Our relatively short lifespans and understanding of ‘time’ and ‘development’ as progress and moving forward, mean that we think we are smarter and wiser than our previous generations. It can be really difficult to consider how we could make the same mistakes as people in history but history ALWAYS repeats itself. To see this in action, we must strip away context and take a hard look at the similarities between movements today and those hundreds of years ago.
A recent conversation with a friend lead me to an observation of the similarities between the 19th Century Gold Rushes, bitcoin and now facemasks/personal protective equipment (PPE).
If you’re unaware of the crazy wild west-like PPE industry that has sprung up off the back of COVID-19, this might surprise you.
Gold Rush Are Built on ‘Big Promises’
Every movement starts with an idea, it’s what entices people to the cause and then makes them stick with it. Big ideas motivate people to invest in their futures, they drive us to live with a bit of discomfort today in the promise of a brighter future tomorrow. Big ideas can also help push away niggling doubts: is this safe, am I doing the right thing, what happens if..? etc. Ultimately, big ideas give us our WHY.
For the 100,000’s of people who scrambled to the goldfields across North America and Australia during the major 19th Century Gold Rushes, their big ‘why’ was instant wealth and financial freedom. Perhaps some had sick family members or unescapable debts that served as a greater ‘why’, but all saw earning as much money as possible as fast possible as directly related to their immediate why.
The get-rich-quick phenomenon was born.
In today’s society, we are a bit more high-brow with our ‘why’. We view people as doing something solely to make money as being a bit desperate and having the ‘wrong motives’. The Internet has also given the average people a massive increase in the amount of life-choices they have to make. This has lead to the idea that finding ‘purpose’ is more important than making money and has more or less shunned money-hungry capitalists as being soulless and missing the point of life.
We can see this through Internet-native millennials increasingly making the switch away from expensive designer clothes to experiences and purpose-driven spending. Brands have, in turn, responded to this by switching their focus to building social credit through corporate social responsibility programs such as: going-green, cruelty free, natural, organic, vegan, responsibly produced, slavery free and sustainably farmed.
The real irony is that also these people view their ‘why’ as being superior to their materialistic ancestors in some weird time travelling oneupmanship, but they are actually exactly the same. The real underlying ‘why’ is in leading a satisfying life – it’s just packaged differently to appear unique to this generation by advertisers looking to push merchandise.
Bitcoin’s Big Promise
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are a beautiful representation of how a large group of people can actively disillusion themselves into justifying ultra high-risk financial investments as a search for purpose, meaning and their ‘why’. It is this wonderful mix of slightly too-technical-to-understand, alongside the promise of get-rich-quick and then finally the Big Idea of decentralisation.
As the vast majority of cryptocurrency investors are millennials, creators of these digital ‘assets’ position themselves the same way moderns brands do, as being socially responsible and promising to: evenly distribute wealth, bank the unbanked, increase transparency, cut down unnecessary middle men, give power and control to the people and reduce overall waste.
Get rich quick online dressed up in little L liberal ideology.
Personal Protective Equipment Saves Lives
Markets are driven by supply and demand. This underpins all economic theory and we can see it played out dramatically in a scenario like a pandemic where sudden enormous demand creates huge markup opportunities for suppliers. In the example of COVID-19, because the discrepancy between supply and demand is the scale that it is, a rush (see: gold) ensues and a world of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th party brokers was born. These brokers were drawn to the industry like moths to a flame; the $100 million deals being made left and right to hospitals, governments and aged care homes just screamed 1% commissions.
Making money off sick people just doesn’t sit right though. It doesn’t quite pass the sniff test (if it smells like bullshit, it probably is). So how do ‘good’ people operate in this arena of money-hungry capitalists?
Answer: Create the ‘why’.
I am a PPE broker because I believe in using my network to save lives and protect people.
We all know that a lie said often enough becomes the truth, but what about when we’re both on the transmitting and receiving end of that lie? The most egregious sin we can commit, regardless of which spiritual or non-spiritual doctrine we subscribe to, is that of lying to oneself, of being deliberately false and untrue to who we are.
Learn From the Mistakes of the Past
Of the thousands who braved the squalid conditions of the gold fields to join in the gold rush, we now know that the vast majority of miners never found very much gold and most even lost money. The real financial winners were those who facilitated the mining; the owners of local hotels, shops, bars and permit agencies who were either first on the ground or happened to be in the right place at the right time.
In bitcoin and cryptocurrency we see the same phenomena; aside from the ultra early investors, the vast majority of wealth being made around this asset class is going directly to: exchanges, event holders, mining equipment manufacturers and scammers.
PPE is exactly the same; money is being made by: manufacturers, standards/permits agencies and scammers. The vast, vast majority of brokers do not make any money – they just lose.
The House Always Wins
All around us are games, some that we’re aware of and some that we are not. At the bottom of the rung, people who are not experienced or intelligent enough to recognise these games, fall victim to scams and tricks that we “intelligent’ people would not. For intelligent people that have maybe been roughed up a bit with some life experience, we believe that in seeing through the game, we will have an advantage – doesn’t work like that though.
In fact, we “intelligent” people are even more susceptible to games because we put faith in our ability to outsmart the game itself. The game we lose to is that of “why”; someone or a group of people convince us (or let us convince ourselves) that we are doing whatever we’re doing for a ‘greater purpose’ and that we are better than those who just seek money. Reality is, this purpose is the flame and we react to it the same as all other moths do.
We are too smart for our own good, and we will get burned for it.
The 90 90 90 rule of investing dictates that 90% of traders in an asset class will lose 90% of their initial investment within the first 90 days and it’s a ‘rule’ for a reason.
Cheat Codes (aka: AEGIS, bigdaddy, how do you turn this on)
So there’s a whole host of well supported cliche’d ideas about playing games, I’ll let you pick your poison:
– If you don’t play, you can never win.
– The house always wins.
– Don’t play the player, play the game.
– Play against yourself.
– The only way to ‘win’ a game is to not play it.
Reality is that there are no cheat codes, we’re always on the wheel; always playing a game. IF we happen see a game for what it is – it’s doesn’t mean we won, it just means we entered a new game.
Eyes wide open and happy playing!