Money Talks, again

Hello Friend,

The last time I talked about money talking was with respect to the velocity of money.  Velocity is another way of saying we hold onto our money for some amount of time before we spend it.  Someone who is very poor spends money within hours, days, of getting it.  Someone who is rich and wealthy may hold onto it for years, decades, before putting it somewhere else.  Today the government tracks this “stickiness” indirectly.

This time the talking money is speaking directly to us.  Yes, in this high-tech information age of electronic funds and stateless money (go check out bitcoin) the money that you will have in your electronic wallet is going to be able to tell all about itself.

From the moment that it’s “born” into the world of commerce, that piece of money will know who owned it and what it was traded for.  Did the owner buy lunch?  Tasty.  Did the restaurant buy food.  Good choice.  Did the cheese vendor pay her truck driver?  Good move.  Did that driver buy drugs illegally?  Got you!

Talking money will do more than make our real wallets lighter.  It’s going to enable an enlightened government to find and shut down operations that injure society.  Not only will it be able to track the drug dealer on the corner, but find his supplier, HIS supplier, and eventually all the people who are part of the operation.

Tax dollars being wasted?  Your money will be able to find that as well.  If there’s a general getting a lucrative consulting fee for doing almost nothing, your money will know it.  Politician spending campaign contributions on a luxury hotel room for two, while his wife is spending money at home for groceries?  The money will know.

Notice that I highlighted “enlightened” above.  A government that is so inefficient, so corrupt, or so focused on its own success rather than that of society in general, that kind of government can’t be considered enlightened.  And that government will do everything possible to keep the money from talking.  And if the money talks, the government can make sure no one asks it any embarrassing questions.

Here’s the good news.  If technology continues, and if our society doesn’t succumb to some other great disaster (see tomorrow’s post), talking money will be inevitable.  And if there is only one enlightened government in this world, then it’s very likely they will show the way for the rest of us.

The sad news is that we could be doing this today, if we really wanted.  I want.  Do you?

Thanks for reading.

 

Foretelling Stories

My friend appeared in a local production of the play Vanya and Sonia, playing the part of Cassandra.

Cassandra is a fortune-telling housekeeper.  And my friend was brilliant.  Easily the most interesting person on the stage, playing her part with gusto.  Multi-colored headbands, crazy eye shadow, striped socks and funny sneakers, wild skirts with funky shirts.  Throw in some interesting jewelry and hairpieces and you get the idea.  And those are only the trappings.

What she portrayed was a half-crazed, half-possessed, but wholly compassionate dervish who transitioned from quiet domestic servant into a tornado of words and action.  In some scenes she danced about, flailing her sticks and feathers and other voodoo goodies to exact revenge.  And throughout the play she warns everyone of the nefarious “hooty pie.”

Fortune telling, soothsaying, and astrological prediction have been around as long as we’ve had questions about the future.  Many of us pay good money to know what our horoscope says today.  It doesn’t matter if it’s almost always wrong, because, sometimes, it’s right.  Right?

Oh, so many fancy shmancy people think that gypsy palm readers and tea leaf readers are absolute charlatans.  These fancy people are so full of themselves because they read the business news and understand advanced mathematics.

I thought of these things as I watched my friend scream and chant across the stage and into our hearts, and then I realized something crazy.  What if I was an alien watching this play as my first exposure to humanity?  How would I know that my friend was not truly a clairvoyant?

I wouldn’t!  Unless of course you provided me with absolute proof.

Being an alien, I wouldn’t trust your words, or the words of your friends.  I’d prefer hard data.  In fact, I’d probably really want to see it for myself.

As I smiled to my alien self, I realized that there was another type of human I wouldn’t believe.

Economists.  Yes, modern economists.  If I was an alien, and you told me that economists were the only people on Earth who could foretell the future, I simply would not believe you.

Yes, you can find me millions of people who watch their newscasts, who pass laws based on their words, or even set policy based on their massive calculations.  But can you show me and my alien friends true results of their predictions?  Better yet, can I see those for myself?

Is there even a scorecard that shows, unequivocally, that what an economist predicts today comes true tomorrow?  Or next week?  Next month?  Even next year?

Somehow, I doubt it.  Somehow, I feel that there is a vastly overpaid economist predicting the future, and doing it in a way that is boring and tiresome.

Meanwhile, on the stage stands my friend.  She is vastly underpaid, far more entertaining, yet her predictions are equally as valid.

As an alien, I smile.  As a human, I sigh and shake my head.  Then I sit back and enjoy the rest of the play.  By the way, if you go see this play, I predict that you will like it, too!

