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Elon Musk: ‘Too many smart people go into finance and law’ (cnbc.com)
198 points by starpilot 28 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 278 comments

Wow. HN commenters really missed the point here.

The point is that not that smart people who went into finance and law somehow fucked up. It may be a perfectly rational and good choice for them.

The point is that smart, hard-working people tend to get funneled into one of a handful of professions, and at this point, I would even include software in that handful. It would better if we had smart people also going into other, more underserved fields that are in dire need of innovation.

I would certainly include software in that same bucket. Not only would other fields be better served with more attention, but taking some of the noise out of these arguably over-crowded professions might allow for more innovation to take place within them.

With software specifically, it feels very much like a case of too many chefs in the kitchen at this point. Just look at facebook trying to build one website with 10000 engineers. It's some of the most ridiculous bullshit and it's incredibly distracting even as an outside observer. There are clean and reusable patterns that solve problems for 99.9% of use cases, but most of the discussion and energy these days is spent rehashing the same boring front-end UI story over and over and over.

Sure, I can ignore all the noise on HN, et. al. if I want to get work done, but then I risk missing out on the occasional insight that can potentially give me an integer factor increase in productivity or product quality. As it currently stands, I have to wade through a cesspool of the same boring amateur concepts on a daily basis in order to find the rare fundamental insights that meaningfully move the state of the art forward.

Ha right this is very meme worthy and often repeated here. Facebook has 10K engineers working on a site and all of that effort is wasted and represents a huge failure of effort.

Same thing for Twitter and all these other social media sites. How does Google have so many engineers yet so many failed products? It’s a narrow perspective to take on and a wrong one.

Actually the division of labour at large companies is impressive and it becomes apparent if you look at the amount of actual output from them.

These FAANG companies aren’t just building websites. They are managing larges amounts of complex infrastructure, because scaling the amount of engineers a company can have requires it.

They are designing incredibly complex products. Apple’s products are descriptively simple and don’t represent the amount of work required to get there.

They are maintaining and insane amount of code and ensuring it works reliably. It’s easy to point at the one day with the Google Maps SDK failure or the Facebook SDK failure while forgetting the many days there wasn’t one.

Lately they are investing in privacy and security, which is another huge effort that I think the public underestimates. It’s easy to ensure data is deleted in a database, but it’s a completely different problem to ensure that data is deleted across all your infrastructure and to ensure it stays that way while teams rapidly develop software.

Startups and smaller companies can compete with large behemoths because they are only focusing on one or two things (or should be). But when you focus on one thing you lose sight of how hard it is to focus on one thousand things.

In the end, Both Google and Facebook are ad companies. All the complexity, infrastructure etc is for that purpose. What if all that talent focused on something more worthwhile?

Sure,they do some other cool stuff, are useful in other ways, but on the side really.

Same af really smart folks working in high frequency trading. Also wasted talent IMO

Id switch to something else it pays more.

> With software specifically, it feels very much like a case of too many chefs in the kitchen at this point. Just look at facebook trying to build one website with 10000 engineers. It's some of the most ridiculous bullshit and it's incredibly distracting even as an outside observer. There are clean and reusable patterns that solve problems for 99.9% of use cases, but most of the discussion and energy these days is spent rehashing the same boring front-end UI story over and over and over.

This single website is making billions of dollars in profits and used billions daily. It is good for us that Facebook have 10000 people working on this. Thanks to Facebook we have now flow, react, react-native, GraphQL, Redux, immutable.js, ReasonML, jest and create-react-app just to mention few things that were open sourced or worked by people hired by Facebook. No other company contributed as much to "boring front-end UI story"

> Thanks to Facebook we have now flow, react, react-native, GraphQL, Redux, immutable.js, ReasonML, jest and create-react-app

The added value of all of that is dubious when you see the result from the creators themselves. The analogy "too many chefs in the kitchen" is pretty spot on. The front-end UI is not the back-end, it doesn't scale with the number of users, so when too many smart engineers work on it you see the result.

The result is an extremely successful company.

We are talking specifically about the front-end, it was already successful in 2012 with basic AJAX and vanilla JS.

Successful it might have been, but I heard it was a sea of pain to support and develop.

One-way bindings and isolation of effects help a lot.

Usenet was also already successful in the 80s.

Come on we are talking 2012, have a look at its history, nearly all major features already existed at the time. Of course the UI would be a bit dated but it’s irrelevant as it has nothing to do with the JS tooling.

...built on extremely unethical grounds. 10000 engineers working on it are the symptom, not the cause.

> Just look at facebook trying to build one website with 10000 engineers.

Keep in mind that most most these engineers are paid for the fact that they don't work for another company that is perhaps competing with Facebook. They are given "sensible-looking" work to make them feel important and keep them busy (feel free to call this a "bullshit job" (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bullshit_Jobs&old... ) if you desire).

I'd agree with you that HN commenters missed the point here, but maybe for different reasons. I don't agree that "it would be better if we had smart people also going into other, more underserved fields that are in dire need of innovation" -- better for whom according to who? Smart hard-working people don't get passively "funneled", they make their own choices, and they seek the same things most people seek -- comfort, material security, intellectual stimulation, and societal recognition.

Now, this group also contains the more risk taking ones who want glory and outsized returns. These pioneers would go into other more underserved fields in dire need of innovation if they saw opportunity. If they don't see opportunity, there are likely structural factors in play that prohibit innovation. And these structural factors are necessarily difficult to change for any but the most already powerful subgroups of these pioneers -- any less powerful actors will be so easily dispatched by incumbents that they would be foolish to try. So they don't, because as previously established, we're talking about smart people here.

I think your point would be served better by going into more detail about just which other underserved fields are the ones that are in dire need of innovation. My previous points notwithstanding, I do believe that there still exist a significant amount of underserved fields in dire need of innovation that are also completely tractable for the more pioneer oriented group of intelligent people without requiring billionaire level resources to solve. Messy, unsexy problems that customers would jump in line to pay for. But these problems tend to be require solutions by sharp pioneer generalists with a ton of intellectual horsepower _who_ are also capable recruiting and working well with industry insiders.

Having worked at such a company before, I think it's the latter part that's rarer than the former. I can grab a bucket of sharp STEM grads from top 10 universities that could make progress on a lot of hard problems that I know folks would pay good money for, but will they have the humility, spongelike curiosity and flexibility to work well enough with top industry insiders to not just be able to keep up with them but add something unique that wouldn't be doable otherwise? That's the hard part, and I think those kinds of folks are hard to find and will always be hard to find, no matter what kind of society you have.

> I don't agree that "it would be better if we had smart people also going into other, more underserved fields that are in dire need of innovation" -- better for whom according to who?

Better for humanity as a whole. Do you seriously think that if money and status weren't factors, every one of the "smart people" that went into finance or law would have exactly the same choice?

Of course not, and they would have excelled in another field with less competition and advanced our knowledge in that domain instead.

Are money and status actually contributing to human progress? Barely, if at all. In some ways, it has even caused regress.

> Do you seriously think that if money and status weren't factors, every one of the "smart people" that went into finance or law would have exactly the same choice?

Yes. Money and status are among the most core notions of the human societal experience. They represent success, continuity, surplus, achievement, ranking, collective opinions. Any attempts to remove or repress them invariably fail due to proxies that spring up to substitute the utility they provide.

This doesn't mean they they are intrinsically "good" for humanity, just that they are useful abstractions that humans use to maximize the throughput of their Dunbar number. If you tried to remove them without providing suitable replacements, people just go about recreating them.

> Any attempts to remove or repress them invariably fail due to proxies that spring up to substitute the utility they provide.

In other words, they would not have made the same choice, because the circumstances surrounding status and finances would be different.

No one is talking about removing social incentives. Musk was saying that finance and law are given more status and financial incentives as professions than they deserve by their contributions to humanity, in a similar manner that some stocks in the stock market become overvalued and eventually undergo corrections.

Finance in particular absolutely, unequivocally requires a social correction in how it's perceived and how much influence it has.

> finance and law are given more status and financial incentives as professions than they deserve by their contributions to humanity, in a similar manner that some stocks in the stock market become overvalued and eventually undergo corrections.

If this is the point, then it's even weaker. Two things are being conflated here, which is neoliberal value judgments (what professions "deserve by their contributions to humanity", as if value could ever be assigned or assessed in such a uniform way) and emergent behavior (when "some stocks in the stock market become overvalued and eventually undergo corrections"). To want the former to result in the latter is not enough; a concrete feedback mechanism must exist for that correction.

