How Underemployment Will Define the 21st Century

Scene from Office Space (1999)

Wouldn’t it make sense to celebrate unemployment instead of wringing our hands about job loss numbers? It’s a counterintuitive and possibly offensive thought, but only because of our collective misunderstanding about the true nature of work in America.

Who is actually working in America?

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez likes to bring up the single mom working two jobs. The narrative seems to work considering that the congresswoman became a rising star in the Democratic party overnight. However, the numbers show that less than five percent of Americans hold two jobs.

This iconic single mother makes sense in the context of Ocasio-Cortez’s district in Queens, where the median…


Michael Angelo’s “The Creation of Adam”
Michael Angelo’s “The Creation of Adam”

The easiest wins in spirituality are origin stories. There is something incredibly satisfying about the idea that we were created in “His image.” For an atheist, though, there isn’t an obvious parallel, except in evolution. But can we get something that’s as spiritually uplifting as the notion that we were created in His image?

I want to propose that the way life evolved on Earth is likely how life would evolve on another habitable planet. Life on Earth comes from a handful of templates for life unique to the structure and physical constants of our Universe. …


Edison holding a lightbulb
Edison holding a lightbulb

We forget that for most of human history, innovation didn’t come from free markets, but from whatever was the closest largesse, whether it was for the glory of the Crown or Church, or sponsored by a local warlord or rich patron. The notion that there is some unannounced prize sitting on the marketplace that will magically draw, like an invisible hand, the great ideas from aspiring entrepreneurs, is a relatively new concept and should be treated as such.

Even looking at recent human history, we find shifting centers of gravity for innovation. The 1990s, for example, was the first era…


Stack of books with a hole arranged in it
Stack of books with a hole arranged in it
Photo by Fallon Michael on Unsplash

Self-help books represent the next step in the evolution of our collective consciousness. It might sound like a stretch, but if we consider that religion was once how society told its story to itself, then the recent erosion of religion is creating a new kind of story.

Norm-gatherers

Believers often defend religion with this rhetorical question: Without religion, how will people know right from wrong? But the standard rebuttal, as trumpeted by prominent atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, is that everybody already has an innate understanding of right and wrong. …


A painting of a Titanomachy (i.e. clash of titans)

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” — unknown

Both conspiracy theorists and Marxists share a flawed viewed of history, of “us versus them.” Conspiracy theorists see a world run by a “secret cabal” and Marxists see one run by resource and labor exploiters. But they’re both saying the same thing: people at the top have their boot on our throats. So, who is pulling the strings? The answer is nobody. History isn’t “us versus them,” but rather “them versus them.” It’s a battle between whoever is in first place with whoever is in second or third place. …


Upside-down photograph of San Francisco’s skyline

How startup and tech splurging has changed America

If the 1980s saw the advent of trickle-down economics, the 2020s are witnessing the dawn of flush-down economics. As the coronavirus crisis is making clear, Americans are becoming more dependent on freebies subsidized by venture capitalists and investors. If you’re using Zoom for free, if you have a free subscription to Disney+, or if you’re getting “free” delivery from DoorDash, then you are the beneficiary of flush-down economics. What was once the quaint over-spending by so-called unicorns, such as Uber, Lyft, and WeWork, has now become a way of life.

So far, flush-down economics has been a barely noticeable lifestyle…


Democratizing the stock market sounds good in theory

Bold, animation that says NOW, YOU, CAN, INVEST
Bold, animation that says NOW, YOU, CAN, INVEST
Landing page for Square’s Cash App, a Robinhood copycat

Since the coronavirus crisis sent markets into a tumble, I’ve received frantic phone calls from friends looking for stock tips. And I don’t blame them. As Baron Rothschild once said, “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.” But the real opportunity isn’t for people like me and you, but for brokerages that are roping us in. A new generation of easy-to-use trading apps, led by Robinhood, Acorns, and Square’s Cash App, is gearing up for a massive explosion in user growth. …


Photo of helicopter against white sky by Daniel Klein on Unsplash

We make fun of helicopter parenting without realizing that it’s largely what makes us human. One of the hallmark features of the human species is the length of time we spend taking care of our young. If we are outliers in this regard, that means we are descended from a lineage that probably includes something like 10,000 mutant over-parents. Each over-parent had a new allele that lengthened the time they spent taking care of their children. Likewise, each over-parent had to brave the scrutiny of fellow parents who derided their parenting practices. Think of the first mom to hold her…


Bringing attention to this epidemic of denial

Camouflaged flounder on pebbles. (source)

For ten years, from ages 16 to 26, I did nothing to improve my mental health. I didn’t even know that I needed to work on my mental health. Often, when I was lying on the floor, over-analyzing something someone said to me, I’d become aware that I was over-thinking. My head would hurt, and my eyes would get blurry. But then I’d say to myself, “What if all this worry is justified, and something is really wrong with my life.” For ten years, I made that excuse, and nothing you could say would have changed that.

Then I discovered…


19th Century engraving of an old grain distillery

Michael Pollan, writing in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, posits that instead of humans being the ones who conquered Earth, we should consider how plants and animals have colonized us. The obvious example is dogs. Did we domesticate them, turning them into docile, cute creatures? Or did dogs domesticate us, ingratiating themselves as “man’s best friend” in exchange for food and shelter? Corn is another example, which has survived and thrived in a human-dominated world, whereas other more delicate food-bearing plants have diminished and, in some cases, become extinct.

Alcohol is probably the most interesting example of this reverse colonization given our…

Philip Dhingra

Author of Dear Hannah, a cautionary tale about self-improvement. Learn more: philipkd.com

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