Author and Thinker Charles Hugh Smith boldly declares: the status quo is unsustainable.
Through his writings, Charles pierces beneath the surface, challenging conventional narratives and exposing the deep-seated systemic issues that erode our social and moral fabric."
From exploring the moral decay undermining social order to crafting viable solutions, Charles ventures into the depths of values, priorities, and tools essential for navigating our rapidly evolving society and economy.
We dive into his biography, the role of his upbringing in Hawaii, his creative interests, and his pursuits for sharing and exploring for those trying to adapt, understand and reshape the world.
Follow Charles Hugh Smith @ oftwominds.com
On Twitter @chsm1th
On Substack @ charleshughsmith.substack.com/
Time Stamps / Topics
2:23: Life on Lanai / Biography
8:44: Producing a Underground Newspaper / Parallels to Current Work
12:27 Punahou and Neo-Feudalism
18:32 Lessons from Time Capsules
23:05 The Value Physical + Mental Labor
28:05 Life on the Mainland
32:47 The Doom Hierarchy + Models for Collapse
39:33 The Importance and Role of Finance
45:01 On Ideological Frameworks Lens
50:00 On Creative Pursuits + The Authentic Self
54:00 The Issue of Multi-polarity
1:00 Exploring Solutions and More
1:05 What Hawaii can teach the world
1:08 Current Focus: Mythologies
1:10 Contact Information + Close
First, thanks so much for participating in this and like I said in my email, I mean your content is very broad, and since we're both in Hawaii, I thought maybe we could start there. I have a friend who works for the Four Seasons on Lanai. So I've been to Lanai a few times to go hunting and just snorkeling. And I saw your bio that you lived on Lanai during the late sixties, and I wanted to maybe just start there and how maybe Lanai has shaped you or not and just some of your experiences there.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, that's a terrific starting spot. And the, I guess hesitation I have, if I can call it that, is that it's very easy to be nostalgic about that era in Hawaii, which is the era of the late sixties through the seventies, because it shared characteristics with the really old days, the pre-statehood fifties And the boom years of the early sixties.
But it also was the transitional period of the Hawaiian Renaissance and the counterculture, which of course were dual forces. In other words, the counterculture was in Hawaii, but it found unique expression in Hawaii because it was sort of the fuel of the Hawaiian Renaissance of hula music, political activity and a reclaiming of history that had been dismissed or forgotten depending on your perspective. But in any event, so therefore when I speak to my old friends, my teammates on the basketball team, on Lanai, many of them express a form of nostalgia or those years because life seemed safe and secure in ways that life is no longer safe and secure. And I can discuss that socioeconomically, that one of the grazers I have from my life on Lanai as brief as it was a year, was an experience of the old plantation economy. And that Lanai was a vibrant, profitable plantation for pineapple.
And virtually the entire town worked for Dole or lived off of the population that worked for Dole. There was only a smattering of people who worked for the bank, the little bank there, the little post office. And there was very little government like state or county offices were basically non-existent. So it was a plantation town and it was a union plantation town, meaning that the decades of ruthless exploitation had led to all the turmoil and challenges and crises of the union movement in Hawaii, which ultimately led to reasonable wages, low cost housing. And so people on Lanai, their work was hard, I mean, brutally hard. I worked that one summer in the fields along with some of my younger classmates, and it's pretty hard to find work that is more physically demanding than being out in a blistering tropical sun. And you're basically picking hundreds of pounds of fruit that grows in a very prickly plant and you're working, you're walking for hours and hours.
And so yeah, it's physically challenging. And so if you do that work, you also come to appreciate all other work you ever do is light unless you're really going to do something strenuous. So anyways, in summary, there were a lot of positives to the Lanai plantation experience, and I understand why my classmates who grew up there look back on it fondly because there were no hard drugs. The amusements of life were, as you say, hunting and fishing, playing sports. What we would look at now is sort of healthy, positive experiences. And then you had a lifetime employment, you had a very secure economic situation so that the majority of families on Lanai could save up enough money to send their children to college in Honolulu or the mainland. So that kind of security is what's of course lacking for the bottom, say, 80 to 90% of American households now in my view.
So there's that. And so I don't want to ramble. So I think that the other elements that were so positive about Lanai was the sense of community. And I was a new kid in town, and so that was a bit strange for them and for me because my brother and I were basically the only haoles in the school other than the principal's daughter. And so we were a bit weird to everyone else. We were struggling to learn pigeon, which was kind of “thick”, “thick” on lanai, so plenty “thick” pigeon. So it was a super engaging and I just learned a tremendous amount. And my classmates, I don't know what they gained out of me, but I might've been sort of an amusing mascot in some way. I dunno.
Well, the reason Charles, I wanted to start with Lanai is that everything I read, maybe you can just describe what you do and aren't familiar with your work.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, real briefly, I think I've divided my life between academic or intellectual pursuits like writing and trying to summarize social economic trends and systems. And I've and physical labor still labor as a carpenter and builder. So I have a lot of practical experience that I continue to use, and yet I also have these sort of intellectual pursuits.
