Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Case Against More Redistribution: It's Redistributive INjustice

Caught up in the passion of the civil rights era, I quit a medical research position at the prestigious Rockefeller University to become a drug counselor in an inner-city New York City junior high school.

There, I used every IQ point, every bit of passion and drive I had, to help those kids. Yet after two years, feeling I hadn't made much difference, I quit.

I blamed myself and hoped that if I learned more, I'd be more effective. So I went and got a PhD from Berkeley with two specializations: educational psychology and the evaluation of innovation. Alas, I found the educational psychology tools puny, unlikely to make much difference with low achievers. And my evaluation training made clear to me that efforts to help the at-risk have--despite politicians' and advocates' rhetoric--made no significant enduring difference, with Head Start being a prime example, not withstanding politicians' rhetoric to the contrary.

After completing the PhD, I did take one more good shot at helping the disadvantaged. For three years, I taught inner-city kids in predominantly low-income Richmond, CA but quit when again, despite most of my students insisting I was the best teacher they ever had, I felt I made no enduring difference, certainly less than if I had directed my efforts to helping people who faced less daunting obstacles.

Since then, I've been career and personal coach to 4,000 less problemed people and am confident I've more abetted their lives and, in turn, society than if I had spent my career helping "the least among us."

Alas, today it seems that society's core belief is that we must redistribute yet more human and fiscal resources to the have-nots. Every time financially prudent countries bail out countries that lived beyond their means like Greece, every time we pass a law to help low achievers, every time we donate to a nonprofit that helps the illiterate, every time we choose to devote our career to the less fortunate, we are practicing redistribution. A few more specific manifestations: No Child Left Behind, affirmative action, progressive taxation ((The top 5% already pay 59% of the federal income tax.) , Disparate Impact legal theory, the World Bank, foreign aid to developing nations, choosing a career as a social worker, in public administration, as public health nurse, executive in an anti-poverty program, etc.

While well intentioned, I believe that such choices are short-term feel-goods that, long-term, are worse for society than if the human and financial resources were invested elsewhere. As every triage medic knows, when you have limited resources and time, you save more lives if you focus not on the worst cases but on those with greater potential to benefit. 

A civilized society should provide a basic safety net for all people but we've gone well beyond that and the trend is to go much further still. 

For example, consider the wisdom of spending yet more of our tax dollars on yet another education "innovation," job retraining program, or extending 99-week unemployment checks to more people. I believe that less societal benefit will accrue from such investments than for example, from investing in top biotech companies. In the latter, some of that investment will go to developing cures for diseases afflicting enormous numbers of people and their families. With regard, for example, to extending unemployment checks, every time they do it, most of my clients become less motivated to look for work: "I'll start looking when my unemployment checks are close to running out." Not one has said they feel bad about taxpayers subsidizing their sitting around.

Even the disadvantaged would ultimately benefit more from investment in high-quality companies. More innovation leads to more jobs, more cures, more quality of life enhancers. Today, even most of the poor have access to life-saving medication, televisions, a cell phone, the Internet and Google.

There's an additional negative side effect of redistribution. One of psychology's most agreed-on postulates is that you get more of what you reward, less of what you punish. If we punish successful people by forcibly taking money from them (that is what taxation is) to give to a pool of people who, net, contribute less to society, we'll get fewer societal contributors to and more takers. Can it ultimately be good for society for people to feel they have the right to take a "fair share" of what other people have earned? Yet that is the message of liberals, the 99ers, The Occupiers, etc.

I invite you to reconsider the wisdom of today's largely unquestioned core belief--that it's wisest to redistribute yet more from the haves to the have-nots. Beyond providing a basic safety net,I believe it's wiser to invest additional time and money in what will make the biggest difference: for example, in Apple than in the at-risk. 

Thus, net, I believe that additional redistributive "justice," is redistributive injustice.

1,000 of Dr. Nemko's published writings and sometimes controversial blog are are on www.martynemko.com. His 6th and 7th books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school  and What's the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America

Monday, June 25, 2012

Shoestring Businesses: Low-Risk, High-Payoff Ideas

I thought you might enjoy an advance look at my next column in the Mensa publication, The Intelligencer.  

