was a black man, and because of his influence (he was very well liked), he made sure that his son-in-law and all his sons were employed at our municipality. And he also made sure that his son-in-law and all his sons got promotions. And to add a little nuance to the picture, his son-in-law was a very good worker. His sons were bums. Now, would you or any other progressive say that these four black men were “privileged” because they had an influential family member take care of them? Another case in point. At a part-time job of mine, I had a white co-worker who was raised in Jamaica, Queens. He was one of only three white kids in his high school. The vast majority of the school’s students were black, and every school day he was subjected to racial slurs and harassment. And at least once a week he would get into a fight. Oh, and to top everything off, his mother was an alcoholic and his father was nowhere to be found. Now, do you or any other progressive consider this erstwhile white co-worker of mine as “unprivileged”? Are you or any other progressive fighting for affirmative action for this white guy and other white people who had equally dismal upbringings?

    3) Finally, I have a problem with the progressive definition of privilege because it’s conditioning people to have a serf mindset. Thomas Paine keenly observed that “what we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly.” Now put this keen observation in the context of “privilege.” If people come to believe that they really didn’t earn their income and wealth, they’ll be less likely to esteem it and more willing to surrender it to the government. I truly believe that influential progressives aren’t using the progressive definition of privilege to make us more thoughtful. They’re using it to soften our resolve and improve the likelihood that we’ll vote for our own servitude.

    Okay, my friend. That’s all I got for now. Peace.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…The 2019 Season of Talking Trash BeginsMy Profile

    1. Hi Mr. G,

      Thanks for engaging. I felt this was a really important discussion to have and that it was important to stand up for the people that felt offended and attacked, so I made time for this.

      Benefit of the Doubt – I want to be clear that I did not ever argue that Asian-Americans should not benefit from affirmative action. My argument was that affirmative action is not a privilege and is not discriminatory. That view has since been twisted and used as an attack. The fuller context of that discussion is in other comments for anyone who is interested.

      Freedom in America – I’m glad that you agree with my larger point about freedom. However, (1) the fact that there was no evidence one way or the other regarding freedom of speech does not mean that your statement about the “last bastion of free speech” is accurate. It is still entirely unsupported. And, more importantly, (2) acknowledging that there are things to be done to make the system better as you do here is contradictory to your repeated suggestions throughout the manifesto that people need to choose between “personal responsibility” and “the system.”

      Definitions – You are, of course, free to use whatever words you want. I was simply providing the full context and history of that particular phrase because words have meanings. Progressives didn’t “decide” that alt-right “has noxious roots.” That is the actual history. Those are real facts that are not in dispute.

      White supremacists wanted to mainstream their philosophy by using terminology that seemed less offensive and would be more widely adopted. If, knowing that history and the goal of mainstreaming the terminology, you still want to “put a happy face on the abbreviation ‘alt’” then that is your choice. But, as I said, words have meaning. Supporting the goals of white supremacists, even when those goals revolve around “only words” is a serious decision and not one to be undertaken lightly.

      Progressive Privilege

      1) First, your response suggests that you agree with “good fortune (e.g., being born to wealthy parents)” as privilege, where your manifesto spends a lot of time disputing this. Second, affirmative action is not “preferential treatment” “at the expense of others” as clearly laid out above. (Additionally, your statement that Ivy League schools have “put a cap on the number of Asians accepted” has previously been debunked. There is a lawsuit regarding this issue and evidence will continue to accrue one way or the other during the discovery process, but assuming that the allegations are true when previous studies have found the opposite doesn’t make sense.)

      2) Your interpretation of my discussion of privilege appears to create a binary “privileged/not privileged” distinction, where I clearly advocated for a more nuanced discussion. In your description, the workers that received jobs and promotions through nepotism were clearly privileged in that respect, while facing challenges in other aspects of their life because of their race. The white student with a tough upbringing clearly faced challenges growing up, but that doesn’t negate the benefits that whiteness provides in the workplace and in interactions with police. Privilege is not a simple yes/no checkbox.

      3) Please point me to where I said that people “didn’t earn their income and wealth.” In fact, I specifically dispute this idea. We can work hard and also recognize our advantages. We SHOULD work hard and recognize our advantages. It’s not about undermining hard work. It’s about appreciating the benefits we’ve had and having empathy for the challenges of others.
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

      1. Did you come up with this response or did Tanja? Haha! It’s too well-reasoned!

        Benefit of the doubt – How is affirmative action not a privilege? One is getting bonus points for having a certain skin color or being from a certain ethnic group?

