An example of the Stoic's Arbitrage - how our work enables kindness to others
Updated: Apr 30, 2022
Background and enabling kindness
In The Stoic’s Arbitrage - Personal Finance Journey article series, we suggested a stoic believes "kindness to others" is central to life. Building value and living in a modest, utilitarian manner creates wealth capacity for kindness to others.
Defining “kindness to others" tends to be intensely personal. Not only that, individual definitions of "kindness to others" likely change over time. We may consider kindness to others as a result of our work. (like a product or service someone buys) We also provide kindness from the wealth capacity we build from our work. (Like charity or the donation of our time, talent, or treasure). In this article, we focus on kindness as a result of our work.
My "kindness to others" foundation: Earlier in my life, I considered kindness to others in an empathetic and utilitarian sense. I thought of it more in the context of how beneficiaries perceive kindness. I assumed how I perceive kindness, while interesting to me, does not necessarily meet the need for others. I also took a physics-based kindness approach. I consider actively reducing entropy the ultimate means to deliver kindness. Entropy, most simply defined, is the increase of disorder at the molecular level. [i] Higher entropy is equivalent to higher disorder. Thus our life process looks something like this:
All humans begin life with an intense explosion of negative entropy. (birth - thanks Mom!)
The rest of our life is spent fighting entropy. This is associated with growing physical and mental molecular disorder. This naturally increases for each person as they age. Molecular disorder-enabling examples include accidents, disease, or related molecular breakdown causes. In recent centuries, the human race has rapidly become much better at fighting entropy. In fact, globally, our average life expectancy has increased from 25 to 74 in the last 200 years. This dramatic change occurred after our life expectancy was static for many millennia. [ii]
Then, our life ends with a great entropy-increasing event (death). Death is simply an acceleration of the entropic process to transition the human body to decomposition and natural renewal.
This notion of entropy and a natural renewal cycle is found in world religions, including Christianity. Common burial rights include "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," which is derived from the bible, Genesis 3:19:
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return"
As such, the putative purpose of life is generally to "Fight Entropy." It follows that delivering kindness is equivalent to helping others fight entropy. This is an incredibly broad definition! But a definition that motivated me and provided plenty of room to find a useful life pursuit.
Enabling kindness by decreasing entropy
The next reasonable question is: "How do you even know if you are decreasing entropy?" For the answer, I rely on George Dyson and other economics and physics philosophers.
“The goal of life and intelligence, if there is one, is awkward to define. A general aim can be detected in the tendency toward a local decrease in the entropy of that fragment of the universe considered to be intelligent or alive……In human society, money serves to measure and mediate local markets for decreasing entropy, whether it measures the refinement of an ounce of gold, the energy available in a ton of coal, the price of a share in a multinational organization, or the value of the information accumulated in a book.”
- George Dyson, Darwin Among The Machines
To take Dyson’s argument further, money serves to mediate efficiency at which competing organizations reduce entropy. Thus, conceptually, a lower entropy / higher-ordered causing capability realizes success as its value is revealed by money. Dyson’s commentary does a good job connecting two definitions of reality that are normally considered separately. That is “objective” and “fictional” reality as presented by Yuval Harari. The connection occurs as humanity’s fictional reality-based money allocation optimizes objective reality-based physical resource usage. This is like a constraint optimization problem, whose objective is to minimize entropy. Money becomes the arbiter of the entropic objective.
Again, this is really broad. Basically, as long as I am doing something for which someone else is willing to pay me, the fact that they are willing to pay suggests I am decreasing their (or their customer’s) entropy. Given our life's purpose is to "fight entropy," I am therefore delivering kindness to others by doing almost anything for which I get paid. The more I get paid, the more kindness I am providing. Sounds a little like a capitalist's rationalization! But it works for me.
My first kindness to others
I appreciate finance, mathematics, and economics. When I was a college student (undergrad and grad) I pursued these disciplines because:
At the time and given the market situation, I believed people would pay me to do these disciplines in the future, and
I believed I could get positive reinforcement from the doing of these disciplines in the future.
