Thursday, October 29, 2020

On the FIRE movement's enemies...


I realised that I've developed a new superpower lately - People are starting to dislike me without ever interacting with me, or even reading my blog. 

A buddy of mine has other friends and have been explaining to them about my approach to conquering personal finances. He tells me that after a while, his contacts often began to get upset when I become the topic of the conversation and even became hostile after a while. Case in point, some small-time entrepreneurial types think that making money by allocating capital is somehow criminal and dishonourable so I get conveniently installed as the Satan/Thanos in their multiverse.

In the book Courage to be Disliked,  a possible explanation of the resistance against the FIRE movement can be made using the concepts in Adlerian psychotherapy. Alfred Adler is one of the greats in the field of psychology and often compared to legends like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. 

One way of addressing resistance to FIRE is that we often take a causal stance to our personal finances.  A lot of my critics, even some ex-colleagues, believe that starting circumstances determine their odds of attaining Financial Independence. Other words, you may fail to FIRE because you come from a humble background, or lack paper qualifications. As a trainer, I am particularly vulnerable to justifications like this because I come from a fairly well-off family - I don't have a rag to riches Cinderella story where I helped in my dad's hawker stall which studying in front of a candle at night. In some forums, I've seen really salty readers dismiss a decent article because the author is a billionaire. 

This psychological defence is considered very Freudian. In fact, the atas term is Freudian Etiology. We often claim that we cannot succeed because of the past, or some obstacles we inherited through no fault of our own.

Alfred Adler has helped a lot of kids with developmental issues, and he proposed a workaround. He suggests that we replace Freudian etiology with Adlerian teleology

The idea is that people resist something by saying that they have a past that prevents them from succeeding but, in essence, staying unsuccessful has a hidden purpose or goal. Case in point, some guys claim they can't get a girlfriend because they are nice guy, when in essence, staying single means never becoming vulnerable or ever facing rejection - hence my strong BBFA readership.

So when we address FIRE's enemies or critics, we need to understand not the socio-economic reasons for their resistance, but how this kind of resistance adds value to them. 

Here are some possible reasons some folks resist FIRE :

a) They can maintain a moral high ground when they do not FIRE

There is something dirty about capitalism so collecting dividends is sometimes an immoral act because we are profiting from the labour of others. So when you work with your hands and never FIRE, you stay moral and untainted by greed. You are channelling the nobility of a peasant lifestyle and a life of toil, some religions reinforce such beliefs. 

This is very common amongst the woke Millenials and you often this resistance paired up with an obsession with inequality and minimum wages.

b) They will not have to endure the humiliation of failure after trying hard, so it is safer not to try.

FIRE is hard - you need to earn, save and then invest to have a decent chance of success. 
  • If you fail to earn, it signals that society does not value your time or your skill. 
  • If you fail to save, you have no grit and cannot delay gratification. 
  • If you are bad at investing, you lack foresight and have poor judgement.
All aspects of failure can reflect a flaw in your character or personality so why allow yourself to be judged in the first place?

Those students that refuse to study so that they can get a lousy grade but justify that they did not put in much effort anyway fall into this category. This is a very common defence.

c) They are comfortable this way and don't want the discomfort of change

The last but most common reason is that we're comfortable with our worldview and don't see the need for change which can be uncomfortable. These are folks who downloaded and installed the Great Singapore Script. Study hard, get a degree, get married, buy a HDB, have kids, retire. Why let any competing worldview interfere with their script.

I think having inertia is fine, but a conventional approach will yield conventional results. Just don't get all salty when an old friend with a five-digit investment income spends more time drinking coffee in a kopitiam when you do.  

Regardless of whether you stand with me or against me. Go read the book. It is very difficult for Japanese self-help to emerge onto the global stage and this book really opens my eyes on how help can given to other people by installing a life philosophy.

I look forward to adopting this to my Republic Poly talk in the near future. 


  1. There are a lot of actively working millionaires & billionaires who are against FIRE. Maybe because of vested interests --- how to control enough peasants if a significant number of them don't need to remain beholden to their masters?

    Quite a few of my millionaire relatives are like that.

    FIRE is to business owners as the decline of feudalism was to monarchies & aristocracies.

    A low-cost spartan lifestyle in the process of FIRE-ing is a nightmare to businesses & govts. The Covid economy is an example of in-process Fire-ing on a mass scale.

    E.g. the savings rate of US consumers (the MOST profligate spenders in human history) shot up 5X in April during the peak of the lockdowns, and the highest in over 50 years.

  2. You're the Darth Vader of FIRE! Let the hate flow through you...