        Freedom in America – I didn’t offer any evidence because a comment from OthalaFehu provided ample evidence for my free speech claim (to me, anyway), and you read that comment. My bad. I should have pointed to OthalaFehu’s comment or provided some additional proof.

        Definitions – I disagree. Even though you and progressives are much smarter than I am, I still have the right to define words and shape the development of our language.

        White supremacists – I don’t give a shit about them and I don’t think they’re anymore germane to this conversation than black supremacists, Hispanic supremacists, Muslim supremacists, or any other supremacists that sadly populate this country and the world.

        1) I was only commenting on your definition of privilege. I think affirmative action is privilege and being born to wealthy parents isn’t. Being born to wealthy parents is good fortune. I know it’s semantics, but I think we should be more precise when it comes to the concept of privilege. One type of advantage can be controlled and the other can’t. The government can give black or Hispanic people a leg up in college admissions. The government can’t decide which babies are born to wealthy families and which aren’t. And that which can be controlled is privilege (at least to alt-FI people) and that which can’t be controlled is good fortune (again, at least to alt-FI people).

        2) Thank you for recognizing that black people can have more good fortune than white people. I don’t think many progressives understand this.

        3) You didn’t. I was referring to one of my beefs with the progressive definition of privilege.

        Again, excellent response, Matt. What are you an effing lawyer or something? You’re too damn smart.
        Mr. Groovy recently posted…The 2019 Season of Talking Trash BeginsMy Profile

        1. I’m going to leave most of this alone because the vast majority of these points (and the points from your other comments) are fully addressed in the main article (or in other comments in a couple cases). Many of your responses either misstate my positions or simply restate your own, which means further debate would be unproductive.

          I do want to touch on your use of language because I think it is an important point to drill down on. You of course have the right to use whatever language you want and you can choose to define it however you want to try to “shape the development of our language.”

          But words have meanings and contexts and histories. The fact that you are ignoring them or trying to create new ones does not remove their current meanings and contexts and histories. You have every right to use words with a racist and extremist history and context. But you can’t then also express shock and outrage when you get accused of racism. Even if you swear up and down that you don’t have racist intent, others have every right to read those words in accordance with the meanings and contexts and histories that exist.

          Whether or not you view white supremacy as relevant to the topics at hand, the truth is that it is relevant. If you are using white supremacist language while promoting some of the same arguments promoted by white supremacists in a country where white supremacists are the top terrorist threat, then it matters even if you want to believe that it doesn’t.

          One of the main throughlines of my post was the importance of recognizing that other people’s experiences matter. Your insistence on this language after learning of its history and current relevance in many people’s lives (along with your continued comparison of tax rates with women’s bodily autonomy as well as slavery) suggests that this important point did not land.
          Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

  16. Before I start my comment, I want to say that we have many, many agreements. Both choices/effort and circumstances (including systemic privilege and systemic oppression) play a role in outcomes. In particular, decision fatigue among the poor and systemic effects of racism and outright racism make a “bootstraps only philosophy” untenable.

    We also have similar views on the “facts” regarding the effectiveness of government programs (specifically related to the social safety net). I use facts in quotes because we must rely on quantitative analysis to measure benefit, so it’s never one and done.

    I also suspect we agree that when it comes to building a better society, personal actions and interactions are at least as important as policy discussions for the average individual. (Side note- you’re a lawyer in DC, so I’m afraid you don’t qualify as average). This could be putting words in your mouth, so you may want to clarify if you choose to respond.

    Despite these central agreements, I fundamentally disagree with you about the legitimate role of government.

    As a libertarian (or apparently I need a new term since the term seems to connotate racism and crimes against humanity, so classical liberal), I believe the role of the government is to promote the liberty of humans. Stemming from this belief, I opine that government three primary legitimate functions:
    1. Adjudicating disputes (Property rights, dealing with externalities, etc.)
    2. Constraining people from trampling on other’s liberty and enforcing restitution where possible (Primarily criminal law and law enforcement)
    3. Constraining threats to the liberty of the population (National defense, business regulations, etc.)

    This of course isn’t a special type of thinking. Most people agree that this is at least part of the government’s goal.

