Weekend reading: You say you want your freedom

What caught my eye this week.

I read an interesting article this week about a former US politician who now lives in France.

The gist is that having failed to transform US society to his more liberal tastes – we’d say socialist in the UK – the former Democrat Jim McDermott chose to move to France instead:

Today McDermott calls himself an immigrant. He lives alone. He barely speaks French. But he’s a big fan of the French motto ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité,’ and says that communal spirit is evident both in his everyday interactions with his neighbors and how the French government treats its people.

When he arrived in France, he needed to fill a few prescriptions but didn’t have a French primary care doctor. The pharmacist looked at his empty pill bottles and refilled them, no questions asked. When McDermott finally got a French physician, he received a brand-new CPAP machine at no cost. A month later, someone came to make sure it was working properly.

“Coming to France is like a drink of cold water,” he says. “Once you’ve had this experience, it’s easy to see all the ways in the U.S. you’re getting screwed — well, not screwed per se, but definitely overcharged.”

It’s a thought-provoking admission, albeit one that recalls a challenge often issued by the far right: “If you don’t like how things are, why don’t you F-off leave then?”

(Well, because many people cannot, realistically, for starters. But let’s put that to one side for now.)

Go your own way

I remember being struck 30-odd years ago by the politics of Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash.

This science-fiction classic is today remembered mostly for what it foresaw – and got wrong, of course – about technology, especially the coming Internet-everywhere era.

But Stephenson’s portrayal of a world where people signed-up to join different ‘affinities’ that most matched their personal politics – with financial and legal consequences, and regardless of geography – was striking, too.

No nationalism. Extreme individualism.

Going through my student-y anarchist phase at the time (in an academic sense) I’m not sure I even recognised this as the dystopian vision I’d now clearly see it as.

I’ve heard that some ultra-libertarian sorts in the US still don’t get the joke, and consider Snow Crash a bit of a Bible.

It’s not hard to see how signing up to a regime of very low taxes, a fine-based legal system, and a policy of extreme neutrality, say, might appeal to those whose appetites were whetted by William Rees-Mogg’s also prophetic The Sovereign Individual.

And to be fair, after the Brexit schism in the UK and looking at polarised party politics in the US, the appeal of only having to deal with, support, and be held accountable by those who share your values is pretty relatable, whichever side you’re on.

Little lies

Let’s say you believe, like I approximately do, that we should have a flat and ultra-simplified tax rate of perhaps 30%, across all income and gains, 0% corporation tax, that the state does too much for the wealthy (and older) middle class but not enough to lift up the young and properly poor, and that the very rich should pay a wealth tax. (Maybe 1% annually on assets over £5m – and they should be publicly lauded and celebrated for it, too).

I’ll never be able to vote for such fiscal policy. Existing parties might even see some of those desires as contradictory. (I don’t think they are, but that’s my point).

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could opt into a group who shared my views?

Well yes, until you think about the realities.

What ‘club’ with the means to actually support them would welcome in the poor and hopeless?

What to do with the unrepresented and destitute outside your front door?

Who pays for the army and the border police?

And so on.

Snow Crash touches on these issues, as well as offering (from ancient memory) satirical solutions. Private security, obviously, and swarms of nano-bots that keep the individual safe from rival factions.

Moving to another country, like the former US politician did, seems more practical in the real world .

Through this lens, our intractable immigration issues might be seen in a more generous light as a vote for Western-style capitalism with a safety net, as much as the global poor wanting to share our material prosperity.

I’ve even half-joked to friends that perhaps countries could opt-into being governed by wealthier neighbours. That the US, say, could operate overseas on a sort of franchise system.

(I suppose some would argue this is what the EU does on its Eastern flank. But that’s a can of worms for another day!)


I’m curious: as it’s an election year, what would your perfect national political party offer in terms of tax, spending, and personal finance and investing?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. (But let’s not get into third-rail, off-topic political stuff like the death penalty or defunding the police or whatnot. I’ve tried to stick to the financial stuff, please reciprocate…)

Have a great weekend.