 

 

Mental Accounting

Accounting is the profession of adding up money.  Accounting records are among our oldest.  Clay tablets recording Ahmet’s twenty bales of hay is among the oldest writing we have.  Keeping track of our money has always been important.  How could something so old be improved?

Within the last century a new kind of accounting has emerged.  It’s the kind of accounting that looks at the brain as real estate.  My brain.  Your brain.  Everyone’s brain.

Here’s how it works.  If you owned a piece of land in the desert, it would only be worth as much as you paid for it.  If no one else visited, or wanted it for any reason, it wouldn’t be worth much.

If you owned a piece of land in the center of Tokyo, then you would have something of great value.  Some land in Tokyo goes for as much as a million dollars a square meter.  That’s the same area you make when you twirl in a circle with your arms outstretched.  Many people want that land.

It turns out that inside our heads we also have real estate.  Today we call them “brands.”  A brand is something that a company owns and can put a dollar value upon.  Donald Trump isn’t only a person, he’s a brand.  Even the President of the United States is a kind of brand, not only as a person, but as an occupant of the office.

A search for popular brands comes up with this file.  It lists them by companies, but if you look for individual brands they are harder to find.  For instance, Disney is extremely popular, but how popular is Mickey Mouse alone?  What about the actor Harrison Ford?  I read that this last Star Wars movie makes him today’s most expensive actor.  That’s because he’s not only an actor, he’s a brand.  And you can take that to the bank.  Or, more exactly, HE can take that to the bank.

The reason he can bank his own brand is because you and I know who he is.  He occupies a little piece of our brain.

It’s possible that you may never have heard of him, but unlikely if you live in the US.

It’s possible you know more about him than just his name.  For instance, he’s also a pilot.

It’s possible you know very much about him: his birthday, his family, even his favorite color.

In any case, you have dedicated some amount of your own mental landscape to the brand of Harrison Ford.  The more of your brain you have given to him, the more his brand is worth.

So Disney was willing to pay billions of dollars for Star Wars because so many people already have the story inside their heads.

Disney itself is worth so many hundreds of billions of dollars because it has billions of heads filled with all of its storied brands: Mickey and Minney Mouse, all the Pixar characters, its entertainment parks, video broadcast companies, and so much more.

What other kinds of “brands” can we consider within our brains?  Concepts that aren’t so directly entertaining or profitable?

Consider these unconventional brands: Like the concepts of good and evil?  Right and Wrong?  The First Amendment of the US Constitution?  What about democracy in general?

How much of your mind is devoted to understanding nature, or working to fight things like injustice or hate?

Now that we can start accounting for what’s in our minds, let’s be honest with ourselves.  Which is more valuable to you: True Love, or Star Wars?  They are both “brands” and they both occupy some of your brain space.

I’m willing to bet you a lottery ticket that I know the answer.

 

 

“The Force” has gone

The new “Star Wars” is BORING.

My date wanted to see it.  I knew what to expect, and as we drove away, she agreed.

The story, even some of the exact characters, are lifted directly from the same movie of 1977.

Abrams gets “credit” for the writing and directing, but his specialty seems to be in copying others, including himself.  That’s my highest praise.

The whole idea of a magic bullet that destroys planets?  Not only lifted from the original star wars, but also from a “star trek” movie he directed.  Remember the wiggly jiggly big red ball of death?  Aaaargh.

Finally, the latest edition of star wars sports a good amount of poor acting, lousy internal consistency, and a whole lot of “just don’t make sense.”

But spoiling on the latest movie isn’t what this post is about.  No, I like taking a bit of current culture and using it to illuminate the big world around us.  And this movie, no matter how much money it makes, helps prove that “the force” is leaving our culture, our humanity.

You see, even as we watch crazy giant aliens blow up planets, our own civilization could be building its own on Luna and Mars.

Instead of watching crazy red tractors float across sand dunes, we could be capturing lightning to power our cars and computers.

Instead of watching evil magic-wielding weirdos sporting beautiful makeup and hair, we could be working towards universal healthcare and education.

Instead, our government, our culture, and our civilization are moving away from all these things.

Instead, most of us are more concerned with our pensions, our youth, and showing off our “stuff.”

Every great civilization has risen, and fallen.  The Egyptians, Indus, Mesopotamians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, and others.  Every single one of them became inbred, and finally bored with themselves.

Then young upstarts from outside those civilizations came in and conquered.  Those young upstarts weren’t bored.  They were motivated.  The Romans called them “barbarians.”  Today we call them entrepreneurs, radicals, even terrorists.

Star Wars is boring.  Our current culture is boring.  The lesson from History is that boring is the same as death.

Who do you know who isn’t boring?  They are the ones to watch.  Because the force is with them.