    Most mainstream political thinkers in the United States (whether conservative or liberal) also see a role for government in promoting human flourishing.

    Right now in the United States, I see that most people land somewhere on the spectrum of Fair Marketers (I’ll define it as strong social safety net, government is the primary distributer of certain services like healthcare and education, and semi-strong consumer protection laws) to laissez-faire marketers (extremely limited government involvement, preference that government is not a primary distributer of services, minimal protection laws). There are non mainstream thinkers (socialist in the economic sense and anarcho-capitalists) that I won’t address here.

    I of course fall on the laissez-faire side of thinking.

    I do not hold this position because the government can’t do a good job (This piece shows a decent track record of the US government https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-05-16/the-u-s-social-safety-net-has-improved-a-lot).

    Rather, I hold this position because too much power in the hands of the government is corruptible. The risk associated with a strong government are not offset by the benefits of it.

    We already see corporations profiteering from large government (through everything from defense contracts to property tax cuts for Amazon). I also see politicians promising benefits that may in fact outstrip the real production and taxation capacity of the United States (a trillion dollar deficit in peace time is not acceptable).

    Obviously, my position is not without holes. Health care (not health insurance) is the most difficult policy to reconcile with my position. I certainly don’t wish for people to suffer and ultimately die from chronic conditions. Like you, I don’t think it’s right for people to have to rely on the possible benevolence of strangers for this.

    And my position should not be confused with the desire for a weak social safety net. I believe in a strong social safety net that is provided by people, not by the government. I do my very best to walk the talk in this regard.

    Much respect to your willingness to tackle such an in-depth discussion. I suspect I will bow out of the discussion at this point since I don’t really see myself as an authority on political philosophy.

    1. Hi Hannah,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I think this is a great example of the best way to have a discussion over the role of government. You are able to identify the ideological differences at the root of the disagreement which allows us to have a productive discussion without being dismissive of anyone’s experiences.

      I do think that a lot of the corporate issues are a problem of bad government rather than big government. Stronger enforcement of anti-trust laws, more CFPB oversight, and more IRS agents overseeing corporate tax issues could be places where larger government could help. But then, that may just be the view from my side of the spectrum. I definitely agree that there is abuse among corporations contracting with the government as spending goes up and corporations getting too many tax incentives as they pit governments against each other.

      Thanks again for the thoughtful comment and for addressing differences of opinion in such a respectful manner.
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

  17. More thoughts on your awesome response.

    “Privileges of People of Color”

    Wrong. I didn’t say that Asians have privilege because of academic prowess, Hispanics because of immigration, and blacks because of athletic prowess. I was saying that if you took the mainstream FI definition privilege at face value you could accuse any group of having privilege. In other words, if privilege simply means having more or doing better than others, then every group has some kind of privilege. I was using the above examples to show that the mainstream FI definition of privilege was flawed. The only beef people should have with this part of my manifesto is my understanding of how mainstream FI defines privilege.

    “When You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”

    Bullshit. How do I have privilege because my wife, mom, sister, niece, and any other female relative or friend can’t jog late at night? You assume that the threats women face don’t hurt men as well.

    “Blaming the Poor”

    This kills me. Progressives say that poor children can’t do well in school because they often come from single-parent homes and single parents don’t have the time and money to properly guide and assist their children when it comes education. So alt-FI people like me agree with progressives and argue that poor women should be more mindful when it comes to having children. “Wait, don’t have kids until you’re married,” we implore them. “You’re sabotaging yourself and your children if you have them out of wedlock.” Then progressives come along and say alt-FI people are mean-spirited assholes for telling poor women “how they should live their lives.”

    “Poverty and Education”

    Too many poor children aren’t taking education for granted? Really? Did you look at the link to the Quillette article I provided?

    “Diversity”

    We’re just not going to agree on this one. As I stated in my manifesto, I think concerning oneself with the demographics of a conference or meet-up is about as appropriate as concerning oneself with the jean allocation of a conference or meet-up. This is mainly because I think it makes our road to a colorblind society more difficult. How do you not care about someone’s race or ethnicity if you’re conditioned to care about everyone’s race or ethnicity? But just because I’m neutral when it comes to diversity, doesn’t mean you or any other member of the FI community has to be. I think, as our country becomes more diverse, diversity in the FI community will grow naturally. But if you and others want to give that process a nudge, it’s your prerogative.

