The AI Will Steal Our Jobs!

They say that starting a post with a bolt statement is a good idea, so here you go: Artificial Intelligence will destroy our current economic structure. How’s that?

While that statement may seem like a gross overreaction and sound a little nutty, it is quite possibly true. As we move forward, AI will take more and more of the tasks we currently do ourselves. Right now they are mostly in highly repetitive tasks, such as manufacturing. These robots have already displaced many workers, they are cheaper and more accurate. But the presence of those robots have also opened up new opportunities in research and development as well as in maintenance. Here’s the catch: displaced employees cannot afford the new education necessary to go into these fields.

In the past, new technology has largely been geared towards making human beings more efficient at their jobs. If one person makes more stuff, the price of the stuff goes down and makes it available to more people. This has been the driver of our economic growth and high standard of living. Thus far technological progress has been the facilitator of our modern world.

But we are at a moment when this status quo is changing. Artificial intelligence is becoming better than we are at tasks we once considered exclusively the domain of human beings. This means that the jobs that were more nuanced and variable, are going the way of the dodo as those get replaced as well.

For awhile there will be new jobs created by this boom, but eventually those will be taken over as well. Eventually there will be very little, of anything, that human beings need to do.

So now it is not only the ‘unskilled’ laborers who will be out of jobs, but the more technical fields as well. The only people who will be able to make money will be those selling the products that the robots make, this will soon include such diverse things as health care and art to add to the products they manufacture today.

That won’t last long, if no one is earning, no one is spending.

So, now that I have completely depressed you; let me tell you why this could actually be awesome, and what we have to do to make sure that it is.

If you think about it, if robots are doing all the work and there is plenty of everything to go around, why should anyone ever have to go without? The only way this would happen is if we stay on our current economic course. If people need to trade their labor for money to trade for goods and services.

However, if we eliminate the need to pay for those goods and services, why do we panic over the loss of income? In other words, if we make those basic necessities available to all, it won’t matter if the robots do all the work.

Here we get a choice, how do we create an equitable system?

Option 1: Necessary goods and services are provided to all, and money is used to buy luxury goods.

This option is a good middle ground, and very likely to be the solution, but as I see it being implemented, it would be in a simple reactionary way. Like refugee camps, or homeless shelters. Necessities are covered, but living conditions are appalling with no visible path out of the situation.

If we plan ahead, we could create this as a positive way to keep everyone happy and healthy. But it would still leave the wealthy with power and influence over those who just get by on the basics with little upward mobility.

Option 2: Basic universal income.

The results of this option would be very similar to the plan ahead version of option 1. People would get some support, (although that income may not cover everything they need depending on health, implementation, and local economic variation.) but would still struggle to grow. Any growth would depend on the movement of currency to people from all walks of life. This would require that anyone attempting to improve their station from subsistence would have to advertise essentially, to gain the attention of those who do have money to burn. It would just be redistribution of the wealth between the wealthy.

Option 3: Preemptively create a non-monetary based system. No money means that all basic services would be available to all add needed. And anyone willing to grow would not need to convince someone else to part with their money, but only to show that they are providing some benefit to society. Without competition, the existing barriers of the economy would break down.

Everyone could be required to work a certain amount of time in service to community or society as we grow to reach the time of robots doing all of the work. As robots take on more of the workload, the required human workload would be readjusted and distributed equally. Less work for humans would not result in lost jobs creating starvation in a land of plenty.

As a bonus to this idea, if we got rid of money, there would be a huge number of ‘jobs’ that surround the redistribution of wealth that would disappear with it. This means that the starting workload for each person would be much less work than we currently do today. These jobs would include things like cashiers, loan specialists, stock traders, bankers, accountants, investors, and sales to name a few.

Even if we only eliminated that workload and required a lot less work to keep the status quo, I suspect that we would actually make progress toward a work-free future faster. Without all that time spent on the redistribution of wealth, the free time that people would gain would go towards hobbies.

