FUN Science time

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Fun for everyone!

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now we can do it, too.

I’m talking about doing a thought experiment.

In fact, not only a thought experiment, but a thought present for YOU.

Let’s make you rich.  Really really rich.

No, not as rich as Gates, or Buffet.  Richer.

Not as rich as Bezos or Zuckerberg.  Richer.

Not even as rich as the entire USA.  Richer.

This is a thought experiment.  We can go where it’s impossible to go.  We can go to the very extremes of possibilities.

YOU

OWN

EVERYTHING.

As of this moment, there is no income, no particle of wealth, absolutely nothing of value that you don’t own.  The queen’s jewels?  Yours.  The queens toilet and toilet paper?  Yours.

That donkey raised from a pup by that Himalayan monk no one has seen for several decades?

Yours.

The question for us behavioral scientists is this.  What happens next?

If economists were any good at what they did, they could answer this.  But they can’t.

In reality, you’re going to spread the wealth.  After all, you’re going to want to eat.  You might even want a companion.  All of that costs something.

People who have “your stuff” might feel that you are far enough away that they don’t have to pay you for it.  That Himalayan monk?  Chances are you’re never going to meet him.  Good luck getting that donkey back.

Of course, the incentive for anyone else to work will be diminished.  But they have to eat as well, so there’s a chance that a shadow economy will emerge, based on bartering and some other items considered valuable.  Your items of course, but how will you know?

Slowly, surely, your own wealth will be spread around, so that some kind of work will begin again.  But how quickly?

The problem is that you also own everyone’s assets.  So even if someone works in a restaurant to feed you and others, you will receive the profits.  Which means, ultimately, you get even richer.

Enough fun.  How about comparing our experiment to today?

Today’s world does have a Gates, Buffet, Bezos and Zuckerberg.  These people do have incredible levels of wealth and income compared to select individuals of the past.

How does this impact the rest of society?  Is it a good thing?

There are those who tell me that rich people are good for the rest of us.  But in the beginning there were no “rich” people.  What does that mean?

It means we need to think about this, more, better, and deeper.  And it means we need to do more thought experiments.

Careful though.  They can be too much fun!

 

Space isn’t big enough for Philosophers

The easiest academic job is in mathematics.  If you’re lucky enough to land a tenured job in that ivory tower in math, your life will be filled with joy.  At that point you’re required to be creative, and the work you do is measured by an absolute standard that everyone in your discipline understands.  There is no ambiguity, there is no room for personality or psychology.  If your work is published, then you can contributed.  Congratulations.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.Not so for other types of academics.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are supposed disciplines of Philosophy and Economics.  In these, almost nothing that is published can be considered as improving the human condition.  It’s rare enough that a small group of them agree with definitions or methods, but impossible for the entire community to agree on anything.

Example: Go to any symposium filled with some large number of economists or philosophers, and see if they can even agree as to when coffee hour should be called, or where the next meeting is held.  And then hold your breath.

The implications for space colonization should be clear.  If there is ever going to be a virtual ivory tower built on the moon, the first line of academics must be in mathematics and the HARD sciences.  Results count, at every stage.  Slackers are NOT welcome.

Philosophy and Economics, on the other hand, must STAY OUT.  Until those academics learn how to communicate using common language, simple concepts, and consistent definitions, there’s no need for the confusion they would sow.

Ask a philosopher what his discipline means for the world, and prepare to sleep.  The correct answer is that they “think about thinking.”

Don’t even bother asking the economist, even for fun.  It can get ugly.

So the next time you watch a space show, be on the lookout for any academics in the cast.  If they teach philosophy or economics, you’ll know you’re watching a fantasy show that’s light on science.

 

 

Business Lessons

There are many things you need to have your own successful business.

Yes, but avoid potholes.

Money is a good start.

You also need enthusiasm, your own and that of your friends and relatives.

You’ll need optimism, and perseverance for when things get tough.

 

I’ve been blessed in that my family had all these things, and more.  I’m going to touch upon little things here and there that you’ll also need to think about, that aren’t normally covered.  In our case, many of these things were mistakes.

We can learn a lot from the mistakes of others, but for some reason, most business people don’t like to admit them.  They think it makes them look weak.

Since I’m more of a teacher than a business person, I don’t mind.  Here’s the mistake.

Remote working locations.

Not remote as in someone telecommuting from their home.  No, this remote has to do with how our offices were set up, or not set up as the case may be.

As a young growing manufacturing company, we occupied rental units.  Each rental unit was about 1000 square feet (about 100 square meters).  Each rental unit had a front door, a back door, a bathroom, a garage door in back, and some office space in front.

Our little business grew, and we started in one rental unit.  The next year we needed two units.  Over the next few years we needed four units, and a few years after that we had five unit.s

Here’s the problem.  Only a few people could work in the office space of the first unit.  As we hired more people we had to put them in offices in some of the other units.

