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Archive for November 2014

The Liberal State Versus the Total State

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This year is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. If you grew up in Europe, Canada or a former British possession, you probably know a lot about World War I. If you went to high school here in the United States, you probably spent about a week on it.

Although the powers backed into the war, it was inevitable. It was part of a larger battle between the Liberal State and the Total State that went on until 1991. I call it the Great 20th Century War.

The Liberal State

The Liberal State (remembering that the root of liberal is liberty) operates under the basic principle that people should be able to live, within limits, how they want to. People are not means to someone else’s ends. This is a relatively new idea in history.

Britain, France and the United States are examples of liberal states. Even though all of these nations have flirted with collectivist political ideas over the period, the basic tendency of the people is toward self-determination.

The Total State

The Total State, by contrast, operates under the principle that people exist for the furtherance of the ends of the state and can be sacrificed to the greater good of the state if the people in charge see fit to do so. While many kings and despots have ruled in this manner throughout human history, the idea of the state, as opposed to the person of the ruler, doing so goes back to the French Revolution. The Levée en Masse decree of 1793 can be thought as the founding document of the Total State.

From this moment until such time as its enemies shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies. The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.
Levée en Masse, 1793

The concept of a citizen as in permanent requisition for the services of the armies is not a liberal idea. Contemporary liberals in Britain and America fought against large standing armies. There is a significant difference between mere conscription and being considered “in permanent requisition for the services” of the state.

The French experience led to Napoleon and a reaction, but that did not mean the idea was dead. It inspired plenty of 19th century thinkers and writers. At the beginning of the 20th century, there was a large body of political thought waiting for someone to put it into action. The intellectual Smart Money thought that the Total State had all the advantages because it could compel cohesive action by its citizens. Even those who would rather not have lived in a Total State believed that the Liberal State was fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

The total states with which we fought were:

  • Imperial Germany;
  • Nazi Germany;
  • Soviet Russia;
  • Fascist Italy;
  • Militarily Nationalist Japan;
  • Economically Nationalist Japan.

The war did not require actual shooting all the time. The Cold War was an example of a conflict where the two principals did not engage in actual combat against one another. They engaged proxies to do some fighting, and there were military conflicts within the Cold War. Ultimately, however, the war was won with dollars.

Imperial Germany

One has to group Imperial Germany with the total states. Its principles were those of totalitariansm; the government just lacked the political will to get really nasty towards its own people. Lenin noticed this, watching from Switzerland, and resolved to do better when he got the chance.

Marshall von Hindenburg was the effective co-ruler of Germany between 1915 and 1918. In 1920, he wrote in his memoirs:

The conviction that the subordination of the individual to the good of the community was not only a necessity but a positive blessing had gripped the mind of the German army, and through it that of the nation.

The idea that the “subordination of the individual to the good of the community” is a societal good is basically totalitarian in nature. In the Liberal State, this is not the case. Compared to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, Imperial Germany was a relatively soft Total State, but a Total State all the same.

An editor for a British newspaper recognized the fundamental difference in 1916:

The question is the mastery between two wholly incompatible views of right or wrong, of humanity, of civilization and of law. It does not admit of accommodation. It can be settled only by the defeat of one principle or of the other.

We spent most of the 20th Century attempting to settle that very question. Over 150 million lives were prematurely ended in the process. Most of these people died in non-combat operations carried out by their own governments, such as concentration camps and actions against minority groups conducted by authorized state officials.

Cohesion Is Overrated

People did not know about concepts such as chaos theory a hundred years ago. They looked at the world with an understanding informed by mass and machinery. They believed that the nation that would get everyone going in the same direction would prevail.

But what if the direction was wrong? The earlier statement that the state can sacrifice its citizens to achieve its purposes begs the question: who determines the purposes of the state? Despotism was at least clear: the person of the despot made the determination. But the nation state is like a corporation: it is not a moral agent and has no will of its own.

Totalitarianism always requires a priestly class to interpret what the greater good of the state actually is.

  • In Imperial Germany, this was primarily the Prussian nobility;
  • In Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, this was provided by political parties;
  • In Militaristic Japan, this was the army;
  • In Economically Nationalist Japan, this was the various keiretsu.

This priestly class uses its hold on power to demand cohesion, but there is no feedback loop and no control group pursuing the null hypothesis. It is easy to take the entire society completely off the cliff.