For Marx, this was historical materialism, wherein the capitalist mode of production evolutionarily existed in between the feudal mode of production and the communist mode of production. Weaknesses in the feudal mode of production left it vulnerable to being outexecuted by the emerging capitalist mode of production. Likewise, a systemic weakness in the capitalist mode of production leaves it weaker compared to the operationally superior communist mode of production, which is evolutionarily poised to supplant it as it collapses. For many Marxist thinkers, the Weimar-esque features of our current period of post LBO raider baron capitalism has earned our current episteme the reluctant brand of "late capitalism", a phrase which marries this time's absurd and banal social credit flavored cruelties with its evident dysfunctions and blank spaces that almost beg to be replaced with superior communist alternatives. I can't say I'm fully convinced by them, but they've at least done the legwork of slotting their explanations and predictions into a sufficiently detailed framework of historical context.

But I can't say the same for Elon here, or for your argument. What's notable for such Marxists is not that finance or law disappear. Their innovations exist and continue to be developed, but the surplus value they create is distributed and aggregated differently. This is a far cry from a belief that professions involving knowledge work (particularly those with such a wide variety of labor requirements and work product outputs) can be treated as stocks in that some are "undervalued" and some are "overvalued", because such an assertion is "not even wrong".

What is more likely to me is that in every profession, just as in every other kind of socioeconomic strata or societal hierarchy in human history, there exists caste-like stratification between the most successful and wealthy practitioners and the rest. Consider the paralegal who works full workweeks for barely more than minimum wage compared to the partner that rakes in eight figures. Or consider the lowly analyst at a bulge bracket . The top practitioners of each field (or to be more direct, the most well compensated executive class of each field) have much more in common with each other than with others in their field, for they have all learned the most primal, modern human skill of expanding and aggregating political power. That is to say, they have learned the skill of empire building.

Does it really matter what your formal profession is when opportunistic general managers can fluidly move from one managerial, executive or political role to another? And furthermore, hasn't it always been this way with empire-builders? If I asked you to consider that a frame that encouraged you to take profession as a proxy for identity was potentially a red herring to distract you from class identity, would you consider that a possibility?

You're overcomplicating a very basic counterfactual: more people would be better off [1] if these smart people worked in fields other than finance and law.

"Deserve" and "over valued" are not conflated, they are in fact inextricably linked. Market value is aggregated value, and what someone or some profession "deserves" as recompense is also an expression of market value. Of course, our markets are heavily skewed with negative externalities and perverse incentives, which is exactly why finance and law are over valued by any impartial measure of the functions they ought to serve in a free society.

Finance and law no longer serve to facilitate free enterprise, commerce and national development, but as a means of escaping responsibility and legal jurisdiction.

[1] Some balance of happier, healthier, and wealthier.

> Of course, our markets are heavily skewed with negative externalities and perverse incentives, which is exactly why finance and law are over valued by any impartial measure of the functions they ought to serve in a free society.

Okay, fantastic, now we're getting to the juicy part here. So I agree with you that our markets are heavily skewed with negative externalities and perverse incentives. I also agree with you that these negative externalities and perverse incentives are present in finance and law. I can even agree with you that in terms of the utility functions they ought to serve in an ideal society, it's plausible that they would be commodities rather than this strange realm of both commodity and luxury that they currently occupy. But, I can't agree with you here:

> Finance and law no longer serve to facilitate free enterprise, commerce and national development, but as a means of escaping responsibility and legal jurisdiction.

Finance and law never served to do any of those things. Nor does it necessarily serve purely as a means of escaping responsibility and legal jurisdiction. Finance and law, much like politics, exists to serve empire. In the golden age of expansion of an empire, you see emergent phenomena such as free enterprise, commerce and national development. You may even see people express that such emergent phenomena are the goals of the empire. But I am never convinced by this. The purpose of an empire is furthering its own existence, and once it exhausts the more palatable ways to achieve growth, it turns to less palatable ways.

To reiterate it again, to argue that people would be better off if smart people worked in fields other than finance or law is, in most senses, neither factual or counterfactual, because it doesn't attempt to engage with reality. The reality is that we live in a world that in many ways is not expanding. We live in a world that is increasingly has zero-sum dynamics. When one lives in a world that increasingly has zero-sum dynamics, people start thinking about securing safety and power, which tends to stratify along the caste lines of the professional managerial class, the lines of finance and law.

When you live in an unsafe world, you don't want to try and follow the rules of the game. You want to write the rules of the game. None of this superficial speculation about whether people would be better if more Xs were doing Y actually addresses this root dynamical interaction, or its increasing chaos. And so it would necessarily miss it. That's why I don't think you're wrong. I think you are missing the point.

Could you please simplify (in very layman terms) what you're trying to say throughout this whole exchange

Think of the phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats" but the opposite. Let's imagine there's a sinkhole and it's pulling boats in. Some of those boats start stealing fuel from other boats and sinking them to keep themselves afloat. Is the right response in this situation to tell some boat captains "It would better for society if you stopped looting other boats and pushing them into the sinkhole" or to focus on the sinkhole they're all trying to escape?

I've spent a lot of my career thinking about this and bouncing between low-paying and high-paying jobs. In the end, it's hard to ignore the fact that society as a whole is "commanding" us to work at the highest-paying jobs available to us (keeping in mind that some remuneration is non-monetary).

I respect people who take low-paying jobs when they don't have to. In many ways, they're donating money to society, and that's pretty damn cool of them to be doing it.

Went to school for mechanical engineering.

First job out of school - low pay, worked in a crappy cube farm in an old building outside of a city center at an industrial park. Had to be there at 8 and stay til 5 no matter what. Middle management sucked. Pay raises were low. Health benefits were horrible. No vacation for a full year (yea I could've negotiated that, but why should that even be negotiable? absurd.)

Switched into software and never looked back. Better hours, better pay, better benefits. More respect for work life balance. Better office locations. Younger colleagues.

It's easy to see why people don't go into the sciences. The sciences are attacked on a daily basis in this country. From vaccines to global warming to covid19. The pay is low. Outside of engineering, the jobs suck, and you almost certainly need at least a masters. Academia is filled with tenured has-beens who exert undue influence over everyone.

The richest engineers I known became sales engineers. The ones who worked on problems were never rewarded for the problems they worked on - thus they instead went to selling and made boat loads instead. Who can blame them?

Couldn't agree more. Worked at a traditional eletrical engineering job for 9 years. Went to law school at night and came out (with zero law job experience) making twice what I was making in my engineering job. (Caveat -- EE degree was pre-FAANG).

Good example of a perverse incentive that is built into capitalism. How can we as a society reverse this without resorting to nanny state behaviour?

> In the end, it's hard to ignore the fact that society as a whole is "commanding" us to work at the highest-paying jobs available to us

It's in my opinion more complicated:

My first point is that the metric that you are interested in is not maximum salary, but "salary minus costs of living". The highest paying job does not necessarily maximize this metric.

My second point is that companies that offer worse salaries (or are worse in the sense of the metric of the first point) have to compensate to stay attractive. Be it via better working environment (no open plan or cubicle farm), be it by offering really interesting work, etc. I consider this to be a feature.

Sure. And net comp is even more complicated, and particular to each person. Some will consider access to wide open spaces valuable, others won't really care. And so on.

Even after netting all that out, though, society often "commands" us to work at jobs that seem relatively useless. I suppose you could counter that "seeming useful" is itself a form of compensation. But still, it seems a bit dreary. I don't have any answers.

As far as non-monetary comp offered by companies (e.g., more interesting work), the problem is that it's really hard to tell whether such offers will actually pan out. It's very much luck of the draw whether you will get to do interesting work, or perhaps just end up sitting beside someone who is, while you are tasked with something meaningless. Been there. It's very difficult for companies to be credible on this.

I don't know if teaching needs 'innovation', but we need to incentivize people to go into teaching more, specifically by paying them a whole bunch of money and giving them a secure environment to teach in. I'd drop out of tech immediately if I knew I could have a good salary teaching in a public school.

We also need to start desegregating schools again.

Innovation is not compatible with heavy regulations. The reason why so many people look towards Software is because the Internet and app stores of the world are relatively free to improvise and innovate at, compared to other industries such as Education or Healthcare or even Finance (FinTech is an island of relative freedom in the ocean of financial regulations). If you are given a choice to spend the most productive years of your life either in an industry where results of your work are most likely going to be banned by an unnamed bureaucrat, or in a software shop with a weekly public release process, the preference is obvious. Yes, the impact is smaller, yet it's out there and you know that you made it possible.

Can you list fields that you feel are in dire need of innovation? Genuinely curious.

Teaching. In all the fields, both the popular and unpopular ones.

Epidemiology and Public Health. The capability for disaster response hasn't increased with gains in technology. Clearly, the way technology has increased the dangers of contagious disease has far outstripped the technology driven capacity for containing outbreaks.