Well, I connect back to Lanai because I mean obviously you had the physical work of working on the plantation, being an outsider, but I was really fascinated as well because you had that kind of underground newspaper. And maybe you can just tell us about that and how that, I feel like it's the same thing you're doing now. You're kind of producing this underground publication that's popular, and I'm just curious what you were writing about then and if there's any link or if there's not.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, Robert, I really appreciate that insightful question and I don't know how many other people pick up on that. But yeah, I think it is a continuation that one of my classmates, Culbert Matsumoto, who went on to become a key player in the sort of establishment of Hawaii in terms of his investigation into wrongdoing in the bishop estate that started his career and his many roles as in service to the public good in Hawaii, extremely admirable individual. He and I launched this underground newspaper because we'd read somewhere about this is the hot new thing to do starting underground newspaper. So his father worked for the I L W U, the union. And so we were able to sneak in and use the mimeograph machine when no one was looking. So we wrote about environmental issues. This was Earth Day 1970 was that era. It was the nascent beginnings of the environmental movement.
And we wrote about just some of the high school things like, well, the basketball team gets all the money, and what about all the other sports and things like that. But it was a revelation for the school because we heard sort of secondhand that the administration, which was basically the principal and the vice principal, thought that it was composed by teachers. A lot of the teachers were young haloes that had been recruited directly from the mainland because at that time the DOE was extremely short of teachers that the state's population was expanding the baby boom and so on. So we said, no, it was us and were no teachers involved. And so we had a lot of fun doing that. And we also collect contributions from students. We had a little box in one of the teacher's classrooms to put poems and bits of things in there, and we would collect kind of play editor and run the real poems and leave out the song lyrics that somebody copied off a song. So yeah, it was quite an education.
And then, I mean, I'm just linking to the themes that you're exploring now. Maybe you can draw parallels if there are any.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, of course, I think we all are aware of the environmental costs and consequences of global industrialization. What I now call the waste is growth landfill economy. At that time, it was the era in which rivers were catching fire in the American Midwest from just gross levels of pollution and toxins being dumped into public waterways and air. So I think that's a continuation, and I think we're still in that environment grappling with the consequences of this giant global economy we've created to generate a huge surplus of goods and services, but by basically not really making a full accounting of the costs and consequences of that giant industrial machine. So I think that's one thread and then a sense of justice. I think that fair play, is everybody getting the same square deal or are some people getting first in line, so to speak? If that's the case, then what can we do about it? So there's some sort of examination of problems and solutions. So I think those are the threads that carry through
A lot of your writing. You link to the idea of neo feudalism after Lanai, you jumped to Oahu and then you went to Punahou. I'm curious how that switch was and how, if anything, that's affected your lens of seeing the world.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah. Well, Robert, again, I am extremely appreciative of your super insightful questions because I think a lot of people tend to gloss over what happens in our teenage years. People understand the impact of what you experienced as a child, especially if it was traumatic or unpleasant, but your teen years or where you blossom as an individual, as character, as a personality, and you start acquiring your adult interests as you navigate teen years. And so in a way, I was blessed that I got to go to three high schools in four years. And so from California to Lanai was a transition that really opened my eyes. And then to Punahou, which even though I lived on Lanai, I didn't really understand the place that Punahou held in the local psyche history and socioeconomic sort of establishment. And so even now and then Punahou has changed a lot.
In other words, back, this is 50 years ago, although was, it was very reflective mix of the ethnicities and classes that are in Hawaii today. Its reputation was more like where the elite haoles went. And so that's changed a lot. And in fact, my friend Colbert's daughters went there and he said, no, no, that's not the case anymore. And so it's changed with the times and I think as all institutions do, but at that time it was also, it had this reputation that if you could get your child into Punahou, you'd really made it and they were going to have a better life as a result. And that is still present today. In other words, I hear that pride when other people or neighbors say, oh, and my grandchild is in Punahou. And of course people feel the same pride about Kamehameha, rightly so, and Iolani, but the whole feudal aspect of it as I think you anticipate is that what's this thing about private schools?
I mean, why are they so important in Hawaii, especially Oahu, and why is that the case and why do they play such a role in catapulting your child into a higher category of socioeconomic opportunity? And of course the answer is, well, the public schools are underfunded or they're not getting the resources. This is sort of neo feudel, right? There's two class systems that is of course troubling for anybody that says, well, wait a minute, what's a democracy mean? And what is a free market economy that's open to all? How do these line up in a neo feudal setting? And of course, the history of Hawaii is also feudal in that the occupying forces both corporate and political set themselves up at the top. And so at that era was also the era of the big five. There were five large corporations that dominated the public or the private sector and were highly influential in politics.
And those ironically are all gone. There's not a shred left except Alexander and Baldwin on Maui. And so things change. Yeah, the new feudal aspects were a shock to me, and I was really afraid going to Punahou once I kind of caught on that I was shoved into some elite school as a senior, the only senior that was new. I mean, they don't accept people after generally other than say the freshmen class is the last time you get in. Do okay. In other words, I realized when you're faced with severe, strict, high level competition in whatever field you're doing, then you're of course you up your game and you find out your limits. And that's very useful to you in life. So you should always get into a situation where you're pushed to your limit or beyond because then you really discover what you're good at, what you're okay at and what you're really not good at.
And so I was not good at math and physics at the higher level. I was like, okay, I'm struggling here. This is supposed to be easy, right? Learned the differences that you might not be from the outside between what we can call the upper middle class and the middle class and the working class. In other words, this sort of class structure to neo feudalism that there still some social mobility available in the US unlike a truly feudal economy where that social mobility was extremely limited. You can claw your way into the higher reaches of the economy and society, but it really helps if you understand the value system that you need to acquire. It's not just working hard and saving money or getting into an elite institution. You have to have this whole set of values if you want to work in that higher level.
