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Evidence-based advice we've found on how to be successful in a job (80000hours.org)
693 points by robertwiblin on April 25, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 246 comments

Berthold Brecht once said:"The opposite of good is not evil, it's good intention". Unfortunately, this article is filled to the brim with good intentions.

If I could talk to my 20 year old self I would recommend this: Stay away from the Internet as much as possible and don't look for general advice.

Most information is of little use no matter whether it's right, wrong, deep, entertaining, scientific, religious, whatever... Many may realize that but they continue to consume. The common trap is that most of us think there is no downside to consuming information and this, in my humble opinion is a huge mistake! It seems to me that the more stuff we shovel into our heads, the less able we are to get active. There is constantly such a long queue of inputs our brain wants to process that we have little energy left to actually develop intentions. When intention crystallize, motivation follows and so does action. I'd argue that people of average intelligence are not lacking success because they miss precious advice. It's because they don't actually have intentions! They can't allow themselves (mainly for financial oder societal reason, I assume) to relax and wait for curiosity to kick in. Instead they have it backwards: They hear about people who are having a career, they hear about others forming families, they hear the news telling them how the IOT is the future, they read up on cool stuff on wikipedia, read the biographies of celebreties, random stuff on reddit, they read career advice .... And then, from all that garbage, they try to deduce what to do. In most cases, that doesn't truly work because the result is not in line with their natural appetites and abilities.

My 16-year-old self had to catch a bus and a train to get to a reference library in order to answer any but the most trivial questions.

My 20-year-old self got 90%+ of the information I needed to succeed from the internet. I taught myself coding, 3D graphics, game development, rendering, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

My present-day self still relies on the internet for a huge percentage of my information, and you know what? Having done it both ways, it's far more efficient and far more effective than catching a bus to the library.

Maybe you meant 'stay off Facebook'?

IMHO it is not the Internet that's the problem. The constant connectivity is killing productivity.

Every morning I used to start my day with reading HN, on the bus to school I surfed the web. At uni, on every break I used to take out my phone and browse some more. After school I binge-watched TV shows and surfed more. My attention span got so divided that I couldn't concentrate watching a single episode, I constantly switched to a browser to surf more.

I learned a lot about programming, but my personal life suffered.

I couldn't meet deadlines, couldn't study for uni (studying law).

In the end I concluded that I had developed something like an internet addiction.

Furthermore, it wasn't just limited to internet. I stopped changing clothes, stopped keeping my already cluttered room in a somewhat liveable standard, stopped caring for my health, ate a lot of junk food, got hooked to TV-Shows.

Now, instead of constant short bursts of divided internet surfing, I am trying to set out a time for surfing. And outside those hours, I go offline.

It has been a though switch, but I slowly feel that I'm getting my impulse control back.

I recently started reading Deep Work by Cal Newport, I can recommend it to anyone trying to get off the vicious cycle.

Wow, good post!

I've also started to disconnect. I also find my productivity far higher without the Internet. Sometimes just a notebook and a pen are more than sufficient, and I can get some serious work done, manipulating equations, drawing diagrams, documenting ideas, even coding!

Although here I find myself, on Hacker News....

EDIT: This might be what I find troubling about Elon Musk's Neuralink project... I already find it very useful to disconnect from my "digital neocortex" (i.e. social media, Google, Youtube, Wikipedia, etc) to get work done... With a higher bandwidth connection that goes even directly to my limbic system and produces a more compelling experience than reality itself can... Would I just be stuck in a high tech opium den with no will to leave?

My main point is: Don't go online without a purpose. It's fine to use the Internet as a resource when you need it. Mindlessly consuming information, however, is not and I think it is more harmful then many people realize.

Likewise, it's only when you're hungry that your body is telling you what you need (e.g. you crave for some vitamins, something salty or meat ...) . If you're munching all day (no matter whether it's good food or junk food) then you don't get hungry and you don't really know what your body needs and chances are you have eaten more than what's healthy.

Do you realize that this is general advice? The exact thing you are proposing we avoid.

Yes, I see how it may come across as general advice. This may sounds delusional but I believe (which of course means I could be way off) that what I've described in my original post is rather a universal rule than advice. However, people who read what I've written will probably not get anything out of it because it's not what they need right now. It's just that what I've criticized: another bit of information to congest their brain with.

This reminds me of the 80s when my teenage self also had to get the bus to the library to borrow dusty old books on BASIC from its darkest secluded corners that were frequented by almost no-one besides by other dorks and the occasional weirdo looking for an entirely different type of entertainment.

I find that books are still a far superior way to reach proficiency in almost anything, technology included. The Internet certainly has many good features for learning things, but I'm not sure efficiency is currently one of them.

"If I could talk to my 20 year old self I would recommend this: Stay away from the Internet as much as possible and don't look for general advice."

While I generally agree that you shouldn't overvalue general advice I don't find your argument very believable when you then go on to offer your own advice. Seems more like a convenient way to not having to address the article.

I'm all for going your own way, but it can't be just a reaction to something else. Especially in a relatively free industry like technology I increasingly see people who find themselves disliking the consequences of their decisions (often without realizing they made them in the first place).

I am not sure I fully understand your comment.

> Seems more like a convenient way to not having to address the article.

There is no need to address the article as there is nothing wrong with it. It's a fine article! In fact, for my sake we may even call it perfect!

> I increasingly see people who find themselves disliking the consequences of their decisions (often without realizing they made them in the first place).

And here we actually agree! People don't realize which decisions they have made (and thus also don't realize what they've gotten themselves into)! My attempted explanation for why that is is that they absorb too much information and use that soup of ideas (which almost seems like white noise to me) as a reference for their decisions instead of waiting for an impulse from within (which in my experience occurs if you allow yourself enough time - just like you get sleepy at night or hungry in the morning - insofar I believe what I've described is more of a rule than advice). Whether or not they do their own thing or want to follow a school-like path - that again doesn't matter I think but they have to "own" their decisions.

"If I could talk to my 20 year old self I would recommend this: Stay away from the Internet as much as possible and don't look for general advice."

... which is also a piece of general advice, coming from the Internet.

Is it not quite amusingly ironic to be giving general advice that advises you to ignore general advice?

"Much other advice is just one person’s opinion, or useless clichés."

This article is similar to just that: useless clichés. I clicked to read more about the evidence backing up each item, but it's only in the footnotes? In other words, the footnotes are MUCH more interesting than the article.

If the evidence is in the footnotes (and further reading) then doesn't that mean it's not useless cliches?

You concede yourself that some of the evidence is weak. To me, this does reduce at least some of the advice to useless clichés, and waters down the overall claim to being "evidence-based" as a whole.

When the only evidence that's available is weak, it's still better to have that than no evidence at all.

Weak evidence can more easily lead you on the wrong path. To be fair, the article acknowledges this, and addresses "potential upside", "cost of trying", and so on.

Nevertheless, my subjective feeling is still that potentially strong arguments are being watered down by weaker arguments. I believe I would have responded better had these been split into separate articles.

As much as I like science, weak evidence can point only to further research avenues.

Also, it's good to understand the limitations of the scientific process.

I have a feeling people think that evidence is a binary thing. It's not. Evidence is a floating point value.

That is, you can formulate some hypothesis, and the job of evidence is to move probability mass around. I.e. when you have hypotheses A, B and C, each piece of evidence towards A makes you more sure of A, and less sure of B and C.

Weak evidence towards A makes you weakly more sure of A, and weakly less sure of B and C. But it's still better than choosing based on a coin flip.

Agreed, mostly worthless fluff. I'd challenge the authors to remove any reference to a study that has insufficient power or that has not been replicated.

We mainly rely on review papers, meta-analysis and expert consensus, rather than single unpowered studies.

However, you don't need to have strong evidence behind a technique for it to be worth trying – if the upside is high enough or the costs are low enough, it could still be worth it.

"However, you don't need to have strong evidence behind a technique for it to be worth trying – if the upside is high enough or the costs are low enough, it could still be worth it."

Well yeah but there's literally 1000's of books like that on Amazon - if yours isn't different, then why bother?

If you're talking about self-help books, the ones I've seen are usually one or two page ideas which are crammed with filler. This webpage seems to be much more dense with information.

> I clicked to read more about the evidence backing up each item, but it's only in the footnotes

Uh, footnote citations for any advice are exactly what I expect when something says it's evidence-based.

Huh? So it's all clichés - but clichés backed up by evidence?

Perhaps clichés are clichés because there's something true about them?

> The world’s ten largest urban economic regions hold only 6.5% of the world’s population, but account for 57% of patented innovations, 53% of the most cited scientists and 43% of economic output. That means the people in these regions are about eight times more productive than the average person.