It is an adapted excerpt from my book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school.

Shoestring Businesses
No-Brainer Businesses that Can Make a Smart Person Rich

When I look back on all my clients, two things most often keep smart people from succeeding in business: the urge to innovate and the desire for status.

Don't innovate; replicate

Smart people love coming up with ideas. Alas, even Mensans' new ideas are more likely to fail than are proven ones because, for example:
  • The market doesn't like it
  • The market stops liking it before you've recouped your investment, let alone made enough money
  • The new product or service works less well than you'd hoped
  • The R&D costs of an innovation eat too much profit.
That's why guinea pigs so often die, why the leading edge so often turns out to be the bleeding edge. Deep-pocketed corporations can afford to risk innovations--they make profit even if only a fraction succeed. But last I checked, your pockets aren't that deep, so you need to maximize your chance of success on Try One. 

You're more likely to do that by replicating a proven business that costs little to start, what I call a shoestring business. That way, even if you fail, you may have money left for a second shot. It is an MBA-program-promulgated canard that you need money to make money. Below, I'll offer a half-dozen examples of proven shoestring businesses that require only a small investment.

But you protest, "When you replicate, you have lots of competitors!" That's okay. Take, for example, gourmet food trucks. There are a zillion already but here's how you could well succeed with number zillion and one: Play detective at a half-dozen that have long lines: Incorporate their best features into your truck, buy your equipment used, for less than half price, from one of the many failed food truck businesses, open up shop it in a great location, and your chances of success are far greater than if you try to come up with a winner out of thin air.

Note: In choosing a retail business, you accrue the advantage of being able to see which ones are successful and incorporate their best ideas into yours.

Status is the enemy of success

If you choose to start a high-status business, for example in high-tech, biotech, etc., you're competing with very capable people. In contrast, if you start what The Millionaire Next Door author Thomas Stanley calls a dull-normal business, your competition is more likely to have a two-digit IQ. That, of course, makes you more likely to succeed. 

Here are examples of low-cost, weak-competition businesses that also bear little risk of going out of style. Of course, you needn't do the low-level work yourself. These days, you can hire good people for $10-15 an hour.
  • Diesel repair shop 
  • Help singles write relationship ads. Photograph them for their profile.
  • Mobile home park cleaning service
  • Clean out basements and garages, then install shelves and cabinets. 
  • Install and remove home-for-sale lawn signs
  • Place and maintain laundry machines in apartment buildings
  • Own well-located carts selling food, flowers, scarves, knockoff- designer purses, French soap, sandwiches, or coffee.
Let's flesh out the latter. Let's say I wanted to start a business selling soup from a cart emblazoned with a catchy name like Souper! I'd take the time to find a great location: next to a train station, stadium, big-box store, movie theater, office high-rise, or other high foot-traffic area. Or even better, I'd make it mobile, for example, park it in front of a high school or college at lunchtime, move it next to a movie theatre for the evening, and near a stadium on Game Days. A cart business requires minimal rent, offers high profit margin, is a simple business, and isn’t a fad--soup, nor soap, nor flowers, nor coffee, are going out of style. Worried about its lack of status? You can tell your status-impressed friends that you're the president and CEO of the California Cappuccino Corporation, with branches throughout the state.

The secret to wealth: cloning

You may be thinking, "But I can't make enough money from such a simple business." You certainly could. Key is to clone it. For example, the simplest business I can think of is a shoeshine stand. Of course, I'd locate the stand on a high-foot-traffic street where people wear lots of leather shoes, for example, San Francisco's financial district. The stand would have prominent signage with a catchy name like Dianne FineShine. Once I learned the art and business of shoeshining, I'd set up a trusted friend with a clone of that shoeshine stand, asking for a small percentage of sales. I'd keep cloning Dianne until I was making enough money. 

A Three-Point Plan for a Better America

Here's the three-point plan I wish a presidential candidate would propose for rebuilding America:

1. W.P.A.-like jobs for the people unlikely to be sustainably employed in the private sector, paid for by dramatic cuts in the size of government.