So what do you see the parallels between that kind of model? And let's jump up a level for the United States as a whole and then potentially for the world.
I think that's the scale you write on is usually local. I mean, you had that wonderful essay about the time capsule. You could start there.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, well, the time capsule got a lot of interesting feedback from people who could relate to it. And what the story was was we've taken care of my mom-in-law here and she's lived within a 10 mile radius of where she was born here on the big island her whole life. And so she was born in 1931. And so when you listen to someone born in the late twenties or early thirties, you're basically entering a time capsule of the thirties, forties and fifties when they were youthful and forging their life. And so life was of course a lot simpler and it was a lot poorer in terms of material wealth, but what people related to was there was the wealth was in community and stability, the family structure and the community structure because of the poverty, then these were really strong structures that you could count on.
And so people counted on other people rather than the government to send them money or what we now think of as financial security, how much money do you have in your 401 k? I mean, so that was part of it, the idea of examining what is security and wealth and prosperity. And so everybody understands material wealth, but we've sort of lost sight of the wealth that comes from strong family and community ties in terms of wellbeing, and this is a term that I use a lot because there's not many other words in English or phrases in English that talk about the sense of security and stability and feeling safe in life and having people that you can count on and of course your physical wealth and wellbeing. And so a lot of these people live into their nineties. We have lots of neighbors, some have turned a hundred, others are 99.
And it's like, well, are they doing some kind of magical potent, are they having some strict super scarce diet of special goods? No, they just ate local food, but they had a very healthy, active lifestyle and community support. And so we forget that health is the mind and body are one. And so it's not just what you put in your mouth, but it's like the environment you live in. So all of that comes back to, okay, your larger, your question, what about the US and the world? And it's really clear statistically, and this is what I try not to do too many statistical things, but you look at a graph or a chart and it brings it home that, well, like 10% of every population owns like 90% of the wealth virtually anywhere. And so there's these huge disparities of wealth, which of course equals power in terms of political power and influence.
So we live in what seems to be a feudal structure of which a certain limited class of households own most of the wealth of the nation, and this plays out across the world. It's true of China and many other places as well as the US. So we can say, why is this? What's the dynamics in these systems that create this or enable it or maintain it, and what can we do? What can we hope to change in that? And of course, it's a different era too in that we can go back in history and go, well, there was less. There's always an elite, right? Because humans are social animals and we are genetically wired for hierarchies just like our cousins, the chimpanzees. And so it's like we are used to the idea of having leaders and then they get some privileges for their leadership, presuming it's a positive leadership, but regardless, they get a bigger share. But it's supposedly in trade for doing something for the rest of us or the community. But that seems to have broken down. And so people are getting the wealth without actually providing for the common good. And that I think is part of the decay and decline. I see. And I think it's global
Connecting back to I guess the local, I think we can talk about your solutions and how maybe later, but I want to talk about your work as a carpenter and going back to your pineapple picking days and how that's, you're always jumping between the cerebral and then the physical. So I'm curious how that's informing. Are you outside this feudal system? Are you jumping around it? I'm curious where you see yourself in it.
Charles Hugh Smith:
That's also a great question, Robert, thank you very much. And you of course have, and I can relate to the limits of what I know about your life that you sketched out. I can see you also moving, whether you want to call it up, down, sideways or in orbit it throughout this complex socioeconomic system that you've been an entrepreneur and been successful at things and tried many things. And so I'm, I would put myself on the margins of the status quo. In other words, I've never had a corporate job. I've never worked for the government. I mean, if you call picking pineapple working for a corporation, that was my corporate job, A variety of things. I've been an entrepreneur and I think I basically failed in the sense of financially. I did not succeed as a builder, but I gained a huge wealth of experience.
So I think I'm on the margins of society because I enjoy physical work, which is not valued very much in our society, and it tends to be looked down upon and somehow lesser. There's lesser nobility in physical work than in intellectual work. And of course I don't think that's a fair assessment, but I think that the practical world where you're building something and you're trying to manage people, materials that you've got to get on site and a bunch of complicated stuff to get physical work done in the real world, that gives you a different perspective than people that just don't really have any physical skills and they don't really know what's involved in stuff that they take for granted. For instance, there's just an endless amount of things. The sewage system, the water treatment plant, roadways, the electrical lines. And so when people talk about, oh, we're all going to have electric cars and helicopters and everything, it's all like, because I'm practical and I think about, well, how would I assemble or fix an electric car or electric helicopter? It would be like, well, what do we do with all these batteries? And it's like, oh, well, we throw 98% of them in the landfill, and it's all like, well, is that really sustainable?
And so those are the kind of questions that come up to people I think that arise in those of us who clients and so on. You also have an appreciation for life outside some kind of rigid hierarchy. For instance, if you're an academic and you're in the university, it's a hierarchy and you learn to navigate that hierarchy. Where in the private sector, which is the more rough and tumble, then you have to establish your own connections, and they're often more sideways than top to bottom hierarchies you're working with. And that gives you a whole nother understanding of the complexity of getting anything done in the real world. So that's a kind of a rambling answer, but my practical side has informed my intellectual interests because I'm very interested in the exact way that we're supposed to fix problems, like exactly what resources are required, where are they coming from, how costly is it to get them here, process 'em and turn 'em into something, and then how do we actually physically recycle it? I mean, what's involved? And so those are the questions that everyone glosses over that's sitting in the top tier of the Media or academia. Those things are all kind of often just brushed off like, oh, well, we have top people working on that. It'll no problem. It'll all get recycled. It's all really, how come it's not recycled now? It must not be very profitable or else Google would be doing it. So those are the kinds of questions that arise if you have any practical experience in the world.