From Monevator

The Slow and Steady passive portfolio update: Q1 2024 – Monevator

Choose your fighter – Monevator [Mogul members]

From the archive-ator: 10 reasons to be cheerful as an investor [From February 2009]Monevator


Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view click through to read the article. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing to sites you visit a lot.

House prices fell £2,900 in March according to Halifax – This Is Money

Young workers pausing pension contributions. What will it cost them? – Sky

Ukrainians returning home to get dental treatment – BBC

IR35 tax changes contribute to economic inactivity [Search result]FT

What happened to the 3.8m people denied furlough at the start of Covid? – Guardian

Forbes just released its 2024 global billionaires list – Forbes

A performance quilt for global markets – Novel Investor

Brexit mini-special

Food price fears as Brexit import charges revealed… – BBC

…with small suppliers warning their profits could disappear – Guardian

The Brexit Plots [Podcast] – Political Currency via Apple Part One [Subscribers Two, Three]

Products and services

British Savings Bonds are now available from NS&I, but the rates aren’t great – Which

Get £185 when you switch your bank to Santander… – Be Clever With Your Cash

…and First Direct has brought back its own £175 offer too – Which

Sign-up to Trading 212 via our affiliate link to claim your free share and cashback. T&Cs apply – Trading 212

Parents can now get 15 hours of childcare from age two in England – This Is Money

Collectibles — an enjoyable way to lose money [Search result]FT

Open an account with low-cost platform InvestEngine via our link and get up to £50 when you invest at least £100 (T&Cs apply. Capital at risk) – InvestEngine

The Sims: For Rent allows millennials to turn the tables – Slate

Homes for sale with stylish interiors, in pictures – Guardian

Comment and opinion

The story that’s sold – Of Dollars and Data

Lessons from five years of FIRE – Stop Ironing Shirts

50 shades of passive investing – Best Interest

“It’s the money”: the Britons who want children but feel they can’t – Guardian

Would you forgive your partner if they lied about their salary? – Slate

A UK blogger hits millionaire status [Congrats!]Dad on FIRE

The ins and outs of gold, which just hit an all-time high – Humble Dollar

Better investors make fewer decisions: a Kahneman roundup – Abnormal Returns

Credit card debt but buying a Range Rover? Not even wrong – S.L.I.S.

Going back to work – Humble Dollar

The most important concept in finance – A Wealth of Common Sense

Everything is obvious – Behavioural Investment

Cullen Roche’s top ten peeves [PDF]Discipline Funds

A deep dive into retirement spending guardrails [Nerdy, US but relevant]Kitces

More UK market woes mini-special

Britain’s FTSE Small Cap index will disappear by 2028 at current rate – Yahoo Finance

Why buying company shares is out of fashion for UK investors [Search result] – FT

UK investors dump British funds and look to US – This Is Money

Global supply of equities shrinks at fastest pace in decades [Search result]FT

Naughty corner: Active antics

How alternatives can diversify a portfolio – Morningstar

Cliff Asness: cognitive dissonance – AQR

Should you diversify your portfolio by industry or sector? – UK Dividend Stocks

Kindle book bargains

How to Read Numbers by Tom Chivers – £0.99 on Kindle

The Dip: Knowing When to Quit by Seth Godin – £0.99 on Kindle

The Pathless Life by Paul Millerd – £0.99 on Kindle

The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton – £0.99 on Kindle

Environmental factors

Are rainforests doomed? Not necessarily – Vox

How tiny Singapore is saving an endangered bird – Smithsonian

New giant wind turbine in Southport sunk for £75m surf lagoon project – BBC

Robot overlord roundup

Amazon’s ‘Just Walk Out’ tech relied on hundreds of Indian workers, not AI, report claims – Hindustan Times

AI financial advisors are on the way – Axios

You’ll soon be able to use ChatGPT without an account – The Verge

Off our beat

Britain needs to deploy WarhammerUnHerd

What it’s like to survive nearly drowning – Longreads

‘Leaving home used to be a right of passage’Guardian

Britain will dislike the Labour government in no time [Search result]FT

Our tools shape ourselves – Aeon

How to instantly recognise a stroke – Art of Manliness

Everyone in Japan will be called Sato by 2531 – Guardian

And finally…

“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact.”
– Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

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