ARE OUR LIVES TOO CONVENIENT?

#convenience #inconvenience #tooconvenient
Is there such a thing as being “too convenient?
Eric Weiner refuses to buy an Apple Watch because it would make his life too easy.
Weiner, author of the forthcoming book, “The Georgraphy of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley,” discussed this in a column he wrote for the Los Angeles Times, published in the June 7, 2015, edition of the News Sentinel in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Though he is not advocating the return of the inconvenient Paleolithic Era, he writes that too often we fail to recognize the full cost of our convenient lives. He cites all the plastic K-cups clogging the ecosystem, as well as personal and social costs of convenience.
The cost to workers of convenience can be harsh. A company can find a machine, or mechanical process, to do the work once done by humans. When that happens, humans lose their jobs and, in today’s world, may not be able to replace them.
Think, too, of all those disposable diapers, which Weiner cites. Yes, diaper pails and laundering cloth diapers is very inconvenient, and can be smelly, too. But those disposables s don’t recycle, though there are experiments around the world attempting to recycle them. Usually, though, they just go into the environment and, hopefully, degrade eventually.
Weiner also cites the convenience of shopping at Amazon. Point, click, enjoy, he says. Online shopping has led to the closing of many stores and placed store clerks, managers, shelf stockers etc., out of work.
Weiner says we, as humans, crave boundaries, obstacles and inconvenience. Buddhism is not an easy religion, as anyone who has attempted to meditate for five minutes can attest, he writes.
Yet, it’s an immensely popular religion worldwide, he says.
If, as Weiner quotes the late philosopher Robert Nozick’s notion that, we could imagine a happiness machine, would we want to be hooked up to it? Though the instinctive answer might be yes, the actual answer is no, because we want to earn our happiness, he says.
That brings to mind the notion that we appreciate more the things that we earn, than those we are given. If a college student has to pay for his own education, the thought goes, he will work harder in school. If the student is given a full scholarship, he may not work as hard.
Obviously, that doesn’t apply to everyone. Those with real gratitude are thankful for any blessings they are given. They will work to ensure that those blessings are not wasted, and will pay it forward as opportunities arise.
If you are looking for such a blessing, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau. You’ll see stories of others, perhaps like you, who have been blessed beyond their wildest imaginations, realized it and worked not only to help themselves, but also to help others take advantage of those blessings.
Yes, our lives are certainly more convenient than those of our parents, grandparents and other ancestors. If you believe your forebears were happily inconvenient, perhaps they were. But true happiness has to start from within, and not necessarily be influenced by the things around us.
So be happy, healthy and prosperous. Choose your conveniences wisely.
Peter

