A Not So Bold Plan

President Obama came to St Paul to propose an aggressive new investment in transportation infrastructure, $300B over 4 years.  It was a good show that messed up traffic throughout the city, which was only fitting.  That increase of $75B per year comes on top of the current $48B per year, or a 150% increase.  It’s needed, and as we’ve noted before investments in infrastructure have a great payback for the economy.

But what’s new about this is that the money to pay for it is to come from an overhaul of the corporate tax system, which is also badly needed.  The details have yet to be announced, but the overall hike is $150B per year, with half going to infrastructure and the rest to deficit reduction.   So what’s not to like about this plan?

It’s a half-step at best, and in so many ways.

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6 Myths About the Economy

If you pay attention to social media, or even just talk amongst your friends, you may have heard some awful things about the economy.  Many people, Republican and Democrat, are convinced that things are simply not improving.  The feeling tends to be stronger among Republicans, especially Tea Partiers, who believe that socialist policies are still killing us.  But the mood crosses party lines rather fluidly.

It boils down to six persistent myths about our economy today.  Some are based on old news, taken from horror stories from the depths of this depression around 2010.  Some are simply wrong.  But all of them reinforce the emotional reason why this is indeed a depression, a dark feeling shared across society.  It’s also rather wrong.  Let’s run them down.

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Talking to Teens

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with a number of young people recently.  The  Robotics League team at Great River School are a dedicated and smart group of kids with extraordinary skills at times.  They make things happen.

Learning about them as people has been a terrific joy for me, too.  I’ve learned a bit about how to motivate the next generation of adults and what they are capable of.  I’d like to share my experiences and ask your opinions, too.

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Jobs, Now (!)

Where are the jobs? There is no doubt that the lack of full employment is holding the economy back more than anything else. Money in the hands of working people tends to turn over very quickly, since so many people live paycheck to paycheck, so when the poorest are pinched the effects are much bigger than their comparatively low wealth might suggest. Given the system we have, nothing will change that quicker than a lot more work for quickening hearts, strong arms, and active minds.  Work is always the source of all wealth.

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Managing Innovation

My laptop died.  I’m sorry, but I have to resort to a repeat for today while I sort things out.

What does the future hold?  The job is often left to Futurists, which is nice work if you can get it.  Then again, we still don’t really have flying cars, do we?  It’s always hard to predict just what will happen as technologies advance, and by that I mean a lot more than just information technology.  There’s still a lot to be done with advanced materials, machining, finance, and other more mundane things.

We have determined in Barataria that as the world’s population grows richer, more uniformly, working age populations are going to stabilize and even decline in the next two decades.  That means that future growth will come not from more workers but from new technologies.  That puts pressure on the Futurists, for sure, but it puts even more pressure on the delicate art of managing innovation – the process of rendering a bit of magic into practical use.  It’s a topic worth exploring.

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A Humbling Cold

(The Sage) knows he makes no fine display,
and wears rough clothes, not finery.
It is not in his expectancy of men
that they should understand his ways,
for he carries his jade within his heart.
– Tao Te Ching 70 (Rosenthal)

The short, hunched figure marched with purpose. The weather bent us both down, compelled our gaze towards cautious feet and the treacherous lack of grip underneath them. It was only a casual glance that saw the short red coat and hood approaching as I wondered who else might be out making their own time down the sidewalk. A child? A friend? Anyone I knew?

When the figure was close I could see it was an older woman. It wasn’t until she was close that I could make out anything about her even as we both concentrated on our chilling task, the path from here to there. I smiled a quick “Hello!” and she said as much back as we passed, still a stranger if also a comrade in purpose. But we were both anonymous in our shields against the cold that might catch up if we had stopped for any more than a word. The weather itself had rendered us equal, distant, and humble.

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Union, Yes! (maybe)

The workers at the plant are voting on whether or not to join a union. The vote is controversial, setting the company and local politicians at odds with each other in a bitter struggle playing out in the press and even on billboards around town. If you think you’ve seen this story before, hold on a moment.

In Chattanooga Tennessee the workers are finishing up voting to possibly join the United Auto Workers (UAW) today. Volkswagen, the owner of the plant, has no official position on the vote but were the ones who initiated the process last October. The opposition comes from local officials who are terrified of unions coming in. They’ve made it clear that if the UAW successfully organizes the plant they will cut off all future tax breaks and generally make life difficult for VW. Welcome to a new world of global companies meeting the strange cultural war of the USA in 2014.

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