Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Optimal Employment

60 Post author: Louie 31 January 2011 12:50PM

Related to: Best career models for doing research?, (Virtual) Employment Open Thread

In the spirit of offering some practical real world advice, let's talk about employment rationality. Let’s talk about optimal employment.1

You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world. Maybe you finished college, maybe you didn't. You want to pay your bills but also have time to pursue your intellectual goals. You want a low-stress job that doesn't leave you drained at the end of the day. And it would be nice to earn lots of extra money, because whatever you value, money tends to be a good way to get it.

And it is possible to find easily obtained, low-stress jobs with flexible hours that allow you to save as much money as someone in the USA making $100,000/yr... if you leave the USA to look for them.

Your instinctive reaction is probably that there’s no free lunch, so I must be mistaken or dishonest. And while you may have the right prior, I hope to persuade you that these jobs exist and tell you how to get one if you're interested.

This, I think, is a special opportunity for rationalists, an illustration that we can get better life outcomes from our investment in rationality - better outcomes such as low-stress jobs that leave us with ample discretionary income and enough free time to pursue whatever else we're interested in, obtained by being willing to break habits and think in numbers.

Employment Biases

First, consider some cognitive biases that may be leading people away from optimal employment.

  1. Status Quo Bias - As a rule, we work the same jobs we worked the day before regardless of whether it's still the best option for us. Almost everyone you know is doing the same thing. So you shouldn't expect to be able to just copy others' behavior and end up with optimal employment. Most people stop searching too soon.
  2. Money Illusion - We reason in terms of nominal salaries rather than in actual buying power. This causes us to chase high nominal salaries ($100,000/yr!) even when those salaries are coupled with an exceptionally high cost of living that decreases our overall buying power.
  3. Ostrich Effect - Regardless of income, the average American ends up paying close to 40% in taxes yet consistently self-reports as paying only 3%. In other words, we tend to ignore or deny obviously negative situations when we feel we can't change them.
  4. Conformity Bias, Herd Instinct, "Keeping Up with the Joneses" - Our mimicking behavior is so hard-wired that maintaining autonomy requires actively guarding against the usual practice of mindlessly working the same sorts of jobs and buying the same sorts of products as other people around us. At Less Wrong, we are not conformists, which is probably a good thing in this case. Americans' revealed preferences indicate that they mostly care about boring things like paying lots of taxes, having fat mortgages, driving 2 cars, and owning 3 televisions.
  5. Commuting Paradox - A recently uncovered bias finds that people will consistently endure unpleasant commutes even when the increased earnings don't compensate for the increased costs. A person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money just to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to work. And no amount of money can erase the cognitive fatigue caused by commute related stress. Koslowsky found that even a short commute or using public transportation is associated with increased blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, increased hostility, lateness, absenteeism, and adverse effects on cognitive performance.

So the literature on biases is telling us that the ideal job would be something that few Americans are doing, has high purchasing power at the expense of a high nominal salary, will be taxed less than a US-based job, avoids a commute, and minimizes the costs that eat up a typical American's salary.

Welcome to Australia

The USA is not the best place to earn money.2 My own experience suggests that at least Japan, New Zealand, and Australia can all be better. This may be shocking, but young professionals with advanced degrees can earn more discretionary income as a receptionist or a bartender in the Australian outback than as, say, a software engineer in the USA.

Now I’ll detail how to work abroad in Australia because (1) I did it myself (here's my first paycheck), and because (2) I've met hundreds of people working less desirable jobs in several other countries so I have some basis for recommending Australia in particular.

Quick facts:

  1. Australian dollars are currently worth slightly more than US dollars.
  2. The minimum wage in Australia is $15/hr, with $18.75/hr being a more typical starting salary for someone with a Work and Holiday Visa with no previous work experience.
  3. Employers are required to pay 9% extra beyond your regular wage into a personal retirement account, called superannuation, which you can fully cash out after leaving Australia, even if you aren’t retirement age.
  4. Tax withholdings are fully refundable to foreigners after leaving the country (0% effective tax rate) if you earn less than $6000 and report as a "resident" for tax purposes. If you earn between $6000 and $37,000 and file as a resident, your tax rate is 15% (for every dollar earned over $6000). See the full tax structure here.
  5. Hospitality employers such as resorts and hotels in remote areas like the Australian outback are required to provide heavily subsidized room & board ($75/week) and pay supplemental wages in the form of "district allowances" to all workers.
  6. For reference, I was hired as a bartender in Australia on the spot with no resume, no application, and no interview after openly admitting I had no service experience and couldn't operate a cash register.

So let’s compare and contrast Australia with the US:

  US Australia
Minimum wage $7.25/hr $15.00/hr3
High paying jobs Require advanced degree, hard to get, stressful Require no qualifications, easy to get, little responsibility
Income taxes 21.25% of income4 13% of income5
Housing costs 37.1% of income6 5% of income7
Food costs 13.3% of income6 5% of income7
Transportation costs 16.5% of income (need a car)6 4% of income (airplane tickets, visas)8
Compulsory retirement savings

-7.65% of your income into Social Security
good luck getting that back

+9% extra income paid by employer on top of wages
refundable when you leave the country!

Optimal Employment and Less Wrong

This may be of special interest to Less Wrong because most non-rationalists simply can’t reliably take advantage of this opportunity. They will see it as "too good to be true" or "some sketchy advice from the internet" and move on with their lives. You, on the other hand, can evaluate the evidence and make a decision. This kind of problem, where you must assess probabilities and come to a sound conclusion because immediate feedback is unavailable, is exactly the kind of problem that rationality is good for.

Let's compare the discretionary income you're likely to earn with a stressful $100,000/yr salaried job in the USA to the discretionary income you're likely to earn with a laid-back $39,000/yr job in Australia. Our time frame will be one year.

USA: In a $100,000/yr position, your top end tax braket is 28%, but after taking the "standard deduction" and accounting for the tiered tax structure, your effective income tax rate is only 21.25%. In our target age range of 25-34, you're likely to spend 37.1% of your income on housing (breakdown: 23.3% on rent, 7% on utilities, 6.8% on misc housing expenses), 13.3% on food, 16.5% on transportation, and 7.65% on social security payroll taxes. For convenience sake, we'll call the remaining portion of your income - 4.2% - your discretionary income. 4.2% of $100,000 is $4,200.

Australia: In a $39,000/yr position as a bartender or receptionist in the Australian outback, you'll pay 13% in taxes but immediately gain back 9% by cashing in your employer-provided retirement benefits upon leaving the country. Because room and board is heavily subsidized in the outback, you'll pay only 5% for housing and 5% for three excellent meals a day. You'll be commuting on foot because you'll live by the hotel or resort that you work at so the only transportation you'll need is a couple airplane tickets and legal documents, which will cost about 4% of the $39,000 yearly salary. That leaves you with a stagering 83% of your income as true discretionary income, or $32,370!

So working in Australia at a laid-back job with no responsibilities will likely earn you significantly more discretionary income than working at a hard-to-get, stressful, "high-paying" US job. In addition to the personal enjoyment of traveling to Australia, working at a resort in the outback will provide you with a comfortable living situation where all your bills are paid for, all your housing and meals are provided for you, you have no commute and you can enjoy 83% of your $39k salary as discretionary income.

On the other hand, a typical year working a stressful $100k/yr job in the US, if you’re highly-qualified and fortunate enough to land one, will mostly create value for the US government, real estate owners via your rent payments, oil producing nations whenever you fill up your car to commute to work, and retailers such as WalMart who provide household necessities from overseas suppliers. You definitely "create value" by earning that $100k and then immediately blowing it all back out into these giant economic sectors, but are you really executing your own values, or just the values of those around you? Assuming you're not a tax, rent, and car payment enthusiast, this arrangement is probably sub-optimal. That's why you need to learn...

How to Work in Australia

In six steps:

  1. Find an Australian hospitality job (or wait until you arrive; see below).
  2. Make sure you have a passport.
  3. Apply for a Work and Holiday visa.9
  4. Fly to Australia to start working and saving.
  5. Apply for an Australian tax file number.
  6. Open a bank account.

Though you may want to "play it safe," most of the jobs available in the Australian outback will not be listed online. My own recommendation is to skip step 1 and don't get a job lined up ahead of time. Fly to Alice Springs in May when the high season for hospitality jobs is starting to pick up, check into a hostel for a few nights, and look through the physical job boards. The person at the front desk of any hostel will be able to tell you where they are. That's what everyone I met working in Australia actually did to land jobs.

Or, if this sounds too overwhelming, have someone else do the planning for you. The site Oz Work Visa was founded by a fellow LWer (who went to Australia after reading this post) to help other optimal philanthropists and rationalists have a smoother time planning their working holiday abroad in Australia. I definitely recommend the services.



Of course, each person must assess the expected utility of this opportunity for themselves. Maybe you have a child or significant other you can't leave behind. Maybe you live with your parents, so you aren't spending much on housing or food in the US, and therefore staying in the US is the quickest way to build up discretionary income. Maybe the math above doesn't work for your particular situation. The USA's financial incentive system is extremely complex and, in the words of Kotlikoff & Rapson, "bizarre."

I don't mean to say that this opportunity will be best for the average Less Wrong reader who is single and in his or her 20s. But I do want to present one particular opportunity that may offer more optimal employment than whatever you're currently doing for a paycheck. I'd also like to suggest that in general, optimal employment might not be found in your home country.


Here's me enjoying some optimal employment in Australia:

Me, working at an Australian bar


Common Concerns

Q: This sounds too good to be true. How could there be this wage and cost of living imbalance? Shouldn’t the efficient market conspire to eliminate this huge pile of "free profit"?

A: The efficient market hypothesis assumes that humans collectively converge on rational beliefs. But most humans aren’t strategic enough to take advantage of an opportunity like this. They’re on a treadmill from high school to college to a nominally "high-paying" USA-based job + spouse + 1.5 children + dog. The thought of working outside their own country or outside of the field they got a degree in never seriously occurs to them, no matter how smart they are. Also, many people currently believe that working abroad is a bad idea simply because the best opportunities that existed 5 years ago (teaching English, peace corps) actually were bad economic opportunities.


Q: So how come all my smart friends aren't doing this?

A: Americans couldn't get these work visas until 2007. Since then, less than 8,000 Americans have taken advantage of the program. Your odds of knowing an American aged 18-30 who went to Australia and did this are very low. By comparison, over 170,000 British citizens aged 18-30 went to Australia just in the last 5 years via a nearly identical visa program. Basically, if you're living in the UK, or lots of other countries in Europe or Asia, the evidence is already beating you upside the head that working in Australia is a great way to save money. You already know several people in real life who can stand in front of you and tell you how great it was for them. I predict that working in Australia after college will be a trendy option for Americans in a few more years, but until it's completely obvious to everyone, you'll actually have to look at the evidence and be rational enough to process it without immediately rejecting the idea just because it sounds amazing.


Q: Won’t working in Australia prevent me from gaining experience in my narrow professional sub-field, thus reducing my total lifetime earning power?

A: This is almost certainly not the case for anyone under 30. Companies pay professionals more based on their abilities and their age as opposed to their actual years of experience. And, they pay more for older professionals than young ones just starting out cause they know these people really do have higher expenses and are less likely to quit. So taking a year off in your 20s to work abroad is only exchanging a year in which you would have earned the lowest salary you’ll ever have during your career for a year of higher earning power in Australia. You can always come back to your career in a year and pick up where you left off. Besides; who follows a straight-up-the-ladder career path anymore? Almost nobody.


Q: What about Australian culture? Will I like it over there?

A: Australia is a highly educated, robustly secular, extremely developed country. If you have any questions about the desirability of Australia, just ask Less Wrong! A disproportionate number of Less Wrongers are Australian.10


Q: I'm really bad at following instructions. What are the biggest mistakes I could make?

A: Don't make the mistake of settling down to work in Sydney, Melbourne or any other major Australian city. Those places all have exceptionally high costs of living, fewer job opportunities, no housing and meal benefits, and predictably lower pay. Make sure you travel to a remote area of Australia like I suggest. Go to the outback near Alice Springs or at least outside Darwin or Perth if you read up on it yourself and know what you're doing. Also, I recommend going to Australia in May when hiring is strongest. April can work too. June and July will work also.  Just don't go in February or March when people aren't hiring yet. One last tip: it's very expensive to be a tourist in Australia (how do you think you're being paid so much?) so I recommend that if you want to combine this opportunity with a vacation for yourself, fly to Bali or somewhere else in Southeast Asia where your money will go 10x further.


Q: It says the $295 Visa application fee is non-refundable. What if I apply for the Work and Holiday Visa and then I don't get it?

A: Did you read through the eligibility requirements to make sure you qualify? If you meet their requirements, you'll get it. Australia rubber-stamps American Visa applications. They're working hard to admit as many of us as possible since so few Americans apply to vacation or work in Australia and they want us to be better represented. The application is painless and I was issued my visa in less than 24 hours.



1 Many thanks to lukeprog for his help in writing this article.

2 Note to international readers living outside the US: Although I write much of this from the perspective of an American considering the possibility of working abroad, you can easily substitute “the UK” or any other first-world nation wherever I say “America” or “the US”.

3 Australian minimum wage is $15/hr AUD. Right now, the exchange rate between AUD and USD is basically equal.

4 Approximate, based on the third tax bracket in the year 2011. See the USA rates here, but note that these are nominal tax rates. The actual tax rate is lower due to the standard deductions.

5 An estimate, assuming you file as a resident for tax purposes and earn between $6,000 and $37,000. You are taxed at 0% for the first $6,000 earned, and at 15% for your earnings between $6,000 and $37,000. See here for the details.

6 See the 25-34 year-old age bracket from the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey.

7 Of course, this depends on how much you make, and is assuming you use the highly subsidized room and board offered to you in the Australian outback.

8 My real world costs of going to/from Australia:

$1166 round-trip ticket SFO - MEL (skyscanner.com)

$196 MEL - ASP (tigerairways.com)

$235 Work and Holiday visa

This might look like a lot of money if you’re not currently working or if you’re a broke college grad, but it only takes about 2 weeks on the job in Australia to earn back the cost of emigration, repatriation, and valid work papers.

9 Australian “Work and Holiday” visas are only available to those 18-30. If you’re almost 31, you can still apply for the visa now, have it issued before you turn 31, and then travel to Australia after you turn 31.