Discourse and News Media. Right now, the incentives and technology align in such a way, that Social Media becomes an outrage spreading and viral amplification machine.

(Obligatory link. It's practically my personal religion by now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc )

It turns out the Internet isn't for raising human discourse and encouraging brilliant thought. It's for preventing good thinking by fomenting interfering emotions and replacing actual thought with its doppelganger, ideology. And what's big tech's response to the above? Things which aren't technically censorship, but which insidiously have the same effect. Clearly, something is wrong with this picture.

There are already more people who want to be journalists than there is work. I imagine it's the same situation with funding for public health research. I'd imagine that's the main limiting factor.

There are already more people who want to be journalists than there is work.

That is part of the problem. The tech giants created infrastructure that 1) has enabled a cottage industry of independent journalism and 2) has completely disrupted traditional news business models. Then, the same large companies proceed to ink sweetheart deals with the dying large media companies, while jerking around the small independent journalists. Just as in the music industry, the endless supply of new aspiring media stars, combined with their control of the technology and their lobbying for favorable laws, has gained them carte blanche to say, "my way, or the highway" to the emerging independents. All the above basically sets them up to control most all future societal discourse -- particularly by less than completely transparent means that strangely resemble censorship.

The tech giants control the newest, best conduits for future information and media. Given what we've seen of their stewardship, citizens should indeed be concerned.

Until teaching salaries are as good as what you can get in law or software, it will not happen. Smart people require incentives unless they're dedicated to the cause (and those types are rare).

Biotech! (witness the virus problem that we have known about for a while now, and did pretty much nothing about) Energy generation! Energy storage! Space exploration! New materials!

I feel like so many fields have fallen behind, because of the way incentives are set up. It pays better to be a banker, or a lawyer, developing antibiotics isn't profitable enough, it pays better to work at a company that gathers data about people and pumps advertisements to them. It's rather sad, really.

We could use a lot more high-quality therapists and teachers to reduce the effective price of mental health and a good education.

I watched the "episode" and I believe he was calling for more of the these intelligent, driven young people to be incentivised to pursue careers in engineering, medical research and things that would build a better future for humanity going forward, in the long term. I may be wrong, I had it on as back ground noise while I was working.

How about Silicon Valley related fields? Big tech companies have long claimed there are labor shortages and thus need to bring in overseas workers.

Medical devices, medtech, etc.

Construction, tunneling, automated manufacturing, vaccine creation

If too many smart people went to software engineering, there wouldd be a glut of them, and wages would be depressed. The opposite is observed. Reasonably good engineers are in short supply and can choose which company to join.

Maybe the only area where the (inexperienced and thus enthusiastic) supply exceeds demand is game development.

Its also true for "boring" médical imaging girls versus the "sexy" vidéo games industry

There was an article the other day that quoted someone saying, "the greatest minds of our generation are focused on making people click more ads."

And I think there's a lot of truth to that. If you work at Facebook or Google or other companies, you've been convinced that you're the best of the best. The brightest of our generation. But ultimately all your work leads to selling ads.

That's what's so attractive about Musk. He's a bizarre, often unhealthy mind. But he's dead focused on numerous businesses that have a considerably greater point than boosting ad impressions.

And I think he continues to poorly communicate that frustration: way too little of our high tech industry is focused on true innovation for the betterment of humanity. I wish there were more non-Musks we could cheer for.

My takeaway from his musings is that too many strong minds are funnelled into industries that don't push the envelope in more directions.

I think that is a great point.

And I agree with musk's general point on finance. I did my M.S. in finance, I work (somewhat) in the industry still. It's a ridiculous amount of smart people basically wasting everyone's time to magically make money.

Nothing of any real value is being done.. After these many years I don't find value in people spending SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY into "making more money out of money". That's all it is. We can talk all day about making efficient portfolios and all this bullshit.. Sure there is some value, but 99% of it is utter bullshit that is solely designed to make the rich richer. And not even just the super rich- it is even to keep the upper middle class above the "rest".

/disillusioned person related to finance

I think finance plays a tremendously important support role in creating new wealth. But it's kind of promoted itself to a primary role and you can see that in all the creative ways money is made.

It's ruthless pursuit of efficiency has also caused harm, like yielding brittle supply chains.

> He's a bizarre, often unhealthy mind.

I find him very human, as flawed as the rest of us.

>If you work at Facebook or Google or other companies, you've been convinced that you're the best of the best. The brightest of our generation. But ultimately all your work leads to selling ads.

This may be somewhat true, but on the bright side these companies have made immense contributions to open source software. And that ultimately has a positive impact to humanity on a broad scale.

I don’t believe the contribution of react (alternatives are available) outweighs the undermining of democracy and personal privacy, or the creation of a giant surveillance operation.

I mean, Vue.js seems ok so I think I’ll just have that and not the surveillance state bit thanks

I think a cure for COVID-19 would be 10,000x more valuable than reactjs.

I guarantee you someone is using MapReduce or Tensorflow or Kubernetes to fight COVID-19 right now.

first you're going to have to teach me how to cure covid by writing JavaScript

For a $1B endowment, Mr Musk could fund 20 seed rounds a year — personally.

Mr Musk won’t put 2.5% of his money where his mouth is. If he genuinely thought there was a problem to fix, he’d fund a demonstration of the solution.

The US government already spends $2B a year funding small business innovation across a range of industries. What more can we do?

Elon believes that only problem humanity is facing is how to establish colonies on Mars. He also believes that no one else is going to fund it, so had to acquire tons of money to do it.

I think it’s BS, but those are pretty much his believes.

Well, to be fair to Musk, there's also the whole "switch to renewable energy and transportation, since putting all this CO2 into the atmosphere is a dangerous experiment that must stop, or the future will be terrible."

Somewhat closer to Earth and immediately necessary for civilization's future.

Ads served by Google and Facebook reshaped many business areas. Industries dominated by giant, vertically oriented corporations where 20 years ago, today get constantly disrupted by small enterpreneurs. I've lost count of how many success stories have I heard from people in my closest social circles, that started by baking cupcakes in their kitchen or sewing bags in their living rooms. I have several friends who earn their living by some kind of therapy-like help they advertise on Instagram.

Does all of this really have no value for society?

I'm sick of tech being more scared of a man playing sound effects on CNBC than their thousands of paying customers.

Seems like a comment that was reserved for pre-2010s when medicine, law, and finance were the only ways to make six figures out of school.

Nowadays it seems more and more common that this phrase is "Too many smart people go into working on ad optimization".

Maybe in the US, but in The Netherlands it's high frequency trading.

Flow Traders made 10x because of the novel corona virus. In all fairness that could've turned out very differently. The reason for that: volatility went up, but it could've easily gone down.

> volatility went up, but it could've easily gone down.

I don't see how volatility could have gone down. Maybe explain?

Well, if I understand it correctly (my knowledge is too shallow) this happened with a couple of previous crashes. After the first huge volumes of sales, trading would die down because no one had faith in the economy and the stock market.

Died down trading = low volatility

The great thing about claims like these is you can fact-check them.


Here it appears that volatility went up, up, up for 2008 - then died back down to pre-crash levels with occasional spikes. I don't see volatility going much below what it was before the crash. You can see a similar pattern in 2020.

> After the first huge volumes of sales, trading would die down because no one had faith in the economy and the stock market.

I would honestly be shocked if this was a real thing - if a ton of people stopped trading, it would cause other people to trade on the inefficiencies that creates.

> Nowadays it seems more and more common that this phrase is "Too many smart people go into working on ad optimization".

Maybe. At least of the East Coast elite universities, what Elon is saying here rings true to me.

But ad optimization has led to many other technical innovations in ML and scalability. I don’t think the same can be said about law school.

Disclosure: work on ad tech at Google. Opinion my own.

Sure it can! Law school has lead to many technical innovations in international tax law, responsible for outsized contribution margin to shareholder value that motivates the executives at the multinational FAANG that _you_ work for to invest in further improvements to ad optimization.

Now, whether either the innovations that top tier tax lawyers have built deliver long term value or not is a different question entirely, but the same could be said for technical innovations in ML and scalability. Law, ML, scalability, ad optimization -- none of these things contain intrinsic societal good, although they have the potential to contribute towards it.

I think marketing (all of it, not just ad-technology) should be added to the list of jobs where too much human talent gets spent/wasted.

I have seen honest businesses destroyed when bad actors entered their market, charging 5 times more for the exact same service, easily outbidding the honest businesses on Google adwords and other marketing channels and then use the proceeds to buy positive reviews and pay off the few customers who found out they were ripped off.

All this ad-tech only serves Google/FB and businesses that overcharge customers, at the expense of society.

