July 22, 2018

Nose Pressed Up Against the Glass

You’re on the outside looking in. What you want is only a window pane away, but it might as well be on Mars. Novelist Maria E. Andreu captures the feeling:

“There is a wonderful scene in the 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights . . . in which Heathcliff and Catherine sneak on to the grounds of the Linton house at night. The Lintons, the rich neighbors, are having a grand party. Heathcliff and Catherine watch through the window, unseen. It’s exactly what’s meant by ‘nose pressed up against the glass,’ watching but not being able to participate.

“You can see a lot in their faces as they watch the others dance. Catherine, the daughter of a landed ‘gentleman,’ gets a look that lets you know that she’s intrigued, beginning to want to let go of her wild childhood and take her place in the Lintons’ world. Healthcliff, the servant who adores Catherine, knows that even if he could stop being poor, he would never belong there. He will always be watching from outside the glass.”

Nose pressed up against the glass — it’s an enduring image in literature and in life. Ms. Andreu continues:

I’ve thought about this scene a lot. I’ve used the image in my writing. It illustrates how I’ve felt sometimes, able to see ‘the good life’ but not able to live it. Most of my life, the Heathcliff in me has weighed heavy inside my heart.

But then one day the magic happened, and suddenly she found herself transported to the other side of the window pane:

Yesterday, I got a rave review for my novel that comes out in a month and a half. In my email, I got an invitation to a launch party for another author’s book. I packed to go to a book signing and remembered I needed an extra outfit for an industry cocktail party and the ‘members only’ dinner afterwards with people from my publishing house.

If that’s not being inside the party, I don’t know what is.

Someone has opened the door of the party for some fresh air, seen me lurking, and extended a hand of friendship to let me in. It is an unbelievable feeling. I live a life of impossible splendor, of magical beauty, of infinite luck. And I am so deeply grateful.

We’d feel the same way, if we ever got so lucky. (Assuming we’ve been working hard enough to get lucky — here’s The Quote Investigator on where that saying came from.)

In economic terms, the distance between Heathcliff and the Lintons is a matter of social capital. Ryan Avent, author of The Wealth of Humans, distinguishes between human capital and social capital. Human capital, he says, is a particularly focused and useful form of knowledge that an individual gains through education, hard work, experience, on-the-job training, etc. It’s the hard work part of the formula. Social capital, on the other hand, is the opportunity part, and it’s not just personal, it’s cultural. Avent says it’s “like human capital . . . but is only valuable in particular contexts, within which a critical mass of others share the same social capital.”

For those not already in the social capital club, converting human capital into social capital requires upward mobility. Ms. Andreu’s upward mobility moment was getting her “members only” invitation – official permission to duck under the red velvet rope and join an exclusive gathering where she could schmooze the “others [who] share the same social capital.” Heathcliff, on the other hand, never got his upward mobility moment. As a result, there wasn’t just a glass window pane between him and the Lintons, there was a glass ceiling.

Nose pressed against the glass… glass ceiling… we’ve heard those expressions before. Nowadays, another glass metaphor has entered the economic lexicon: the “glass floor, which protects the upper middle class against the risk of downward mobility.” (My emphasis. The quote is from Dream Hoarders:  How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard V. Reeves.)

Hoping to move up? Afraid of moving down? These days, it’s hard to do either. And if you’re hoping to move up, there’s one additional, elusive element required for membership in the red velvet club:  the notion of identity — the need to be the kind of person who belongs there. In this short video (click the image below), Michael Port, author of the bestseller Book Yourself Solid, asks, “What makes [red velvet rope people] who they are?” He answers that it’s “their quality, their characteristics, their personality — things that are innate, are part of who they are as people, not necessarily their circumstances.”

We’ll be looking lots more at upward mobility and social capital in the weeks to come.

 

Kevin Rhodes writes about individual growth and cultural change, drawing on insights from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, psychology, and personal experience, including his own unique journey to wellness — dealing with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning. Check out his latest LinkedIn Pulse article: “Rolling the Rock: Lessons From Sisyphus on Work, Working Out, and Life.”

The End of the Firm

 

“The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smallest details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing — and so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace.”

Bob Black, The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1985)

Peter Drucker’s famous dictum “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” established math and management as the indisputable co-sovereigns of the modern workplace. As it turns out, Drucker apparently never actually said that[1], but the concept has dominated the workplace since the advent of factories and railroads, telegraphs and electricity. Consider, for example, what it’s like to work at Amazon.

But, while math and management prospered together under the Industrial Revolution’s mechanistic worldview, today’s digitally-driven marketplace demands a freshly-nuanced management style, or in some cases, no management at all. Either idea challenges an even more foundational historical assumption: that commerce is best conducted by a firm that must be managed. Eliminate the firm and you eliminate the need to manage it. Get rid of both, and you have an unimaginably different “description of the modern workplace” than Bob Black wrote about 33 years ago.

Last time, we looked at an article by science writer and artificial intelligence engineer George Zarkadakis called “The Economy Is More A Messy, Fractal Living Thing Than A Machine.” In it, he says this about the firm:

Ever since the invention of the assembly line, corporations have been like medieval cities: building walls around themselves and then trading with other “cities” and consumers. Companies exist because of the need to protect production from volatile market fluctuations, and because it’s generally more efficient to consolidate the costs of getting goods and services to market by putting them together under one roof. So said the British economist Ronald Coase in his paper “The Nature of the Firm” (1937).

“Why do firms exist?” asks Ryan Avent in his book The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-First Century (2016). He provides the same answer as Zarkadakis:

According to a 1937 paper by Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase, it’s to bring all the necessary people, processes, and information under one roof, instead of contracting it all out. In exchange for the convenience of one-stop shopping, one-size-fits-all, employees trade their independence and the possibility of greater personal market returns for the firm’ management structure and financial capital, which — as long as they conform to the company culture – the way we do things around here — promises to keep them on task and to deliver a paycheck in return.

Today, however, the new “gig economy” is fast making that unimaginable the new normal — and that’s only the beginning, says Zarkadakis:

Now, in an era of Ubers-for-everything, companies are changing into platforms that enable, rather than enact, core business processes. The cost of reaching customers has dropped dramatically thanks to the ubiquity of digital networks, and production is being pushed outside the company wall, on to freelancers and self-employed contractors. Market and price fluctuations have been defanged as machine learning and predictive analytics help companies manage such ructions, and on-demand services for labour, office space and infrastructure allow them to be more responsive to changing conditions. Coase’s theory is nearing its expiry date.

The so-called “gig economy” is only the beginning of a profound economic, social and political transformation. For the moment, these new ways of working are still controlled by old-style businesses models – platforms that essentially sell “trust” via reviews and verification, or by plugging into existing financial and legal systems. Airbnb, eBay and Uber succeed in making money out of other people’s work and assets because they provide guarantees for good seller-buyer behaviour, while connecting to the “old world” of banks, courts and government. But this hybrid model of doing digital business is about to change.

Avent concurs, and describes two key dynamics of the new anti-firm business model, operating culture and rent — how a business gets things done, and whether it owns the kinds of assets it can let others use, for a price:

Current workplace trends are bidding fair to tear down the firm model of operating. If you take employees out from under the firm umbrella — make them mostly freelancers, outsource jobs to countries on the make — then what’s left of value is mostly the company’s way of getting things done and the assets for which it can charge rent, in the economic sense of billing a premium for scarce assets. How assets become scarce becomes an essential policy-making function. These become essential “intangible” or “social” capital, replacing “human” capital.]

We’ll be talking more about social capital, rent, and other changing dynamics of the workplace.


[1] According to the Drucker Institute, he never did. And see this Forbes article for a rousing condemnation of the idea.

 

Kevin Rhodes writes about individual growth and cultural change, drawing on insights from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, psychology, and personal experience, including his own unique journey to wellness — dealing with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning. Check out his latest LinkedIn Pulse article: “Rolling the Rock: Lessons From Sisyphus on Work, Working Out, and Life.”

Who Controls the World?

One fine afternoon autumn day in Cincinnati I watched transfixed as a gigantic flock of migratory birds swarmed over the woods across the street. I didn’t know it then, but I was watching a “complex, self-organizing system” in action. Schools of fish, ant colonies, human brains — and even the financial industry — all exhibit this behavior. And so does “the economy.”