10 Based on traffic data for Less Wrong.

Comments (273)

Comment author: Raoul589 06 April 2014 06:41:23AM 0 points [-]

Are there any Australians here who have done this? Recently? Is the situation different for residents rather than worker/tourists?

Comment author: Mithy 16 April 2013 05:09:16AM 6 points [-]

As an American currently living in Australia on a Work and Holiday (462) Visa, I have a small but significant correction to make: foreigners on a 462 Visa aren't actually able to file as residents for tax purposes.

Which means that rather than paying 0% tax, I'm paying about 32% tax. (And that's a lot, but it's still better than what I'd be paying if I didn't have an Australian tax file number. If you don't have one, you can end up paying up to 45%.) I have yet to find out if I'll get any of that money back when I leave.

When I first got here, I was hopeful that maybe I did qualify as a resident for tax purposes. After all, it says on the Australian Tax Office's site that you are "generally considered an Australian resident for tax purposes" if "you have been in Australia continuously for six months or more, and for most of the time you have been in the same job, and living in the same place." (Source: http://www.ato.gov.au/individuals/content.aspx?doc=/content/64131.htm). And that's exactly what I planned to do. But maybe what that actually means is that you need to have already lived in Australia for more than 6 months at the time of application. I don't know. But I do know that for whatever reason, when I applied for a tax file number, I was informed that I don't qualify as a resident for tax purposes. Please correct me if the Australian government and I are wrong, because I would love to not have to pay so much in taxes, but this has been my experience.

Of course, what's left after almost a third of my money goes to the government is still more than I made at my minimum wage job in the U.S. (I get to keep about $12 AUD an hour, compared to $7.40 USD an hour, and the Australian dollar is still a little bit stronger), so it's still a significant step up. Especially because they pay double on public holidays and Sundays, which my job in the U.S. didn't.

However, since food and housing and laundry and everything costs more in Australia (granted, I'm living in North Melbourne, not Alice Springs, so maybe it's different out there) I still end up using almost all of my income on basic living expenses, even sharing an apartment and thus splitting the rent with two friends.

And as someone else pointed out, Work and Holiday Visas only last a year and are non-renewable, so if you want to stay longer, you'll need another one after that. And those can get expensive. (And just as a side-note, the cost of applying for a Work and Holiday Visa has gone up since this article was written. It's currently $365.) Source: http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/pdf/990i.pdf

So I'm definitely not going to discourage anyone from coming to live and work in Australia on a Work and Holiday Visa. Australia is lovely, and it's been great for me, but it's not a sure-fire way to get rich -- unless you can get a visa that does allow you to file as a resident for tax purposes, or a job that pays more than minimum wage. But finding an upper-level job is kind of tricky when you're only allowed to work for any one employer for a maximum of 6 months, according to the work restriction on a 462 visa. There are plenty of industries that employ backpackers and holidaymakers, but not every employer is going to hire a short-term employee. So I didn't want anyone to come here on a Work and Holiday Visa based on the information in this article and then get blindsided.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 16 April 2013 07:25:22AM *  0 points [-]

Did I meet you at the Less Wrong meetup in December/January?

Comment author: dsohei 18 March 2013 05:35:52AM 1 point [-]

wow. really great article, first time here. anyway i'm still going thru comments BUT... what opportunities are available for someone over the age of 30? doesnt have to be australia but damn, that'd be nice.

Comment author: Username 14 December 2012 06:03:29PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: jkaufman 18 May 2012 01:12:29AM 3 points [-]

Some people have now tried this: MileyCyrus, Psy-Kosh.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 February 2012 02:01:22AM 0 points [-]

Very seriously considering this. Has anyone else done it? If so, how did it work out for you?

Comment author: Ginge 13 February 2012 06:14:22PM 3 points [-]

Great Article & Info mate, I am a Aussie living in Canada for past 6 years, I am a long haul trucker, When I made the move I was told I would be earning 80,000 CND per year, Okay that meant taking a pay cut for me of 30k per year, I could deal with that as I wanted to Truck Nth America, I have no regrets in my decision,So don't think I am whining:) I have made Canada my home & I have been to every of the lower 48 States more than once, My 1st year here I struggled to earn the 50k I did earn, I was used of more than twice that amount, Also I was hit with "new" cost's such as the compulsory car insurance, even though I am an experienced Truck driver, driving Nth America all the insurance Co's seen me as a new driver!!$ 4500 a year on a ...get this....$500 Pontiac Sunbird! Australia is a great country for earning money, No two ways about it, I used to go for an overseas Holiday every year as I would take 4 weeks vacation at once which would leave me with a week up my sleeve, Yes thats true standard vacation given to you each year is 4 weeks, I was working a Continental shift in which we are entitaled to 5 weeks a year, better than the 2 I get now. Since being up here I honestly cant afford to do that every year now, I actually havent been home since arriving here in Feb 06, I like Ocha Rios & Tj nowdays:) Again I am not complaining just stating some facts:) I love the 4 seasons here in Nth America, In Oz when it was 5 degrees c I would be freezing! Today its -25 here in Atlantic Canada & I am freezing, but give me 0 c Im in a t/shirt nowdays. Anyone thinking of going to Oz for a working holiday , My opinion is you can not go wrong, You will get to meet great people from all walks of life , You will come home with money in ya pocket (as long as ya dont piss it all up) I am 46 yrs old now I moved here when I was 40, not a spring chicken !! I love meeting new people from all walks of life , & seeing the "Real America" like the ppl that live in country towns of Tennessee, Montana, New Mexico, Hearing story's from older black dudes that were around when it was coloured here whites there shit happening, Im rambling now, But the guy that wrote this article is right, get out of the big cities and go to more remote places, sure visit the city's , But the real ppl are far and few between there. Its the same for us ocker's coming to the USA tourists mainly go to LA, Vegas, NYC etc all tourist destinations, If your thinking of going DO IT!! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, If you arrive in Oz with 2000 bucks and leave with 2000 bucks and were there for a year well you would have so many memories that money cant buy and it will always be with you, My motto in life is..." You Only Live Once, Life doesn't let you wind the clock back to have another go," There are always planes coming back to the US everyday from Oz so your only a day from home in that respect. I started writing this to say well done to the guy that wrote it, now I have really rambled on huh!! Cheers Ginge

Comment author: thomblake 13 February 2012 06:31:39PM 5 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!

Please employ paragraph breaks. The above comment is very difficult to read.

$ 4500 a year on a ...get this....$500 Pontiac Sunbird!

Yes, the compulsory insurance is generally liability - it has nothing to do with how much damage you can do to your own car. It is rather protecting against the cost of injuries and damage you can cause to others with the car.

Comment author: taryneast 09 February 2017 09:31:42AM 0 points [-]

We have similar compulsory Insurance here in Aus too... it's called "third party insurance" (or your Green slip) You pay it as the same time as you pay your registration. It costs nowhere near that amount, even for new drivers. I currently pay around $600 a year but I'm female and 40 years old. I have not been driving for that many years though.

A quick online google shows me that if I were Male and 23 years old.. the same insurance would cost $890 - even for a driver with 1 year of driving experience.

Comment author: jonathanclester 11 February 2012 09:51:24PM 1 point [-]

So, if you do not have health insurance, how do you get around the health insurance requirement needed before applying for the work visa?

Comment author: taryneast 09 February 2017 09:40:00AM *  1 point [-]

Googling briefly...


You get yourself private health insurance here. Unlike the USA where employers tend to pay for it... it is normal and expected that ordinary private individuals on normal salaries pay for their own private health insurance.

it is NOWHERE NEAR as expensive as in the USA. I'm currently 41 and pregnant, with some (small) existing issues and I pay around $140 a month for "hospital and extras" cover - which I've used.

For somebody young and willing to have just the bare essentials, it would be much less than that...

don't forget that our government healthcare is exceptional and cheaper that the US even when you have to pay full price. We don't have the horrific "pay $100 for a tablet of acetomenophin" style BS you regularly find in the US

Comment author: tecben 13 June 2011 03:00:16AM *  1 point [-]

Some helpful Tips I've learned

Thanks for this great post Louie!

Australian minimum wage will receive a pay rise of A$00.51hr from A$15.00 on 1 July 2011. http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/world/5097951/Australia-raises-minimum-wage

Note: Don’t forget to get power adapter for your electronics.

Buying plane tickets

http://www.kayak.com/ http://www.tigerairways.com http://www.bing.com/travel/?cid=homenav&FORM=Z9LH5


Sydney: http://www.airportlink.com.au/ Melbourne: http://www.skybus.com.au/service-info-buses-and-transfers-to-melbourne-from-airport/#hotelservice http://www.hostelworld.com/

RSA course online (Make sure the state you're working in accepts online certificates)


High interest savings accounts: Open a checking account with your choice of bank then link a savers account from below.

https://www.ubank.com.au/ub/web/usaver/online-savings-overview http://virginmoney.com.au/savings/

Note: If you have a Bank of America account you can use WestPac ATMs for just a 1% conversion fee to get cash when you arrive in Australia. This is a good way to get some cash on hand for expenses before you get your Australian bank account set up.

Comment author: Peterdjones 24 May 2011 01:03:11PM *  2 points [-]

Q Why doesn't it surprise me there's a bartender shortage in Oz?

A I've been to London. They're all there.

Comment author: JJ10DMAN 05 February 2011 12:35:33PM *  3 points [-]

The recommendation is sound if: - You value good drivers. I've been to almost a dozen countries, and nobody comes CLOSE to the conscientiousness of Australian drivers; they honk as a THANK YOU for right of way in Victoria. They also have the the most dramatically sensical road system ever, which is mostly like the U.S., with one difference I particularly like: yield signs instead of the stop signs that American drivers only yield at anyway, usually for good reason. I'm a big fan of either enforcing rules or changing them, with as few exceptions as possible.

The recommendation is suspect if: - You care about what foods you eat. (Going from one country to another is going to dramatically change prices based on local crop/livestock viability and tradition.) - The way business is done provides uncomfortable culture shock. (I value free refills on soda disproportionally because I adore soda and consume a disproportional amount per purchase. Refill policies in Aus are inconsistent and necessarily more restrictive than a system that is consistently without restriction.) - Your hobby is taxed to death (video games in Aus are about 140-200% the price of video games in the U.S. - ouch). - Your utility function dramatically supports things other than accumulation of wealth which are represented by your current culture more than Australia's. (I support high freedom in media consumption and gun rights, things that Australia is good about, but not as much as the U.S... and if money is the unit of caring, then I care about those rights with my tax dollars.)

Comment author: syllogism 10 February 2011 10:59:25PM 3 points [-]

We have free refills of water here at almost all restaurants. I'm struggling to see how the restaurant letting you drink multiple cups of soda per meal is a good thing.

Comment author: Blueberry 11 February 2011 10:31:09AM 4 points [-]

Because I like soda and it tastes good! Why would it be a bad thing?

Comment author: syllogism 11 February 2011 12:51:12PM *  3 points [-]

I almost deleted my comment because I think it's a bit too snarky. But honestly, I struggle with self-control issues, and can find sweet things a bit tempting. But there's good motivation to resist, because if I drank soda like water the fitness and health consequences wouldn't nearly be worth the taste.

The "cost" of drinking a whole bunch of soda is much more than the price of it in dollars. So I don't feel like a restaurant's doing me any favours by making it normal to just chug it down.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 February 2011 12:56:37PM 1 point [-]

they honk as a THANK YOU for right of way in Victoria.

We do? Seriously? I usually just nod or wave. :)

Your hobby is taxed to death (video games in Aus are about 140-200% the price of video games in the U.S. - ouch).

They are? I usually pay... oh, um, yes that brings up an important point: our broadband is still not nearly as cheap or fast as the US.

Comment author: jasticE 03 February 2011 01:15:44PM 3 points [-]

I find your basic proposal sympathetic, since I have more or less been following the idea of optimal employment myself, but with different preferences. In that light, I find your advice highly specific, which is very useful for people with similar preferences, but less interesting for others like me.

To add my current personal choice to the mix: Here in Germany the cost of being enrolled at university is relatively low: from 50-500€ / semester, depending on federal state and university. On the other hand, you get the benefit of being able to work as "Werkstudent", where you pay only a flat amount of social security, which is usually the largest deduction from income. I work as a programmer on that basis, and have very flexible working hours, and lots of free time to pursue academic interests, and enough money to pay my bills. If I want or need extra money, I can choose to work more. I think this is a good choice if you like to live in an urban environment, especially since most German cities have a good public transport system and biking everywhere is reasonable.

Comment author: Hul-Gil 24 May 2011 04:37:51AM *  1 point [-]

Do you know anything about Germany's policy on American students attending German universities? I support it would vary depending on the university - but do you know if it's financially feasible? Or are the prices jacked up for foreigners?

Ich liebe Deutsch, und spreche ein bisschen. Ich wollte schon immer zu gehen nach Deutschland. :-)

Comment author: Barry_Cotter 24 May 2011 01:09:33PM 3 points [-]

Citizenship has no bearing on admission decsisions to German universities, and fees are at most, €500 per semester. You also get heavily subsidised tickets on public transport, and if you can get it the student accomodation is cheap as well. And native English speakers can make a bit of money to a reasonable living teaching English, while studying.

German Academic Exchange Service

Comment author: Hul-Gil 25 May 2011 02:19:57AM 1 point [-]

Awesome! Thank you for this. The incredible expense of American universities could quite possibly ruin my life... I'm now seriously considering attempting to transfer to a German one.

Comment author: jasticE 08 June 2011 03:05:42AM 0 points [-]

What Barry said, however, I have heard that you may not be able to work as a foreign student. But then, I have a colleague from Canada. I'll ask him for specifics. Austria may also be a good choice, as there are no admission fees, but I don't know any details.

Comment author: k3nt 03 February 2011 12:37:30AM *  9 points [-]

"-7.65% of your income into Social Security good luck getting that back"

The "Social Security will be eliminated before you collect any benefits" line is one of the great myths of USA politics. It's being intentionally propagated by one political party (hint: the one that voted against SS and has been fighting against it ever since.) SS's finances are in fine shape and the program can continue with minimal or no modification for many years to come.