None of those "innovations" in ML have actually translated to successful real world use cases that aren't basically ads as of yet. And no, talking to Google or Alexa doesn't count. That's just yet another data collection strategy. We still don't have self driving cars, automatic diagnostic systems, automatic wealth planning, or even automatic government planning.

Computer Vision has benefited from the ML work of the big corps, but now it's just being used to more efficiently spy on the population.

That’s a very cynical comment. I recommend you examine the research and open source contributions Google has made to ML that have nothing to do with ads.

Also ad optimization has brought in revenue for a commercial entity (Alphabet) that is willing and eager to pour its resources into amazing and beneficial things that a Law firm or Bank simply would never think to invest in building themselves.

This is patently wrong. Plenty of law firms and banks, once they reach a given amount of surplus capital, open up investment arms that can and do invest in long shots that large multinationals like Alphabet have branded themselves for. Don't conflate the brand Alphabet has regarding investment in innovation for a monopoly on that kind of investment in innovation.

On the other hand, banks aren't building systems to extract more and more private information from individuals. The harm coming from a business like Alphabet significantly outweights the beneficial things they do.

They don’t need to when they can charge you a $50 fee for keeping an account open that costs them virtually nothing to maintain and lending you money at virtually no risk because the Fed can just print more in case they mess up.

> The harm coming from a business like Alphabet significantly outweights the beneficial things they do.

Doubt it. This is first world privileged thinking.

You don't think law is important to society?

My comment isn’t about importance to society, it is about innovation for future contributions to society. I believe that ad tech has fueled more recent and greater potential contributions than law has, and therefore is more meritorious as a field for intelligent people entering their careeers.

Senior year of Mechanical Engineering undergrad, professors would legitimately get upset with students for taking jobs in finance and consulting. They wouldn't hold back, saying quite literally "this is a waste of your education."

Ignore him. Not because finance/consulting is glamorous or high paying (it really isn't on average), but because 1. there's many ways to get value out of an education, 2. your professor won't be there for you when you need the money or want to live in a certain city. In general when people give advice but don't bear the risk, the value of their advice is dubious.

> In general when people give advice but don't bear the risk, the value of their advice is dubious.

If they are a mechanical engineering professor at a good university, they pretty much have borne the risk of their own advice. Most people in upper-level STEM academia could easily get a higher paying job in finance/consulting and have chosen not to.

While I really hate the “those who can’t do, teach” formulation, professors don’t always have the best advice when it comes to career growth, because their career looks so different from that of their students.

I didn't say they had the best advice for career growth, just that they were also making sacrifices to pursue engineering.

Professors also likely know many other people with developed career paths that are different from their own, while a student has no career at all to draw inferences from.

If you're a tenure track professor today in a STEM field today, you're likely incredibly lucky or privileged as well as being smart. Most people don't want to play the odds and that's absolutely fair. Even a career as real world engineer makes little sense compared to one in finance. You're job opportunities are less, you'll likely have to go live in rural places you don't want to, and your risk of losing your job for long stretches is quite high. We don't have as many important public infrastructure projects anymore so real world engineers are in much less demand and many just work on condo buildings or maintaining current systems.

A priori, it's not guaranteed these people would last long enough in corporate to see a higher total life time income. And the professor is not asking OP to be a professor, but to become a corporate mechanical engineer, which is a very different profession.

I think they would likely have more burnout from the academia job than the corporate job. And at least at my school, pretty much any professor that left could immediately get a higher paying job in industry.

You're right it's not "a priori guaranteed," but when talking about empirical realities, what is?

Yeah fair. I guess the original point to OP is: just to live your own life :), and don't feel obligated to live up to anything others set forth for you.

Not last enough in corporate? We're talking about engineers here not NFL players. Why would they have short careers?

Off-shoring and layoffs for two. A successful entrepeneur in his fifties wrote about going back to his MIT 30-year reunion. All the folks who were in law were at the top of their careers. The guys in medicine were looking forward to another 10-15 years of work. The traditional engineers were all out of work or in constant fear of being laid off.

Do you mind sharing the link?

I've seen quite a few professors who did a stint in industry and went back to academia with their tail between their legs.

A professor in a good school is like a small-business owner with a guaranteed income and a supply of free labor. In industry, the money is much better, but you're paying with your dignity and your self-respect.

Those are entirely different concerns. A professor dedicates his career to advance his field of expertise. If you spend 5 years of your time and resources on a student teaching him to be a leading mechanical engineer but in the end after he graduates he decides to pursue a career as a pastry chef, you'd feel you wasted your time with him as well.

Name me a profession where people don’t feel like they wasted their time. Who cares.

People care. That's the point.

Waste of energy

Is it though? The alternative being an exciting career in HVAC, which many MEs find themselves in. Those air conditioners don't install themselves. I've been there and done that, and really I have no regrets moving on from an underpaid, underappreciated field of study.

FWIW much of my class went on to Boeing, SpaceX, GE (wind turbines, not appliances), Shell, NASA, ...

Mechanical engineers also play a large role in power generation

It’s easy to say that when you’re on the side lines, and not making decisions about career growth and net worth. Its also easy to say that when you don’t have student debts.

People go into finance for extremely rational reasons. Getting upset at them for that is folly.

On the contrary, I think social stigma and pressure can definitely influence what careers people go into and the suggestion that most people make decisions as purely rational money-making machines seems somewhat facile.

Haven't there been commentary about finance struggling "more" to find talent more in the decade after '08/ Occupy Wall Street? Now a lot of that talent has gone towards ad-tech probably, which now is itself getting the negative press.

So ya agree with you about the social pressure! Let's keep it up. But we also need to find ways to align our financial incentives with social incentives!

I agree that humans aren’t totally rational in these decisions, but the key point is that the professor is totally ignoring a large amount of what drives people to go into finance: money. It’s much easier to say how someone should use their skills, when you don’t have to live off of the salary those skills bring.

Ah yes, the professor gets to live off of the luxurious salary provided to academics.

Come now, don’t make up my argument. That’s bad style.

Professors aren’t rich, duh. But they’re also neither in the job market, not starting their career off. Their students need to build wealth, worry about long term earnings potential, and pay back the large student debt that they just incurred. Unless if the professor is actively planning on quoting soon, none of these are incentives that the professor are subject to personally, meaning their advice will probably underweight them.

I agree that this is a flaw with advice from elders and one that one should keep in mind. I disagree that this is a unique flaw of advice from professors and more just a flaw with advice?

Those who have more experience are going to be more distanced from your exact circumstances, as a function of having more experience. Advice can be useful nonetheless.

Those professors are narrow minded. There's no such thing as a wasted education unless you do something like commit suicide or get yourself thrown in solitary confinement for life.

Legal academic Paul Campos's book Don't Go To Law School (Unless) agrees with the "too many people go into law" point: https://jakeseliger.com/2012/11/11/dont-go-to-law-school-unl.... But the number of people taking the LSAT has fallen by half since the Great Recession, at least last time I saw the data; it might have grown again since. But these days, most generically smart people who don't know what to do with their lives are probably better off doing a CS degree or coding boot camp than law school.

And my impression is that most of them do

law has a serious conflict of interest: it's a profession that gains by fostering and even fomenting disagreement.

reducing it's stature and influence might lead to a more harmonious society.

That’s quite the simplification of the practice of law isn’t it?

no, it's not reductive of the whole field, just describing an inescapable aspect of it: to make arguments.

I don't think we should spend too much time taking Musk seriously. There are interesting discussions to be had about exponential returns and the structuring of society in a way that rewards producing things, but that's not relevant. This is just some guy trying to justify himself.

>Making a car is an honest day’s living, that’s for sure

Yes, and I'm sure the class of people who work in car factories and have seen their wealth drop further and further and further over the last 30 years really appreciate how honest their living is.

I agree, it gets old.

But I do think his point needs to be taken. We don't value engineering/science/solving hard problems enough in the US.

Tangential, but I think the underlying issue is that too many people (smart or not) are herded into careers they don't want, simply so they can earn enough money to have the lifestyle they want. There are very few careers in America today that will enable a "middle class" (whatever that means nowadays) lifestyle. A nice car, a vacation every once in a while, a house to call your own, etc. "Smart" people often make the decision to obtain financial success via whatever means necessary, because being poor in America is decreasingly dignified and increasingly dangerous. And there is no "middle" option. I have no proposed solutions, just some bleak observations.

I am not saying that I am smart. But I will say that I regret having gone into law.

Regret is too strong of a word. I don't regret it. Law is fun and you can make a lot of money. Who doesn't like that? But, I had been dissuaded from getting a CS degree at university. It was partly because my dad was a SWE for one of the big ones when I was young, and I was a rebellious kid who could be swayed away from something I loved in part by not wanting to be like him. And, like I said, law was a field where I could make a lot of money. Back then, I didn't realize that I could have done CS without being like him.