The advantage of the Liberal State turned out to be precisely what even its partisan defenders believed a century ago to be a weakness: its lack of cohesion. This provides a political risk management function that is not available to the Total State.


Written by srojak

November 21, 2014 at 2:25 am

So Microsoft Is Like General Motors

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An article was brought to my attention today discussing the Pontiac Aztek, the ugliest car to come out of Detroit since AMC went down for the third time. Y’know, come to think of it, …

Pontiac Aztek on the left, AMC Gremlin on the right.

Pontiac Aztek on the left, AMC Gremlin on the right.

What is worth considering from this disaster is how it came about.

These things require a culture of complete acquiescence and intimidation, led by a strong dictatorial individual who wants it that way.
— “How Bad Cars Happen: The Pontiac Aztek Debacle”, Road and Track,

People tend to read that sentence and think that the dictatorial individual drives the culture. Originally that is the seed, but at some point the culture becomes self-perpetuating. It seeks out dictatorial individuals and legitimizes their bullying behavior. The culture develops its own self-preservation, and will spit out anyone who doesn’t conform. Robert Ringer described the process back in the seventies:

I’m Crazy/You’re Sane Theory: If you attempt to carry on a relationship with an irrational person, given enough time they will make you feel like you’re the neurotic one.

Ordinary, apparently rational people who want to do the right thing are ingested by the culture and either beaten into conformity or spit out. Often, they are beaten into conformity, sucked dry and then spit out. I watched one company litter the Chicago metro area with its human casualties over four years.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
— attributed to Peter Drucker

Sometimes a board of directors will be motivated to bring in a completely different CEO to introduce change in the company. It never works, because they underestimate the strength of the culture — often, they are in denial about it, having spent more time reading their own press releases and glossyware than actually rubbing elbows with real people engaged in real business within the company. The CEO arrives with great fanfare, brave-new-world speeches and the best of intentions. It lasts about a year, and everyone knew it would. One person who had been in such a leadership position said in an interview, “They will wait you out and wear you out.”

Lest people think this only occurs in old companies that are relics from a bygone era, we have the example of Microsoft. The company has recently produced two highly visible and entirely avoidable product fiascos: Windows Phone and Windows 8.


The new, improved Windows 8 desktop.

The new, improved Windows 8 desktop.

When did I ask for an improved desktop? I was getting my work done just fine with the desktop I had.

Why do I want my desktop to look like a smartphone? I am not sitting in the car waiting for my kids to come out of sports practice — I am trying to get my work done. A phone is a content consumption device. My desktop computer is a content creation device. My job is to create content: documents, spreadsheets and the occasional presentation. There is an impedance mismatch between what I have to do and this interface that makes my productivity tool look like an amusement.

Can I come to your office, rearrange your desk to suit my artistic sensibilities and then tell you how stupid you are when you can’t find anything?

People within Microsoft tried to tell the people who were responsible for the decision to remake the Windows user experience that these changes would not go over. The people who were in charge of the product didn’t listen. So the Windows team took their show on the road and got what they got.

One objection to the internal advice not to remake the interface was that the people given the advice did not have data to back up their statements. Well, duh — it hadn’t been released yet. Now you’ve got all kinds of data from the failure of the product to be accepted. The people making the changes didn’t have data, either. They did it because they wanted to. That is a salient feature of Microsoft culture: I will do what I want to do because I am brilliant; if you want to argue with me, you have to have data.


A Windows Mobile 6 phone

A Windows Mobile 6 phone

Back in 2009, when the Windows Mobile 6 phone was still carrying the flag, there were a substantial number of Microsoft employees carrying competitor phones. To get a sense of the significance of this, consider that Microsoft does an employee satisfaction survey every year and gets response rates above 80%. The Microsoft employee population is generally enthusiastic about the Microsoft product line, usually likes the products and wants them to succeed. So if the employees themselves — who are also shareholders, by the way — are spending their own money on competitor phone products, is there not something to learn from them?

Nothing doing. It is disloyalty, pure and simple. You work for Microsoft, and you owe it to us to get behind our product, no matter what.