Your link goes to a very brief piece arguing that most people don't think they will get Social Security benefits. Which is true! People have been told this so often they are starting to believei it! But that is a very different question from whether folks will actually get Social Security benefits.

Anyway I know this is only orthogonal to your main point, but I had to object. Spreading misinformation doesn't belong on a rationality blog.

Comment author: lukeprog 06 February 2011 03:23:31PM 3 points [-]

Could you link to an explanation of why I should expect to see my Social Security payments again?

Comment author: k3nt 11 February 2011 05:03:10AM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: drc500free 05 February 2011 10:50:52PM 2 points [-]

I also don't understand why the social security is counted as a negative percentage, and the retirement is counted as positive. If you subtract social security, you're counting your salary without that retirement contribution. If you add superannuation, you're counting your salary plus a retirement contribution. You can do one or the other, but not both.

There's also the simple fact that if a 9% contribution is mandatory, your stated wage will be 8% less to cover it. Just like your stated wage with social security is 7% less to cover the employer's contribution.

Comment author: Strange7 12 October 2011 11:53:56AM 0 points [-]

The amount the employer is willing to pay includes the employer's contribution to your mandatory retirement account, yes, but in Australia the amount they're claiming to pay you does not include the 9%, whereas in the US it traditionally does include the 7%,

Comment author: fiddlemath 12 October 2011 02:34:46PM *  2 points [-]

To clarify - in the US, FICA (Social Security + Medicare) charged a %7.65 "employer contribution" that was not counted in your stated wage, as well as a %7.65 "employee contribution" that was counted in your stated wage.

See also: wikipedia

If you earn money as "self-employed", which I did for a few years, then you get to pay both.

Comment author: drc500free 24 October 2011 12:41:07AM 2 points [-]

Right-o. This can make it very confusing to compare wages between countries.

The actual cost to the employer, assuming they are providing no benefits, is your stated wage plus 7.65% for most income levels. The amount the employee gets is the employer cost, minus 7.65% (down to the stated wage), minus another 7.65% (the employee contribution), minus any local, state, and federal income taxes.

The tax band you are in is based on your adjusted gross income, but everyone gets to knock at least $5800 off for the standard deduction so it's not even your stated wage.

Comment author: TylerJay 02 February 2011 10:30:47PM 0 points [-]

Great post! This sounds like a really good opportunity. I'm still an undergrad, but this sounds like a lot of fun for when I graduate and a great way to have a lot of free time to fill in the gaps in my education. I have a couple questions though.

I googled around, but couldn't find the legal age to bartend in Australia. Anybody know? I know the drinking age is 18

Also, I saw that you can only work 6 months for the same business. (http://marketing.statravel.com/Web_site/STA-Work-2010AU-Bartender-FAQs.pdf) What did you do when your 6 months were up?

Comment author: curi 01 February 2011 06:09:39PM 3 points [-]

-7.65% of your income into Social Security good luck getting that back

This is incorrect. The actual sociality security rate is DOUBLE that. Half is paid by the employer & half by employee to make it look smaller. That half you don't see does count b/c it lowers salaries offered.

Also you included medicare taxes in the figure. social security alone is less.

Also it's a % of your income up to something like 110k, income above the limit has 0 payroll taxes.

Comment author: advancedatheist 03 February 2011 03:09:48AM 1 point [-]

In 2011 the employee pays 4.2 percent Social Security, and the employer pays 6.2 percent. The Medicare rate of 1.45 percent, each payed by the employee and the employer, hasn't changed:


Comment author: Mario 01 February 2011 06:09:28PM 3 points [-]

I need to quibble with the "compulsory retirement savings" point. Realistically, any amount that the government forces the employer to contribute as a condition to hire you is money that would have otherwise been given to you as wages. There is no way to increase someone's value by fiat, so it's misleading to suggest that you somehow gain from the tax (apart from the social value of the retirement scheme). Also, the US SS withholding is 12.4% of income, as half of it is paid by the employer before the employee sees the funds but, as discussed, both halves are really paid by employees through lower wages (7.65% (x2) would include Medicare taxes, which I don't think you should include without including all of Australia's other taxes that contribute to their Medicare, like GST and tariffs).

Comment author: LukeStebbing 01 February 2011 10:07:25PM *  1 point [-]

This is untrue as a general rule, though it can be closer or farther from the truth depending on market conditions.

To see why, imagine that every month you buy a supply of fizzlesprots from Acme Corp. Today is the first of February, so you eagerly rush off to buy your monthly fix. But wait! The government has just imposed a tax on all fizzlesprot purchases. Curses! Now you'll have to pay even more, because Acme Corp will just pass the whole tax on to you.

Now change "fizzlesprot" to "labor" and "Acme Corp" to "employee". Huh? You're an employer, not an employee? My world is turned upside down! Could it be that the narrative where You bear the full brunt of every tax and They end up paying nothing is wrong?

In fact, whenever an economic transaction is taxed, the buyers and the sellers split the tax based on who is more eager to buy or sell. Labor is no different. It's possible that, empirically, the employee usually pays more of a labor tax than the employer, but this is by no means guaranteed and I would personally expect the proportion to vary significantly between labor market segments.

(Wikipedia's article on tax incidence claims that employees pay almost all of payroll taxes, but cites a single paper that claims a 70% labor / 30% owner split for corporate income tax burden in the US, and I have no idea how or whether that translates to payroll tax burden or whether the paper's conclusions are generally accepted.)

For more details, consult your nearest introductory economics textbook.

Comment author: Mario 12 February 2011 06:10:56AM 1 point [-]

Sorry this is so late, but I honestly completely forgot about this after I wrote it, so I never came back to see what transpired.

Anyway, I'm aware of how the marginal propensity to consume affects tax incidence, but in this case, where payroll taxes apply to every employee at every business, the only choices involved are whether to work and whether to hire, and companies have far more leeway in that decision. You can avoid the fizzlesprot tax by consuming an untaxed equivalent or finding a different, fizzlesprotless sexual fetish. You can only avoid a payroll tax by being unemployed; in practice, I don't think there is such a thing as one's marginal job. By contrast, employers look at the tax as part of the cost of hiring an additional employee, and simply won't hire the marginal worker if his or her cost is above the expected benefit. I can't imagine a situation where any significant portion of a payroll tax (as opposed to the corporate income tax) falls on the employer, so I didn't bring it up.

Comment author: LukeStebbing 12 February 2011 07:23:48AM *  -1 points [-]

Hmm, and yet only two-thirds of the working age population chooses to work, and some of that is part-time, which reduces the amount of labor available to employers. Labor can also move between sectors, leaving some relatively starved of workers. People who accumulate enough savings can choose to retire early and have to be enticed back into the labor market with higher wages, if they can be enticed at all. That doesn't look like a fixed supply of working hours that must be sold at any price -- the supply looks somewhat elastic.

Edit: Sorry about the tone in my original comment -- tax incidence doesn't seem to be common knowledge and I failed to consider that you might be aware of it already.

Comment author: grobstein 01 February 2011 10:23:11PM 1 point [-]

(Wikipedia's article on tax incidence claims that employees pay almost all of payroll taxes, but cites a single paper that claims a 70% labor / 30% owner split for corporate income tax burden in the US, and I have no idea how or whether that translates to payroll tax burden or whether the paper's conclusions are generally accepted.)

There's no consensus on the incidence of the corporate income tax in the fully general case. It's split among too many parties.

Comment author: SeventhNadir 01 February 2011 05:56:53PM *  6 points [-]

As a West Australian I think that there are certain expenses you're overlooking. You'd need access to a car, there are no buses or trains to many of the towns (sometimes the larger mining companies do organise buses or chartered flights). Internet will be slow painfully slow and prohibitively expensive, where $200 worth of hardware and $40 a month (on a one year plan) gets you a whopping 1GB of quota. Food is very expensive, alcohol even more so if you're into that sort of thing. Living in the outback can be very unpleasant depending on where you go.

My roommate is an electrician and has done plenty of fly in fly out work, while the money is (often not always) good, he can't handle more than 6 months at a time since there is often not much to do in small towns.

Comment author: semerda 01 February 2011 05:54:20PM 12 points [-]

I disagree and agree with some of the points above. But that's life right.

So my story is that I grew up in Sydney and now for the past 2 years have been working in the Bay Area (SF) as a Software Engineer. In a nutshell for a working professional USA is the place to be. Lifestyle, I will stick with Sydney.

Here's a quick snippet of what I found:

a. As a Software Engineer I make more $$$ here then in Sydney. Also the "fun" working conditions here rock and the talent you get to bump heads with is super.

b. Tax is lower by 2% for me and gets better when I claim jointly. If I have kids it gets better.

c. Living here is CHEAPER.

d. Food is cheaper. I buy fresh organic produce at farmers markets for the same price I would have in Woolies processed foods in Sydney. Thus I am more healthier and feel better. Plus so much more choice.

e. Petrol (Gas) is cheaper. Cheaper by 30% then in Sydney.

g. Cars also cheaper by 50%. You can get an E350 Merc for $60K vs. same one in Sydney for $125K.

f. Housing (rent) in Mountain View (heart of Silicon Valley) is identical to North Sydney (within 7km of city). Utilities are also cheaper by average of 50%.

g. Internet cheaper by 20-50% + unlimited data. Say what, unlimited. To an Aussie true unlimited is unheard of.

The rest of this Aussie's journey in the heart of Silicon Valley is documented here: http://www.theroadtosiliconvalley.com/

~ Ernest

Comment author: Airedale 01 February 2011 04:02:46PM 10 points [-]

Q: Won’t working in Australia prevent me from gaining experience in my narrow professional sub-field, thus reducing my total lifetime earning power?

A: This is almost certainly not the case for anyone under 30. Companies pay professionals more based on their abilities and their age as opposed to their actual years of experience. And, they pay more for older professionals than young ones just starting out cause they know these people really do have higher expenses and are less likely to quit. So taking a year off in your 20s to work abroad is only exchanging a year in which you would have earned the lowest salary you’ll ever have during your career for a year of higher earning power in Australia. You can always come back to your career in a year and pick up where you left off. Besides; who follows a straight-up-the-ladder career path anymore? Almost nobody.

Although I think that in the case of taking off only a year these sorts of concerns are probably pretty minimal, this doesn’t seem like an accurate view of the hiring process as I know it. First, many (although not all) companies have no methodology in place for evaluating abilities other than through experience. Indeed, many job ads include experience as a requirement. And the more a company uses HR to evaluate candidates, the more they will use experience as a proxy for ability. Second, although I agree that companies will generally pay older professionals more than younger ones, because of that very reason, many companies will prefer to hire younger cheaper workers, even if they realize this may risk greater turnover because the workers may be less loyal.

As I said, in the case of taking off only a year, I don’t think these concerns are going to have much effect. But even in the case of taking off a year right after college, for example, to the extent that one’s school has on-campus recruiting, applying for jobs will turn out to be a much more difficult and time-consuming endeavor, and some companies will reserve some entry-level jobs exclusively for on-campus recruiting.

The other caveat I have is that in a difficult economic climate, even a slight blemish (or something that can be characterized as a blemish) on one’s résumé may negatively affect one’s job search. With a surplus of qualified applicants, companies will often be looking for reasons not to interview someone, and HR professionals will not always be fair or accurate in finding these reasons. For example, some HR professionals may look at taking a year off to work in the hospitality industry as evidence that the candidate lacks seriousness of purpose or passion for the company’s industry. Now it’s true that others may look at it as adding interesting life experience, of course, but even there, there are probably candidates who took a year off in a way that HR companies view as more meritorious (even though they are less lucrative for the candidate), such as working with the Peace Corps or teaching English in a foreign country.

Comment author: Petro 01 February 2011 01:26:34PM 38 points [-]

Given that I'm an American currently living (and working) in the Outback, well there's some flaws in your argument.

There is a lot of employment opportunities here (Alice) because LOTS of people leave after a couple years here. They do that for a reason.

There are basically two economic drivers in this area--tourism and The Base (I'm neither a gardener nor a cleaner, I'm a sprinkler head technician). The Base mostly brings in Americans with very high clearances to do gardening and cleaning, and spends a significant amount of money in Alice for related goods and services.

Tourism is largely due to it's proximity to Uluru/Ayers Rock, and, well, being the only sizable "city" for, well, Darwin is about 1500k north of here, and Adelaide 1500k south.

Alice is a town of about 26k residents. Small town. Very small.

EVERYTHING here, except (oddly enough) pecans, is more expensive than I was paying back in St. Louis MO.

Gas is something like 1.30 a liter. A case of Strongbow is ~50 AUD. A 700ml of Makers Mark is about 40 AUD. Some of the costs are hard to map because GST is 10% and included you don't notice it, you just see it's more expensive, so you really have to keep that in mind.

Meat and vegetables are a tad more expensive than back in the states after accounting for GST. Salmon is a LOT more expensive.

McDonalds is WAY more expensive, but no one here would admit to eating that kind of stuff, right? (3 year old. Playground. And yes, a cheese burger and some fries occasionally is tasty).

So from personal experience I'm calling BS on your food calculations. Also the Department of State claims that (if I read this table right) that Alice is %50 more expensive than living in DC. http://aoprals.state.gov/Web920/cola.asp explanation here: http://aoprals.state.gov/content.asp?content_id=245&menu_id=74

Also, you like Amazon? Guess how much of it they won't even ship to an APO, much less overseas.

This is what housing looks like in Alice: http://tinyurl.com/4qvnlvx

The houses here are nice, but utilities are purportedly MUCH higher here than in the states (because of my contract my employer provides my housing and pays my utilities, but I have to pay tax on the imputed income, which allegedly is about as much as I'd pay for utils + rent in the US. I haven't gotten that bill yet, so it's just hearsay so far). Here are the tarriffs for utilities: http://www.powerwater.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/1582/2010-2011_Tariff_brochure_-_July_2010_web.pdf

Oh, and it gets fookin HOT here. Really hot. As in 40/105 is not all that remarkable. Then there are the bugs and spiders. Redbacks, Golden-Orbs. 3 inch cockroaches.

There is a LOT of property crime here, and an above average level of violent crime for the size of the town. Some people have been blaming it on "the kids" being out of school (the school year here lines up with the calendar, so December & January are mostly summer break). Many of the Ozzies I work with blame a lot of it on the Indigenous population which (at least many of them who live/sleep in town) has a large problem with substance abuse and the constellation of problems that accompany that. Certainly many of the women here are afraid to be "downtown" alone after dark (Remember, this is a town of 26k, so "downtown" is where the restaurants, bars, and hotels are.