Rather, I regret it because I could have spent these years doing something that I loved.

Anyway, I am rectifying that now by doing a masters in cognitive science with a goal of researching human curiosity and building curious machines. In other words, I am trying to rectify the error I made the first time around where I went into something for reasons other than because I really wanted to.

I would also note that way way way too many not-smart people go into law and finance, as well. But I'm not sure there is much you can do about that.

There is a broader underlying thing going on here: Japan has removed all humanities at their universities.

There are only 4 interesting fundamental categories of knowledge: Math, Physics, Chemistry and Biology; everything else is made up by man from nothing and it will return to nothing after all surplus energy (that gave humans the possibility to dream up all that crap in the first place) is consumed!

Hang on to your knowledge of nature people; because this society is going Kansas.

>> Hang on to your knowledge of nature people; because this society is going kansas.

To make predictions about society dont you need an understanding of... I dunno. Sociology, Psychology, Politics, Finance, or maybe History?

I dont remember societal forecasting in my STEM classes.

Not meant as a roast, just a mild reminder that the dominant force on earth is people.

Finance? WTF? I'm guessing you had one of those "what's the word, uh . . . not finance, but that'll do" moments. We all have those. Just to ensure we're all clear here, though:

Finance is about navigating the particular niceties of dealing with money as a professional, and maybe a little bit of trend-misprediction for the sake of occasionally getting to be a "rainmaker" for some employer. I think you mean economics, which is about the movements of economic agents and of whole economies.

Economics is a "social" science (ignoring for the moment the fact that some economists aren't very scientific), and finance is a (highly lucrative) job field.

I don't think that social scientists have a particular strong track record with forward predictions and it is impossible to distinguish those who do from those who don't.

. . . and yet, if you wanted to improve your ability to make such predictions about society, social sciences would be a better bet than chemistry. Prediction, absent supernatural aid, requires understanding.

> Hang on to your knowledge of nature people; because this society is going Kansas.

I don't understand. Hasn't Kansas generally turned away from science and toward religion?

I believe OP was trying to riff off the famous line from the Wizard of Oz, but muddled the delivery. Perhaps he put too much focus on STEM in his education.

That's an interesting interpretations.

I was under the impression the Kansas reference was basically an insult both to the direction of society and Kansas, but then I wasn't sure how that fit in with the claims about what sciences are useful or "real". Yours might make more sense.

Then again, I'm not sure sense is what was being made, there, anyway.

> I was under the impression the Kansas reference was basically an insult both to the direction of society and Kansas...

Okay, that makes perfect sense. Thank you.

I think you have a misunderstanding of what mathematics is. Mathematics is the field that is as removed from reality as possible.

Here’s an idea: don’t project your values or idea of worth on what other people choose to do with their life. You’re not as righteous as you may think you are, I guarantee it.

> don’t project your values or idea of worth on what other people choose to do with their life.

Unless you're a moral relativist, why shouldn't I do this? I find this entire attitude baffling.

If you went around assassinating people to make a living, I think I would be fine in saying that you're an asshole, no?

Here’s an idea: don’t project your values or idea of worth on what other people choose to do with their life. You’re not as righteous as you may think you are, I guarantee it.

That's pure gold! I'm putting that one in my notes!

But to play devil's advocate: Well, if you go empirical on this, then what the heck else is the Internet for, aside from porn!?

Not sure if it's intentional, but that's an interesting twist to "this statement is false".

Are people actually reading this at face value in a non ironic way...?

Tesla is Tesla because of an army of lawyers and financial engineering.

What the hell are you talking about? Tesla is Tesla because of their incredible engineering talent. The rest they do to amplify their car building efforts. If you offered Elon 100 incredible engineers/lawyers/financiers, he'll take the engineers every time.

How many car startups that achieve wide distribution has America had in the past 100 years?

What's special about their engineering?

You can easily point to ford and Toyota's major innovations that changed not only the car industry, but manufacturing on the whole.

The Prius also stands out as the big success on moving drivers off of fossil fuels. What's Tesla got?

At a surface view, I'd say their engineering is worse than their competitors. Poorly engineered products and manufacturing processes make for slow production -- a problem that Tesla is pretty famous for o think?

My understanding is that they design overly complex parts and use overly complex mechanisms to build their cars.

Elon’s 2 most important people at Tesla is his CFO and General Counsel. If you think otherwise pay closer attention to his earnings calls.

Why focus on earning calls and not, says, meetings with Chinese partners for his Shanghai Gigafactory? CFO and legal counsels, or similar roles, are pretty much always present in calls with investors for any public companies.

Also, what makes Tesla being Tesla is something invented centuries ago. The battery.

That is really quite crazy that a legally required event to discuss finances would prominently feature Tesla legal & finance. I think you might be onto something.

K I think you've spammed this thread enough. People know your opinion (which is obviously very biased) and don't need you to keep repeating what you think of Elon Musk at this point.

Elon’s actions are very good example why people go into those professions. He’s doing very high quality finance engineering at his companies and is constantly causing legal troubles. That ensures big demand for those professions.

Finance, when done right, is just the art of efficient capital allocation. Producing the right thing is also important.

Most of finance that I can see seems to consist of investment firms hiring lots of people with good credentials so that they can convince clients that the efficient market hypothesis actually doesn't apply to their firm, then making off with the profits.

There's a reason only market makers are the ones prop trading any more.

Luckily most people are starting to see the light of index investing. Good times for these investment firms are coming to an end.

Too many people listen to Elon Musk.

You could easily say too many people go into tech to do ads as well.

And too many engineers go into the defense industry.

The defense industry is why the internet exists.

You could argue both Tesla and SpaceX orient their goals around human survival and defense. One for slowing down climate change, the other for interplanetary colonization.

Fear motivates society into funding engineering projects and taking action.

> The defense industry is why the internet exists.

The defense industry throws money at anything that seems to suit its needs. Thus, claiming that without the defense industry we would never have the Internet is not clear to me.

I am familiar with disproving negatives, but I don't find it to be a compelling claim that the scientists involved would never have developed the Internet.

For example, was the mother of all demos exclusively the result of actions from the DoD? The innovative scientists and engineers at Xerox PARC? Many of the people involved in these things likely already theorized on how to build this sort of stuff, and sought out the easiest route.

But the DoD comes with substantial amounts of other costs. For example, the Vietnam war is largely understood to have been initiated by people within the DoD complex and not the actions of foreign governments. During the war, the DoD cronies forced soldiers to use a defective assault rifle that would leave entire platoons with nothing but grenades and handguns to get slaughtered. Agent Orange killed and continues to kill an incredible number of civilians in Vietnam.

On balance, the DoD leads to horrific amounts of death and destruction using engineers who may otherwise create things that would make people's lives better. Further, significant innovations such as the Internet would most likely still have been developed, just by some private entity or group of entities where the scientist and engineers would have gone to work.

There is a cultural piece to this as well. For example in many Asian countries (particularly in Hong Kong), engineers are often confused with technicians or construction workers, which are generally not valued by the society. This perception has an impact to future generation when picking career choice.

Basically, anyone can call him/herself an engineer and they generally don’t have any engineering knowledge, training, or ethics. It’s unfortunate how devalued the engineer title has become.

Perfect timing. Elon just tweeted: “ Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!”


It might not be the choice that will change the world for the better, but it is most certainly a pragmatic one.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in South Africa (where I’m from) these two fields account for roughly 30% of all of our dollar millionaires. I’m sure it’s the same/similar in the developed world.

Btw, Elon Musk's entire podcast with Joe Rogan (the recent one from which this came) is an interesting listen - https://youtu.be/RcYjXbSJBN8 especially the parts where he talks about Neuralink, Mind Virus..

IDK how to respond to that. It's an industry that pays better.

In my career as a software dev, my options have fallen into three categories:

- Projects interesting and challenging enough to devote time to, but subpar pay.

- Good pay but absolutely boring, career ending, mind numbing work.

- Go to Fintech, work hard, get to work on interesting things, get paid well.

At least as far as finance in software is concerned, the smart people go into it because it's one of the few fields where there's a better chance that there are interesting problems to be solved. Finance is the only industry I've worked in that paid more than lip service to scaling and high availability.

Admittedly, at least part of this is because of my location in the USA, and C# as my language of choice.

I posted about this the other day in the Finnish thread - of course they are, there's probably a 300% salary difference between a banker with 6 yoe and a social welfare worker with 12+ yoe. You don't have fields attracting people for purely financial incentives when the salary difference between these two is more like 10-20% for a seasoned professional. It's an entire systematic issue which has compounding effects, but when you mix in global instability, food security, etc. would you rather play ball here or expatriate and take a risk with the educational and career opportunities your children have somewhere else.