Everyone has a few things they enjoy doing in their free time, and some of those have the potential to drive us to the future. Some people enjoy listening to music or watching movies. Some people enjoy creating neat things. Some people enjoy robotics and coding in their free time. Giving people more free time, and unlimited access to education (one of the most basic services provided) would spawn a massive outpouring of growth in many areas, including STEM. There are many people caught in the day to day grind of living paycheck to paycheck who could do so much for our world if we can unchain them from the money train.

This does require a whole new way of thinking. But in a world without scarcity, we do not need to create a system of artificial scarcity, which is how money works.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Homeschool or Traditional School?

When I talk about the possibility of homeschooling my children, many people are skeptical. Stereotypically homeschoolers are anti-social religious zealots. But is that the reality? As with many stereotypes, there are people who meet that description, but many do not. I would venture to say that most homeschooled kids do not meet that description.

When looking up information on line I am having a difficult time finding any support at all of the stereotype. I like to have information from both sides, but it seems that the only people who find it worth talking about are either homeschoolers themselves or have some reason to be biased. The information that I am finding cite numerous studies that support the idea that homeschooled children are better socialized than children in traditional schools, and have an easier time getting into college. I would like to know more about these studies, and I wish that they had larger focus groups. I also would like to know how these students were found.

If the children for these studies were found in homeschool support groups, they are already part of the homeschooling community that actively engages in the community. Many of these kids are also active in other clubs and activities. I hesitate to trust the statistics completely because of this possible bias. It is possible that there is an unrepresented amount of children who are at home, isolated from people whose beliefs do not agree with their parents’, perhaps even homeschooled to avoid discovery of abuse. This is obviously a worse-case scenario, and I doubt that there are very many of these, but the scenario just points out how biased the studies may be.

So far this sounds like a real downer on homeschool, but that is far from being my intention. I simply want to point out a few holes in the research. All of that said, I would like to homeschool my children because I do believe that it can be beneficial. The key word is ‘can’. Because the parents are in charge, the parents have control over how homeschooling turns out.

Many homeschool parents choose to have their kids learn through the community, which means that they built relationships with people from all walks of life, in many different settings. This is the type of thing that traditional schools have great difficulty with. Students spend most of the day with children their own age, learning social skills from people who are no more skilled than they are. Once they get out of school, so much time is spent on homework, that doing anything outside of school is a great challenge. There are many studies out right now about the levels of stress on students, even in elementary schools.

The differences between how homeschoolers and traditional students spend their days has a huge impact on their social skills as well as their maturity and goals. Homeschool students have more time to pursue the things that interest them rather than only focusing on the things that are chosen for them. This gives them a greater sense of personal identity, and a love of learning. I believe that everyone is born innately curious about the world, but the way that schools have traditionally taught takes all the fun out of it and makes it a chore. While homeschoolers may gain more in the way of study skills, I believe that it is this love of learning that contributes more to their success after school.

Many people who think that homeschool is a good thing, but don’t want to deprive their children of some part of the school experience, be that the rites of passage like prom, or the perceived social benefits, decide to supplement traditional school with home based education or outings. That is a great idea, and I wish that more people would do that. There is one flaw, however; doing this does not give all of the benefits of homeschool and traditional school together. You end up with all of the ups and downs of the school environment and end up with very little time to spend on this type of enrichment. When it is possible, it can help to negate some of the negative associations that students can get to learning, and give them access to more information, which is certainly better than nothing. Many people though choose to homeschool not because of the perceived benefits, but to avoid the common downfalls of schools.

Schools foster a very specific type of social outlook. Students are pressured to fit in, which makes it more difficult for them to ‘find themselves’. This is supposed to happen during the growing up period, but in our culture there is a struggle for people as they leave school and adjust to the real world, only to find that the person they were trying so hard to be has no place in that world, and they don’t know who they are underneath that. Homeschoolers on the other hand, never experience that massive peer pressure and, provided that their parents allowed them freedom, they already have all of that figured out, which gives them a head start in their post-school lives.

