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Posts Tagged ‘Economics’

Our newly discovered niece, Tamara, was thrilled. She sent us a picture of her son, a high school senior, with his college acceptance letter right before the holidays. He had excelled in his studies and won a scholarship to the school of his choice, the Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina! He towered over her, looking somehow humble and proud at the same time. And even though I’d missed his birthdays and holidays over the years, I’m determined to make his graduation this Spring.

This is the pinnacle of a parent’s job here on earth, the icing on the cake of motherhood. After all, we modern moms have little or nothing to do with our child’s choice of friends, which sport they may, or may not want to play, or whether they decide to rehearse their heavy metal band in your garage…but, we may still have a little pull and persuasion in the dastardly-named “college application process.”

And as F Scott Fitzgerald said, “Let me tell you about the very rich, they are different from you and me.” To which the Irish writer Mary Colum replied, “Why yes, they have more money.”

And possibly less scruples. Last week we were shocked, well maybe only slightly shocked, to find out that money seemed to be the defining factor in by-passing the usual college admission rigmarole for a kind of side-door acceptance scheme. The college counselor to the stars and the top 1%, William “Rick” Singer, enlisted university deans and college coaches, along with SAT testing officials to fix the game of College Choice in his client’s favor. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47585336

The case looked at a period between 2011 and 2018, when, according to the authorities, $25 Million in bribes were paid by people looking to sneak around the usual university admittance process. Fifty people – including 33 parents and various sports coaches – were indicted.

In our tony suburb of Rumson, where the Bride played field hockey, the kids drove better cars than the teachers. And guidance counselors were swamped with the high-end demands of their students and parents who were alternately nouveau riche investment bankers or old world riche tennis players. The college admission stakes were high.

The Bride got into Duke the old-fashioned way, although she was a Legacy since Bob had graduated ages ago. Still, we didn’t build a building or donate to the library. Her test scores were her own, as were her grades. Her high school guidance counselor advised against Early Admission, the stakes were too high, but she proceeded and gained entry anyway. Her college essay was about her work at Planned Parenthood, a risky choice. We had done all our heavy lifting in her previous 17 years:

We instilled in her a love of learning, of art, of reading and traveling. We encouraged her curiosity, and desire for social justice. We drove her to and from piano lessons, horseback riding, and even Sea Bright for her very first job as a waitress.  She took charge of her college application process, at one point finding a teacher’s reference letter that the counselor had lost!

When I read that Desperate Housewife Felicity Huffman, had not only lied and said her daughter had a learning disability in order to have an unlimited time frame to take the SAT, but was arranging, through Singer, to take that test at a special place in West Hollywood where someone else could pose as her daughter, I was shocked. The fictional daughter was actually an ex-tennis star with a high IQ who often did this for a price; in this case it cost Huffman a mere $15,000, less than the cost of a new Tesla.

We Americans like to think that our country is the one place on earth where Horatio Alger dreams can still come true. A place where with enough hard work and diligence, anyone can rise above their socio-economic circumstances to the the next level. In fact, the opposite is true. People born into wealth here are more likely to keep their status, while someone born into poverty is more likely to stay in that lane. https://www.forbes.com/sites/aparnamathur/2018/07/16/the-u-s-does-poorly-on-yet-another-metric-of-economic-mobility/#4ce797c56a7b

The U.S. is one of only four high income economies amongst 50 economies with the lowest rates of relative upward mobility. While the problems in each country are unique, many solutions are universal. The report highlights much needed investments in early childhood through subsidized childcare and paid leave, nutrition programs, good quality public education programs and schools, improved occupational networks and labor market interventions such as employer tax credits to employ younger workers. But it also points to a new, and often overlooked, factor: the role played by aspirations, both of the parents and the children themselves, and the link between aspirations and mobility. 

Aspirations, what a quaint word. Every parent wants one thing for their child, a safe, effective education. It doesn’t matter if you live in the projects of Jersey City or the suburbs like Rumson or the city of Nashville. And we all know, with private, charter, magnet and regular old public schools, our child’s education is no better than a horse race. The rich are starting off with an advantage, but we cannot allow cheating.

Here is the L’il Pumpkin, who wants to be a fighter like his Great Grandpa Hudson and loves crossing bridges!IMG_2494

 

 

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You’d be hard pressed to find me talking tariffs, but here goes…

What I know about Economy 101 is simply the guns vs butter parable – a country who spends more on guns, spends less on feeding its people. I get that, the more we spend on prisons, the less we spend on schools. But today, tariffs are going to start again for Iran according to the Twitter fingers of Mr T, and maybe I should be worried but I’m kind of stuck on an overdrive of worry.