So then maybe jumping forward a bit, could you maybe expand on your small press? I think you started, I forget the name, Voltage Age I believe it was called, and how that kind of then put you back into the, I guess mind part of your work.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, interesting. Yeah, I've had an interest in technology since high school, and so I did not choose a career or pursue a career in science or technology per se, but I was interested in the kind of commentary on how technology was developing. And so I started with my sister-in-law in Berkeley. I started a magazine. We started a magazine right around the time that several other people like Mondo 2000 was also started around that same time, the early eighties. And it was the idea of the technologies developing in all kinds of new ways because of the personal computer and the beginnings of the network computer. And so let's start these publications so we can comment about this. And so that was another failure financially, but another success in terms of gaining experience and so on. And I was really interested in AI, and I read a lot of books about AI at that time, and that's continued on.
I don't claim to be an expert in AI, but I think I've been reading about it for 30, 40 years. And so I have some foundation that we assume or that what I call the mythology of technological progress, we assume it's all going to be good. And as critic Jerry Mander who wrote the book about the reasons why we should turn off the tv, he was pointing out the technology, the mythology of technology is it's always going to be good. It's always going to advance humanity in some way. And it's always the best case scenarios are what gets played because that's what's profitable, of course. But there can be the worst case scenario too, and those get short shrift because those aren't very profitable, and they might cause the people who own the technology to get restricted in some way and then they wouldn't be able to maximize their market share and profitability.
So we don't look at worst case scenarios. And so anyways, my interest in these kinds of what I call mythologies about technology, go back to that the early eighties when there was a wave of AI enthusiasm, there was a wave of AI enthusiasm in the late sixties, and then it kind of petered out when everybody realized so-called general intelligence was not going to be achievable. Then there was another wave due to faster processors and so on in the eighties, the early eighties. And then that kind of petered out. And now we've had a resurgence of interest. And what's a little different about it this time is now there's some more interest in the downside, the potential worst case of AI basically taking over humanity and turning us into goo or in that kind of extreme, but also just looking at, well, what happens when everybody's voice can be mimicked or everybody's image can be mimicked. These are questions that are real, and it's not clear if they're controllable, but we should at least ask whether they should be controllable.
Familiar with the author Dmitri Orlov?
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yes. In fact, I corresponded with Dmitri back in the day, maybe 20 some years ago when I think he wrote his book Reinventing Collapse. I'm not sure the exact date, but yeah, we corresponded occasionally.
Well, there's just a lot of parallels because of it. He's intellectual and also concerned. He does a lot of labor with his hands building boats. And I guess now he's in Russia, return back to Russia, and he writes a lot about, he has that book called, I think Shrinking the Technosphere where he writes a lot about concerns and opportunities and technology. And then obviously his scenarios on collapse, a difference between you and him though. You had an essay on I guess what I would call Doom. And I'm curious where maybe you can expand on that essay and where you see yourself in that hierarchy or in that doom model. I find you quite optimistic and positive, but I'm just curious where you see yourself in that kind of, if you're in a late stage of collapse or where you fit in into that kind of sensemaking.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, thank you for that question too, Robert. And I think we all understand the appeal of disaster movies. And of course they can often be amusing in how far the they have to reach. Now to impress the audience, you've got to have a thousand foot tall tsunami and stuff to top the previous disaster movie. And so there is a kind of doom porn is what I call it, where there's almost a pornography of doom where people pursue these sort of salacious scenarios of total chaos and destruction of civilization and so on. And then there's the other end of that spectrum is what I call empty optimism. And that's the, to me, sort of breezy, uninformed, unconnected from the real world assumptions that we're, it's all going to be fine because we've got top people working on it and we'll be able to electrify the whole global economy and recycle all the batteries and everything's going to be great.
But there's no details in any of that stuff. Nobody actually explains how complicated a lithium ion battery is and how many components there are in there. And the incredible difficulty of trying to separate those components and actually reuse them in some way, and it turns out that's not a non-trivial problems at all. And in fact, the product has to be re-engineered to be recyclable, which means it's going to cost more money and therefore it's going to be less profitable and so on. So I'm, I think I'm kind of in the middle of that, in that I see the vulnerability of these enormous systems we've created that they look just as systems. And this is what I'm really interested in is systems share dynamics across the entire spectrum and their scale-invariant, meaning that the system that you have for your sole proprietorship or your household, there are system dynamics in play there that play out in the community and the town, the city, the region, the country and the world.
And so if you have these systems which are very vulnerable because they have a lot of fragile features, like there's sole suppliers of things or there's a one supply chain for an essential component, these kinds of systems are really easy to disruption or fall apart. And I also am curious to see how capitalism plays out in this way, which is you get rid of redundancy and multiple suppliers and multiple supply chains because those are cost elements. So the way to maximize your profit is get rid of redundancy and multiple supply chains. And so I use that as an example to show how systems can fall apart and the more dependent we are on these sort of fragile systems, then of course the greater the potential for dominoes to fall. For example, the semiconductors went into scarcity and so then they couldn't make all the vehicles anymore.