James B. Glattfelder holds a Ph.D. in complex systems from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He began as a physicist, became a researcher at a Swiss hedge fund, and now does quantitative research at Olsen Ltd. in Zurich, a foreign exchange investment manager. He begins his TED Talk with two quotes about the Great Recession of 2007-2008:

When the crisis came, the serious limitations of existing economic and financial models immediately became apparent.

There is also a strong belief, which I share, that bad or over simplistic and overconfident economics helped create the crisis.

Then he tells us where they came from:

You’ve probably all heard of similar criticism coming from people who are skeptical of capitalism. But this is different. This is coming from the heart of finance. The first quote is from Jean-Claude Trichet when he was governor of the European Central Bank. The second quote is from the head of the UK Financial Services Authority. Are these people implying that we don’t understand the economic systems that drive our modern societies?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course:  yes they are, and no we don’t. As a result, nobody saw the Great Recession coming, with its layoffs carnage and near-collapse of the global economy, or its “too big to fail” bailouts and generous bonuses paid to its key players.

Glattfelder tackles what that was about, from a complex systems perspective. First, he dismisses two approaches we’ve already seen discredited.

Ideologies: “I really hope that this complexity perspective allows for some common ground to be found. It would be really great if it has the power to help end the gridlock created by conflicting ideas, which appears to be paralyzing our globalized world.  Ideas relating to finance, economics, politics, society, are very often tainted by people’s personal ideologies.  Reality is so complex, we need to move away from dogma.”

Mathematics: “You can think of physics as follows. You take a chunk of reality you want to understand and you translate it into mathematics. You encode it into equations. Then, predictions can be made and tested. But despite the success, physics has its limits. Complex systems are very hard to map into mathematical equations, so the usual physics approach doesn’t really work here.”

Then he lays out a couple key features of complex, self-organizing systems:

It turns out that what looks like complex behavior from the outside is actually the result of a few simple rules of interaction. This means you can forget about the equations and just start to understand the system by looking at the interactions.

And it gets even better, because most complex systems have this amazing property called emergence. This means that the system as a whole suddenly starts to show a behavior which cannot be understood or predicted by looking at the components. The whole is literally more than the sum of its parts.

Applying this to the financial industry, he describes how his firm studied the Great Recession by analyzing a database of controlling shareholder interests in 43,000 transnational corporations (TNCs). That analysis netted over 600,000 “nodes” of ownership, and over a million connections among them. Then came the revelation:

It turns out that the 737 top shareholders have the potential to collectively control 80 percent of the TNCs’ value. Now remember, we started out with 600,000 nodes, so these 737 top players make up a bit more than 0.1 percent. They’re mostly financial institutions in the US and the UK. And it gets even more extreme. There are 146 top players in the core, and they together have the potential to collectively control 40 percent of the TNCs’ value.

737 or 146 shareholders — “mostly financial institutions in the U.S. and the U.K.” — had the power to control 80% or 40% of the value of 43,000 multinational corporations. And those few hundreds — for their own accounts and through the entities they controlled — bought securitized sub-prime mortgages until the market imploded and nearly brought down the global economy valued in the tens of trillions dollars — giving a whole new meaning to the concept of financial leverage. In what might be the economic understatement of the 21st Century, Glattfelder concludes:

This high level of concentrated ownership means these elite owners possess an enormous amount of leverage over financial risk worldwide. The high degree of control you saw is very extreme by any standard. The high degree of interconnectivity of the top players in the core could pose a significant systemic risk to the global economy.

It took a lot of brute number-crunching computer power and some slick machine intelligence to generate all of that, but in the end there’s an innate simplicity to it all. He concludes:

[The TNC network of ownership is] an emergent property which depends on the rules of interaction in the system. We could easily reproduce [it] with a few simple rules.

The same is true of the mesmerizing flock of birds I watched that day; here’s a YouTube explanation of the three simple rules that explain it[1].


[1] What I saw was a “murmuration” of birds — see this YouTube video for an example. It is explained by a form of complex system analysis  known as “swarm behavior.”

 

Kevin Rhodes writes about individual growth and cultural change, drawing on insights from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, psychology, and personal experience, including his own unique journey to wellness — dealing with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning. Check out his latest LinkedIn Pulse article: “Rolling the Rock: Lessons From Sisyphus on Work, Working Out, and Life.”

Reframing “The Economy”

We’ve seen that conventional thinking about “the economy” struggles to accommodate technologies such as machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence — which means it’s ripe for a big dose of reframing. Reframing is a problem-solving strategy that flips our usual ways of thinking so that blind spots are revealed, conundrums resolved, polarities synthesized, and barriers transformed into logistics.

The Santa Fe Institute is on the reframing case: Rolling Stone called it “a sort of Justice League of renegade geeks, where teams of scientists from disparate fields study the Big Questions.” W. Brian Arthur is one of those geeks. He’s also onboard with PARC — a Xerox company in “the business of breakthroughs” — and has written two seminal books on complexity economics: Complexity and the Economy (2014) and The Nature of Technology: What it Is and How it Evolves (2009). Here’s his pitch for reframing “the economy”:

The standard way to define the economy — whether in dictionaries or economics textbooks — is as a “system of production and distribution and consumption” of goods and services. And we picture this system, “the economy,” as something that exists in itself, as a backdrop to the events and adjustments that occur within it. Seen this way, the economy becomes something like a gigantic container . . . , a huge machine with many modules or parts.

I want to look at the economy in a different way. The shift in thinking I am putting forward here is . . . like seeing the mind not as a container for its concepts and habitual thought processes but as something that emerges from these. Or seeing an ecology not as containing a collection of biological species, but as forming from its collection of species. So it is with the economy.

The economy is a set of activities and behaviors and flows of goods and services mediated by — draped over — its technologies: the of arrangements and activities by which a society satisfies its needs. They include hospitals and surgical procedures. And markets and pricing systems. And trading arrangements, distribution systems, organizations, and businesses. And financial systems, banks, regulatory systems, and legal systems. All these are arrangements by which we fulfill our needs, all are means to fulfill human purposes.

George Zarkadakis is another Big Questions geek. He’s an artificial intelligence Ph.D. and engineer, and the author of In Our Own Image: Savior or Destroyer? The History and Future of Artificial Intelligence (2016). He describes his complexity economics reframe in a recent article “The Economy Is More A Messy, Fractal Living Thing Than A Machine”:

Mainstream economics is built on the premise that the economy is a machine-like system operating at equilibrium. According to this idea, individual actors – such as companies, government departments and consumers – behave in a rational way. The system might experience shocks, but the result of all these minute decisions is that the economy eventually works its way back to a stable state.

Unfortunately, this naive approach prevents us from coming to terms with the profound consequences of machine learning, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Both political camps accept a version of the elegant premise of economic equilibrium, which inclines them to a deterministic, linear way of thinking. But why not look at the economy in terms of the messy complexity of natural systems, such as the fractal growth of living organisms or the frantic jive of atoms?

These frameworks are bigger than the sum of their parts, in that you can’t predict the behaviour of the whole by studying the step-by-step movement of each individual bit. The underlying rules might be simple, but what emerges is inherently dynamic, chaotic and somehow self-organising.

Complexity economics takes its cue from these systems, and creates computational models of artificial worlds in which the actors display a more symbiotic and changeable relationship to their environments. Seen in this light, the economy becomes a pattern of continuous motion, emerging from numerous interactions. The shape of the pattern influences the behaviour of the agents within it, which in turn influences the shape of the pattern, and so on.

There’s a stark contrast between the classical notion of equilibrium and the complex-systems perspective. The former assumes rational agents with near-perfect knowledge, while the latter recognises that agents are limited in various ways, and that their behaviour is contingent on the outcomes of their previous actions. Most significantly, complexity economics recognises that the system itself constantly changes and evolves – including when new technologies upend the rules of the game.

That’s all pretty heady stuff, but what we’d really like to know is what complexity economics can tell us that conventional economics can’t.

We’ll look at that next time.

 

Kevin Rhodes writes about individual growth and cultural change, drawing on insights from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, psychology, and personal experience, including his own unique journey to wellness — dealing with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning. Check out his latest LinkedIn Pulse article: “Rolling the Rock: Lessons From Sisyphus on Work, Working Out, and Life.”

What is “The Economy” Anyway?

Throughout this series, we’ve heard from numerous commentators who believe that conventional economic thinking isn’t keeping pace with the technological revolution, and that polarized ideological posturing is preventing the kind of open-minded discourse we need to reframe our thinking.