    “Colorblind”

    We obviously disagree on how to get to a colorblind society. Your approach might actually work. In my mind, it’s a contradiction. How do you condition the citizens of a country to be oblivious to race, ethnicity, etc. when they’re also told to be acutely aware of race, ethnicity, etc.? But then again, we were also told that in order to save Europe we had to destroy it (WWII). So sometimes contradictions work. I hope you’re right, my friend. We’ve been trying your way for at least 30 years now and we don’t appear to be any closer to our colorblind objective.

    “Tribalism”

    Again, we’re just going to have to disagree on this one. I firmly believe that tribalism is not to be trifled with. It makes otherwise decent people do pretty unethical stuff. A perfect example of this is the progressive stack. Now there isn’t exactly a list of tribes ordered by preference that the progressive leader (Bernie Sanders?) sends out to all progressives. But progressives in general rank tribes. They put tribes such as transgender people, gays, women, blacks, Hispanics, and Democrats at the top and tribes such as Asians, whites, straights, and Republicans at the bottom. And because progressives have a rather strong tribal mentality, they exhibit a lot of progressive stack bias. Those tribes at the top are championed and those tribes at the bottom are ignored or mistreated. That’s why progressives such as yourself don’t have a problem with Ivy League schools discriminating against Asians. That’s why progressives such as yourself don’t mind anti-white rhetoric in academia. Just a few weeks ago, a black female student at Yale University penned an article for the school newspaper in which she concluded with this diversity-loving sentence: “I’m watching you, white boy.” (The article was a call to capture dirt on white male students so that dirt could be used against them in the future.) Could you imagine the hell that would have broken out if the situation were reversed and a white male student concluded his article with the sentence “I’m watching you, black girl”? But the creepy Orwellian call to arms was aimed at white males, so it’s all good.

    Alt-FI people don’t have a stack. We think stacking tribes is reprehensible. And that’s why we don’t “boo hoo” the inalienable rights of anyone, regardless of his or her tribe. Whites, Hispanics, blacks, and Asians all deserve equal protection of the law. And so do Christians, Jews, Muslims, women, and gays. And so do communists, fascists, socialists, freedomists, Democrats, and Republicans. And so do rich people, middle-class people, and poor people. And so do saints and criminals. And so do vile people like Louis Farrakhan and Richard Spencer. Tribalism, whether practiced by progressives or right-wing lunatics, is an affront to decency.

    “Accepting Reality and Fixing Problems”

    This is a perfect example of the progressive stack bias in action. You see statistics that don’t look good for a tribe high on the progressive stack and there is no nuance or complexity involved. The statistics are unequivocal proof of perfidy. But I think there’s plenty of nuance or complexity in the statistics you provided. Let’s just look at the statistics regarding longer jail sentences.

    Did the study control for jurisdictions? There are 50 states and one federal government. That means there are at least 51 jurisdictions in which criminals are sentenced. Do all these jurisdictions have the same sentencing guidelines for the same felonies? Maybe black criminals are concentrated in states with longer sentences.

    Did the study control for prior convictions? It’s my understanding that most states increase penalties for recidivist criminals (e.g., three strikes you’re out). Maybe the black criminals in the study had more prior convictions than their white counterparts.

    And, finally, what happened to Hispanic and Asian criminals in this study? Why were they left out? Is it because including Hispanic and Asian criminals would ruin the narrative? Look, I know the progressive game. Black criminals getting harsher sentences than white criminals looks bad. Black criminals getting harsher sentences than white, Hispanic, and Asian criminals doesn’t look nearly as bad. People might actually get the idea that racism has nothing to do with it.

    Now let’s turn again to affirmative action in higher education and how you and other progressives look at it. All of a sudden the matter is complex and nuanced. All of a sudden, the data that shows discrimination against whites and Asians is outdated and faulty. All of a sudden the alleged perpetrators of the discrimination are to be given the benefit of the doubt—unlike law enforcement, no rush to level the charge of racism against our college administrators. Again, progressive stack bias is very twisted. It impels progressives to be indifferent or hostile to the civil liberties of whites and Asians.

    Okay, my friend. That’s all I got for now. As always, I love battling with you intellectually. I rarely win, but I always walk away from our battles with a little more wisdom. Cheers.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…The 2019 Season of Talking Trash BeginsMy Profile

  18. More thoughts on your awesome response.

    “How Much Tax is Too Much Tax?”