Why are those cave boys from Thailand becoming monks?

Why is Norway separating children from their parents?

What exactly won’t I be buying from Tehran?

And just when my feminist heart was melting because Saudi Arabia finally “allowed” its women to drive cars, I just read that Canada has decided to sanction Saudi Arabia on Human Rights violations.

Saudi authorities in 2018 continued to arbitrarily arrest, try, and convict peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human rights defenders and activists are serving long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities systematically discriminate against women and religious minorities. In 2017, Saudi Arabia carried out 146 executions, 59 for non-violent drug crimes. A Saudi-led coalition continued an airstrike campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen that included the use of banned cluster munitions and apparently unlawful strikes that killed civilians.  https://www.hrw.org/middle-east/n-africa/saudi-arabia

CANADA mind you! Not us, no we just love strong rulers.

Remember how much Ivanka and her dad fawned over that new young Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman? The one who held up his relatives and 200 of the richest Saudis in an airport until they paid their taxes to the crown. Well, not to be outdone, the Prince has retaliated by: evicting the Canadian ambassador; stopped all commercial airline flights to Canada; ordered 16,000 Saudi students to come home; AND placed an immediate freeze on all investments and bilateral trade agreements between Saudi Arabia and Canada!

I guess Riyadh will have to buy maple syrup from Vermont?

This has me wondering if sanctions and tariffs actually work? Or are they just symbolic slaps on the wrist of an increasingly entitled corporate global structure that can shift easily between ruling oligarchs and demagogues, and princes. According to The Washington Post, some goods and services are better than others to sanction. Usually there’s a point at which the demand for something goes up, the price will come down, except for iPhones. But consider Veblen goods, they perform in a contradictory way like diamonds – the more demand we have the higher the price.

“Veblen goods are positional goods, in which demand increases along with price because the good is seen as a display of prestige. Veblen goods can explain why some countries choose to invest in aircraft carriers or space programs when they should be allocating scarce resources elsewhere.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/08/07/why-in-the-world-is-saudi-arabia-sanctioning-canada/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.26a5b146bfb2

Since most countries don’t have the resources to even impose sanctions on one another, the author posits that Prince bin Salman is showing the West his peacock plumage. He is arresting women activists while also letting them drive cars, so they know who is in charge. And he can throw out the Canadian Ambassador because he CAN, ratcheting up his prestige on the world stage…making tariffs and sanctions into a kind of Veblen good. Criticize Saudi Arabia at your peril!

Thorstein Veblen was an economist who coined the term “conspicuous consumption” in 1899. I wonder if he ever thought a Narcissistic real estate con-man who lived in a gilded tower in Manhattan could ever become President of these United States.

Patriotism, Veblen once said, was the only obstacle to peace among nations. Let that sink in.

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Oktoberfest ended with a little rain and a lot of dachshunds! And since our friend Eli was visiting with her son Leo, we all met the Bride’s family for the Annual Dachshund Derby in Germantown. Leo decided that Nashville should be renamed “Dogland,” since dogs of every variety strolled through the park with their beer drinking masters in lederhosen. Still, watching those wiener dogs race was hilarious. http://thenashvilleoktoberfest.com/dogtoberfest/

Ms Bean was delighted to sit on the front porch and watch the canine parade go by  behind the cover of a maple tree. She has staked out her territory thankfully, and the sidewalk is safe for most breeds. Corgi puppies and Great Danes stroll right by without looking up to see her eyeing them suspiciously. After all, she is a rescue mutt, origins unknown, and she’s proud of it! She doesn’t need some set of AKC papers to know she is a prey-driven lover girl!

Unlike certain people, who require validation in order to feel good about themselves. It’s not enough to be a professional for some, your pedigree must include only “The Best” schools, “The Finest” clerkships or residencies. These are the silent judges in our midst; constantly ranking others according to some inner calculation, one they are only slightly aware of and would never admit. It’s still a Dog and Pony Show world it would seem, no matter where you go.