That kind of thing can go into things like the electrical grid, water treatment. There's a lot of other things that can be impacted that will definitely reduce comfort and convenience. And so that all stuff is, that stuff is real. You don't need a nuclear war or a thousand foot tsunami, you simply need a decay of these long global supply chains and people are aware of this. And so there's an attempt to reshore industry and to talk about food security, which to me is a big issue here in Hawaii. I think we're just catastrophically dependent on outside sources for food in a way that was not the case 60 years ago as an example. So I think that the positive part is that first food security, you start looking at what you can do to encourage food production in your own locale and reduce your dependency.
It's never going to go to zero. We still need industrial parts and complex machinery, but if we reduce our dependence, that's going to put us further along the spectrum towards reducing potential of collapse and also kind of ensuring some kind of basic comfort and convenience. So the question is also what role does history have in showing us how humans have responded in the past to these kinds of decays of complex system? And of course, there's an entire library of books about collapse and the dynamics and the history of it. We're still running wetwear 1.0, meaning that most of our genetic makeup is from like 200,000 years ago when we entered the sort of modern homo sapien sapien era, and we were hunter gatherers and our skill sets and the way we are used to working together were all optimized by hunting and gathering. So we learned communication and cultural knowledge were critical, working together some competition for mating and leadership kind of kept things vibrant.
And so a lot of these elements will continue on even if industrial civilization collapses because we're still going to be, we still have our hunter gatherer genetic heritage of working together and valuing communication, cultural knowledge and so on. So if we look back at civilizations that were extremely complex, such as the Western Roman Empire, what John Michael Greer calls catabolic collapse complexity is reduced to a new level and then it drops to another lower level. And so you can kind of go down the ladder. It wasn't like 99% of the people in the Western Roman empire just up and died. They went to a much lower level of complexity and they formed over the time of what we call the dark ages, they formed different ways of dealing with things. If we've sort of localized our lives and our economy than we're going to do, okay, we're going to survive and be fine.
Maybe jumping to one specific focus of your analysis, I'm curious why so many writers have, I'm going to call Collapse and Doom and your focus on decentralization and things like that. Where does the heavy focus on finance come from and interest? It seems like Dmitri Orlov writes about that, writes about that other, Lord Hughes, I don't know if you remember him, but he's another kind of dor on more on the environmental extinction type. They're always obsessed with finance. And I'm curious where you see the importance of finance, specifically how you got interested in it and then what you're trying to do or communicate when you focus on writing on finance.
Charles Hugh Smith:
I am sorry to keep repeating just how insightful these questions are. I mean truly you, you're getting to the core elements of the global crisis or situation, and I think you're right to call it an obsession with finance. And because finance has replaced the real world in so many ways that replacement has been placed at the top of the pyramid. So that we think because of this erosion of the real world into some sort of background handled by somebody else in some developing world, country finance is like the be all to end all. It seems to be that in our economy and society today, in other words, if there's a problem then we turn to the Federal Reserve to do something or other by printing money or creating credit or whatever, or the government's supposed to borrow another trillion and spend it and then that's going to fix the problems.
Finance has sort of elevated itself as a sector in the economy and as a point of leverage in the economy. It's like this progression from a economy that you could say was more like task-based and therefore finance played a very limited role in that economy. How did we go from that where you saved your earnings and then you invested it in a tool or some improvement in your life or the education of your children, et cetera, to a life where literally everything is based on credit, like borrowing money. You can't buy a vehicle without that. You can't buy a house, you can't fund your university education without borrowing a couple of trillion dollars. And so this reliance on credit is what's built finance up to such a large force in the economy. In other words, so people sort of understand if finance collapses, that means we have no credit, which means we can't borrow money, which means we can't buy houses, cars, university, educations, or virtually anything of value.
And so it's all like, well, wait a minute, how did we get so dependent on finance? And of course the answer is that the cost of living has increased so dramatically compared to wages that people simply cannot afford to save enough money to pay for these things. And there's other dynamics in play that I talk about the rise of the bureaucracy or the administrative state. And there's charts I've posted where it shows rather really kind of striking that the number of doctors say in the healthcare system has barely risen in decades, but the number of administrators has gone up tenfold. And the same is true of the university system that the number of tenured professors is basically the same as it was 30 years ago, but the number of administrators has skyrocketed and the salaries that they're earning of soar. And then we have to look at that and go, well wait a minute.
Maybe the reason why finance is now dominant is that without really noticing it, we've become totally dependent on credit, the distribution of new money, in other words, the central bank issuing money out of thin air and then the government issuing money out of thin air and so on that these are now what we depend on. And I do want to push back on that from my little birch because I don't think there's a financial solution to the decay of social good and civic virtue and localization. I don't think that finance plays much of a role in any of that. And so when people talk about cryptocurrencies as the solution or gold or something like that, as if we just get some other form of money, then it's all going to be fine. It's like they're overlooking that credit is the primary engine of the economy and it's the primary engine because people don't have enough disposable income to pay for anything beyond everyday expenses. And so how do you fix that? And so then you say, well, if you're going to talk about reforming finance, it has to be reformed in tandem with labor. In other words, you have to be able to compensate people with whatever form of money you're using so that they can actually afford everything out of their earnings instead of having to borrow money. And so that's the basis of my labor backed currency idea.