Wow, they probably have no idea where their bananas come from. More productive than the average person if you look at scientific output only, but science is what improves our lives in the long run. The rest of the population does the work that needs doing to stay alive.

Agree, and I'd like to add that I know at least two companies in the Netherlands where the 'actual work' in innovation is done at big chemical plants in the south-east of the country, but patenting and other administrative stuff however is done at the company HQ in Amsterdam, the capital.

This will probably be counted in their "Amsterdam-Brussels-Antwerp" statistic, but no real-life innovation has taken place there.

The other side to this story is that non-Europeans would probably still consider this place part of the "Amsterdam-Brussels-Antwerp" axis since it is only 100km outside of it, while for Dutch people this is 'the other side of the country' and thus, considered far away.

The "patent capital" area in NL is centered around the area where ASML and NXP is located too. These two giants bring around the whole semiconductor market up and make them famous for the innovation/patents

This is clearly targeted as individual advice for a specific kind of individual. If you want to be a damned good banana farmer, it's not for you, and I think that should be fairly obvious.

> Wow, they probably have no idea where their bananas come from.

They certainly do. You should apply the principle of charity here. It's a site about effective altruism. They definitely know where bananas come from.

More importantly, bananas (and other food production) are captured in economic output and measures of economic productivity. They're referencing quantitative comparisons of productivity.

> The rest of the population does the work that needs doing to stay alive.

A very very small percentage of the population works in food production.

They're probably talking about labor productivity[1], i.e. gross value added per hour worked.

The whole purpose of this website is effective altruism. I'm sure they're aware that people are struggling out there.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productivity#Labor_productivit...

Love you comment. I often hear scientists complaining that doctors make big paycheck and get all the credits for saving lives while, behind them, 100s of scientists are responsible for the tools that the doctors use to diagnose and treat their patients. To which I point out the 1000s of coffee growers, that are even less acknowledged, making even less money, and having a completely different perspective on work/life balance.

Some of it, maybe. There was some talk about lack of work in rural America over the last election cycle.

Not lack of work in general, lack of work that can support niceties like, adequate housing, healthcare and college education for your children.

The amount of low-quality, negative comments here is surprising. I read the whole article carefully and it seems quite reasonable.

Agreed. I'm quite glad your comment is near the top. I normally read the comments before the article. Fortunately, after seeing your post, I went to the article first. If I just looked at the comments here I would have skipped it, to my detriment. It was well written, with lots of actionable advice. Most of the comments here are either nitpicking slightly clickbaity headings (and ignoring the useful content beneath them) or complaining about 'science/evidence', again probably without reading more than the headings.

I agree. It's remarkable - and rather depressing - that a well-meaning article aiming to help people improve their lives, and mostly offering decent advice, is attracting such intense dislike.

Most commenters also seem to not know the context. 80000hours is not just some random blog, and this is not a random self-help article. This is the site that does very in-depth analysis aimed for people who want to optimize their career to make maximum positive impact in the world.

I believe that any work that describes itself as being "evidence-based" has to open itself, and the evidence it bases on, up to rigorous criticism.

Oh, absolutely - I'm not talking about the comments debating the level of evidence in the article. Those seem like absolutely fair comments, and the author of the article is responding to them well.

I'd like to know how many actually read the article versus how many skimmed it just to shit on it.

I almost always assume on forums, discussion threads, and social media, that no one has made an honest attempt to understand the thing that they are disparaging.

Jesus. Brutal but probably true.

It is true though; the number of comments I see on HN directly responding to just the title of an article - even when their response has been rebutted by the article itself - is very high.

The article seems to be quite reductionist in it's approach. Like many things claiming to be "evidence-based".

Most of such advice works quite well for people who don't need it. Especially for the people with low income, low social capital, poor health and low personal skills, much of the advice will be outright wrong. And for some accomplished ones, it will serve as an extra prod to shame the former:

"Well of course they are not successful, they don't follow what scientists say."

The question is: why don't they.

I completely agree.

A few constructive negative comments are fine, but this...

I wish there was a community similar to HN but without the toxic negativity. :(

How is this voted to second place on front page? Feels like Reddit where people obviously vote on the headline before reading the article.

A side point form this, it would be interesting if HN/Reddit or other platforms brought in a quality score to peoples upvotes to negate people who do tend to upvote catchy headlines.

That or 287 people other than me found this article interesting and useful...

It does seem a little weird how many negative comments there are. It's as if most who read the article didn't like it, but somehow it has been upvoted like crazy. Is a voting ring of this magnitude possible though? Maybe I just need to believe that tons of people really like it and nothing fishy is going on.

If you loved this article and upvoted it, please tell us why.

That would be me. I liked it because it gave easy to understand and evidence-backed steps to improve your life.

I see a bunch of posts and comments on HN where the poster postulates (without any research or backing) some hypothesis about how to improve your life. These inevitably get hundreds of upvotes and never get questioned, even though n=1 is practically meaningless.

This is the complete opposite. Every step on here is discrete, concrete and backed by study. What more do you want, exactly? And how come no one ever calls out the n=1 case, but everyone is calling out this? What exactly is the difference?

> And how come no one ever calls out the n=1 case, but everyone is calling out this? What exactly is the difference?

The difference is in making a claim and recounting a personal experience. The two have entirely different bars for acceptance.

I would argue that in the amount of credence people place on each account, there is very little difference.

That's what always happens. People who like upvote and move on (or do nothing). People who are critical comment.

It's really hard to do a voting ring on HN. The algorithm is very sensitive. We've triggered it accidentally before, just because friends of ours, who we didn't ask, upvoted it.

>> It's as if most who read the article didn't like it

I would posit the opposite - people who read it upvoted it. People who read the title (and possibly a couple of headings) in this quite long article left negative comments. I enjoyed the article because there were a few bits in it that reminded me of common sense things that I've been neglecting. It also linked to several other resources (essays/books) that seem interesting and I plan on reading.

> if HN/Reddit or other platforms brought in a quality score to peoples upvotes to negate people who do tend to upvote catchy headlines.

Slashdot pioneered this AFAIK and it helped.

Perhaps HN could track clickthroughs and allow upvoting after a specified time - e.g. 3 minutes - has passed (after clicking), to prevent upvotes when the user hasn't really read the article. Downside: if you know the article already from elsewhere, you'll be prevented from voting too.

>> Feels like Reddit

I agree but not based on this article getting to the top but based on the 90% negative/sarcastic/useless comments in this thread. I'm not directing this at you specifically but there are some atrocious comments. Clearly (as you say), based on the upvotes, a lot of people found the post useful.

> 287 people other than me found this article interesting and useful...

That's how voting systems generally function, yes

Hey, I'm the author of the post. Happy to take questions, and keen to hear ideas about what else we might add.

Given that the title contains "evidence-based" I was surprised how little evidence you offer. In many chapters only self-help books and alike are quoted and no scientific studies.

Also... given the current state of psychology research even the points where you refer to research are probably quite weak. E.g. the whole field of positive psychology is... not exactly a prime example of robust evidence-based practice.

Hi hannob, we agree lots of the evidence is weak, and try to point that out during the post.

We're trying to give an all-considered view of what makes sense to try, taking into account (i) strength of evidence (ii) upside (iii) cost of trying (iv) whether it makes sense to us, and so on.

Note that most of the self-help books we recommend are written by academic experts in that area. We think it's usually more reasonable to go with their overall judgment calls rather than delving into individual studies ourselves, which are usually flawed (replication crisis etc.)

I added a paragraph to the introduction to clarify.

You're getting a lot of sarcastic replies here, but I found your article is full of good life advice that applies to more than just being successful in a job. I've already read a lot of the books your article linked to, and after applying the lessons to my own life, I know they are sound.

The criticisms you are receiving about the article not being "evidence-based" is probably the most true in the sense that it may lead people to expect more scientific links and notes (which you do provide a decent amount in the Notes & References). So perhaps the title could have been better worded.

However, I think you were going for something more practical that people can apply to their lives and you linked to additional resources (books and web sites) for people to dive deeper if they want. That's a good approach IMO.

I like the article and bookmarked it for future reference, there's a lot of advice worth considering. One thing I'd like to point out, is that I don't like the way the "becoming a better person" is embedded in "how to be successful in any job". I do think strongly that it's the other way round: the job is only a part of me as a person, and doesn't define me. There are other values and people around me who are way more important than any job will ever be.

Thanks. We intended it as a reminder of that at the end. The rest of our guide covers some of these questions in earlier articles.

Do you truly think a nuclear physicist with five patents on his name and a thousand citations is N times more productive than the farmer that provides this physicist with food?