In this short TED talk, the author[1] of Americana: A Four Hundred Year History of American Capitalism suggests that we unplug the ideological debate and instead adopt a less combative and more digital-friendly metaphor for how we talk about the economy:

Capitalism . . . is this either celebrated term or condemned term. It’s either revered or it’s reviled. And I’m here to argue that this is because capitalism, in the modern iteration, is largely misunderstood.

In my view, capitalism should not be thought of as an ideology, but instead should be thought of as an operating system.

When you think about it as an operating system, it devolves the language of ideology away from what traditional defenders of capitalism think.

The operating system metaphor shifts policy agendas away from ideology and instead invites us to consider the economy as something that needs to be continually updated:

As you have advances in hardware, you have advances in software. And the operating system needs to keep up. It needs to be patched, it needs to be updated, new releases have to happen. And all of these things have to happen symbiotically. The operating system needs to keep getting more and more advanced to keep up with innovation.

But what if the operating system has gotten too complex for the human mind to comprehend? This recent article from the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado[2] observes that “Human ingenuity has created a world that the mind cannot master,” then asks, “Have we finally reached our limits?” The question telegraphs its answer: In many respects, yes we have. Consider, for example, the air Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) that’s responsible for keeping us safe when we fly:

TCAS alerts pilots to potential hazards, and tells them how to respond by using a series of complicated rules. In fact, this set of rules — developed over decades — is so complex, perhaps only a handful of individuals alive even understand it anymore.

While the problem of avoiding collisions is itself a complex question, the system we’ve built to handle this problem has essentially become too complicated for us to understand, and even experts sometimes react with surprise to its behaviour. This escalating complexity points to a larger phenomenon in modern life. When the systems designed to save our lives are hard to grasp, we have reached a technological threshold that bears examining.

It’s one thing to recognise that technology continues to grow more complex, making the task of the experts who build and maintain our systems more complicated still, but it’s quite another to recognise that many of these systems are actually no longer completely understandable.

The article cites numerous other impossibly complex systems, including the law:

Even our legal systems have grown irreconcilably messy. The US Code, itself a kind of technology, is more than 22 million words long and contains more than 80,000 links within it, between one section and another. This vast legal network is profoundly complicated, the functionality of which no person could understand in its entirety.

In an earlier book[3], Steven Pinker, author of the recent optimistic bestseller Enlightenment Now (check back a couple posts in this series) suggests that the human brain just isn’t equipped for the complexity required of modern life:

Maybe philosophical problems are hard not because they are divine or irreducible or workaday science, but because the mind of Homo Sapiens lacks the cognitive equipment to solve them. We are organisms, not angels, and our minds are organs, not pipelines to the truth. Our minds evolved by natural selection to solve problems that were life-and-death matters to our ancestors, not to commune with correctness or to answer any question we are capable of asking.

In other words, we have our limits.

Imagine that.

So then… where do we turn for appropriately complex economic thinking? According to “complexity economics,” we turn to the source: the economy itself, understood not by reference to historical theory or newly updated metaphor, but on its own data-rich and machine-intelligent terms.

We’ll go there next time.


[1] According to his TED bio, Bhu Srinivasan “researches the intersection of capitalism and technological progress.”

[2] Samuel Arbesman is the author. The Center’s mission is to “propel the future of technology policy and innovation.”

[3] How The Brain Works, which Pinker wrote in 1997 when he was a professor of psychology and director of The Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at MIT.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!

Economics + Math = Science?

The human brain is wired to recognize patterns, which it then organizes into higher level models and theories and beliefs, which in turn it uses to explain the past and present, and to predict the future. Models offer the consolation of rationality and understanding, which provide a sense of control. All of this is foundational to classical economic theory, which assumes we approach commerce equipped with an internal rational scale that weighs supply and demand, cost and benefit, and that we then act according to our assessment of what we give for what we get back. This assumption of an internal calculus has caused mathematical modeling to reign supreme in the practice of economics.

The trouble is, humans aren’t as innately calculating as classical economics would like to believe — so says David Graeber, professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, in his new book Bullshit Jobs:

According to classical economic theory, homo oeconomicus, or “economic man” — that is, the model human being that lies behind every predication made by the discipline — is assumed to be motivated by a calculus of costs and benefits.

All the mathematical equations by which economists bedazzle their clients, or the public, are founded on one simple assumption: that everyone, left to his own devices, will choose the course of action that provides the most of what he wants for the least expenditure of resources and effort.

It is the simplicity of the formula that makes the equations possible: if one were to admit that humans have complicated emotions, there would be too many factors to take into account, it would be impossible to weigh them, and predictions would not be made.

Therefore, while an economist will say that while of course everyone is aware that human beings are not really selfish, calculating machines, assuming they are makes it possible to explain.

This is a reasonable statement as far as it goes. The problem is there are many dimensions of human life where the assumption clearly doesn’t hold — and some of them are precisely in the domain of what we like to call the economy.

Economics’ reliance on mathematics has been a topic of lively debate for a long time:

The trouble . . . is that measurement and mathematics do not guarantee the status of science – they guarantee only the semblance of science. When the presumptions or conclusions of a scientific theory are absurd or simply false, the theory ought to be questioned and, eventually, rejected. The discipline of economics, however, is presently so blinkered by the talismanic authority of mathematics that theories go overvalued and unchecked.

In 1886, an article in Science accused economics of misusing the language of the physical sciences to conceal “emptiness behind a breastwork of mathematical formulas.” More recently, Deirdre N. McCloskey’s The Rhetoric of Economics (1998) and Robert H. Nelson’s Economics as Religion (2001) both argued that mathematics in economic theory serves, in McCloskey’s words, primarily to deliver the message “Look at how very scientific I am.”

After the Great Recession, the failure of economic science to protect our economy was once again impossible to ignore. In 2009, the Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman tried to explain it in The New York Times with a version of the mathiness diagnosis. “As I see it,” he wrote, “the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth.” Krugman named economists’ “desire . . . to show off their mathematical prowess” as the “central cause of the profession’s failure.”

The result is people . . . who trust the mathematical exactitude of theories without considering their performance – that is, who confuse math with science, rationality with reality.

There is no longer any excuse for making the same mistake with economic theory. For more than a century, the public has been warned, and the way forward is clear. It’s time to stop wasting our money and recognise the high priests for what they really are: gifted social scientists who excel at producing mathematical explanations of economies, but who fail, like astrologers before them, at prophecy.

The New Astrology: By fetishising mathematical models, economists turned economics into a highly paid pseudoscience,” Aeon Magazine.

Economists may bristle at being compared to astrologers, but as we have seen, their skill at prediction seems about comparable.

In the coming weeks we’ll look at other models emerging from the digital revolution, consider what they can tell us that classical economic theory can’t, and how they are affecting the world of work.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!

Bills Signed Regarding Domestic Violence Statute of Limitations, Prohibiting Use of Criminal Convictions to Deny Employment, and More

Concerning liability limits in snow and ice removal contractsOn Wednesday, May 30, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper signed 34 bills into law. He also signed one bill on Thursday, May 31, 2018. To date, he has signed 350 bills into law this legislative session, and sent two to the Secretary of State without a signature. Some of the bills signed Wednesday and Thursday include a bill continuing the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, a bill prioritizing support for foster parents, a bill providing municipal grants to reimburse local governments for the cost of defense counsel for certain defendants, a bill to fund Colorado Water Conservation Board projects, and more. The bills signed Wednesday and Thursday are summarized here.

