Monthly Archives: June 2012

Invest in yourself

For a long time now I have been convinced that financial investments are inferior to investments in one’s skills, knowledge and capabilities. Initially it was just a hunch, a by-product of my worldview. But the more I thought about it, the more it became clear that investing in myself made more sense than investing in financial assets. The aim of an investment is to achieve some return, benefit or gain in the future. In essence it involves limiting one’s current consumption possibility frontier in order to increase one’s future consumption possibility frontier. This is all very general, abstract, and theoretical, i.e. wonderful. 

As the times have changed, our notions of what is valuable have also changed. Where previously physical assets were the be-all and end-all of wealth and power, our current system runs along the contours of knowledge and information. Whenever I doubt this truth I remind myself that one little piece of technology the size of a coin (USB stick), with one little virus coded in ones and zeros has the potential to send the entire world into chaos. This has never happened, thankfully, but you don’t have to be a futurist to know the devastation that could be caused by a virus that randomly reallocated wealth, and since the majority of the world’s wealth is measured with digital placeholders – not land or gold or something tangible – this is entirely possible.

This is true of the world, but it is also true of the individual. Your most valuable asset is your brain, the repository of your skills, knowledge and capability. You can invest in bonds and stocks and try and secure your financial future in that way, but a more reliable and rewarding way is to invest in yourself. If you lose all your financial wealth and your possessions vaporize into the ether, you will still have your brain and the skills you have acquired, unless you are dead in which case it doesn’t matter. I’m still working on the mental-disability critique (perhaps take out insurance?!). If you accept that you are your most important asset, then you should spend your money in such a way as to grow your range of skills, knowledge and capabilities. That includes most books, meaningful travel, new courses, and self-study – these are INVESTMENT expenditures, not CONSUMPTION expenditures. Mistaking these two leads to sub-optimal allocations of income. Next time you invest in a financial asset, do so with the explicit reminder that you are implicitly saying that the return on that financial investment is more than the return on investments in your own skills. 


Race Attitudes and Education – EG Malherbe speech 1946

PDF of the book “Race Attitudes & Education” by EG Malherbe (1946) which is his speech from the Hoernle Memorial Lecture for the SA Institute of Race Relations – 17 pages and well worth the read.

Some notable excerpts:

“Troops fight well in proportion as they understand the things they are fighting for as well as the things they are fighting against” – Malherbe 1946

“Mr Hofmeyr devoted his first Memorial Lecture last year to a discussion of the bearing of the Christian principles on race problems. He showed how the central truth of the Fatherhood of God carried with it “the implication of the brotherhood of man, irresepctive of race or creed or colour and the concept of a world-wife family, all the members of which stand in the same relationship to its Head.” He also showed how “this family association is independent of the physical origin and the racial characteristics of those who make it up” p3
“So what do we have here: a country where there is on the one hand a tendency to oppress the Jews because they are so few and so clever, and on the other hand a tendency, equally strong, to deny democratic privileges to the natives because they are so many and so ignorant” p7
“Racial prejudices operate on the emotional plane and often spring from fear and a curious set of inferiority complexes.” p7
“English-Afrikaans relationships have improved considerably amongst the men in the army. We have strong proof that as a result of playing, working, fighting, suffering and dying together, a mutual appreciation and in many cases genuine affection has sprung up” – Malherbe 
“Education for mere literacy is not enough. In fact, that stage of education is in many respects a dangerous one, because it is too inadequate. It makes him an easy prey of propaganda through press headlines which is all he usually reads in a newspaper. he has not had enough education to make him propaganda-proof. One of the functions of education is to develop in men defence mechanisms against having their critical sense blurred or their consciences violated. A man should at least know when he is being propagandized. If a person’s schooling is insufficient to provide this armour, he should be taken care of by means of a system of adult education. in fact I am convinced that in matters of social and political education the late adolescent and adult period is far more important than the ordinary school age period.”
Professor Edgar Brookes realized this when he so succinctly summed up the South African’s attitude to Native education as “too humane to prohibit it, but too human to encourage it” p22
“Even the fine idea of trusteeship is not without its shortcomings in practice. According to this the natives stand in relation to Europeans as wards to a guardian who accepts as “a sacred trust of civilization” the task of helping his immature wards on to those advantages of civilization which they are unable to attain for themselves. I sometimes wonder whether those who carried out this concept have considered, at least in the Union, the possibility that the wards should or will ever grow up. There is no Master of a Supreme Court to ensure that this trusteeship does not become stepmothering!” p22
“Plato said that the man who wrote the nation’s songs wielded greater influence than the man who made the nation’s laws. I would say that the men who write the headlines of our newspapers wield far greater influence than our legislators”
“These were men trained and experienced in the techniques of adult education and it will not be easy to recruit that type of objective minded and well-informed officer again. I very much fear that if an attempt is now made to start, the whole movement might be becalmed in the haven of mediocrity. The idealism, the enthusiasm as well as the intellectual capacity will not be there to buy” p24
“Education for leaders should be our first objective amoungst the Non-European. To spread mere literacy thinly amongst the masses is dangerous, unless it is accompanied by the training of truly educated leaders who can guide the masses and who will see to it that their little education is not exploited and cultivating more bitterness” p26
The mark of a good education is to see such things in their right perspective and not to mistake the exceptional (however serious and annoying) for the significant. p27
“The chief reason why one war has always followed another throughout history seems to me to be in large measure due to the fact that the self-sacrificing idealism, without which battles cannot even be fought, much less won, and with which youth is so generously endowed, is featured in times of war and discounted in times of peace. When youth are faced with the necessity to undergo hardships, sufferings, and death in order to save their countries from disaster, they are implored to become idealists. Even the most crass-minded realist knows that no other philosophy can sustain men’s minds in moments of crisis. Once the crisis is over, the order of the day to youth is that they all put away their idealism as they do their outmoded weapons of combat. He who sacrifices his personal interest in the cause of the common good in war is called a hero. He who imagines that such principles of behavior should be put into practice in times of peace is apt to be thought of as an unrealistic, starry-eyed idealist. The one has a crown as the reward of his labours, and the other a cross.”
John M Fletcher in The Virginia Quarterly Review (quoted in Race Attitudes and Education by E G Malherb 1946)