I too am someone who does work that helps us improve in the long run, I don't put the literal bread on anyone's table. (I hope that saying translates from Dutch.) So I don't identify as someone doing the hard work while scientists do "the important work", but I do think everyone's work is important. In terms of wages, I have trouble with the idea of farmers that earn less than me while working more hours and taking more risks in terms of job security and physical safety, but there's little I can do at the moment.

To make sure you get what I'm referring to, this is what I'm talking about:

> The world’s ten largest urban economic regions hold only 6.5% of the world’s population, but account for 57% of patented innovations, 53% of the most cited scientists and 43% of economic output. That means the people in these regions are about eight times more productive than the average person.

More productive on some narrow measure. What a snobby statement.

He's referring to this concept from economics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productivity.

First line of the article:

> Productivity describes various measures of the efficiency of production.

I don't see how that is specific to patents and citations per capita.

The problem with much of this advice is that all the difficulty is in the implementation. Like telling somebody the way to be healthy is to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise: knowing that is not sufficient to implement it successfully in general.

Knowing good habits to develop is much less than half the battle. I already have a pretty good idea what I should be doing, all the difficulty is in effective implementation. Progress is often two steps forward and one step back and dedicating time and other limited resources (money, willpower) to one area (e.g. health and fitness) can often conflict with progress in another area (e.g. time to work or socialize).

Knowing good habits is a good place to start but I'm much more interested in actionable advice to effectively develop and sustain good habits.

We cover a ton of advice on that in this section: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/how-to-be-successful/#9-...

That was actually the section I looked at most closely and suffers from the problem I'm describing. I've read getting things done, Zen to done, tried the pomodoro technique, read books on habit formation, tried apps like beeminder, habitRPG, etc.

All of these have their merits but implementing them consistently is the whole problem, merely being aware of their existence is not sufficient.

There is a chicken and egg problem - if you don't have the motivation to apply motivation techniques, then it's hard to get started.

One of former staff members got out of this rut by using commitment techniques. https://80000hours.org/2013/04/increase-your-productivity-to... (And click through to the next post)

You might also find The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winter a good, quick summary.

I actually went ahead and bought the Motivation Hacker before seeing your reply here from the link in the article as it sounded interesting.

Motivation is a complex beast though, the evidence seems to be mixed on the degree to which it is a limited resource / can be increased through training but it certainly seems to be finite. I don't think the difficult of applying so many of these techniques consistently in practice comes down purely to motivation but it is no doubt a factor.

When it comes down to it, a lot of this stuff is just straight up hard. Certainly there are little 'hacks' that I've picked up over the years that help in various areas but overall it is just hard, slow work, results are very difficult to measure in any way scientifically and there are always limits in time and other resources.

Not to pick on GTD but just to use it as an example, it is not in fact very cheap or easy to try it out and see how you get on. It is difficult and time consuming to start the way it is recommended in the book, it is difficult and time consuming to stick with consistently and it is difficult to objectively measure its actual effectiveness. I'm not aware of any strong scientific evidence that people who are able to apply it consistently are actually more productive even.

My ADHD doctor said less than 10% of the people who try GTD are able to make it work for them. It's hard.

There is a goal and a path to that goal. Here the goal is health. Show me 100 people, and I'll show you 100 different paths to health.

Talking about techniques is fine, but nothing is "one size fits all". So all one really needs is the goal, ability to self improve and reflect, and then start on the journey. There is no "simple effective implementation".

Is it more satisfying to be good at a job one doesn't believe in, or mediocre in a job one cares about deeply?

We think both personal fit and meaningfulness matter a lot for job satisfaction, so it would just come down to exactly how bad you are at the work, or how little you care about it :)


If I had to choose though I'd go for being good at the job you don't believe in. At least that way you have a better chance to build career capital and go into something better later.


Considering how unhappy most PhD students are, mediocrity doesn't lead to happiness.

It's true that in many areas of modern work life higher and higher productivity is demanded in order to save costs and that in many regions of the world people determine social status and even self-esteem to a large extent on the basis of how high the salary is, but one might question whether these trends are really commendable.

So I have no trouble with your advice, except that it seems to reinforce some already wrong priorities. Many if not most people work too much anyway, not by their own choice, but because they are underpaid and the capital tends to move to places where it already has been accumulated (and wealth is mostly inherited). Giving those people tips to become more productive and increase their chances of 'professional success' is a bit pervert.

You only spend one sentence on telling people to exercise. That doesn't really help someone who has no idea how to start.

There is a lot of evidence of the benefits of running and other activities too.

I'd like to find a better resource to link to. For now I've clarified that we cover advice on how to exercise more here: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/how-to-be-successful/#9-...

I haven't been able to get through all of the content, but do you touch on any of the following:

* Changing field to apply skills in a different way. * Going back to school later in your career. * Moving from roles that have a stigma attached (a relatively pervasive one for tech is moving from "support" into a development or a product development role.) * Being successful and hitting a heck of a lot of the points on learning, saving money etc., but ultimately not being satisfied.

Hi Benjamin. I'm curious about how you found the move from Oxford to SV. Was it good? I'm a Brit considering moving.

Will I ever be as ecstatic as that dog?

Depends on the brand, and application, of vacuum cleaner.

How many people do you know, including yourself, vacuum themselves on a regular basis?

This is a pretty disappointing list.

First, the items do not tend to be mutually exclusive - there's a lot of overlap with each other. I interpret that as a sign of poor organization. It makes the whole thing hard to follow.

Second, most of this stuff isn't remotely evidence based! Plus, there's no way to understand the effect size even when some technique does have evidence supporting it.

Overall, this is too much of a data dump to be helpful. The author should have ranked ordered these items based on the cumulative evidence supporting each one - that would have been extremely useful.

Hey, I clarified the situation in the intro:

> In many cases, the evidence isn’t as strong as we’d like. Rather, it’s the best we’re aware of. We’ve tried to come to an all-considered view of what makes sense to try, given (i) the strength of the empirical evidence, (ii) whether it seems reasonable to us, (iii) the size of the potential upside, (iv) how widely applicable the advice is, and (v) the costs of trying. The details are given in the further reading we link to and the footnotes.

> We’ve put the advice roughly in order. The first items are easier and more widely applicable, so start with them, then move on to the more difficult areas later. The order is also partly based on an upcoming analysis of which skills are most valuable.

I agree some of the advice overlaps, but it's a little hard to avoid. Most of the areas are inter-related. I'd be interested in ideas on how to reorg.

One of the most important determiners of whether you're happy and satisfied in your job is your commute time. Happiness, job satisfaction and longevity at your job decrease significantly as your commute time extends more than 20 minutes.

We mention that on our full article on job satisfaction:


We software engineers do not need to operate heavy machinery, perform surgery, or do anything physical at all, and we even have this fine invention called "Skype". Why anybody in the profession has commute time greater than zero -- I can't understand.

Not all software engineering positions, or software engineers for that matter, would achieve their highest productivity working from home. Some might, but certainly not all. I think of it as more of a spectrum where the more you know what you need to get done and how to do it on your own, the better you are spending the day at home. And this can vary from day to day.

There are many benefits to working from home, as well as working in an office environment, but my point is that commutes will still exist for many software engineers for a long time.

If you're at all extroverted you're probably happier in an office. I'm not even that extroverted but I imagine I would have left my job (my last day is Friday) much earlier if it were entirely work-from-home: those days tend to be more productive, and I get to smoke inside, but otherwise it's just lonely.

I enjoy being lonely and being able to initiate communication when I want it (and sparsely) without being interrupted.

For example, I routinely need the use of laboratory equipment to measure pneumatic and electrical properties of the systems under control of my software. This equipment is both expensive and in some cases dangerous.

Yes, some of the jobs are still impossible to do remotely (until telepresence robots are dramatically improved).

I agree with you! Here's my thought on the likely cause:

Capital is controled by a small number of relatively old people. They give that money to companies as an investment, and tell CEOs "make sure you have managers keeping eyes on your employees in the office- no remote work."

So we are at the mercy of the interpretation of optimal business practices from "investorsl and board members"

I have quit my full-time remote job and has just taken an in-office job that pays the same AND requires a move. You could say that for me (at least at this point) working in office is a perk.

As an ultra-introvert, I really really don't want to go to the office, and I prefer working alone. Thankfully, these days I can do that and still be well paid.

I prefer working in an office with other people, where I can communicate directly. It has it's price, and may not make sense for everyone, but nevertheless, I don't think it's something to just shrug off.

Because there is nothing more efficient than talking face to face, in real time, with all sounds and visual cues intact.

Seeing and conversing with actual real people has something to do with it I guess.

I am looking at and talking with actual real people -- over a video call. Is there any difference?

BenjaminTood, thank you for this guide. It definitively paints a picture where society is heading.

