Command and Control Isn’t Working

Command and control structures where decisions are made at the top and directives flow down to the workers and other people at the bottom of the hierarchy are increasingly not working for large organizations. Predominantly because the distance in time and space from where the decision is made and the environment where the work is carried out leads to a mismatch. What looks a good idea from an air-conditioned office in Washington DC based on satellite photos may not look so good in the forest being managed 300 or 3000 miles away.

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Review of “Emotional Currency”

The subtitle to Emotional Currency is “A woman’s guide to building a healthy relationship with money”. Until someone writes a man’s guide to a healthy relationship with money, this book will do for everyone, or at least every adult. This book is about improving your emotional relationship with money. The author is a therapist. When I talked with her before deciding to buy the book, it became clear that she encountered many people with unhealthy relationships with money, but those willing to work on the emotional aspects were overwhelmingly women.

And the key word is “work”. This is “emotional labor”, hard work that yields sizable results. Most technical improvements yield a couple of bucks, a couple of percent. No longer trying to buy your way to a happy childhood can save a lot of money.

The examples come from the author’s therapy practice, workshops, and support groups. She suggests keeping a journal, a “money memoir”, about memories of money growing up, current difficulties with money, and what comes up when you look at all this. How did the family talk (or not talk) about the family finances?

I was in my forties before my father confided his income to me. Somewhere in my fifties my mother mentioned that they briefly were millionaires on paper, after they weren’t any more. I wasn’t well prepared to deal with their rather large estate when they died. Even though they had done a good job of writing down where it all was, it was a lot more work than I expected. All three children pitched in, took care of their agreed upon parts, and we did not fight about it. The innkeeper where I stayed while settling the estate provided a contrast. Her parents had recently died also and one sister had grabbed all that she could and now the other children were trying split it up more evenly. Probably only the lawyers won.

I’ve found keeping a Money Memoir useful. This is hard work and giving it its own space helps move the work forward.

Because personal finances are generally not a topic of “polite conversation” beyond the occasional bragging, most of us don’t have much idea of what goes on in other people’s purses, wallets, and psyches. The common dynamics of shopaholics are there, but it is the uncommon dynamics that opens up what I think of as the emotional aspects of money. One woman in the book who grew up poor, but was doing okay as an adult, found herself unable to say “no” to an addict sister’s requests for bailouts every time the woman had a little extra to put away. She ended up setting a budget for bailout requests. She was willing to help, but there were limits. I’ve ended up doing something similar for charitable and political requests for money, so much a month. If I don’t spend it, it rolls over. Similar process for requests for time.

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Social Darwinism

“Social Darwinism … claim[s] to apply biological concepts of natural selection and survival of the fittest to sociology and politics. … the strong should see their wealth and power increase while the weak should see their wealth and power decrease.

Wikipedia

“… the reptilian [brain] complex was responsible for species-typical instinctual behaviors involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays.

Wikipedia

Most proponents of Social Darwinism advocate for a social and economic system that rewards the behavior described in the second quote. If this behavior is “fittest”, why don’t the dinosaurs still rule the earth?  The mammalian behaviors of compassion, altruism, and cooperation look more fit to me.

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Lincoln and the American Dream, Still a Struggle

A book review by Walter Brueggemann in the Christian Century lead me to “A Just and Generous Nation”, by Harold Holzer and Norton Garfinkle, a historian and an economist, respectively. The overall theme is Abraham Lincoln’s fight for the American Dream and how that struggle continues through today. In the introduction, the authors state, “For Lincoln, liberty meant, above all, the right of individuals to enjoy the fruits of their own labor, which he saw as the best path to prosperity.” The American Dream is fading for the middle class. They took a big hit in the Credit Crisis of 2008–2009. The recovery has been slow and most of it has gone to the top 10%, especially the top 1% [1][2][3].

Europe at the time of the founding of the US was dominated by a hereditary aristocracy[4]. The American Dream promotes a meritocracy, economic and social advancement is the result of hard work. It has been a continuing struggle to realize this vision[5]. There is less economic mobility in the US today than in most developed countries[6]. Before the Civil War Lincoln found:

On the one side was a Northern middle-class society honoring labor and offering multiple opportunities for economic advancement by ordinary people, where government was assuming an increasing constructive role in “clearing the path” for economic success. On the other side was a Southern aristocratic society rigidly divided between rich and poor, ensuring through law and oppression that labor—white and black—remained fixed in place, devalued and cheap, dedicated to an unfettered market, neglectful of the public sector, and offering few opportunities for ordinary people and none at all for a whole race of human beings.

For Lincoln, the choice, painful as it became, was never a hard one.

Until his dying day, the fulfillment of the American Dream remained what Lincoln called at Gettysburg his “unfinished work”—and America’s.

Lincoln and the North won that war, but the aristocratic system persists and has spread well beyond the borders of the South. It dominates the national economy from Wall Street to Madison Avenue. As Correta Scott King observed:

Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation. That is what we have not taught young people, or older ones for that matter. You do not finally win a state of freedom that is protected forever. It doesn’t work that way.

The Middle Class is waking up to the fact that the government has ceased “‘clearing the path’ for economic success” and is greasing the rails for the free market instead of the Free Labor that Lincoln envisioned. Capital can band together in public and private corporations, but increasingly, Labor is barred from doing the same, e.g., through unions.

