Taking the easy way out

Taking the easy way out is a concept that is much frowned upon, especially in India (though I must confess I don’t have enough exposure to other cultures to have noticed this). When you take the easy way out on something, people assume that you’re cheating – like you’re using a cheat code in a computer game.

For example, purists believe that if one were to get the good karma that one deserves by going to Tirupati, it will accrue if and only if you were to walk up the hill on foot. People who take the easy way out by taking a cab or bus uphill apparently don’t get as much good karma.

During festivals such as Sankranti, people who buy the sugar candies and the eLL (sesame) mixture from a shop are again frowned upon, given they are taking the easy way out rather than preparing them at home. Employing a cook is similarly frowned upon, as is taking an auto rickshaw or a cab rather than a bus.

And to take an example that long-time readers of this blog might appreciate, fighters tend to view studs with derision since the latter seemingly get things done without putting in the same amount of effort as the former.

Ok I might have claimed in the past that my pieces are usually long on analysis and short on rhetoric, but as you can see, this is not one of those pieces. All I’ve done so far is to give examples of something that I don’t agree with.

And the reason I don’t agree with the view that taking the easy way out is wrong is because it is done if and only if it’s optimal. Notice that in all the above examples, there is no free lunch. Taking the easy way out comes at a cost, and reflects a set of trade offs. To take the car up Tirupati costs money, and the opportunity of experiencing the supposedly electric hillsides – and benefits are uncertain anyway in religious matters. Employing a cook or taking an auto are efficient if you value time and convenience, for example.

While I agree that there might be some cases where taking the easy way out might be short-termist (you might be ignoring “tail risks”, for example, which allows you to use an easy pricing model, or by using a calculator you may not develop your long-term arithmetic skills), in most cases it is considered decision.

In other words, there is no problem with taking the easy way out as long as you have fully understood the costs and benefits (including any tail risks) of the method that you’ve chosen to adopt. There is no absolute virtue attached to labour – labour is always a means to get to an end. Once you digest this, you will have no hesitation in taking the easy way out.

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