  • HB 18-1004 – “Concerning the Continuation of the Income Tax Credit for a Qualifying Contribution to Promote Child Care in the State,” by Reps. James Coleman & James Wilson and Sens. Jack Tate & John Kefalas. A taxpayer who makes a monetary contribution to promote child care in the state is allowed an income tax credit that is equal to 50% of the total value of the contribution. This exemption is currently available for income tax years that commence prior to January 1, 2020. The bill extends the credit for 5 years.
  • HB 18-1070 – “Concerning an Increase in the Amount of Financial Assistance that can be Provided for Public School Capital Construction Under the ‘Building Excellent Schools Today Act,’ and, in Connection Therewith, Increasing the Amount of Retail Marijuana Excise Tax Revenue that is Credited to the Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund and Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Dave Young & Cole Wist and Sens. Ray Scott & Rachel Zenzinger. Currently, the first $40 million of retail marijuana excise tax revenue annually collected is credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund for purposes of the ‘Building Excellent Schools Today Act’ and the remainder of the revenue is credited to the state public school fund.
  • HB 18-1094 – “Concerning the Reauthorization of the ‘Child Mental Health Treatment Act,’ and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Leslie Herod & Cole Wist and Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Dominick Moreno. The bill extends indefinitely the ‘Child Mental Health Treatment Act’ and renames it the ‘Children and Youth Mental Health Treatment Act’. It also makes several changes to the act.
  • HB 18-1176 – “Concerning Continuation of the Grant Program in the Department of Corrections to Provide Funding to Eligible Community-Based Organizations that Provide Reentry Services to Offenders, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Recommendations in the 2017 Report of the Department of Regulatory Agencies,” by Reps. Pete Lee & Cole Wist and Sen. John Cooke. Under current law, a grant program exists in the Department of Corrections to provide funding to eligible community-based organizations that provide reentry services to offenders. The grant program is scheduled to repeal on September 1, 2018. The bill reschedules the repeal of the grant program to September 1, 2023. The bill also provides that, in awarding grants from the grant program, the department shall release as much as one quarter of the amount annually appropriated to the grant program to an intermediary at the beginning of each fiscal year.
  • HB 18-1189 – “Concerning Pilot Programs to Expand Effective Teacher Residency Programs Across the State, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Brittany Pettersen & Lang Sias and Sens. Owen Hill & Nancy Todd. The bill creates the teacher residency expansion program in the Department of Education. The goal of the program is to identify and communicate to school districts, charter schools, and boards of cooperative services that operate public schools the best practices, effective strategies, and critical components of effective teacher residency programs and thereby facilitate expansion of the effective teacher residency programs across the state.
  • HB 18-1190 – “Concerning Modifications to the ‘Colorado Job Creation and Main Street Revitalization Act,'” by Reps. Daneya Esgar & Hugh McKean and Sens. Jack Tate & Leroy Garcia. The bill makes several modifications to the existing ‘Colorado Job Creation and Main Street Revitalization Act.’
  • HB 18-1236 – “Concerning the Continuation of the Colorado Food Systems Advisory Council, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Recommendations in the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ Sunset Report,” by Reps. Barbara McLachlin & Jon Becker and Sen. Randy Baumgardner. The bill implements the recommendations of the Department of Regulatory Agencies in its sunset review and report on the Colorado food systems advisory council by extending the council indefinitely.
  • HB 18-1267 – “Concerning an Income Tax Credit for Retrofitting a Residence to Increase the Residence’s Visitability, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Matt Gray & Hugh McKean and Sen. Jack Tate. The bill provides an income tax credit to an individual who retrofits or hires someone to retrofit the individual’s residence, and makes several specifications concerning the retrofit.
  • HB 18-1287 – “Concerning the Extension of the Repeal of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Rep. Mike Weissman and Sens. Daniel Kagan & John Cooke. Current law repeals the Colorado commission on criminal and juvenile justice, effective July 1, 2018. The bill extends the repeal date to July 1, 2023, and requires the Department of Regulatory Agencies to perform a sunset review of the commission prior to such repeal.
  • HB 18-1295 – “Concerning Modifications to the ‘Colorado Food and Drug Act’ to Allow Products Containing Industrial Hemp, and, in Connection Therewith, Establishing that Products Containing Industrial Hemp are not Adulterated or Misbranded by Virtue of Containing Industrial Hemp,” by Reps. Joseph Salazar & Daneya Esgar and Sen. Don Coram. The bill establishes that food and cosmetics are not adulterated or misbranded by virtue of containing industrial hemp. The bill also sets forth the Department of Public Health and Environment’s powers with regard to applicants and registrants engaged in, or attempting to engage in, the wholesale food selling, manufacturing, processing, or storage of an industrial hemp product, as that term is defined in the bill.
  • HB 18-1321 – “Concerning Efficient Administration of Nonemergency Medical Transportation Within the Existing Benefit under the Medical Assistance Program, and, in Connection Therewith, Making and Reducing an Appropriation,” by Reps. Hugh McKean & Jeni James Arndt and Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Dominick Moreno. The bill requires the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to create and implement a method for meeting urgent transportation needs within the existing nonemergency medical transportation benefit under the medical assistance program.
  • HB 18-1340 – “Concerning Transfers of Money to be Used for the State’s Infrastructure,” by Rep. Millie Hamner and Sen. Kent Lambert. The bill makes several transfers of money through the 2018-19 fiscal year.
  • HB 18-1346 – “Concerning Child Abuse Related to Youth who are Under the Continuing Jurisdiction of the Court in an Out-of-Home Placement when they are Younger than Twenty-one Years of Age,” by Reps. Jim Smallwood & Lois Landgraf and Sens. Jim Smallwood & John Kefalas. The bill directs the Colorado commission on criminal and juvenile justice to study the issue of institutional child abuse for children and youth in facilities operated by the department of human services. On or before July 1, 2019, the commission shall provide a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly.
  • HB 18-1348 – “Concerning Families Involved in the Child Welfare System, and, in Connection Therewith, Prioritizing Services and Providing Support for Foster Parents,” by Reps. Jonathan Singer & Lois Landgraf and Sens. Bob Gardner & John Kefalas. The bill allows foster parents access to certain information regarding a foster child or prospective foster child, including judicial information and education records. The bill requires that a county prioritize child care assistance for certified foster parents and certified kinship foster parents and for noncertified kinship care providers that provide care for children with an open child welfare case.
  • HB 18-1353 – “Concerning the Creation of a Grant Program to Reimburse Local Governments for Costs Associated with the Provision of Defense Counsel to Certain Defendants at their First Appearances in Municipal Courts, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Susan Lontine & Terri Carver and Sen. Vicki Marble. The bill creates the defense counsel on first appearance grant program in the division of local government within the Department of Local Affairs. The division shall award grants from the program to reimburse local governments, in part or in full, for costs associated with the provision of defense counsel to defendants at their first appearances in municipal courts.
  • HB 18-1354 – “Concerning a Requirement that Written Warranties for Powersports Vehicles be Honored,” by Rep. Hugh McKean and Sen. Rachel Zenzinger. Current law appears to forbid a powersports vehicle manufacturer or distributor from honoring written warranties. The bill clarifies that the powersports dealer is required to honor written warranties.
  • HB 18-1355 – “Concerning Changes to the Accountability System for the Elementary and Secondary Public Education System to Strengthen the Accountability System for the Benefit of Students,” by Reps. Brittany Pettersen & Lang Sias and Sens. Bob Gardner & Dominick Moreno. The bill changes the criteria that the Department of Education must consider in assigning an accreditation category to a school district or the state charter school institute or in recommending the type of performance plan that a public school must implement.
  • HB 18-1361 – “Concerning Expanded Eligibility for a Veteran of the Vietnam War Specialty License Plate,” by Reps. Tony Exum & Donald Valdez and Sen. Angela Williams. The bill extends the end date to be eligible for a veteran of the Vietnam war specialty license plate from January 27, 1973, to July 1, 1975.
  • HB 18-1364 – “Concerning the Continuation of the Colorado Advisory Council for Persons with Disabilities, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Sunset Review Recommendations of the Department of Regulatory Agencies, and Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet & Lois Landgraf and Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Rachel Zenzinger. The bill continues the Colorado advisory council for persons with disabilities, but transfers it from the office of the governor to the department of health care policy and financing. The makeup of the council is decreased from no more than 20 members to a total of 10 members, 3 of whom are nonvoting members. The newly appointed council shall convene its first meeting on or before August 1, 2018, and meet quarterly thereafter. The department is authorized to provide staff support to the council. The powers and duties of the council are expanded and articulated.
  • HB 18-1367 – “Concerning Professional Development in Leadership for Public School Principals, and, in Connection Therewith, Creating the School Leadership Pilot Program and Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Barbara McLachlin & James Wilson and Sen. Kevin Priola. The bill creates the school leadership pilot program  to provide professional development for public elementary, middle, and high school principals. During the 2018-19 budget year, the Department of Education is directed to design and implement the program or contract with a nonprofit entity to design and implement the program.
  • HB 18-1398 – “Concerning the Statute of Limitations for Commencing a Civil Action in Tort to Recover Damages for an Act of Domestic Violence,” by Reps. Matt Gray & Cole Wist and Sen. Bob Gardner. The bill states that any civil action to recover damages caused by an act of domestic violence must be commenced within 6 years after a disability has been removed for a person under disability or within 6 years after a cause of action accrues, whichever occurs later.