Teachers in traditional schools can try their best to study things that their students are interested in, and to share their own passions, but despite this, much of the time students are studying things that they have little interest in. Not all students are interested in the same things, and it is impossible to cover everyone, someone will be interested in everything, another student may find that his interests are never discussed.

What are some other reasons that parents choose to homeschool? In general it is to have more control over the things that your kids learn. This can be behaviors (bullying, maturity, study skills), ways of thinking (religion, tolerance), or really anything. There are some things that kids can learn in public school that they do not want their kids learning, whether that is evolution or intolerance of others, homeschool allows parents to teach their children what they want, for better or worse.

Many of the benefits that I see to homeschooling are really just logic, whether or not the studies are trustworthy, one can see that spending time with many different people means learning to communicate effectively with different types of people. It makes sense that if you are able to study the things that you love, you will love learning. But this does bring up a conundrum. How do you teach the things that a child needs in life but has no interest in?

That really depends. To me it seems that in order to be well-rounded, you do not need a high-school level education in every subject. More important than certain subjects is the ability to acquire information. First up is reading – this one is easy – let the kid read about things they find interesting. My mother is a librarian at a middle school. Every year she meets many students who tell her that they do not like reading. So she asks them what they are interested in and sends them to that area, or suggests something they might like. Even if that ‘I don’t like to read’ idea does not go away, they usually leave with a book or two and will come back – even if it means sneaking away from their friends to do it.

Study skills, like learning about quality sources, looking for differing opinions, and different ways to present the information (formal presentation, written paper, power point etc.) can all be taught, like reading, in the context of any material the child is interested in.

It is not so much the material that we need to know in today’s society, but the skills we use to acquire information and interact with the world. If you are not an engineer, math is only so helpful your day to day life. But you do need those basics. And those basics can be taught in fun ways. I will not even try to delve into that here, just run a search on ‘hands on math’ and you will find hundreds of ideas, even into middle school level.

In the interest of understanding quality sources, I would also put learning the scientific method in the category of life skills. Many people seem to misunderstand what science is. Science is not a collection of infallible facts, it is a system of best-guesses. Science gives us a way to consistently improve our understanding of the world by providing a framework with which to come up with new ideas and narrow the possibilities nearer and nearer ‘the truth’. All with the understanding that we will probably never know the full truth.

Beyond that, education can largely be child-led. As much as I think that people need to understand history, this is more about learning about cause and effect. The people who make decisions need to be well versed in the past so that they can use that to make informed decisions. That said, if history is taught in fun ways, and focusing on a child’s interests, everyone should be able to find some sort of history to teach. After all history is just a collection of true stories, and what child does not like hearing stories.

The other thing that I would like people to have more knowledge of in general is different religion. There is a great emphasis on learning one’s own religion, and I think that is fine, but in order to have an understanding of others, we need to understand a little about their beliefs. I understand that this may not fit into everyone’s interests, but as a protection against the dangers of acting on a misunderstanding, if the lessons of forming an opinion only after doing research, which can be taught with any subject matter, I think that the worst aspects of ignorance on this can be negated.

So homeschool or traditional school? That decision rests largely on the type of people the parents are. If they will use homeschool to isolate and indoctrinate their children, I do not believe that is good for the children or society, but if homeschool will be used to give the children the opportunity to learn to love learning, and find their place in the world then if you can do it, go for it!

That said, from a practical perspective, how do you make it work? Unfortunately, no matter how much the parents might be amazing teachers, or might benefit their children, if they cannot afford to have one parent stay home with the kids, homeschooling is usually not an option. Some people might be able to find a way to have each parent work opposite schedules, or have the child in the care of others for some of the time. This takes a very large commitment, and often rests on a delicate balance.

Homeschool can be an amazing experience, and that I wish everyone could have, but not all parents are suited for it, and even more cannot fit it into their lives. It is unfair that something that has so much potential is only an option for so few. It is also unfair that the stereotypes may prevent people from ever trying something that could be so beneficial.

 

Should I have Kids?