THE DISAPPEARING AMERICAN DREAM, PART 1: NUMBERS TELL PART OF THE STORY

#AmericanDream #disappearingAmericanDream #economicgrowthrates
The American Dream is disappearing, by many accounts.
America needs the 3.5% solution.
No, it’s not a chemical that will magically remove all our country’s woes.
It an economic growth rate we once saw as a nation, but for which there is no projection to ever achieve again, under current circumstances.
That’s the premise of an article by U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Louis Woodhill, an economics writer and venture investor. The article was published May 1, 2015, in The Wall Street Journal.
Then, on May 3, 2015, Michael W. Kraus, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Shai Davidai, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Cornell University and A. David Nussbaum, adjunct assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago published an article in the New York Times that says we vastly overestimate the amount of upward mobility in our society.
Finally, Peter Morici, professor of economics at the University of Maryland, says the slow job growth and low interest rates are decreasing the number of “safe” investments for savings, while allowing big companies cheap money for mergers and acquisitions. Morici’s column appeared in the May 12, 2014, edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
What does all this mean for the average working person – or, perhaps, the average person who is no longer working? If you get a new job, it will likely pay less than the one you lost. You’ll struggle to get any kind of return on what little you are able to save, if anything at all. And, the big companies will combine into entities that will put more people out of work.
Cassidy and Woodhill say the Congressional Budget Office projects a meager growth rate of 2.3% for the gross domestic product over the next decade. Meanwhile, from 1790 to 2014, the average growth rate was 3.73%, they say. However, the two men have a way they believe will help generate the kind of growth the U.S. needs to prosper: allow oil exports, and not taxing repatriated overseas profits of U.S. companies.
Cassidy and Woodhill point out another fact: had the GDP grown from 2001 to 1014 at the 3.87 annual rate it had grown between 1993 and 2000, the federal government would have had a $500 billion surplus in 2014, instead of that big a deficit. Certainly, a 1 percent difference in the economic growth rate makes a big difference in the outcome for all of us. The writers also point out that current GDP growth per person is $2,433, lower than Papua New Guinea’s.
If we are truly in for growth rates in the 2s rather than the 3s, we will certainly see a decrease in upward mobility, as the trio who wrote in The New York Times suggest.
To extrapolate more on Morici’s column, low interest rates cannot be sustained forever. Average people usually can’t go looking for riskier investments at higher returns, lest they get burned. Yet, Morici says that is what some are doing.
Let’s look at Cassidy’s and Woodhill’s recommendations. Oil-company TV ads are telling us that the U.S. is currently the No. 1 producer of natural gas, and soon to be No. 1 in oil. The tendency, after decades of buying energy ingredients from countries who hate us, is to keep all that oil and gas we are now producing to ourselves.
But Cassidy and Woodhill say we should sell some of it. Perhaps we should analyze what it would cost us to ship the oil and gas elsewhere, vs. distributing it domestically. It’s cheaper, for example to ship Alaskan oil to Japan and other Pacific nations, rather than getting it to the U.S. mainland.
Then, there are the profits U.S. companies make overseas. There are trillions of U.S. assets awaiting repatriation. But, much of that would go to taxes in the current milieu. One has to analyze whether it’s better to bring the money home, tax-free, and put it to work here, vs. allowing it to sit in foreign institutions while we still collect no taxes on it. That’s certainly worth a full vetting.
As for our own prosperity, you may be among those who have given up looking for work, or who has been forced to take a job that pays less than the one you lost. The good news: there are many ways out there to make incomes without having to have a traditional job. Sure, there is work involved, but no boss and no threat of layoffs. For one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau.
Sometimes, when all looks bleak, there’s a huge ray of hope that will guide those who would go for it. It may require new thinking and motivation, but sitting around complaining of bleakness and wishing ill on those who have it better than you accomplishes nothing.
Peter

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WORKERS, CONSUMERS, VOTERS AND POWER

