Monday, January 31, 2011

My Philosophy of Life

I present my philosophy of life here in hopes it will encourage you to more consciously decide how you want to live yours.

I believe the best way to live my life is to spend as many waking moments as possible using my best skills (thinking, writing, and speaking) on causes I deeply care about that don't comport with conventional wisdom.

Thus while I am pro-choice and pro gay marriage, others already exert tremendous effort on those. My efforts would be like adding a grain of sand onto a beach.

It feels more worthwhile to debunk the conventional wisdom, for example, that:
Alas, in choosing to take on unpopular causes, I'm fighting tidal waves with a thimble. That's one reason I'm usually sort of sad, but I'd be sadder if I reallocated time to other pursuits.

To give myself some successes, I do career coaching and speak and write on career-related matters, and pursue social change in one politically correct way: promoting peer mentoring, which was popular in the '80s but gave way to the next innovation du jour.

So, what's your philosophy of life, your approach to living the life well-led?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Case for Not Consulting an Eminent Job-Search Counselor/Coach

If you need help in landing a job, non-stars might want to consult a not-eminent job-search coach or even a trusted friend.

Why? We all tend to give advice that would work for us, with insufficient regard to whether that would work well for someone else.

Eminent job-search counselors are brighter, more driven, have more expertise, a more pleasing personality, and fewer debilitating psychological and physical issues than do the pool of people who need a job-search counselor.

That counselor/client gap is likely to be especially large with clients who need to pay for job-search counseling, for example, students who got free help from their college's career center but still haven't been able to land a job and thus sought paid help. Stronger job candidates are more likely to find good employment without a job-search counselor, let alone having to pay for one.

Unless an eminent career counselors is unusual, s/he isn't conscious enough of that gap or is insufficiently willing or able to create and supervise a job-search regimen that is simple enough, well-adapted to the client's strengths and limitations, presented slowly enough, and providing the usually-needed months of ongoing support.

Too often, the eminent career counselor dispenses the standard job-search advice that they learned from other eminents: professors, career book authors, and keynote speakers. That advice is usually," "Network and make direct contact above all. Only secondarily use headhunters and answer ads. And do it all aggressively for 30 to 40 hours a week." That would likely succeed if the career advice dispenser were doing a job search but usually fails when attempted by typical career counseling clients. As bad, the eminent counselor too often assumes the client "gets it," and so the counselor doesn't provide sufficient ongoing support or implies to the client that that shouldn't be necessary.

A side note: The below-average pool of people that come to career counseling engenders an ethical issue for job-search counselors. Too often, job-search counselors are paid to make a candidate look better than s/he really is. Thereby, if successful, job-search counselors/coaches are in the business of replacing more qualified applicants with less qualified ones. That hurts not only the more qualified applicants but the employer, co-workers, and because the result will be worse products or services, society.

It may seem ironic for me to say all this. After all, I'm in my 27th year as a career counselor/coach. I've addressed those ethical issue by focusing my efforts on helping clients choose a well-suited career and on making the most of their current job. I accept clients for job-search counseling only when I honestly feel s/he'd be a great candidate for a job but merely needs advice on how to present him or her self fairly and that s/he'd be better off getting that counsel from me than from a more entry-level career counselor or from a trusted friend.

Interview Someone: A Great Way to Create a Connection

You can quickly convert a stranger into a solid connection by interviewing them for publication.

One way to do that is to ask the editor of a trade publication if they'd publish an article based on your interviews with a few industry heavy hitters on a topic du jour that's of interest to you. One editor will likely agree.

Even bigwigs like to be interviewed for a publication, so you'll likely get one-on-one time with a handful of high-level people you'd otherwise have a hard time accessing. And at the end of the interview, you can ask for some career advice or even if there might be a job opportunity working for him. At minimum, the interview will give you valuable information you can use to enhance your career, for example, in job application cover letters and interviews.

I just learned of another way to get to interview bigshots, indeed anyone, without needing to convince an editor of a publication to publish it. It's an internet radio show.

According to Michael Surkan, it's easy to set it up. Lest I be accused of not practicing what I'm preaching, I haven't done it because I have terrestrial radio shows on KGO-AM (ABC-San Francisco) and KALW-FM (NPR-San Francisco.)

Here's how Surkan recommends you do it:

1. Pick someone you want to interview. Maybe it's a target employer you found on LinkedIn. Or someone you met at a party: "Hey, would you like me to interview you for my Internet radio show? I'll email you the link, afterwards." And it probably couldn't hurt to ask your boss if s/he'd like to be interviewed.

2. Download the free Skype software. Then click Tools, then Extras, then Pamela to download the free plug-in that enables you to record your interviews. You'll need a USB headset microphone. Here are reviews of them.

3. Use freeware such as RecordForAll or the more sophisticated Audacity to delete any flubs or weak parts and/or add a music bed: that's music that plays underneath your intro and outro.

4. Post the interview on your website or blog. You can easily set up a blog for free in just a few minutes on Blogger (this blog's platform) or on the more sophisticated WordPress.

5. Email your interviewee the link to the interview. You might ask if s/he'd like you to write a recommendation on their LinkedIn profile.

Whether it's a print or radio interview, it's a potent and fun way to create a relationship.

For more on how to create an Internet interview , here's an interview with Michael Surkan. Ironically or perhaps as indicator that podcasting isn't quite that easy, it's in text, not audio!

Friday, January 28, 2011

More on Why I Only LEAN Libertarian

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post giving one reason I only lean libertarian: that the admittedly inefficient government is more likely to provide a humane safety net for the poor than if it were left to private donations.

I thus argued for replacing the government-provided safety net with a government-mandated one: Taxpayers would required to donate the tax dollars that would have gone to government-provided safety net to the charity(ies) of their choice, which could include the government.

Here I explain another perhaps more central reason why I only lean libertarian.

Many philosophies have what I call a trumping postulate: a principle so core to that philosophy that it trumps all other considerations. Libertarians' trumping postulate is freedom: if a policy infringes on human freedom, that trumps all other considerations.

My trumping postulate is what I call utilitarianism with an exception: I am in favor of any policy that results in the greatest good for the greatest number so long as that doesn't require a clearly inhumane violation of a person's freedom, e.g., excessive punishment such as putting someone in jail for smoking marijuana, let alone torturing five infants to save 100 lives.

I assert that all trumping postulates are not of equal merit. How does one ascertain merit? I believe that if we gathered the world's million most thoughtful people, the large majority would agree that my trumping postulate is wiser than the libertarian one.

Of course, a popularity contest, even among the world's wisest million, is not a perfect way to decide the wisdom of something but what I believe is a better approach is tautological: that doing the greatest good for the greatest number without clearly inhumane violations is, by definition, apriori, the benchmark by which all policies should be judged.

That said, I worry about the expansion of the U.S. government. Ever more often, when there's a problem, only government-provided solutions are given serious consideration. The result is almost invariably inefficiency, waste, fraud, and abuse, which worsens the longer a government program exists: the bureaucracy expands, overlapping agencies and new laws create labyrinthine complications and contradictions, and even if priorities change, the law doesn't sunset.

For me, a wiser approach is this: When there's a problem, first think, "Will time take care of it more cost-effectively than any intervention?" If not, might a private sector solution be first tried? And only if not, should a government-provided approach be pilot-tested.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Underdogma: How our love of the underdog is ruining America

A new, praised book, Underdogma, asserts that America's now replacing meritocracy with egalitarian policies such as redistributive "justice" is a formula for accelerating the decline and fall of the American Empire.

While the benefits of egalitarianism may have exceeded those of meritocracy in the agrarian or even industrial era, in the complexity-demanding global information age, meritocracy will ever more trump egalitarianism--look, for example, at Singapore's trajectory versus the U.S.'s.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Democracy Still the Best Form of Govt?

It would be much easier to go through life filled with admiration or at least acceptance of my fellow humans. But I'm having a hard time.

Here's why. Do these things make you too roll your eyes at the typical person?

  • 75% of Americans believe in heaven, 71% in angels, 59% in the devil. (Who are these people? In my entire life, I think I've met two people who believe in angels.)
  • Most people spend much more discretionary time playing a sport or staring at a TV set or video game than volunteering to alleviate suffering.
  • 26% of Americans don't know that the U.S. declared independence from Britain.
  • 40% don't know that the Republicans won the House in 2010
  • 45% don't know that the sun is a star.
  • Most people forgo careers they'd really enjoy--creative careers, for example--so they can make more money beyond what's needed for a decent existence. They're insurance salespeople, stock brokers, accountants, bond traders, corporate managers or lawyers, for example. And for what? More square feet of house to clean in a tony rather than just decent neighborhood, $100+ frou-frou jeans rather than $30 Levis, diamond rather than cubic zirconium, a new BMW or Mercedes rather than an older Toyota, which is more reliable.
  • Millions of men have unprotected sex with a woman whom, if they impregnate, will be on the hook for 18 years of child support if she chooses to have the baby. And only she has that choice to abort or not. He has no control in the matter. (I must admit to having done this...and got lucky.)
  • Most people marry rather than just live together even though over half of couples divorce, which often entails enormous financial and psychological pain. (I did this too and again lucked out.)
  • 35 million Americans regularly abuse drugs or alcohol, wasting their lives and taking large tolls on their families and society.
  • Famed cardiologist Dr. Dean Ornish reports that 79% of heart attack victims who are told they much change their diet or die are, within a year, back to their old eating habits.
  • Many people claim to celebrate diversity yet aren't troubled by the lack of the most important diversity: ideological diversity in society's mind molders: the schools, colleges, news media, and entertainment media. Such people believe that all wisdom resides left of center.
  • Many people bristle against Israel being a Jewish state but don't mind that all its surrounding countries are Arab states. Those people are comfortable with that double-standard even though Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only country that works to ensure equal rights for women, and has the world's highest per-capita literacy rate and percentage of medical patents. And those people feel that way despite the Palestinian government's charter calling for the destruction of Israel and being armed by Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, denies the Holocaust and wants to destroy Israel.
  • Many people believe it's wise to redistribute education dollars from children with the greatest potential to cure cancer, invent the next Google, etc., (programs for the gifted have been eviscerated, especially in California) to those with the least: special education students.
Are you too rolling your eyes at average folk?

More important, do those characteristics of the electorate call into question whether representative democracy remains the best form of government? After all, to wisely steward a country or even a city in our ever more complex world requires the best possible leaders. Can we really continue to believe that an electorate of which 71% believe in angels can withstand the Madison-Avenue-concocted campaign commercials (not to mention State-of-the-Union addressees) and elect the wisest leader? After all, that electorate typically chooses lawyers to lead us and even occasionally, actors (e.g,, Reagan, Schwarzeneggar) and comedians (e.g., Al Franken, Tom Ammiano.)

Would America not more wisely be led if its significant local, state, and federal leaders were selected by a blue-ribbon panel of respected for-profit, non-profit, government, and military leaders, small business owners, artists, scientists, philosophers, randomly selected citizens, plus the incumbent leader?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Prediction: In 20 Years, the U.S. is Communist

It's impossible to accurately predict major long-term societal trends because so many things affecting trends are unanticipatable.

For example, who in 1975, would have anticipated Google or the iPhone?

But if I had to bet, I'd wager that, not withstanding the Republican win in 2010, the U.S. will, within 20 years, have moved dramatically toward communism. The arguments:
  • The gap between rich and poor is very large and expanding. Many from the middle-class are becoming poor. That large and growing group's anger will continue to grow as the gap increases.
  • Many among the rich are privately growing more uncomfortable with the wealth disparity. Even many corporate employees are caring less and less about meeting corporate goals, caring mainly about holding onto their job. That's not the basis for a sustainable means of production.
  • Especially as corporations offer ever less job security, choosing to part-time, temp, and offshore ever more positions, fewer college graduates seek to climb the corporate ladder, preferring to work for a nonprofit or the government, or starting a small business.
  • Society's main mind molders--the schools, colleges, and media--are ever bolder in their move from neutral reporter to leftist advocate. For example, courses, TV news, movies, and popular Internet political sites (e.g., Slate, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Daily Beast) portray corporations as largely evil.
More subtly, those mind-molders have changed the vocabulary. For example, "neighborhood," which implies individualism, has been largely replaced by "community." Words like "individualism" and "competition" have been given a bad name while those like "connectedness" and "collaboration" have been deified.
  • Demographic trends augur a societal move leftward. For example, the U.S.'s decision to only minimally control immigration and its plans for "comprehensive immigration reform" will add many more leftist voters. Also, immigrants or not, the poor have the most babies, and the poor tend to vote leftist.
I'm not sure the move to communism is, net, a good thing, I only think it's likely to be true. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yet More Evidence that Higher Education is America's Most Overrated Product

Today's New York Times reports the latest in a spate of research supporting my contention that higher education is America's most overrated product.

That research finds that after two years of college, 45% of students have learned essentially nothing, while getting good grades--grades have become overinflated into meaninglessness.

Students' lack of growth is not surprising in that:
  • Professors are hired and promoted based largely on their research not teaching. As you may recall from your own college experience, a professor needn't even speak comprehensible English let alone be an effective, not to mention transformative teacher.
  • Except for roughly 100 of the nation's 3,500, colleges are little more than 98.6 schools--all you need to get through is normal body temperature. And professors having to teach a class with brilliant students sitting alongside the semi-literate would be a Herculean challenge even for professors hired based on how well they teach rather than on how likely they are to get an article on Wittgenstein's hermeneutics published in the Journal of Arcana.
  • Most universities educate in the cheapest way possible: maximum number of classes in large lecture halls, on TV, or online, taught as often as possible by graduate students or even undergraduate students rather than by professors.
Is it not time, as I've repeatedly argued, for a College Report Card, which among other things, reports each college's average freshman-to-senior growth in reading, writing, critical thinking, and quantitative reasoning skills, disaggregated by the students' high school record?

Otherwise, millions of prospective students have only the flimsiest basis for deciding whether a particular college, indeed any college, is worth spending a fortune and years of their life compared with self- or mentor-guided independent study, a short-term career prep program at a community college, an apprenticeship, the military, on-the-job training, or starting their own business.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Warren Farrell on How Women and Men Should Change

When I write about men's issues, I tend to annoy more than convince.

Far more circumspect and perhaps wiser is my co-president of the National Organization for Men, Warren Farrell.

HERE, he writes about how women and men might wish to change, to the betterment of both: in relationships, work, and in creating a better society.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You're Invited to a Free Concert I'll be Giving

On Jan. 29 at 8 pm, I'll be giving a free piano concert at my Oakland, CA home. I'll play Broadway show medleys from My Fair Lady to Les Miserables, as well as old standards from My Funny Valentine to McArthur Park, plus some ragtime, two things I wrote, and I'll sing two or three Tom Lehrer songs.

My wonderful (and non-allergenic) dog Einstein will be there to greet you.

Space is very limited so RSVP at mnemko@comcast.net and I'll let you know if space is still available and if so, I'll email you directions to my home.

Update: HERE is the video of the concert. (Yes, I did get a standing ovation.)

Why I'm Libertarian-LEANING

My blog's subtitle says I'm "libertarian-leaning." A reader asked me what that means.

I believe the free market yields the best products and services for the most people. However, free-market capitalism in today's and especially tomorrow's global, high-tech, information-centric, high-IQ-requiring economy, will leave MOST people unable to compete and therefore, without receiving charity, destitute.

Socialist and liberal-democrat policies provide that charity, albeit with mind-boggling inefficiency. Part of that forced taxpayer charity, alas, likely includes our paying for an ever more bloated government, often hiring three low-performing people to what one reasonably competent, motivated person could do, work that may be only marginally beneficial to and even hurtful to society.

I cringe, for example, at the net effects of governments' massive regulatory and paperwork and financial requirements even of small business. A partial list: Workers Comp, SSDI, Social Security, ADA, FMLA , EEOC, MediCare, ObamaCare, Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodds-Frank--and then there are the state and local government mandates!

That virtually ensures that the U.S. will be--not withstanding blips--in a permanent jobless nonrecovery. How can U.S. companies compete with China, India, etc., when U.S. salaries are three times as high, and on top of that, all those government burdens?

Especially with the people most likely to be highly productive, non-violent citizens having the fewest babies, there are no really good solutions.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

College: a national treasure or America's most overrated product?

I have presented these statistics in previous writings but they're so important that I want to aggregate them for you here.

Despite having been a poor student in high school, are you or someone you love considering attempting a college degree? Are you wondering whether it might be wiser to pursue an alternative such as a short-term career-prep program, an apprenticeship, the military, or on-the-job training, perhaps at an ethical entrepreneur's elbow?

Consider these:

The New York Times reports, "The National Assessment of Adult Literacy revealed distressing declines in literacy, especially among those with the most education. (emphases mine) For example, "Fewer than one-third of college graduates--down from 40 percent a decade ago--were deemed 'Proficient' in terms of literacy as defined by the ability to read and understand lengthy passages. A small but still alarming percentage of college graduates scored 'Below Basic,' meaning they were incapable of all but the simplest tasks."

USA Today reports that according to a study funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, "Nearing a diploma, most college students cannot handle many complex but common tasks, from understanding credit card offers to comparing the cost per ounce of food...More than 50% of students at four-year schools and 75% at two-year college...could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers...Most students at community colleges and four-year schools showed 'intermediate skills,' meaning they could...identify a location on a map or calculate the cost of ordering office supplies."

Just think of how much professors have to dumb down their classes to accommodate to such students. When I was teaching, even at Berkeley, I had to dumb down my classes, dramatically. But I would not inflate grades. When I dared fail a student who truly, truly had terrible writing and thinking skills, I received a call from a dean urging me to give her a passing grade: "Society really needs more minority woman role models." I refused to change her grade. Despite my having excellent student evaluations, I was not rehired.

Dr. Clifford Adelman, senior researcher at the U.S. Office Education, reported that of freshman at four-year colleges who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their high school class, only 1/4 will graduate...even if given 8 1/2 years!

And according to a just-released study of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article called The Great College Scam,, 60% of the increased number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 work on jobs requiring just high school!

As colleges dig ever deeper into the barrel of high school graduates to extract maximum profit and meet government-imposed and other pressures to increase minority enrollment, those colleges are shepherding students into college when they know that's not the person's wisest post-secondary choice. As bad, the colleges do not inform the students of the terrible odds against them. If a physician prescribed a treatment requiring years, a fortune, and huge opportunity costs and which had a small chance of success, without obtaining the patient's fully informed consent, that doctor would be sued and lose in every court in the land. Yet our government not only doesn't sue the colleges, it rewards them by giving students ever more financial aid, which merely allows colleges to raise tuition more!

We simply must stop allowing colleges to ruin countless students' lives. Government should withhold financial aid to institutions that produce the above results, and of course, should mandate the College Report Card I've urged for so long. Only that way, can prospective students have the information they need to decide if, for them, a college education is the national treasure that colleges tell us it is, or America's most overrated product.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How Would You Invest a Million Dollars?

Imagine you wanted to invest $1 million dollars so as to make the greatest positive difference in the world. How would you invest it?

The best I've been able to come up with is what I'm calling MentorMatch: the equivalent of match.com but for matching mentors with proteges.

Can you think of something more beneficial?

A Case for Replacing a Government Safety Net with Private Charity

A client just left and I just have to tell you what she said.

Elena (name changed) is a social worker. In 2005, she wanted to buy a house but couldn't afford one.

But then at work one day, she attended a presentation to the social workers by a representative of the quasi-governmental entity Fannie Mae. (Perhaps it was Freddie Mac; she wasn't sure.)

The presenter explained that the federal government wanted more minorities to own a home, so income, asset, and down payment requirements would be relaxed. It might only require 1% to 3% down--the borrower had almost no skin in the game.

Off the record, the presenter told the group that because banks want to stay on the right side of the government and because many banks package and resell their loans in bulk, lenders often weren't verifying income and employment.

Elena ran out and found a house she loved--for $470,000. She knew she couldn't really afford it but, if they weren't checking income and assets, she figured she'd lie on her loan application to ensure she got it: She claimed to earn more and have more savings than she really had. Her loan was approved, requiring just 5% down.

In 2006, the value of her home had increased and Elena took out a second mortgage to redo the kitchen and buy an SUV.

In late 2009, her house was worth $140,000 less than what she paid for it and she only had $35,000 of her money in it. So she simply stopped paying her mortgage, forestalled moving out as long as she could with coaching from a non-profit "homeowner's advocacy organization." Part of that was to start and drag out loan modification/renegotiations with the bank. In November, 2010, facing imminent foreclosure (the sheriff was going to take her keys,) she walked away from her debt and declared bankruptcy.

Elena came to me for career counseling because, "I need to make more money than I'm making as a social worker." Why? Because she wants to move from the apartment she's renting and buy another house!

No surprise, I told her I don't feel comfortable working with her.

The popular 2010 movie Inside Job blames the mortgage meltdown exclusively on bankers. Yes they share responsibility but despite it being politically incorrect, isn't it fairer and a crucial lesson to all Americans to describe the meltdown's causes more fairly: to add that Fannie/Freddie encouraged lending to unqualified borrowers, and that countless people knowingly bought more home than they could afford, often submitting fraudulent loan applications?

Hearing Elena's story makes me wonder whether greater good would accrue from replacing our government-run safety net. Perhaps it's just too hard for the government to develop and monitor a process that applies to 300,000,000 people without inordinate fraud, waste, and abuse.

Instead, building on a recent post, I'm wondering whether the many billions of dollars spent on the government safety net should be returned to the taxpayers tax-free if the taxpayer donates it to the charity of his or her choice. That way, the invisible hand of the market, millions of decisionmakers, would likely make wiser charitable choices and, in turn, provide a better safety net.

What do you think?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Replacement for Judaism

The Jewish religion is dying:
  • The birth rate among Jews is well below the replacement rate.
  • More than half of Jews intermarry.
  • 2/3 of those interrmarried couples raise their children not-Jewish.
  • Anti-Israel sentiment and fear of antisemitism are deterring ever more Jews from self-identifying as Jewish.
  • Jewish religious services are incompatible with most modern Jews' desires. Typically, services are two to three hours long, much in Hebrew. Not surprisingly most Jews today, in both the U.S. and Israel, are non-observant, except perhaps attending Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur services and/or attending a Passover seder.
  • Most Jews are agnostic or, like me, atheist: not interested in praying to an "almighty God" who would allow earthquakes that kill thousands, Holocausts that kill millions, and horrifically painful cancers that kill billions, including infants.
I believe Judaism needs to be converted from a religion to a cultural affinity group, what I call Secular Judaism. Most Jews, if they're honest, prefer the company of other Jews, just as other cultural, racial, and ethnic groups prefer people from similar backgrounds. People may publicly claim to celebrate diversity but look at their choices of friends and it's clear that, more often than not, birds of a feather flock together.

Most Jews, for example, like that Jews, on average, are intelligent, expressive, and committed to making a difference, whether in science, non-profits, business, or the arts. Most Jews' spiritual needs get largely or completely met through secular humanism.

So I believe the traditional hub of Jewish life, the synagogue, needs to be replaced with secular alternatives, for example, Jewish community centers such as the one in San Francisco and informal meeting places such as those that can be created and managed online at MeetUps.

Tools like Facebook and Twitter can create live and virtual secular Jewish events and conversations. I also think that entities such as JDate could broaden their mission from dating to friends to chavera (a sort of substitute family) to mentor/protege matching.

Most groups need leaders but I believe the traditional Jewish leader, the rabbi, need be replaced by secular leaders, for example, the defacto leaders that would emerge from a regularly meeting group, or someone who took the initiative to start a group on meetup.com.

Another concept I believe is worth exploring is a hybrid religious/secular Sabbath service. Even most secular Jews doesn't mind listening to and maybe may even enjoy a few familiar prayers. The problem is that a service is two hours of prayers many in Hebrew and repetitions of praise to "Almighty God." It may be worth trying a service with a few of the most familiar, nostalgia-inducing prayers punctuating a Town Hall meeting-like weekly event around some topic of particular interest to Jews such as Israel/Palestine, intermarriage, or even a secular Tikkum Olam (heal the earth) topic such as capitalism versus socialism?

What do you think?

A Case for Near-Libertarian Government

My previous post made a case for redistributive "justice." Here I argue that, beyond a small amount, the liabilities of redistributing money from society's "haves" to its have-nots far outweigh its benefits. It:
  • Encourages sloth. Every time unemployment payments are extended, most of my unemployed clients say something like, "Good. Now I don't have to look for work for another 13 weeks." Conversely, when President Clinton set a time limit for welfare recipients, when their welfare checks were about to run out, most of the seemingly unemployable people managed to find a job.
And of course, there's the example of the Soviet Union. Guaranteed jobs, equal pay, and full benefits resulted in legendarily poor quality (Remember the Russian cars: the Lada, Moscvich, and Volga?). It also resulted in legendarily poor quantity: long, long food lines and rationing. The average U.S.S.R. woman spent two hours a day, seven days a week in food lines.) The photo above is a U.S.S.R food ration coupon, sometimes required even for basics like sugar.
  • Imposes high opportunity costs. Redistributive "justice" transfers wealth from the people and businesses with the greatest likelihood of creating jobs and life-enhancing innovations to the people with the lowest probability of doing so. Yes, in the short run, that results in more cash pumped into the economy--the poor spend a higher percentage of their money while the rich save more. But long-term, that's a negative: less saving means less money for banks to lend to businesses, which would create jobs and innovation.
Then there are the opportunity costs of the government's redistributive programs: an enormous amount of taxpayer money spent on programs already proven to be cost-ineffective programs from Head Start to job retraining; often $25,000 per job obtained and often the person doesn't hold the job for more than a few weeks. The total amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in government redistributive programs is, as reported in the Washington Post, incomprehensibly large.
That money would likely more wisely be left in taxpayers' pockets, thereby rewarding them for their productivity and allowing them to pump their money into more beneficial parts of the economy (the goods, services, and charities selected by the taxpayers) rather than the aforementioned money-down-the-drain programs.
  • Sends a destructive societal message. It's Psychology 101: you get more of what you reward, less of what you punish. Redistributive "justice" is an appealing-sounding term concocted by its advocates, but it in fact means that society's productive members have their money wrested from them and given to those who are less productive. What sort of message does that send to all of us? To our children?
Note: Of course, some people are productive but don't earn money--for example, volunteers--but, on average, the pool of payers for redistributive justice are more productive, even if non-remunerative productivity is included.
Many people thus believe it's foolish to work hard--After all, if you don't work much, the government will take care of you: The National Review reports a study that found that an American family of three has to earn $60,000 a year to net the same income as someone who makes just $14,000 a year and thus qualifies for all sorts of government handouts. Can you not see why the millions of people who are not intrinsically motivated make the choice to sit on their butt? "Why work at some dumb-ass job when you can get the same money for hanging out?"
I suspect that if there were no safety net for the poor, many such people would become more self-reliant and those who didn't probably would be sufficiently helped by private charity. But candidly, I'm not very confident in the previous assertion.

That's why my current thinking is that the best political/economic system is a near-libertarian government: a modest military, modest regulation, and a humane safety net for the truly needy, with those programs provided not by the wildly and unavoidably inefficient, fraud- and waste-filled government, but by the private sector.

Perhaps the wisest approach to that is, a la Milton Friedman, to spend the money saved in cutting those cost-ineffective government programs on a negative income tax--cash to the poor--so the poor could spend the money on the services and products they deemed most cost-beneficial.

Dear readers, what do you think?

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Case for "Cushioned Capitalism" or "Libertarian Socialism"

I end each of my radio shows by saying: "We find comfort among those who agree with us; growth among those who don't."

In my own effort to keep growing, I thought that I--who lean libertarian--would do a thought experiment: make the best case I can for socialism.

When I was younger, I believed that one pretty much gets what one deserves. Now I believe that luck plays a large role in one's success. For example, I'd be far less successful if:
  • I were born to retarded parents in Bangladesh, or
  • I inherited genes predisposing me to low intelligence, laziness, and poor impulse control, or
  • I inherited a horrible disease, or
  • I inherited an unattractive face or propensity toward obesity. Alas, study after study shows that attractive, slim people derive career and personal advantages.
Then there's the luck of being at the right place at the right time:
  • You met someone who gave you a great job.
  • You happened upon someone who gave you a suggestion that turned your moribund idea into a successful invention.
  • You happened upon someone who turned out to the perfect spouse and cheerleader for you, enabling you to be far more successful than you otherwise would have been.
Then there's the luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time:
  • Getting crippled by a car that ran a red light.
  • You entered nursing school because the government projected high demand for nurses but by the time you graduated, the market had become saturated.
If I suffered even one of those pieces of bad luck, I would not have been as successful as I've been, no matter how hard I worked. From a cosmic justice perspective, it strikes me as unfair that because of something beyond one's control, they should suffer such diminished potential for success and contribution.

Therefore it seems appropriate that government help compensate for the unfairnesses that accrue to the winners and losers in the genetic and environmental lotteries. Socialism does that: everyone gets paid, gets the same benefits, etc.

But you say, "If everyone gets the same pay, benefits, etc., what incentive is there for people to work hard?" Of course, external incentives matter but I wonder if they matter as much as pure capitalists claim. Studies find that most, though certainly not all, people are motivated to work less by cash than by praise, wanting to a good job for its own sake, etc.

Whatever decrement in motivation would accrue from eliminating dollar incentives for quality work could at least in part be compensated for by a more concerted effort by parents, schools colleges, and media to emphasize the primacy of productivity and contribution to society.

Any residual decrement in productivity would be outweighed by everyone having a humane level of housing, food, health care, etc. From the aforementioned cosmic perspective, there's something wrong about a society in which some people have mansions and optimal health care while others are homeless and have minimal health care. Socialism addresses that.

That said, I'm not completely convinced that socialism is, net, better than capitalism. After all, I am well aware of how grossly inefficient and wasteful government is, and that many people are motivated to work harder and longer by money and competition. But I can't with utter confidence assert that pure capitalism is the wise way.

Perhaps the answer is an amalgam of socialism and libertarianism. In what I'm calling libertarian socialism, the government would pass a law mandating that all people get roughly equal pay, health care, housing, etc. but leave how that all would be accomplished to the private sector.

Or perhaps the right approach is America's status quo: what I call cushioned capitalism, capitalism with a humane safety net for the many people with the cards stacked against them in capitalism's ever more fierce competition.

Dear readers, your thoughts?

A Video Interview with Me on Why Higher Education is Overrated

Here's a 15-minute video interview of me on why I believe higher education is America's most overrated product.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Use a Rhyme, Win Each Time

Much as we don't like to admit it, we're affected by slogans, by bumper-sticker rhetoric.

A short slogan with a rhyme may be the most potent approach. Examples:

If the glove don't fit, you must acquit. (Johnnie Cochran on behalf of O.J. Simpson)

Mend it; don't end it. (Bill Clinton on behalf of welfare)

I like Ike (Eisenhower-for-president slogan.)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Then there are the product slogans:

Tough-actin' Tinactin (athlete's foot remedy)

Ace is the place (hardware stores)

It takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin' (Timex watches)

The quicker picker-upper (Bounty)

Don't get mad; get Glad

Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.

Pop, pop, fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is. (Alka-Seltzer)

So when you're trying to promote something, whether it's your kid running for office ("It's a sin if Lynn doesn't win,") you and your beloved putting aside money for the wedding ("Honey Money") or you're naming your pizza joint, "Eatsa Pizza," come up with a slogan that rhymes--it'll enhance your chance. Invest in rhyme; the results are sublime. Use a rhyme; you'll win each time.

Top Careers for 2011 and Beyond

I've given these careers and fields a high overall score on job satisfaction, and compensation including benefits and job security.

These picks are a distillation of the many thousands of nuggets that have entered my brain: from my career counseling clients, colleagues, radio show guests and callers, friends, reading (and I'm a pretty voracious reader of career material,) plus self-generated thoughts.
  • Optometry. This has long been one of my top-recommended careers. Yes an O.D. degree requires four years of post-bachelor's study or a six-year B.S./O.D. degree, but the career has major pluses. Optometrists, unlike many other health care providers, have a very high cure rate, they rarely get a middle-of-the-night emergency call, there's no blood, guts, nor communicable diseases, the aging population increases demand for optometrists, and optometrists make a six-figure income.
Note: optometrists are different from opticians, who dispense lenses and glasses, and from ophthalmologists who are MDs and do major surgery. Optometrists fit patients for lenses, diagnoses diseases, may prescribe some medications and eye exercises, and even do some minor surgeries.
  • Grant/Proposal Writer. The government, foundations, and nonprofits, distribute money through a proposal submission process. So whether it's a desk manufacturer who'd like to sell to the state, a Native American Dance Troupe that would like a grant from the Feds, or a drug addict job training program that wants money from a nonprofit, all of them need grant writers.
  • Fundraiser. Money is nonprofits' lifeblood. So nonprofits generally pay the highest salaries to fundraisers and, of course, to the executive director, who is also responsible for fundraising. So even if there are program cutbacks, nonprofits are likely to keep spending serious dollars on back-office development staff (those who research prospects to identify their hot buttons,) developers and maintainers of the donor database, fundraising event planners, and of course, pitchers: those with the moxie to extract big bucks from wealthy individuals and corporations.
  • Adult Day Care (the entire field, not just direct care providers.) Most elders want to age in place, that is, in their homes, but they'd do well to have meals prepared and companions to eat and recreate with, someone to be sure they take their pills, etc. Less expensive than 24/7 assisted living, adult day care is growing in popularity with elders, their families, and long-term care insurers. Typically a bus picks the clients up in the morning and drops them back home after dinner. These facilities, like all businesses, employ a wide range of people: from accountants to HR people to CEOs, as well as, of course, cooks, janitors, nurses, patient supervisors, etc.
  • Military. I believe the U.S. will enter a period of decreased foreign adventurism yet will continue to maintain a large headcount. Benefits are extraordinary: for example, free housing and education for the servicemember and family after just 90 days of service! Please know that the military offers an enormous range of careers beyond grunt: from artists to engineers.
  • Health care administration. The 2,500-page ObamaCare programs will cover an additional 32-45,000,000 disproportionately low-income high health care users plus 12,000,000 more when Obama fulfills his promise to legalize illegal immigrants and their family members. All of that will profoundly affect health care in the U.S. Hospitals, physician group practices, health organizations such as Kaiser, Humana, Sutter, etc., will, for the foreseeable future, be employing large numbers of people to deal with the myriad required changes.
  • Bilingual special education teachers, school psychologists, and speech therapists. Limited-English-proficient students are America's fastest growing category of students, and, by definition, they have extensive, often expensive, special needs. Unlike education for regular education kids, services to special education students are absolutely mandated by law, no matter how tough the economy or how great the cutbacks to other students. So funding will exist to pay for teachers, school psychologists, speech therapists, special bus drivers, etc., to provide the mandated "free and appropriate education" for all special education students.
  • Federal manager. Despite the Tea Party win, the Keynesian administration and Senate remain in charge. That means the federal government will not shrink and, for non-star employees, the federal government, compliments of the taxpayer, continues to offer the best deal in town: surprisingly high salary and unsurprisingly excellent benefits, holidays, vacation, retirement, and job security. At this moment, there are 190 U.S. federal manager positions advertised on usajobs.gov. Half of them pay over $100,000.
  • Welding. I've often read that this field has shortages, especially stainless-steel welding and welding in tight spaces--for example, inside oil refinery pipes. That's true not just in the U.S. A recent 60 Minutes reported a severe welder shortage in Brazil.
Self-employment ideas

I like these because they require short training and small investment, have high profit margins, are likely to survive a tough economy, and are minimally subject to trend risk--that is, demand is unlikely to wane.
  • Parking-lot oil changing. Give an owner of a mall- or large employer parking lot a fee in exchange for allowing you to use a few of their parking spaces for changing oil while the car owners are shopping or at work.
  • Gourmet salad and sandwich (including burrito) trucks or carts. I've been touting these for years. Last year, they caught on big-time on the coasts. I believe there's still room in high-foot-traffic locations in non-coastal cities.
  • Wellness coaching. I believe the days of the "ten more pushups!" fitness trainer are waning. People are turning to wellness coaches who help them with all aspects of wellness: alcohol, drugs, and smoking, stress reduction, weight control, and yes, "Ten more pushups!"