Money, Power, & Wall Street

English: Wall Street sign on Wall Street

Wall Street sign on Wall Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just finished watching the PBS Frontline show of that title.  Granted it’s 4 hours long, but a good summary of the financial crash, bank and financial risk, the banks bailouts and the government’s role.  As an uneducated citizen in these topics, I learned a lot.  “We can absolutely reform banks… it was a political will issue and it continues to be.  And the question isn’t, are we going to create something perfect.  The question is are we going to create something better than this.  It’s actually a pretty low bar.”

Makes you wonder if we can ever trust these markets, and any job with this type of financial incentive.

So if you think you have a sure bet for gaining financial profit, make sure you understand the risk associated.

Advertisements

Generational Advantage

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC)

Every generation worries/complains about the next.  Part of that is likely a result of the older generation having more experience and a different perspective when they view the younger group.  Maybe part of the compliant results from a natural trend toward social luxury and affluence.

But each generation has their characteristics and strengths.  We might even think that the general characteristics for each generation is influenced by the conditions during development, and so a result of our parents, whether intentional or accidental.

This graph from Wikipedia showing the birthrate in the USA per 1000 population, with the baby boomer births highlighted in red.  Although not the highest birthrate on the chart, earlier times in history experienced higher infant and child mortality rates.  So that the overall population impact was significant.  The size of the boomer generation created significant competition for that group, which greatly influenced their esperience.  The growing generation allowed for the Social Security plan based on a pyramid, where a continually increasing workforce can support the number of retirees.  They also demanded more homes, cares, good, and other goods to be produced brought which pumped up the economy.  If future generations diminish in size, and we need less stuff, that seems to have a significant drag on the economy these days.  We find the following generations face many challenges trying to achieve the same lifestyle and success as the baby boomer generations.

Visit Gladwell.com

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers combines the work of many researchers to show how success is highly influenced by our surrounding conditions.  One example given the is the phenomenon that many hockey players have birthdays in January and February because tryouts for kids in Canada have a 1 January cutoff, so the older kids have more development and strength to make the teams.   A second example discusses comparative success of Mort Janklow compared to his father;  given that both men were self motivated, entrepreneur type people, Gladwell attributes the son’s success to social conditions of his generation (being born in NYC in the 1930 during a birthrate drop).  The son had less competition in life, and fewer setbacks that the father experienced; such as the depression and participating in WWI.  This example shows how social context greatly influences the general experience for each generation.

Today’s Gen Xers and Gen Yers are struggling through the wake of the Baby Boomers success, and struggling to meet the expectations of previous generations in the workplace.

Generation Size in the USA (varies according to dates used):

These dates ranges listed below for these generations vary according to the source you check. 

  • Silent/Traditional Generation (20 yrs) – <50,000,000
  • Baby Boomers (18 yrs) – 76,000,000
  • Generation X (16 yrs) – 88,000,000
  • Generation Y (18 yrs) – <70,000,000

Definitions:

“The Silent Generation (Traditionalists) born 1925 through 1945, is the generation that includes those who were too young to join the service during World War II. Many had fathers who served in World War I. Generally recognized as the children of the Great Depression, this event during their formative years had a profound impact on them.” -Wikipedia

Common Characteristics:

  • Loyal
  • Hardworking
  • Submissive
  • Traditional

“A baby boomer is a person who was born during the demographic Post-World War II baby boom between the years 1946 and 1964, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The term “baby boomer” is sometimes used in a cultural context.” -Wikipedia

Common Characteristics:

  • Work-Centric
  • Independent
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Competitive

Generation X (also known as the 13th Generation and the Baby Busters) is the generation generally defined as those born after the baby boom ended, from 1965 to 1981″ -Wikipedia

Common Characteristics:

  • Individualistic
  • Tech Savvy
  • Flexible
  • Values Work/Life Balance

“Generation Y, the Millennial Generation (or Millennials), Generation Next, Net Generation, Echo Boomers, describes the generation following Generation X from probably 1981 to 1999. As there are no precise dates for when the Millennial generation starts and ends, commentators have used birth dates ranging somewhere from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s (decade).” -Wikipedia

Common Characteristics:

  • Tech Savvy
  • Family-Centric
  • Achievement Oriented
  • Team Oriented
  • Attention Craving

There are a lot of articles discussing workplace issues relating to generations X and Y, use your favorite search engine to find ones that helps you for your cooperation needs.