#workers #consumers #voters #power #RobertReich
As a worker, consumer and voter, do you feel powerless?
Do you feel that the world favors those with more than you, and tramples you because you might be in their way?
Robert Reich, the former U.S. secretary of labor and current professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley – and a frequent commentator on TV news programs — discussed this in a May 3, 2015, column in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“A large part of the reason” that people feel their voices don’t count, “is we have fewer choices than we used to have,” Reich writes. “In almost every area of our lives, it’s now take it, or leave it,” he continues.
Companies are treating workers as disposable cogs, and most working people have no choice, he says. The once-powerful private-sector unions have lost much of their clout, he adds.
As consumers, we find that as companies merge and deliberately create fewer choices, we pay the price. “U.S. airlines, for example, have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up route and collude on fares,” Reich writes. In 2005, there were nine major airlines. Now, there are four, he adds.
Even in the political arena, there is less competition because so many districts have been gerrymandered to be safe for the incumbent – or at least the incumbent’s political party. “(More than) 85 percent of congressional districts are considered ‘safe’ for their incumbents in the 2016 election,” Reich says.
What’s the average person to do? Certainly circumstances have occurred that are beyond the average person’s control. But there is also good news: the average person can take advantage, if he so chooses, of ways to combat the apparent lack of choice.
As consumers, we can, as individuals, adjust our behavior to fight the put-up or shut-up attitudes of the companies that serve us. Using the example of airlines, there isn’t much an individual can do about delays, whether they be caused by a mechanical problem, weather or some other issue. No one would want to fly unsafely just to get to a destination sooner.
But, as an example, to combat the big airlines’ recent policy of charging a fee to check a bag, we can learn to pack more carefully, so that everything fits into smaller luggage that can be carried on the plane. On full flights, if people come prepared to carry on their luggage, airlines will ask that some of the suitcases and other items be checked. Then, they cannot charge you.
As voters, we can vote defensively, if we don’t like the ideology of the candidates most likely to win. How? If your state laws allow, vote in the primary of the political party whose ideology is generally opposite yours. Find the candidate(s) with records of statesmanship, i.e. working with the other party to get things done. Vote for those candidates, even if they would not be your choice in a general election. Negotiation and compromise are the essence of governing. The problem in politics, regardless of one’s political beliefs, is too much ideology and not enough statesmanship.
Finally, as workers, we need not to think of a job as the only way to make an income. There are many other ways out there with which people, regardless of education, background or skills, can earn substantial income without having to put up with an employer’s whim. For one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau
As for unions, they did wonders for workers and the middle class many decades ago. However, today’s global business world requires companies to have extreme flexibility and efficiency. Unions decrease both of those things, but years ago, productivity gains and other business progress occurred much more slowly. It’s best to presume that no matter what your job, and no matter how good you are at it, it will probably go away before you want it to.
In conclusion, Reich is largely correct about the state of the world, and our place in it. But, just as circumstances we can’t control can hurt us, the world has provided more options for those who choose not to tolerate those circumstances, and want to make their lives much better.
Peter

POWER: IT’S ALL IN HOW YOU USE IT

Every dispute, situation or dynamic is centered around power.
Those that have it tend to want to use it to control others.
Those that don’t have it look to find something they can use as a weapon against those in power.
When terrorists cannot implement their agenda, they use terror tactics to inflict damage against those whom they cannot conquer.
When a criminal wants what someone else has, knowing that person would not give it to him willingly, he gets a weapon to force the exchange.
Our only hope is that those who gain power use it to help others, not hurt others.
Anyone can gain power. Most of those who are successful in business, for example, didn’t get there without hard work, good fortune and some help from others. Now that they have achieved their success, are they using it to take from, or give to, others? And, in the process, are they using, or otherwise taking advantage of others to achieve their goals?
Some see power as evil, unless they have it. Power does not have to be evil. It can be very good, if used properly. Of course, it can be evil if not.
How do we use power for good? We use power to empower. We use power we have achieved to empower others. For example, we use our power as parents to empower our children. How? By acting toward others in ways you would want your children to act toward others.
You see, you can tell children anything, but what you tell them won’t matter unless they see you acting the way you are telling them to act. You can tell a child to stay away from drugs, but if you are taking them yourself, chances are your children will follow your actions.
If you are an employer, you can’t expect your employees to give you their best if they believe you are not giving your best to them. They have to see you act in the way you want them to act, and you have to reward them the best way you can if they perform well.
If you are a teacher, your students will follow what you DO, more than they will follow what you TEACH. Actions are the best teacher. Students can learn from books, but they will learn best when a teacher not only acts professionally, but shows the students respect. A good teacher empowers.
Anyone can get power. Almost no one is powerless. One just has to think right, find what they need to get power, then empower.
You are just a “working person,” you say? Your current job may not give you the power you want, but there are many ways outside of your job that you can gain power. For one of the best, visit www.bign.com/pbilodeau. You may find the classic tool to not only give you power, but give you the power to empower.
We all believe that if we had the power, we would use it wisely, and for the benefit of others. For some, achieving power changes them for the worse. Still others who gain power change for the better.
Some who gain power just want more of it, and will do what they must to get it. Others who gain power just want to give themselves to others and empower.
If you had power, would you distribute it or hoard it? Doing the latter could eventually come back to bury you. Doing the former could change the world for the better.
To paraphrase an adage, power can corrupt. Absolute power can corrupt absolutely. But the opposite can also be true. Power can enhance. Absolute power can enhance absolutely. It all depends who has it.
Peter