May the force also be with you.

 

Equal pay, for… what?

Americans are very much into putting dollar amounts on everything.

A gallon of milk.  A gallon of gas.

How much do you make in a year?  How much do you pay in taxes?

How much is your marriage worth?  How much does it cost to raise a child?

Yes, even children come with price tags.  The latest numbers claim that the average cost to raise a child up to (not including!) college is about a quarter million.

That means a family with four kids are millionaires without knowing it.

How about our lives?  Our experience?  Our brains?

These are also valued at some rate.  How much are YOU worth?

According to your employer, you’re worth what they pay you.

That’s right.  That’s your worth.

Which brings us to something we like to call the “gender gap.”

It’s always been true that women are less appreciated than men in the workplace.  Fewer of them are employed.  They get promoted less frequently.  Trained less.  And make less money.  The difference between the money women make and the money men make defines the gap.

What’s great about our American economy is that we can put a dollar figure on the gap.

Though it varies, women make around 80% of what a man makes, for the exact same amount of work performed to the exact same standard.

Why?

Here’s a boring and obvious reason; women say “yes” faster than men.

If all women were to stand as a single entity and demand equal pay, they would get it.

Let’s look beneath the first reason and ask this; why do women say yes faster than men?  Why do they accept less money for the same amount of work?

Hold onto your hats, kids.  This one is going to be a doozy.

Oh, and for the guys in the audience, prepare to be dope slapped.  If you’re easily offended, you can peal off now.

The reason women accept less money than men for the exact same work is because women are smarter than men.

Yes.  They are smarter, in pretty much all ways.  In general.

To start, they have bigger brains.  They remember stuff better, and have way better grasp of intricate social relationships that men will never have (or want I should say).

Consider Thanksgiving.  Have you ever watched an overworked young mother entertain her family, her in-laws and her own parents?  Add in the fact that some or all of them are dysfunctional and it becomes a great challenge.  Now throw in the fact that she also had to make and serve and clean up the entire mess, all at the same time?  This makes quantum physics look like patty-cake.

What does being smarter have to do with getting paid less?

Women understand the value of money better than men.

In other words, women value money less.  They value other things more.

Shouldn’t this mean that a women should demand more money than men?  All other things being equal, yes.  But everything is not equal.

Women also choose where to work based on travel times, coworkers, self-image and many other things that male economist’s can’t value.

Women know and appreciate the fact that there are so many other things in life far more valuable than money.  A wholesome workplace.  A good boss.  Happiness in general.  Romance in particular.  Friendship, children, family.  It may be that money isn’t even in their top ten!

So, men, the next time you hear about the gender pay gap, ask yourself this; what do these women know that I don’t?

Women, if you do value money as much as a man, just ask for it.  You’ll get it.  But chances are you won’t enjoy it.

Whatever your gender, if you don’t value money, then your values are in the right place.  In every single instance when you ask an ancient about the value of their life, they will confide to you that a happy life is far more fulfilling than a “profitable” life.

Finally, think about this.  Your tombstone doesn’t list your bank balance.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be buried with your lover.  Together drawing eternal lines to time.

Now that’s closing the gap.

 

Dishwasher Delinquency

Yesterday I whined about society’s lack of work ethic.

I was pretty hard on young people because of smart phones.  And video games.  And social sites.

Fact is that the loss of work ethic goes beyond our youth, and goes further back than smart phones.  And I know where it all began.

Dish washing.

Way back in history, families would have dinner together.  After dinner, the kitchen had to be cleaned and got ready for breakfast.  One of these jobs was dish washing.

Plates and pans get dirty during dinner.  Wash them.  Dry them.  Put them away to be ready for the next day.

Simple job.  Perfect for kids.

Back in history, that’s what happened.  Kids helped.  When they were very small, they’d stand on a stool and watch.  Maybe splash in the water and put their dirty hands on everything as well.

Truth of the matter is that when they are that young, they probably caused more work than not.  But that’s fine.  Today we call this “on the job” training.

Later they took on the simplest tasks.  Drying.  Stacking dishes.  Maybe even collecting dirty things from the table.

They weren’t a lot of help, but it was something.  Still “on the job” training, but also learning more important skills: teamwork.

Later, they became big enough.  The big day finally arrives when the parent steps aside and says to the child, “It’s all yours.”

The collecting.  The soaking.  The washing, scrubbing, rinsing, drying, and stacking.  Maybe even the prep work for tomorrow’s meal.  The whole job.

When that exciting day comes, the child is truly excited.  Not only are they exhibiting true mastery over an entire adult job by themselves, but they are proving to their parent that they are worthy of their love.