Deeper Meaning of the Hunger Games story

Cover of "The Hunger Games"

Cover of The Hunger Games

Wow! As interesting as the Hunger Games trilogy is on it’s own, having just completed the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide brings a stabbing realization to the underlying message of the Hunger Games.  (Spoiler alert if you have not read through book 3, Mockingjay).

Throughout the trilogy, Katniss struggles to understand the complacency of the capital’s citizens and the citizens of District 13, in their acceptance of inhumane treatment of citizens in the other 12 districts.  She wonders how can they be so concerned with fashion and the supply of food delicacies, when so many people of the country suffer malnourishment and mistreatment?  How can they watch the hunger games event each year, watch innocent children be killed and kill each other, as if it’s entertainment?

The same message rings true throughout Half the Sky, in it’s disturbing, yet realistic depiction of inhumane treatment of girls and women, in a multitude of actions, in many developing countries (although also found in more developed and western cultures too).  In the Hunger Games trilogy the capital’s citizens are portrayed as a sophisticated elite class, without acknowledging the sacrifices of others to bring them such luxury.  Can’t we say the same for the USA regarding mines for gold and precious stones in Africa, sweat shops throughout Asia, and sex slaves.

It’s impossible to ignore the message that we are able to block out the pain of others, suffering at the hands of other conscientious beings, while we enjoy a life of relative leisure.  As if we  earned this quality of life, rather than been born into it privilege.  Why do we think that?  Because we have a few “difficulties” to deal with?

What I love about the way Half the Sky was written, it gives an analysis of various aid programs; commenting on their flaws while highlighting the positive impact in spite of these flaws.  At the same time, the authors acknowledge the need for rigorous analysis of these programs, to determine the most effective method; while recognizing that the optimal programs will vary according to region and cultural norms for that region.  Some of the most successful programs are those that give the women and local communities the tools to make the necessary changes for improvement.  Finally, the book ends with a few suggestions of how we can help, starting with the most simple of steps.

The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay.

The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. (Photo credit: damnyeahnich)

Maybe the authors of Half the Sky will also make this connection, if they can use the lesson of the Hunger Games trilogy, to find their own Mockingjay.  Similar to celebrities who try to advocate equal human rights around the world, but instead find a captivating character that we each identify with, that relate to as ourselves, recognizing our own power to stop the torture.  And our own silence as an accessory to all these crimes.

In early October, the PBS documentary show Independent Lens will air a 4 hour special on the same topic as the book Half the Sky.  And here is the Half the Sky website for more information on the effort to bring equal rights and protection to women.

Reading posts by others suggests that each person can take away their own meaning for these books, based on thier personal experiences and priorities.  Sometimes the main point to people is a deep love story, which I did not get at all from reading the books and listening to Katniss’s thoughts.  Some see the good vs. evil, but maybe they haven’t completed the whole trilogy.  I’m curious what other points of discussion people have after reading this series.

My “Less Obvious” Problems with Republican Ideology

The red "GOP" logo used by the party...

The red “GOP” logo used by the party for its website (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This post is by no means a statement of support for the Democrats, I don’t think they have the perfect answer either.  Not to mention the politicking both parties are wrapped up in which limits actual progress.
My Problems with Republican Ideology:

  • The concept that Free Markets will run themselves… anyone notice the Great Recession, now in it’s 4th year?  We must also have accountability so that people are held responsible for their actions for the concept of Free Markets to have a chance.
  • De-regulation: see note above.
  • How can anyone ignore science, the search for absolute/unbiased Truth?
  • They tend to act as if anything that makes money is okay, no matter what the impact or consequences are.
  • A few of them believe war is justified when it will stimulate the economy. (How does that reconcile with “Thou Shall Not Kill”?)
  • They believe in the value of their own hard work, which I think is good.  But not in the value of the opportunities, resources, and support that helped along the way, which I think is unfair.  (An idea founded in the science they wish to ignore.)
  • They don’t want to give a helping hand to the working class, as it will teach them to be dependent and lose motivation for working hard.  They must have learned this from supporting Big Oil companies and such.  (I don’t believe in hand-outs, but I think human compassion can go a long way toward setting things straight.)
  • The idea that we should not prioritize our environmental impact because of the discomfort it will cause us.  (Back to that idea of making money is a top priority.)

What would you add?

At Times we have to fight the Energy Companies to improve efficiency

So I’m working on my blog, finally complete some articles that I have started but not yet finished.  My boyfriend has the TV on the local news station and the character being interviewed is talking about power plants in the Boston area.  I’m not really listening, but I catch one phrase:

Power Plants are sometimes only 33.3% efficient, 2/3 of the energy produced is wasted.

I was shocked, and quickly googled this theory.  This article on Forbes.com closely mirrors the conversation on the TV.  Universities and hospitals who wish to build a Cogeneration plant (this is a small energy plant on site that can provide energy with up to 80% efficiency) but they have to fight the utility who is concerned about the profit loss.

Deutsch: Das Nesjavellir-Geothermie-Kraftwerk ...

The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant in Þingvellir, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I can understand the utilities’ concern.  They have invested money into capital and infrastructure projects to provide energy for that client, which will now be superfluous.  And they may rely on the income from these clients to offset pricing for smaller clients.  But from an environmental standpoint, how can we let this project be defeated.

Back to the real issue, How are we not concerned with the 2/3 wasted energy of traditional power plants?  I can’t wait for everyone to have solar panels or wind power.  Of course, then the grid network will not be maintained and will likely fail in times of need, so this solution is not without significant problems of it’s own.

My Dream, Perfectly Captured and Articulated – Have you heard of Humane Education?

I have a lot of interests and hobbies.  My skills at math and science developed into a career engineering solutions to problems with buildings.  My interest in community and education and development has guided my volunteer activities in the Boston area, so that I try to have a positive impact on the world around me.  But I find that limiting my positive impact to the hobbies and free time is not the impact I would prefer to have.  Couple that with the fact that to continue in engineering I need to get a Masters Degree, but I don’t want to study engineering any further, and in each of these activities there is something lacking.

With everything I have done to date, I’m left feeling good about the work but feeling like it doesn’t really Solve The Problem.  You would think that as an Engineer I am able to solve problems.  My work is more like identifying root problems such as Manufacturers mislead us to believe in their untested, unproven products.  We have limited ability to educate people of such actions because of legal repercussions from Manufacturers.  A construction industry that controls the design through cost and schedule manipulations to undo the efforts of good design, and therefor increased distrust and reduced fees for the designers who’s primary interest and benefit is the good of the project.  So I have been deeply unsatisfied with my work in not being able to fix the roof of the problems.

Recently I was researching grad programs, I have considered various professions in teaching or counseling as potential careers that actually solve problems.  I had fantasized about creating an after school kids program that incorporates valuable lessons missing from the traditional school curriculum, or somehow becoming a middle school teacher and slyly insert such lessons throughout the year, but I have no idea how realistic these ideas are.  My fear is that I choose a new career path and find myself in the same situation of identifying root problems and lacking the skills and organization to address those issues, resolved instead to try and band-aid the consequences of these problems.  So why leave my comfortable position with a respectable firm to go back to school?

When my boyfriend asked me what I was thinking of studying as a career change, I said that I’m looking for a way “To Fix the Entire Education System.”  He responded “Well that’s a bit ambitious,” and I thought “Yes, that’s the point.”  I am not afraid of a challenge, actually my whole life I have sought them out.