Oh, and if you need medical care there is a local hospital, but if you need surgery you're most likely going to be evac'd to Adelaide. 1500 kilometers south.

I've only been here a short while (2 months), and if you like a certain (relatively slow) pace of life, things here aren't bad. There are a LOT of American's here (mostly working at The Base) who love it. There's a lot of (desert) hiking and camping, you can get old Toyota Land Cruisers cheap if that's your thing, there is "mountain biking", and various sports etc. Recreation seems to be having barbecues (yes, it's cliche. It is also, near as I can tell true) and going 4 wheeling in the bush.

Oh, and this is the Lesbian Capital of the Outback, and purportedly has more lesbians per-capita than anywhere in the world.

But to the OPs point, no, I don't think this is a good place to come to bank cash, and certainly not by coming to the middle of nowhere and working in a bar.

Now, if you have certain skills--either a degree, training or experience, and a top secret clearance, and want to come work as a Gardner, Cleaner, or electrician, then coming out here DOES make some sense. If we watch our money closely we'll be able to take a couple trips around the country and have enough left in the bank at the end of our contract that we can take our time finding our next place to work.

Of course, if you don't mind a little more stress, with those same qualifications you can get a job in Iraq or Afghanistan. If you're single you go over there and you can clear (after taxes) between 100 and 220k with only discretionary expenses. I did that for a year (with a family) and was able to pay off all debts and take about 8 months off, and still had enough when I got here (to Alice) to pay cash for a late model car and have some cushion in the bank.

I've never been all that worried about making a lot of money. It would be nice to be independently wealthy, but it's also a lot of focus and effort that (IMO) could go into better things.

I didn't come here to bank a LOT of cash. I could make more or less the same amount of money (everything accounted for) back in the US, but my wife and I wanted to live outside the country for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity. We weren't tied to where we were living, we didn't have jobs, family will (almost) always be there when you get back.

There are a lot of benefits to living overseas for longer periods of time--if you're just there on vacation/holiday it's easy to keep your rose colored glasses on the whole time, but if you're there for 2 years, and you have to live "on the local economy" you see things done differently than we do them in the US. Some of these methods are better, and some are worse (for example in the US regulations require that auto makers direct a certain percentage of the headlights up to illuminate overhead signs, which is light you can't use for distance or side. Here the beams are slightly different. IMO this is a better scheme. In the US your shopping car as 2 moveable and 2 fixed wheels. There they have 4 movable. This can be a problem on slopped sidewalks.)

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 15 May 2012 03:15:25PM 1 point [-]

Hey, are you still in Alice?

Comment author: Hul-Gil 24 May 2011 04:43:22AM 4 points [-]

So if I obtain high security clearances (how?), and have experience as a gardener or janitor or some such job... I can clear $100K/year by working at U.S. bases in Afghanistan?!

Comment author: lukeprog 06 February 2011 03:16:28PM 2 points [-]

Great details, thanks.

Comment author: alexflint 01 February 2011 07:44:41AM 5 points [-]

As an Australian living overseas I'm staggered by the quality of life that Australians enjoy, which seems to me higher than that in the UK or US for any given income bracket.

I suspect the main reason that more Australians who live in cities don't go to the outback is that they highly value a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Great for a working holiday to save some cash, though.

Comment author: Goobahman 01 February 2011 05:14:14AM 1 point [-]

Great guide.

Alas I have far too many friends and family keeping me in the cities of Australia.

That and all the culture.

If I needed to save 30k desperately and wasn't married though... I had a friend who did it somewhere in Perth. Earns about half of what I do, saves about twice as much...

Comment author: avalot 01 February 2011 04:46:45AM 10 points [-]

I think there is a widespread emotional aversion to moving abroad, which means there must be great money to be made on arbitrage.

I think a lot of the aversion is fear of inferiority and/or ostracism. These are counter-intuitively misplaced.

The theory is this: You're worried that the people over there have their own way of doing things, they know the lay of the land, and they're competing hard at a game they've been playing together since they were born. Whereas you barely speak the language, don't know the social conventions, and have no connections. What chance could you possibly have of making money or making friends?

In practice, it's the opposite: Against a wildcard like you, they don't stand a chance!

If you're somewhat smart, you'll find that you have cultural superpowers in a foreign country: Your background gives you a different, unusual look on things which makes you interesting and exotic. At home, you'd be nothing special. And since your accent is cute, you'll be forgiven your blunders (at least by strangers and superficial acquaintances).

The same asymmetry applies to your education, your working style, etc. They are suddenly unique and refreshing. That can be parlayed into advantage, if used judiciously.

Playing 100% by the rules only guarantees that your playing field will be too crowded for you to get any breaks.

Where the market is irrationally risk-averse, take risks, young ones!

Comment author: Davidmanheim 06 February 2011 11:15:40PM 6 points [-]

The fact that americans don't want to go overseas does not imply there is money to be made on arbitrage - there are other people already there. You need several more peices of information, which we currently lack in order to conclude that there is money to be made. The asymmetry you posit sounds plausible, but is frequently untrue - in business, knowing the ground is incredibly important. I had a co-worker who was fired, essentially, for making one giant culturally insensitive statement.

Being an american frequently gets a different reaction abroad than "cute," and strangely it's not a positive one. Exotic is fine in hospitality, but most jobs want someone they understand as an employee. When we hire, known quantities always win, all else equal. And most people don't want to live in the middle of nowhere for some extra money. That's a non-economic cost that may not be compensated for by extra salary, which may not exist anyways.

Comment author: avalot 08 February 2011 04:40:16AM 1 point [-]

By "strangers and superficial acquaintances", I didn't mean bosses or co-workers. In business, knowing the ground is important, but as a foreigner, you get more free passes for mistakes, you're not considered a fool for asking advice on basic behavior, and you can actually transgress on some (not all, not most) cultural norms and taboos with impunity, or even with cachet.

I was not talking specifically about Americans. Americans indeed tend to find out that they have a lot to answer for when traveling abroad. I believe this is also often compounded by provincialism and lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of the imperials: America is the most culturally insular western country I know.

At any rate, the crux of my point wasn't about an American's chances trying to play by the rules in a foreign country. My point was that the cultural baggage you accumulated as a child in your home country is worth more if you sell it where the supply is low, and the demand is high.

It's like trading silk or spices, but instead you're trading cultural outlook. When you're young, and a new entrant to the marketplace, your cultural outlook is not a competitive advantage at home. It's an automatic differentiator in a foreign country, where you can turn it into an edge. It's not a free pass, but it can be a shortcut.

Comment author: nuckingfutz 01 February 2011 02:10:37AM *  32 points [-]

I'd like to raise a "dark arts" objection here. This article is written with a lot of presuppositions, strawman attacks, appeals to character, and other interpersonal but non-rational attempts to convince social humans.

For example, the article leads with "You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world." While that may be true of the majority of less wrong readers, the article does not discuss why these qualities are relevant. In fact, the article suggests ways to have less impact on the world - working through a service position - than other careers (such as existential risk reduction). This leads me to believe that this opening line is nothing more than a compliment intended to endear the reader.

The following wording reads like a sales pitch and is highly suspect: "And it is possible to find easily obtained, low-stress jobs with flexible hours that allow you to save as much money as someone in the USA making $100,000/yr... if you leave the USA to look for them."

A classic promise - easy money, with a small catch. Can you rewrite this is as a description of the work you personally experienced, rather than an ambiguous promise?

You disarm objections without providing evidence via, "Your instinctive reaction is probably that there’s no free lunch, so I must be mistaken or dishonest." and follow up with a reiteration of the sales pitch and another appeal to the reader's character in "And while you may have the right prior, I hope to persuade you that these jobs exist and tell you how to get one if you're interested."

More sales-ish writing: "This, I think, is a special opportunity ..." followed by a reiteration of the sales pitch. Why not say, "Act now! Limited supplies available?" It has the same content and validity, absent evidence or justification WHY this is a special opportunity. If anything, rationalists are not the best target market here: low income, low skill US wage earners are.

You fail to discuss your personal experience (other than providing a smiling picture of an attractive young male engaging in the activity you propose - another sales tactic). You don't discuss why you can easily get a job as a bartender (likely that you're a charasmatic, attractive young person) but instead imply that the entire area is somehow 'easier.'

As a personal example for credibility, I made $44,000 in the United States last year working only 5 months out of the year. I was able to save $19,000 of that, after taxes, living expenses, and several luxuries like months-long trips abroad.

There are many ways to optimize one's income and savings rates.

Comment author: Andi 30 May 2012 06:44:57PM 0 points [-]

Assuming 25% in taxes, you lived on 1562.50 a month- including rent, food, utilities, and other luxuries. That is not including taking out SS or health care costs and months of vacation. Where, sir, do you live?!? A one-bedroom where I live and transport 1 hour into work is 1200 a month with utilities adding around 150... that is not even including food, gas, car insurance, rent insurance (or home), plus health care.

If I could live somewhere that 1550 or so took care of all of that....

Comment author: thomblake 30 May 2012 07:04:11PM 1 point [-]

At one point I was living on a bit over $100 a week, in New Haven, CT. The apartment was huge - we paid around $900 a month and split it 4 ways, but we could have fit more people (it was a 4-bedroom, but we were usually couples and used 2 of the bedrooms as extra living space). I took the bus to work for about $35 a month, had to pay part of the electric bill, and the rest went to food and sundries. I relied on cheap staples like rice and tried not to use too much soap at a time.

Comment author: shokwave 01 February 2011 09:01:11AM 12 points [-]

This doesn't pattern-match to a sales-pitch at all. What does Louie stand to gain by you following his advice?

As your post stands, you make six whole paragraphs out of cherry-picked quotes and "this sounds persuasive". Most egregious of all is your conclusion:

There are many ways to optimize one's income and savings rates.

As if this is somehow a point against Louie!

Comment author: nuckingfutz 01 February 2011 05:59:34PM 7 points [-]

Self promotion is a form of sales. Had this been posted directly on Tim Ferriss's blog, I'd have not noticed a difference in writing style.

Comment author: shokwave 02 February 2011 12:05:16AM 0 points [-]

How is this self-promotion? Louie makes the argument generally, and then provides a specific example he has on hand (himself), but I'm going to need more evidence than an accusation to believe the purpose of this post was to self-promote.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 February 2011 03:33:05AM *  27 points [-]

For example, the article leads with "You're young, smart, and hoping to have a positive impact on the world."

Writing in a conversational tone attempting to empathize, establish rapport and maintain interest. That barely even qualifies as grey arts. It is more 'not pretending to be a Vulcan so as to prevent dark arts accusation".

I'm not advocating everything in the original post - it is a good post but far from perfect. But this objection was an (ironic) abuse of the 'dark arts' label and something that I would wish to discourage.

Comment author: sakana 01 February 2011 03:32:48AM 3 points [-]

Would you care to elaborate on your personal example? You said what you earned, but not how you did it..

Comment author: nuckingfutz 01 February 2011 06:02:05PM 9 points [-]

I went to an ivy league college, learned an economically scarce skill (IT security), found contract positions that paid a high hourly wage with no clause to continue the work. I was otherwise frugal.

I am not conventionally attractive or charismatic. Louie is. He will find it easier to find work as a bartender without a resume or reference than I will.

Comment author: Kevin 01 February 2011 03:11:13AM *  7 points [-]

Why is your way better than Louie's way? It's tone, the writerly voice, which is quite individual. Persuasive writing is in no way automatically dark arts. Though I did tell Louie that this post needed more entertaining anecdotes.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 February 2011 01:15:34AM 4 points [-]

I wish we had more info on how people who aren't US citizens or under 31 can live and work in AU.

Comment author: taryneast 06 February 2011 05:12:58PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: lukeprog 06 February 2011 05:35:12PM 2 points [-]

I wish somebody could compress and synthesize the available information on how people who aren't US citizens or under 31 can live and work in AU.

Comment author: moshez 01 February 2011 01:10:00AM 7 points [-]

I have a different perspective on these issues, having moved to the US from Israel (fairly recently). Here's why living in Australia would suck for me (Your Utility Function May Vary):

  • My family is located abroad, but it's easier for me to visit them and much more likely that they'll visit me if I live in the US. Seeing my family is valuable to me. If seeing your family is valuable to you, and they're in the US, prices are even more varied. If you have siblings (I do), then I will share my experience that seeing one's nephew grow up is a wonderful experience, that I am happy to pay for.
  • Atmosphere. The atmosphere in the Bay Area is awesome (for me). I have an active social life after having been here a little over a year. I suspect the case would not have been the same in Australia (I did have the opportunity to research the Bay in depth before moving here)
  • Conferences and conventions. The US has loads of them, and traveling inside the US is relatively cheap. I go to around 10 conventions/conferences a year.

Remember that there was a reason why Australia was a prison -- it is FAR. From everything. I have a friend who lives in NZ. He loves it there, but warned me that I would probably not like it there. He knows me better than Louie, so I would take his advice, and enhance it to include Australia (I understand the atmosphere is somewhat similar, though I suspect the Australians and the New Zealanders in the crowd will take offense at that.)

Comment author: taryneast 06 February 2011 12:39:27PM 1 point [-]

Yes, as an Australian, I have to concur that the biggest drawback of being in Australia is that it is a long way from the rest of civilisation.

We are surrounded by a lot of mostly-empty water in almost every direction.

Not only that, but the low population density (especially in somewhere like the outback) means that the distances are big even for local requirements.

This does have to be factored into consideration.

However, it seems as though the original article is all about putting up with being in a slightly less preferable life-situation for a year - to gain money which can then be leveraged when you get back to your ore preferable location...

Spending a year in the outback could be an acceptable situation as long as you know it's only temporary.

Oh, and I like YUFMV (Your Utility Function May Vary). I am now going to start using more often :)

Comment author: Carinthium 02 February 2011 12:14:51AM 0 points [-]

Actually, when the British were first deciding where to send convicts they considered West Africa, but decided on Australia despite the extra expense because they THOUGHT there were valuable goods (hemp if I remember correctly) that they otherwise would have to import from Russia.

This turned out to be completely wrong, but by then they'd commited themselves...