This is a common question these days, and I know I struggled with it. For many people the answer is obvious, for others it is not. I know that when I was trying to make this decision I looked to others to tell me what to do. Obviously that is not the best way to make such a personal choice, but it is easier to just do what you are told than to make a choice, or to be the one held accountable if your decision is not the best. In order to possibly help, I will tell you a bit about how I made my decision.

When I was little, I always wanted company. I lived in a small town with very few children my own age. I always wanted siblings, and I would often pretend that I had them. But I was a very bossy kid, and I found that my imaginary friends didn’t complain, so I usually pretended to be a mother. I remember imagining a line of millions of babies following me around no matter where I went.

In elementary school, most of my friends were several years younger than I was, and I spent my recesses ‘mothering’ them. I taught them some arts and crafts, as well as playground games. But really only a few of them do I really remember, they were the ones who I played with a lot, but it was mostly an ever-changing group of younger kids that were willing to listen. At this time, one of the greatest compliments I ever received was that I would make a great mother.

It may seem odd then that by high school I had decided unequivocally that I would never have children. By this point I had not really spent much time with young kids in several years, the most I had really seen of them is grocery store temper tantrums. All of the anti-teen pregnancy campaigns had worked better on me than intended. I was completely disgusted by anything baby. Pregnancy sounded miserable, and the physical changes like bigger feet and un-losable weight did not seem worth it. All for an outcome that did not sound so great to me; sleepless nights, diapers, burping, feeding, cleaning… I could go on. And the kids themselves seemed like nothing but trouble, at the time I was not a perfect angel, and I knew people who were way worse. The spoiled kids at the store didn’t help either. It all seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I enjoy my freedom, and I did not want to be tied down. That said, I had always known that if for some reason I did end up with kids, I would do the best I could for them, but I was terrified that it would not be good enough.

I kept this attitude until long into my marriage, but it was wearing through a bit. I knew that a lot of what had shaped my opinion was about teen pregnancy, and since that is not where I was in my life anymore it was not a bad thing at that point. My concerns still were there, but the more that I spent time with people my age and older who had good kids, the more my fears about spoiled kids and rule breaking subsided. I was still scared stiff by the idea that I would not be good enough. I spent several years debating whether or not to have kids. I knew my husband wanted kids, and that he would be a great father. He never pressured me, the only time it even came up was when I talked about it, but I did want to give him something special, which might be part of why the idea kept coming up at all.

After awhile of doing a lot of soul searching, internet searching, and pros and cons lists it occurred to me that I would be happy with either outcome. This may not sound like much, but for me it was an epiphany. Still terrified that I may not be good enough, I knew that I would not be as bad as many parents. I also was beginning to form ideas of how kids learn behaviors and the different things that people can do to shape them, so I told myself that I would do whatever I could to make my kids the best they can be, and they would not be the spoiled ones in the store, but rather the (probably more numerous) ones that I had never really noticed because they were so well-behaved.

We stopped trying to avoid getting pregnant. After awhile, a close friend, who was deliberately waiting, got pregnant. I was shocked to discover that I was jealous. I thought that the world had decided that I was not worthy of kids. I was rather surprised at how hurt I was. We did not change anything that we were doing, but this realization helped me to know that the decision that I had made was not a bad one for me.

Soon enough, I did get pregnant, and we had our son. Now we are expecting our second child. I am very glad to have kids, but I would never tell someone that they should. There is one argument in favor of having children that I would like to take this opportunity to dispute. I do not think that they fill any void that I had before. I know that many parents would think that is a horrible thing to say, but in reality my life was complete before I had kids, and it is complete now. Think of it like a pie chart of my family. Each family member has their own slice, but there is not some void represented that a child would fill. Each kid also gets a slice, but before the pie was still at 100%.

