Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problem with "JOBS"

Before finding solutions to several of our national problems like: health care reform, tax simplification, smaller government, and a number of other concerns it is necessary to face the elephant in the room, (I don't mean the Republicans). that will make any real attempt to solve these problems beyond our reach. The elephants name is JOBS. Any substantial reform in any of these areas will result in large numbers of lost jobs.

American’s relationships with their jobs has taken on an unhealthy status over the last few decades. It never used to be possible to get “Rich” by a job. You used to have to create something of value and through the entrepreneurial process you either sold or stewarded your creation through the building of a business. We are now rewarding bureaucrats based on the number of people they have working for them, without regard to how well they are performing their jobs. We also seem to highly reward those whose create value for a small few without regard to what that does to the rest of the world. Well into the 20th century, people used to change from entrepreneur to employee and back again several times in their lifetime. Under our current economy this no longer takes place as often if at all.

I did not take up the “family occupation” dealing with career counseling to enter the world of financial planning. Being a little more exposed to the idea of ‘we are what we do’, I quickly realized that we as individuals lie on a line between working solely for sustenance or working totally out of passion for what we can accomplish. Most of us envy those who display a true passion for their work. We emulate it and hope that it will contagiously rub off on us. The nature of our jobs is such that we are not willing to admit a lack of passion; as that is the surest way to a dead end future. It is clear to me that most of those that reach the highest point in their organizations have this passion and know how to look for it in others. Many of us fakers are able to rise quite a ways in the organizations we work for, but frequently end up burnt out and ready to leave.

When you look around you at people you interact with, it is pretty obvious where people are on this line: You love interacting with those that are passionate about what they do because you know they really care. Those just earning a check, you would rather not have to contend with as they will do just enough to get by. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone you dealt with was passionate about what they did! We would be happier and much more efficient.

This won’t happen until we change the way we assign our self worth to our occupation. It would also help to change our society just enough to allow people to survive and thrive without a job. Most of our beliefs and political persuasions are made up from looking at things on a continuum of security to opportunity. The more security we have, the less opportunity, and vice versa. Many look at this as a continuum of bureaucrat to entrepreneur and this can be useful if we realize that even entrepreneurs want some security while the most hidebound bureaucrat is likely to say they would like more opportunity.
I believe there is a huge contingent of Americans that would love to quit their jobs and occupy themselves in non or lesser remunerative ways. We tend to keep this from happening by our social policies: We tax Social Security benefits (for those who have been fiscally responsible), and we tax Unemployment benefits, (who knows why). We also make it hard or impossible for anyone with health problems to get medical insurance without a group plan from an employer. If you are employed you can deduct $15,000 to over $40,000 into a retirement plan. If you have no “earnings” you can’t contribute a penny and deduct it. We also tax dividends twice while the retained earnings only pay tax once, allowing the bureaucrats to decide what to do with the money rather than the owners, (shareholders).

Ask any accountant what “Tax Simplification” means to him/her and you will first get a laugh and then be told that it means more forms for them to fill out and is synonymous with tax complication. The debate about health care reform degenerated into a debate about insurance jobs rather than health care.

It should be obvious that before we can effectively reform health care, taxes, or the legal system we have to devise a system that that emphasizes incomes over jobs. How do we keep all those people we throw out of work living a life that they will be happy with?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stupidity in America

Growing up in an academic community, I have always been stuck with being an “elitist”. Watching our current affairs I can’t help but wonder how we got to such a state and I believe it began when we started to reward stupidity. The plaintiffs bar started this when they saw a great opportunity to earn contingent fees for representing idiots. The McDonalds hot coffee case seems to exemplify this, however there are so many cases it boggles the mind. By playing on the jurors emotions, a good litigator can now get huge rewards by posing the large heartless and rich corporation against the poor injured individual. The prevalence of these settlements has caused a large percentage of Americans to plan their retirement by either; winning a large settlement, or the lottery.

My father used to state; “half the population is below average intelligence”. This statement along with John Stuart Mills that : “Not all conservatives are stupid, but all stupid people are conservatives”, seems to explain a lot. The politicians have energized a large group of the less intelligent with their campaigns of hate, anger, intolerance, and lies. I fear for my country when I see that stupidity has climbed to the highest leaders in this country. In Minnesota we have a congresswoman who doesn’t know the difference between gross sales and net income and is basing her decisions on this lack of understanding. We have a governor that thinks he’s Presidential material, but has spent 8 years destroying health care for the poor, cutting education funding to the core, and forcing up real estate taxes by double digits, all so “he didn’t raise taxes”.

Realizing that taxes are the cost of living in a civilized society, we always used to argue about how to tax the other guy. Now we have a large population that thinks that all taxes are evil and should be eliminated. We demand an efficient government but are unwilling to pay a competitive wage to those working in government and continue to insult all those on the public payroll. The only time the deficit is mentioned is when someone doesn’t want to fund some other politicians’ project. No one says how they are going to cut the deficit without raising taxes, but all seem to say it is possible! The ferocity with which the “death” tax has been fought best shows who is in charge of the conservative agenda. Who better to tax than “rich dead people”? People object to taxes because they believe that they earned all their income themselves. They don’t seem to realize that their income wouldn’t have been earned and kept in a society without roads, police, schools, and many of the other services that the government provides.

Competition in the Media holds much of the blame. In the 1970’s the “Birther” lies would never had been printed. Now, if the media doesn’t cover one of these spectacular lies they lose readers/viewers so they are forced to cover them. We have seen over and over again how if you repeat a lie often enough it takes on the shine of “truth”. One of the scarier media/political trends is the publishing of polls asking very complicated questions and then having a politician act on the result of the poll: “XX% of the population doesn’t like the TARP program”, While less than 1% of the population is educated and intelligent enough to understand it in the first place.

Only stupidity can explain the secrecy now involved in politics. A politician that goes against a powerful special interest group can almost be assured of a large war chest being contributed to his opposition in the next election. On the other hand the Senator that puts a secret 3 day hold on legislation that may harm a special interest, is almost assured of a large contribution as well as the secretly funded campaign against his opponent next election.

One of the current lies being repeated is that the United States is a Christian country. While the majority of Americans claim to be Christian, we have never been a “Christian” country. Many of our founding fathers professed a religion closer to Unitarian Universalists than Christianity. There have been Jews active in the country since the 1700’s and Thomas Jefferson actually translated the Koran. The “Special Nature” of the US is largely because of its’ tolerance, not its’ religiosity. It seems very weird that the very people who are fighting Sharia in the US are the same ones who want the government to force prayer in schools, have the government decide when life begins, and fund religious programs.

Intelligence is a relative thing. We consider someone “smart” if they are smarter than we are. We are frequently challenged around those that are smarter than us as they make us feel stupid. This has made us rail against the “elites” and be more accepting of the “not so smart”. I would suggest that society is too complex for simple answers, instead requiring those with the intelligence, experience and knowledge to solve today’s problems. This is not to suggest that “experts” don’t have their own agendas, but only to state that we need listen to the experts with knowledge of their agendas. In any case we have to stop accepting and call out the stupidity that keeps coming our way.