On the weekend I like to get caught up on my reading. Over the week I accumulate open tabs from various email newsletters, social media sites, and my RSS feed-reader. I'll write up about some of my favourite sources down the line, but today's catch-up brought me an interesting parallel:
First is from the recently-restarted Pepys Diary Blog. It's August 1660 and King Charles II has recently returned to the throne, after decades of civil war and puritan rule. A new society is forming in real time, along with new power structures. 27-year-old Samuel Pepys happens to be in the right place at the right time, his talent and his family connections landing him a good position in the new regime. In the entry for August 16, 1660, he notes:
This morning my Lord (all things being ready) carried me by coach to Mr. Crew’s, (in the way talking how good he did hope my place would be to me, and in general speaking that it was not the salary of any place that did make a man rich, but the opportunity of getting money while he is in the place)
His new "place" gives him a solid income (it's hard to translate money amounts between our eras, but it seems to be six figures) and he's already had flamboyant offers from other people to buy the place from him at 10x the salary - but as his Lord points out it's much more about the leverage his place can give him in terms of favours and influence and kickbacks than just the salary.
Farming one's government position for kickbacks and favours and straight-out bribes isn't really supposed to happen in Western democratic societies anymore, but of course it frequently still does. For Pepys this was just how things worked - nowadays you need to be more subtle and/or powerful to stay out of trouble.
However, there are plenty of other more legitimate ways to leverage your particular position for more fame and influence and thus more income than you might get directly. People like the Obamas make far more on the speaking circuit and from their book publishing than they ever made directly in the White House.
A surprising example of this showed up in another article I read this morning, a review of a documentary and book about the modern crypto/memestocks world from The Verge:
One of the subjects of the documentary is a lonely guy who decides to cash all of his wealth into the DogeCoin cryptocurrency. At one point, his investment is technically worth over 2 million dollars, but he only has $161 in actual cash to his name. He refuses to sell any of it, for "personal branding" reasons - which seems wildly reckless, but then it turns out to have been a surprisingly good move:
At the end of the documentary, Contessoto moves to a three-bedroom apartment in Las Vegas. He’s made more than $690,000 in sponsorship deals on YouTube. Because he hasn’t touched his Dogecoin, his authenticity can be tapped for advertising. Contessoto outlines his long play: monetizing the attention he got from his Dogecoin bet with merch, a cartoon, and ad placement.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to make money with cryptocurrency is to ride the hype about cryptocurrency for sponsorships and sales. It’s a bit like those people making money selling “how to win at Vegas” books.
In our time, leveraging your "place" is about ampilfying your fame into sponsored ad-supported content on social media and other online sources, selling merch, and otherwise hustling.
But just like in 1660, the real value of your situation frequently isn't the thing itself but the "derivative" of whatever it is you're really doing. We don't all have these kinds of opportunities, but it's worth keeping an eye out for them - though maybe stick to YouTube ads and avoid the straight up bribes.