2. Ethical entrepreneurship as the "4th R." which would create jobs and boost the economy. To reduce environmental degradation, the emphasis should be on creating businesses that provide services rather than products.

3. Teaching people to live less materialistically.  

This is a distillation of ideas from my new book, What's the Big Idea?: 39 Reinventions for a Better America. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Finding a Job in Tough Times: Keynote address at Lighthouse for the Blind's annual conference

I gave the keynote address at the Lighthouse for the Blind's annual conference. Here is the video of it.

It contains as many lessons for the sighted as for the blind.

And I reveal quite a bit about me personally, including negatives.

Seven Blunders of the World

1. Wealth without work

 Pleasure without conscience

3. Knowledge without character

 Commerce without morality

 Science without humanity

 Worship without sacrifice

 Politics without principle

—Mahatma Gandhi

America's Most Overrated Product: Higher Education. A Redux

A friend, Scott Lubbock, sent me one of many notes I've received that describe college graduates's unemployability. (Not to mention the half that drop out.)

He writes of his college-graduate son: "He's not much more employable beyond the restaurant work he has done the past five years."  Scott included a June 2012, Harper's column excoriating colleges.

I responded with this:

Beyond the dollar cost, one of higher ed's enormous underconsidered costs is the opportunity cost: what your son could have been doing with his time if he wasn't at college being taught and not remembering endless arcana in that four-to-six-year-long summer camp we call college. 

Then there's the decrement to self-esteem that accrues from not understanding significant percentages of what those brilliant esoterica-obsessed, often poor-communicating professors teach.

Yes, I agree with much of the Harper's article but it downplays how the government's continuing to raise the amount of taxpayer-funded financial aid encourages colleges to raise tuition more. Colleges think, "Ooh good, the government is providing more financial aid, so now we can raise tuition more."  If government provided no aid, colleges would be forced to reduce their prices because far fewer than the 70% of high school graduates who now attend college could afford to pay their sticker price. Can anyone reasonably think it requires anywhere near $100,000 of student money to educate a student for four years at U of O on top of the enormous taxpayer-paid subsidies that it gives to public universities? Could it cost anywhere near $250,000 that brand-name private colleges charge a student? (And private colleges too receive tremendous amounts of government financial aid.)

Higher ed is business at its worst--a horribly overpriced product providing remarkably little value other than the piece of paper, with unconscionably little and usually hidden information on total four- and six-year charges, let alone how little students actually benefit in learning and employability. 

I do like the article's only slightly tongue-in-cheek summary of the conservatives' view of higher ed:
 College is a gilded re-education camp, where innocent children of the entrepreneurial class are turned into brainwashed Maoist cadres, chanting slogans and grinding away the hours in a sexual frolic. The university's scholarly departments they believe are filled with political extremists; its graduates are snobs; its concern with diversity is a form of censorship; its scientists tell lies to further the "global warming" power grab.
The best antidotes to higher education's robbing and damaging our children, our future, would be to educate the high school counselors about alternatives to that ripoff, yes ripoff, we call college, and to force colleges to provide consumer information, just as we require food to contain nutritional information and tires to bear a report card in its sidewall.

Indeed, I strongly advocate colleges continuing to receive our taxpayer-paid largesse only if they post on their home page a consumerist College Report Card that would shine a light on how much people actually pay for how little. One of my TheAtlantic.com columns makes that case. Click HERE to read it.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

On Father's Day, An Ode to Men

To the blue-collar men, who, to earn extra money to support themselves and their families, forgo a comfortable desk job in favor of jobs few would do: from cleaning our sewers so we can flush our toilets and eradicating rats from our basement so we don't get diseases to precariously trying to stop our roofs from leaking.

To the men who protect us. For example, the media is careful to call firefighters "firefighters" rather than "firemen" but I've now looked at dozens of photos of the firefighters attempting to stop the 55,000-acre Colorado fire. All are men. And in the 9/11 terrorist attack, 343 fire (ahem) fighters died. All were men.  