Comment author: syllogism 01 February 2011 12:50:04AM *  6 points [-]

I've lived in Sydney all my life, and often meet people who are here on a working holiday and are very disappointed. For instance, this weekend I met a guy from Jordan working in a convenience store. He was making $800-1000/week working nightshift[1], and enjoying the novel, liberal culture, but found it difficult to save much.[2]

Now I know what to tell people, which makes me feel a lot better. I'd be curious to know whether you could get a similar deal in other parts of the country, though. Alice Springs is not a greatly pleasant place, from what I understand. Many parts of the country are much nicer, such as the sub-tropical coastal part near the NSW/Queensland border around Byron Bay, the Murray riverina, far North Queensland, etc. Alice Springs is a small town in the desert.

[1] Night and weekend work generally increases the minimum wage. The penalty rates are 1.5 to 2 times, so a night shift sometimes works out to $30 an hour.

[2] If you strategise properly it's possible to live quite well in Sydney for $450-500 a week. I got into the habit of this during my PhD, when I was on a low stipend. However, you need to divide housing costs between lots of people (I live with my girlfriend and another couple in a 2br unit), and you need to only go out in cheap areas. It's common for young professionals to fail to save anything substantial on $80-100k a year here.

Comment author: Louie 01 February 2011 01:19:23AM 1 point [-]

I agree with you. Sydney is a great place to live in it's own right, but it's a terrible place to work and earn money.

Didn't think about the night shift idea but that's true. Good suggestion!

Comment author: syllogism 01 February 2011 01:42:22AM *  0 points [-]

Sydney can be okay financially, but it's definitely not optimal. But it's a nice enough city and I have my friends and family here, plus a good research group for my interests, located in a nice suburb.

Post-docs make okay money here, so I'm on 51.6k after tax and my 7.5k "tithe" (75k gross salary), and the uni pays 16% superannuation.[1] My living expenses are $500 a week, so I should have roughly 25k per year savings. I've only done three months on this salary and I'm on schedule, but we'll see whether I fall to the common spending traps.

I do spend a lot of time working, but I live 5 minutes walk from the office and the hours are flexible, so it's manageable. In an average day I'll spend 6 or 7 hours in the office, and then 2 or 3 hours at night.

I consider myself lucky to have the skills and interests to pull off the "live-to-work" strategy. If I were interested in, say, writing novels instead of researching language technologies, the equation would be quite different.

[1] The university pays more super than is mandated, and all salaries are indexed to inflation. Our union is good.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 January 2011 11:41:00PM 3 points [-]

As this is currently in the top position on the front page, I took the liberty of editing the top slightly to trigger fewer perceptual spam-detectors - there's no real reason not to tell people what the article is about up front.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 31 January 2011 10:02:36PM 25 points [-]

I think a large contingent on LW would be more interested in what an optimal employment scenario looks like after graduating with a high-value degree. I know I am.

Comment author: patrissimo 22 February 2011 07:32:29AM 0 points [-]

Step 0: Get a time machine Step 1: Go back in time and tell yourself not to waste time on a degree, but to go invent Google or Facebook or something useful Step 2: Profit!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 February 2011 03:09:28PM 4 points [-]

Or perhaps:

Step 1: Go back in time, etc.

Step 2: Profit!

Step 3: Build a time machine and go back to before step 1 and give it to yourself.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 February 2011 06:25:43AM *  22 points [-]
  • Step 0: Get a high-value degree.
  • Step 1: Get a high-paying job with your high-value degree.
  • Step 2: Save a lot of money. Invest intelligently, but mostly save truckloads of money.
  • Step 3. Profit!

Most people fail at Steps 0 or 2. I think Step 1's the easiest, although in another comment my friend Luke explained an innovative way to fail at it.

Warning: the rest of this comment contains hard numbers. If you're averse to hearing/sharing financial data, stop reading now.

"High-paying" doesn't have to be zillions of dollars, although that would help. I graduated with self-taught C++, a bachelor's degree in computer science, and an accepted job offer. I'm now 27 years old and I've been working for 6.5 years. My income has increased from 74k to 112k. (I'm very lucky - this is more than my father ever made after 25 years of continuous employment.)

I achieved Steps 0 and 1 by luck (I never thought about becoming a programmer before I went to college, and until I was hired I was planning on going to grad school). Step 2, I think, requires the most rationality.

The income effect is your enemy: the more you make, the more you're likely to spend. In my amateur opinion, this has two main causes. First, nice stuff is nice (I certainly like my HDTV), and having a high income leaves you unconstrained from buying nice stuff (without going into serious debt). Second, and I think much more insidiously, when your income is high, the incomes of your friends and acquaintances will tend to be similarly high, and you'll feel social pressure to spend like they spend. (There are probably other factors, like spending new income immediately, without sufficiently considering the quality of that spending or the advantages of saving it.) These factors can be resisted to varying degrees. For example, I have minimal interest in owning a car or a house, which are the traditional money sinks for Americans. I'm also single - I have no idea how my father managed to save money while supporting a wife and two kids - although perhaps now I can appreciate why I couldn't always have the latest video games growing up.

In my case - and I said there'd be hard numbers - I've managed to accumulate 331k in 6.5 years, which is an insane pile of money for someone my age to have. Part of that is due to careful investment, but most of it is due to the fact that my spending has a very weak relationship to my income.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 01 February 2011 01:42:04PM *  11 points [-]

this is my current plan, and I think the step 2 has a variety of methods to it that people fail to use.

  1. acknowledging the treamill that causes you to increase your spending, but hacking it via staying 1-2 raises behind in your living standards.
  2. not moving into higher income areas just because you can, where you will be a small fish in a big pond and exacerbate 1.
  3. focusing on relative (zero-sum) signals of success instead of on having good experiences.
  4. erroneously assuming you will always be able to make at least as much money as you currently do.
  5. not taking direct/real satisfaction in having a large cushion. This can be accomplished by thinking about how many years you can get by without needing to work on your current cushion. This is easier for entrepreneurial types as it is also "how much time I can spend working on my own projects if I find a business opportunity/co-founder".
  6. not setting up systems of investment where you don't even see portions of your income and/or not taking advantage of tax advantaged or employer contribution programs (roth IRA, 401k, etc)
  7. not contributing to SENS :p (many years of mental alertness > few years of mental alertness)

If anyone has anything to add to this list please comment.

Comment author: Prismattic 24 October 2011 02:12:16AM 5 points [-]

not moving into higher income areas just because you can,

At least in the US, the biggest reason for moving into a higher-income area is because the quality of public schools tends to track the median income ( and schools are funded mainly through local property taxes).

If you are already taking --step 0. Do not have children--, then that can probably save you more money than several of these other steps combined. But it's not really helpful advice for the people that do decide to have children.

Comment author: grobstein 31 January 2011 09:29:36PM *  4 points [-]

The USA is not the best place to earn money.2 My own experience suggests that at least Japan, New Zealand, and Australia can all be better. This may be shocking, but young professionals with advanced degrees can earn more discretionary income as a receptionist or a bartender in the Australian outback than as, say, a software engineer in the USA.

As a side question, when did a receptionist or bartender become a "professional"? Is "professional" just used as a class marker, standing for something like "person with a non-vocational 4-year college degree"?

Or is the idea that one is a professional because one is in some sense a software engineer (e.g.), even while employed as a receptionist or bartender?

Comment author: thomblake 31 January 2011 09:38:44PM *  7 points [-]

I read it as "young people employed as professionals can make more money by being not-professionals in the Australian outback".

But to many, "professional" merely means "someone who is paid to do something". I think that usage came into the popular consciousness via "professional athlete", though I'm not sure if that's the first instance of the popular usage.

ETA: according to OED, the relevant distinction in this usage is "professional" vs. "amateur", and it was used somewhat in that sense as far back as maybe 1806 (I assert that their earlier citations were meant ironically, or merely by comparison to actual professions).

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 31 January 2011 08:01:57PM 7 points [-]

Q: What about Australian culture? Will I like it over there?

A: Australia is a highly educated, robustly secular, extremely developed country. If you have any questions about the desirability of Australia, just ask Less Wrong! A disproportionate number of Less Wrongers are Australian.

However, Australia also has the most restrictive Internet censorship policies in the Western world.

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 09:06:42PM 1 point [-]

I never found the supposedly restrictive internet censorship in Australia to be an issue. Guess I wasn't accessing enough child pr0n...

Has any Less Wronger in Australia actually experienced a negative consequence due to this?

Comment author: taryneast 06 February 2011 05:09:11PM 0 points [-]

Nope - me either.

Besides, as they say "the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes round it"...

Comment author: shokwave 01 February 2011 09:12:04AM 1 point [-]


Comment author: syllogism 01 February 2011 12:18:01AM *  12 points [-]

The current internet censorship is unproblematic. The proposed internet filter would have been problematic, but the legislation is dead in the water.

We have some fairly arbitrary socially conservative "nanny state" policies. None of them get in the way a great deal, but they do stick in the craw a little.

The political climate in Australia is intensely pragmatic. Voters are stone cold to principle --- they think almost exclusively about the effects legislation will have on their lives. This means that people will support a policy that they think means their children won't be able to view porn on the internet, as they perceive this as a problem. On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for astro-turf organisations to convince people to vote against their interests. That's why we have a decent minimum wage, single payer health care, etc.

Comment author: lukeprog 06 February 2011 03:29:09PM 1 point [-]

I wish U.S. voters were so pragmatic!

Comment author: wedrifid 31 January 2011 07:42:30PM *  4 points [-]

Ostrich Effect - Regardless of income, the average American ends up paying close to 40% in taxes yet consistently self-reports as paying only 3%.

Huh? You haven't left off a zero there? How can someone think they are paying 3%?

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 January 2011 07:59:30PM 6 points [-]

Because of the huge fraction of mouthbreathers who, without pause, respond to such questions with the brilliant, "I didn't pay any taxes this year. I got some back!"

(That is, they think they had a net gain of money because they over-deducted from their paycheck that year, and the government returned the excess.)

Comment author: lunchbox 01 February 2011 07:08:21PM 4 points [-]

Even considering that, the 3% figure still seems wildly implausible. This would require something like 90% of the population thinking they pay 0% taxes, and the remaining 10% thinking they pay 30% taxes (which is still an underestimate).

The PDF that Louie linked to doesn't explain what the numbers mean. Surely there would be lots of articles about this epidemic of grossly underestimating taxes. Can anyone provide more evidence?

Comment author: SilasBarta 02 February 2011 07:40:53PM *  2 points [-]

True. A few other possible factors:

  • Consider the impact of interpreting "I got some back" answers as being negative entries in the summation (though I hope the survey would put up a big asterisk about this when reporting the results!).
  • People took the question as being about federal income taxes, and that value is (incorrecty) compared to all taxes at all levels: social security taxes, state sales taxes, etc.
Comment author: thomblake 31 January 2011 09:28:40PM 4 points [-]

FWIW, when I wasn't making much money, my income tax was 0, and tax credits (such as EIC) meant that I was returned more money than was deducted.

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 January 2011 09:40:26PM 1 point [-]

Even after accounting for SS and Medicare taxes? (IIRC, student workers don't have to pay SS.)

Comment author: thomblake 31 January 2011 09:55:27PM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure about those, but it would have been close some years. If I'm not mistaken (source), SS and Medicare are something like 7.6%, and looking at a rather high-paying year out of the bunch I paid about negative 3.6% in taxes. I probably did better than that in years with less money.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 January 2011 09:25:56PM 4 points [-]

But, but... companies actually employ these people? I hope they don't let them man the cash register!

Comment author: knb 31 January 2011 07:41:10PM 14 points [-]

One thing Americans considering foreign employment may want to understand is that Americans overseas still have to pay US taxes.

Also, there is some misleading accounting here, as others have pointed out. For example, Louie assumes someone making $100,000 will pay 7% of their income ($7000) on utilities alone. Also, I imagine relatively few people pay more than $1900/month for rent. For example, a furnished luxury two-bedroom apartment in Greater Philadelphia (a relatively expensive market) can be had for less than $1900/month.

And of course, America has low-cost areas as well. My sister (she is a single day care worker) recently moved into a 3 bedroom town-home in a nice area of suburban Toledo, Ohio. She pays $600/month. She previously lived in a decent 1 bedroom for $350/month.

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 09:39:26PM 8 points [-]

One thing Americans considering foreign employment may want to understand is that Americans overseas still have to pay US taxes.

The ~80k exemption means that I don't think this is a big issue for the described job categories, which I suspect mostly fall in the 30-60k range.

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 January 2011 09:46:53PM *  3 points [-]

I'm hoping the policy is where the tax applies to money earned past that exemption, rather than applying to your full income if you pass it, which would have perverse incentives.

In any case, if you got a job as a programmer or engineer, I would think that passing that threshold would be likely, at which point you would have a painful marginal tax rate, considering progressive taxes on both ends.

I know, i know, "but who cares about you if you're making that much anyway?" Well, the fact that I can't spread it over a few years of non-work and go into a lower tax bracket, and I'm not guaranteed to continue to make that amount...

(Btw, despite my criticisms, I am taking this idea seriously. I had previously investigated the implications of moving to Singapore, albeit for an engineering rather than service job, which I can't stand, even at a higher take-home pay.)

Comment author: taryneast 06 February 2011 12:06:07PM 0 points [-]

My data is ageing, but from family experience, Singapore's housing-costs are extremely high. 15 years ago, rent at $2400 a month didn't get you running hot water. YMMV

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 10:14:06PM 4 points [-]

I'm hoping the policy is where the tax applies to money earned past that exemption

Seems to be the case; nothing in the links I looked at contradicted it, and one specifically said:

Income above the current exclusion of $91,400 ($182,00 for couples) is taxed at 28 percent up to $171,550 ($208,850 for couples). Above $171,550 are progressive tax brackets that go up to 35 per cent.


Comment author: DSimon 31 January 2011 07:26:37PM *  2 points [-]

This sounds like an interesting opportunity! I'm going to be returning to the States from Peace Corps service pretty soon, and I've been considering options for what to do next. I'll look into this one a little more closely.

One question, though: how hard would it be for me to be a vegan in the outback? I'm willing to spend more money on food than typical to maintain a vegan diet; variety and quality of food is more of a concern to me than cost.

