18 November 2013

The kids in my wife's class - 2nd graders who are - most of them - 7 - have been worried about me since my dad died Thursday. Today she came home with letters from them. This one is my favorite but is also fairly typical. Reading through them did nothing to slow my transition into the old man who alternates between chuckling and tearing up. It's sort of perfect.

Bucket List Possibilities

A few items to add to my bucket list.

Take up golf?

Maybe get a pet?

Or a little acrobatics?

16 November 2013

Dow Has Doubled Since Obama Was Sworn In

The Dow is up 101% since Barack Obama was sworn in.

Most people are unaware of how much better the stock market does under Democrats than Republicans. This could be the product of a full century of coincidence. It could be. In any case, it certainly undermines any claim that Republicans have that they're good for financial markets.

Imagine two families who have $100,000 to invest the day that Teddy Roosevelt is sworn in on 4 September 1901. (September because he was sworn in after McKinley was assassinated.)

The Democratic family loyalists refuse to invest in the stock market each time a Republican is sworn in, putting their money under a mattress until a Democrat is sworn in. Once a Democrat becomes president, these Democrats buy a market index linked to the Dow and hold it until the day a Republican is sworn in.

The Republican family loyalists take the opposite approach. They put their money under a mattress each time a Democrat is sworn in and put it all into a Dow indexed fund each time a Republican takes office, holding it until a Democrat comes along.

The Republican family would have turned their $100,000 into $509,720 as of Friday. (Curiously, that $509k is actually $2k less than it was in 1929 when Republican Calvin Coolidge gave the keys to the Oval Office to Herbert Hoover; that's a long stretch of no net gain.)

The Democratic family would have turned their $100,000 into $4,273,560, more than 8X the Republican family fortune.

12 November 2013

My New Killer App: The Maybe Private, Maybe Broadcast, Twitter or Text? App

The problem with texting 2.0 is that it is direct. It goes directly to the person to whom you're sending it. Texting 1.0 - known at the time as passing notes in class - had the added frisson of knowing that the note you were trying to pass to your friend or love interest across the room might be intercepted and read rather than just passed along.

So, it's time to add a little uncertainty to texting. I'm at work in the basement on Classnotes, a new texting software that requires you to find at least one intermediary between you and your intended target. They might pass the note along or might read it. You might know when they opened it or you might not. Your intermediary may be the only to know the contents of your text or may broadcast it to the world. Suddenly communication meant to be private could become public and notes that you thought might be broadcast will be safely passed along without censorship or eavesdropping.

Classnotes randomly combines the best features of twitter and texting, turning casual communication into something akin to gossip, or a scandal sheet. It's an opportunity for people who might otherwise be ignored to be talked about, to be the subject of speculation and the focus of attention.

The business model for this is fail proof. Unnamed sources at NSA have assured me that if people don't download it by choice, they will subsidize its surreptitious installation on smart phones.

Classnotes. Because as Benjamin Franklin said, "If you want to get someone to pay attention, tell them it's a secret."

Stay tuned. And meanwhile, be careful about what you text. We might all be reading that.

When Abstractions Become Real and Reality is an Abstraction

It is the oddity of the times that the deficit has become something real and kids in poverty have become an abstraction. Puzzling that everyone worries so much about the deficit when it is clearly big enough to take care of itself. But maybe that is just a sign of the times, politics having gone virtual along with the rest of the world. 

11 November 2013

This Decade's Economy: As Strong as the 80s or 90s.

Want your friends at the diner to look at you as if you've announced that you're starting a neo-fascist party? Casually mention that the economy this decade is about as strong as it was during Reagan's 80s or Clinton's 90s.

Friday's job report added about a quarter of a million new jobs. (The American economy created 204,000 jobs in October and the job creation numbers for September and August were revised upwards by 45,000 and 15,000, for a total of 264,000 new jobs reported.)

Oddly, the rate of job creation this decade is pretty good. If it weren't for the rate at which we're destroying government jobs, we'd be creating jobs at the same rate we averaged in the 90s; as it is, we're creating jobs at the same we did in the 80s.