I know that some people are not cut out to have kids. I know that some people’s lives would be unsuitable for raising kids. I know that some people cannot afford kids. I know that some people just don’t like kids. I have been there and I respect that. If that is you and you are struggling to decide because you feel pressured by others, stand your ground. Down the line you might change your mind, or not. Either way it is okay. Right now, you come first. It is your happiness that matters. If you think that you could not be happy taking care of children, then don’t let others talk you into doing it. Your unhappiness would affect your kids, if you cannot be happy with it, they will not be happy.

I don’t care what other people say, you do not need kids to be happy. Lots of people are very happy without kids. This idea comes from the old-fashioned notion that people are supposed to have as many kids as possible. Many religions still encourage large families. I cannot say that is a bad thing, but we do have to put it into a modern context. The reason behind this is so that people would be ensured that someone would be able to take over the family business. Kids were less likely to survive into adulthood, and having more kids increased the odds that some would make it. People also needed the labor to help take care of the land, or produce whatever it was that made the family money. This is not such an issue now either. There are plenty of people already in the world to do this labor.

We are at a point when overpopulation is becoming a problem. For this reason I choose not to have more kids than would replace my husband and I. Two kids, that’s it. That said, with better health care and longer life-expectancies, we are still adding to the total.

Money is another big contributing factor. While at one point having kids made the possibility of earning money easier, today raising kids is a huge financial cost. Even though most everything that my son has is second-hand, mostly gifts, the cost in essentials like diapers and food is noticeable. If you feel the need for your kids to have all-new things and a full nursery you will be feeling the pinch a lot more. That is not to say that my kids are lacking anything, I just have a different idea of what is essential than many people do. I believe that my kids will benefit more from the time and effort that I give them than the money I spend on stuff for them. I would rather save it for experiences and college than to spend it on stuff.

Ultimately the decision is yours. Do not let others make it for you. Notice how you feel in reaction to events in your life that may play a role. Put thought into it. Consider other’s opinions, but know that what is right for some people is not right for others. Make sure that you balance what is important to you with what would be necessary for raising kids. Right now I am putting off a lot of travel I would love to do so that when I do it I can share it with my kids. Right now they are too young to appreciate it, and we are taking the time to establish ourselves so that we can do this when they are older. I realized that my life did not have to end when I had kids, but some things do get put on hold.

Remember kids are a lifelong commitment, if that scares you right now, it might be better to wait. If you are nervous about the commitment, it is healthy. It means that you are taking everything into consideration, and it is a lot. Just think it through and be patient. Not all of the fear will ever go away. I am still terrified that I will not be good enough for what my kids deserve. I am still afraid for the world that they will be inheriting. But I made the commitment, and I am sticking to it. The fear helps motivate me, but it was not that long ago when I was frozen by it.

I am not saying that this is the natural progression that everyone will follow, because it is not. Everyone is different, some people know the answer before they ask the question. I was there for a long time, on both sides. I understand both, and I know that the answers lie within.

 

Choice in Health Care

This is a really big topic, and the center of a lot of debate at the moment.

When I was pregnant with my son, we spent a lot of time looking over all of the information about the different tests and things that were available to us. We decided not to do any tests that we could not do anything about. What that means is that if the result of a test would tell us something, but we could not do anything to change the outcome then there is no point. One of these tests would tell us that our child would likely have down syndrome. Because there would be no way to lessen the probability following the test, we decided not to do it. Additionally the risks associated with the test were far more likely to cause problems than the likelihood that it would find anything. I have worked with down syndrome kids and we knew that if anything were to happen we would deal with it.

That said I was seeing many different doctors within the practice so that I would have met any of the ones who might end up delivering the baby. One of these doctors (luckily they were no longer employed there by the time I went into labor) was very indignant that we opted not to do this test. I understand that doctors have their own personal beliefs, and that they are supposed to do no harm. We were very upset that she refused to respect our choice, especially since that choice, according to the statistics, the science, was the less damaging. The doctor agreed that there was nothing that could be done about the results, and understood our risk/benefit analysis. Unfortunately the doctor’s personal preference to know took precedence and made us very uncomfortable.