To the white-collar men who, to earn extra money to support themselves and their families, endure long, difficult technical training and/or uproot themselves to some God-forsaken place every few years.

To the professional men like physicians who, to earn more money for themselves and their families, choose a high-stress, highly demanding specialty such as surgery, where they often must be awakened in the middle of the night for an emergency surgery rather than choose one of the more pleasant specialties with regular hours like pediatrics or general practice.

To the men who serve and die in the military. Their modest extra combat pay doesn't compensate for the risk. Although the media is careful to always say the men and women serving in the military, 98% of the military deaths are men.

Yes, women earn 77 cents on the dollar, but there are reasons other than "We live in a sexist patriarchy that suppresses women."

To all the hard-working men that must endure the media's and colleges' endlessly portraying men as overpaid and inferior to women, today on Father's Day at least, and at least from this writer, I salute you.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Low-Risk, High-Potential Businesses You Can Start

Here's another adaptation from my new book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school.

This is an excerpt from the section on starting a business.

Some of you might prefer watching me paraphrase the section while others would just rather read the text. If you're the latter, just scroll down and you'll see the transcript.

Here's the transcript:

Consider running a business that doesn't require the cost of a storefront, for example: Help people write their relationship ads mobile auto repair or detailing, write e-books on hot topics found on google.com/trends, or do niche coaching--for example, dating, money, menopause, end-of-life..

I especially like cart and truck businesses: the costs are low and, with some effort, you can get a great location. Why not locate a cart or truck selling coffee and dessert, soup, scarves, or gift baskets of soaps or gourmet sandwiches and salads: next to a train station, stadium, supermarket, movie theater, office high-rise, or other high foot-traffic area?

Cart and truck businesses require minimal rent, offer high profit margin, are simple so there's less to go wrong, and aren't fads: Coffee, soup, scarves,  nor soap are going out of style.

Worry that a single cart or truck won't make enough money? Once you have your first one working well, simply clone it in other locations until you've made all the money you need. But don't get greedy and have too many branches: it'll be tough to maintain the quality.

Are worried about a cart or truck business's lack of status? You can, for example, tell people you're the president and CEO of the Central Cappuccino Corporation, with branches throughout Chicagoland.

As I said, that's a little excerpt from my new book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school. The book offers not-obvious yet important ideas on career, relationships, physical health, emotional health, education, even life's big questions. I hope you'll check it out on Amazon.

Resume Writers Should Go Extinct

Here is another adaptation from my just-published book, What's the Big Idea? Reinventions for a better America.

This idea is related to my own field: career counseling  After a quarter century in the profession, I have reservations about it. The book presents a reinvention of the profession but here I'll focus just on one aspect:

I believe that career counselors are unethical when they help people with their resume.

I admit to occasionally having done so myself , for example, when it's a client I believe would be excellent in his target job but his work history wouldn't show that. I'm aware that's still somewhat unethical but, like all of us, I'm human.

Here is a 2-minute video of me making that argument Others might prefer just to read the text, so I append an enhanced transcript below.

Here's an enhanced transcript of what I said:

In deciding whom to interview, employers are wise to use resumes not just to see candidates' work history but to compare candidates' ability to think, organize, and clearly present information.

Those are key to so many jobs. (Of course, not truck driver, ditch digger, etc.) So when someone uses someone else to write or even edit their resume, it's of course, unfair to candidates that wrote their own resume.

A resume writer also is unfair to the employer, who used that resume as part of the hiring decision, thus making it more likely the employer will be saddled with a worse employee than s/he otherwise would have hired.

A resume writer also is unfair to the coworkers on that job, who are forced to work with a worse person than if a resume writer didn't commit the subterfuge.

And ultimately, a resume writer is unfair to society, because when the best candidates are not hired, we all suffer worse products and services.

If using a professional to write or even edit a resume were ethical, why do resume writers never credit their work on their clients' resumes?