    Naturally comes the question: Where does the guide
    guide you to? To what person does it guide you?
Everything about this reminded me of the movie The Ticket, where the previously truly blind main character becomes blinded by the superficial in his pursuit of "The Successful Life".

What world is this, in which every human interaction happens in background of some kind of utility function?

In the end we all want to be happy, right? Numerous studies find, that 'the most salient characteristics shared by students who were very happy and showed the fewest signs of depression were "their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them." ("The New Science of Happiness," Claudia Wallis, Time Magazine, Jan. 09, 2005).' [1]

I'm very sorry to say this: sadly enough, it's not how good you perform, but where you are born, what has the biggest impact on your career. [2]

From the About page of 80000hours:

    Our aim is to help as many people as possible lead
    high-impact careers.

    We do this by providing career advice for talented
    young people who want to have a social impact.

    Over a third of young graduates want to make a
    difference with their careers,1 but they have
    little idea what to do
Maybe that's the main problem here? "[Having] little idea what to do". Being raised as sheep doesn't really teach you, how to stand for your own ideals.

And that's why I'm proud of HN. Because we are!


[1]: http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/com...

[2]: In Germany 85% of all chairmen are emerging from the upper 3.5% (income-wise) families [3]. This is especially remarkable as it's only a very thin slice, which makes up basically everybody in these positions. These upper 3.5% want you to become as high-performing as possible. Guess, why?

[3]: https://www.amazon.de/Gestatten-Elite-Spuren-M%C3%A4chtigen-...

> What world is this, in which every human interaction happens in background of some kind of utility function?

Nobody tells anyone to live their lives by an explicit utility function (if you could even specify one in full, you'd be half-way to solving Friendly AI). But utilitarianism is an useful framework for decisionmaking in many contexts, especially as an alternative to going by your gut, and especially in situations to which your gut is not used.

> In the end we all want to be happy, right?

Right, but if this is most important goal of one's life, then 80000hours is not a guide for them. This is a guide for people who want to have positive impact on the world. There are better and easier ways for improving personal happiness. For example, even the Bible suggests alcohol as useful in achieving a happy (if not impactful) life.

> Maybe that's the main problem here? "[Having] little idea what to do". Being raised as sheep doesn't really teach you, how to stand for your own ideals.

The context implies this talks about people who know they want to make a meaningful social impact, but don't know how. In other articles, 80000hours provides advice for figuring out that "how".


TL;DR: 80000hours don't publish articles aimed at everyone, but at those who want to make a positive impact on the world with their career.

You nailed it. The article contains a lot of good advice but unfortunately seems to be based on the incorrect assumption that you are either successful in your job or unsuccessful in your job (a false dichotomy), or that you always need to strife to be more and more successful.

Maybe they should read Heinrich Böll's Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral - Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity.

Didn't read this one for quite a while. Thank you, jonathanstrange. :-)

Pasting it here from wikipedia [0]:

    The story is set in an unnamed harbor on the west coast of
    Europe.[1] A smartly-dressed enterprising tourist is taking
    photographs when he notices a shabbily dressed local fisherman
    taking a nap in his fishing boat. The tourist is disappointed with
    the fisherman's apparently lazy attitude towards his work, so he
    approaches the fisherman and asks him why he is lying around instead
    of catching fish. The fisherman explains that he went fishing in the
    morning, and the small catch would be sufficient for the next two

    The tourist tells him that if he goes out to catch fish multiple
    times a day, he would be able to buy a motor in less than a year, a
    second boat in less than two years, and so on. The tourist further
    explains that one day, the fisherman could even build a small cold
    storage plant, later a pickling factory, fly around in a helicopter,
    build a fish restaurant, and export lobster directly to Paris
    without a middleman.

    The nonchalant fisherman asks, "Then what?"

    The tourist enthusiastically continues, "Then, without a care in the
    world, you could sit here in the harbor, doze in the sun, and look
    at the glorious sea."

    "But I'm already doing that", says the fisherman.

    The enlightened tourist walks away pensively, with no trace of pity
    for the fisherman, only a little envy.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anekdote_zur_Senkung_der_Arbei...

This criticism misses the context of the article - 80000hours doesn't publish "how to be happy" guides, but "how to have most positive social impact on the world with your career" guides.

The fisherman from the story may be living a happy life, but he's not exactly helping anyone either. Which is fine as a life choice, but this guide is aimed at people who make a different choice.

    The fisherman [is] not exactly helping anyone either.
In fact, he does: By leading through example.

And now, let's get back to work. I'm procrastinating on HN already long enough. :-)

Thanks for your comments!

The anecdote was really insightful. Would you elaborate a bit more on the false dichotomy? It looks to me that it is not a that much about a false dichotomy, but more about who is the one that decides if you are successful enough - you or somebody else.

Success comes to a degree. You don't need to be among the top x percent to be a productive member of society or have a fulfilled life, and by definition only x percent people can be in this group anyway.

In most professions, being moderately successful is more than enough, and if a company wants you to constantly surpass expectation and grow, there is maybe more wrong with that company than with yourself.

That was all my point, nothing big, in a sense it's a truism.

"Your location is important in many other ways. One survey of 20,000 people in the US found that satisfaction with location was a major component of life satisfaction.10

This is because where you live determines many important aspects of your life. It determines the types of people you’ll spend time with. It determines your day-to-day environment and commute."

So much this. I moved to a town with much higher quality people and my happiness has taken a big positive bump.

I like this a lot - a nice balance of strongly evidence-based ways of being happier and more productive, and a summary of more anecdotal (but likely still useful) self-help techniques. To those kvetching about the latter, I think they're still valuable - particularly as it saves me wading through hundreds of self-help books for the occasional gem.

While probably not wrong, such lists about how to optimize my lifestyle make me anxious if anything. It kinda suggests if I don't start my fitness diary, self-improvement plan and life goal milestone list right now, I'm wasting my time.

Bah. Another listicle... although, #5 (social skills) and #6 (great people) are good enough for me. If you surround yourself with great people, your motivation to do great work is high. If you develop good social skills, you're more effective working in teams. Great people + great collaboration = great career in the long run.

Honestly, if psychology studies were presented as opinion pieces I would take them much more seriously.

The article does not answer the ultimate question : Why should one ever care to be successful in a job?

In the context of the site that's publishing this, which is something almost everyone in those comments misses, the why is already answered - you want to maximize your positive social impact on this world, and (maybe through reading other articles on the site) you've become convinced that a good way to do it is by leveraging professional specialization. Then, after picking a career path (advice on which is elsewhere on the site), you're left with the question of... being successful in that career.

So mega capitalists can maximize their profits.

Yeah, sounds like one of those user-stories : As a gig economy individual I want to be successful in my job so that "mega capitalists can maximize their profits."

To invest in your own future? Being successful leads to promotions in meritocracies, which can bring to to retirement faster, offer more interesting challenges, etc.

If you don't care, look for a union or government job where seniority reigns king and do the minimum every day for 45 years.

This type of answer leads to subsequent questions, f.e. - why would anyone want to retire faster? The final answer, I believe, is that the ultimate goal is "the feeling of relief that comes when the drive is satisfied. Relief, relaxation, and an end to the tension. Peace, happiness — no more yearning." There are many ways to achieve that feeling without being successful in a job.

Clearly, enough people have a "why" that they are more focused on the "how". If you can't figure out a "why" for yourself, then you probably shouldn't bother. No article written by a stranger is going to give you the "why".

Alternative PoV: the vast majority of people have no idea "why", so they desperately focus on "how"

There's no single "why". Everyone has a different reason for wanting to be successful. Maybe they want to better support their family, maybe they want to prove something to themselves, maybe they want to fix some specific problem that plagued them in the past.

I think it's pretty cynical and condescending to assume that people are just mindlessly wandering about their careers. People usually have some reason, even if it's one you don't think is a good reason.

Regardless, my point is that the "why" is personal and is not something you can address for a general audience in an online article. It's not something someone else can or should tell you.

If you broaden your definition of job to "anything you work on for a long period of time", I think the answer becomes obvious: a job is a large part of your life. Not wanting to do well at it would be nihilistic.

Not wanting to do well does not equal to not trying to be successful, right?

Read the rest of the guide :) https://80000hours.org/career-guide/

Good article. I am unsure about point 7 "Consider changing where you live" I accept that for some careers this might be inevitable but in a truly connected world it's also nice to follow the opposite advise and spot opportunities where you are

The article actually seems pretty balanced in that respect. It acknowledges that there are centers of gravity for some industries but, in some cases, you can work from almost anywhere.

What I think people here sometimes don't recognize is that there are costs and tradeoffs to location choices. Those tradeoffs aren't constant for people over time. And there isn't a single right answer however much one needs to justify their own decision.