    You make good points here. I am all over the place when it comes to a tax threshold. I throw 30 to 40 percent out there initially and then I say 25 percent at the end. My object here, however, wasn’t to give a precise number but to make the point that alt-FI people believe it’s essential to freedom to cap the government’s ability to tax. I don’t suppose that you want to be a slave to the military-industrial complex any more than I do. And I don’t want to be a slave to the compassion-industrial complex, the education-industrial complex, and the healthcare-industrial complex as well.

    “Do Your Homework”

    I am. I’m writing a book called “The Groovy Guide to Political Independence” and it will delve more extensively into paycheck freedom and what tax threshold is compatible with it. I do think you got to cut me a little slack here. As you pointed out, this is an exhaustive topic. One could write a whole book on it. My manifesto was over 8,000 words. Addressing this topic more fully would have easily added another 2,000 words. Again, my objective was to present an idea, to let people know that alt-FI people hold their paychecks and income dear.

    “An Offensive Comparison”

    Bullshit. Again, I’m going to have to ask you to check your progressive privilege. You don’t decide what every American should hold dear. I purposely chose to compare reproductive freedom to paycheck freedom because alt-FI people feel as strongly about keeping their money as women feel about keeping the ability to legally terminate a pregnancy.

    “Healthcare”

    I believe your response to this and a bunch of sections to come was largely influenced by your progressive-stack bias. High risk-tolerant people, or HRT people for short, believe in limited government. They’re willing to take their chances with freedom and don’t want daddy government to watch over them. But HRT people are very low on the progressive stack. So you are very dismissive of our lifestyle choices.

    “A Horrific Proposal”

    Freedom ain’t free. In order for women to be free, we have to wrap our brains around the ugliness of hundreds of thousands of fetuses being aborted every year. Well, the same applies to paycheck freedom and healthcare. In order for people to have paycheck freedom, healthcare and many other programs will have to go on a diet, and this will mean that we’ll have to wrap our brains around the possibility that thousands of people might die prematurely every year. And I say “the possibility that thousands of people might die” because I think Americans would adjust to the realities of a constrained safety net and the fallout won’t be nearly as bad as progressives suppose.

    “Taxes and Slavery”

    The meaning of words evolve. Gay only meant happy prior to 1950. Now the word gay also means homosexuality. The means of oppression also evolve. For most of man’s history, slavery meant owning another person. Well, today, the tyrants have discovered that it’s easier to own a man by owning his paycheck rather than his body. I believe the meaning of slavery should be broadened to include the lack of paycheck freedom.

    “Healthcare by Charity”

    Not entirely true. I’ll get into this more in my book “The Groovy Guide to Political Independence,” but here’s my position in a nutshell.

    Twenty-five percent of whatever the federal government takes in should go to providing healthcare subsidies to the elderly, the poor, and those with pre-existing conditions. If twenty-five percent of the federal government’s budget isn’t sufficient to cover all their healthcare needs, the elderly, the poor, and those with pre-existing conditions will have to turn to state governments and charities. I think this position is compatible with paycheck freedom and provides for a pretty substantial safety net.

    “Government Waste”

    Wrong. I never called for the “decimation of the safety net.” I called for capping the government’s ability to tax. And if politicians really cared about the downtrodden, they could leave the safety net alone and adjust to its new revenue constraints by cutting the military and cutting subsidies to the rich and middle class.

    “Medical Tourism”

    Again, I see a little progressive-stack bias in your response. As an alt-FI person and an HRT person, I consider medical tourism to be a “break in case of emergency” arrow in my freedom quiver. Please respect my lifestyle.

    “Preventing Untimely Death”

    Excellent point, my friend. I got to think about this one. I think healthcare subsidies should go to the elderly, the poor, and those with pre-existing conditions, basically people who are uninsurable for various reasons. But what if you don’t fall into any of these categories, have no healthcare insurance, and wind up getting shot or hit by a car? Maybe I got to add a malicious act clause to my notion of who deserves healthcare subsidies. But what if the malicious act happened to an alt-FI, HRT person? I don’t think such a person should get help. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Perhaps the government should offer malicious act insurance to anyone? Hmmm. Very cool, my friend. You’re making me think.