The suggestion that America would be better if resume writers went extinct is one of  hundreds of ideas in my just-published book, What's the Big Idea?: Reinventions for a better America. I hope you'll check it out on Amazon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our Approach to Men, Reinvented. Special for Father's Day

I believe this is my best article on men, Our Approach to Men, Reinvented

It makes the case that today, men are treated as though the women's movement never occurred. In everything from college to employment, divorce law to health care, men are treated far worse than, on the merits, they deserve.

And statistics such as "women earn 77 cents on the dollar" are so very misleading.

HERE is another link to it.  It's from my just-published book, What's the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America..

A reader emailed me urging me to write a shorter version,. I believe that, given the issue's importance, and it being contrary to conventional wisdom, a thorough approach is required. But for those that would appreciate something shorter, here it is:


A Father's Day cover story in The Atlantic was The End of Men. Its core contention: men are better suited for the Neanderthal Era: "Maybe they're (men) are like those frogs--they're more vulnerable or something, so they've gotten deformed."

And colleges are rejecting we frogs. In 1960: college degree holders were 61% men, 39% women.. Today, it's 60% women, 40% men. Yet where's the affirmative action for men? Nowhere. Worse, countless scholarships are set aside for women, few for men. And student groups are funded for women, for example, future businesswoman groups, far fewer for men.

So it's not surprising that men's unemployment rate is higher than women's. So many young men are back living with their parents, stoned and/or playing video games while the young women are launching their careers.

"But women earn 77 cents on the dollar!" A most misleading statistic
There are fair reasons why men are paid more. For example, among people claiming to work full time, men work six hours a week longer and work for more continuous years and so are paid more. Ninety-two percent of workplace deaths and severe workplace injuries (e.g., amputations, black lung disease) occur to men, so they get paid more for choosing dangerous work.

Even when men earn more than women in the same profession, there are reasons other than sexism. For example, men physicians earn more but that's because men are more likely to choose specialties such as surgery or cardiology which are higher-stress, have more irregular hours, and require longer residencies, while women are more likely to choose pediatrics and general practice.

A rich research literature documents that for the same work, women earn virtually the same as men, for example, THIS from the New York Times, THIS from the Wall Street Journal, THIS from Compensation Cafe, and THIS from City Journal. Alas, the media chooses to ignore all that in favor of the broadbrush, "Women earn 77 cents on the dollar."

Today's unfair policies and practices
The government deliberately exacerbates men's unemployment deficit. For example, government pressures businesses to have "targets," virtual quotas, for women, a "protected class." Women-owned businesses receive preference in landing government contracts: See THIS.

The government protects women in the military--they can't serve in direct combat. Thus 97.5 percent of the Iraq and Afghanistan war deaths have been men. Perhaps that's surprising in light of the media's hiding that by saying "the men and women serving in Afghanistan." And is it fair that only men must register for the draft?
In workplaces, women but not men are encouraged to form committees to advance their sex, often at men's expense. Examples: mentor programs for women only, special training for women only, fast-track-to-executive position for women only
Despite unemployment higher for men than for women, "Sisters help Sisters" is not deemed sexist or grieveable, but laudatory. For example, former U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." A Google search reveals 97,700 references to it. All ten first-page results were neutral or laudatory.
Men's efforts to organize into groups have typically been ridiculed, for example, as troglodytes tromping into the woods to beat tom-toms. And men's organizations have been pressured to admit women, for example, Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions, while the long-female-only Soroptomists remains that way. Further limiting men's ability to organize, men's groups don't get the enormous free advertising the media gives to women's groups.

We're in our seventh decade of man-as-oaf media: from Ralph Kramden to Homer Simpson. Lest you think I'm cherry-picking, turn on the TV: How often is the man portrayed as superior to the woman?

Unfairness to men extends well beyond the media and workplace. For example, if a man makes the momentary error of impregnating a woman, even if she falsely claimed to be on birth control, unless she chooses to abort, he's stuck with 18 years of financial and parenting responsibility.

And what about men who need social services? Countless programs focus on women, far fewer on men, even though, for example, men's suicide rate is four times as high.