Too many smart people go into physics and math and try to build rockets rather than solve any of our actual problems as a species. Because logic puzzles are more fun.

That's definitely true in London for example. In software a job in a bank pays ~30% more. Fang companies pay on par or more in some cases but they have higher entry criteria. So if you want to buy a house, have a family, finance is a safe route.

I work in an investment bank in IT and have colleagues from top universities doing boring jobs, at least in my view.

> Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.


> ‘Too many smart people go into finance and law’

This is overly simplistic black and white thinking.

Jane Street has probably done more to popularize functional programming then any shop out there.

Even people who make stuff need effective legal counsel. Even if all they make is memes that get them sued for libel.

There used to be this thing said about China vs. the US: That the leadership of elites in China were mostly from Engineering backgrounds, while those in the US went to Law School. The idea is that STEM people are better grounded in the epistemological reality of an external objective universe that doesn't care about your texts, your desires, or your ideology.

My Chinese wife tells me this had reversed itself somewhat under Xi Jinping. (Re: Geeks, MOPS, and Sociopaths?) That regime's performance in the current pandemic crisis would seem to support this, though that government's record has been spotty to poor on the epistemology vs. ideology front for awhile.

The problem with spending so much of one's time wrangling texts which are somewhat abstracted away from reality, is that one can lose touch with the epistemological grounding of reality. One might even start to believe they can start to rewrite reality through strong conviction.

Before all you fellow programmers out there start feeling smug, think about this: As a programmer, one is primarily a wrangler of a particular kind of text. Ever wonder about why so many conflicts in the programming "field" ("" are a reference to Alan Kay) have the tenor of medieval sectarian religious squabbles?

This may still be the case, but it’s definitely less true than it was in, say, 2005. Today’s closest equivalent IMO is ad/surveillance tech. Maybe management consulting too, though I don’t know what share of management consultants are actually smart.

Management consulting and finance are still huge on the east coast.

Among the group of smart people Musk is referring to, though? My impression is that there was a time when a plurality of, say, new physics PhDs were getting snapped up by quantitative trading firms, and that nowadays they're going into adtech ML roles instead.

Eh - I think a lot of Physics PhDs still become quants, I say this having majored in physics at one of these east coast universities.

Management consulting a little less so from PhD but definitely from undergrad.

Why are we posting this guy? It seems like he's always just trying to make it into headlines. "AI will kill us when its made in 3 years when we get into mars" sure dude! Good luck on getting into twitter trends again, Elon.

I will never understand people why work in law. You have to be smart, yes. It is good paid, yes. But I see really no fun in that kind of work. If you are creative in this work, you are just pain in the ass, who is looking for loopholes.

I really don't think the life of the average working lawyer is like this, but analyzing legal arguments can be really fascinating. If you like logic puzzles, you're sure to like legal opinions. I had a bit of exposure to this as an undergrad, and it was one of my favorite subjects. It actually made me consider becoming a lawyer.

The first thing Musk did after arriving to Canada as a 17 year-old was call up senior bankers until he secured an internship at one of their banks.

He then got into online payments (X.com, PayPal) and the sale of his shares allowed him to start SpaceX and buy Tesla.

So don't listen to what billionaires say and just look at what they do if you don't want to get deceived by them.

I don't think Musk is saying "as a smart person it is in your self interest to not go into finance or law", rather I interpret the statement as "as a society we incentive too many smart people to go into finance and law".

I don’t think as many “smart people” go to law school any more. Pretty sure law school enrollment has been on the decline for awhile.

Harvard, Yale, Stanford, etc. aren't seeing a drop in the quality of applicants. I get the impression there's a very elite group that Musk would consider "smart" - and they have no issues getting into a T-14 law school.

So what? That’s not “too many” - the collective enrollment per class of those 3 schools is like 1000 students.

There are fourteen T-14 schools, not just three.

Still don’t see your point. We need some lawyers. We don’t need millions. If the only law schools that existed were the T-14 where aggregate enrollment is like 4000 a year then that’s hardly “too many”

If all the lawyers in the world lost 10 IQ points, which were redistributed to the non-lawyers, who would lose out?

I argue that law is an adversarial profession - what matters is if you are smarter than the lawyer in the other side of the courtroom. If everyone was less good, outcomes would be much the same, and we as a society could redistribute those smart people to engineering problems where those IQ points will make the difference between inventing something useful or not.

As an attorney who has seen what actually happens in the courtroom, I can tell you that the smartest lawyer does not always win the case, and that judges will often go out of their way to help lawyers who look like they’re tangled up. Being on the right side of the law often helps more.

That doesn't quite answer his question though, the issue here is that quality of lawyer can be counterproductive towards finding the "correct" decision.

It's an effect on the outcome that's orthogonal to the actual facts of the case itself. Unless the guy with a public defender has as much of a chance as the guy with a legal team with a million dollar budget. I'm a little doubtful that that's the case right now.

Objective correctness is impossible to reach in a legal setting because it requires the fact finder to have unfettered access to all the facts, and for the law to be so strict that it cannot possibly be subject to interpretation. In the absence of these things, the adversarial system is the best system we know to approach the correct answer. Consequently, there is some error that we have to accept if we can't think of a better approach.

I'm not sure that the trials of either a wealthy defendant with deep pockets or an indigent defendant with a public defender significantly affect whether the finder of fact can obtain objective Truth with a capital T. The outcomes may indeed be different, but I also think it's orthogonal to the truth as well. They're more the result of the amount of resources you're willing or able to throw at a problem to make it go away.

I suppose that depends on where you live. In Canada, at least, law programs continue to have very competitive entry requirements and the market for lawyers is rather saturated meaning salaries are relatively low for post-graduate professions.

> rather saturated meaning salaries are relatively low for post-graduate professions.

Not a contradiction. This is exactly why the proportion of very smart people going into law is decreasing.

I don’t know if it’s on the decline, but I do know that a whole lot of people graduate college and have a “now what? Law school.” Moment

Maybe 15 years ago. Not today.

You’re wrong. There was a big drop in 2010-2012, but then it started rising again.

Can’t find it for the us, but you can see it rose consistently in ontario: https://www.ouac.on.ca/statistics/olsas-application-statisti...

I’m not talking about Canada

I live in the US and I've seen this anecdotally too. If you're moderately smart, didn't do much in your early career[0], and aren't technical, law school is one of the things people grasp for to level up into a real career.

[0] or took a shot at a career that didn't go anywhere, like in Hollywood or politics or any other industry built on an underclass of lied-to 21 year olds

It’s less common now than 10-20 years ago is what I’m saying. Law school enrollment is down. Graduates have more options like non-technical roles in large tech companies. Students are fed up with debt and law school is notoriously expensive and gets more so every year.

I mean you can look and enrollment figures and law school closures over last few years. This isn’t just a “hunch”.

The whole “I don’t know what to do with my life so I’ll apply to law school” is like a meme from 2004.

Sure yea, no doubt that it's declined. But the parent comment that you disagreed specifically agreed with it declining, and your response was that this isn't much of a phenomenon anymore (not that it had declined).

Here is a graph of law school enrollment. I think it increased a small amount after 2015.


hope so - as US legal tradition is pretty much a negative-sum-game

...and they get trapped there! That’s the issue. But then again, if that’s the case are they really so smart?

They presumably wouldn't agree with your definition of "trapped". To reiterate the GP comment, the claim is that going into finance or law is individually rational for many smart people, but globally suboptimal at the levels we currently incentivize it.

That's a harsh simplification. There can be other reasons.

I agree I think it's commentary that other industries should value them as much as finance and law.

That's a bit of an odd (knee-jerk?) challenge.

1. It's possible that a 48-year-old might have a different perspective, and potentially more wisdom, than his 17-year-old self did? I'm sure many people would make different choices in hindsight, if they could go back to being 15-17 yrs old.

2. It depends what you're trying to optimise for. Even if you are trying to plot a path to being a billionaire, following Elon Musk's path just won't work - huge numbers of other factors and luck involved. But...

3. ...I don't think he was only talking about optimising for personal financial success. It's clear from other comments in the video (on Warren Buffett, for example) that Musk doesn't see the field of investing (to put it broadly - essentially making money by shifting money around better than other people) as an especially worthy pursuit. I interpret this as Musk (rightly or wrongly) seeing his companies (which innovate, and create new products which mostly being some sort of benefit to the world) as morally superior to (in this case) law and investment banking. Indeed, if we were to try to optimise for some sort of worthier goal, it's reasonable that you'd want the best and smartest in the industries where they would have the greatest net benefit for the world.