So all of this leads up to my discovery this week.  Thank you to She Simply Made Lemonade for posting about Zoe Weil’s vision and work in Humane Education (not just relating to animal treatment).  Zoe’s speech captured in the TED talks is the confirmation that my dream is not Too Ambitious.  Others are living that dream too.  I also love Zoe’s use of the concept “solutionaries” and plan to read more on her blog to plan my next steps.

The Substance of the Occupy Wall Street Movement

The Occupy Movement has received a lot of support from people around the world, and a lot of criticism for not having a clear request or agenda.  To simply state a problem ” We are the 99%”, referencing the wealth gap between rich and middle class (I don’t think this is about or will become a movement the conditions of the working poor) is not enough to gain action from the political powers for change.

The list of complaints includes a variety of topics from the various participates in the movement.  The underlying theme of complaints that seem to be universal include:

  • The economic gap between rich and poor is widening.
  • The quality of living for the middle class is dropping.
  • Capitalism is out of control and has given all the power to the wealthy.

The middle class wants to be able to earn a certain standard of living.  They are doing everything requested of them to earn that lifestyle: gone to college, worked hard to move up the ladder, invest in home, and save for retirement and now the people demand the promised return: 1.  A secure retirement lifestyle with decent health care and 2. Similar opportunities for the younger generations.  They do not understand how those two concepts are now threatened after years of hard work that filled the coffers of the rich 1%.  And the ruling rich do not believe they are responsible for providing those entitlements, but the Occupiers believe  the rich have some responsibility because they have controlled the government spending and taxation which now threaten the promised entitlements.  The rich say: You are now taking more than you paid for these entitlement programs.  But if the middle class was paid more, or the rich didn’t get out of their tax obligation, or the government was forced to save, then the government may be able to support the entitlements, making the necessary revisions as the population ages.

Capitalism has allowed the wealthy to become the ruling class and overpower the majority.  Nothing is perfect, and capitalism certainly is not a perfect economic system.  So I think the real message from the Occupy Movement is that we need to revise our economics (demonstrated on their holiday card) and politics to support our values and responsibilities.

On Monday’s show, Charlie Rose subtly presented the issues and the solution at the root of the Occupy Movement discussion and the Congressional Super Committee deadlock.  His guests presented the two fundamental sides of the issue.   David Brooks discussed ideas relating to he conservative point of view “We need less Government involvement and cost”.   The Tea Party represents the extreme view: we don’t want to pay taxes to support programs with excessive waste and programs that support freeloaders.  Then Dov Seidman discusses his work to help companies develop Ethical Business Practices that are also prosperous because they resonate with the values of the public.

The solution is increase ethics and responsibility in business and politics.  This can’t be mandated, but has to be a cultural change from the ground up.  We have to change our behavior and practices in a way that creates the right incentives for businesses to change, and no longer look for ways to cheat the system.

One of the fantastic developments with this movement is the creation of “Participatory Democracy”.  I think this type of development in the political process is the next revolution, to find a modern political model that represents the wishes of the people and not the ruling class.

How do We Fix the Jobs problem in the US?

I’m not an economist, so I have little idea how to create decent jobs for people to earn w livable wage.  There are many factors affecting the current job situation, I think we need a national discussion on these issues:

–      Unrealistic Expectations: The baby boomer generation has experienced unique circumstances that provided significant improvements in their standard of living.  The situation allowed for pyramid based (similar to Ponzi scheme) support programs for wages, social security, health care etc.  Gen X following this group does not have the same circumstances of population growth to support the same standard of benefits.  It’s more damaging to people when these expectations disappear, as they need to do in this social/economic correction.  I don’t expect that the living standard of the last 30 years is sustainable in today’s world and we should not expect to get back to that situation after the recovery.

–      Giving Kids a “Childhood”:  Modern society in the US is focused on making it easy for kids.  We need to be teaching them how to be adults, how to get work done, and how to be group centered instead of selfish and self-centered.  We need to prep them emotionally to handle adult life, not protect them from reality.  The quality of our work force is diminishing and we will lose the justification for companies to keep jobs in the US.