The government sector has shed more jobs in the last few years than any time since the years after World War II.  In spite of governments' best attempts to destroy jobs, the private sector is creating jobs at a rate roughly comparable to past decades.

As you can see in this graph, the biggest problem with the American economy this decade is last decade. This decade's job creation rate is not enough to make up for last decade's job destruction rate. When you are creating about 18 to 22 million jobs per decade, suddenly losing 1.2 million jobs in a decade makes the next decade - no matter how ordinary - seem dismal. We may well create 18 to 20 million jobs this decade (2010 to 2019)  but to make up for the aughts (2000 - 2009), we would need to create about 35 to 40 million jobs, an unprecedented number, almost double the most we've ever created.

Of course the fact that the aughts were a terrible decade is not news. That fact is history. Yet that tired fact is what make this decade's normal seem so anemic; history is what gives today's news context, gives it meaning. And what last decade's performance means for this decade is that ordinary isn't nearly as impressive as it used to be.

05 November 2013

And Then God Wiped Out Gomorrahy and It Was Never Mentioned Again

Today's election headline:

Democrat Terry McAuliffe won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday, squeaking by Republican Ken Cuccinelli with the help of voters in the predominantly blue Washington suburbs.
McAuliffe's victory in the key swing state was an affirmation of his strategy to portray Cuccinelli, the state attorney general, as a Tea Party champion who is too extreme for Virginia.

Cuccinelli had spoken out against sodomy, a tactic that might have helped him to win decades ago but helped him to lose today.

The God of Abraham was so angry at the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah they he destroyed them with fire and brimstone. Religious conservatives are convinced that a person could want no more clear indictment of sodomy than that. They could be right. But it's worth noting that God destroyed these two cities, leaving no trace of them or their people. And yet sodomy survived.

Maybe it was the unspeakable, lost from history practice of gomorrahy that God disapproved of.

04 November 2013

In Which Your Friendly Blogger Draws a Parallel Between Slavery and Universal Healthcare

The British ended slavery without a Civil War. We Americans chose to kill 600,000+ in our struggle to resist this inevitable change. (A similar percentage of the American population today would be 6 million – as if the entire populations of Wyoming, Vermont, DC, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Delaware were killed.)

We fought the inevitable in spite of the fact that ending slavery wasn't just the right thing to do morally. Ending that institution helped us to create a new, far better economy. 

Once Southern representatives left Congress with their secession, Northern Republicans were able to pass a flurry of legislation. They created the modern corporation, a phenomenally powerful institution. They strengthened interstate laws (which is to say the rule of the federal government) in order to support larger markets as befits larger factories. In short, they passed legislation that supported an Industrial, rather than Agricultural Economy and laid the foundation for a newly emerging Information Economy.  

The debate about slavery distracted the whole nation from what was needed for creating a new kind of economy. 

Today's struggle over healthcare that is slowing our recovery is for lesser stakes than slavery but it has a couple of parallels.

One, regardless of what anyone thinks about the economics of this issue, it is simply immoral that the majority of bankruptcies in this country result from medical bills. Forcing people to choose between the health of a loved one and financial solvency is not as bad as slavery but it does – like slavery – suggest a fairly low-level of social evolution and commitment to the individual.

Two, it distracts us from the real conversation: what economy should we create next? Very few Americans during the Civil War could see the coming wave of affluence for all the bodies lying strewn along the battlefields. In the same way, our national dialogue has been completely hijacked by issues whose outcomes are inevitable, distracting us from issues whose outcome can - and should - be shaped now. 

The economy beyond our current Information, or Knowledge Economy will be more entrepreneurial. This means even more – not less – income and wealth disparity. Creative endeavors, from novel writing to starting a business, are much more risky than career choices. Higher levels of entrepreneurship will do two things: it will create more wealth and it will create more disparity. It will be necessary to have in place mechanisms to mitigate the pain of this to losers; universal healthcare is just one way that a community can lower the cost of risk-taking and encourage more entrepreneurship.