Comment author: Louie 01 February 2011 12:54:41AM 2 points [-]

Congrats on your Peace Corps work! Where have you been?

Vegetarians were catered to at my workplace so I'd guess that you could get the meals modified to be vegan at most workplaces in the outback too. As my post implies, Australia is pretty ridiculously worker friendly. Worst case scenario I could imagine is they would let you go in the kitchen and make your own stuff if you needed substitutions on days the chef forgot to cook you an alternative meal.

Comment author: DSimon 01 February 2011 01:41:54PM *  2 points [-]

My post is in Jamaica. Probably there were more efficient charitron generating paths available to me than Peace Corps, but speaking from a personal perspective it's been satisfying and educational. In particular, being out here and seeing what a little expertise applied in just the right place can do has firmly changed my major life goal from "Do really interesting IT stuff" to "Do IT stuff that effectively helps make the world a better place."

Glad to hear that the meal situation is so accommodating out there. If there were other vegetarians/vegans at your workplace too, that also makes me think I'm likely to not be the only one there with weird meal preferences, which will help make me feel like I'm not imposing unduly.

Comment author: katydee 31 January 2011 07:04:51PM 19 points [-]

One other question-- if this opportunity is so good, why did you stop doing it?

Comment author: mhsiah 01 February 2011 08:27:38AM 5 points [-]

Being Australian, I can only relay what I've heard from foreigners that I've met in Australia. With that proviso, I believe that the working holiday visa that Louie was talking about is valid for a maximum of one year, non-renewable. Staying after the term of the visa would require either (i) getting officially sponsored by an Australian company or (ii) marrying an Australian. Even in those two cases, you're likely to be forced to return to your home country to apply for the new visa.

Comment author: Bluehawk 16 April 2013 03:36:49AM *  0 points [-]

As an Australian with an American partner:

Australia has slightly different rules about relationships than the U.S. does. Getting married is one way to do it, but if you and your partner live together in an exclusive relationship for the span of a year or two you can be recognised with "de facto" status. It's a legal step between "single" and "married", and it's another legal basis on which you can apply for a longer-term visa in Australia and CAN be done from within Australia.

It is, however, just as expensive to travel back to the U.S. and apply for the de facto visa from there (Flights + ~$2k), as it is to apply for the de facto visa from within Australia (~$3k). And of course you need to be able to show that you've been in that relationship for a year or more, and that the relationship is both long-term and stable, which is out of the question for most Work/Holiday visa holders.

The de facto visa also gives you the right to live, work and study in Australia for two years, after which if the de facto relationship is still stable, exclusive, etc. you're then eligible for permanent residency.

Comment author: wedrifid 16 April 2013 12:08:08PM 2 points [-]

The de facto visa also gives you the right to live, work and study in Australia for two years, after which if the de facto relationship is still stable, exclusive, etc. you're then eligible for permanent residency.

Well damn. That's inconvenient. How about "still stable, exclusive and any time we have sex with others it is because we are Bad People and cheating"? ie. It would be a shame if polyamorous people in stable primary relationships were penalized for using different moral vocabulary.

Comment author: private_messaging 16 April 2013 01:15:25PM 1 point [-]

Well, they aren't exactly going to be checking who you have sex with. I'd guess the exclusive clause is to prevent one person from inviting several in such a manner. That being said, migration law is absolutely despicable in general; i can understand the pragmatic point of operating the developed countries as a rich gated community to keep the proles away, but that doesn't explain why US/Australia/EU migration would need to be encumbered.

Comment author: Kawoomba 16 April 2013 03:47:37PM 2 points [-]

I'm not exactly up to date on these things, but don't you need a conviction to be sent to Australia?

Comment author: matt 09 February 2011 06:58:14AM 0 points [-]

There are self-sponsored skilled migrant visas available (which cost more, require more official qualifications, and take longer to process). At least some don't require you to leave the country. (In passing: these visas are several kinds of wrong. My government spends time and money trying to keep clever people out of my country, and requires me to spend time and money to get employees in.)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 31 January 2011 06:09:28PM 35 points [-]

I honestly think that this is a very good reality check. I don't think that most people should do it, as I think that there are many better options in the US, but I definitely think that anyone who doesn't feel that they have better options than the one Louie is describing, for instance, anyone who thinks that they are trying to make money but doesn't find that they can save $20K in a year, really should do it or ask themselves some serious questions about why they don't.

I don't expect anyone to do this, because I think people including people here have almost no tendency to actually act in ways that are theoretically more rational. I hope that rather than confabulating reasons whey they don't though, people reading this can at least acknowledge the size of the gulf between their actual motivational structure and their story about it.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 22 September 2011 12:11:13AM 5 points [-]

Well, as far as expecting anyone to do it or not, I just submitted my visa application.

Comment author: gwern 22 September 2011 12:20:03AM 0 points [-]

What do you plan to work at in Australia?

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 22 September 2011 01:04:07AM 2 points [-]

A couple possibilities (I'm not yet fully decided). May do at least part of the time what the OP (Louie) did. At least part of the time will be staying with a friend in Adelaide (so, even though not explicitly heavily subsidized housing costs, the housing costs will be shared/divided) so depending what work was available there nearby at the time, that would affect things. Possibly some of the time doing harvest work/grape vine training/etc. (the grape vine training thing was actually suggested by my friend).

But I had to submit the visa application right away because in october I hit the age cutoff.

Comment author: taryneast 09 February 2017 04:02:14AM 0 points [-]

So... how did this go? (Note: for all I know I've met you in person... I'm not good with names/pseudonym matching) :D

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 31 January 2011 09:05:25PM 6 points [-]

Huh. Actually, reading through this I'm actually considering it. Will need to research it a bit more, but it's definitely something for me to look at.

Though I am concerned about what knb noted re tax laws and such.

(There is also, as far as longer term concerns, the issue of "distance to nearest cryo group"/"how quickly they can get to you if needed before it's too late")

Comment author: taryneast 09 February 2017 03:59:31AM 0 points [-]

I'm coming in late to this discussion but... The nearest cryo group will be located in South East Australia... if you have a medical emergency, you'll be evacced to Adelaide - which isn't that far away.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 January 2011 06:23:01PM 6 points [-]

I don't think that most people should do it, as I think that there are many better options in the US...

What, for example?

Comment author: knb 01 February 2011 09:12:49AM 3 points [-]

Something pretty similar to Louie's suggestion is working on cruise ships. There is a degree of premium pay because you have to be away from home for so long. And of course they provide you with meals and room and board by necessity.

Comment author: gwern 22 September 2011 12:19:44AM 1 point [-]

I've only take one cruise in my life (2 or 3 years ago), but I actually got the impression that things were quite the opposite for a lot of cruise ship roles. The cleaning staff seemed to work hard and continually, and our assigned waiter worked his butt off amusing us and serving us, doing a remarkable job (everyone loved him) - as did all the other waiters. The acting troupe on board seemed pretty good to me as they put on multiple complex shows, and so on and so forth. And where I could tell, the workers were quite international, suggesting fierce and widespread competition.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 February 2011 01:10:51AM 9 points [-]

Police or fire fighter in the San Francisco Bay Area is a low barrier to entry high salary high status job and not very dangerous.

I think small retail is an even better deal than that. Terribly run stores in SF stay in business and well run ones prosper ridiculously.

Many LW readers are coders who could be Google quality if they worked at it a bit, though the outback might be a good place to get practice without distractions.

PUA enthusiasts can obviously make money selling instruction in Game, and should be able to make money in sales in general.

Comment author: jacob_cannell 01 February 2011 05:28:06AM *  2 points [-]

PUA enthusiasts can obviously make money selling instruction in Game, and should be able to make money in sales in general.

I'm curious about this one (PUA-instructor) - it seems to be a limited niche (as a specialized personal training service), it's already colonized by early adopters, and it requires artfully developed social skills. But sales - yeah.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 01 February 2011 04:53:26AM *  7 points [-]

Many LW readers are coders who could be Google quality if they worked at it a bit, though the outback might be a good place to get practice without distractions.

Given that being a good software developer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet, whenever possible one should make programming a social activity so one has a social obligation to code.

But traveling to a different part of the world to work on something specific sounds like an experiment worth trying. I'm adding it to my list.

Comment author: MBlume 02 February 2011 10:11:24PM 5 points [-]

Given that being a good software developer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the internet, whenever possible one should make programming a social activity so one has a social obligation to code.

Thanks for that. Getting back to work now.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 01 February 2011 03:18:11AM 5 points [-]

I think small retail is an even better deal than that. Terribly run stores in SF stay in business and well run ones prosper ridiculously.

You mean buying an existing business and running it better or starting a new business entirely? Either way, can 70th percentile instrumental rationalist LW folk realistically raise that kind of capital?

Comment author: Kevin 01 February 2011 03:54:58PM *  0 points [-]

can 70th percentile instrumental rationalist LW folk realistically raise that kind of capital?

Almost definitely yes if they are old enough to have very good credit and are willing to take on the capital as a personally guaranteed loan. You typically don't get startup type investments (where you aren't personally responsible for losses) for starting or buying a small business.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 01 February 2011 03:35:43PM 2 points [-]

Either and 'yep, if they tried at all'. I'll be happy to talk in some detail with people who are actually serious about doing so.

Comment author: shokwave 31 January 2011 06:20:09PM *  9 points [-]

I think that there are many better options in the US,

Anything that will subsidise or cover your living costs while paying you a non-paltry wage (so something like the Army, or oil-rigs, or work in a remote area - surveying?) should be on the same order of magnitude as this idea. And it may be easier to get such a job in America rather than moving to Australia.

I think people including people here have almost no tendency to actually act in ways that are theoretically more rational

Truthful over basically every non-trivial situation I can think of. Once EY's book is published this website should focus more heavily on instrumental rationality. Developing at least sequence-quality posts on that topic would be valuable.

Comment author: Louie 01 February 2011 01:03:53AM 6 points [-]

Anything that will subsidise or cover your living costs while paying you a non-paltry wage (so something like the Army, or oil-rigs, or work in a remote area - surveying?) should be on the same order of magnitude as this idea. And it may be easier to get such a job in America rather than moving to Australia.

I suggest easy, low-stress occupations like working at resorts because high-stress reduces cognitive performance... and many Less Wrongers want to do research or other intellectual pursuits when they aren't working. For this reason, I think joining the Army or working on an oil rig is an inferior choice.

Comment author: shokwave 01 February 2011 05:47:09AM 0 points [-]

I think joining the Army or working on an oil rig is an inferior choice.

Same, but I couldn't come up with any low-stress jobs in America that would subsidise your living costs.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 01 February 2011 01:21:54AM *  3 points [-]

Joining an army, particularly the US Army, risks a very stressful situation, but I don't think there's much stress unless one gets deployed. All of my friends in the military have commented on how boring their days are when home, and most "work" (required gym time, inspections) only a few hours a day.

On the other hand, I don't think joining the Army is quite as general as your proposal anyway. Unlike hotels in Australia, the Army is suspicious of overqualification and is unlikely to let you in unless you are applying to an officer candidate school. They also don't let one quit quite so easily!

Comment author: Kevin 01 February 2011 03:13:30AM 3 points [-]

There's almost no reason to join the military for compared to getting paid 3x as much as a major metropolitan police officer.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 01 February 2011 03:39:40AM 0 points [-]

I wasn't actually suggesting it!

Regardless, I would be really surprised if police officers get to take home three times as much. A $20k salary is pretty small, but given a $12k housing allowance and a $3,500 food allowance plus special tax breaks and deals on everything from meals to airfare, I doubt many first-year police officers are that much better off.

If there wasn't a possibility of getting deployed into a war zone, I think it might be an unreasonable choice. Soldiers really don't have to do much, whereas most police officers seem overworked. Socially, I think people have a greater aversion to police officers and more praise for soldiers, though both sentiments apply to both groups. However, the prospect of deployment entirely shifts the balance to finding domestic employ.

Comment author: Petro 01 February 2011 11:54:14AM 1 point [-]

Police officers in larger cities make decent scratch to start with (IIRC 60k in some areas of California), and then have significant opportunities for overtime and "moonlighting" as security. In some cases there are Bay Area police making over 120k a year.

And as far as "soldiers really don't have to do much".

Yeah, I don't wanna get banned here, so let's just say you have no idea of what you're talking about.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 02 February 2011 12:44:12AM *  2 points [-]

I think Bay Area police get over $120k/year fairly quickly and reliably.
Like soldier's there's retirement at near fully pay after 20 years, plus full benefits to begin with. Unlike soldiers there's also overtime. Move up the career ladder quickly and work 60-70 hr weeks and it looks like LA cops can make over $300K after a decade's experience by getting up to captain or commander (and advancement is largely IQ based with a typical incoming cop at IQ 100), then retire with over $200K of income after another decade. http://www.joinlapd.com/career_ladder.html I don't have equivalent data for SF on hand, but I think the average in the Bay Area is 6 figures without overtime and without counting benefits.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 01 February 2011 02:56:23PM *  3 points [-]

Police officers in larger cities make decent scratch to start with (IIRC 60k in some areas of California), and then have significant opportunities for overtime and "moonlighting" as security. In some cases there are Bay Area police making over 120k a year.

Given cost of living adjustments, this is still nowhere near three times as much as soldiers start making.

And as far as "soldiers really don't have to do much". Yeah, I don't wanna get banned here, so let's just say you have no idea of what you're talking about.

I haven't the faintest idea why you'd get banned for correcting me. I'd be happy to have you give me greater clarity. Here's where what I said comes from: I have a (half) brother and two good friends in the US Army; I of course have several other acquaintances in the Army through them. They report "not having to do anything", and have talked about just hanging out all day on base. One friend is a medic; he works out for three hours a day, mans a medical station (where he reads, since people rarely come in) for another three hours a day, and then goes home. My brother maintains equipment, and I gather has a similarly uneventful schedule; I don't know about my other friend, but he has lots of time on his hands and is usually bored and never stressed about work. My SO's brother-in-law is a newer recruit, and currently deployed; he didn't have nearly as much free time prior to his deployment, but he was in training constantly prior to that.