    “Healthcare is REALLY Expensive”

    Again, freedom ain’t free. In order to have freedom, you can’t escape ugliness. Women need reproductive freedom in order to be free. But having reproductive freedom also means the extreme ugliness of Kermit Gosnell. Likewise, in order to have paycheck freedom, healthcare subsidies will have to be capped. This will mean the extreme ugliness of children and adults with extreme illnesses and conditions dying. Believe me, I’m with you. It’s brutal. But freedom isn’t compatible with giving a blank check to the government.

    “Respect for Libertarians”

    Agreed. The “progressive plantation” reference was ham-fisted. It’s not what I actually wanted to convey. Chalk it up to writer’s fatigue. No excuse. Just a bad choice of words. I’m going to change to “progressive orthodoxy.”

    “Respect for Ideas”

    It works both ways, my friend. You write…

    “…[M]any libertarian ideas are offensive to people because those ideas are dismissive of the lives and lived experiences of those people.”

    I find progressive ideas offensive because those ideas are dismissive of my life and my life experiences. But that’s too bad. Progressives shouldn’t censor themselves in order to avoid offending me. No one has a constitutional right not to be offended. Likewise, I will not censor myself because progressive women and progressive people of color find my ideas offensive. Again, I think you’re exhibiting progressive-stack bias. People high on the progressive stack should be protected from offense, and those low on the progressive stack shouldn’t be protected from offense.

    Okay, my friend. That’s all I got for now. Hope all is well on your end. Talk to you soon. Cheers.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…The 2019 Season of Talking Trash BeginsMy Profile

    1. Even as I realize it’s likely a profound waste of my time to write this, I’m going to do so, anyway.

      You don’t seem to grasp that women’s legal autonomy over their own bodies is not even remotely the same thing as one’s entitlement to paycheck amounts. I suspect that as a (white) man living in a world in which nothing about your body is a political football, you cannot wrap your head around this concept. While we as a society determine what we want government to be at what level of taxation, we are negotiating (inasmuch as we can) with fairly abstract concepts that do indeed have real impacts on our pockets; while people are impacted, it is not the same thing to argue over as it is one’s very own bodily autonomy. AS A LIBERTARIAN, YOU SHOULD REALIZE THIS.

      Further, words evolve over time but still have meaning. In a country with a legacy of slavery, built on the backs of enslaved people, slavery means more than “damn, I hate owing money for debt service.” GTF over yourself.

      1. I broke my comment into two boxes, for your reading pleasure.

        To your point about fetuses and alive people who you’re going to let die b/c you want more money in your paycheck. There are two means to get into this argument. One, we can debate policy. Two, we can debate ethics. I don’t think you have any of those, certainly not regarding your fellow man, so why bother. Third, I can tell you to just fuck off. That’s not my customary approach, but it is utterly revolting to me that you’re a) likening cell clumps to alive humans with health conditions and a myriad of social and economic circumstances you can’t bother to learn about, because libertarianism and b) you’re just simply A-ok with people dying because “health care needs to go on a diet.” So let’s consider policy. Why should a developed, modern, extremely wealthy country force people to die because you want more green in your pocket? I suspect your libertarian approach will cause you to dismiss any argument along those lines–we’re not entitled to anything, blah blah blah. But even John Locke and other property-oriented philosophers noted that when we enter into a society or social contract, we give up certain liberties in exchange for other freedoms and protections. That’s just the way society is. If you want Lord of the Flies, you and those who share the same small-minded mean approach to life can buy an island and die off, sans healthcare, all you like.

  19. Matt,
    New blog reader and commenter here. Dude, you are very intelligent and well written and I admire how you thoughtfully dissected that piece.

    I got angry when I read the piece for a lot of reasons but mostly because he used you and other so-called progressive bloggers’ “friendships” as justification for his diatribe. That and using a picture of a bunch of white people at a CampFI as evidence for part of his theory. I believe that by intentionally referencing y’all, the dude is basically taking cover behind other people for his faulty (and racist) thought processes.

    Cool thing is we have a good conversation going, but how do we work collectively to open people’s minds to see the fallacy of anecdotal evidence? Why do so many writers/bloggers make topics a dichotomy? We can and must do better.

    Thanks for your contributions! Been following you on Twitter for a bit, guess it’s time to dig into your blog.

    1. Thanks! Always happy to have a new reader.

      “Cool thing is we have a good conversation going, but how do we work collectively to open people’s minds to see the fallacy of anecdotal evidence?”