Charles, coming back to some of your thoughts, you jump between ideological frameworks, you seem critical finance and late stage capitalism, but you're not coming at it kind of a socialist or Marxist analysis, but you're still emphasizing labor. So I'm just curious how you shift your lenses or what your ideological or political analysis is rooted in. Is it kind of Quaker, I know you were a Quaker or had some relevance to the Quaker movements. I'm just curious where you're basing your moral or labor analysis particularly in.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, again, that's a great question, and then again, I just love being able to talk about these important things that are usually glossed over in our lives, which is like where are you coming from at the core of your being and how is that manifesting in your view of life or what ideology appeals to you? Certainly the core of Quakerism and Buddhism and Taoism, all of which continue to be strong influences and in my life is there should be a sense of justice and fair play. In other words that the core of what we call progress or a success or whatever is really about does everybody have a fair chance to fulfill their lives and opportunities? And so this ties together in my view, and again, I majored in philosophy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Eastern and Western, so I'm pretty familiar with the fundamentals of Eastern thought and western thought.
And so if you look at Marxism, and I did in fact study Marxism at for a year with Professor Bender Marx's core, although he doesn't, it's not really talked about much was a sense of outrage at the injustice of the economic system he saw of exploitation of the masses to the benefit of the few. And this is the driving force behind his whole analysis of the economy and society. So I draw a lot upon Marx, not so much for his solutions, which he and Engels really left, that that's kind of that warm and fuzzy kind of empty optimism that they didn't really sketch out details of a solution. But Marx did illuminate these dynamics of capitalism that generate exploitation and not as a bug, but as a feature. And so that you know I confuse people because it's all like, well, wait a minute, are you in favor of competition?
And my answer is, well, yeah, in limited context, a global competition that has no limits because then you end up with an exploitive system. So yeah, I draw upon Marxism because his illumination of these economic forces is still relevant then. But if as an entrepreneur you go, well, is socialism the answer? And then on two fronts, I would say no, because number one, socialism is based on the same flawed model of growth as capitalism. I mean, whether it's communist, socialist or capitalist, every system is pursuing what I call the waste is growth landfill economy. Nobody's de-growth or a sustainable economy. There's polite talk about it, but nobody's actually doing any of that as a goal of the ideology. So all the ideologies are the same if you looked at it environmentally. And then the other issue is where is the opportunity for exploitation in socialism and communism?
And of course, we all know the answer is there's plenty of opportunity for the few to rig the system to benefit themselves at the expense of the many. And so what you want to have ideally I think is a flattened structure where what's optimized isn't some elite benefiting themselves at the expense of everyone else, but what's optimized is having feedback and pushback and kind of a churn where nobody's allowed to rig the system because there's going to be pushback from other players or other participants. And so you have a more dynamic system where there's more dissent and more entrepreneurship, people trying stuff to see if it works and then sharing what works with other people.
Charles, I was going to ask, maybe we can shift some of your nonfiction books and how you start offering solutions. I mean, you kind of brushed upon solutions from an entrepreneurial perspective. I'm just curious, maybe you can walk us through your books and some of what you're doing with those titles as well.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Okay. I'll try to keep it brief, but I've touched on a lot of different topics and just I'll choose a few. One is I looked at the whole higher education system, which I think is corrupt, venal, exploitive, classic neo feudal structure. That's what it's become. And I don't think it's really serving the students that well, and a lot of people agree with me of course on that. So what's the solution? And so my solution was this sort of nearly free university model, which relies on the fact that digitala content is basically free to deliver. And so if you get rid, scrape off the profiteering and the feudal structure, then education can be practically free. And then especially if you combine it with a hands-on workshop model, then students would then be given an opportunity to learn hands-on in whatever field they've chosen, even in the sciences or so that's a model that I think would benefit us tremendously.
And then it kind of ties into my other model in my book on how to get a job and build a real career. The idea there is to authenticate and yourself, in other words, don't rely on a credential to authenticate your knowledge or experience, just authenticate yourself. And so kind of take charge of your own career instead of just trying to select the institutional stamps and then focusing on trying to get what I consider the basic eight skills that apply to any field, any job, any endeavor, the skills that every institution, every business, everybody else, every community group values in an individual. So if you get those skills and values, then you're going to have opportunities because those are what everybody values because they're so useful. So those are a couple of ideas. And then I also talked about the idea that AI is going to replace all the humans or get rid of most of the jobs.
And so we'll all be either living off borrowed money or some sort of magical free money thing, or we'll be impoverished. I proposed instead that all work be paid and that the financial system be reorganized to focus on labor so that all work would be paid and valued. And that AI can be a tool or an aid, but it doesn't replace human labor. And because every human wants to contribute and be valued and actually to be part of something larger than themselves. And so the goal of our entire economic system should be to provide that opportunity for everyone and to pay them so that they can have a livelihood. And that optimizing an economy for that is really a different economy, but I consider it the right goal. So those are some of my ideas about solutions. And then most recently I've talked about burnout because I'm kind of a type A person, and so I've burned out a couple three times in my life where you push yourself too hard and then you become basically incapacitated.
So I wanted to share my experience of burnout in the hopes that other people could gain some insight into their own burnout. And then I talked about self-reliance because that's I think part of the whole idea of localizing our economy as well. Where does that start? And it's like is it some kind of government grant or some kind of big institution has to be involved? And it's like, well, no, actually it just starts in your own yard if you have a yard or a community garden. And I've had a long interest in this. In fact, I was first in line at the Makiki Community Garden when it opened in 1979 or something like that, 78, 75, I don't know, back in the seventies. And so there's a lot we could do to just start growing surplus food on our own. We don't need necessarily an institution, although that would be nice.
