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!


Political Ecology

We choose what to study, and we choose how to study that thing.  There’s nothing stopping the creative student of behavior from treating Congress like a jungle.  Let’s study it using the tools of ecology, biology, even ethnology.

And what do we find?

We find a culture that is quite at odds with the greater embedded ecosystem (society at large).  For instance, society calls for a politician to represent the people and make laws that further the common good.  This is what we call a job function.  In a well-defined job, the function, the tasks, and the skill sets of all the participants work together to make the job’s performance perfect.

In the case of politicians, we find that even though the function (making laws) is explicit, the task that are called for and the tasks they do in reality are very different.

The tasks we ask politicians to accomplish are listening to constituents, working with fellow law makers, learning all they can about related technologies, and then crafting laws that further our nation.

In reality, what we see is that the denizens of this ecosystem spend their time fighting each other, talking to lobbyists and other special interests, and most importantly, judging their performance based on their ability to ‘survive’ in the ecosystem – get re-elected.

And this is the ultimate equivalency to our ecosystem.  Survival.

The ultimate goal of a politician is to survive, and this means reelection.  It does not mean doing good, or listening, or even having morals.  It all depends on the vote.

For this type of ecosystem there are certain personalities who do better than others.  People who have been trained to subjugate concepts like truth to sophistry.  Or justice being secondary to winning.

In this type of ecosystem, it should be no wonder that the denizens create a lifestyle that benefits themselves at the expense of their electorate.  So why do we get angry when we learn that Congress does not have to abide by any of the workplace laws they impose on anyone else?  Why are we upset when we learn that their pensions are far better than anything in the private sector?  Why should we be annoyed when we learn that their health care benefits are fully paid for by us, even when certain ‘conservative’ elements rail against government helping the poor with their health care needs?

In this ecosystem, the inhabitants need to feed, and because of the way we have structured our society, the best sources of food are large economic interests: Energy, processed foods, transportation, drugs, communications, automotive manufacturing, and many others.  In order to keep feeding at the trough of special interests, the inhabitants of this ecosystem must pass laws that allow them access to this food.  Does this bias their decision-making?  Of course.  Will they ever admit it?  Of course not.

Now, what do we do about it?



Multiply your taxes by ten, then…

Happy tax day everyone.  This Tuesday many of us are sending a few hard-earned dollars to our Uncle Sam.  He always appreciates the fact that we show our appreciation to him for all the fine work he’s doing.  We know he treats our money as if it was still ours; there’s no waste, no entitlements, no reason not to trust him.

Well, not today, anyway.

For today, let’s look at something else our favorite Uncle likes to do.  He likes to tell us how much he’s saving us when he does something.  For instance, he might change the tax laws that penalize corporations for paying their executives more than a million dollars a year.  I know it slows down my corporation.  They keep trying to pay the head guy many millions, but he says, “wait! we don’t want too many taxes!”

So Uncle Sam changed the laws to tax companies paying out “too much” money.  No discussion about how corporations figured out a way around this.  They did.  What Uncle Sam did next is the fun part.  He took to the cameras and newsertainment outlets and told everyone that he’d just saved you and me billions of dollars.  Wow.  That’s a lot of dough!

But wait a minute.  At the end of every sentence about that savings, he’d throw in this little tidbit under his breath; “over ten years.”

Really?  Really?  TEN YEARS?

So that Billion Dollars is not really a billion dollars, it’s a hundred million dollars.  That’s like nothing! I can’t even buy a small country for that amount.  Well, maybe a small country, but you know what I mean. So what’s the deal with the 10 years?

The politicians claim they always need a 10 year window because taxes take such a long time to accumulate and apply.  Sure.  I always wait 10 years before paying any particular tax – like my sales tax on chewing gum.

No, they put the 10 year number on there because it makes everything look BIGGER.  They don’t mention that within two years these corporations will figure out another loophole to hide those billions (oops, almost did it myself! I mean, millions) of dollars.

Yet again, this is something new that our country never did before.  And it’s something that our newsertainment people swallow hook, line, and sinker.  It’s something that the rest of us don’t even notice.  And it’s yet another little insight into how our nation is slowly becoming dumber and dumber.

So, this year, give them a taste of their own medicine.  Send in only a tenth of your taxes, and let them know they can get the rest over a ten year period.  I wonder how much of a sense of humor the IRS has?


Invented Money

One of the many hurdles we have to overcome in understanding our own behavior is being able to recognize life-long assumptions about the world.

You, and I, grew up with money.  As children it was given to us as coins: playthings, distractions, allowance, objects of art.  It’s always been a part of our lives, as it was for our grandparents, and their grandparents before them.

It wasn’t always so.  Someone, a long long time ago, invented money.  Money is what psychologists call a secondary reinforcer.  It represents something else.  In our case, money may represent the work you do for your company.  You and the company agreed that for every hour you work, you receive some money.

In the olden times, you received this money in physical form.  Then we invented checks.  Then we invented electronic money.  This electronic money doesn’t even really exist.  We only know that it’s there because of the ones and zeroes a computer spits out when we ask it the question, “how much is in my account.”

As students of behavior we have to always remember that money isn’t real.  We have to understand that it was invented as a convenient mechanism to help relate “value.”  How does the value of my labor compare to the value of that kumquat you have found?  How does the value of my face relate to the value of a video advertisement that can make millions of people want to buy your lipstick?

Value is the real, underlying behavioral quality that money tries to deal with.  Value is what is truly important, and is what we should be discussing.  A life with value has no need of money.

And you can take that to the bank.


Money Day

We spend a lot of time thinking about money.  As Douglas Adams roughly put it, we spend our lives chasing bits of paper all about the universe to no end.

For something that occupies so much of our lives, I expected that academics would consequently study these areas to exhaustion.  For instance, interviewing for an entry level job.  Or writing up a resume.  What about simply filling out an employment form?

Imagine my surprise when I learned that these aren’t considered areas of ‘study,’ instead these are practical seminars in business school.  These are “survival skills” and not behaviors that should be studied by serious researchers.

It’s too bad.  Imagine if we could make our lives easier so that writing a resume only took a push of a button.  Or if we could be evaluated on what we’re really like, instead of what we look like.

On the other side, what do we expect a company to look like?  We call it a company, but it’s really a collection of people, and do we really want to work with those people?  When we’re young, all we want is a chance to know what it’s like to really work, to have real responsibilities, and to get a paycheck.  Why can’t we find a way to have that company be described to us so that we can really know if we’d want to work there for the rest of our lives, or even just a few weeks?

We’ll start exploring the world of business soon – for it’s an area I know too well.  But we’re going to do it by looking at the behavior of its participants, and not in generic ‘corporate’ terms.  Who knows, maybe it can help you make some money.  Stay tuned!