      I’ve been working a lot, especially over the last few months, on trying to figure out the best way to have a functional and productive conversation with people that disagree with us on sensitive subjects. It’s really difficult! People are so quick to get defensive and once that happens they’re unreachable.

      I don’t have all the answers, but I think I’m getting better and I hope that we as a community can collectively get better.
      Matt recently posted…What’s Next?My Profile

      1. The one good thing that came out of this article is that I started to read your blog in addition to following you on Twitter. I tried to start a grown up conversation with him on his blog but it was a monumental waste of time. You are right, once people are defensive they are unreachable. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s hubris.

        There is so MUCH I don’t know and since I don’t even know what I don’t know, I intentionally work at considering other information and points of view and ideas because I know that I never am the smartest or most knowledgeable person in any room, internet-space, or whatever. There is always room to learn.

        I think that in people’s willingness in the FI space to be open and supportive, we have unknowingly made space for people to pass off mere conjecture as universal facts and then further allowed someone like Mr. G to use his “free speech” to support racist ideology. I am not giving him the benefit of the doubt (anymore – I was open to thinking he might not realize what he’s doing but with it now seems quite intentional) – if it looks like a duck, walks and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. From his responses to your rebuttal and others’ commentary, it is clear that he is only trenching farther into the dark hole he created.

        The saying: “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels a lot like oppression”, keeps playing over and over in my mind right now.

  20. My initial disclaimer is I would be expelled from any political party because my thoughts don’t align with any party out there. Its the benefit of independent thought:

    We are living in quite the combative time in politics. It seems to be a slow build since I started having the faintest memories at 10 years old in 1992 when our elementary school had to “vote” in the 1992 election. Some observations since then:

    – Each political party has become increasingly intoxicated about passing policy without any involvement from other side when they have complete control. Each side has had two such runs of this since 1992, swinging from democrats to republicans. The same tired political arguments show up from the minority party and “its only wrong if the other side is doing it”.

    – We’ve always had swings between combativeness and civility in politics, but I worry about increasingly gerrymandered districts which both sides share responsibility for. The biggest risk for a member of the US Congress isn’t a challenge from the other party, but a challenge for not being “far enough” right or left and incurring a primary challenge. The result is a congressional district of ~ 1,000,000 people can be represented by a fringe candidate garnering under 20,000 votes in a primary.
    Just this week there are rumblings about “a list” of party members who don’t hold the party line getting primary challenges. This is causing a lot of bad behavior by both sides.

    Now that I’m done griping about the toxic political environment and the causes, let me address a few things:

    I appreciate you writing this, you’re one of the few that will have intellectually honest debates. There are a lot of “sound good” terms out there right now championed by many left leaning PF writers that I think are arguments made out of intellectual laziness or not evaluating choices and consequences and they do effect people’s ability to become self sufficient.

    A few examples:

    “Wealth Inequality” – I hope that this is just a lazy or ignorant way of saying that poverty is an issue and the inequality shows that there’s an available funding source for XYZ program via taxation towards the upper end. Unfortunately I think its more of a catching way political consultants have figured out to rile up envy and jealously instead of having a thoughtful discussion about how to adequately fund the government. Unless the “billionaire” gained his/her billions like Robert Mugabe, I will not have any envy/jealousy. These are usually founders of companies who made their money by providing value to people and other companies. They are in business and in business, money is the scorecard. We can make everyone equal tomorrow by government policy (but that’s usually reserved for the countries that start as socialist then turn into authoritarian communism), but actually addressing poverty is difficult. We should be proud that today the US Poverty level of $25,100 puts someone in the wealthiest 2% of the world. Now lets improve on that and productively discuss ways to do it, not focus on how much money someone else has.

    Pointing to European Style Personal Taxation / Programs – I see people actively promote European style personal income tax rates in exchange for their benefits. This is often promoted lazily as they don’t acknowledge these countries have highly regressive Value Added Taxes, driving up the cost of goods to everybody. Those countries don’t just tax the high income earners to get to those level of programs, they carry VAT taxes and higher levels of payroll taxes on low income employees. Too often do I see lazy statements that we can just tax high earners at 70% and the skies open and all programs are funded. They also point to times in the history of the US with 70% and 90% marginal tax rates, but total federal receipts to GDP remain amazingly consistent.

    https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FYFRGDA188S

    It would likely require highly regressive increases in payroll taxes or a VAT tax to pay for most of these programs. And no, we can’t argue like a six year old and point to bad behavior to justify more bad behavior (federal deficits for foreign wars don’t justify federal deficits for other stuff – alternatively running up federal deficits for a tax cuts isn’t okay because the other party ran up deficits for programs).

