The following is an Epicurean book review of The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco.
As I said before, this year my platform will focus on expanding on the subject of autarchy and Epicurean economics. As part of this, I am reading books related to pragmatic paths to financial independence for citizens of the 21st Century with the intention of updating the discussions we find in Philodemus’ scroll on property management for a modern audience.
The Millionaire Fastlane is not just another inspiring entrepreneurial book for aspiring “unemployed CEOs”. De Marco is a type of Nietzschean life-coach who engages in a re-evaluation of all values, specifically tackling conventional beliefs related to wealth, and authoring his own tables of values complete with his own commandments. His approach is a declaration of war against the mindset of the men of the crowd and against what’s become so-called “normalcy”. He rebels against the way of thinking that accepts the modern wage slavery paradigm, with the mediocre lifestyle and lack of freedom that result from this. He knows that only individuals can use their agency, resources, and creativity to make choices that lead to a way out of wage slavery, and so his is a free-market approach: his ideal of the self-made man reminds me of the Nietzschean Overman–although it may remind some of Randian heroes.
But I relate TMF’s approach to the Epicurean ideal of the self-governing autarch: making choices for the sale of a life of pleasure and leisure, so that one may recover the TIME that the capitalist overlords have taken, and have TIME to love and TIME to engage in the things that make life worth living. TIME is king, the book says, which takes José Mujica’s adage about time = life = true value to its full conclusion and confronts us with it, even with its most tragic and dehumanizing repercussions, inviting us to wake up and fight to take our time back, to disconnect time from labor / productivity. It is here that he articulates the great existential task of the autarch, of whoever wishes to claim individual sovereignty, as I see it.
The Millionaire Fastlane addresses the same problem as the book On the inhumanity of religion: our lack of freedom and the sacrifice of our time is degrading and dehumanizing. But while he does focus on the ideological and belief systems that keep us in chains, where DeMarco adds value is by providing a precise formula out of the wage-slavery matrix, one that worked for him, that is based on sound mathematical principles, and that he invites others to adapt. As to whether this formula works for a large enough number of people to make a difference, and to what extent, that remains up to his readers to evaluate and/or execute.
The book also challenges both blind consumerism (the ideal individual is a producer first), and it challenger the false ideal of frugality and minimalism, which it brands merely as “THE LIE”. Like all isms, it misses the point. Frugality can be a way to wealth, but a mediocre one at best. To many readers, the author will seem out-of-touch and over-privileged. In his defense, I will say that some Epicureans are very critical of the “minimalist” interpretation of Epicurean ethics, but completely fail to offer a clear, concise strategy or path to autarchy in the 21st Century using the internet and other tools available to millennials. If we fail to connect theory and praxis, if we fail to give potential Epicureans a clear, proven, dependable roadmap or formula to escape wage-slavery, frugality then becomes a reasonable path to autarchy and a reasonable way to be Epicurean today.
To the Epicureans, the unplanned life is not worth living. – Norman DeWitt
There is another way in which this book resonates with Epicurean ideals: it’s about not relying on fortune, but using the “horsepower of your choices” and leveraging your control over your economics to become a self-made, autonomous, free individual. DeMarco takes the realization that we make our destiny, our luck, and takes it to its full conclusion, confronting us with it and positing the possibility of a mathematical science or art of choices and avoidances.
… Necessity destroys responsibility and … fortune is inconstant; whereas our own actions are free, and it is to them that praise and blame naturally attach. … No good or evil is dispensed by chance to people so as to make life happy, though it supplies the starting-point of great good and great evil. … The misfortune of the wise is better than the prosperity of the fool. It is better … that what is well judged in action should not owe its successful issue to the aid of chance. – Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus
Where the book diverges from Epicurean thought is in the worship of status symbols, and there is no distinction between natural and necessary versus other pleasures, etc.–except where it mentions issues like lifestyle servitude–where debt, education expenses, and other needless things are chosen, which look like wealth but are really chains that keep us bound to time-for-money and indentured-work paradigms. So here, each individual is again invited to inscribe his or her own tables of values according to personal circumstances.
Adjusting our relationship with money, and placing happiness at the forefront is a hugely important philosophical task. I will be writing more book reviews and recommending more books like this one during this year. Please subscribe to my blog and to me on patreon, and join me on this journey!