Imagine waking up one morning to discover that your life savings are suddenly worth a quarter of what they used to be. Overnight. Without warning. Through no fault of your own.
Imagine rushing to your bank to withdraw money to buy food and medicine for your family, only to be told that you can pull out a maximum of $300 per month.
But you've been earning over $3,000 per month for the last five years. Your life was designed around this steady paycheck. You aren't prepared for this. And neither are the hundreds of other customers lined up outside the branch this morning.
You've had an account with this bank for almost fifteen years. You've entrusted them with every penny you've ever earned. None of that matters now. The teller doesn't even look you in the eye. Other customers protest. Some have to be dragged out by the police.
You are helpless. You pinch yourself and it hurts. The nightmare is real.
Imagine watching the world around you crumble. Everything you've ever known flipped upside down in a matter of days. Schools closed. Shops shuttered for good. Some of your friends have fled the country. Some of your neighbors are sleeping on the streets.
On your walk home from the bank, you see two women fight over a half-eaten sandwich they pulled out of a trash can. One is holding a baby in her arms. The other is pointing at two children standing behind her, shoeless, wearing drab, torn clothes that haven't been washed for weeks. Both are pleading their case, but neither can afford to be compassionate today.
As you approach your apartment building, you witness a group of protestors being confronted by the police. Young people from different religions and economic backgrounds united in their anger. They are calling for reform. For an end to the corruption. They just want their lives back.
The ones that can afford it are wearing masks. Most are not. The police are clad in riot gear, wearing helmets, holding shields and batons, ready to pounce. The protestors are in street clothes. They are armed with sticks and stones. They have nothing left to lose.
This is all out of your control. The result of a series of poor, corrupt decisions taken by your government. Your country's politicians hide in their palaces, shielded by an army that is supposed to protect its citizens, while everyone else suffers.
You open the door to your apartment. Your three-year-old son rushes over to greet you. He smiles and laughs. His eyes twinkle with excitement. He pulls on your trouser leg and beckons you to pick him up.
You hold him in your arms and gaze at him. In that moment, you're filled with joy. Your problems melt away. The world is just the two of you.
Your partner asks you how it went at the bank. Reality sets in. What are you going to do?
This is Lebanon today. This was Ecuador in the 1990s and Zimbabwe in the 2000s. This is what hyperinflation can do to a country.
But this isn’t about hyperinflation.
This is about what can happen when you surrender control of your livelihood to someone else, whether it’s a centralized authority, another person or entity.
It’s about what can happen when you leave your fate in the hands of people that don’t have as much skin in the game as you do.
When you deposit money in a bank, you’re handing it the keys to your earnings.
When you hold all your wealth in a single fiat currency, you’re giving that government control over the value of your lifesavings.
When you commit your career to serving a single employer, you’re exposing your livelihood to another person’s decisions.
You cannot be the master of your destiny as long as someone else has a say in it.
I learnt this the hard way. Several times. In different aspects of my life.
It started at university, where I was required to complete a mix of courses chosen by men and women who had no stake in my career. It turns out that they weren’t good at predicting the future, especially mine. I haven’t used most of the things I learned in college since I graduated.
I was promoted at my first job within a year and on track to build a successful career at the firm. I was assigned a new boss, who decided that she didn’t like me, and ultimately bullied me into resigning. All the good work I had done prior to her arrival was forgotten overnight.
Three years later, in the middle of the recession of 2008, I was working at my first startup. We were bootstrapped and desperately needed a successful launch to raise investment. Social media was in its infancy at the time, so we relied on press coverage for marketing.
We tried everything to get through to journalists. We sent emails and letters. We attended networking events. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the coverage we needed. We didn’t get funded and we had to shut the company down.
Fast forward to today. Entrepreneurs still have to go through intermediaries to build an audience. Reporters and influencers play the role of the gatekeepers, while social media platforms set the rules of engagement. Marketing through these channels requires personal relationships and/or a significant budget.
Even if you’re resourceful enough to build your own social media following, it’s only an asset for as long as the platform doesn’t suddenly change its rules or get hacked. You’re still leaving your fate in someone else’s hands.
The good news is that we have decentralized alternatives to most things in life.
We can replace centralized social media platforms with a personal website built on a custom domain and an email newsletter.
We can diversify our savings away from fiat currency and into assets whose value is not dictated by government monetary policy, like gold or Bitcoin.
We can spread our money across different banks or store it in other locations, to prevent our reliance on a single custodian of our wealth.
We can supplement – or altogether replace – conventional education with skill-based courses that are tailored to our interests and the future economy.
We can build alternative income streams in parallel with a full-time job until we’re in a position to branch out on our own – or take the leap right now if that’s an option.
Choosing the decentralized path is casting a vote for your peace of mind. It’s making a stand against authority figures who sit high up in their ivory towers and aren’t concerned with what happens to you and your family. It’s designing a more resilient life that can better withstand external interference.
The road to our dreams is decentralized. It has to be. If our dreams can be destroyed on someone else’s whim, then they weren’t ours to begin with.
When I look back on my life forty years from now, I want to be able to say that I was responsible for my mistakes. If I fail to fulfill my dreams, I want it to be because of decisions I made. After all, what is a life worth without the freedom to choose?
I have family and friends in Lebanon. I’ve seen what can happen when you give centralized authorities too much power. I’ve witnessed people lose everything they’ve built over their careers in a matter of days.
What’s happening in Lebanon today can happen anywhere else in the world. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Covid-19 and economic recessions of the past, it’s that as long as the probability of a crisis is not zero, it’s more likely to happen than we think.
Now, imagine it does.
Imagine trying to explain to your son that you have to move out of your home, because of decisions made by a politician he will never meet in his life.
Imagine trying to explain to him that your bank won’t give you money that is rightfully yours and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Imagine trying to explain to him that you’ve spent the last few months at home, because your employer of twenty years suddenly decided that you’re dispensable.
Don’t be surprised if he looks up at you and asks, “Why?”
And if you try to offer him an explanation, don’t be surprised if he repeats his question, “Why?”
Why would you give someone else control of your life?