I dunno man, the wisdom of a 48 year old that names his seventh child 'X Æ A-12' may not be the best wisdom to follow.

It sounded more like his much younger partner wanted the name. It wasn't his idea originally. It's not a good idea to piss off a new mother.

It sounded more like his much younger partner wanted the name. It wasn't his idea originally

Is that "name" legitimately on the birth certificate or is he just memeing?

Likely it's real, but we'll see. Still, that is ... well ... a bit unusual.


I'm the same age as Musk so I can offer some perspective.

Musk's first love is/was physics and he intended to work on electric cars at the get-go. However, at the time (and as I can attest to) the Internet was JUST starting to boom - like a gold rush. There were millions of problems to solve and businesses to start. At the time we was at Stanford and there, more than any other place, this fact was the most obvious. He knew he could / should capitalize on the current opportunity -- and he did.

After he cashed out with PayPal, instead of doing the easy path of doing another Internet startup, he returned to his priorities. He's been trying to create the environment in his orgs, and the rest of the valley, for workers and investors to pursue the same type of opportunities / risks.

So took a low end job - internship. Learned about banking and money. Then built a payment system that was better than the available alternatives of the time. Then he took the money he earned from building better mousetrap and bought / founded two other companies that are killing it by making things better than anyone before them. And now starlink.

He's doing exactly what he says, and the world is rewarding him for making better stuff every day.

His words and actions are in complete agreement.


Mostly I think it's just he started dating Grimes and doing a bunch of drugs

There’s a post by Paul Graham about haters. It says that haters are just the type of a fan in reverse.

It doesn’t mean that being a fan is any better than being a hater.

Fans are the ones who become an army of lobbyists for someone who is flawed and will never change thanks to this army of yes-(wo)men.

Hrm, it does seem like all of his trouble has happened on Twitter and during this relationship.

>bought / founded two other companies that are killing it by making things better than anyone before them. And now starlink.

Don't forget that he's curing autism, blindness and paralysis, and will eliminate the need for humans to talk within 5-10 years with Neuralink!

I think that's precisely his point though. It's a waste to society to have someone like Musk working in finance where he would largely be working on financial gain for a small number of individuals. It would be much better for society if our smartest individuals were working on real productivity gains and value creation.

The problem is that a lot of the money is in things like finance and advertising. We could absolutely restructure our economy so that wasn't the case.

Musk makes a lot of grandiose statements, but he's spot on with this one.

> Musk makes a lot of grandiose statements, but he's spot on with this one.

But so what? A lot of people believe that. What I have never heard is a realistic plan for restructuring the economy that makes things like finance and advertising less lucrative.

Technology naturally leads to a "winner take all (or most)" economic system. When it's so easy to switch to competitors, platforms that are even a tiny amount better than their competitors can take all the mindshare of an industry.

In that environment of extreme economic concentration, fields like finance and advertising (which is really controlling marketplaces) will always be extremely lucrative. Haven't heard any good proposals on how to change that.


1. I would like to see strong progressive taxation that explicitly taxes concentration of wealth. This would be aimed at all large companies and wealthy individuals, and ultimately based on which actual human persons have legal control of the company such that it can't be gamed by creating shell companies, etc.

2. On top of this, I don't see why we can't explicitly put tariffs on things like financial or advertising transactions. Somewhat similar to a Carbon Tax, it would correct for costs to society caused by the activity. I'd be particularly keen on seeing measures that make it extremely expensive to do short-term trading, forcing investors to take a much more long-term view.

Only through action and example will this start to happen. Before Musk kicked the car and rocket industry both in the nuts, there were hardly any startups in both sectors. Now, there are many in both.

As he's showing, it won't be easy. EVERYONE will try to kill the earnest attempts. For all of Musk's faults, he is trying to show there is another way and how to get there.

But again, so what? I mean, on one hand I totally agree with you. But on the other it doesn't change the fact that, societally, the risk-reward profile of things like finance and advertising are much better than other "bigger" pursuits.

I mean, as many others have pointed out, Musk had to get rich first in the finance world before he could get enough F.U. money to indulge his real passions.

> the risk-reward profile of things like finance and advertising are much better than other "bigger" pursuits.

That's precisely the problem that I (and Musk it seems) are pointing out. These activities shouldn't have better reward profiles.

But it's obviously not a waste, because many people who end up doing actually-valuable things initially go that path.

If I could hit the reset button and do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would 1. get into the most prestigious undergrad school (Ivy if possible) that I could, rather than just lazily apply for one state school and go to it, 2. Still majored in some kind of computer engineering track, 3. immediately go into finance after school and pump money doing the standard two-to-three-year grind as an analyst, 4. get into the most prestigious MBA school I possibly could, 5. pump money doing the standard grind as an associate, then 6. basically do anything I want as a 30 year old with the millions I've saved.

The nice properties of this career path are:

- It doesn't take any outlier talent, just learn excel and do grunt work.

- It minimizes the need for luck (as opposed to starting a business or interviewing at Google). I would argue the risk adjusted expected value of this path is higher than other careers like starting a business where you need to multiply by a low probability of success.

- The contacts/network you make doing 1, 3, 4, and 5 mean you will always have easy access to capital, a huge advantage for someone who wants to do that "actually-valuable" thing. As opposed to some rando dude who was "3rd engineer from the left" at Amazon wanting to quit and start his own business, who will have to pitch and pitch and pitch to get a single investor to listen to him.

It would be nice if society was set up such that there were more "work hard" paths to financial security as opposed to risky paths, but we collectively can't shake this risk-reward caveman mentality, so people go into law or finance.

You say it's not obviously not a waste, then you list 5 steps that are essentially time-consuming hoops that you have to jump through before doing the value-generating activity. How are those things not a waste?

> It would be nice if society was set up such that there were more "work hard" paths to financial security as opposed to risky paths, but we collectively can't shake this risk-reward caveman mentality, so people go into law or finance.

This is precisely my point. If we set things up so that finance and MBAs weren't the things that lead to financial security then things would be much more efficient. Because people would be rewarded for the things that are creating value, rather than having to make choice between creating value and earning more money.

I think we're agreeing. By "not a waste" I mean in the sense of baking a cake: the time spent mixing eggs and sugar and waiting for the oven is not a waste. Going to work for Wall Street in order to build up capital is like preparing the ingredients.

> The problem is that a lot of the money is in things like finance and advertising. We could absolutely restructure our economy so that wasn't the case.


>It's a waste to society to have someone like Musk working in finance where he would largely be working on financial gain for a small number of individuals.

Where on earth does this narrative come from that Musk isn't working for financial gain?

The guy rammed a pay package beyond anything the world has ever seen past a weak board, and just took his first payment, $700MM+ in equity, which is far beyond what the company has ever earned in GAAP profits in its entire existence.

If he doesn't care about money, how do you explain that?

I'm not saying that he isn't motivated by his individual financial gain. I'm saying that the output of his work isn't for peoples' financial gain. He makes cars, not financial instruments. And cars, unlike financial instruments actually provide value to society.

I'm not saying that people don't care about money. I'm agreeing that they do. And thus that it is important that as a society we distribute our money to enterprises that are actually doing useful work. Precisely so that people who are money-motivated (which is basically everyone to a greater or lesser degree) will choose to work for these enterprises.

He is working for financial gain, but as a means to get to the end of his goals:

1) Going to mars. 2) Sustainable energy / transport

The company has to continue to exist and do well for the equity to be worth anything.

You mean he built a startup to make online payments easier.

He didn't just graduate and get into finance.

In reality, he graduated in physics.

I never heard that "banker" story before, but a month long internship is hardly a career.

He went on getting physics scholarships for UPenn and then Stanford.

100% agree with you. See where he initially put his skin in the game and took his initial risks, and don't pay too much attention to what he's saying beyond it being his own brand of infotainment. Surprised by a lot of the replies to this that try to make it out like building a fintech company or going into online payments is not finance.

Of course it's finance, and a great way to tell is to ask the question does a big bank offer this service, albeit in a product I may not personally use? The answer is yes.

At the time, this ventures were not "another" online payment venture. This class of startups were the first, period.

As I have stated in my other replies, at the time there was an opportunity like no other. Musk put his goals on hold to capitalize... then he returned to his priorities.

I'll say this, if other 'smart people' did this... made a truck load of $$$ off of their finance gigs and then did stuff like build EVs, rocket or whatever. That would be something. That's not the normal path at all, however.

You left out that he double majored in economics and physics in Pennsylvania after he was in Canada, started and quit a PhD in material sciences at Stanford, sold zip2 to Compaq for $340 million and only then started a finance company.