The struggle between the privileged few and the American Dream of “with liberty and justice for all” is heating up again. Rage and violence is very tempting, though rarely successful[7]. I hope, pray, and work for a less violent outcome.

[1] How the 1% Won the Recovery in One Table

[2] Some 95% of 2009-2012 Income Gains Went to Wealthiest 1%

[3] How The 1934 Recovery Benefited The 99 Percent, While 2010’s Benefited The Rich

[4] Meritocracy in America—Ever higher society, ever harder to ascend

[5] Social Mobility

[6] Intergenerational Social Mobility

[7] Brexit’s message: It feels good to tell them all to bugger off

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Squirting Sideways

Too much effort to reduce the amount of inequality, both income and wealth, is resisting or attacking the other party. This is at best a zero sum game. Often the result is fighting over shares of a shrinking pie. Many martial arts teach don’t oppose the opponent’s efforts—when pushed, pull or go sideways. In The Third Way: Share-the-Gains Capitalism, Robert Reich writes about the CEO of Chobani, the Greek yogurt company, sharing pieces of a pie he expects to expand. Employees with “skin in the game” are an asset. Reich contrasts that with the Yahoo CEO’s compensation agreement that amounts to heads I win a lot, tails I win more than anyone else, fire me and I win. What he calls “no-lose socialism for the rich”.

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Basic Income and Inequality

Universal Basic Income (UBI), a grant of enough money to live on for all citizens or residents, is an idea being considered in a number of countries. Basic income for all could lift millions out of poverty – and change how we think about inequality adds another argument for it. Productivity has increased to the point that in many countries, there will never be enough jobs for everyone who wants one. Most anti-poverty campaigns still focus on jobs for everyone. This is an alternative that may have more chances of actually working.

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Big Data is Watching You

Most technology, computers included, can be used to help or exploit. Big data is watching us. It’s creepy having ads follow me around. I bought some men’s pajama bottoms on the Hanes One site. Until I cleared the cookies in my browser, bra ads showed up everywhere on the Web.

Sometimes Big Data is watching out for us. Machine learning and big data know it wasn’t you who just swiped your credit card gives a good overview of how the credit card companies are using Big Data to catch credit card fraud in the act.

Several years ago, I bought a suit, some shirts, and some clothes for my wife while at a workshop 500 miles from home. The credit card company called before I was out of the store to make sure it was legit. A couple of years ago, they called in the midst of a dinner party. I ignored the first call. They called again. My credit card had been used in San Antonio, Austin, and New Jersey on the same day. The last was fraudulent, probably from the P.F. Chang’s breach the week before. So at least in these cases, Big Data is working for me and against the exploiters.

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Platform Cooperatives

In my attempts to find a way around Wall Street (the big investment banks) I find plenty of utopian ideas that require substantial changes in the law. They ain’t gonna happen. Cooperatives seem to be the or at least an alternative that doesn’t require any changes in the laws. Silicon Valley style startups are shifting many industries from where they are, e.g. Wall Street, to Silicon Valley, but in many cases you’re still dealing with some kind of Evil Empire. Uber and AirBNB aren’t your father’s company, but they are aiming to monopolize the business.

How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing Economy explores ways that cooperating providers (e.g., drivers) can support/invest in a platform to provide better services at competitive prices. The Silicon Valley/Venture Capital model is well honed. The equivalent cooperative model is just starting. The article compares the struggle as analogous to the Empire/Death Star versus the Rebel Alliance of Star Wars fame. I’m rooting for the underdog and am aware that it’s an uphill battle.

David doesn’t always beat Goliath. The key is to attack Goliath where there isn’t armor while staying out of the reach of Goliath’s weapons. One way is to start where Goliath doesn’t already have a presence. Then David also has the home team advantage.

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Good Governance and Healthy Economies

The Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Angus Deaton for his work analyzing poverty, consumption, and economic health. His conclusion was that strong governments are needed to create the conditions under which people can have a predictable enough economic future to build businesses. Foreign aid does not help much. The Rule of Law is required.

Without the support of the government, you get incidents like Disgruntled Chinese investor stabs CEO after losing investment. The investor lost $50K in the Chinese markets. A government agency had pledged to guarantee certain investments. When the investments went south, the agency reneged on their agreement. Now the Chinese people are more gamblers than capitalists or investors and the ridiculous amounts of leverage were used to inflate the stock markets in China, but when the Rule of Law breaks down, vigilante justice is the only kind left.

I fear we may be approaching that here in the United States. Maybe we are already there. There have been more that one mass shooting (defined as one shooter with four or more victims) a day this year. Maybe the Chinese are just better at going after the vaguely responsible people instead of easy targets.

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Reverse Robin Hoods

Available statistics suggest that the average unbanked family spends more on financial transactions than they do on food.

When the Bank Robs You includes the above frightening statistic. Here in Texas payday loans are limited by law to no more than 367%. Other states are worse. In Austin, I pass several payday loan outlets on almost any trip. Combine this with the news that Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings you begin to understand that most people in this country are just one accident or disaster away from poverty. This is not a healthy economy.

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