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James's Unpopular Opinion

17 Jun 2019, 12:45 p.m.   Team Rebo  

This post is a response to SavingNinja's Thought Experiment #6 which reads:

A different opinion is somewhat frowned upon in our clique based society, but some of the greatest minds of all time were outliers. They weren’t scared to go against the grain and stand up for what they believed in. So, for this Thought Experiment, I’d like you to reveal yourself: What opinion do you have that most of your peers do not share?

For some background, I'm James, the co-founder of Rebo. My co-founder Andy has also answered this question, and comes to a very different conclusion from me. We thought it might be interesting to show you how we think, and our motivations behind Rebo.

My Unpopular Opinion

As someone on the path to financial independence, or who has achieved financial independence, you are in an enormously privileged position, and positions of privilege like that come with increased responsibility for helping others who are less fortunate.

I expect this might be an especially unpopular opinion in the FI world, since a big motivation for being financially independent is shedding responsibilities and obligations, rather than gaining new ones.

I haven't always thought this, and it's only as I've been freed from some of the worries of work, money and how to survive that I've had more head-space to form this opinion. Financial independence was part of me achieving self-actualization, but it opened up the question of what next? If you've topped out of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, what drives you from then on? For me it turned out to be looking externally to the world, giving myself a new challenge to further my self-actualization and taking on a responsibility for making the world better. The alternative for me was to engage in a downward spiral of leisure, with no deeper feeling of meaning. Not a recipe for a happy life!

Surely we all have responsibility for others regardless of our situation, so does financial independence really change things? Yes, because in the same way that we wouldn't expect a starving person to be worrying about paying their rent, or someone deep in rent arrears to be planning their retirement, we wouldn't expect people who have to devote a significant amount of head-space to their work to have the same freedom to be worried about others, and their broader impact on the world.

If helping others is a Good Thing in our moral code, then it follows that the more able a person is to help, the more responsibility they have to do so (something that Andy argues against in his response to this question). So a person with more independence in how they spend their time, or with more money, has a larger duty to help others than someone with fewer resources. With greater power comes greater responsibility.

Do I practice what I preach? I think at least partially, although you could argue that I could do more to live up to what I've written above. I have achieved financial independence in the last few years, and I have donated just under half of my total wealth to GiveDirectly, which I believe is one of the most cost effective ways to make a positive impact on human welfare. However, I could give more without completely jeopardising my financial independence, since I've left myself plenty of buffer, so I'm not sure I have fully lived up to my self-imposed responsibility. Or at least I am driven by other factors than just the above opinion.

My reasons for starting Rebo are also partly driven by the above view of the world. I believe that I can have the largest expected impact by spending my time starting a business with significant growth potential, and using any profits to fund high impact projects (as well as all the value generated for users of Rebo along the way).

Anyway, there's my unpopular opinion! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it, and in chatting to you through the Rebo blog in future.

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