    Poverty is a tough topic. I grew up in it with some advantages and disadvantages compared to others in poverty . I am blessed that this country gave me a somewhat equal opportunity even though I came from a place without means. I am a firm believer in equal opportunity, but struggle with policies that promote equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity. Two people given equal opportunity but make different choices about work ethic should have different outcomes. If they don’t, it removes the motivation for productive work.

    I know I am deeply biased in that issue, we are all a product of our experience and exposure. While I grew up in poverty, I’ve been fortunate to work with a disproportionate percentage of people who’ve experienced economic mobility through much tougher situations. My first employee was a single African American (and teenage mom) born into generational poverty and substance abuse in New Orleans (she had since finished her MBA). She dealt with things I could never imagine. Another employee was a Haitian refugee who grew up with a dirt floor and moved to the “hood” as a teenager. Everyone else’s “hood” was his “Disneyland” as a teenager. He suddenly had A/C, Color TV, and a public swimming pool. He made it through college and is the happiest person I’ve ever met because of the opportunity provided int his country. I had a client who escaped Romania as a teenager in the 1980s. He was forced into into child labor on a farm in the Socialist Republic of Romania in the 1970s under the threat of death from the state police. Two other coworkers were products of parents who escaped Vietnam and Cuba and their parents came to the US and worked low level jobs to help their family advance. Being born into or getting to a 1st world country is the biggest privilege someone can have in the world.

    I believe in economic mobility and want to see everyone use their platforms to inspire and motivate people to take responsibility for their lives. I do not want to see people writing about and pushing personal responsibility support and promote politicians who tell them they are a victim of a system. When someone believes they are a victim, they have ceded personal responsibility for their situation.
    Mr. Shirts recently posted…The Parking Garage Locks at 8pmMy Profile

    1. Hi Shirts,

      Thanks for the comment and thanks for sharing your story.

      I hope that you don’t mind that I leave much of this unresponded – I just don’t have the time and energy to open up new lines of debate right now. But these are definitely issues that would be worth diving into in the future.

      Your introduction touching on gerrymandering, polarization, and primaries is something that I’ve thought a lot about over the last couple years. The situation you paint is a very serious problem for democracy. I don’t know how you fix it, but if we don’t figure something out it will just keep escalating and building on itself until we can’t dig our way out.

      Jumping further down – I agree with you on the drive for equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome. I think most people in the U.S. are in favor of the former rather than the latter, but disagree on how to get there.

      I do feel like the “victim mentality” versus “personal responsibility” narrative is somewhat of a false choice. There are certainly people that are solely in one camp or the other, but I think we can also recognize there are places where the system hurts us while still doing our best within that system. Believing that systemic racism exists and is a problem does not mean that people of color have ceded all personal responsibility. It just means that they recognize that the system is unfair and should be fixed.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Matt recently posted…Advocating for Women Has Helped My CareerMy Profile

      1. Appreciate you for posting my comments and understand not opening any new lines of debate. I’ve exhausted a ton of energy and would prefer to let this all rest for a while.

        Take care

  21. I have read both the Manifesto and Matt’s rebuttal. A lot to chew on for both.

    Two quick items to address on Matt’s rebuttal.

    “Progressives are willing to pay more in taxes if it means that we can do more to help the less fortunate. Libertarians want smaller government and lower taxes.”

    The real problem here is progressives are more than happy to have everyone pay more taxes. Nothing is precluding you from paying more taxes on your own. You can even write extra checks to the US Treasury if you so desire. The fact that you feel strong about something, shouldn’t mean that I have to. I pay a lot in taxes already. I run a small company that pays salaries of people who also pay taxes. Sorry, I feel like I’m doing my part.

    ““life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not one that we should overlook.”

    Pursuit being the keyword. I guess we disagree on the degree to which Gov’t vs. private individuals should be aiding that pursuit. And to the degree with which we are responsible for ourselves. Again, you are not precluded from helping anyone. But you really shouldn’t be able to tell me who and how I should.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge