Monday, December 15, 2014

Non profit funding organizations?

Was reading through a recent post of mine again, where I tried to explain the disparity in money given for certain things by continuing with the notion of money as an IOU on a favor. But that was kind of a depressing conclusion to me, as it means weirdly enough that groups of people may naturally give more for a triviality than for something very important to them.

But it may not be as grim as I think. Of course there are important non profit organizations out there that DO get funding.

And fundraising is a big deal for lots of things and I really started thinking in this direction after watching Wikipedia make appeals for funds, and also the Mozilla foundation through its Firefox browser making similar appeals.

I highly recommend giving them money. They do an awesome job for lots of people.

However, I wondered: why couldn't there be fundraising companies that just did fundraising, who say could only take 5% or less of funds raised and had to distribute the rest to non profit organizations?

Then people who are just really good at raising money could specialize and maybe some non profits could quit worrying about raising the money themselves.

That's one of those fantasy ideas as I don't know if you could build a non profit web company around that idea.

A non profit whose only goal was to raise funds for other non profits? Has that been done?

If not, I think it should be.

It could be forced to be focused--only distribute to other non profits with no other distributions allowed, including no direct distributions to individuals.

At first I'm thinking there'd have to be lots of rules to keep it from being abused, but transparency is the most powerful tool: such a company would have to reveal all its distribution financials--who it gives money, and how much.

And along with transparency it would, of course, also simply have to comply with existing laws.

But total transparency is what would make it a 21st century web company. And that's what would give donors greatest confidence their money wasn't being misdirected.

Really like this idea and the post seems to be popular here, but wondering what to do next.

James Harris

Friday, November 21, 2014

When money is too abstracted

Was a relief for me to sit down and process basic thinking on money, where I found myself focusing on favors, somewhat to my surprise, as I concluded that money lets you give an IOU that society makes good in exchange for someone doing you a favor. So at its simplest it's not that big of a deal so why do so many have issues with it?

I think the problem is that money is too abstracted. We need to bring money back to concrete reality.

One of those sayings that I ponder now is the claim that money is the "root of all evil", and I'm like, huh? Doing people favors is the root of all evil? I don't think so.

How did things get so distorted? How do you have people who will kill for money? Lie, cheat and steal for money?

Well, it's what you can DO with those owed favors. Like, feed yourself. Or have a home. Or buy luxuries. Or impress other people. Among many, many other things!

The monetary system allows society to have many people doing many things and facilitates transactions between people without which our modern world society could not operate as it does, and I don't think anyone has come up with a better way to do things.

Money lets you separate your action from the reward.

You can mow your neighbor's lawn, get paid some amount, and then get the return on that action, months later when maybe you use the money to take your wife to dinner. You then give that restaurant an IOU from which they can get their reward when they so choose.

That flexibility is unrivaled. It's a great thing.

The alternative is that you return the favor immediately. Or that they trust you to return it at some later date. But such trust is best between people who are close, like in a well-knit community.

Money lets you trust society to guarantee you will get a return on your efforts--not each and every individual within that society with whom you have a transaction, as they just hand you an IOU, which we call money.

So for you to lose a return on the favor your society would have to fail you.

That's why for instance legal tender in my country is backed by the US Government.

We need to talk more about money, and about doing things for others, and why giving a lot of other people something they want and getting an IOU in return is not necessarily a reason to flaunt it, put yourself above others, or do any number of things that really have nothing to do with money.

Like, imagine, you sing to a crowd of thousands and they show their appreciation with an IOU for you to use later, and that was a lot of people to whom you gave something of value so their appreciation has a great value as well!

If you see it that way, how might you think about how you get a return on what you gave?

And from there it's easy to consider where I think money does distort things, where my emphasis on money as an IOU on a favor really works well to explain some striking distortions in monetary distribution, as is a schoolteacher doing you a favor by teaching your child? Does a police office do you a favor when she protects you from robbers? Or a soldier protecting you from enemies foreign or domestic?

I don't think most consider serving your country as a soldier as doing a favor.

But with the money system someone who can do favors or as more people might consider it, give a service like a catchy song, can make much, much more than people who save a nation.

I think societies do try to make an adjustment though for those areas money is not designed to handle well.

That explanation isn't satisfying to me either, though I guess it makes sense. It's kind of unsettling so I find myself talking it out more. A person with a well designed product might sell it nationally. Today, because of the web it's easier and easier for products, like songs or movies, to go international, allowing so much more money in return. You're just doing that many more people a service and getting a return on it. It's about sheer numbers.

But for a schoolteacher? Even when lessons go online aren't they usually free? I think people just don't see lessons as a favor. So society still has to step into the breach to provide some form of support?

So community rises in importance yet again.

So much of how you see things is about community, and what values your community has given you.

To me, considering money less abstractly and concretely as an IOU from society as a return on a favor is very useful in explaining what it can bring, and also what it doesn't.

But maybe that explains why people can be most satisfied with their community regardless of money, when that community is supportive, well-knit, and most importantly its members know and trust each other.

James Harris

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Community values and money

Having had some time to ponder my ideas for a predictive framework around money in my post Money Matters, I found myself thinking about community. And that is such a huge arena in terms of its importance that again there are a lot of disclaimers. I'm expressing my personal opinions and not claiming to be an expert on money matters nor am I giving monetary or legal advice.

To introduce ideas around community and money I think it will be good to use an example I used from my prior post about two neighbors where one mows the lawn of the other who returns the favor by trimming his hedges. Where I also supposed hypothetically about the value of that behavior being potentially enumerated by money, if for instance the one neighbor could pay $50 US to have his lawn mowed and the other neighbor found he could have his hedges trimmed for $35 US.

The disparity of course is $15 US and represents a potential profit in the exchange for one of the homeowners and I suggest that how you think of that reality has a lot to do with the values of your community.

Stressing community values versus individual values makes sense here, as for instance non-profit corporations are a phenomenon of community, where supposedly they do NOT profit from their efforts presumably for the good of the community, where what the community is, can vary.

That profit is a matter of community values may seem strange. But different communities can vary a lot about how people should relate to each other even when it comes to favors. In one community people might feel it's your job to know the value of your efforts and others. While in other communities there might be a feeling there should be a fair exchange. So for instance in such a community with our hypothetical example the homeowner who did the hedges maybe should also give $15 US to his neighbor to even the exchange.

If your community values business exchanges more highly it might expect people to be aware of the value of their work, and even reward others for taking advantage of a lack of information--profiting from other's mistakes. That could be seen as an incentive to learn.

Community can mean a lot of things and I'm going to not try and define it, but I will offer the idea that community can offer support for members who need help.

So support of community has a value in insuring that a person has the potential of support later, and that social insurance is something that can be monetized to some extent as well which is the purpose of the insurance industry.

Many people may be surprised to learn that at least in the US, insurance companies are not to profit from premiums, and seek to balance the money received in premiums exactly with the money paid out in claims.

So where are they supposed to make profit?

Insurance companies are supposed to make profit on the return from investing the premiums paid into them, which represents a community value of the United States of America. People don't like the idea of someone profiting from the misfortune or potential misfortune of others. But it's quite fair to invest the money people pay to be insured, and make your profit there, as it doesn't hurt them one way or the other, as long as the money isn't lost on bad investments, and it's better than the money just sitting to the advantage of no one waiting to be paid out in a claim.

Profit can be win-win, or win-lose.

In a win-win profit situation both entities in a transaction walk away with an equal benefit. For example in our hypothetical situation if the one homeowner who receives the greater value in the exchange evens it by giving $15, the other homeowner technically "profits" by that amount, but in actuality the money merely balances the exchange and both homeowners win--they each get a needed service done. One person's lawn is mowed and the other has his hedges trimmed.

In a win-lose profit situation, one entity in a transaction walks away with more than given. Which is the situation if neither homeowner cares to balance things or one is unaware that mowing his neighbor's lawn is monetarily more valuable than having his hedges trimmed.

Communities can actually value either exchange. They can even go further and value charity, where one person simply gives benefit to another with no expectation of anything in return. Then "profit" is simply removed as a concept.

Hypothetically the win-win profit situation is the optimal one. Then both parties get as much as they give, in an even exchange, which notice betters each of them without harm.

Also notice that the win-lose situation depends on a disparity in the exchange. Whether that disparity is addressed or not can be about will or information. If one party is unaware of the disparity then that person can give more than received in return from lack of sufficient knowledge.

Information then can be seen to be the key to willful exchange outcomes, where people get to make a decision about how to address exchange disparities. To make that decision they must first know the exchange disparity exists!

My assessment that profit is a matter of community values is a personal opinion. Others may disagree, but I like that I can fit it so nicely with prior concepts already discussed as I work further in what I see as a functional science of money.

James Harris

Monday, October 13, 2014

When prestige has merit

The web is a vast distribution network which moves information around the globe, and the quality of that information will I think move the world to a merit measure for prestige.

Like consider the Wikipedia. If you want to know a lot about its potency you can check studies. As much as I'd like to link to independent ones the most definitive source is, yup, the Wikipedia itself:

That is a bit irritating as I prefer independent sources, and didn't see any that seemed suitable when I did a search on Google for this article. Some government or something should have something up, if they knew what they were doing. But a lot of governments today clearly do not.

Prior to the ability to have a world pick for itself, institutions gained prestige by many means and carried that over time. But notice the ignominy now hovering over the prestigious news agency The New York Times, which in my mind is that group of people who with President George W. Bush helped more than most to lead the United States into war. That may sound harsh, but why sugarcoat it?

To me then there is what I'll call classical prestige, and functional prestige.

The Wikipedia has functional prestige: people know it works as they use it, and some people have checked it against other prestigious sources.

While The New York Times has classical prestige: it retains prestige despite some of the greatest press failures in recorded history. People see it as prestigious with it debatable as to whether or not it is functioning at that level.

But that appears to be a learned response. And as new generations arise without being taught that a particular institution has prestige then they are more likely to switch to functional prestige.

The difference with functional prestige is people know the value from moment to moment from what they can use in their daily lives.

That has practical importance to me, as I have various ideas out there in prestigious areas, like my own definition of science, and my own ideas for a science of money.

Those are functional ideas in areas where far more prestigious sources have a lot of dominance. But the web lets me put forward new ideas where I can rely on the discretion of many people.

If the ideas are valuable because they work, then they can gain their own functional prestige, which then is entirely about merit.

The science of money by itself can change the world, not because the original source--me--is prestigious. But because the functional need is so great.

People need to understand money in our modern world. It's just that simple.

In the old world people or organizations could build prestige over time, becoming reliable sources, who could lead the world down dark and wrong paths based primarily on that prestige alone.

The new world pushes your ideas to always work, and catches you immediately when you slip up, and then keeps reminding you constantly of your failure.

And that is how civilization will work best.

It's a new way of doing things. It's the best way of doing things.

Prestige should have merit. Now thanks to the inexorable progress of science and technology which connects people in a way that allows constant checking and accurate reporting on those checks--it can.

And I do think that most prestigious institutions around the world are ready for that challenge and are meeting it.

James Harris

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Predictive certainty

Something which fascinates me is the calmness with which many people I'm sure flip a light switch. The idea of light on demand is so common in my country that many people are simply shut down to a large extent with a power outage. There may be a rushing about to find a flashlight or candle, as people worry about when power crews will get the power back on.

The predictive certainty with which many of us operate allows us to live daily lives without thinking of it that way, while some seem certain we live in uncertain times, when we don't usually worry about crops on any given year, unless maybe a farmer. Few of us are keeping up with livestock, or worrying about what vegetables or fruits are in season. For many a trip to the grocery store is a casual process.

Reality is that living in the most advanced countries brings an extraordinary amount of certainty. And many know that science has something to do with it, but I found myself wondering why concerns about climate sparked so much questioning, and realized that few people may realize that science is about predictive certainty.

So why are people calm about a light switch but ready to challenge the best scientific experts about whether or not the climate is changing?

How do people get into their automobiles and calmly turn the key, to get to work on time, yet feel free to question related scientific principles when it is something as important as the climate of the planet?

Looking around at established definitions of science I think they are problematic. How do you read an established definition of science and know if someone is doing it or not? How do you carry confidence about the electricity flowing in your house yet question the possibility of epic change to the climate of your planet.

So I came up with my own definitions. These are not established. But I'm going to use them to give a functional view of science, show how predictive certainty works, and point out how you can know when someone is doing science.

science (noun): the art of prediction using methodologies and tools to expand zones of certainty by discovery of a predictive framework.

scientific theory (noun): predictive framework found by using science.

scientist (person): practitioner of science.

Science can be about medical science, where a doctor can set a broken bone with predictive certainty. Or it can be about bureaucratic science, where an MBA can learn management techniques for a particular size company. Or automotive science can allow a mechanic to fix your car, or hype up the performance of a race car.

But can a scientist just wake up one morning and definitively say a solution exists for a particular problem?

Usually, no. Experiments and theory and more experiments and studies by various scientists over time can find things that people may have never even realized were possible, so there is an art to it.

My definitions may seem extremely abstract. Where is the scientific method? Why no mention of the natural world or phenomena? How can I not use the word "experiment" or "hypothesis"?

Yet all those things are encapsulated within the abstraction. That's what abstraction is for: getting to the essence of the thing without unnecessary extra.

Experiments involve tools and methodologies to expand zones of certainty by discovery of a predictive framework. That predictive framework lets you do things like wire a house. Work on more efficient propulsion systems. Or produce a new vaccine.

Scientists make predictions.

Let me repeat: scientists make predictions!

That physicist tells you what will happen if you gather enough weapons grade plutonium together into a nuclear bomb.

That biologist tells you how to combat a particular bacterium.

That computer scientist tells you how to build a massively scalable architecture to process Big Data from a billion users around the globe.

Science is not about the unknown. Science is our predictive certainty of the known. It's about those things for which we are sure. That ever growing body of predictive certainty is what our civilization relies upon.

Scientists work to grow that predictive certainty. Beyond the boundaries of that work there are vast stretches of unknown areas. But mystery is not science. It can drive our best scientific minds to discovery.

But mystery is where our science has not yet arrived.

And if you dare to plan, rely on your vehicle to get you there on time, feel confident on that alarm to wake you, or that phone to make the call if needed, you believe in that predictive certainty which came from science.

So believe in it too when it tries to help you and others save your world.

Climate science has much that is certain. But more emphasis where it is uncertain which is where the excitement for scientists exists. That's unfortunate for those who seize upon the edges of predictive certainty to cast doubt on it all.

But I'm sure they have no qualms when they flip a light switch.

James Harris

Friday, September 26, 2014

Brilliant, complex and disturbing, reality of Henry Ford

Back March of last year I put up a post where I noted the importance of Henry Ford and found myself wondering if I'd said enough about his controversial side. Reality is I didn't completely understand it myself, while I also under-appreciated a lot of what he managed to accomplish.

For instance, consider that Ford helped a lot to create a middle-class by raising wages against the opinion of just about everyone around him. He more than doubled the salary of his workers. Pause, reflect if you're an American worker on that one! Can you imagine if your bosses decided tomorrow to double your salary? Yet in later life he faced accusations of anti-semitism, and violent anti-unionism. Definitely a complex character who deserves the full picture.

Which I got thanks to PBS so this post is to link to what I saw:

Henry Ford . American Experience . WGBH | PBS

Today I'm more convinced than ever that fights over wages have the greatest impact of all when it comes to the health and vitality of the middle-class. Henry Ford was bizarre for his time--a wealthy man who fought everyone in his way who tried to stop him from sharing the wealth with his workers.

And consider, his move in that direction made him one of the most powerful and wealthiest of them all!

So what gives? Why do wealthy people fight against fair wages even against their own interests?

Good question. I've recently considered various issues around money, but will admit am puzzling over that one still. After all, the example of Ford shows that the naive self-interest involved in hoarding as much wealth to one's self as you can and fighting against your own workers as the enemy doesn't work as well as, well, doing what he did. Though in later life he clearly lost his way.

Maybe there is something about some wealthy people that makes them behave in a way that actually makes no rational sense, where they mindlessly hoard wealth against their own interests, and that of their society.

James Harris

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Money matters

As much as I have tried to explain money in various posts another seems in order and my motivation is to understand an important area where I think simple concepts can help.

These are just my opinions as I sit here typing them up. Nothing here should be construed as money or legal advice or as a claim of expertise in money matters. Terms may be defined by me for the purposes of this discussion without claim that they are used the same way by anyone else. Money for many reasons is an extremely complex area and it is not necessarily the case that I succeed here in simplifying understanding as I try talking it out. But I'm going to have fun trying. So if you're still here, no promises, as we continue.

Like consider two neighbors where one does a favor and mows his neighbor's lawn, and that neighbor later returns the favor by cutting his hedges. In this hypothetical example we can ask, is it equal reciprocation?

Now in contrast, consider one neighbor pays $50 US to have his lawn mowed, and the other neighbor pays someone $35 US to trim his hedges, and we can say now in this hypothetical scenario that one thing is worth more than the other where money has enumerated the cost of the favors.

So, money is consideration received in exchange for doing a favor, which abstracts the value of the favor and it's a better system than simply guessing at what roughly equals in some other kind of reciprocal exchange.

Use of the word "favor" here may seem odd, as some may think the idea is that a favor is done without expectation of something in return. But I think the reality is delayed return. Generally decent people will return the favor. But there is a delay which can be indefinite.

In contrast, it sounds very different if I say, two neighbors barter where one says he'll mow his neighbor's lawn in exchange for having his hedges done.

Maybe some neighbor might mow lawns as favors without any expectation of any kind of return, but what kind of people would accept it without giving anything back? Maybe if he were rich? Nope. Most people would want to give something back. Decent people return favors. People who never return favors are not liked.

Notice a direct trade of mowing lawns in exchange for doing hedges is not as free floating as the favor. Say you mow your neighbor's lawn as a favor, and know he'll do something in return, and he does your hedges. That has a completely different feel, as he could do something else.

That freedom in the return is what I think can be missing and is encapsulated by talking about a favor. Someone does something for you, so you wish to do something for them in return.

On that level then money is extremely simple and has been a valuable invention as it allows us to figure out the numerical value of favors, store favors for later use, and even transfer the value of a favor to someone else.

Money actually takes the indefinite nature of the favor to the limit. A person may get a return on the favor hundreds of years later with inherited money.

But what about a sheriff who saves a person's life from an attacker, possibly facing danger in that action?

Well the sheriff has a job, for which there is consideration given in the form of some type of monetary compensation where such an event is considered part of that job. And we really don't think of it as a favor! That is part of the job.

Here the notion of favor assumes a desired need and request of some kind. That then would also preclude someone trying to push a favor on you! (People pushing favors on you can be really annoying.)

Doing someone a favor is doing them a service. Handing someone a product is a favor as well, where equal reciprocation would involve a favor in return of equal value.

Now we can figure out just about everything related to money with this simple framework.

So the abstracted value of a favor can be correct, too much, or too little.

For instance a person may get paid $10 US for a service that is actually worth $100 US. Or a person, say a banker on Wall Street, may get millions US for a service which can cost the US economy billions.

Every dollar theoretically traces back to some kind of favor under this framework unless it is counterfeit. So counterfeit money can be said to be an attempt at stealing favors. Like if you told someone you'd actually done something you had not, and they did you a favor in exchange, and you were long gone by the time they found out you had lied.

Information then helps tremendously, so you can know how much a particular favor is worth. Which means I can make a prediction that the web helps monetary efficiency by allowing people to check the value of services.

Which I know is useful as I'll go check now to try and see what things cost in comparison at different places which I suggest has done a weird thing, it has lessened something called inflation.

Now that's a powerful claim, which I think is easily explained in this framework. Theoretically if people could establish accepted values for all favors then that value would not change. Inflation would not exist.

Different cultures use different money, for instance the United States where I live uses the US dollar. Whereas in the Eurozone they use the euro. The value of these currencies relative to each other shifts in an attempt to balance them so that a favor in the US costs roughly the same as a favor in the Eurozone. That constant balancing act can be impacted by a vast array of things, which can change the relative value that people see in exchanges which are about money used to buy money. So it's still set by transactions.

It can be easier when people just use one currency, like the US dollar, which is considered a global currency as lots of people in many countries use it.

Transactions for this discussion are when at least two parties make a buying decision, where there is consideration given in exchange for a favor.

Where that consideration is enumerated by money. So money just lets you put a number on it.

Now we can talk policy, and for instance, to the extent that money is in return for favors as a society I think it is problematic to limit the favors people can do for others! And I think in the US especially the feeling is people should make as much money as they can, as long as they earned it.

We can now say that earning your money involves an appropriate exchange in consideration for a favor within a desired transaction. That is, someone wants something, you provide it, and get a number on that value which is the money you receive.

However, it can be problematic if some people are getting more money than they really earn, though try to get anyone to admit it! Or which may be more common, people are working for less than the value of their work, which I addressed in a prior post.

Reality is, I think, people can have a hard time figuring out what their work is worth! And companies don't help and even try to exploit, like by going to some other country where wages are traditionally low. The web helps there as those people can talk with others and find out what they should be making so I think that problem is temporary, but great harm can be done when people work for far less than they should.

Some people see unions as a solution, but in my country unions are associated with the least common denominator, and forcing equal pay or a lower limit on pay ignores when some people aren't worth it.

The inability to negotiate an appropriate wage is the primary justification for forcing a minimum wage, in essence, saving certain people from their lack of knowledge about how much their work is worth.

I support wage understanding. Figure out what your work is worth. That is what you should get paid. And don't let yourself be cheated as you make it harder for others. Women especially are problematic in terms of getting their proper wage, which drags down tax revenue. People have a duty to be paid appropriately.

That doesn't remove responsibility from companies, but there are traditional views in this country that see underpaying workers as ok for a company, if you can get away with it. This mentality is hard to break even though it's actually stealing.

People need protection for a wide variety of reasons, and at the highest levels government is tasked with protecting its citizens, but I don't think that covers enough.

My full position is that governments have a duty both to protect and enable citizens. For instance, governments may regulate exchanges enabling citizens to feel safer about engaging in transactions.

So governments by necessity provide services to their citizens.

Government now can be seen to have a cost, and taxes represent what people are forced to pay as otherwise they just take services without giving anything back! Trying to not give anything for government services is something often seen where this behavior seems to be built into the human animal and is immune to reason.

People who have obtained the most by presumably giving the most favors to others, tend to bear a greater weight because they have disproportionately succeeded--your success is not just about you but also about your environment--and they have greater ability to pay without distress.

Distress is very important. One man can only give so much before he's starving. While another can give much more and still not cut into luxury. But both need the society that makes that possible.

Some wealthy are functionally insane: they work to pay nothing back to the society without which they could not have their wealth, and pride themselves on this behavior. There is no fix for this particular insanity so government must simply pursue them and force them to pay.

The simple way of looking at things here leads to rather specific prediction which kind of surprised me, but now lots of things make sense to me that I didn't understand before.

With the idea of a favor enumerated with money, one can say that in an ideal situation every unit of money would trace back to a favor, and would represent a desired transaction between two entities.

Since people will always be doing each other favors that means that money will always be here as long as there are people which really surprised me, as I'm a fan of science fiction including the Star Trek franchise where money is no longer used within the fictional Federation in that idealized view of a possible future.

Now I know, as I bring science to money, from a simple methodology--that bit of science fiction will never happen.

James Harris

Sunday, July 6, 2014

But what is work?

There are many productive things that people can do which can be considered work, and it is interesting to me how conflicts can arise and you can get less positive outcomes by not figuring out what work means to you.

My perspective is a broad overview I think as I was born to Black parents in Tifton, GA, USA, which is a farming community in a mostly rural area. When growing up my parents found it important to instill in their kids a work ethic, which meant for instance helping my father out at his job at the local hospital working in the laundry, or with my mom at times we'd go to the fields.

Did the work but wasn't happy with it. I was really into books. So into books that when I had to walk to school I'd read a book along the way. My classmates would tell me excited stories of their parents concerned about me walking along the side of the road with my face in a book! Guess they were worried I might wander out into the road or something.

So there were times I'd rather be reading than doing things like working in the fields, much to my mother's frustration.

Of course the reality is there is a lot of value in learning from physical labor and I appreciate those lessons, but there is MUCH more money in working with one's mind. Parents who focus their children on intellectual activity over physical and show a value for it are more likely to guide them towards things like college.

But if parents don't value mental labor, maybe because they have no appreciation of it, then it can be harder for their kids to value it as well, even when they have an aptitude for it.

Eventually I would go on to college and get my degree in physics. That was despite the disdain I'd often hear from for instance one particular older male relative who would dismiss "book learning". He worked with his hands as a brick-mason. I deeply respect such work. I wish he'd respected the kind of work I do.

But you can't make people.

Reality that can be lost on those who wonder about differential outcomes among groups is the extent to which parents and cohorts may guide their children against certain types of work!

Recently I got into a bizarre discussion with an older Black male who actually had highly technical skills who also had kids who had done well and gone on to college where we were arguing about what was hard work!

He was convinced that physical labor was harder than mental, and in case you think there was a problem with the meaning of "hard" he also told me he had taught his children to go on to college so they wouldn't have to work hard!!!

The peculiarities of this point of view may simply reflect a sad reality for many Black folks who when Black people were slaves were not meant to think. You don't want slaves to think, you just need them to do physical labor.

And physical labor can be a lot more direct. If you need to harvest hay, for instance, in the morning you can look out over your hay fields and have a good estimate of what it will take. Then it's just a matter of working through till it's done.

But what if you're a city planner trying to figure out whether or not a particular intersection needs a stoplight or not?

You may find yourself spending time in meetings with other people just talking. Sheer laziness maybe to people who figure when you got a job you just get to it. Why sit around and talk about it? There may be nights where you spend hours just pondering, with people not understanding how complicated such a thing may be wondering why don't you just DO IT already?

But feel a unique satisfaction when you figure it all out, and realize your decisions are a great help to your town. Where yeah, you can make a huge difference for a lot of people.

Both you and the hay farmer have done work. Both of you are a benefit to your communities, but you're coming from very different work realities.

One last story that puzzled me for a while. I was a software developer--or computer programmer depending on which you prefer where the former is more popular I think lately--and for a wonderful brief time had my own office at this software development company.

There was a Black janitor who was very well liked, but I began to dread when he would come to my office, as often I'd be working on a very hard programming problem staring off into space.

EVERY SINGLE TIME if he arrived at that point he would gently remonstrate me, asking me if I was "on the beach". Then he'd chit-chat with this kind of exhausted, paternal air about him, and I would just tolerate it until he would finally leave and I could get back to work.

I feel a little guilty telling this story. He really thought he was helping me. Thought I was a Black guy I'm sure with a unique opportunity to do well who was unfortunately goofing off staring into space, and maybe thought he was helping the Black race by trying to get me to focus.

Efforts in this country should also be about educating people about the many worlds of work and ensuring that children get their efforts valued across that world.

You see, the United States of America needs all its workers across a vast array of work possibilities.

Kids who were like me shouldn't have to work their way through disdain of family members and ethnic community with a heavy burden in order to make through to higher paying jobs that involve intellectual activity. While it's also true that we should value skilled labor of any type, or unskilled labor.

Work is a great thing.

What work you do, as long as it helps your society, should be about your choice.

The more we value the myriad worlds of work and understand them, the more we can all work towards a brighter future, with equal opportunity for all.

James Harris

Sunday, May 4, 2014

What is your work worth?

The growing disparity between the middle class worker and top earners in the United States should be confusing as technology has helped to greatly grow worker productivity across the board so that an individual American worker can do much more today in the same time than before and thus generate more revenue for a company.

If you noticed at a job that you seem to be doing 4 times as much work since you were hired years ago as technology and workplace improvements help you along, are you paid 4 times as much as then?

My guess is, no.

You may be paid somewhere over 20% more, with a 5% annual raise for 4 years--not going to compound here--despite maybe doing 400% as much work based on productivity increases and just being that good as you've learned your job.

And all of that additional work value goes up the chain in your company, where if it is a corporation the CEO probably gets paid a LOT more than he did when you got hired as a system has been rigged where most of the money is being cycled to the top.

Some say that workers should simply force higher pay, like through unions, but let's face facts: can you imagine say, demanding under any circumstance a 100% increase in any given year? With steep increases, not quite that high but still high, so that after 4 years you're getting paid 4 times what you got when you were hired?

People who are the top earners probably can, especially those in the financial industry.

Few people outside of the financial industry can probably imagine under any circumstances doing such a thing, and besides, how do you really know if you're that valuable?

Some blame globalization as, for instance, call centers went outside the United States, which technology made possible, and I have had more than one conversation where I have been frustrated with talking to some person in another country who really was not good at the job. So what if they were cheaper to the company using them? That cheapness had a cost. And I have talked to excellent people in other countries who did a great job over the phone. I suspect they were underpaid!

If you think it through, those great phone people were probably vastly underpaid. But how would they know what their work is worth?

Let's say over time people start figuring it out, then people overseas who are great on the phone charge more, and eventually achieve parity with people in this country who are great over the phone, and businesses lose the cost advantage of hiring overseas!

People may suspect that wage differences are so steep because work is valued differently in different cultures but currency exchanges tend to shift to balance over time, which means that the real situation is arbitrage.

A lot of companies are taking advantage of a global situation where workers do not know their value.

So the surprising solution is that people need to work harder at figuring out what they're worth, and the web can actually help there as well, as I have been pleasantly surprised by web sites that will help you figure out a salary to request in a job interview.

These issues are really important to me as I am currently unemployed. And I use the situation of someone worth a LOT more than they are being paid as I have been in such situations where I realized I was doing the work of 4 people because technology helped me and I was really efficient at using it!

But I was being paid the salary of one.

Eventually I got laid off, and no I had never made any salary demands. At the time I thought of it as a "day job" while I figured out how to make money on the web, so I was treading water trying to figure things out. No way I was going to rock things by pushing for more money. Nevertheless, got laid off with some other folks.

(Maybe I should add that while it was a group lay-off my being part of it was a bit of a surprise to me, though in retrospect it might have had something to do with me finally putting up a photo on the web the month before. But don't know for sure. Who knows.)

Figure out what your work is worth I think is the best advice, especially at a company where you have worked for a while and watched people leave without being replaced!

Your suspicion should be, especially if your company is still doing well or better, that you simply are doing work that is THAT MUCH more valuable: but are you getting paid for it?

Or are you in essence now doing quite a bit extra--for free?

James Harris

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Money lacks wisdom

Turns out that being wealthy does NOT necessarily mean a person is intelligent, and in fact, very rich people can be very stupid.

In this country money is an important subject, and I like starting with the sentence above because I wish most people in the United States believed it, but I fear there is a sense of entitlement instead with money. And I worry that people believe that wealth somehow imbues the wealthy with special powers, including intelligence.

It does not.

The financial problems of 2008 may already have receded in the minds of many who may have forgotten that very wealthy people and institutions managed to almost derail human civilization and collapse our world, and were promptly bailed out in one of the most expensive rescues of stupid people in the history of the world.

Today many fear that money will rule in politics, and that the ability to spend unlimited amounts of cash by individuals and organizations, especially corporations, will trump the intelligence of the nation's citizens, and hand even more power into the hands of people who not too long ago almost destroyed the world.

But, who are you reading the above and how?

I'm not rich. In fact I'm financially troubled now, trying to figure out how to make enough money to live a comfortable life. And I've spent some time trying to figure money out! Which can be seen in some of my posts. How are you reading me in this supposedly money dominated world?

The path to the near financial collapse of the world in 2008 I think was partially paved by coddling stupidity where some wealthy people learned not to care about mistakes as they had gamed the US Government to protect them.

Sadly they were right, where they should have been wrong.

And I'm not against wealth. I would not mind being wealthy myself though I do not chase it as if it were a way to enter Heaven. I do not believe that accruing vast amounts of wealth is akin to paradise on earth. I do not worship money.

But I do not think coddling stupidity is good no matter how rich a person is.

That coddling is not capitalism. It is foolishly supporting inept people who will get ever more expensive until they collapse the system under the weight of their failure, or nearly collapse it.

By gaming the system, wealthy and inept people lead to a profound test of the value of merit, as notice, in time the system destabilized as bad players were not weeded out. Controlling the US Government so adeptly allowed the social experiment to deliver its just fruits--destabilization of the nation and the world.

Today we have a snarl of bad government issues that cover a vast array of areas screwed up by wealthy people with power who may have in some cases naively believed they could do better. They could, they believed fix tort law, control welfare, solve taxes as a problem by lessening their own, and venture outside of money into areas like managing gun regulations, the reproductive behavior of women and a host of other things. But by far their biggest effort was to, yup, control world finances to remove the business cycle and bring themselves endless wealth.

Instead they had to cash in with their bailouts. Now maybe they think they can reboot?

The rest of us learned that rich people can be stupid too. It's not sensible to have to get taught that lesson again.

The web is part of our answer, however.

The sharing of vast numbers of people in new ways outside of a system dominated by television has changed the game I am certain, and we will see.

I think we'll see just how stupid some wealthy people can be as they throw away money on misleading political ads and endless fundraisers for bought politicians, in a world where people like me, and you, dear Reader, can get the information we need, because finally we have the tools and the motivation.

After all, paying rich people to be stupid with tax dollars is rather irritating, or should be.

I think it's something we, the people of the United States of America, should avoid.

Oh yeah, and need I remind: just because someone is rich it doesn't mean he isn't also stupid?

Just wanted to mention that again, and can, as it's my blog. And I love being an American.

You see we kind of got this thing called freedom of speech.

So please share your wisdom--the web lets you--and as we help each other, we can protect ourselves from the bad people: and maybe then there will be more money for all.

But most importantly, we can have a government for the people and by the people as envisioned in the ideals of Founders who though flawed themselves, could point us in a direction that could carry a nation for centuries to come.

I don't believe we've lost our nation to wealth. And I refuse to believe that money can buy this country.

But you see, I actually believe in it.

James Harris

Friday, February 28, 2014

What destiny?

Freedom of speech is such a famous right of people in the United States of America that it almost feels redundant to bring it up here. But it can be such an awesome thing in surprising ways as, here in this country we have two major political parties that are troubled.

The Democrats and Republicans so dominate the political conversation that some may forget they came into existence beating prior political parties that existed before them and that a country far greater than either can simply dismiss dysfunction if it so chooses.

And stating that feels quite good and I relish the freedom that lets me state the obvious without fear. And I can go further:

IN a country ruled by merit, one can imagine simply putting forward better ideas that can help remind a country of what it does best and in so doing help people politically to live better, which I think is a Progressive position.

And if you can imagine it, then why not write it? And if you can write it, why not put it forward publicly?

In some other country, however, one might simply be afraid to state your political ideas for good reason. You might even be tortured or killed for trying to so choose.

As public and famous as our free speech right is, I think also great about this country is a simple notion that people have the ability to make their own choices. And our government at its best enables that ability.

I codifed my views in this regard into a statement within a post where I gave my suggestion for a new political party as why not? I have the right to express my opinions and I think we have a country that needs better than our current two dominant political party choices. This country has not grown greater by rewarding failure.

Success defines itself.

Here's a piece of what I wrote which I think is a relevant excerpt as it focuses on choice:

That there is a fundamental right to access to information, and also a fundamental right to privacy, as well as the right to, as best one can, choose one's own destiny, including as a matter of course, a woman's right to choose.

Quite deliberately I found myself placing several things together as each is related to our ability to choose.

How can you choose well without enough information?

How many of us have suffered and continue to suffer trying to figure out something as basic as where to work where you want and where people want you? Searching for jobs is one of the classic areas where it is so profound to just know where they are! And how best to get one. But that's just one example relevant to me in my personal situation, as there are many others.

And your right to privacy? How different is it to live without knowing what someone else is watching, or hearing about you? How differently might you move if your government were, say, watching you in your bedroom? Or monitoring your phone calls? Or was bugging and tracking your vehicle to see everywhere you go, or hear everything you say within it?

Could it control you with lots of information on your deepest desires?

How well might you choose in such an environment?

And along with things that can detract from your ability to choose what if you were more likely to be paid less because of your sex?

Women face any number of challenges to their ability to choose so I thought it worth mentioning that directly as something that runs counter to the ideals of this nation.

Do you take choice for granted? Do you think "destiny" is a meaningless word in modern society?

Then why not consider British society?

I am fascinated by the British for many reasons. They have a culture which has dominated the world in many ways for centuries, and represent the most dominant past influence on my own country which escaped theirs by rebellion. And they have many values I like to think I share, like a love of the English language. 

The British, including of course the English, seem to relish a tradition of enjoying language and the wonder of writing well. I make no pretense about my own writing, as I consider it primarily functional, but as a reader I love writing done well, and love the idea of someone working to do it well.

While I'm sure most British would scoff at the idea of destiny in their lives there is no doubt that for some it is still very real as consider a baby recently born, famous around the globe and the choices in front of him in this life. 

While I don't doubt that the Royal Family will do its best to raise a kid happy and healthy with a sense of his right to choose his own destiny, one wonders how easy would it really be for him to simply choose, say, for a while later in life to just be a beach bum?

And the thing is, I don't know how many people actually manage to make that choice. I've dreamed about it myself but never managed, but I have little doubt that if I tried there would be no national outcry of dismay!

From the extreme maybe we can better appreciate that principle that making your own choices, for good or ill, as best one can, is a core principle that can define a society in ways that may surprise.

People talk about the wonder of a nation where the ideal is that anyone can grow up to become president of the United States, but I'd add that anyone can help write the future of the nation. And our free speech right gives each of us that possibility to be part of the conversation that helps define a future.

Our destiny as a nation is to lead I firmly believe because we give people the freedom to define themselves, hone and polish their skills and step out on the world stage with the confidence of practice.

We are a nation where merit matters.

It is important to be good at what you do.

That is a value worth keeping.

Freedom is not just given. Freedom is learned. And we can help teach a world that human beings are not what we as human beings can put into some rational box, but are creative beings where the best is always yet to come--if you choose it to be.

So our destiny is unknowable as it is waiting to be lived.

And our choices will make our world.

Choose as best you can and for those in my nation the United States of America please remember: you have the right to choose. Never forget it.

James Harris