Universal healthcare is a natural evolution to a community portfolio that includes unemployment insurance, social security, and bankruptcy laws. It belongs to the welfare state that emerged in the Knowledge Economy that gave a greater place to labor.

When it became obvious that knowledge workers - labor - were to be more important to a new kind of post-Industrial Economy, communities took two routes. One route - that of the USSR - was to do away with capitalism while creating a new economy. The other route - that of Germany and the US - was to build on the Industrial Economy while creating a new, Knowledge Economy.

As it turns out, a Knowledge Economy that gives a greater place to labor demands even greater quantities of capital than an Industrial Economy. Without a capitalist foundation the next economy flounders.

Key Institutions
2nd, Industrial Economy
Banking system, Stock & Bond Markets, Factories
3rd, Knowledge Economy
Knowledge Workers
Modern university, corporation, labor unions, welfare state

A new kind of Entrepreneurial Economy is emerging. Some conservatives (who generally are more attuned to his emerging reality than their liberal peers) see this as proof that we need to dismantle the old, welfare state that characterized the labor-centric, Knowledge Economy. This will be as big a mistake as socialists and communists' earlier attempt to eradicate, rather than build on, the Industrial Economy.

There are a host of legitimate debates about universal healthcare; among them is NOT the debate about whether we should force people into bankruptcy because of health issues. Anyone who believes that economic progress comes at the expense of quality of life shows poor understanding of either economic progress or quality of life.

But beyond that, pretending that there still is a debate about whether we should have universal healthcare sucks the air out of the national conversation we should be having, which is how to create the Fourth, Entrepreneurial Economy. 

01 November 2013

My Bucket List - Love, Revel and Change

Today I'm at my folks. My dad is dying. At this point he may have two days or two months but it doesn't seem as though he has long. He's shutting down.

I am sad. And perhaps a little more shamelessly sentimental than normal. This has reminded me of how few decades we get and how little time we have to waste. It provoked me to articulate what actually matters.

Obvious. Cliche. And yet essential. It's so easy to let other emotions - from wanting to look proper to holding a grudge to getting distracted by irritation - obstruct this. We have very little time and very little energy with which to do anything. Plus, it really does seem true that love transforms us. A person never develops as rapidly and as delightedly as when they are the infant or small child whose most pervasive experience of others is through expressions of love. We hug, kiss, and chuckle at babies and children and their response is to quickly become smarter and more able than us.

This week I was walking down the streets of Boulder with two co-workers I consider good friends and I was temporarily overcome. It was 40 degrees. Leaves were on the ground. I could not only feel the cold air come into my mouth like a crisp apple, but I could nearly taste the smoke from fireplaces. It was so beautiful, such an iconic moment of beauty and seasonal change.
Reveling is something a person doesn't even have to be strong or smart to do. A person can do it simply by being present to the miracle of the moment. Every day there are a few such moments and you can choose to marvel at them or miss them. (If there were more than a few such moments we would be overwhelmed. It's best they come sparingly.)

My first thought was that I'd like to change the world. I still think that we could create an economy that proves that economic progress and quality of life are not at odds. There is so much potential we're leaving lie fallow. I doubt that I'll ever give up on that aspiration.
But I also realized that change is so important to love or reveling. We have an expectation of who someone should be and when they are not, rather than change our expectation, we withdraw our love. We prepare for one kind of career and the economy - with reckless disregard for our expectations - veers in an unexpected direction, and rather than change we feel rejected, work harder to impose what we've come to feel defines us. Rather than hold ideas or beliefs, we let them seize us and fail to change. Failure to change means missing the opportunity to revel in the moment as it is, miss the opportunity to love someone for who they are. And here's the thing about the big, complex world and our little minds: the rich complexity of an actual person or moment will always be more capable of provoking us to love or reveling than our small preconceptions ever could.
Changing ourselves or changing the world - I think that these both bear evidence that we're engaged in the world, engaged so deeply that we and it - us and them - are inescapably influenced by the other. Change is proof of connection.

I likely have just a few decades left. I don't have time to waste, so I need to stay focused on just a few things. This is my bucket list: love, revel, and change.

Thank you reading.