  • HB 18-1418 – “Concerning the Use of Criminal Convictions in Employment,” by Rep. Mike Weissman and Sens. Don Coram & Daniel Kagan. Current law directs a state or local agency, when deciding whether to issue a license or permit, to consider an individual’s criminal record in determining whether the individual is of good moral character. The bill changes the determination to consider whether the individual is qualified. The bill adds to the factors that an agency considers whether the applicant will be directly responsible for the care of individuals susceptible to abuse or mistreatment.
  • SB 18-001 – “Concerning Transportation Infrastructure Funding, and, in Connection Therewith, Requiring Specified Amounts to be Transferred from the General Fund to the State Highway Fund, the Highway Users Tax Fund, and a New Multimodal Transportation Options Fund During State Fiscal Years 2018-19 and 2019-20 for the Purpose of Funding Transportation Projects and to the State Highway Fund During Any State Fiscal Year from 2019-20 through 2038-39 for State Highway Purposes and to Repay any Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes that may be Issued as Specified in the Bill and, if no Citizen-Initiated Ballot Measure that Requires the State to Issue Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes is Approved by the Voters of the State at the November 2018 General Election, Requiring the Secretary of State to Submit a Ballot Question to the Voters of the State at the November 2019 Statewide Election, which, if Approved, Would Require the State, with no Increase in any Taxes, to Issue Additional Transportation Revenue Anticipation Notes for the Purpose of Addressing Critical Priority Transportation Needs in the State by Funding Transportation Projects; Would Exclude Note Proceeds and Investment Earnings on Note Proceeds from State Fiscal Year Spending Limits; and Would Reduce the Amount of Lease-Purchase Agreements Required by Current Law to be Issued for the Purpose of Funding Transportation Projects,” by Sens. Randy Baumgardner & John Cooke and Reps. Perry Buck & Faith Winter. The bill requires the state treasurer to transfer $500 million from the general fund to the state highway fund on June 30, 2019, and to transfer $250 million from the general fund to the state highway fund annually on June 30 of state fiscal years 2019-20 though 2038-39. Several other transfers are also specified.
  • SB 18-016 – “Concerning the Repeal Date for the Transfer of Money from Community Corrections to the Housing Assistance for Persons Transitioning from the Criminal or Juvenile Justice System Cash Fund, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Rhonda Fields and Reps. Jonathan Singer & Adrienne Benavidez. In 2017, the general assembly enacted a provision requiring at the end of the 2016-17 fiscal year the state treasurer to transfer unexpended and unencumbered money appropriated for community corrections programs to a new fund to assist persons transitioning from the criminal or juvenile justice systems. The act repealed the provision in 2018.
  • SB 18-062 – “Concerning Liability Limits in Snow and Ice Removal Contracts,” by Sen. Dominick Moreno and Rep. Jovan Melton. The bill enacts the ‘Snow Removal Service Liability Limitation Act’, which makes void provisions of snow removal agreements that require one party to indemnify the other party for damages, hold the other party harmless for damages, and provide for the defense of the other party in a liability lawsuit.
  • SB 18-086 – “Concerning the Use of Cyber Coding Cryptology for State Records, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Kent Lambert & Angela Williams and Reps. Joann Ginal & Bob Rankin. The chief information security officer in the governor’s office of information technology (OIT), the director of OIT, the department of state, and the executive director of the department of regulatory agencies are required to take certain actions to protect state records containing trusted sensitive and confidential information from criminal, unauthorized, or inadvertent manipulation or theft.
  • SB 18-087 – “Concerning In-state Tuition at Institutions of Higher Education for Certain Foreign Nationals Legally Settled in Colorado,” by Sen. Stephen Fenberg and Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet & Faith Winter. The bill contains a legislative declaration about the circumstances facing special immigrants and refugees and the benefit of access to education. The bill grants eligibility for in-state tuition status to refugees and special immigrants admitted to the United States pursuant to federal law who have settled in Colorado.
  • SB 18-218 – “Concerning the Funding of Colorado Water Conservation Board Projects, and, in Connection Therewith, Making Appropriations,” by Sen. Don Coram and Rep. Jeni James Arndt. The bill appropriates money from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) construction fund to the CWCB or the division of water resources in the department of natural resources for certain projects.
  • SB 18-219 – “Concerning the Rates a Motor Vehicle Dealer Charges a Motor Vehicle Manufacturer for Work Performed by the Dealer in Accordance with a Warranty Obligation,” by Sen. Jack Tate and Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp. The bill requires motor vehicle manufacturers to fulfill warranty obligations. A manufacturer must compensate each of its motor vehicle dealers in accordance with a set of standards designed to reflect the current market rate for labor and the profit margin on parts the dealer can expect to obtain. Dealers must submit certain repair orders to the manufacturer as required by the bill to establish compensation rates.
  • SB 18-231 – “Concerning a Task Force on the Transition of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from Educational Services to Home- and Community-Based Services, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Kent Lambert & Dominick Moreno and Rep. Dave Young. The bill establishes a task force for transition planning to make recommendations on improvements for the transition of individuals with disabilities who are receiving services and supports in an educational setting to receiving services and supports through home- and community-based services. It specifies membership on the task force and duties including making a report to specified committees of the general assembly.
  • SB 18-232 – “Concerning a Clarification of the Calculation used to Determine the Amount of Money that Must be Spent to Acquire Works of Art for Capital Construction Projects that are the Subject of a Lease-Purchase Agreement,” by Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg & John Kefalas and Reps. Daneya Esgar & Chris Hansen. The bill clarifies that for any capital construction project that is the subject of a lease-purchase agreement, the one percent of the total construction costs that is required to be used for the acquisition of works of art is calculated on the state-funded portion of the total construction costs and not on the total construction costs.
  • SB 18-234 – “Concerning Measures to Reduce the sale Without Consent of the Remains of a Human who was Born Alive, and, in Connection Therewith, Registering Nontransplant Tissue Banks and Prohibiting Certain Owners of Nontransplant Tissue Banks from Owning Certain Other Businesses that Provide for the Final Disposition of Human Remains, and Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Don Coram & Larry Crowder and Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Marc Catlin. The bill makes it unlawful under the ‘Mortuary Science Code’ for a person to own more than a 10% indirect interest in a funeral establishment or crematory while simultaneously owning interest in a nontransplant tissue bank.
  • SB 18-248 – “Concerning the Treatment under Statutory Provisions Governing Tax Increment Financing of Revenues Received by an Urban Renewal Authority Following Certain Voter-Approved Revenue Increases,” by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and Reps. Polly Lawrence & Matt Gray. Under current law, in connection with the use of a special fund of an urban renewal authority to collect the increment used to finance urban renewal projects, any additional revenues received by a municipality, county, special district, or school district  resulting because the voters have authorized the taxing entity to retain and spend such money under the TABOR requirements of the state constitution after the creation of the fund or as a result of an increase in the property tax mill levy approved by the voters of the taxing entity after the creation of the fund are not included in the amount of the increment that is allocated to and, when collected, paid into the special fund. Under the bill, such additional revenues that have been received because of the 2 specified forms of voter-approved revenue changes are restricted from being pledged by an authority for the payment of any bonds of, or any loans or advances to, or any indebtedness incurred by the authority without the consent of the relevant taxing entity.
  • SB 18-249 – “Concerning Establishing Alternative Programs in the Criminal Justice System to Divert Individuals with a Mental Health Condition to Community Treatment, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Bob Gardner & Kent Lambert and Reps. Pete Lee & Dave Young. The bill creates up to 4 pilot programs in judicial districts in the state that divert individuals with low-level criminal behavior and a mental health condition to community resources and treatment rather than continued criminal justice involvement. The programs must be developed in accordance with the principles and proposed model recommended by the Colorado commission on criminal and juvenile justice, adopted on January 12, 2018.
  • SB 18-271 – “Concerning Changes to Improve Funding for Marijuana Research, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sen. Vicki Marble and Rep. Dan Pabon. Subject to rules of the marijuana enforcement division, the bill authorizes marijuana research and development licensees and marijuana research and development cultivation licensees (research licensees) to transfer unused marijuana within the regulated marijuana industry; and research licensees to be co-located at the premises of a medical marijuana-infused products manufacturer or a retail marijuana products manufacturer.
  • SB 18-272 – “Concerning Suicide Prevention Training in Schools, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Nancy Todd and Reps. Terri Carver & Barbara McLachlin. The bill creates the crisis and suicide prevention training grant program in the Department of Public Health and Environment. The purpose of the grant program is to provide financial assistance to schools in providing crisis and suicide prevention training to schools, with priority given to those schools that have previously not received such training. The grant program may authorize up to $400,000 in grants per year in varying amounts. The office of suicide prevention and the school safety resource center shall work collaboratively with the department to develop guidelines and criteria for the grant program. Grant recipients are required to report on their activities using grant money.