I'm curious what you think about Multipolarity and how that ties into your concepts on decentralization and localization.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Could you sketch out what multipolarity means?
Well, there's a lot of writers right now who are, I think pretty clearly documenting that the western hegemonic polar world is changing. There's bricks, there's China, there's India, there's new, it all ties into your finance and your collapse and localization. So I'm just curious how you see with the growth of China or the growth of India, the weakening of the US model. There's wars all over the world, reemerging the fourth turning, there's a change. And I wonder how your book self-reliance is a response to some of the greater, if there's a collapse of the neo feudal kind of system. So people have to kind of localize their solutions just like your grandma did.
Charles Hugh Smith:
You're right, Robert, that's exactly the drift of what I see as the positive way to deal with this. We, there's no time machine to go back. And the multipolarity I see as a positive. I mean, of course there are negatives and trade-offs in any kind of global change, but the multipolarity I think is ultimately positive for the planet. The competition that I value is not what we think of as market competition where you crush your opponents or buy them out so you dominate the market. That's actually not, that's capitalism, but not competition. Competition is open and transparent, and so therefore a multipolar world is issuing new currencies, new ideas, new ways of production, new ways to organize production, new ways to organize society. And not all of those are going to work and they're not going to work for everyone. But at least having that churn of competing ideas and currencies that I think will strengthen the humanity’s transition to a sustainable economy.
At least it opens the door to change on multiple levels that don't need some higher authority stamp of approval to get done because that's the problem. Of course, when you have a centralized power with a small hierarchy at the top, then those people are only going to rubber stamp what suits them and keeps the status quo that benefits them exactly as it is. They don't mind policy tweaks on the edge, but they're not going to actually let any of their power or wealth dissipate and spread down to the bottom 99%. So I guess my point being any kind of multipolarity, the lower it drifts down into each nation and each region, then the better off humanity will be. So hopefully multipolarity will include not just different centralized governments competing, but new models of social organization within those nations that are more localized. But, and I think the fourth turning Peter Turchin's 50 year cycle of discord and disintegration, I also see a lot of value in his work.
There's just a lot of models that all turn on cycles or waves of disrupt. And the core of that we should remember is humans always expand their consumption up to the limits of the resources available. And then once they do that, they suck up the resources and deplete them. And then there's a battle for the remaining resources that are insufficient for the consumption levels that people desire. And so that was true of Rome, that was true of 3000 bc. I mean, it's a cycle of history. And so I think we've reached that point, and that's one of the key drivers behind Multipolarity is everybody's sensing there's not enough of everything to go around. And so it's like time to circle the wagons and try to compete or fight for our share, basically decaying into discord and conflict. That's a key reason right there. Yeah, and Locallocalization are answers to that. And again, it's not a perfect answer, but if you can reduce your dependency on fragile failing systems in any way, then it's going to be beneficial.
I'm curious how, I haven't read your nonfiction, I mean your fiction writing, maybe you can just give me a framework for what you're doing in your fiction writing and if you explore these same themes or other themes or what you're doing or how you contrast it to writing modalities.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, thank you for that. I guess it's just self-expression, and it's kind of like my recording my songs and stuff that a key part of being, I mean to being a human, is to explore yourself, try different things and to express who you are. That great philosopher Bruce Lee, and I say that sort of tongue in cheek, but actually he was of course extremely well read and did have a spiritual aspect to his martial arts, and he felt that martial arts was, in fact, self-expression, it wasn't about beating somebody up or being better skilled or whatever. It was about self-expression. And so I think that's a core driver of my fiction. I tend to take one genre at a time, and so I've written a kid's mystery and then I've written a road novel. And yeah, it's just a form of self-expression. Other people have knitting or they make ukuleles or other things, and I write novels. Nobody reads, but it's all good. It's all fun.
Well, I think it comes back to one of your messages about being authentic. Yeah. I'm just curious what your day-to-day writing or creative output is. Do you spend most of the time just researching or what's your typical day-to-day output?
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, I guess as an entrepreneur, I know that self-discipline is the core skill of getting anything done that's going to take a long time or that you want to see fulfilled. Then you got to have self-discipline. So I'm actually very disciplined. I can't stand living online more than a few hours a day. I have to get out and be in the real world. And so I don't really live online, a lot of other writers seem to do. And so I will research as needed and I will keep the blog going, but I keep it going within this strict form, which is, what am I interested in today? Or what, what's fascinating me? Or what do I want to write about? And so if I don't have anything I want to write about, then I don't write anything. I don't force it. It's got to be of some interest to me, something that I want to share with my readership.
And then I'm always writing a book and I'm always writing a novel. And so some are set aside to focus on one or the other. So I always spend some time every week on the book rewriting it or composing it, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, I'm actually extremely disciplined and kind of like, again, it's a practical skill. If you want to build a house, then you're going to have to get out there and do some of the work every day, and then eventually you make progress. So thing is right in the morning and then go out and live in the real world, take care of the plants, do some weeding, et cetera.