Unfortunately, it seems like industry hubs are more dominant than ever, despite the rise of remote work and the internet. So if you're trying to get the top of an industry, the arguments for moving still exist. But it certainly doesn't make sense for everyone.

6. Build your social network.

7. Abandon your current social network and move to a city where you can make better friends.

Both of those things may help generate career success individually, but probably not both of them together, in that order.

Obviously items are not ordered in the way you perform them.

And there's not much conflicting about these two pieces of advices (whether they're good or bad).

To build the right social network for your career you might have to abandon your current social network and go to a city where you'll meet more like minded people, VCs, etc. This is about going where the action is, and meeting and expanding your network of players there. Not about whether you'll keep contact with your high school pals.

For the objective of the OP, my single most important piece of advice is: And may I have the envelope please? And the nominees are, work harder, improve your knowledge and skills relevant to the job, get noticed by the C-level people, come in early and leave late, and play politics. And the winner is [drum roll, please] by a wide margin

     Play politics.
For more, usually assume that your direct supervisor does not want you to do more or better because that might get you promoted over him. Instead, he wants you to do not very well. Then he can have an excuse to fire you. Then he can argue that he has to pay your better replacement more, and then, since the supervisor gets paid at least 15% more than his highest paid subordinate, the supervisor gets paid more. And he is sure to hire someone, really, less good than the one he fired. Really, what the supervisor wants as subordinates is a lot of people who can't challenge him and, from their large number and relatively high salaries, get him paid more.

For more, there may be some cliques; join them and appear to be loyal to them.

A lot of the advice in the OP will scare your supervisor and cause him to try to get rid of you.

Net, play politics.

For one step more, the politics you are playing is well known in the literature of public administration, organizational behavior, and sociology and is called goal subordination where the workers subordinate the goals of the organization to their own goals.

Goal subordination is common in middle management in an organization big enough to have several levels of management. There commonly a middle manager wants to arrange that his position is relatively well paid and stable. To this end he wants to build an empire of subordinates who will not challenge him. The middle manager gets paid more because of his relatively large number of subordinates.

In a lot of medium to large organizations, an employee who is a star gets attacked. E.g., an employee A who sells more makes the other employees look bad, and they can retaliate by sabotaging employee A.

E.g., in a research university, never tell the others how your research is going. Instead, say nothing until the corresponding papers are PUBLISHED -- then it is too late for the others to sabotage the research, e.g., cause you to waste time by constantly dropping by your office to talk, putting you on silly committees, assigning you new courses to teach where you have to do new preparations, etc.

Net, instead of working to make the organization more successful, it is super common to replace reality with easier to do/defend processes and to fight with others in the company, especially just down the hall.

The problem is, this advice isn't actionable.

You're not able to control if your direct supervisor secretly wants to limit your career advancement by doing anything except quitting.

If you're in a sales environment with public figures, if you're a star, you can't hide that you are; it will be common knowledge and in your example, this will mean sabotage.

While you can control for working hard, arriving early, and knowing more, you can't really control things like your manager's goal subordination: no amount of clique loyalty would get you past that.

In short, how does one play politics, if every example of playing politics secretly is just "Quit your job?"

Sure it's "actionable": Don't play politics, try to do your job the best you can, likely piss off your supervisor, and get fired. Otherwise, play along and don't get fired.

Want to advance based on the commercial value of your own work? Sure: Be a founder of a startup.

But saying playing politics is a good idea so that you "don't get fired" seems to directly contradict why you said politics playing was a good idea in the first place:

>"...[Y]our direct supervisor does not want you to do more or better because that might get you promoted over him. Instead, he wants you to do not very well. Then he can have an excuse to fire you..."

Which means that it's not really play along and don't get fired, it's play along and get fired at an indeterminate time that under such a manager probably is much sooner than later.

It seems that if your boss really fears you being promoted over him, that implies it must be a serious possibility. Since in either case, focusing or not focusing on politics gets you get fired (i.e, it's not actionable, or at best futilely so), why sit and wait on the feedlot to get slaughtered and instead focus on what you do control, getting a promotion and building the skills/doing the things that get you closer to that?

Do well, really piss off your manager, and get fired right away. Of course, if what you do is so good you get a lot of visibility from higher ups, then your manager may slow your work for a year or so and then fire you. Without the visibility, really good work can get you fired right away.

But if you play along, you have a good chance of lasting for some years before the manager fires you to hire someone else he wants so he can have an excuse to pay more so that he can get paid more.

So, right, can get fired either way.

Maybe a big lesson is, do things that are good AND very visible to the higher ups. That also is politics.

And then the other lesson, start your own business.

In a lot of organizations, the worker bees are encouraged to believe that their job is secure, secure enough they can get their kids through school, pay off the house mortgage, etc. For this, the worker bees are willing to accept less pay. But in such a company, firing people starts to convince people that their their job is not secure and want to leave to get just the extra money, what they are really worth.

Generally, a job in a large business organization is one heck of a poor source of family financial security; a lot of people get lucky, but many get badly hurt.

Generally young people should aim at owning their own business.

I don't think the Charisma Myth is worth reading, but the first 3 tips she gives are great.

1) Don't end your sentences on a rising inflection. Makes you sound unsure. 2) Don't nod you heard more than once during a sentence when someone else is speaking. Makes you look to eager. 3) Take a breath before you speak. Doing so makes you come across as confident, prepared, thoughtful, and composed.

I dislike the popular phrase "evidence-based" to describe practices/advice. All reasoning should be evidence-based. Experience can be a source of evidence. The results of double-blind studies require interpretation, about which reasonable people will disagree. Many "evidence-based" findings could correctly be viewed as "one person's opinion".

You know what blows in the US? If you are unemployed, its damn expensive to get treatment for any mental health issues. If you can even get medicare, you can get covered for basically a community counselor - the time that most people could most benefit from the help of a psychologist or licensed therapist is the time they can least afford it.

my rule number one to be successful in a job is not to be obsessed about it

> To avoid colds and flus it’s important to vacuum yourself daily. We recommend Dyson.

That dog looks so happy. If only human happiness were so easy.

I like this article, yet, there is this obsession with evidence that I can't quite pinpoint and it bugs me.

> Go to Silicon Valley for technology, LA for entertainment, New York for advertising / fashion / finance, Boston or Cambridge (UK) for science, London for finance, and so on.

That kind of remains a cliché, but it's less relevant today.

This article is ostensibly about "how to be successful in a job". One of the pieces of advice is "Figure out how to perform better in your job." Nice.

I have some advice about how to succeed in life: "Figure out how to perform better in your life."

I agree, I think that a lot of the points seem to serve only to pad the article length and are not actionable for most people.

- Surround yourself with great people

- Consider changing where you live

- Save money

- Look for ways to become more productive

- Figure out how to perform better in your job

- Think better

The authors could consider cutting out points that sound like platitudes that can be found in a standard self-help guide or magazine.

And maybe also avoid putting down the endemic "think positive" advice before proceeding to point 4, "apply positive psychology".

That tripped my hypocrisy alarm, hard.

Yeah, the difference is that "positive psychology" is scientific field, and they haven't discovered that "thinking positive" helps with being more successful. I changed the title of the sub-section.

This is a good point, and why I didn't include the positive psychology point in my list – because it is a genuinely different thing.

I agree the titles sound obvious, but within each section we have lots of actionable advice (e.g. books to read about specific decision-making advice, the best tips we've found on how to save money, ideas for specific cities to move to), so I disagree these are not actionable for most people.

Yeah that title doesn't really convey what we mean. I'll change it.

I think it's OK, I mean the heading's maybe a little similar but being "good" and being "successful" aren't really the same.

Good article, I think if one approaches it openly and without cynicism it's bringing together actually quite a lot of good suggestions. Have just ordered one of the recommended books - I must be in a receptive frame of mind :-)

"To avoid colds and flus it’s important to vacuum yourself daily. We recommend Dyson."

This is a joke right?

I believe understanding how the world really works is a must.

Stopped reading after seven seconds - giant animated pop-up.

Dear websites: please please stop doing this.

We use optinmonster, which we wanted to turn off, but their service just went down. Really need to migrate off these guys...

Also: If you're asking me to subscribe in the middle of me reading the article, I still happily will enter my e-mail address and click subscribe, but please, please, please do not send me to a new page then to enter more details. I'll instantly navigate back since I actually want to read the text.

I sincerely hope your feedback as well as the other feedback in this thread makes it to the people that are in charge of these decisions. It's in their best interest.

And I will happily enter a fake, insulting email address.

You can't turn it off because their service just went down? Sounds like you're dealing with a situation here.

Yeah turns out they're upgrading their web interface so we can't change any of our settings. Keep saying it will be fixed any moment...