You can usually sniff them out, the pretentious co-mingling of class and money. It’s a primal thing I suppose, as territorial as Ms Bean and my friendly mailman. Great Grandma Ada would call this person a “Noodge.” ie Someone who is a pest, an annoying critic of your every move. It’s exactly what we are currently trying to teach the Love Bug’s toddler brother to avoid – not to whine! “You’re not whining are you?” I’ll ask him. The etymology is probably Slavic, and:

likely from Yiddish נודיען nudyen ‘to bore, pester’, נודניק nudnik ‘bore, pest’, influenced by English “nudge”  http://www.jewish-languages.org/jewish-english-lexicon/words/417

Some people become lifetime complainers; their shoulders are burdened by a ton of self-generated worry. I’m sure Freud would tell us they got stuck at that two year old developmental stage, but the latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics may have a different answer. Richard Thaler started applying smaller psychological theories of human behavior to influence larger changes in public policy with his “Nudge Theory!”

How do we get someone to make good decisions? Bob explained Thaler’s theory to me this way – if his company offered employees the opportunity to sign up for a 401K, he would get a small minority signing up. BUT if he automatically signed everyone up for a 401K, and told them they would have to opt out if they didn’t want to save for retirement, the large majority would participate! I guess the human species is just lazy and we all need a little “nudge” in the right direction, to avoid being a “noodge!”

As for us, the rain dampened the number of people walking into lamp posts and spilling their steins of beer. Bob only had to pick up an occasional St Pauli Girl can every morning off our stoop. Things are getting back to normal in Germantown.

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Months ago, a friend’s daughter mentioned that she had stopped taking Adderal, a drug that was prescribed years earlier for Attention Deficit (ADD). She was proud of weaning herself off this stimulant and started looking at the world, and her career differently. I was happy for her, since as y’all know I am NOT a pill person – well except for vitamins – and I recommended she read this book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for Economics, even though he is a psychologist.

A therapist friend recommended this book to me, and Bob just finished reading it on our Kindle App, so now it’s my turn. It’s easy enough to say that men are from Mars, but this non-fiction book doesn’t try to explain male vs female minds. In fact, gender has nothing to with it. Instead we find out that our instinctual, fast assessment of any situation is the hero of our cognitive world, and the slower, analytical mind is rather lazy!

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase “bread and. . . . ” It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person’s System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html

When we speak about the “tone” of a conversation, as we have been doing about Mr T’s recent attempts at a Press Conference, we are engaging System 1. It is the nuanced way we communicate with others, the reason we may meet someone and feel an immediate kinship. I was actually thinking that System 1 may be a higher evolutionary adaptation to an increasingly complex and interconnected technological world. Making a diagnosis of ADD more of a plus, than a minus.

Now Bob’s opinion of an ADD diagnosis is that your environment isn’t sufficiently stimulating. As the student who sat in front of him in French class in the 60s, I know this to be true – his legs were always moving behind my desk, so much so that I felt as if I was on a Disney ride. I am positive he would have been medicated as a child. And our son had a similar level of energy in high school, similar to a race horse in the gate, one very hard to contain in a “normal” classroom. I can already see this fast level of relating to the world in the Love Bug. I can almost see her mind racing to keep up with us; at the age of two she was asking us to teach her how to read!

So the inner-linguist-in-me was delighted to read this morning that in fact, our thoughts may have been shaped by the kind of crops our ancestors grew! http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways

 

Growing rice requires far greater cooperation: it is labour-intensive and requires complex irrigation systems spanning many different farms. Wheat farming, by contrast, takes about half the amount of work and depends on rainfall rather than irrigation, meaning that farmers don’t need to collaborate with their neighbours and can focus on tending their own crops.

This BBC article explains how so many social science experiments are biased toward the Western world, more specifically American graduate students who participate in these studies. The idea of Western thought being more frontier in nature, valuing the individual, John Wayne, self-directed approach, as differentiated from Eastern thought which values the whole, group achievement, socialist model over the individual is a narrative based in reality, and not alternative facts.  “…our social environment moulds our minds. From the broad differences between East and West, to subtle variation between US states, it is becoming increasingly clear that history, geography and culture can change how we all think in subtle and surprising ways – right down to our visual perception.”

And I would add Red and Blue states to this mix. I once asked a group of women knitting together in a room if in fact every US citizen didn’t deserve to have health care. This was early on, when President Obama was being blocked by every single Republican legislator from passing health insurance reform. And the one Republican knitter in the room said very defiantly “Absolutely not!” She was thinking like a pioneer, and not like someone on the Titanic.