[Former CEO Steve Ballmer’s] passion can tip over into what a former executive calls “religious zealotry.” Challenge was betrayal. “His view was that anyone in the company who used the iPhone was a traitor,” says this person.
— “The Empire Reboots”, Vanity Fair,

Vanity Fair is all about people with high social wattage, and tends naturally to fix their focus on the top of the pyramid. And, to be sure, it is true that the fish rots from the head. Ballmer had a reputation within the company for stomping on employee’s iPhones in meetings. Ballmer helped shape the culture in his image. Bill Gates did so even more; without Gates, Ballmer would be some unheard-of middle manager retiring from P&G.

Nevertheless, the people who were in charge of the phone effort could have taken the responsibility to approach employees and say, “I see you have someone else’s phone. What did it offer that ours doesn’t?” In consumer products, real feedback is hard to get. The employees would have been happy to provide it in a constructive manner. There were no takers.

The cost of this arrogance? Microsoft lost time they can never get back.

Apps have a role in phone operating system (OS) acceptance. Thus a chicken-and-egg scenario develops when app developers look at charts like this to select the technologies in which they will invest. Without consumer acceptance, you don’t get apps. And without apps, you don’t get consumer acceptance. The rich get richer, and the poor get marginalized.

There is probably room for two smartphone OS products in the consumer market. Right now, it looks like those two will be Android and iOS.

When I read the article by Bob Lutz on GM culture, it reads all too familiar:

Early on, the Aztek obviously failed the market research. But in those days, GM went ahead with quite a few vehicles that failed product clinics. The Aztek didn’t just fail — it scored dead last. Rock bottom. Respondents said, “Can they possibly be serious with this thing? I wouldn’t take it as a gift.” And the GM machine was in such denial that it rejected the research and just said, “What do those a**holes know?”
— “How Bad Cars Happen: The Pontiac Aztek Debacle”

It’s not surprising that Microsoft didn’t bring in an outsider to replace Steve Ballmer. They don’t think they have a cultural problem. They think they just need some tweaks around the edges. They have $60 billion in topline revenue. Prior to joining Microsoft, I had never worked at a company with a $600 million topline.

And what would someone from the outside do? How would one bring cultural change to an organization that likes its culture just fine and has no objective imperative to change it?

So it is hardly surprising that the new CEO, Satya Nadella, put his foot in his mouth at a conference to promote careers for women in computing in October. This served as a launching pad for a wider discussion of women in the software business.

I had a woman at a technology company who, when she saw the science, just blurted out, “I thought there was something wrong with me! I hired a coach and for three years he’s been trying to help me fit into the team here, because I thought I needed fixing, and now I see that I’m just wired differently.” I asked the women in the audience, “How many of you can relate to that?” And every single hand went up.
— “Why the Tech Sector Struggles to Close the Gender Gap”,

Yes, the differences between genders are an element at work, but so are other differences. Culture is the main driver. When you don’t match the culture, the culture expects you to adapt to it. It is your problem and you have to fix it. I’m crazy; you’re sane.

Microsoft doesn’t have merely a male culture; Microsoft has an adolescent boy culture. I’m smarter than you; I pwn you.

Don’t believe me? Open up your solitaire game, make a few moves and then hit F2 to start a new game. You will be greeted with this dialog:

Microsoft Solitaire new game dialog. What do you mean, statistics?

Microsoft Solitaire new game dialog. What do you mean, statistics?

Look at the helpful advice: This counts as a loss in your statistics.

When I play solitaire with a deck of cards, I don’t have statistics. If I don’t like the way the game is going, I can just deal another one. Why do I need statistics?

But at Microsoft, it would be simply unthinkable not to keep statistics. How else can I compare my performance to that of others? I have a 90% record, while you only have an 80% record. You’ve been pwned.

And yes, I am smart enough to go into the registry, find where Solitaire keeps the statistics and change them. I have also lived long enough to have heard the expression, “Even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”

A lot of women look at this culture and think, “I’m capable of making it here, but yuck! Why bother?” Plenty of men do, also.

PS: I should point out that when I came back after publishing this article to make a correction, my system bluescreened. Evil Empire indeed.

Written by srojak

November 17, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Evolution of the Workplace, 1960-2015

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Let me take you back to a time before we had euphemisms like downsizing, rightsizing and midlife career re-evaluation. Before there were cubicles. Do you think everyone had a private office at work? Think again; the typical office looked like this:

1950s office. From The Wall Street Journal.

1950s office. From The Wall Street Journal.