–      Globalization: Now businesses have the resources to move their headquarters, outsource jobs (and insource jobs), and other measure to save money (i.e. increase profits).

–      Discuss Incentives: Business have many incentives for increasing profits, rather than improving working conditions and pay, health care, productivity etc.

–      Personal Commitment:  All of these ideas combine into a point “we are more concerned with personal growth and development on an individual basis than the good of society.”  The irony is we lost control over our own quality of life in the process.  Instead of shopping at Wal-Mart because we can buy more things (even though those items do not last long) we should be more conscience of buying local.  The US regulates human rights, working conditions, environmental impact, and other characteristics that are designed for sustainable living and protection of our way of life.  Then we kick that to the curb to buy foreign made products because they are cheaper.  http://www.madeinusa.org/

Obama prioritizes Jobs (Corporate Profits) over Clean Air and Public Health

The U.S. President (Obama) is so fearful of being responsible for not doing enough to promote job growth, he is willing to forgo EPA recommended restrictions on ozone pollution limits.  This article in the New York Times describes the EPA’s basis for the ozone limit and the decision by Obama to retract support the proposed regulation.

His public statement indicates that he is promoting jobs over the environment and our nations health.  “At the same time, I have continued to underscore the importance of reducing regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty, particularly as our economy continues to recover.”  This is obviously a political move.  Obama was elected during the recession to make the tough decisions for our country in a time of need.  The economy has balanced out, although it will be a long time before we see a recovery, and we need his leadership to make the tough sacrifices in order to promote public health and protect the environment.

If you wish to take a stance in support of this regulation and ask President Obama to change his decision, visit this Green Peace website.

Economic Recovery? Are we there? When is it coming?

I’m not an economist.  Most of my news comes from listening to NPR, reading BBC news, Yahoo Finance news, CNN Money news, and This Week with Christiane Amanpour.  The Great Recession is over, because the economy is no longer contracting.  The recovery though is more of a flat-line average rather than increasing value that we are hoping for.  My understanding of our current economic situation in the US is that for many years we have spent more money than we had, enjoying a period of growth and prosperity, a bit more than we had actually earned.  Now the bill is due and we are struggling to pay all the debts.

Given that economic situation, why do we think that a recovery can be achieved so quickly?  We are in an economic “correction” and paying for the economic speculation previously enjoyed.  This will take time, especially when during the time period of overspending, wages of the working and middle classes have not kept up with inflation.

It seems that policies from the US Government and the Federal Reserve have propped up the economy above the natural strength, slowing the downturn during the recession enough to officially end the economic contraction.  As those policies are ending, we are facing the true value and independent strength of our economy.  With the upcoming political debates for the Presidential Elections, the focus is on plans and policies that will quickly regenerate the growth and prosperity.

The debate over plans and policies needed to regrow the economy will vary by many biases.  The politicians are divided between Republican (reduce spending and taxes) and Democratic (reduce some spending and increase taxes) ideologies; both of which are focused on an immediate support for the economy since their election cycle is on a 4 year schedule.  Are they going to falsely prop up the economy and leave the cost of these measures for future generations?  What will happen to the US if uncontrolled spending and debt causes extreme inflation?

What kind of policy and programs are needed to create a legitimate and long lasting economic recovery?  We need a means of increasing the value of our economy, at home and abroad.  That will likely come from technology and services which requires education and support for research and entrepreneurs.

We must tell the politicians how to address these issues, instead of leaving it up to corporations and the rich.  That might entail a continuation of the flat-line economy until we catch up with the debt and invest in our future.

A day after writing this, the radio program On Point discussed the status of our economy with Nobel Prize-Winner Peter Diamond.  He comments that the actions of President Obama’s administration have prevented a deeper recession/depression that likely would have included further job loss.  In order to get jobs regrowing again, we need more stimulus, but down the road everyone needs to pay more in taxes to reduce the debt (when will we agree to that?).  For long term development we should invest in education and focus on programs and policy with a proven benefit.  All of these points of view are contrary to the Republican point of view.