Right. Take care of yourself, deal with your mental issues, start every morning with cheap motivational yadda-yadda, improve your social skills -- and you can live long and stay healthy, while generating more profit for your employers and being less of a nuisance to your insurance company.

What a time to be alive!

I read your comment as strongly sarcastic. Do you mean it that way? Because it looks to me like they are very up-front about how iffy some of this stuff is. So what's the problem?

  The trouble with self-help advice is that it’s often based
  on barely any evidence. 
  ... [however] we’ve found that there are a number of
  evidence-backed steps that anyone can take to become more
  productive and successful in their career...

  So we’ve gathered up all the best advice we’ve found over
  our last five years of research.

  In many cases, the evidence isn’t as strong as we’d like.
  Rather, it’s the best we’re aware of. We’ve tried to come
  to an all-considered view of what makes sense to try

Even if you are up front about how iffy your stuff is. You cannot just call out 'self-help advice with barely any evidence' and then repeat said advice without batting your eyes.

I was hoping to see some actual evidence, but instead I found product advertisements and cheap motivational shit.

> Take care of yourself, deal with your mental issues

Aside from your other complaints, what's wrong with these two pieces of advice? They seem like completely sensible things that far too many people eschew.

Not exactly insightful

Maybe not insightful, but it falls into the category of "obvious but not nearly enough people actually do it" alongside other things like flossing, saving for retirement, and checking array lengths. That sort of thing is definitely worth repeating.

>"obvious... flossing... retirement... checking array lengths"

Flossing is nearly useless (the studies that led to ADA recommendations turned out to be deeply flawed and inconclusive).

Retirement is a historically relatively recent concept which doesn't make people happy.

Some programming paradigms obviate the need for array length checks, eg with robust constructs for nil.

I note these not to be argumentative, but to highlight that defining what's "obvious" as the right thing to do is anything but.

> Flossing is nearly useless (the studies that led to ADA recommendations turned out to be deeply flawed and inconclusive).

Since we're going into a high level of detail, I want to point out that "nearly useless" implies that we've concluded no correlation. We actually just don't have a conclusion, so "we don't know" is much more accurate. I got your point, but let's make sure to stay on the right side of rigor.

Retirement: feel free to substitute "retirement" with "time period at end of life that usually correlates with less ability to draw income." The advice is still sound whether or not you choose to retire at 65. There are exceptions, but if you're that rich, then you're a tiny exceptional minority of the potential audience of the advice.

Array length checks: as long as indexing into arrays is a thing, it's going to remain good advice the vast majority of the time. Thankfully most modern languages realized that it's better if the language does the low level bounds checking for you, but high level bounds checking is still very much a thing.

What counts as "obvious" is like what counts as a "heap" of sand. The exact line is subjective, but there's a point where pretty much everyone is in agreement. Defining what's "obvious" in the gray middle area is hard, but defining what's "obvious" or "not obvious" on the extremes tends to be far easier.

Many things aren't, but I think regular reminders are helpful and motivational for people. I've often thought that an app that continually interpreted situations and prodded people to make good decisions would seem like the end of humanity, but actually be helpful for many.

How does one go about improving one's social skills.

Unless you suffer from social anxiety, you improve your social skills just like anything else - with intentional practice.

If you want to be better at small talk, make small talk any opportunity you can (or become an Uber/Lyft driver, tour guide, or some other job that requires you to use these skills). If you want to be better at flirting, flirt. Make note of when you're practicing, try and look for social/body language cues and make adjustments. Replay the conversation later in your head and figure out places you can do better next time. Then try again.

> Then try again.

This is very important, as well as, as you say, just doing it.

You (the general you) have a better chance of going on a date if you ask ten people than if you ask only one. You need to be able to handle that not every interaction will be successful, that sometimes people are not interested, and then you just cut it short and move on. Since it's important to get as much practice as possible, it's better to have ten short conversations at the coffee machine, in the elevator, and so on during the day, than one prepared line to say to the person at the front desk as you leave for the day.

Another suggestion to practice talking to people is to approach people who work in clothing stores, cafes, libraries, and so on, and talk to them. They get payed to talk to you, and will make an effort to make the conversation be pleasant for you. You probably won't have the deepest conversations, but the idea is just to experience what it's like to small talk with people. You can either talk about clothes, books, or coffee, or tell them something small about your day and see if they pick it up and asks a follow up questions.

>Unless you suffer from social anxiety

You do it the same way if you suffer from social anxiety. You are just forced to practice coping with anxiety at the same time.

I don't have any experience with social anxiety or treatment personally, so I wanted to escape that portion of the discussion with what is essentially a disclaimer. I assumed the advice would apply but wasn't sure, so thanks for confirming that.

Even if you do have social anxiety practice helps alot. I'd recommend volunteering somewhere that you have to interact with a few new people regularly. It is less overwhelming than most social situations since volunteering is usually task-oriented (if you feel overwhelmed, just focus on the work), and it lets you practice making small talk with other people.

Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People' is a worthwhile read.

Asking people about themselves and listening is a great place to start. Caring about the interaction/person helps too.

And like someone else posted: practice.

Watching others interact with people is good too, just be wary of modeling people too much. Some people can make a whole room laugh with a single phrase, while others would get slapped for saying the same thing. Delivery counts, and it's not always obvious what it is in the delivery that matters.

We try to summarise the best advice we've found in the article: https://80000hours.org/career-guide/how-to-be-successful/#5-...

But we'd like to find more.

Read Dale Carnegie and practice. Improving at social interactions through (sometimes unpleasant or tiresome) practice is not that different than doing the same with physical activities.

Learn from people who have good skills.

HN might not be the best place.

It's better than many in-class alternatives.


Best guess would be other large, more or less general purpose internet forums (in the classical sense) that people use to exchange ideas and socialize. Reddit, 4chan, Slashdot, maybe Tumblr and Twitter.

One additional comment apart from what others are suggesting - some cultures (Asian, etc) are more social than others, you might find it a bit easier to get social with them.

Find someone well liked and do an impression of them.

Wow cool top comment!

Which reminds me, I just watched an excellent documentary on Karl Marx which was very timely. It's largely forgotten what he was really about I think.

Really hit home that his concept of the "Surplus Value" of a worker is just as important if not more so today as it was the day he critiqued capitalism in the 1800's.

Shame about how his work was twisted into authoritarian dictatorship by the likes of Stalin. You just can't win :/

You really just nailed it though.

Next week, back to Nietzsche.

Serious question: how do you think one _could_ implement Marx's solutions to the problems he claims he found, _without_ an authoritarian dictatorship? Not thinking so much small, voluntary communes but at the sort of scale of a modern city or State.

I'm pretty sure it was Marx himself who first used the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat".

People talk about Marx as if he wrote some kind of blueprint for a Communist state. But he really didn't. He was basically writing a philosophy of history centering around a problem he observed - he wasn't necessarily writing about ideas for implementing particular solutions beyond vague notions that a Socialist revolution and subsequent Communist society is ultimately inevitable due to built-in flaws of any Capitalist system. The TLDR version of Marx is:

"All of human history is based around class struggles punctuated by revolutions, and in modern times this continues with those who own the means of production (Capitalists) having all the power over the common workers (employees). But don't worry because Capitalism is a self-destructive system, and soon there will be a socialist revolution, which will ultimately evolve into a Communist state, and then everything will be cool."

The only real implementation details he talks about have to do with some kind of transitional "pre-Communist" society, where he talks about nationalization of banks and railroads and other things.

I think Marx is better read as a philosophy of human history rather than as a blueprint for creating a Communist society.

The reality is Marx is right in the sense that the "ownership class" (those who own the means of production) continue to accumulate wealth and project disproportionate power because they own large amounts of corporate stock and by extension have control over the physical (or digital) means to keep making money. However, in the Western World, no revolution was forthcoming due to (I conjecture) rising standards of living and a consumer-oriented society, along with a blurring of the lines between the "ownership" class and everyone else (via things like stock options, entrepreneurship, Unions, employee rights, etc.), which certainly diluted Marx's eternal class-struggle narrative. Still, at the end of the day, we find ourselves in a Capitalist world where the majority of wealth is concentrated in < 0.0001% of the overall population, which seems to be an undesirable situation.

Has there been studies/hard numbers that would model a world where the top 1% had their wealth more distributed? I'm not talking about pure socialism (equal wealth), I'm suggesting a more bell-curve-like distribution of wealth, and only in western first-world countries. Would the quality of life be (much) higher?