This was a time, compared to today, where labor was cheap and capital was dear. There were large numbers of people being employed, and getting green money to spend outside the company on equipment, even if the equipment existed, was like getting blood out of a stone. So labor was often substituted for capital, performing laborious tasks that could have been automated. What’s the problem? We’re paying you, aren’t we?

Capital-Centric Work Processes

Most management teams saw as their purpose to optimize existing processes, not to challenge them or blow them up. Change came slowly and in measured increments.


A Bridgeport milling machine. Bridgeport was to the shop what Xerox later became to the office.

A Bridgeport milling machine. Bridgeport was to the shop what Xerox later became to the office.

Capital was the bottleneck resource, and most of the capital was in plant and equipment. Raw materials and people were cheap. Therefore, the needs of the plant and equipment came first. That milling machine takes time to set up for any particular job. Therefore, you want to amortize that setup time over as many parts as you can. You determined an optimum lot size and produced that number of pieces on a work order. There were exceptions, such as the job-oriented machine shop, but they by their very nature could not realize the economies of scale that mass production offered and depended upon. Machine shops were niche players in the mass production economy.

What do you do with all those parts and subassemblies? You store them in a parts room, and staff the parts room with people to watch over them, catalog them and only distribute them to other people with appropriate pieces of paper called work orders in their hands.

Clerk in a parts room, from the 1940s. By Alfred T. Palmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Clerk in a parts room, from the 1940s. By Alfred T. Palmer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Parts clerks could make a decent living, especially considering the fact that they had to have only a minimum level of clerical skills and had no pressure to produce. Some people bought homes and raised families on the money they make working in the parts crib.

Parts of a Work Order, a sophisticated control.

Parts of a Work Order, a sophisticated control.

A work order is more than just a set of instructions; it is an authorization to produce. It says that an operator should producing these parts at this time, not some other parts. It provides authorization to draw parts from the parts crib. It contains standards for productivity and scrap rates, against which the worker will be compared.

This whole dance was kept moving without the aid of computers by another small squad of people in the inventory control office. Many of them had jobs that were also clerical in nature, such as matching completed orders with receipts for materials used. Much of it was mind-numbing work. But what’s your problem, you’re getting paid, right?

At this time, it is worth reviewing the assumptions that underpin business in this era:

  • Labor is cheaper than capital.
  • Labor is more flexible than capital.
  • People come to work to do the least work for the most money. If you don’t have tight controls,
    • the majority will be goofing off;
    • the enterprising ones will be doing their own work on your equipment or converting your inventory into scrap that they can sell on the side.
  • Most people aren’t capable of brain work. They need follow-the-horsie procedures to guide them through their working day. After all, that is what the education establishment was telling us at the time.
  • We have the know-how and the processes. We won the war, didn’t we? Our focus needs to be on operating and optimizing.
  • Key success factors for the employee are punctuality, following the rules and ability to get along with others. A highly talented person who can’t be counted on to show up on time and follow rules is useless; replacing such a person with a plodder who is punctual and takes direction well is an improvement.
  • Business relationships are basically adversarial in nature:
    • Suppliers want to charge as much as they can, whereas customers want to pay as little as they can;
    • Management wants more work for less money, whereas labor wants less work for more money.
  • In the supply chain, the company with the access to capital has the upper hand and calls the shots. That is usually the manufacturer.
  • The United States is the only market that matters. Everyone else is trying to crawl back into the industrial age after World War II.
  • People all want basically the same things. Therefore, the best mass producer can obtain the greatest market share, the lowest unit costs and the best returns on investment.
  • Despite the marketing fluff, we are basically trending toward perfect competition, producing commodity products that are differentiated by price and availability.
  • Low cost through economies of scale wins.

Mass man must be served by mass means.
— Roger Price, The Great Roob Revolution, 1970.

David Frum called pre-1970 America a “love-it-or-leave-it” society:

You didn’t like Chervolets? Tough. Your kid was home sick and wanted to watch cartoons at ten on a weekday morning? Also tough. You wanted a checking account that paid interest? Again tough. You needed to pay less than $900 for an economy ticket to Paris? Tough once more.
— David Frum, How We Got Here — The 70’s: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life (for Better or Worse).