And in the worst unfairness to men, when women have a deficit, for example, they're "underrepresented" in science, we see massive redress despite the two-decade study reported in the New York Times that found that women in academic science fare as well or better than men. Yet when men have the ultimate deficit-- they live 5.2 years shorter, there's a sea of pink breast-cancer ribbons but only a trickle for prostate cancer and even less for sudden heart attack, which kills many more men and earlier. There are seven federal agencies on women's health, none for men. 39 states have offices of Women's Health, none for men.  As a result, since 1920, the average lifespan advantage of women has grown 400%!
It's simply wrong to assert that today, men, on balance, have an unfair advantage.

A plan for fairness to both sexes
It's time to:
  • end the gender-bashing, male or female, in the schools, colleges, and media.
  • end intentional discrimination against both women and men as documented in the examples above.
  •  pay due homage to men, who do so many dangerous jobs women won't do, from roofer to rodent remover, and invent the countless things women hadn't invented. And as fathers, men often provide needed counterbalance to mom's protectiveness, for example, encouraging reasonable (okay, occasionally not so reasonable) risk-taking.
  • establish Men's Studies programs at universities that don't merely parrot male-bashing women's studies programs.
  • Revere hard-working men as societal contributors, not pathologize them as "workaholics."
The ultimate irony
Despite all of the above, America is making yet more efforts to exacerbate the anti-male sexism. Last year, President Obama created a well-funded Council on Women and Girls but rejected one on men and boys. Here is that rejected proposal. (Bias alert: I am a member of the commission that created that proposal.) And in Obama's April 6, 2012 speech at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy, he reiterated his desire to focus yet more on women: "(I) look forward to continuing the important work we are doing to promote the interests of women." After all, women earn 77 cents on the dollar.

America will be better if our goal is merit-based treatment of both men and women.

Note: I was a columnist at The Atlantic and wrote a column that made the above points. My editor liked it very much and published it. But then women's advocacy and other liberal organizations pounded him--they're very good at playing Whack-a-Mole: Dare someone disagree with them, they smash him. And indeed, my editor caved and fired me. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How We Think, Reinvented. An excerpt from my book, What's the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America

Previously, I published this excerpt, How We Think, Reinvented, from my just-published book, What's the Big Idea? 39 Reinventions for a Better America, which is available on Amazon by clicking HERE.

Two readers asked if I'd make a video of me reading it. Here it is:

Finding Your Career: An excerpt from my book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school

This is an excerpt from my new book, How to Do Life: What they didn't teach you in school. This one's on how to pick a career. It distills into 500 words what I've learned from having worked with 4,000 clients.

Because some people prefer reading text while others are more visual, here is both a video of me reading it aloud. Below that is the text.

Finding Your Career
"What in the world am I good at?"

Even if you're a "grown up," it's probably not your fault if you still don't know what you want to be when you grow up. Reasonably, you assumed school would help you figure it out.

Alas, teachers and especially professors live in an ivory tower, so most are ill-suited to helping you find a career. And even if you used your school's career services, you still may be unsure of what career to pursue.

The conventional approach to finding a career is to find a career that matches your skills and interests. That often fails because:
§        None of your abilities and interests stand out from the rest.
§        Your abilities can be used on many jobs, like "people skills."
§        You identify an ability or interest unlikely to yield a decent living, for example, singing or fine-art painting.
§        A career fits your abilities and interests but somehow feels wrong.

Often, there is a better approach to finding your career:

Step 1. Scan annotated lists of careers in such guides as the Occupational Outlook Handbook, or my book, Cool Careers for Dummies

For even more under-the-radar and currently in-demand careers, use indeed.com. It lists millions of job openings, keyword-searchable. Search it using keywords you'd like to use in your work, for example, writing, analyzing, organizing, selling, or programming. Pick out the one, two, or three careers you find most intriguing.

Step 2. Google the name of that career and the word "careers," for example, "geologist careers." or "writing careers." Read a few articles that seem on-point.

Step 3. For any career that still seems interesting, search Amazon for a book on that career. In the best such books, each chapter is a different person's report on what that career is like.