This is something that is the patient’s choice. It has no effect on anyone else’s life. Us knowing in advance would change nothing except potentially adding problems because of the test.

Some people choose to have the test because if the child is more than likely going to have down syndrome, they would terminate the pregnancy. This would be considered a medical reason and is subject to different rules than if the parents chose abortion for a healthy child. I respect that choice. Having children is a huge responsibility, children with special needs more than doubly so. Although I do believe that every person has worth I know that many people would not be able to handle the care that these children require.

Abortion is a choice that does affect other’s lives, mostly the parents and the child’s. That choice should be about what is best for those people. If the parents, specifically the mother, know that the child would not be well off growing up in that household or situation, they have the options of adoption or abortion. It is the responsibility of those involved to make the decision about what is best. Just being alive is not always the better option. I used to say that having a child would end my life, not in a literal sense, but in a figurative one. When I was younger I would not be able to devote the time to improving my situation if I were to care for a child. The child would come first, and unfortunately would not be able to be brought up in the way I would like if I did not have a job and an education.

So what about the other big debate right now? Vaccines. I believe in free choice. I do not like it when the government imposes things we have to do. As far as I am concerned wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice. The statistics are out there, it is undoubtedly safer with a seat belt, but the only life lost would be your own, yes other lives are affected by this as well. In a perfect society I would say that people need to take that into consideration as they weigh the risks and benefits (?) of not wearing a seat-belt. I know however that people tend to be self-centered and not consider that others would be affected by their passing.

What does this have to with vaccines? I believe that people should be allowed to make their own choices. However people are not very good at weighing the data, or considering others. I really feel silly for repeating some of this, but the original study used to back the argument that vaccines cause autism has been retracted, and the author discredited. The other risks that are often cited are concerns about the inefficacy or side effects of the vaccines themselves. If the vaccine is ineffective, you are no worse off than if you did not have it, so I believe there is no more to be said about that. As far as side effects, these are usually minimal, a little soreness, but come on, you stuck a needle there, why wouldn’t it be sore? Yes, some people are allergic to certain elements of the vaccines. The chances of this are extremely remote. Those who are too young, do have a bad reaction, or find that the vaccine is ineffective are those who have to count on herd immunity. As a culture we have had this type of immunity for long enough that some people forget what the risks really are, which makes a real risk/reward analysis skewed. It can also allow people to forget that their decisions can affect others.

This is an article about a child who was exposed to measles. And this is the response from an anti-vaccine advocate. One of the points made in the response is that the man who carried the infection had been vaccinated. This means that he is just as much of a victim of the shrinking herd immunity as the child. Yes, I have problems with the pharmaceutical industry, but that is about them charging too much for things. They have something of value and a monopoly on it. They are taking advantage, and not realizing who that might hurt, but I do not believe they are evil. If you look at some of her links you can see that the evidence does not all fit. The risks associated with the vaccine are stated, but it is clearly stated that those risks apply to the people who should be counting on herd immunity. Her link about the court case has a headline reading “Merck Whistleblower Suit A Boon to Vaccine Foes Even As It Stresses Importance of Vaccines”.

I do believe in free choice, but I am an idealist and think that people should have the ability to make informed decisions when they are given the information. I have a problem when what I believe should be the case is not the case. In the case of vaccines, I am tempted to say that the government should take away people’s right to choose, for other’s protection. But if I do that, am I any different than those who want to take away women’s right to make decisions about abortion? Am I any different than those who advocate taking guns away because some might be used to kill? Am I any different than those who are trying to take away our right to choose our leaders? If I choose to limit people’s right to spread misinformation I am not different than anyone who tries to limit my speech against corporations or governments. These are rights I believe in, and I refuse to participate in setting a precedent that would assist taking away these rights, and others. I can only hope that giving people the information and teaching them how to use it (including reforming our current school system) is the best way. I am not willing to risk the future of our democracy in order to combat one ill-informed decision. A functional democracy depends on having an informed populace. That is what we need.