Another lesson: to do cool stuff you need money to burn. Even if this cool stuff can be profitable eventually it will take years and years to get there. So the first thing any innovator should do is be purely mercenary.

If I had my life to do over I would focus on money and money alone first and defer heavy study into science or engineering or tackling actual hard problems. I did it backwards and so I made everything 10X harder on myself.

Part of the problem is that I was naive and thought the social structures and economic systems that drove this kind of progress in the past (a supportive university system with an academic career path, intelligently allocated science funding, a generally workable middle class economy that you could fall back on) still existed. They don't. We dismantled all that stuff starting in the 1970s because we didn't understand what we had built or why it worked.

I took a similar trajectory and I couldn't agree more. In many ways, I really regret the time I invested into startups tackling actual hard problems. You are correct that the support systems do not exist, and so I wish I had worked at a bigcorp much earlier in my career than now. While I'm thinking I'm there now, I could have drastically accelerated my overall career progress if I had done things in the opposite order.

Reminds me of D.E. Shaw. Became a billionaire hedge fund manager but now does research in computational biochemistry.


Yitang Zhang didn't need money to burn. Neither did Linus Torvalds.

Linus did most of his initial work in a country with a healthy middle class and a strong social safety net. Not sure about Zhang's situation but one thing I do see after looking him up is that he hit a home run pretty early and got a clear path toward a real academic career. That's nice if you can pull it off but it's not something I would advise a young person to bet on.

Both of these people also did their work in low capital cost areas with fast revision cycles: CS/software and math. Those are areas where individual scale bootstrapping is actually a possibility. There are no garage spaceships, automobile plants, novel surgical procedures (I hope), or nuclear reactors (excepting that wacko who tried to make one from material from hundreds of smoke detectors and turned his yard into a superfund site).

In America you must support yourself and pay for college (unless you go 100% autodidact, which is very hard in its own way). That relegates any additional work to moonlighting, which is very sub-optimal for concentration and is only possible in a few fields anyway. As you get older you may want to start a family, which eliminates most moonlighting time and demands even higher income for support and long term savings.

So the only way to do it in America is to (a) earn a ton of money early and achieve financial independence and then do your innovative work, or (b) take a vow of poverty and celibacy and live like a monk. I guess there's also (c) which is to find a benefactor or find some way to make your work viable as an angel/VC investment, but the former is extremely rare and the latter is only workable in a few fields that have low barriers to entry (like software) and a fairly rapid time from prototype to potential market. For "atoms" rather than "bits" type stuff the initial investment and time horizon are too big for angel/VC and there are very few benefactors/patrons with pockets that deep.

> There are no garage spaceships, automobile plants, novel surgical procedures (I hope), or nuclear reactors (excepting that wacko who tried to make one from material from hundreds of smoke detectors and turned his yard into a superfund site).

The thing is, when I realized this, these things stopped being cool.

I think there was a lot of hope a long time ago that future technological progress was going to be a lot more open to individuals than it actually is now.

Very much this! Depends what one considers "cool" I guess. If sending cars to the orbit is "cool", one might need a lot of money indeed.

In my guesstimate, there aren't many people alive who have contributed more to humanity's technological progress than Linus.

>"we dismantled all that stuff"

Not intentionally though. Globalization has led to most of it.

Manufacturing leaving for cheaper climes hollowed out the middle class, made unions impotent, etc.

Hypercompetition has forced companies to be ruthless.

In academia, administrators have taken absolute power for themselves and now enrich themselves at the expense of education and research.

It's quite a mess we've stumbled into.

That's part of something larger I've heard best described as market fundamentalism: the belief that markets and markets alone can take over and handle all aspects and functions of society.

Globalism was implemented in a market fundamentalist way. No special attention was paid to rights, fairness of trade, etc. because it was assumed that trade and markets and then (magic happens here) and then everything is great and liberal democracy spreads everywhere.

What really happened was corporations and international finance going trans-national and exempting itself from the rule of law and then leveraging foreign totalitarian or lawless regimes to break workers power at the wage negotiating table.

The real long term winners were totalitarians and would be totalitarians though, not the corporations or finance. Capitalists selling nooses and rope, as Marx quipped.

Pretty sure unions were nuked by Reagan and Thatcher before globalization and outsourcing were even a thing.

As a society, the boomers made a choice in the late '70s / early '80s: egoism should be rewarded and money is the measure of all things. Everything else was a consequence.

You are both right. Labor was crushed by multiple forces.

This doesn't negate his point. The criticism is that too many people are going into "industries" that do not create any wealth. The fact that he also got well paid in finance demonstrates that the current system rewards finance.



Correlation/causation yeah, but you can't have more people doing nothing of value and more middle class.

so you're saying he had first have experience in the area before leaving it therefore his comments on the arena are invalid?

Careful. You’re getting awfully close to having a nuanced opinion here.

He also quit in frustration after they wouldn’t listen to his pitch about an arbitrage opportunity

That quote from the article is also somewhat contradictory.

> The CEO also addressed his recent vow on Twitter to sell the majority of his physical possessions, which he said weigh him down. “I have a bunch of houses, but I don’t spend a lot of time in most of them. That doesn’t seem like a good use of assets. Somebody could probably be enjoying those houses and get better use of them than me.”

I interpret it as encouraging finance over ownership. It is a sensible, if debatable position. Instead of owning things you don't use, it is smarter to invest your money in more productive ways. Which is a roundabout way of saying "if you are smart, go into finance".

Otherwise, I know a whole lot of very smart people who aren't into finance. It is just that no one talk about them because they are not rich. They probably could have been rich if they wanted to, and had a bit of luck, but instead they have chosen to use their intelligence to do what they like.

Being able to do what you enjoy and making enough money to live decently and maintaining a good work/life balance is a huge privilege. Doing that when the thing you enjoy doing is an already saturated market or something that is hardly marketable is even more so, and it may be considered as desirable as being a billionaire.

it's not contradictory: learn finance (and how to wield it), don't make it your profession.

statistics, economics, finance, and accounting should be required courses in high school so that we have a more financially literate populace.

You are being extraordinarily silly if you think what musk did there is the same as "going into finance."

I think you're ignoring reality if you think that online payments is somehow not finance. That he built companies that successfully competed with big banks on their own turf doesn't preclude the fact that he built on their turf.

> online payments is somehow not finance

When I think of the finance careers that many of my peers are going in to, I do not think of the online payment ecosystem or fintech writ large.

If you don't see a mass exodus of traditional finance industry refugees into FinTech, you're not looking closely enough. Having worked at multiple growth stage FinTech companies (some in the online payment space), they have always been some of our most fruitful recruiting grounds.

Yeah, redistribute those smart minds to do algo optimization for behaviour addiction and advertising click algos. That’s ll we needed. For whoever doesn’t get it, I am being sarcastic. It would be ideal if people followed their passions and interrests without the need to excell in Ivy Leagues.

Wikipedia has he moved to Canada June 1989 and Musk entered Queen's University in 1989. So the banking must have been brief. He then studied physics, worked in tech and made his first money in Zip2, "a web software company".

Perhaps by finance, he means investment banking and trading, rather than fintech products like payment solutions. The first arguably doesn’t involve value creation (it’s often a zero sum game) while the latter provides convenience and value to consumers.

The financial industry is completely different now than it was 20+ years ago.

I understand your point, and I wouldn't just blindly take this advice, but I'm not sure this is the right comparison.

That's a shallow take.

He didn't mean don't explore multiple fields when you're a teenager.

He was already specialized as a coder and went on to build startups, as engineer. I don't really see your point.

Yeh you are agreeing with him, it sucks that he had to spend 15 years in finance so that he could eventually build things like Tesla and SpaceX. That is the reality of our world though.

Do you have a source?

Because in Canada, he went to school and university, studying physics, and then got a scholarship for a master's at UPenn, and later for a PhD in Stanford. All was in physics.

It’s in his biography.

So how does a few weeks in banking compare to several decades in physics, battery tech, software development, rocket engineering? Why are a couple of weeks decades ago so important to you?

Yes, we all should be judged at 47 by how consistent we are with our 17 year old selves.

Why are you generalizing from Musk to "billionaires"? How is that relevant?

Why wouldn't you generalize from Musk to billionaires? The amount of agency and power that billionaires hold is not shared by anyone outside of that socioeconomic class. There is a whole category of things that can be done and lifestyles that simply do not exist for those who are extremely wealthy but have, say, 1/10th of that level of wealth.

Agreed, but the fact that Musk is a billionaire has nothing to do with him giving out hypocritical advice. It's a non-sequitor.

Now in general human beings love giving out hypocritical advice so him being a human is far more relevant than his being a billionaire, at least if our goal here is to talk about his advice and not just use this opportunity to bash billionaires.

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