Monday, April 15, 2019

Blog Post 2000!!

This is the 2000th post I've put on this blog since I started it a little over sixteen years ago - my how time flies. Here's an example of a post from back then. I've left this blog dormant for periods of time but I've been using it lately as a way to organize some of my thoughts in these amazing times.

I like to listen to lefty podcasts and have been impressed recently by some of the podcasts from Seattle based Pitchfork Economics hosted by Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

The three I've listened to so far include a podcast with the provocative title, "Why Does the U.S. Hate Families?" discussing the challenges working people face in finding and paying for quality child care. They also discuss how the U.S. lags other developed nations in helping working families with child care and early childhood education, and how this adversely impacts the U.S. economy.

The second podcast is titled Do Regulations Kill Growth? It's got a really interesting discussion about the pillow industry from Nick Hanauer who says, "he grew up in a profoundly dishonest business - specifically the pillow business." It's interesting if you like to collect weird facts like how much it costs to produce a white goose down pillow vs. a ground up chicken feather pillow - but it's also being used to illustrate a point about how markets without appropriate regulation can fail to work for consumers and honest business owners.

The third podcast is an interview with Yuval Harari a lecturer in the history department, Hebrew University Jerusalem and the author of several books including the 2014 book - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I haven't read that book but it sounds worth reading based on the podcast and the blurb on Amazon that says it was on the summer reading lists of Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

When I first heard the name Nick Hanauer from Seattle I confused his name with Chip Hanauer the hydroplane racer and was thinking - wow what a diverse set of interests. I'm still impressed with the quality of some of these podcasts even if Nick isn't a hydroplane boat driver.

The blog associated with Pitchfork Economics is hosted on Medium and called Civic Skunk Works. Pitchfork Economics is also one of the shows on TYT.

It seems appropriate that people in Jet City who are interested in breakthrough ideas to help society would use the term skunk works that we usually associate with technological breakthroughs in the aerospace industry


This is my take on part of what professor Harari was saying in the podcast-

Humans are able to organize and cooperate to a greater extent than any other animal. We are able to do this through shared stories. We have created stories to describe all sorts of things, including human constructs like money (as a concept), appropriate minimum wage, and the mostly pseudo-science of economics. When we say something is a natural law or God's law what that really means is humans created a story about some thing which for a variety of reasons eventually came to be thought of as an inviolable law. 

The point being that significant changes are possible if we change our shared stories. 

The story of the day from some is "the economy is doing great." If you are a 1 percenter, or better yet a .1 percenter, or heavily invested in the stock market that might be so, but for a significant segment of the population the economy isn't doing great and hasn't for about 40 years.

Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed - On Not Getting By in America provides some insights into what it's like for the people who survive on the wages from a minimum or low-wage job(s).

Of course the first step to solving any problem is to recognize there is a problem. We can help people recognize the problem(s) by changing the stories we tell each other. So....when a political adviser said it's (all about) the economy stupid - he was right. The challenge is to expand the stories we tell about "the economy" beyond the simplistic notion that it's the stock market, or the unemployment rate, or GDP.

We might talk about the success/failure of the economy in terms of gross national happiness which includes these nine domains -

1. Psychological well being
2. Health
3. Education
4. Time use
5. Cultural diversity and resilience
6. Good governance
7. Community vitality
8. Ecological diversity and resilience
9. Living standards

We might measure our country's economic success by tracking how well we are doing at fulfilling Maslow's hierarchy of needs for citizens of the U.S. We have to fulfill humans basic physiological needs for warmth, rest, food, water and shelter - before we can move up the ladder.

When we talk about what the economy is and how it is doing we need to tell stories that include facts. 

Facts like 40% of Americans can't come up with 400 dollars in case of an emergency. Facts about the tragic levels of childhood poverty in the U.S. Facts showing stagnation in wages for middle class workers and explosion of compensation for CEO's over the last several decades. Facts showing corporate tax cuts don't result in increased R&D or worker wages/benefits. Once we expand the notion of what the economy is and who it should serve we can tell each other better stories and over time improve our country for all people.

All those facts made me think of this scene, from the 1964 Pink Panther movie "A Shot in the Dark", where Inspector Clouseau is explaining the facts. ;-)