 

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Education in Finland

Much has been said of late about the amazing success of Finnish schools. In many ways they are the antithesis of U.S. schools. Everything that we have done in an effort to improve our educational system, Finland has done the opposite. To many Americans the system would seem to be counter-intuitive, but the results are a proof of concept.

Recess – In Finland students spend around one third of the day at recess. This may sound like a lot, but when you consider that this is broken up into many small breaks, it can sound more manageable. These frequent breaks make the day less monotonous for students. After each 45 minute lesson, students go outside for a 15 minute recess. This success of this routine is backed up by the science. When the human body sits for too long, the brain begins to shut down. Obviously students need their brains working at their best in order to make the time in class as effective as possible. Allowing students time to move and play gives them a chance for their brain to stay engaged in the class work.

This has also allowed the school day to be shorter. Students spend only around 4 1/2 hours in school a day. They also start school later; while publicly funded day cares are available at younger ages, mandatory school does not begin until age 7. Despite what many people might think, less class time has not had an adverse effect on education, but may be contributing to its success.

One surprise however, is that even with so much outside time, Finnish students are not getting that much more physical activity. While free play is of more value to getting students less distracted in the classroom than teacher directed play, it may be necessary to integrate some structure to prevent kids from spending this time in sedentary activities.

Testing – In Finland, student assessment is left up to individual teachers until graduation, when a single, comprehensive test is administered. This saves class time for instruction. Testing would also conflict with the intention of getting students more active. Formal testing is a stressful activity. Students free of this stress are able to get more enjoyment out of school. When you enjoy something, you are more likely to prize it, remember it, and value it.

Teaching – In Finland, being a teacher is such a lucrative career that only 1 in 10 graduate applicants are accepted for the required master’s degree program. Incomes for teachers are on par with other professionals. Teachers are a highly valued resource, and given far more respect. Teachers also have more freedom to make their own decisions for their classroom. While they are given a generalized curriculum, they are free to tailor the lessons to their students. Teachers are trusted to keep their students on track and find ways to give them the assistance and attention that they need. Students are not held back for poor performance, but are instead given special attention. This way they are not stigmatized by their peers. They are able to avoid repeating the same information, which would make anyone bored.

Administrators – Those who are in charge of making decisions about school policy are recruited from within the educational system, instead of from the outside. This means that they are largely former teachers. They understand the struggles, and they understand the students. This means that they are better equipped to make decisions that will be beneficial.

Public Funding – Rather than having funds drained into private schools, and allowing vast disparities between the education of the haves and the have-nots, Finland had only publicly funded schools. This means that anyone who has an idea has only one place to enact it, so that everyone receives the benefits. Schools do not have to compete with one another, but are encouraged to work together, as are teachers. This team mentality allows everyone to succeed, rather than only those on the winning side.

Finland has a lot that they can teach the world. The experiments that they have undertaken prove that more is not necessarily better. Having a balance is the best way to achieve success.

 

UNDERCOVER BOSS

I have no idea why I continue to watch this show. It drives me crazy! The whole point of the show is for bosses to find out what they can do to help their businesses. Sometimes that is upgrading computers, sometimes it is changing a policy to help your employees. However, gradually the focus has shifted; someone realized that those types of changes were not as interesting to watch as people receiving gifts. So now the point is to go undercover to find hard working employees and give them personal gifts to make their lives better in the short term. They also occasionally find an employee who they have to take action to get back on track. Even these less-than-stellar employees sometimes get gifts.

I do believe that everyone who oversees others should do the front line jobs at some point, and periodically throughout their career, just to remind them of how hard these people work. I also believe that every organization should have some sort of suggestion system, and maybe even someone whose entire job is to follow people and get their suggestions and find out what they need to help make their lives easier. Any of these methods need to result in changes to the company, not just individual gifts. In the first season a woman was struggling to pay for day care, so the boss set up a company day care program. In subsequent episodes, the same problem is solved with a monetary gift to pay for a service for a year or so. This will not help anyone but the recipient even though there are probably many other employees facing the same difficulties.This solution will only help for a limited time anyway. This is really a gift that is not a gift.