For a complete list of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2018 legislative decisions, click here.

Protopia

Last week we heard professional skeptic Michael Shermer weigh in as an optimistic believer in progress (albeit guardedly — I mean, he is a skeptic after all) in his review of the new book It’s Better Than It Looks. That doesn’t mean he’s ready to stake a homestead claim on the Utopian frontier: the title of a recent article tells you what you need to know about where he stands on that subject: “Utopia Is A Dangerous Ideal: We Should Aim For Protopia.”[1]

He begins with a now-familiar litany of utopias that soured into dystopias in the 19th and 20th Centuries. He then endorses the “protopian” alternative, quoting an oft-cited passage in which Kevin Kelly[2] coined the term.

Protopia is a state that is better today than yesterday, although it might be only a little better. Protopia is much much harder to visualize. Because a protopia contains as many new problems as new benefits, this complex interaction of working and broken is very hard to predict.

Doesn’t sound like much, but there’s more to it than appears. Protopia is about incremental, sustainable progress — even in the impatient onslaught of technology. Kelly’s optimism is ambitious — for a full dose of it, see his book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future (2016). This is from the book blurb:

Much of what will happen in the next thirty years is inevitable, driven by technological trends that are already in motion. In this fascinating, provocative new book, Kevin Kelly provides an optimistic road map for the future, showing how the coming changes in our lives — from virtual reality in the home to an on-demand economy to artificial intelligence embedded in everything we manufacture — can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces.

These larger forces will completely revolutionize the way we buy, work, learn, and communicate with each other. By understanding and embracing them, says Kelly, it will be easier for us to remain on top of the coming wave of changes and to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in ways that bring forth maximum benefits.

Kelly’s bright, hopeful book will be indispensable to anyone who seeks guidance on where their business, industry, or life is heading — what to invent, where to work, in what to invest, how to better reach customers, and what to begin to put into place — as this new world emerges.

Protopian thinking begins with Kelly’s “bright, hopeful” attitude of optimism about progress (again, remember the thinkers we heard from last week). To adopt both optimism and the protopian vision it produces, we’ll need to relinquish our willful cognitive blindness, our allegiance to inadequate old models and explanations, and our nostalgic urge to resist and retrench.

Either that, or we can just die off. Economist Paul Samuelson said this in a 1975 Newsweek column:

As the great Max Planck, himself the originator of the quantum theory in physics, has said, science makes progress funeral by funeral: the old are never converted by the new doctrines, they simply are replaced by a new generation.

Planck himself said it this way, in his Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers:

 A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Progress funeral by funeral[3]. . . . If that’s what it takes, that’s the way protopian progress will be made — in the smallest increments of “better today than yesterday” we will allow. But I somehow doubt progress will be that slow; I don’t think technology can wait.

Plus, if we insist on “not in my lifetime, you don’t,” we’ll miss out on a benefit we probably wouldn’t have seen coming: technology itself guiding us as we stumble our way forward through the benefits and problems of progress. There’s support for that idea in the emerging field of complexity economics — I’ve mentioned it before, and we’ll look more into it next time.


[1] The article is based on Shermer’s recent book Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.

[2] Kelly is a prolific TED talker — revealing his optimistic protopian ideas. Here’s his bio.

[3] See the Quote Investigator’s history of these quotes.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!

Bills Signed to Improve Employment Opportunities for Disabled People, Continuing Civil Rights Division and Commission, and More

Since Friday, May 18, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper has signed 22 bills into law. To date, he has signed 251 bills and sent two to the Secretary of State without a signature. Some of the bills signed this week include a bill to continue the Colorado Civil Rights Division and Commission, a bill to implement “employment first” recommendations regarding people with disabilities, a bill extending and renaming the affordable housing tax credit, a bill allowing for equipment grants for rural fire departments, and more. The bills signed since Friday are summarized here.

Friday, May 18

  • HB 18-1319 – “Concerning the Extension of Services for a Successful Adulthood for Former Foster Care Youth who are Between the Ages of Eighteen Years and Twenty-one Years, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Jonathan Singer & Dave Young and Sen. Bob Gardner. The bill allows county departments of human or social services to extend the provision of certain services for a successful adulthood to foster care youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who have exited the foster care system, including assistance with employment, housing, education, financial management, mental health care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • HB 18-1400 – “Concerning an Increase in Fees Paid by Stationary Sources of Air Pollutants, and, in Connection Therewith, Prioritizing the Use of the Revenues Generated by the Fee Increases to Reduce Permit Processing Times and Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. KC Becker & Hugh McKean and Sens. Cheri Jahn & Ray Scott. The bill increases statutory caps on the fees paid by stationary sources of air pollutants.
  • SB 18-039 – “Concerning the Wildfire Matters Review Committee, and, in Connection Therewith, Deferring the Date on which the Committee is Scheduled to Repeal and Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Matt Jones & John Cooke and Reps. Tony Exum & Dan Thurlow. The wildfire matters review committee (WMRC) is currently scheduled to repeal on July 1, 2018. The bill defers the repeal date to September 1, 2025.
  • SB 18-145 – “Concerning the Implementation of Employment First Advisory Partnership Recommendations to Advance Competitive Integrated Employment for Persons with Disabilities, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sen. John Kefalas and Rep. Joann Ginal. The bill requires the Department of Labor and Employment and the State Medical Services Board in the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to promulgate rules that require all providers of supported employment services for persons with disabilities to obtain a nationally recognized supported employment training certificate or earn a nationally recognized supported employment certification relating to supported employment services.
  • SB 18-254 – “Concerning Reforms to Child Welfare Services, and, in Connection Therewith, Making and Reducing an Appropriation,” by Sens. Kent Lambert & Dominick Moreno and Reps. Dave Young & Bob Rankin. The bill addresses numerous reforms to the funding structure for the state’s child welfare services.

Monday, May 21

  • HB 18-1003 – “Concerning Measures to Prevent Opioid Misuse in Colorado, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Sens. Cheri Jahn & Kevin Priola. The bill establishes in statute the opioid and other substance use disorders study committee, consisting of 5 senators and 5 representatives from the General Assembly, and provides for tasks for the committee to address.
  • HB 18-1007 – “Concerning Payment Issues Related to Substance Use Disorders,” by Reps. Chris Kennedy & Jonathan Singer and Sens. Kent Lambert & Cheri Jahn. The bill requires all individual and group health benefit plans to provide coverage without prior authorization for a five-day supply of at least one of the federal food and drug administration-approved drugs for the treatment of opioid dependence for a first request within a 12-month period.
  • HB 18-1360 – “Concerning the Expansion of the Number of Directors on the Board of Directors of the State Historical Society,” by Reps. Faith Winter & Polly Lawrence and Sens. Beth Martinez Humenik & Nancy Todd. The bill increases the number of directors of the Board of the State Historical Society from 9 to 13.
  • SB 18-022 – “Concerning Clinical Practice Measures for Safer Opioid Prescribing,” by Sens. Jack Tate & Irene Aguilar and Reps. Brittany Pettersen & Chris Kennedy. The bill restricts the number of opioid pills that a health care practitioner, including physicians, physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, and veterinarians, may prescribe for an initial prescription to a seven-day supply and allows each health care practitioner to exercise discretion to include a second fill for a seven-day supply, with certain exceptions.
  • SB 18-024 – “Concerning Modifications to the Colorado Health Service Corps Program Administered by the Department of Public Health and Environment to Expand the Availability of Behavioral Health Care Providers in Shortage Areas in the State, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Cheri Jahn & Jack Tate and Reps. Brittany Pettersen & Jonathan Singer. The bill modifies the Colorado health service corps program administered by the primary care office in the Department of Public Health and Environment.
  • SB 18-270 – “Concerning Establishing a Statewide Program to Coordinate Referrals of High-risk Individuals in Need of Behavioral Health Transition Services, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Cheri Jahn & Tim Neville and Reps. Brittany Pettersen & Cole Wist. The bill establishes the community transition specialist program in the office of behavioral health in the Department of Human Services. The program coordinates referrals of high-risk individuals to transition specialists by certain behavioral health facilities and programs. High-risk individuals are under an emergency or involuntary hold, have a significant mental health or substance use disorder, and are not in consistent behavioral health treatment.