Wait, there’s more.  The child is also proving that they can contribute to the welfare and well-being of the family.  They are showing that they are trustworthy and productive.

All these are sources of pride they will have for a lifetime.

We’re not done.  For as we all know, there comes a time in every job where the tedium catches up to our enthusiasm.  Routine eventually buries our excitement, and all the earliest joys are forgotten.

In front of us is an eternity of dinners.  All we see is an infinite pile of dirty plates.  What hope is there then?

We learn to fight the tedium.  We learn to hope when all seems lost.  We learn that our family needs us.  We learn that we must do our job, no matter how much we want to do something else, anything else.

And in that fight we learn something else.  We learn how to make the job fun.  We learn how to do it faster.

If we are lucky enough to have siblings, we may even learn how to work with others so that the job can be shared, or delegated.

Most importantly, we learn about ourselves.  we learn what it takes for us to hold unto a task and complete it, no matter how much it hurts.  We learn how to teach ourselves the tricks necessary to get through any task, no matter how small or large.

For that is what truly comes from dish washing.  Not only clean dishes, for those are only a bonus.  No, when a child learns to wash dishes they really learn self-respect, discipline, family productivity and family citizenship.

They are introduced to the principles of teamwork, job management, and maybe even personnel management.

So the lowly dishwasher job was not a minor job in our historical household, but a great teaching opportunity.

What happened?

Someone invented a mechanical dishwasher.

Household engineers, overwhelmingly women, were overjoyed.

Generations of children were spared the experience of hand-washing dishes.

Today we pay the price.

For it isn’t only the dishwasher.  It’s the snow blowers, the riding lawn mowers.  It’s word processors instead of typewriters, and being driven to school instead of riding a bike.  It’s allowances without chores.  It’s sleeping in hotel rooms rather than under the stars.

Every single one of our “labor-saving” devices have come with a social cost.  Only now, almost a hundred years later, are we beginning to feel the impact of those costs.

Join me and toss that dishwasher in the trash.

I will thank you today.

And your kids will thank you, too.  Someday.

 

Millionaire Magic

Want to make a million?

That question is relatively new, as society goes.  Back when we all scratched each other for ticks, we didn’t worry about accumulating cash.  We wanted babies and power.

Even a few hundred years ago the idea of individual ambition was far-fetched.  Only your lords and royalty were allowed to be ambitious.  The rest of the herd could only rise so far, success was measured by your belly.

Today’s society allows us to be ambitious, to take chances, and accumulate wealth without great fear of it being swept up by his highness.  Maybe our Uncle will sweep some up, but that’s in exchange for intangible goods.  Another story.

So, let’s make a million.  Here’s two recipes, tried and true many times since the invention of the Renaissance.  First, take an ordinary substance, like water.  Second, take a dash of technology, like sugar, food coloring, or a spice or other natural element.  Maybe a combination of all of these.  Then create a story about your new product and weave them together.  PRESTO CHANGO!  You have a product that can make you a million.

We are surrounded by such magical products that have made many millioinaires, and indeed, global mega-corporations whose reach extends deeply into all of our lives.  But what does it say about us, as a society, that we are willing to exchange some of our wealth for a bit of their magical product.  What does it say about comparing societies, perhaps some allow more magic than others?

The moral of today’s story is that we as individuals, and we as a society should question everything.  Value should be of a lasting and improving sort, not something that merely subtracts from our current existence.

And what’s that second recipe?  Let me know if you want to know – and I’ll tell you!  Here’s a hint – Ben Franklin is one of the first to put it to use!

 

Impact of an 8 year old

Saturday, yesterday, at noon, here in my peaceful little village in the middle of Ohio, a little boy was killed by a car.  We don’t know the details, yet, but they don’t matter.

We do know is his family was crossing the street.  A car driven by a sixty-something hit the entire family; all of them went to hospital.  As of this writing his is the only death.

The 12th of July should have been a memorable day for him because he probably got ice cream, saw the water falls, and probably enjoyed seeing many of the dogs and people walking about.  The village was different from his home in Virginia, and perhaps he would remember us as he grew into a young man, a man with a family, a career, and the possibility of helping humanity into the future.

The title of this essay is deliberately harsh, because the impact of that car has caused this little boy to impact my life, and through me, perhaps, some of you.  It’s my fervent hope that his life does not end with a short obituary and a few tears.  It’s my dream that events like this create a greater impact within ourselves, and our society.

I dream of a day when every tragedy causes us to pause, appreciate each other, and be thankful for the simple things in life.  I dream of a day when every tragedy becomes a new incentive to learn, and improve ourselves and our society.  And I dream of a day when tragedies like this are only known through ancient history.