It’s taken me twenty years to figure this out, but the further away people were from everyone else, the more likely it was for them to “go rogue” and do something harmful to the company.  It was also more likely that they would goof off and try to get away with being lazy.  We put lots of other measures in place to catch them, but the fundamental truth was this.

We were spread too thin.  Many people like being secluded, closing their door, and doing what they want to do at the expense of the company, their coworkers, and the customers.

So, next company I start, everyone works in the same space, whether they like it or not.

Everyone watches everyone else, because we are all in this together, whether they like it or not.

I hope this helps you, too, you budding entrepreneur.

Good luck.

 

Grumman Human Experiments

During the years of 1940 to 1945, there was a great war.  We call it the second great war, or World War Two, WWII.

During this war, a company that made aircraft took their jobs very seriously.  So seriously, that the Navy asked them to slow down.  They were making about 600 aircraft every MONTH.  Since they were working around the clock, that means about 20 aircraft came out every DAY.

The plant manager knew he had about 20,000 people working in the factory, and thought about one of the great maxims of behavior.  If you have 20 people, there’s a good chance that one or two of them don’t work as hard as the others.

He asked his managers to choose one person out of every 20 so that they would be fired.

Word of this got around, fast.  And as a result everyone started working harder.  Jobs back then were scarce, and people in general had good work ethics.

Still, one of every 20 people were let go.  Guess what happened next?

Everyone else was working so much harder, that production went UP.  The Navy complained again.  Grumman was delivering too many HellCats.  (That was the name of the aircraft, the most successful airplane of WWII.)

So the plant manager did it again.  He went to his managers, and asked them to fire another one thousand people.

The result surprised him.

Production went up again!

When his bosses asked him if he was going to fire any more people, he said he couldn’t.  He didn’t think the Navy could handle the increased production!

That’s the funny side.

On the serious side, he probably knew that his people were working hard.  They cared, and they wanted their jobs.  They also knew there was a serious war going on.  Many of the workers were women, and that made a difference as well.  They had more personal stakes, because their husband’s and children’s lives were on the line.  Declare it a sexist statement, but in general women seem far more aware of the costs of war than men.  Perhaps that’s why most wars are started by men.

Anyway, it’s a good story showing that people do work at different levels of competence, and that organizations can produce more with fewer people, when necessary.

We should think about that the next time we think about how many government workers it takes to screw in a new light bulb.

PS – If you are at all interested in the HellCat (the forgotten warrior of WWII) please visit the site hosting the above image.

Killing Assumptions: Billionaires Create Jobs

A friend wants me to read his favorite book, part of a series that has to do with “Killing” the character of both people and countries.  This one is entitled Killing England.

I’m not looking forward to reading it, because the supposed writer (probably a true background writer) isn’t known for rigor.  I’ll review it here, soon enough.  But it got me to thinking.  We should focus on killing other things besides someone’s character.

For instance, we should reveal “economics” for what it truly is, economombo.  Mumbo jumbo.  Statements and constructs that are invalid, irrelevant, and counter-productive to society and science.

Let’s start with something very simple.  It’s a statement I’ve heard many times, even repeated by my Aunt as a fundamental truth.  And she’s as far from being an academic as you can imagine.  Here it is:

Billionaires create jobs.

Her logic follows this path.  A billionaire buys a business or industry.  The value goes up.  Everyone gets richer.  Therefore all the employees and shareholders are better off.  Profits go up.  So there’s more investment, and this creates new businesses, new industries, and therefore … MORE JOBS.

First off, why would my aunt say something like this to begin with?  I may have observed that some billionaire was trying to consolidate an industry (there are many examples, here’s one), and she retorted with her statement, essentially justifying why government shouldn’t stand in the way.

Of course, she’s forgetting why anti-trust laws were put into place way back when.  She’s also very enamored of wealth in general, even though she doesn’t personally benefit.  But let’s focus on her stated assumption.

First of all, the “value” of a company is usually given in terms of the market value.  In theory, the people trading stocks do so perfectly, only looking at the long term profitability of the company.  In reality, there are a lot of people trying to make money on stocks, willing to sell them if they need the money.  So the stock market value is a good measure of people’s willingness to bet on something.

Secondly, just because the value goes up doesn’t mean there are more jobs.  In fact, one of the reasons a company’s stock price goes up is because they eliminated jobs.  This is particularly easy when you consolidate an industry.  If you buy four companies, each of which has a president, an accounting department, R&D, and a factory floor, how can you save money?  Eliminate 3 presidents, 3 accounting departments, all four R&D departments, and think about consolidating those 4 factories into less space.

Third, what about that billionaire’s willingness to take on new investment?  Certainly that creates jobs.  Except for one small thing.  Billionaires are famously averse to risk.  They like betting their billions on sure things.  That’s why they buy companies, and don’t invest in R&D.  That’s one of the reasons they stay billionaires.

Next time you meet an economist, see what she says.  And have fun.