Please note, I'm not talking about danger and fighting! I was talking about a counterfactual world where soldiers are never deployed. This is not our world, and I thought I made it clear that this changes everything! All three men that I'm talking about, and most of their friends have been been deployed for several tours of duty. None of them have significant physical injuries, but all bear serious psychological damage. It's broken their families and torn apart their lives. Each of them knows more people who have committed suicide than I hope to ever know. This is not okay, and not something I recommend as a "low stress" position.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 26 February 2011 01:24:24PM 0 points [-]

You have to be careful with counterfactuals, as they have a tendency to be counter factual.

In a world in which soldiers were never (or even just very very rarely) deployed, what is the likelihood that they would be paid (between money and much of living expenses) anywhere near as well as current soldiers and yet asked to do very very little?

The reason the lives of soldiers who are not deployed are extremely low-stress and not particularly difficult is because of deployment. They are being healed from previous deployments and readied for future deployments. In the current environment where soldiers are being deployed for much longer periods with much shorter dwell times, it's very likely that the services are doing everything they can to make the dwell time as low-stress as possible. 3 hours at the gym and 3 hours doing a relatively low-stress job in your field sounds like what a lot of people I know who are "retired" do. It sounds like a schedule designed to make your life as easy as possible while still keeping you healthy and alert, rather than falling into depression.

In a counter factual world where the army was almost never deployed, they would surely be used for some other purpose on a regular basis, police/rescue/disaster relief/etc. or simply be much much smaller, with pay not needing to be as competitive. We've even experienced this to an extent -- during peaceful times, the active duty military shrinks dramatically, and most of our army is in a reserve or national guard capacity, where they have day jobs, and do not get full time pay from the army unless they are called up to active service. This is still to most accounts a pretty good gig (especially if you use it to get free college tuition) even though it can't replace full time work -- as long as you don't get called up.

In fact, I think that's what some of the people my age that I know in the service were expecting when they joined in peacetime. Very rare callups for crucial work they felt obligated to do well for the good of the country or world. Didn't work out that way though.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 27 February 2011 10:43:29PM 1 point [-]

I agree that this scenario is pretty unlikely; it seems at least possible if there was a high-level policy change that hadn't caught up to military funding and structure, but made active troop deployment very unlikely. Your second to last paragraph disagrees with this; does the US military really shrink that much when we have fewer wars going on?

China seems much more the model of a country with a large military that rarely is deployed, and they do seem to match your description; lots of manual labor, disaster relief, building infrastructure, etc., with less competitive pay. I agree that this is the natural balance for a country that's not engaging in wars on a regular basis.

In fact, I think that's what some of the people my age that I know in the service were expecting when they joined in peacetime. Very rare callups for crucial work they felt obligated to do well for the good of the country or world.

This might not have been true, and probably won't be true even once we get back to peace time, but if it was, it seems like a pretty good reason to join, and follows the OPs intention. Still not my recommendation!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 31 January 2011 06:25:42PM 25 points [-]

You're not writing my book, so why not start posting on it now? (As indeed many are already doing.)

Comment author: shokwave 01 February 2011 05:39:03AM 6 points [-]

Good point. I was thinking of the book as being a capstone or some end-of-the-road marker on the subject of epistemic rationality - like once it was published, LW could say "that's that" and focus on something else. In retrospect, that is trying to make the world look like a story.

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 January 2011 06:05:58PM 9 points [-]

Doesn't the US tax income American citizens make abroad? And then financially abuse you if the IRS judges that you gave up your citizenship to lower your taxes?

Comment author: grobstein 31 January 2011 07:22:06PM 3 points [-]

There used to be a special "expatriation tax" that applied only to taxpayers who renounced their (tax) citizenship for tax avoidance purposes. However, under current law, I believe you are treated the same regardless of your reason for renouncing your (tax) citizenship. Here's an IRS page on the subject:


This is not an area of my expertise, though.

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 06:36:16PM 3 points [-]

Not if you're abroad a whole year and you make under a certain amount... forget the exact figure right now but it's much higher than $39k/yr exempted.

You have to file one extra form with your tax paperwork.

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 08:02:56PM 4 points [-]

I read much the same thing while researching teaching ESL in South Korea. Quickly googling, the current figure for federal exemption is $70,000 (with another $8,000 for housing costs):

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 November 2011 03:09:16AM 0 points [-]

Care to summarize what you learned from your ESL research?

Comment author: gwern 02 November 2011 03:43:58AM 2 points [-]

The flip answer is that while South Korea seems like a nice place & country, I learned America has no monopoly on xenophobia and North Korea is an even sadder and more twisted country than I had imagined. Were you thinking about anything in particular?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 November 2011 02:37:28AM 0 points [-]

I have tendinitis and therefore unable to do my preferred work as a computer programmer. Thought I would spend the next few months living in a foreign country doing some form of work that doesn't involve a lot of typing while my tendinitis recovers.

Comment author: gwern 04 November 2011 03:27:16AM 1 point [-]

Ah. South Korea probably isn't for you then; just getting the FBI background check will cost you a month or three, and teaching contracts tend to be for the academic year. China might be better from an ESL-teaching perspective (which is what my reading focused on), but things are opaque and rather fast-and-loose there - one of my friends was just kicked out of there a few weeks back after the job started, supposedly because he was using too much profanity.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 31 January 2011 09:10:19PM 0 points [-]

Not sure I understood that properly, is the $70,000/year, or lifetime?

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 09:34:27PM 1 point [-]

Per year.

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 31 January 2011 09:35:24PM 0 points [-]

Ah, thanks. :)

Comment author: shokwave 31 January 2011 06:14:37PM 1 point [-]

Holy crap! You can be prosecuted by a country you no longer belong to because they think you stopped belonging to them to avoid paying them taxes? You stopped having to pay taxes to them when you stopped being an American citizen!

Comment author: Broggly 31 January 2011 07:11:42PM 2 points [-]

Maybe he's talking about American residents who renounced their citizenship but remained in the country? I have no idea how America can tax non-resident non-citizens without their nation making it more trouble than it's worth.

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 08:08:30PM 3 points [-]

I have no idea how America can tax non-resident non-citizens without their nation making it more trouble than it's worth.

According to http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/world/americas/17iht-expat.3928621.html one of the penalties, if you are judged to have abandoned your US citizenship for tax reasons or not paid the appropriate taxes, is permanent exile. Which certainly could be implemented by the US with minimal trouble.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_exile#U.S._rules mentions something about in-US assets being subject to higher tax rates; I suppose any US assets could also be seized to pay back taxes.

Comment author: CronoDAS 31 January 2011 05:35:36PM *  2 points [-]

Hmmm... this is indeed tempting.

The last time I worked at a job like that, though, I was fired after only three days. (I did something really stupid.)

Also, how many hours a week are the jobs?

Comment author: shokwave 31 January 2011 06:02:04PM 1 point [-]

Probably at your discretion between 13 and 30.

Comment author: SilasBarta 31 January 2011 07:57:49PM 1 point [-]

The picture of Louie's first paycheck shows 100 hours for two weeks. (OTOH, the boss seems to be a female who really likes him...)

Comment author: shokwave 01 February 2011 06:04:43AM 0 points [-]

(OTOH, the boss seems to be a female who really likes him...)

Heh. This may be another kind of optimal employment.

Comment author: Louie 01 February 2011 01:29:38AM 4 points [-]

They gave me lots of extra hours my first two weeks so they could pay me during training since I didn't know how to use a cash register, how to pour drinks, etc.

Being paid to learn is pretty sweet.

Comment author: Alicorn 31 January 2011 05:40:41PM 3 points [-]

What did you do?

Comment author: CronoDAS 01 February 2011 06:07:36AM 3 points [-]

The store manager told me to stop reading my novel when there were no customers around. When he walked away, I started reading again. When he came back, I gave a really lame excuse and put the book away, then went back to reading when he left. The third time he caught me reading, he fired me for insubordination.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 31 January 2011 05:11:21PM 20 points [-]

we'll call the remaining portion of your income - 4.2% - your discretionary income. 4.2% of $100,000 is $4,200.

You optimized spending in the Australia option, but didn't in USA option. Instead, you used typical spending, which is misleading. I wonder how much less one can spend if that is set as a goal, and if you take into account the apparent single/no kids/lives in apartment assumptions of the Australia option.

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 09:44:16PM *  11 points [-]

Short explanation:

This is not me being misleading in how I present data. I'm presenting what happens by default in both options, not one optimized and one non-optimized option. What you discovered here is that, the plan to save money in the outback is robust and succeeds by default, while the plan to save money in the US is fragile and fails by default.

The longer explanation:

The Australian outback option isn't optimized. It's an off-the-shelf option that is heavily subsidized and in a bizarrely awesome economic climate... something I don't think many people here knew existed.

I think it's fair to compare a typical US job to a typical outback job because this is what you get when you don't put much effort into optimizing your budget in both cases.

The difference is that the outback is already incredible without you having to do anything.

It's actually pretty unfair to compare an outback working budget to the best-case US scenario where you spend tons of time in the US managing your money well to get the cheapest rent, best car prices, lowest food costs, and execute convoluted tax dodging strategies that most people couldn't figure out. It's a very tricky plan that requires lots of things to all go right, lots of time, lots of effort, lots of will-power, lots of knowledge, and lots of discipline.

On the other hand, my option only requires you to get whatever job you want in a remote area of Australia and get all your costs of living heavily subsidized and all your major cost centers nearly erased with no willpower, no planning, and no discipline required.

What you uncovered is not my "misleading" people, but the difference in robustness between the two plans. The Australian outback plan lets you save money by default with almost nowhere to go wrong while the plan that lets you save money in the US is a life-engulfing minefield of time-consuming bargin-hunting, self-denial, and tax evasion.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 February 2011 03:33:32PM 3 points [-]

Opaque potential for devising a plan might look worse in comparison to a specific worked-out plan. But unless you seriously think for enough time about that potential direction for developing new plans, and don't come up with any simple plans, you can't declare your own plan's superiority over the other potential plans. And the argument for this difficulty must reference such effort and rationality of its conduct, ideally should describe the reasoning process that comes to a failure in every considered class of options.

You can perhaps point out a particular plan's superiority over the painful process of trying to come up with an alternative plan, so that if the plan is clearly an improvement over status quo you should just take it and skip the thinking-about-alternatives part. This is a good reason, if you don't expect to be able to come up with a sufficiently better alternative plan whose superiority compensates for the effort spent of devising it, but then again your argument should refer to this fact, and not just to status quo.

In short, your post is useful, since it gives a constructive lower bound on how good you can do, but your argumentation for it being the thing to do is lacking.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 01 February 2011 08:55:22AM *  9 points [-]

You may have an excellent point about the costs/benefits of your perception of working in the US. I don't think you have much of a point about actually working in the US, and that's what all these comments are getting at. Even at much lower salaries, it isn't that hard to save a lot of money if you care to. (I'll throw in my own data point: my last serious job before law school gave me about 50k a year in disposable income, working 20 hours a week.)

While I'm at it, "time consuming bargain hunting, self-denial, and tax evasion" are all rather prominent parts of your own plan. You're moving across the globe to find cheap living. You're living in the middle of nowhere, with undoubtedly limited access to goods and services. And you're evading paying US taxes (or maybe you actually have to pay them on your return; I don't know). Plus, you're working in a job that has no real benefit for your future career, away from friends and family. I laud the suggestion for people to do something different and potentially lucrative, but methinks you're weighing options on less-than-accurate scales here.

Comment author: Vaniver 01 February 2011 03:52:35AM 3 points [-]

the plan to save money in the US is fragile and fails by default.

Strongly disagree. Or, at least, it doesn't seem to apply to the people you're marketing this plan to. I won't go through my expenses, but let's just say that I'm saving money on a grad student's salary, and don't project my annual expenses doing anything more than doubling for the foreseeable future. Except for taxes, pretty much any salary increases for me will go straight to wealth accumulation.

Comment author: loqi 01 February 2011 08:25:41AM 1 point [-]

and don't project my annual expenses doing anything more than doubling for the foreseeable future

...how frequently?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 February 2011 12:21:25AM 0 points [-]

In real terms? Once. I'm not going to speculate on inflation. There are, of course, plausible scenarios in which my expenses increase much further, but they have a pretty low probability at present.

Comment author: internety 01 February 2011 02:19:29AM 11 points [-]

"the plan that lets you save money in the US is a life-engulfing minefield of time-consuming bargin-hunting, self-denial, and tax evasion."

I work as a software developer in the US, have never made a 'budget' for myself or tried to analyze my finaces before now, I pay taxes normally, eat out often, and have no trouble saving lots of money. I'm going to substitute my expenses and pretend I only make 100k and see how much I'd still be able to save (living in Seattle).

Rent: 16.8k instead of 23.2k Utilities: 2k instead of 7k (how can you spend 7k on utilities if you're a single person in an apartment?) Misc house expenses: 0.5k instead of 6.8k (what are these misc expenses that other people supposedly spend so much on?) Food: The estimate of 13.3k is reasonable for food, although it's easy to spend a lot less without hardship. Transportation: 4.6k instead of 16.5k (who spends 16.5k per year on transportation? Just don't buy a new BMW every 5 years and you should be set. I bought my car for $9k, 5 years ago).

Apparently it's pretty easy live well in a large US city and save 33.9k per year without really paying attention to your finances. If you're a good software developer you should be able to make a lot more than 100k and therefore save much more per year.

Comment author: taryneast 09 February 2017 04:46:20AM 0 points [-]

I spent $5800 on utilities last year... it happens when you live in an area that simultaneously gets below freezing point (and thus you need to spend on heating) and also gets above comfortable living point (and thus you need to spend on fans or air-con). I'm pretty reasonably frugal on both... I don't set the aircon super low, I don't set the heating on high... but utilities are pricey. I also count "internet" as a utility. When I lived in a warmer climate I spent $2800

"Misc house expenses" include things like fixing a broken toilet... or other general repairs. If you're renting you may not have to pay that. Or maybe you do if your landlord is dodgy.

I spent around $8K on "transport" - which includes car payments (I bought a new but small hatchback 3 years ago = $22k), fuel, insurance, repairs, servicing and parking costs. I can well imagine that a family with more than one person (and thus more than one car) easily pays twice as much as me.

Comment author: jhuffman 31 January 2011 10:47:08PM 10 points [-]

Spending less than 37% on housing doesn't require

tons of time in the US managing your money well

It requires you make a correct decision once a year or so about renewing the lease. The reason people have little discretionary income is that they habitually commit themselves to spending plans such as five years of a car payment - but that spending plan itself is a choice.