Tuesday, May 22

  • HB 18-1208 – “Concerning the Expansion of the Income Tax Credit for Child Care Expenses that is a Percentage of a Similar Federal Income Tax Credit,” by Reps. Crisanta Duran & Faith Winter and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik. The bill expands the state child care income tax credit by allowing a resident individual with an AGI that is less than or equal to $150,000 to claim a credit that is equal to 80% of the individual’s federal credit.
  • HB 18-1255 – “Concerning the Creation of a Childhood Cancer Awareness License Plate, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Crisanta Duran & Terri Carver and Sens. John Cooke & John Kefalas. The bill creates the childhood cancer awareness license plate. A person becomes eligible to use the plate by providing a certificate confirming that the person has made a donation to an organization chosen by the Department of Revenue based on the organization’s assistance to children with cancer.
  • HB 18-1256 – “Concerning Continuation of the Regulation of Civil Rights Issues, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Recommendation in the Department of Regulatory Agencies’ 2017 Sunset Review and Report on the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to Continue the Division and Commission and Making an Appropriation,” by Reps. Crisanta Duran & Leslie Herod and Sen. Bob Gardner. The bill implements the recommendation of the Department of Regulatory Agencies in its sunset review of the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to continue the Commission and the Division and their respective functions for 9 years, through September 1, 2027.

Wednesday, May 23

  • HB 18-1008 – “Concerning the Financing of the Division of Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Program, and, in Connection Therewith, Creating an Aquatic Nuisance Species Stamp for the Operation of Motorboats and Sailboats in Waters of the State, Increasing Penalties Related to the Introduction of Aquatic Nuisance Species into the Waters of the State, and Combining Two Separate Funds Related to the Aquatic Nuisance Species Program into One Fund,” by Reps. Daneya Esgar & Jeni James Arndt and Sens. Don Coram & Kerry Donovan. The bill updates a legislative declaration concerning aquatic nuisance species to encourage the federal government to dedicate sufficient funding and resources to the detection, prevention, control, and eradication of aquatic nuisance species for federally owned or managed aquatic resources and water infrastructure in Colorado, and makes other changes.
  • HB 18-1423 – “Concerning Grants to Provide Equipment to Rural Fire Protection Districts,” by Reps. Donald Valdez & Larry Liston and Sens. Leroy Garcia & Larry Crowder. The division of fire prevention and control in the department of public safety is currently authorized to use money in the local firefighter safety and disease prevention fund to provide grants for equipment and training to increase firefighter safety and prevent occupation-related diseases. The bill transfers $250,000 from the general fund to be used for these purposes.
  • SB 18-143 – “Concerning Measures to Increase Revenue for the Parks and Wildlife Division, and, in Connection Therewith, Setting Certain Hunting, Fishing, Parks, and Recreation Fees,” by Sens. Stephen Fenberg & Don Coram and Reps. Jeni James Arndt & James Wilson. The bill makes several statutory changes concerning hunting and fishing, including raising the amount of residential and nonresidential license fees, stamp fees, and surcharges for certain hunting and fishing activities.

Thursday, May 24

  • SB 18-042 – “Concerning the Creation of the Agricultural Workforce Development Program, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sens. Kerry Donovan & Larry Crowder and Reps. Marc Catlin & Barbara McLachlin. The bill requires the commissioner of agriculture to create, by rule, the agricultural workforce development program to provide incentives to agricultural businesses to hire interns. Qualified agricultural businesses may be reimbursed an amount not to exceed 50% of the actual cost of hiring a qualified intern. The rules must include specified criteria for qualifying businesses and interns participating in the program. Qualified internships must include at least 130 hours of work experience and cannot exceed 6 months in duration. The program is repealed on July 1, 2024.
  • SB 18-066 – “Concerning an Extension of the Operation of the State Lottery Division Beyond July 1, 2024,” by Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg & Leroy Garcia and Reps. Jeni James Arndt & Cole Wist. The bill extends the scheduled termination on July 1, 2024, of the state lottery division in the Department of Revenue to July 1, 2049.
  • SB 18-085 – “Concerning Providing Financial Incentives for Educators to Work in Rural Areas, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sen. Nancy Todd and Rep. Barbara McLachlan. Current law allows the Department of Higher Education to provide up to 20 financial stipends annually, not to exceed $6,000 each, to teachers in rural schools or school districts who are seeking certification as a national board certified teacher, seeking certification as a concurrent enrollment teacher, or furthering their professional development plan through continuing education, and who commit to employment in a rural school for a minimum of 3 years. The bill increases the number of available stipends to 60 and expands it to include teachers completing an approved alternative licensure program leading to initial licensure and full-time employment in a rural school or school district that serves rural schools and individuals completing the required course work leading to certification and employment in a rural school or a rural school district that serves rural schools.
  • SB 18-229 – “Concerning Criminal History Record Checks for Educator Preparation Program Students Seeking Field Experiences in Schools, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and Reps. Kim Ransom & Barbara McLachlan.  The bill permits a student in an educator preparation program who is seeking field experiences in a school to submit his or her fingerprints to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for the purpose of performing a fingerprint-based criminal history record check for the student. Upon completion of the fingerprint-based criminal history record check, the bureau must forward the results to the Department of Education. If the fingerprint-based criminal history record check of a student performed pursuant to this section reveals a record of arrest without a disposition, the department is required to perform a name-based criminal history record check of that student.

For a complete list of Governor Hickenlooper’s 2018 legislative decisions, click here.

Utopia Already

“If you had to choose a moment in history to be born, and you did not know ahead of time who you would be—you didn’t know whether you were going to be born into a wealthy family or a poor family, what country you’d be born in, whether you were going to be a man or a woman—if you had to choose blindly what moment you’d want to be born you’d choose now.”

Pres. Barack Obama, 2016

It’s been a good month for optimists in my reading pile. Utopia is already here, they say, and we’ve got the facts to prove it.

Harvard Professor Steven Pinker is his own weather system. Bill Gates called Pinker’s latest book Enlightenment Now “My new favorite book of all time.”

Pinker begins cautiously: “The second half of the second decade of the third millennium would not seem to be an auspicious time to publish a book on the historical sweep of progress and its causes,” he says, and follows with a recitation of the bad news sound bytes and polarized blame-shifting we’ve (sadly) gotten used to. But then he throws down the optimist gauntlet: “In the pages that follow, I will show that this bleak assessment of the state of the world is wrong. And not just a little wrong — wrong, wrong, flat-earth wrong, couldn’t-be-more-wrong wrong.”

He makes his case in a string of data-laced chapters on progress, life expectancy, health, food and famine, wealth, inequality, the environment, war and peace, safety and security, terrorism, democracy, equal rights, knowledge and education, quality of life, happiness, and “existential” threats such as nuclear war. In each of them, he calls up the pessimistic party line and counters with his version of the rest of the story.

And then, just to make sure we’re getting the point, 322 pages of data and analysis into it, he plays a little mind game with us. First he offers an eight paragraph summary of the prior chapters, then starts the next three paragraphs with the words “And yet,” followed by a catalogue of everything that’s still broken and in need of fixing. Despite 322 prior pages and optimism’s 8-3 winning margin, the negativity feels oddly welcome. I found myself thinking, “Well finally, you’re admitting there’s a lot of mess we need to clean up.” But then Prof. Pinker reveals what just happened:

The facts in the last three paragraphs, of course, are the same as the ones in the first eight. I’ve simply read the numbers from the bad rather the good end of the scales or subtracted the hopeful percentages from 100. My point in presenting the state of the world in these two ways is not to show that I can focus on the space in the glass as well as on the beverage. It’s to reiterate that progress is not utopia, and that there is room — indeed, an imperative — for us to strive to continue that progress.

Pinker acknowledges his debt to the work of Swedish physician, professor of global health, and TED all-star Hans Rosling and his recent bestselling book Factfulness. Prof. Rosling died last year, and the book begins with a poignant declaration: “This book is my last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance.” His daughter and son-in-law co-wrote the book and are carrying on his work — how’s that for commitment, passion, and family legacy?

The book leads us through ten of the most common mind games we play in our attempts to remain ignorant. It couldn’t be more timely or relevant to our age of “willful blindness,” “cognitive bias,” “echo chambers” and “epistemic bubbles.”

