Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Master/Slave Morality in Personal Finance

The dichotomy between master and slave morality was proposed by Friedrich Nietzsche and made immensely popular by the writings of Mark Manson in the book Everything is F**ked.

If you value equality more than fairness, then Nietzche would accuse you harboring Slave morality. That belief that society would benefit from equal outcomes for everyone. The textbook for slave morality in Singapore would be Teo You Yenn's This is what inequality looks like. The political left and social justice warriors are strong proponents of slave morality as they fight for wealth redistribution and identity politics.

If you value fairness more than equality, then you are likely to harbor some kind of master morality. This is the belief that if someone contributes more to humanity, he should then deserve more than your fellow man. Our government manifesto would be Singapore's version of Master Morality. Everything in society, from our beliefs in streaming to our civil service hiring practices all betray this principal. The political right are strong proponents of master morality.

I was fortunate enough to read personal finance books that span both the master/slave morality spectrum of late.

a) Slave morality - 55, unemployed and faking normal.

Let's begin with Elizabeth White's book 55, unemployed and faking normal. 

Image result for 55 unemployed and faking normal pdf

Elizabeth White breaks new ground with a book on how Personal Finance written with a emphasis on Slave Morality looks like.

If you have a degree, but later in life, you end up working in NTUC as a price tagger, you might see yourself as a loser. Elizabeth White takes it to the logical extreme - she's a Harvard Business School MBA alumni, a single mum whose daughter is also a single mum. Elizabeth ended up borrowing money from her shirtless neighbor to keep herself solvent when even her contract work dried up.

The book resonated with me because I also felt a lot of ageism when I was in Law School.

My well-meaning professor, in wanting to help older students find an entry level job, sent me a resume that lists a Polytechnic Diploma as a job requirement. It was one of the most depressing and humiliating days I ever had while studying in Law School. The book revealed to me that having multiple degrees may be great if you have a better career waiting for you, but at an older age it just becomes one more reason to feel humiliated and depressed. Also it is a grim reminder for PMETs to "get off the high horse" after your 50s - as no one gives a shit about your qualifications after that age.

Another very difficult chapter to read is the chapter on how to borrow money from relatives when you have no one else to turn to. Read my lips - I'd rather let someone sodomise me than borrow money from my relatives or friends (margin financing from brokers is fine). Watching my parents fight after my relatives borrowed money from them is one of the key incidents that shaped my attitude towards money.

Otherwise the book does not really focus on sustainable solutions. There is a lot of blaming of government policies and the book subtly hint about forming a political alliance via a Resilience Club.

I don't recommend that folks read this book, but the content is very novel and refreshing.

If you hit absolutely rock bottom, this is the only personal finance book that can help you get somewhere.

b) Master Morality - Quit Like a Millionaire

Needless to say, books on master morality are much easier to read. I am very happy and privileged to read Quit Like a Millionaire by Kristy Shen and Bryce Leong.

Image result for quit like a millionaire

Where Elizabeth White's life went downhill, Kristy Leung started out in Communist China where her family barely had food to eat. Her father's buddy gave her father a piece of sweet potato that kept him alive to get an academic position in Canada many years down the read (Heartbreaking to know that her father's best friend did eventually die of starvation).

Coming to Canada changed her life, and Kristy's emphasis on the concept of "eating bitter" or Chi Ku allowed her and her husband Bryce to travel the world today as a millionaire couple.

This book is just too good to be covered in one blog article.

My favorite idea in this book is Kristy's mathematical framework to compare undergraduate degrees with each other. Kristy is definitely right that choosing a degree based on what pays well is more rewarding than choosing one based on passion. This mirrors my own personal concept of "Don't major in minor things."

Another great idea is that if you find that your passive income stream may not be sustaining your lifestyle well enough, rather than cut down on travel, you may wish to travel even more. Kristy identifies Thailand as a cheap place to "bide your time" when your portfolio recovers from a downturn. This is one of the most brilliant and creative hacks to FIRE I have ever read.

I find that this book aligns very closely to master morality because Kristy does not whine about Canada but acknowledges that Canadian society is already quite re-distributive in nature, instead she shows readers how to do as much tax loss harvesting as possible.

Quit Like a Millionaire is so good, it qualifies to be on the reading list of students of my Early Retirement Masterclass. Expect a few more blog articles on this book over the next few days.

If you have nothing to read, why not pick up a copy this week?

Being a system of morality, there is nothing inherently wrong with aligning yourself towards master or slave morality even though I am very clearly biased towards master morality.

What is interesting these days is that adopting each mindset would result in personal finance books that are very different from each other.

Which book did you enjoy more ?


  1. What a coincidence. Recently saw an interview with Kristy & Bryce on Yahoo Finance. I admit I skipped after 5 min LOL.

    Actually my gut feel is that ultimately there is only Master Morality.

    Slave Morality is only temporary to galvanise / build up a peasant army. Once the new order is established, the Slave Morality leaders often morph into Master Morality.

    Witness the elites of China & North Korea, oligarchs of Russia, LKY & his PAP in Singapore. LOL!

  2. I like your choice of "self improvement" books, different from the normal stuff.
    "Quit Like a Millionaire" is not at the should have used an amazon affiliate link!

  3. Unknown,

    The original promoters of Slave Morality were Christians, and they evolved into Republicans, so you are right.



    Aiyoh. Just buy from Kino lah.


  4. quit like a millionaire for sure!
    appreciate if you have a reading list

  5. If you want to read the source of Master/Slave morality you have to read the Philosophical works of Nietzsche.

    This can induce nightmares.