Comment author: thomblake 31 January 2011 10:01:21PM *  17 points [-]

What you discovered here is that, the plan to save money in the outback is robust and succeeds by default, while the plan to save money in the US is fragile and fails by default.

But as you noted above, there is a lot of resistance by default to exercising the Australia option. So the Australia plan fails by default too.

Once you've opened the door to considering those rare Americans who might decide to uproot and move to unfamiliar lands across the globe, you might also consider those rare Americans who can manage their money and don't consistently make irrational decisions. In the context of here, I wouldn't doubt they're the same people.

Comment author: Louie 01 February 2011 12:08:28AM 7 points [-]

Here's a more abstract analogy:

Imagine a hypothetical world. Every night, when you fall asleep, you experience the same horrible nightmare. As you sleep, you're approached by different sets of con-men and con-women who do whatever they can to rob you and steal everything you have. This happens every single night. The twist is, the money you're carrying on your semi-conscious, disoriented dream-projected self is actually your real money from your real bank account in your real waking life! Different people carry different amounts on them but most have somewhere between 1/300 to 1/400 of their yearly income on them.

To cope with these nightly robberies, most people in nightmare-land ignore their situation. With the small part of their mind that allows them to acknowledge what's happening, they mostly hope that one day they can earn enough money to stop the constant robberies from taking everything they have... not realizing that because they're ignoring the problem completely, the money is actually a fraction of their income and the solution of earning more money will never help them.

But the more adept people in this world learn advanced lucid nightmaring techniques. They spend large chunks of their day preparing themselves for their nightmares so they'll remember how not to get robbed. It takes constant vigilance and is incredibly stressful, but it works more and more often over time. These people are still robbed occasionally, but mostly get by with only partial robberies instead of losing everything like their peers.

But one day after a couple dozen years, you're offered a chance to leave nightmare land and live in "dreamland" where there are no nightmares. The only catch is that in dreamland, people earn 50% lower nominal salaries.

Hmm... if you think you're especially good at navigating nightmares, perhaps you could continue using your nightmaring skills rather than leave?

But why would you? Dreamland sounds so much better. Having these nightmares sucks even when you don't get robbed every night. In dreamland, you can just avoid the problem entirely and win by default without wasting all your time preparing for and experiencing nightmares. The nightmares feel less and less bad over the years as you get used to them, but they're still awful -- you've just forgot.

I don't think I need to explain this analogy.

I just find it weird that I'm over here in dreamland shouting back to people in nightmare-land that dreamland is so great but people in nightmare-land are shouting back "Screw you! I've already developed excellent nightmare-having skills. How dare you accuse me of not being good enough at navigating my nightmares. You think I'm not smart enough to handle subjecting myself to an unending series of them!"

"Huh? What? No! But dreamland is predictably good and it allows you to succeed constantly without having to keep your guard up and have nightmares all the time."

"Whatever... Fxxx you dreamland hippie! I'm only robbed of 1/250 of my income most nights. You can't even do math right! Dreamland would probably only be 2.5x better for me than nightmare-land... not 4x like you thought. Looks like I've exposed you for the liar you are! You won't trick me into improving my life!"

"But why not at least consider trying it since you know it's still better?"

"Dreamland? It's impossible. Look, I pretended to consider it for 10 minutes already while I sat around making up clever reasons to reject it. Isn't that enough? Only hard working nightmare navigators like me would even be capable of leaving nightmare-land... which I will prove to you by telling you how I won't leave! Ha! QED, Booyah!"

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 01 February 2011 03:21:35PM *  5 points [-]

I might even agree with your conclusion, but would point out serious issues with quality of your arguments regardless. Off-the-shelf property, for example, is a good argument for taking it (if no downsides are present for your case) instead of trying to devise a more complicated or less apparent-at-the-moment plan, but not for the absence of alternative off-the-shelf solutions. Instrumental vs. epistemic rationality.

Comment author: thomblake 01 February 2011 12:33:32AM 13 points [-]

It seems to me more like folks are pointing out that things aren't all that nightmarish in actuality, and your analysis to show otherwise is flawed. If you would rather make fun than improve your analysis, there are other places on the Internet where that sort of thing is more welcome.

Comment author: gwern 01 February 2011 12:25:58AM 16 points [-]

Don't burn out, Louie. This is Less Wrong, of course there's going to be some pretty intense criticism. It's only worth getting angry if you think you're right but your posts/comments are negative on net.

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 10:40:42PM *  6 points [-]

But as you noted above, there is a lot of resistance by default to exercising the Australia option.

Every plan has the problem that if you don't execute it, it fails. In this respect, the two are exactly equal. (And in degree, they may not be too far apart - given all one would have to do to carry out the American plan.)

Comment author: shokwave 31 January 2011 06:04:14PM 2 points [-]

Note that spending on housing and such is optimised because of subsidization. Most Australians will be spending similarly to the American option.

Comment author: katydee 31 January 2011 05:01:06PM 9 points [-]

How does this fit into a larger career plan? Is it possible, for instance, to get letters of recommendation from supervisors at such jobs, and will American employers take such letters seriously?

Comment author: [deleted] 31 January 2011 04:30:24PM 1 point [-]

Great article!

I'm currently trying to figure out my personal optimal employment. (I'm a German CS student and will get my degree next year. Most importantly, I want to leave the country and live in some English-speaking country. I can't stand the cultural isolation any longer.) I was already considering Australia and you have just made it look a lot more attractive.

The specific job you provided, however, isn't right for me. Remote areas are exactly where I don't wanna be right now. I've lived in villages and small towns most of my life and I'm sick of them. But I am very interested in hearing about other options like this, especially if they would involve less telephones or similar activities, as Alicorn already mentioned.

Comment author: grobstein 31 January 2011 07:51:37PM 9 points [-]

Note that a lot of the financial benefit described here comes from living somewhere remote -- in particular the housing and food costs. That's the reason for the strenuous warning not to live in "Sidney, Melbourne or any major Australian city." From a larger perspective, it partly accounts for choosing Australia over America (low population density --> low housing costs, etc.).

For a full analysis, the cost differentials of living in the Australian outback vs. an American city (or whatever) have to be decomposed into price level, consumption, and other factors. For example, I pay a very high cost for living in New York. But I recover part of the cost in various benefits. Broadly: 1) New York may be the only place in the world where my employment situation is possible, 2) New York is a social coordination point where it is especially easy to meet the kind of people I would like to meet.

This is probably the case for many people who decide to live in New York.

Comment author: lukeprog 31 January 2011 04:28:23PM 10 points [-]

There's a chance I may do this. If I do, I'll add the report of my experiences to Louie's.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 31 January 2011 07:01:05PM 5 points [-]

There's a chance I may do this. If I do, I'll add the report of my experiences to Louie's.

Comment author: gwern 31 January 2011 08:09:24PM 5 points [-]

There's a chance... yeah.

Comment author: curiousepic 31 January 2011 04:17:57PM 4 points [-]

As was mentioned in the Employment Open Thread, don't forget about the Existential Risk Reduction Career Network.

Comment author: imaxwell 31 January 2011 03:38:44PM 3 points [-]

Is overqualification a concern? That is: if I'm already working toward a Ph.D. and I decide to complete that first, will it work against me in finding hospitality work? (I'd guess such jobs have sufficiently high rotation anyway that the answer is no.)

Do you know if the situation is equally good for more "career-like" jobs? (I.e. instead of making good money without too much strain, can I bust my ass to make even more money?)

Even if both the answers are the less-desired, I'm going to seriously discuss this with my wife.

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 05:02:29PM *  8 points [-]

Is overqualification a concern?

No. I have a Master's degree in Software Engineering. Overqualification doesn't matter.

Do you know if the situation is equally good for more "career-like" jobs? (I.e. instead of making good money without too much strain, can I bust my ass to make even more money?)

Yes and no. Australia has a much narrower pay gap between the lowest and the highest paid workers. For example, where I worked, the lowest paid employee (a non-English speaking room cleaner) made 2/3rds of the salary of the highest paid employee (the head chef). Australia simply outlawed having a working-poor underclass by making their minimum wage $15/hr and indexing it to inflation. Most American economists would probably say that this is impossible and would inevitably cause wide-spread unemployment... without realizing that Australia, Japan, and New Zealand have already done it and it works.

To answer your question more specifically: Yes, you can earn absurd amounts of money in Australia if you really want to work hard. The mining industry there pays people something like $200k / yr to sit at computers and order mining machines around. Modern mines in 1st world nations are run by a handful of people working hard but not physically doing the mining themselves. I've heard it's hard to break into this field but you could do it if you really wanted.

Comment author: dmm 01 February 2011 04:17:50PM 4 points [-]

Most American economists would probably say that this is impossible and would inevitably cause wide-spread unemployment

Actually most economists from all over the world would agree that minimum wages do not improve economic conditions. The consensus is that a minimum wage has one of two effects: either it does nothing, because the actual minimum wage determined by the markets are higher, or if the minimum wage determined by the market is lower, it prevents job creation.

Your account in this article suggests that the former situation is the case in Australia now, because you said the minimum wage is $15 but a more typical starting wage is >$18. This was the case too in the US for a long time. When I started working the minimum wage was $5.55 but I started as a fast-food worker at $5.95. The minimum wage was doing nothing.

However, none of this detracts from the excellent opportunities available in Australia.

Comment author: Abisashi 01 February 2011 04:54:49PM 3 points [-]

Employment is a transaction, where the employer is willing to pay up to X and the employee willing to work for no less than Y. For jobs where the minimum wage is greater than X it kills the job, but when it is less than X but more than Y it can force more of the surplus from the employment transaction to go to the employee. Obviously it's hard to set the right minimum wage for all jobs in a large economy.

Also, it's my understanding that people working above but near the minimum wage usually get raises when the minimum wage goes up; the minimum wage communicates something about what a worker is supposed to be worth, and telling your employees they are the bottom of the barrel is probably bad for morale, and thus, productivity. So the minimum wage can affect wages even if they aren't at the minimum wage.

Comment author: teageegeepea 31 January 2011 03:01:39PM 9 points [-]

The EMH applies to financial markets, which revolve around ownership of easily tradeable things. Often those things are bought just so they can be sold later on. A person convinced by your argument would have a difficult time "leveraging up" to arbitrage an inefficient labor market. Though I think the economic consensus might be that labor markets generally are not very efficient, hence the existence of persistent high unemployment (though that may not be an issue in Australia compared to the U.S these days).

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 06:11:31PM 2 points [-]

Thanks I like your clarification of this. I guess I was using the EMH as a straw-man there in the Q/A but I feel like it's a common concern for people who think that some invisible hand of the market should prevent this opportunity from existing.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 31 January 2011 02:35:16PM 10 points [-]

I'm in my 50s, so I won't be upping and moving to work as a bartender in Alice Springs. But even at 20 a drawback that occurs to me is that I like big cities. I would find living in the sticks worse than putting up with a city commute. There is the internet, but still. How do you find it? What do you, or did you, do with the time?

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 03:34:46PM 4 points [-]

Sometimes I would go out and explore local nature... for instance, one time a took a helicopter flight out over the local area. But I mostly used the internet a lot.

I do a lot of reading and writing these days so it was really easy to make that work in the outback. My girlfriend was living with me too so I wasn't bored or lonely. My internet was a bit slower and I didn't have 30 fast food joints within 10 blocks, but I had less distractions and was much more focused when I did do research and writing. I dunno, the benefits outweighed the drawbacks for me.

Also, I don't want anyone to get the impression that I was making a sacrifice and roughing it "out in the sticks". This place was a well stocked hotel with musicians playing every night, meals prepared by chefs, and hundreds of rich European tourists coming through every day. It was definitely the most well-fed I've ever been in my entire life and also one of the most entertaining and comfortable places I've lived as well.

Comment author: Jack 31 January 2011 07:44:54PM 3 points [-]

My girlfriend was living with me too so I wasn't bored or lonely.

What kind of singles scene is there in the Australian outback?

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 10:08:17PM 1 point [-]

What kind of singles scene is there in the Australian outback?

As I mentioned, there are "hundreds of rich European tourists coming through every day."

Seriously though, it's probably not as good as it would be in a metro area, especially if you wanted lasting connections.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 31 January 2011 02:34:14PM *  43 points [-]

The math here is extremely misleading.

You used the average figures from a dataset of people making an average of about $55,000 a year for the US figure. That is, the people who spend 37% of their income on housing is from people making about half of the amount you hypothesize someone making. Since you can live in the same apartment, eat the same food, and so forth (with some exceptions depending on locale), that gives you another ~$38,000 in post-tax income in the US. You also ignore benefits (and promotion opportunities) and things like expense accounts, which can be substantial.

You are also comparing unlike people: one is an average American citizen, who probably has kids and a high discount rate, the other is an individual free to travel to another country specifically searching for a high disposable income job. The fact that the average American does worse is largely irrelevant, because the hypothetical person you're advising is already not-average.

It may well be a great idea to work abroad for a few years; it does sound fun and that's a lot of disposable income for limited skill. But if you're going to make a point with numbers, at least make a cursory effort to use plausible numbers and compare relevantly similar people, or at least admit that you're failing to do so.

Comment author: Louie 31 January 2011 03:55:54PM *  11 points [-]

These costs match my own cost of living when I was working full-time in the US as a highly-paid software engineer. So you could look at both columns as Louie2006 vs Louie2010 if you want to make it an apples-to-apples comparison.

Also, it's an established fact that people spend a constant fraction of their income on housing no matter how much income they have in the US. Look at the reference for my cost data. Groups with wildly different incomes all the way from $25k/yr to $80k/yr all spend between 32-37% of their income on housing. So until I see research showing me otherwise, I stand by my use of fractional income costs of living for housing, transportation, and food budgets.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 03 February 2011 10:05:11AM 0 points [-]

So as not to forget considering different options, multiple locality can be a weird-funny-cheap option to save part of those 32% for a while.

Consider for instance hospitality exchange websites, where I have met people who lived for 100 days with 90 dollars while travelling with internet access...

But most importantly, working remotely has been one of Tim Ferriss most interesting suggestions, and I really want to know if anyone here has actually tried to do what he did online. So I posted this in Discussion: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/448/on_the_effectiveness_of_ferriss/