We must be careful not to over-react.  Was the family paying attention and following the rules of the road?  Was the driver competent and was the car in proper working order.  If something did fail, what was it and how can we prevent such events like these in the future?

This little boy’s memories of our village have been erased.  But his memory becomes part of ours.  Even as I write this, I’m also reading about children whose memory is being erased in Syria, Gaza, Irag, Afghanistan, and other places.  Will our society ever grow to the point where those lives are also mourned?

Or will their impact be lost?

 

 

Listening to Sauce

Legend has it that the Gods of Olympus ate nothing but ambrosia, a heavenly food that mortals would never reach.  Today’s “ambrosia” consists of a few nuts, raisins, and maybe the chocolate morsel or two.  Ambrosia?  Food of the gods?  More like food of the chipmunks!

No, I’m convinced that those gods were eating tomato sauce.  Not any tomato sauce, but with onions, garlic, sausage, mushrooms, some cheese, and the lightest eggiest pasta ever.  That’s why they were so sleepy after meals!

It was recently announced that the Ragu and Bertolli brands were being sold by Unilever to a Japanese firm, Miskan.  Good for them, paying 3.5 times sales!  And with sales of 600 million in the US, that’s a lot of ambrosia.  But what does this say about behavior, and what can the sauce tell us?

Plenty, we only have to learn how to listen!  For instance, at my local high-end grocery store, there are 26 “facings” of these brands on the shelf.  There are probably 200 other facings of competitive tomato sauce, but I’m not worried about them.  Let’s listen to the Ragu.

For Ragu to make 600 million a year in sales, that means each of those 26 facings has to generate almost 23 million each!  That’s a lot of tomatoes!  Here’s where the listening comes in.

How does the Ragu do next to the Prego?  Are they generating 23 million per facing?  Perhaps the company that arranges things on the shelf for the grocery store is doing a better job for Prego than for Ragu!  Let’s compare their sales per facing for the amount of advertising they are doing, also per facing.

Or let’s think time lapse; what if there was a camera that took a picture at midnight every day?  And all we looked at was the distribution of tomato sauce in every frame.  Would we see the Ragu slowly grow over time?  Or would there be a see-saw battle between the Prego and Ragu?

Next time you’re at the grocery, and you’re thinking of eating like a god, think of tomato sauce. Then stand in front of the entire display, and listen.

What are they saying to you?

 

Ask a sponge

A wonderful, wispy, weaving friend of ours is a lover of music.  She organizes chamber music concerts in our area featuring local students and professors of the best music schools in the area.  These are world class performances that we get to enjoy intimately, in fabulous homes with home-cooked goodies afterwards.  We also get to mingle with the performers, enthusiastic young people who are devoted to their art.

It’s fun talking with them, but at the same time there is the ever-present shadow of their fate hanging above them.  For their chosen field is intensely competitive.  To be sure, any of them could end up in the orchestra of a small city, but to become a world-class musician is to meet competition so lofty that most of us can’t even imagine.  That wonderfully happy person I’m talking with today is very likely going to have a crushed future.  They will not end up in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or going on a world operatic tour.  They will probably end up working as a music teacher by day, and in a small city’s orchestra on the weekend.

Part of me wants to hug them and wish them well.  Another part wishes that our world was a safer place that could hug all of them.  Why can’t our society be one that guarantees all the pretty good musicians a spot in a decent orchestra?  All the orchestras would be more average, but can the average concert-goer tell the difference?  I don’t think I could.  Why do we have to put hundreds of talented young artists through such hell, just so one might rise to the world stage and fame?

Here’s where our sponge comes in.  All life is an answer to a question; you only have to know how to ask the question and where to look.  The sponge is an animal that plays it safe.  It doesn’t go out of its way to explore the world, it lets the world take its babies wherever the current carries it.  It doesn’t fight to get better, it doesn’t work to learn, and it doesn’t go in for a lot of experimentation.  The sponge, every single one of them, is happy simply sitting on the bottom of the ocean.

Is this a bad thing?  Of course not.  Does it help the sponge survive?  It must, because they’ve been around a whole lot longer than people.  But does it allow the sponge to grow and thrive and push the boundaries of its existence?  And here the answer is no.

Those young people who dream of making a dent in the world must be allowed to try to the best of their ability.  Almost all of them will crash and burn, but it is their choice.  And in that attempt, they are also helping to carry the rest of humanity with them.  It is your choice to dream, to hope, to dare, and to fail.  Watching them fail is not tragic.  Taking away their chance to fail, that is the tragedy.

You, me, we, humanity, needs to grow.

Prepare to be squeezed!