It was much higher in the U.S. decades ago before the process started where the big companies cut employees and maximize profit for shareholders at the cost of everything else. The layoffs and offshoring alone reduced quality of life for many people. Then there's mega corporations like Walmart that can afford to pay people enough to pay their rent or buy food but intentionally don't. You'd see a bit more competition (and jobs) in mainframes, desktops or mobile if threats to incumbents didn't get hit with their patent or copyright suits. As in, legal monopolies designed to maximize profit of owner at everyone else's expense.

So on and so forth. The centralization of wealth and power into a rich few running a bunch of oligopolies provably harms the many in this country. Directly when there was immediate layoffs, low quality/security, bad services, etc. Then indirectly in long-term and network affects.

> Still, at the end of the day, we find ourselves in a Capitalist world where the majority of wealth is concentrated in < 0.0001% of the overall population, which seems to be an undesirable situation.

That doesn't necessarily follow, for reasons you allude to. Massive wealth inequality is a lot more tolerable, if the _poor_ people are (by historical standards) incredibly wealthy.

Yes this.

Captitalism as it stands is totally unsustainable. Communism too but that was not Marx's idea that his critique should lead to what it became.

Some form of socialism is important. It should be drummed in to people that societal progress is based on individual choices.

Rand got it backwards, Marx got it forwards.

There is a middle ground, I'm sure of it; at least I hope so.

I think size itself is a real problem, moving from Norway to the US politics are so different it is hard to understand.

I don't think a country the size of the US, China or Russia can really be a democracy governed by and for the people.

Size is definitely a problem. Bertrand Russell touched on some of the issues it creates (e.g. signal - votes from the people effected by an issue - gets swamped by noise - votes from people who don't really care).

Personally, I'm a big fan of a couple of approaches that I think would work well in concert:

* Federalism. Devolve as much power as practical down to the State (or, as I suspect will happen, the City-State, level). Taking the USA as an example (I'm not American myself), you'd pare back all of the unconstitutional three-letter-departments (FCC, FDA, EPA, ...) and leave those up to the States.

* Sortition. Don't select the Government by voting, select it by random poll of the citizenry, in much the same way as jury duty is arranged in many countries.

* Libertarianism. Legislate to protect rights and in the case of collective problems (e.g. atmospheric pollution, which may surprise people by being the go-to example Rand reached for as a case where environmental legislation may be justified by human costs), but nothing else.

Marx''s "solution" was to let Capitalism run its course and entirely crowd out labor with capital, to a point of near-infinite supply and intolerably low demand. Over 100 years later, this has yet to happen. And people generally sympathetic to masdive redistribution call the Laffer Curve "voodoo economics"... Hah!

Right, eat chocolates until you are sick.

I don't think Marx anticipated just how many chocolates Eight Billion people were capable of eating.

>Not thinking so much small, voluntary communes but at the sort of scale of a modern city or State.

Funnily enough, I remember going to some talks about something called "Economy of Communion", to which an audience member asked a similar question.

The response: think globally, act locally. I wish I could remember more about the explanation, and although I remember not being completely satisfied with the answer, I also remember thinking that it made sense and it's probably better than the alternatives.

Hmmm, well as I see it, Marx, like many luminary geniuses forgot about one thing.

Human Nature.

The ideas in and of themselves were profound but the prescription was unfortunately childishly naive.

That given sufficient resources and everyone pulling together we will all get along is great, but it just takes one self-interested outlier to spoil that soup, and there are plenty of those to go around.

Some people can just never have enough.

Personally I believe self interest is pre-programmed at the genetic level in all species. Dawkins wrote a book about that, and it manifests itself in everything we do individually or across species.

So back to your question, that's a good one.

The only way to make it work is probably some kind of authoritarianism, but perhaps authoritarianism comes in many flavors.

I'm highly suspicious that a single individual can do it. Even if they are a benevolent dictator they can be corrupted by the people who surround them. It really doesn't take much to Gaslight someone and it happens a lot more and in more subtle ways than many of us think.

So what is a more pure form of a benevolent dictator. A computer program with hard rules that we agree upon?

At least it would be consistent.

Then again, the program would be written initially by our own genome, and it better be pretty clever to quickly figure out how to ignore that aspect.

But just imagine it ,a logical machine that only does the right thing to maximize outcome... (Already sounds like the Genome)

Planet in jeopardy, insufficient resources, no way to create more resources? Simple answer, kill a percentage of the populace.

Looks pretty Stalinesque already. But I guess you already know that.

It's a problem for sure.

There are radical ideas to sidestep it, but those would take more than a spoonful of sugar I think to get the medicine to go down.

As far as dictatorship of the proletariat...

"In Marxist sociopolitical thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat refers to a state in which the proletariat, or the working class itself has control of political power."

The big mistake I see in HN is that the members believe themselves to be elites, which for the time being may well be true, and many here are making hay. Probably a wise move.

The truth is we are also soon to be no more than axle turners in wheel factories, and many of us already are.

I'm not a dystopian, I really am an optimist. Hence the desperation.

Isn't there some middle path? Maybe the reason more and more sound like they want to go in a socialist direction isn't that we are all a bunch of socialist, rather, the pendulum has swung so far in favor of inequity in the USA the reaction has the appearance of socialism.

Many of us are waiting for the day that the wealth is spread to the outer reaches of the populace, those who have not. I suspect, we'd see a huge explosion of wealth for both less and more wealthy people. Here I'm not just talking about dollars on the bank statement, but a happy, enjoyable society to spend you time in. You don't have to step over the homeless person, for example.

Stop concentrating wealth, what does that mean? You're just going to give people stuff? Yep, you get a phone, you get shelter and everyone gets a bed, meal and healthcare.

Well that's how I run my life and I know a lot of other people do that as well.

We used to talk about having "Fuck You" money back in the day.

What was the amount of cash required to get off the system.

Turns out it isn't that much, and it would be even less if the system was geared around that mentality.

I need groceries, some nice olive oil a nice clean bathroom, perhaps a bottle of wine and watch a couple of movies.

Just provide that to everyone and lay out the propaganda to set the bar that this is all you need.

If you want more than that, taxation should go through the roof on an exponential scale, and not to be fed into the military, but fed to others to get them to the same basic standard.

Anyone with billions in their bank account should be very embarrassed by that fact, and I hope they are.

People have to sleep at night, even them.

What's the name of the documentary?

Genius of the Modern World: Marx

I think it's an Open University production by the BBC


What do you recommend? Lets remember that the opposite of crazy is still crazy.

Not completely opposite. Trying to stay healthy is probably a good thing. But tricking yourself psychologically into a hard working employee is as crazy as it gets. You are not supposed to feel happy for being an employee and making money for someone else, because you are not in control of your own life.

No one has ever had more control over their life than the privileged few enjoying the 9-5.

In contemporary society, things are nice enough that people typically trade a fraction of their time in exchange for work, income, and reduced risk exposure. This is a nice comfy abstraction over the cold reality that you need resources to live and you need to work and fight to keep living.

The alternatives to this are: a) socialism/communism type deal where the government controls your work output and resource provision; even if it works out (it usually doesn't), you have far less control than you do now. b) unspecialized agriculture-based society; every second of every day is spent producing just enough food and material goods long enough for you to raise children that take over when you die. Your options are limited; you are perilously exposed to acts of God (what happens if the crop fails?). You are not in control. c) hunter-gatherer setup; you are still not in control of your own life. You have no option than to spend the vast majority of your day seeking food (without agriculture you really do need to spend almost all of your time on that work). Ask one of these people what a 'weekend' or 'vacation' looks like.

The reality is, modern society gives you many more options than were possible even 100 years ago. International (and even local) travel is commonplace; you can choose to start a startup or work for yourself; you can choose to buy or not buy hundreds of thousands of products, many of which were not existing or even possible in the recent past; etc. You can even choose to leave it all behind and live on the land.

Don't confuse dissatisfaction with your own life choices with lack of control.

That's not true.

An average peasant in the feudalism had more free time than an average 9-5 office worker now.

In fact, the 8 hour work day is a recent feature. When capitalism arrived initially, it was much worse.

The rest of your post shows that you had an easy life, and I'm happy for you. But don't assume everybody can start a startup, travel etc. That's just not the reality out there.

> An average peasant in the feudalism had more free time than an average 9-5 office worker now.

If you want the lifestyle of a medieval peasant, you can do that now. No one is stopping you.

Working in an organization beneficial for the world while doing a job you enjoy makes it easy to work for long hours and little wages.

But if organization acts immorally and increases profit through unethical methods, it drains motivation and makes employees a lot less inclined to put effort into 9-5 jobs.

I mean, presumably, we could get "good enough" at agro-tech and then return everyone to option B, but with everyone just spending 5% of their time maintaining robots to grow themselves food and the rest doing whatever they like.