And I would add:

  • You’re a woman with kids who has run away from your abusive marriage and has to make a go of it on your own? Tough.
  • You grew up working-class and were put off by the process of college application, but now you don’t like your factory floor job? Tough.
  • You are completely unchallenged by your job and have all you can do to get through the working day? Welcome to the club. You’re getting paid, right? (spot a theme here?)
  • You have a better idea for a car you would like to produce? Stop doing that, Mr. Tucker. You’re going to disrupt the whole industry, screw up the future sales everyone is counting on and cause people to lose their jobs. We don’t want you doing that and we won’t allow it.
Tucker movie poster

Preston Tucker: menace to society?

Knowledge Work

Knowledge work has existed for a long time, although Peter Drucker is generally credited with coining the term in his 1959 book Landmarks of Tomorrow. Here are some jobs that have been focused on knowledge work since time out of mind:

  • Military officer
  • Lawyer
  • Surgeon
  • Missionary
  • Actor

The movie business is the only business in the world where the assets go home at night.
— attributed to Dorothy Parker

What distinguishes knowledge work from other kinds of work?

  • It is non-routine in nature, and therefore does not readily lend itself to standardization and optimization;
  • Being non-routine, the unique conditions of the instance of work being performed influence what is done, how it is done and how long it takes;
  • The person doing the work knows more about the conditions of the work than the manager or outside expert;
  • The knowledge worker applies personal knowledge to the work in a way that other works do not.

On the last point, compare a software engineer to a class A machinist. Both have some elements in common:

  • Both are highly skilled occupations;
  • Both require thinking;
  • For both, one would expect experience to matter.

However, there is a skill definition for a class A machinist that practitioners recognize. Two persons both having that skill level expect to be paid comparable wages. In that sense, class A machinists are fungible.

Software engineers, by contrast, are much more varied and less fungible. When an experienced software developer leaves, it is much less easy to go get another one of similar background and plug them into the role.

You might argue that you have known people who call themselves software engineers but who are completely lost when confronted with problems outside of a small range with which they expect to solve. I would take your point; such people are not really engineers at all, but technicians. This illustrates another issue with knowledge workers; it becomes increasingly difficult to identify abilities in the traditional means available to the hiring manager.

When I was hiring, recruiters used to ask me how many years of experience I wanted in the candidates. It’s not a useful question. I can have two candidates, each of whom has six years’ professional experience:

  • Amy has six years of progressive and varied experience. She has constantly sought to expand her scope and taken initiative to resolve a greater variety of problems in the course of delivering results.
  • Bob has six years of experience. But after the first two years, he got into a comfortable routine where he can repeat the same methods over and over, at which point he allowed himself to stop growing. Bob really has two years of experience three times over.

Since 1980, for reasons I shall explore, a greater share of work in general has become knowledge work. This has caused dislocation for persons:

  • Who are not adequately prepared to do knowledge work;
  • Who don’t want to do knowledge work;
  • Who never had to do knowledge work and found themselves suddenly facing changed conditions.

Pulling the Rug Out

People tend to want to learn the ground rules and operate within them. When the assumptions on which people make long-term decisions and investments suddenly change, there is no alert that comes in the mail notifying them that they need to reconsider their life strategies. Yet if one continues on a path for which the underlying assumptions are no longer valid, one will not arrive at a happy ending.

What happened to the assumptions underpinning the American workplace since 1980?

Old Assumption New Reality
The United States is the only market that matters. Everyone else is trying to crawl back into the industrial age after World War II. Now other nations have climbed back into the modern world with a vengeance, with current skills and up-to-date equipment. They are lean and mean, while many people here are comfortable and uncompetitive.
People all want basically the same things. Therefore, the best mass producer can obtain the greatest market share, the lowest unit costs and the best returns on investment. Once people had their basic needs reliably met, they started wanting a variety of things. In 1977, we discovered positional goods, which are goods whose value would be diminished if everyone had them. This dispersal of demand blindsided the mass production machine. Some industries, such as advertising, still haven’t entirely caught up.
Despite the marketing fluff, we are basically trending toward perfect competition, producing commodity products that are differentiated by price and availability. The opportunities are in industries that are characterized by monopolistic competition: highly differentiated products with limited opportunities for customers to substitute. This carries greater risk because you have to guess what differentiators matter and bet your company that you’re right.
Low cost through economies of scale wins.  You can run your business into the ground producing a low-cost product that nobody wants because the quality is inferior or the public perception is bad. There are other economies to be had, such as economy of scope.
In the supply chain, the company with the access to capital has the upper hand and calls the shots. That is usually the manufacturer.  In the supply chain, the company with the access to customers has the upper hand and calls the shots. That is often the retailer (e.g., Wal-Mart, Amazon).
We have the know-how and the processes. Our focus needs to be on operating and optimizing.  Our processes are not always working for us. Other countries have come in to our markets and outperformed us. Our focus needs to be on innovation.
Business relationships are basically adversarial in nature.  Co-opetition reigns supreme. For every circle you can draw where you and others are in an adversarial relationship, you can draw a larger circle where you and the others in the smaller circle have to work together to compete against the others.