The Flapper loved everything Eastern, including Buddhism, and believed in mindfulness before it was ever trending. Since I received the results of my Ancestry DNA, I realize that my cells are all Irish, with unfortunately no Asian influence. But ever since I was a girl, wearing my Catholic school uniform, my environment taught me to share and think collectively…and maybe now we need to think faster than ever. We need to be the first Jedi.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”

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One of the very first internships the Bride had in college was working for the Children’s Defense Fund, http://www.childrensdefense.org/ Marion Wright Edelman’s bipartisan DC watchdog advocacy group. This was a coup, landing a summer job in our nation’s Capital with such a stellar company. Well, it’s graduation time again and I’m thinking of my BFF’s daughter, Natalie, a Georgetown grad who just received her MBA from the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. An ex-Peace Corps worker in Mali, she was studying at the Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and we’re expecting great things from her! Major congrats to Natalie on winning this fellowship and mazels to her parents, Lee and Al Bear: http://www.johnson.cornell.edu/About/News-Publications/Article-Detail/ArticleId/2671/Natalie-Grillon-Samuel-Curtis-Johnson-Graduate-School-of-Management-MBA-2012-Named-Acumen-Global-Fel.aspx

Here is one of her recent tweets (from Facebook, I’m not on Twitter, yet) – “not too late for tribal ties to detach MNLA separatists and Ansar Dine Tuaregs from Islamists for negotiations?” I could barely follow this, since like most Americans I am too provincial and not thinking globally enough. But her tweet came on the heels of watching this TED lecture my business psychologist brother, Dr Jim, sent me about Tribal Leadership: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/david_logan_on_tribal_leadership.html

If you’ve ever wondered how we could actually change the world, this is the video to watch. “Three doctors walk into a bar,” sounds like a joke but more importantly it is a meeting of a Stage 3 Tribe. How do we go from a Stage 2 “Life Sucks” world view to Stage 5, with a “Life is Great” world view? David Logan talks about doing world polls, he argues that leaders must be fluent in all five Tribal stages, to build world-changing tribes as Desmond Tutu has done in South Africa. The true leaders in every country must be able to network and connect people from different tribes.

Now let’s zoom in like a Google map on the US of A. It looks to me like our political leaders are still in Stage 3, boasting about who has done a better job, what failed policies the others have initiated. Nobody is getting 60 votes to pass any kind of meaningful legislation, like say equal pay for equal work…it is the most rigid, intransigent group of leaders legislators I’ve ever witnessed. And then this morning I heard that President Clinton gently tried to persuade the DNC to stop attacking Mitt on his ‘stellar’ business record, and instead follow through with the GOP’s likely outcome should their guy get elected: “The alternative would be, in my opinion, calamitous for our country and the world.” Do you see what he did, he zoomed out! Yes, he was saying that not tackling some hard issues like education, entitlements and yes, taxes, will lead our great country down the rabbit hole that Europe seems to be in. And Clinton is someone who knows about economics, his presidency reigned over one of the most prosperous economic times in our country’s recent history. And let’s not forget, he was the last president to balance the federal budget.

We are sitting on a precipice. 2001 Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz just published a book titled The Price of Inequality. I feel as if he is like a prophet, warning us about the plagues to come should we continue wearing blinders.”There are good reasons why plutocrats should care about inequality anyway—even if they’re thinking only about themselves. The rich do not exist in a vacuum. They need a functioning society around them to sustain their position. Widely unequal societies do not function efficiently and their economies are neither stable nor sustainable. The evidence from history and from around the modern world is unequivocal: there comes a point when inequality spirals into economic dysfunction for the whole society, and when it does, even the rich pay a steep price.” http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/05/joseph-stiglitz-the-price-on-inequality

…and My Boat Is So Small.” The 99% are beginning to realize that while CEOs prosper, their shareholders do not. Income levels are at an all-time low and the recent jobs statistics look grim. “…while the rich have been growing richer, most Americans (and not just those at the bottom) have been unable to maintain their standard of living, let alone to keep pace. A typical full-time male worker receives the same income today he did a third of a century ago.” Ha, I wonder what the female worker is receiving?

Congrats to all the graduates out there, and good luck on your job search. And Major kudos to the Dr Bride who just found out that she passed her oral boards! Yippee!! She is now a full-fledged, board certified ABEM member and fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). We are so very proud. Here are my two fellows at my niece’s wedding a few years ago!

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