Hunter gatherers did not spend the vast majority of their time seeking food. That's a myth that greatly perpetuates this nonsense that technology/progress have benefited mankind. They haven't. Things being better than 200 years ago doesn't mean they're better than 20 000 years ago.

That is why the whole agriculture thing never caught on.

True, but they were in constant war with other tribes, animals, etc So, they were not better than today.

Disagree. I think tribal warfare and fighting predators are things we are built for and desire to do on a base level, hence why we have (poor) substitutes in team sports, modern hunting, and the action movie. The lack of these things is a loss not a gain.

I'd rather not-die not-doing those things, and then participate in simulations of those things, than die doing those things, personally.

Keep in mind that the fidelity of the simulations will only improve with technology (e.g. VR.)

So would I but I think it's important to avoid just using what our current selves want/would do in discussions on what would make happy humans. We're products of our environment. Modern humans would be fucked (and unhappy) if magically transported back 20 000 years myself included, as I believe humans 20 000 years ago would be if transported to now. What's more is that there's an issue of extrapolating what is best for a society as a whole from the wants of the individual even without the differing time period. I or any other person may want a billion dollars but if everyone was suddenly given a billion dollars that wouldn't be a net gain, it'd be an economic catastrophe.

I'm not even 100% on this theory and it's one of my least researched so there's plenty of room for someone to come and slay me with data but I think the discussion definitely needs to come from a place of "pre-agricultural humans living their pre-agricultural life while ignorant of modern life" compared to "modern humans living their modern lives", rather than one of "well why don't you just go live in a forrest if you like it so much!?"

... unless you are on the losing end.

Everyone dies. Savage humans at least had the benefit of a lesser ability to ponder and comprehend the permanence and inevitability of ceasing to exist.

> constant war with other tribes

AFAIK most aboriginal tribes are quite peaceful. Rivalry with other tribes around territory and food sources lead to fights that look closer sparring and rarely lead to any wounded.

I personally would have been dead at 16 and had a bum knee at 21 without modern medicine.

> But tricking yourself psychologically into a hard working employee is as crazy as it gets. You are not supposed to feel happy for being an employee and making money for someone else, because you are not in control of your own life.

Fortunately there are no rules for what you are supposed to feel happy about. If you are convinced that being an employee means you should not be happy, then that's a (painful) psychological trick as well. Even if you run your own business, you still have customers to satisfy, so are they in control of your life? Regardless if you work for yourself or not, you are always working to provide value to someone else. You are always selling yourself; your abilities & time.

Or, to put in a different thought, we are all subject to the physical realities of the world we live in, and we barter and trade what we each have with one another to better control the world itself, while being controlled by it simultaneously.

Or, to put in even another way, Life.

I recommend following some of the things mentioned in the article (like taking care of physical and mental health), but not for your own sake, not for the sake of being a good employee. And if you can't handle it at some point -- you are not a bad person, neither have you failed at anything. Self-determination is what matters; and sometimes, you need any help you can get, and not the shame for what you can't do right now.

It doesn't seem very specific to capitalism. Most of this advice would work just as well for anyone who has an ambition to accomplish anything, whether it makes money or not.

... a pig, in a cage, on antibiotics.

what a lucid comment

Upvotes on an anti-capitalist comment on HN?!? Why I never....

To all the 'gracious employers': we are sick of working for pennies while you peddle psychobabble to get us to work harder. The problem is our exploitation. The end.

Please don't post ideological rants. This thread went to information heat death (boo-atlas-shrugged, yay-atlas-shrugged) in two hops.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14197344 (which was bad enough in the first place) and marked it off-topic.

Scarecrow addendum: this isn't against any ideology, it's against arguments about them.

I am not an anti-capitalist. In fact, I work in a prop trading firm, and Atlas Shrugged is always in my library for a yearly reminder on the direction this world is going.

And I _still_ think this article is a terrible advice. In capitalism, capital is the prime resource, to be gathered and kept. Being an employee is a good start, but I doubt it is a good lifelong strategy.

You rock!

Absolutely, you need Atlas Shrugged on the bookshelf to understand the mess we find ourselves in.

The most amazing thing is the hypnotic scam that has been pulled, on us that makes us believe this is all our "lot in life".

Thumbs up!

The downvotes on this really make me chuckle.

I guess there are people out there who really believe the individualism in Atlas Shrugged is a model for society? My interpretation is that's darkly satirical humor.

Okay Ayn was a genius, but I think she had a sense of humor too. At least that is the way I would like to think of it.

As a former employer who didn't pay very much, or at least not as much as I would have like to have paid, I'll just offer this... the employees who got paid the most were the ones who realized the company itself was trying to become more efficient & bring in more money, and the company didn't always know how to do that without employee input. It's incredibly hard to build a business. Employees who get that, and can help grow it, are invaluable. Any sane employer will do whatever it takes to keep an employee who makes the company for profitable.

I'm not sure if this comment is anti-capitalist. Actually the comment is very capitalist.

In capitalism, we should not be glorifying working and generating profit for your employers (in socialist countries that was the state - but the same shit.).

I really don't understand how anyone that is sound of mind can be anti-capitalist. Maybe critical of capitalism I can understand but being "anti-capitalist" after looking at history probably indicates that you have some developmental issues.

After this comment, I'm wondering if your username is a reference to Milton Friedman.

Firstly, I'm curious how expressing an anti-capitalist sentiment differs from being critical of capitalism.

Secondly, I'd like to propose a few reasons why a person of sound mind might be anti-capitalist:

* There are several well known cases where market forces, in isolation, cannot solve a problem. This already leads one away from several forms of "pure" capitalism. Once you move away from pure capitalism though, you create new problems that require more complexity to solve (regulatory capture perhaps being one of the bigger ones).

* If you look at the post-industrial-revolution capitalistic societies, there is a massive underclass that was substantially made materially worse-off (yes, a generation or two later, society as a whole ends up in a generally better position, but it was accomplished by grinding up and spitting out cheap labor that typically did not directly benefit from it.

* There are some very serious environmental problems currently facing us, most notably global warming. Companies that were profitable by externalizing the costs of these quire rationally found that the best way to maximize their profits was to muddy the scientific waters sufficiently to significantly delay any attempts at addressing these problems (which would certainly involve some way of preventing them from externalizing their costs).

There's probably a lot more that I'm not thinking of right now. I would suggest finding friends who are anti-capitalist and listening to their reasons, not with an eye to shutdown their response, but just to get a sense of differing views.

Even someone who agrees that the natural experiment of the 20th century proved capitalism is superior to communism (which is in itself debatable due to the low sample size and several confounding differences between the powers involved), might feel that some other non-capitalist form of economy could be superior.

No one is wholly anything. To express an anti-capitalist sentiment does not make one _an_ anti-capitalist, merely critical of capitalism.

To jump from parts to wholes exclusively in the case of capitalism/history — from "critical of capitalism" to "developmental issues" — probably indicates that you have some developmental issues.

Nah, no it doesn't. It implies that you're circumspect of introspection into the very reasonable path from being "critical of capitalism" to more being concerned about the negative externalities in free markets than, for example, armchair rocket-science or whatever hobby you engage with in the ample free time afforded to you as a member of the coddled petit bourgeois while still managing to ride a high horse around the subject of anti-capitalism.

You do not, of course, see why anyone would be critical of a system that has given YOU so much, but of course to dismiss the active cynic of capitalism is to exclude yourself from your own liberation.

Had YOU been there, you would not have been redeemed.

I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't read your comment because it became apparent it was mostly rambling 4 sentences in. I'm also not interested in arguing semantics.

If you do not grok my text, the fault lies with me. Thank you for trying.

Capitalist is such a useless term. People who can define it don't use it, and those who can't abuse it.

Your statement is devoid of all meaning as is this one screaming into the void.

Clearly he is saying that people that don't understand what the word capitalism is associate it with every instance of greed they see. For example, working hard for long hours has absolutely nothing to do with capitalism but for some reason people here seem to be saying capitalism is evil because of it?

Fundamentally a capitalist accrues profit: it the difference between the wages and expenditure needed to produce a product. Either en masse or per unit, a capitalist maximizes this difference, of which the worker sees none.

Capitalism is greed: it is the accumulation of what you are not morally owed.

Exhibit A ladies and gentlemen.

So what happens when you fight exploitation successfully, and every employee now costs their employer 3x more than the employee's salary to pay for better health insurance, EI, etc? I don't see why it makes sense to keep any jobs in North America if employers can avoid it.

"Don't ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."

Piece of crap article. There's a difference between "thinking positively" and fantasising about how good your future life is going to be.

Well written post and a smart idea to generate affiliate revs. With that amount of Amazon links you in that article you should have a click-through of more than 70% and a conversion on Amazon around 10%.

I don't think we actually have affiliate links! :) Maybe we should...

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