These changes are external to business, larger than the American commercial environment. They are beyond the abilities of business management to change, even if they wanted to.

How did these changes influence the assumptions within the workplace?


Old Assumption New Reality
Labor is cheaper than capital. Between the introduction of cheap computing power and increasing fully loaded compensation costs driven by employee health benefits, capital is now cheaper than labor.
 Labor is more flexible than capital.  I can put a computer in the excess storage closet more readily than I can a person. Moreover, for a variety of factors, it is harder to get rid of people who I don’t need or who don’t work out. Therefore, I am now extremely reluctant to add people and only do it when I absolutely have to.
Most people aren’t capable of brain work. They need follow-the-horsie procedures to guide them through their working day.  There are far fewer places in this new climate for people who are not capable of brain work. More of the work to be done is knowledge work. I need people who can solve problems, not people who need me to solve problems so that they can do “their jobs”.
People come to work to do the least work for the most money. A knowledge worker with no initiative is a bust. If I have to figure out what you need to do and tell you how to do it, we’re both doing your job. I could just as well do it myself.
Key success factors for the employee are punctuality, following the rules and ability to get along with others. A highly talented person who can’t be counted on to show up on time and follow rules is useless; replacing such a person with a plodder who is punctual and takes direction well is an improvement. Nobody knows exactly what “the rules” are from one day to the next. There are a constant stream of unstructured problems to solve. I may not be able to offer the plodder sufficient direction to be effective; part of the problem I need solved is figuring out what the direction is today, which may be different from the direction last year and may not be suitable for next year, either.

The results have been visible in the years since. The basic composition of the employed American workforce in terms of skill levels and problem solving abilities has irreversibly changed.

Many factories no longer have parts rooms. Some have changed to just-in-time (JIT) production, under which an earlier operation only produces parts when a downstream operation needs them, in the quantity immediately needed. This system trusts the workers on the floor to decide what to produce. These factories have dispensed with work orders as well as parts clerks.

Even when factories do not adopt JIT, many still decide that they can’t afford a parts room full of clerks. The cost of paying those clerks now exceeds the expected cost of having workers able to draw parts without controls.

And all those parts clerks? Their jobs are gone, never to return.

The lower middle class was extensively squeezed in this way throughout the 1980s. They were not articulate people who write magazine stories, and few lost any sleep over this. Now the middle class is getting much the same treatment. It’s a national crisis! Save the middle class!

The middle class has to save itself by gearing up, skilling up and delivering value. The middle class needs to be more about competing and less about credentials.

The pre-1970 economy was not a golden age from which we strayed due to selfishness and avarice. It was a one-of-a-kind situation that will not be repeated. We need to adapt and get strategies to prevail.

Written by srojak

November 16, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Election Days

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Tuesday, November 4, is Election Day. It is the generally recognized time for the citizens to make political choices. However, the choices you get among a small set of choices previously made.

Many people are dissatisfied with this condition. The complaint that we choose between the lesser of two evils is a statement that I have heard since before I was old enough to vote.

Some people have plans to do something about this. Larry Lessig has been promoting his ideas for campaign finance reform lately; you can read about them here and here. Pardon my skepticism, but this appears to be the latest of a long tradition of goo-goo reform ideas, going back to direct election of senators, that have always manifested unintended consequences.

Meanwhile, there are other elections. There is an election every day. You vote with your scarce resources: your money, time and attention. That which people put their resources behind will grow and prosper. That which they deprive of resources will wither and die.

By all means, vote. It is a civic duty. But don’t think that the choices end when you leave the polling place, or that you only make choices of political consequence once a year.


Written by srojak

November 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Economics, Politics

Tagged with , ,