On the show I find that every boss is surprised by the same things. a) They have employees who struggle to make ends meet. b) Employees have lives that remind them of their own. c) Employees work very hard. d) People feel unappreciated. e) Some employees do not care. f) Some employees are very passionate. g) Some great employees feel like they have to leave.

My conclusion is that *shock* employees are people too. Companies need to provide benefits, programs, and higher wages to help their employees. No-one should have to choose between health care and food. Some people do, and the people who have the power to change this do not realize that they have it so good, and others struggle so much.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime – Proverb

CHAPTER 5 (WIP) – MIXING IT UP

When Jessica arrived at work, Suzie rushed to communicate the issues of the day; not many since the hotel was nearly empty. But the most important seemed to be that Jessica had not even been on the schedule for that night, the manager had switched things up for a new girl. But since the girl who was scheduled to come in was not arriving for another hour and was not answering her phone, Suzie was about to call Jessica in anyway.

Suzie had to hurry to pick up her daughter from daycare because they had a special arrangement that someone would stay late to wait for Suzie. Her shift ended at the same time the daycare closed for the night. Suzie was always concerned about what would happen if she was late to pick up her daughter too often. There was no reason they wouldn’t say that they couldn’t keep up this special treatment. And since this was the only daycare in town, Suzie had no alternative.

Once she was alone, Jessica did not know whether to be grateful to the manager for switching up the schedule, or upset because she had not been told. Jessica looked at the schedule, so then she was pissed at herself for not noticing. She could have actually slept tonight. But then again, she would have ended up coming in anyway, just a little later and so gotten fewer hours. But then Suzie would have been screwed over. In the end, she was pissed, but could not tell at who or why. She decided to blame the new girl.

Just then the phone rang, it was the manager. “Oh, hi! I was expecting Suzie to answer, but it’s better that you are there, I hope you don’t mind having to come in since I made a mistake and did not put you on the schedule to train Kenzie, Suzie called freaking out that no-one would be in for an hour. I looked at the schedule again and I realized the mistake I made, anyway I told the trainee to come in an hour after the shift starts, so no rush on doing the beginning of shift stuff, I want you to show her the ropes, I know you don’t like working with other people, but you are the only one who can train her overnight, and it means that you will have some days off coming up once she is trained, I will keep looking for more help to get everyone off of overtime, but in the meantime, Kenzie will be starting her own shifts soon, she seems like a quick study, make sure to cover as much as possible in the next two nights so that she only needs one shift of training on the other shifts, have a good night!”

“You too, Ms. Thomas.” As Jessica was about to hang up, she heard more.

“Do you have any questions for me? You know that if you need me all you have to do is call, right? Well have a good night, and please let me know how training goes tonight!” And she hung up without waiting for the requested questions.

Jessica pulled up a chair and plopped into it, speaking to the manager was always exhausting. Even though Jessica barely said a word, she always felt out of breath just listening. Since she had been asked not to do much until Kenzie showed up, she just sat and relaxed for a change.

Jessica knew she wasn’t really supposed to sit while she was working, but she never understood how having someone standing, legs getting more tired by the minute, feet aching and yearning for a break looked more professional than having someone sitting, who stands up to pay attention to a guest. The act of standing is a silent way of acknowledging the customer. If you are already standing, it has to be spoken, or conveyed in no more than a look. Since Ms. Thomas knew that Jessica did not ignore guests, she sat sometimes anyway.

Jessica reveled in her solitude until Kenzie arrived for her training. Jessica stood up and started going over the shift, while Kenzie watched in near absolute silence. She nodded occasionally, and wrote notes in beautifully clean handwriting in the notebook that she brought just for that purpose. Somehow Kenzie’s notes were perfectly organized, even though Jessica’s presentation was decidedly not at all. So went the night. Jessica had a very one-sided discussion through the evening, and when there was nothing work related, they stood in silence until there was.

Chapter 6 – Business Mindset

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