(PLEASE NOTE - order of operations is important: I did not pursue these disciplines because I initially "liked" them. I learned to like them because of “doing” points 1 and 2. The direction of the causality arrow is really important! The moral of the story, do not get too hung up on "initial liking." Be adaptable and pursue disciplines that align with the prior “doing” pursuit reasons. [iii])
To be clear, at the time, no one was throwing big scholarships my way or otherwise paying me to study these disciplines. I was able to find a graduate program in economics and an associated work-study scholarship. I received this mainly because of my previous employment experience in banking and because I agreed to work in their student lending department. [iv] Upon graduating, I went into banking, focusing on the science-related disciplines of behavioral economics, decision science, and data science. These disciplines were applied in the context of consumer credit. I was able to make good money and received positive feedback. I truly learned to like these disciplines.
Defining kindness: My initial career-based kindness to others was via helping banks make money. Banks paid me more when they made more money. In consumer credit, banks make money by providing loans to people. People use loans to help them reach life goals, like buying a home for their family, buying a car for transportation, etc. All these life goals are forms of reducing entropy. I felt good being a contributor to a bank's positive mission to help our customers "fight entropy."
My kindness transformation: As much as I like helping banks help our customers reach their life goals, I also felt something was missing. My previous experiences, training, and education had prepared me to “fight entropy” in many ways. Later in life, I explored this by standing up an idea incubator called “The Curiosity Vine.” Along with a handful of contributors, our objective is to promote early-stage ideas, enable idea collaboration, and test idea purchase. One of these ideas was focused on the tremendous challenges people have to make decisions in our dynamic and changing world. Our changing world is marked by complexity, increasing data, yet decreasing information quality. [v]
Via idea sharing, I came across a company with patented decision science technology. The company is called Definitive Business Solutions. I joined as a partner. We also stood up a non-profit with a mission to help under-resourced people “make a better life with better decisions.” This non-profit is called Definitive Social.
My kindness transformation was motivated by both me and the market:
Me -> I was ready for something different, especially because our kids were almost done with college. Also, my earlier training had been particularly aligned with decision science and related disciplines. [vi]
Market -> the need for decision-making assistance is exploding. There is simply too much data and decisions have become increasingly complex. As a society, we are running the risk of decision-making becoming the new dividing line for the “haves” and “have-nots.” [vii] Also, in the post-pandemic world and particularly in the U.S., government fiscal stimulus has provided people with the means to make new choices to better their lives and adapt to the new pandemic-impacted world.
As discussed in "Changing Our Mind," my mental process for changing to Definitive was done in the manner of weighing the evidence and ultimately pulling the trigger. So far my decision has been a good one!
In this article, we explored “kindness to others” as a key element of our Stoic’s Arbitrage writings. We consider kindness to others as a result of our work. (like a product or service someone buys) We also provide kindness from the wealth capacity we build from our work. (Like charity or the donation of our time, talent, or treasure). For this article, we focused on kindness as a result of our work.
We explored this topic considering an entropy based foundation and definition, some examples of my early experiences, and then how my kindness was transformed, both in terms of individual and market based factors. Finally, it is important to recognize “kindness to others” is intensely personal. “Kindness to others,” by definition, is not selfish. However, it certainly has elements of self-interest as suggested in our Stoic’s Arbitrage personal finance approach. The Stoic’s Arbitrage provides a self-reinforcing approach to both helping others while helping oneself.
[i] Hulett, Fight Entropy: The practical physics of time, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
[ii] Visual Capitalist, Animation: The World’s Rapid Rise in Life Expectancy, in Just 13 Seconds, 2020
[iii] Hulett, They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life, but what if I don't know? The Curiosity Vine, 2021
[iv] Hulett, How to make money in Student Lending, The Curiosity Vine, 2020
[v] Hulett, The Great Social Equalizers: Data and Decision-Making, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
[vi] Hulett, Changing Our Mind, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
In particular, we discuss the concept of "Educated Intuition." Dr. Moncef Slaoui discusses this in the context of quickly bringing a COVID-19 vaccine to market.
[vii] Hulett, The Great Social Equalizers: Data and Decision-Making, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
See the section "Decision-making quality defines society's 'have and have nots.'"