It's funny, I don't know if you listened to the interview I did with Tao Lin, he's on the big island as well. He's a writer. He's very rooted now in kind of doing, I don't know if Hawaii does that to people, but it kind of roots you in the physical a little bit more than say if you were a writer in New York or San Francisco. I'm just curious how coming back to the big island has changed your relationship with labor and your mental labor.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, that's a great question too. And actually in a way, I bought land when we were, my girlfriend and I were in this, we were just, were young still, and we bought land in Puna with the idea of having a homestead. And we just didn't have the money. We just weren't capitalized enough to do that. You just get a chunk of lava and then you're going to try to turn it into something. It takes a lot of money. And so I had to go and navigate the rest of the economy for decades to have enough money to buy what other people consider just a normal old house. But it has enough land where I can actually start growing stuff as I've always dreamed of. In other words, to have some big trees and gardens and stuff. And on the mainland, at least in California, if you're in the urban areas, it's too expensive to own more than a postage stamp of land.
So I had a garden in Berkeley with a peach tree and a lemon tree, but it was really limited. And you've got three apartment buildings right around you blocking your sun. And so to come back to Hawaii where the growing season is every 365 days a year, it is like freeing. It's like entering a paradise opportunity for those of us that like to grow stuff. And I don't know, it's like, well, I was 63, I was 62. In other words, I already worked 40 some years before I could really get what I wanted when I was 19. But I think that's pretty, that's not uncommon. And so yeah, it's like freeing to be able to grow whatever you want and to experiment. So it's really good fun. And it's also so nourishing to grow a surplus that you can share. And that's the core of what we do. I mean, I grow hundreds of pounds of breadfruit, bananas and other stuff that we share with our neighbors and family and stuff. So that's part of the benefit of it is it's really a social exercise to grow food.
And Charles, my last two questions are one, what do you think, I mean, you grew up in Hawaii, your formative years. What do you think the rest of the world can learn from a Polynesian or Hawaiian or this Polynesian , hapa-haole mental state? I'm just curious what you think that we can export or that's maybe some ideas or I'm just curious what you think, what messages, I mean aside from community or what lessons can be exported out.
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, that's a very interesting question. And of course, as haole, I am reluctant to comment on Hawaiian culture, Hawaiian history because I am an outsider. And so therefore, no matter what my own experiences, it's hesitant to make much of my experience here other than what I can grow in my yard here. I grow ulu, I grow tarot, I make my own poi. And so if you want to talk about something related to Aina as the source of life, then I can walk you around my yard. That's all I know. But beyond that, I think an appreciation for ancestral cultures and the mixing of cultures. I mean, I think that's what Hawaii can authentically share, that it is possible to appreciate and share the mix of cultures. And as we all know, Hawaii is unique in the way of actually mixing bloodlines. In other words, there's just a tremendous mix of ethnicities in the people here and in the marriages that create the people draw upon all of the sources that they carry within them and the cultures. And I myself am just Irish, mostly Irish, Scottish, haole. But there's obviously in my family, there's a lot of mixed race people that I think is something we can export. And also I think the caring for the land, and I don't think this is unique to Hawaii, but we could certainly join hands with everyone else in the world who's appreciating their Aina or terroir and wanting to take it back from this kind of dependence on agribusiness as if we can't feed ourselves, we have to go to the supermarket and buy something that was packaged. And it's like, no, we don't have to. And so I think that's something that Hawaii could lead in if we chose to, and there are a lot of people who are really excited about localizing food production and food security in Hawaii, and I think that's a just hugely important positive movement.
And then Charles, my last question is, you said you usually find something that's interesting or what you're writing on. What specifically, what's your latest or focus is? Right now?
Charles Hugh Smith:
I'm really interested, and a broad topic is the modern mythologies that we live by and that we don't even understand are mythologies. We think they're real, but they're just as mythological as the Greek gods. The source for my starting to think about this was this French philosopher Roland Barth who wrote about modern mythologies, I believe, in the fifties, certainly in the sixties and seventies. And so I think the whole idea that technology's wonderful and it's going to just sort of endlessly supply us with more comfort and convenience and all the good things in life, I think that's a mythology. And I think the finances of mythology really, and even the state, the nation state, the government, I think that in itself is a mythology too. So I'm interested in exploring that kind of thinking and that what mythology would we create for the 21st century instead of just using a bunch of mythologies from past centuries, what mythology could we create that was actually fit the goal of a sustainable global economy as opposed to a waste is growth landfill economy. And of course, I'm always inspired by self-reliance. What can people do for themselves and how do they minimize their dependence on an unhealthy, unsustainable system? Those are, I think, my two interests at the moment.
And then Charles, how can people find you or what's the best way for people to reach you?
Charles Hugh Smith:
Yeah, just visit me oftwominds.com. That's just spelled like it is. No dots, no dashes, just one word of two minds.com. And then there's all my archives of the blog posts. I think there's about 4,000 of those. And then sample chapters in my book and bits and pieces of other stuff. And so yeah, just visit up to minds.com and look around and then hopefully you won't be too annoyed.
And then Charles, I'll give you the final. Anything else you want to share?
Charles Hugh Smith:
Well, Robert, I just want to compliment you on the breadth of your interests and your guests, and I feel really honored to be included in your list of Podcast guests, all of whom I would say are unconventional in the positive way of they're authentically pursuing themselves and that is contributing good things to the world. And you are contributing good things to the world by sharing all these people's experiences and insights. I can't credit you enough, but that's what I want to say is Mahalo plenty for doing what you do.
Oh, great. Well, thank you very much, Charles. I really appreciate that. I'm happy you took some time to talk to me. I really do.