Finally, this week professional skeptic Michael Sheerer weighed in on the positive side of the scale with his review of a new book by journalist Gregg Easterbrook — It’s Better Than It Looks. Shermer blasts out of the gate with “Though declinists in both parties may bemoan our miserable lives, Americans are healthier, wealthier, safer and living longer than ever.” He also begins his case with the Obama quote above, and adds another one:

As Obama explained to a German audience earlier that year: “We’re fortunate to be living in the most peaceful, most prosperous, most progressive era in human history,” adding “that it’s been decades since the last war between major powers. More people live in democracies. We’re wealthier and healthier and better educated, with a global economy that has lifted up more than a billion people from extreme poverty.”

A similar paeon to progress begins last year’s blockbuster Homo Deus (another of Bill Gates’ favorite books of all time). The optimist case has been showing up elsewhere in my research, too. Who knows, maybe utopia isn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact, maybe it’s already here.

Now there’s a thought.

All this ferocious optimism has been bracing, to say the least — it’s been the best challenge yet to what was becoming a comfortably dour outlook on economic reality.

And just as I was beginning to despair of anyone anywhere at any time ever using data to make sense of things, I also ran into an alternative to utopian thinking that both Pinker and Shermer acknowledge. It’s called “protopia,” and we’ll look at it next time.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!

Utopia for Realists, Continued

Like humor and satire, utopias throw open the windows of the mind.

Rutger Bregman

Continuing with Rutger Bregman’s analysis of utopian thinking that we began last week:

Let’s first distinguish between two forms of utopian thought. The first is the most familiar, the utopia of the blueprint. Instead of abstract ideals, blueprints consist of immutable rules that tolerate no discussion.

There is, however, another avenue of utopian thought, one that is all but forgotten. If the blueprint is a high-resolution photo, then this utopia is just a vague outline. It offers not solutions but guideposts. Instead of forcing us into a straitjacket, it inspires us to change. And it understands that, as Voltaire put it, the perfect is the enemy of the good. As one American philosopher has remarked, ‘any serious utopian thinker will be made uncomfortable by the very idea of the blueprint.’

It was in this spirit that the British philosopher Thomas More literally wrote the book on utopia (and coined the term). More understood that utopia is dangerous when taken too seriously. ‘One needs to be believe passionately and also be able to see the absurdity of one’s own beliefs and laugh at them,’ observes philosopher and leading utopia expert Lyman Tower Sargent. Like humor and satire, utopias throw open the windows of the mind. And that’s vital. As people and societies get progressively older they become accustomed to the status quo, in which liberty can become a prison, and the truth can become lies. The modern creed — or worse, the belief that there’s nothing left to believe in — makes us blind to the shortsightedness and injustice that still surround us every day.

Thus the lines are drawn between utopian blueprints grounded in dogma vs. utopian ideals arising from sympathy and compassion. Both begin with good intentions, but the pull of entropy is stronger with the former — at least, so says Rutger Bregman, and he’s got good company in Sir Thomas More and others. Blueprints require compliance, and its purveyors are zealously ready to enforce it. Ideals on the other hand inspire creativity, and creativity requires acting in the face of uncertainty, living with imperfection, responding with resourcefulness and resilience when best intentions don’t play out, and a lot of just plain showing up and grinding it out. I have a personal bias for coloring outside the lines, but I must confess that my own attempts to promote utopian workplace ideals have given me pause.

For years, I led interactive workshops designed to help people creatively engage with their big ideas about work and wellbeing — variously tailored for CLE ethics credits or for general audiences. I realized recently that, reduced to their essence, they employed the kinds of ideals advocated by beatnik-era philosopher and metaphysicist Alan Watts. (We met him several months ago — he’s the “What would you do if money were no object?” guy. )

The workshops generated hundreds of heartwarming “this was life-changing” testimonies, but I could never quite get over this nagging feeling that the participants mostly hadn’t achieved escape velocity, and come next Monday they would be back to the despair of “But everybody knows you can’t earn any money that way.”

I especially wondered about the lawyers, for whom “I hate my job but love my paycheck” was a recurrent theme. The Post WWII neoliberal economic tide floated the legal profession’s boat, too, but prosperity has done little for lawyer happiness and well-being. True, we’re seeing substantial quality-of-life change in the profession recently (which I’ve blogged about in the past), but most have been around the edges, while overall lawyers’ workplace reality remains a bulwark of what one writer calls the “over-culture” — the overweening force of culturally-accepted norms about how things are and should be — and the legal over-culture has stepped in line with the worldwide workplace trend of favoring wealth over a sense of meaning and value.

Alan Watts’ ideals were widely adopted by the burgeoning self-help industry, which also rode the neoliberal tide to prosperous heights. Self-help tends to be long on inspiration and short on grinding, and sustainable creative change requires large doses of both. I served up both in the workshops, but still wonder if they were just too… well, um…beatnik … for the law profession. I’ll never know — the guy who promoted the workshops retired, and I quit doing them. If nothing else, writing this series has opened my eyes to how closely law practice mirrors worldwide economic and workplace dynamics. We’ll look more at that in the coming weeks.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!

Utopia for Realists

Dutchman Rutger Bregman is a member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Class of 2017. He’s written four books on history, philosophy, and economics. In his book Utopia for Realists (2016), he recognizes the dangers of utopian thinking:

True, history is full of horrifying forms of utopianism — fascism, communism, Nazism — just as every religion has also spawned fanatical sects.

According to the cliché, dreams have a way of turning into nightmares. Utopias are a breeding ground for discord, violence, even genocide. Utopias ultimately become dystopias.

Having faced up to the dangers, however, he presses on:

Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly. As recently as the seventeenth century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-62) described life as one giant vale of tears. “Humanity is great,” he wrote, “because it knows itself to be wretched.” In Britain, fellow philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) concurred that human life was basically, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

But in the last 200 years, all that has changed. In just a fraction of the time that our species has clocked on this planet, billions of us are suddenly rich, well nourished, clean, safe, smart, healthy, and occasionally even beautiful.[1]

Welcome, in other words, to the Land of Plenty. To the good life, where almost everyone is rich, safe, and healthy. Where there’s only one thing we lack: a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Because, after all, you can’t really improve on paradise. Back in 1989, the American philosopher Francis Fukuyama already noted that we had arrived in an era where life has been reduced to “economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.”[2]

Notching up our purchasing power another percentage point, or shaving a couple off our carbon emissions; perhaps a new gadget — that’s about the extent of our vision. We live in an era of wealth and overabundance, but how bleak it is. There is “neither art nor philosophy,” Fukuyama says. All that’s left is the “perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history.”

According to Oscar Wilde, upon reaching the Land of Plenty, we should once more fix our gaze on the farthest horizon and rehoist the sails. “Progress is the realization of utopias,” he wrote. But the farthest horizon remains blank. The Land of Plenty is shrouded in fog. Precisely when we should be shouldering the historic task of investing this rich, safe, and healthy existence with meaning, we’ve buried utopia instead.

In fact, most people in wealthy countries believe children will actually be worse off than their parents. According to the World Health Organization, depression has even become the biggest health problem among teens and will be the number-one cause of illness worldwide by 2030.[3]

It’s a vicious cycle. Never before have so many young people been seeing a psychiatrist. Never before have there been so many early career burnouts. And we’re popping antidepressants like never before. Time and again, we blame collective problems like unemployment, dissatisfaction, and depression on the individual. If success is a choice, so is failure. Lost your job? You should have worked harder. Sick? You must not be leading a healthy lifestyle. Unhappy? Take a pill.

No, the real crisis is that we can’t come up with anything better. We can’t imagine a better world than the one we’ve got. The real crisis of our times, of my generation, is not that we don’t have it good, or even that we might be worse off later on. “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads,” a former math whiz at Facebook recently lamented.[4]

After this assessment, Bregman shifts gears. “The widespread nostalgia, the yearning for a past that really never was,” he says, “suggest that we still have ideals, even if we have buried them alive.” From there, he distinguishes the kind of utopian thinking we do well to avoid from the kind we might dare to embrace. We’ll follow him into that discussion next time.


[1] For a detailed (1,000 pages total) history of this economic growth from general nastiness to the standard of living we enjoy now, I’ll refer you again to two books I plugged a couple weeks ago: Americana: A 400 Year History Of American Capitalism and The Rise and Fall of American Growth.

[2] See here and here for a sampling of updates/opinions providing a current assessment of Fukuyama’s 1989 article.

[3] World Health Organization, Health for the World’s Adolescents, June 2014. See this executive summary.

[4] “This Tech Bubble is Different,” Bloomberg Businessweek, April 14, 2011.

 

Kevin Rhodes would create workplace utopia if he could. But since he doesn’t trust himself to do that, he writes this blog instead. Thanks for reading!