Step 4. For any career that's still of interest, interview or job shadow three people in the field. (Just contacting one or two might give unrepresentative perspectives.) Find such people in the Yellow Pages, your alumni association,  on the website of the profession's professional association, for example, The American Optometric Association, or simply ask your in-person or LinkedIn and Facebook network for referrals.

Ask the person questions such as, "What's your typical day like?" "What ends up being most important for success in this career?" "Why might someone leave this career?" and "What's the best way to get training so you're excellent in this career?" 

Step 5. Not-obvious nugget: If a career still sounds good, choose it even if you're not 100 percent sure it's right. Otherwise, you're likely to be waiting for Godot. Usually, career contentment comes only after you've entered the career and, like a great-looking suit, tailored and accessorized it to fit you.

For example, career and personal coaching fit me only moderately but I now love it, largely because I adapted it to fit me: I made nonnegotiable that I'd work from home and that I'd be a more active participant in sessions than is the typical counselor who mainly just listens. Also, I stayed committed to getting better and better rather than giving up after a couple of years of mediocre performance.

Friday, June 1, 2012

My Book, What's the Big Idea?, is Now Available

My seventh book, What's the Big Idea: 39 reinventions for a better America was published today. HERE is the link to its page on Amazon.com. 

 I like to think it's a stimulating yet pleasant two-hour read. It offers fresh ideas, for example on how to reinvent education, create jobs, more wisely provide health care, even a fresh look at family. 

 Here is one of the 39 reinventions: 

 How We Select Our Leaders, Reinvented 

More and more money pours into election campaigns, heavily from special interests. That enables ever-more sophisticated Madison-Avenue types to spend a fortune on truth-obfuscating messaging to manipulate us. Today, nearly every sentence spoken by major politicians is dial focus-group tested. 

As troubling, those special interests wouldn't be pouring billions into campaigns unless they were confident it would result in politicians doing their bidding rather than what's best for us all. The following would ensure we elect better and less-corrupted leaders: 

  • All campaigns would be 100% publicly-funded. This has been proposed and rejected in the past as a denial of free speech. I believe that abridgment is far outweighed by the benefit to society. 
  • All campaigns would be just two weeks long. That would control cost and only minimally reduce voter knowledge: Most voters have long forgotten what they heard earlier about the candidates. 
  • The campaigns would consist only of one or two broadcast debates. Those would be followed by a job simulation: running a meeting. 
  • A neutral body such as C-Span or Consumers Union would post each major candidate's biographical highlights, voting record, and platform on key issues. 

 Such a system would reduce candidates' corruptibility while increasing the quality of information voters would have about the candidates. As important, better candidates would run, knowing they needn't run an endless, expensive, press-the-flesh, beholding-to-special-interests campaign. 

An even more different approach 

Our government officials would be selected, not by voting, but using passive criteria. For example, the Senate might consist of the most newly retired of the 10 largest nonprofits, a randomly selected CEO of the S&P Midcap 400, the Police Officer of America's Cop of the Year, the National Teacher of the Year, the most award-winning scientist under age 30, etc., plus random citizens. 

We’d have a more worthy and ideationally diverse group of leaders. 

  • Because there would be no campaigns, our leaders would not be beholden to big donors. 
  • The public would view such a leadership with more respect than they have for our elected candidates. 
  •  The absence of campaigns would save the public a fortune. Just our income tax form’s $3-per-person check-off box to political campaigns is projected to, over the next 10 years, cost the taxpayer $617 million[i]. 

Of course, one might argue that the incumbent politicians would never allow it. After all, the foxes are guarding the hen house. But I believe the media, equally eager to see better leaders, would urge the electorate to support candidates who would vote for a fairer selection system. 

And politicians, concerned about their place in history, will feel pressure to support the change. History would view politicians that voted themselves out of a job for the good of the nation as heroes, while no-voting politicians would be seen as self-serving obstructionists. 

Another objection is that a “Don’t Elect. Select.”-program would require a Constitutional amendment, which is no easy task, but the Constitution has already been amended 27 times. I can’t think of a more worthy reason for number 28.