September 22, 2018

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!

 

Utopia

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

John Maynard Keynes

We met law professor and economics visionary James Kwak a few months ago. In his book Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality (2017), he tells this well-known story about John Maynard Keynes:

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes argued that, thanks to technological progress, the ‘economic problem’ would be solved in about a century and people would only work fifteen hours per week — primarily to keep themselves occupied. When freed from the need to accumulate wealth, the human life would change profoundly.

This passage is from Keynes’ 1930 essay:

I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue—that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable, that those who walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom are take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not neither do they spin.

The timing of Keynes’ essay is fascinating: he wrote it right after the original Black Friday and as the Great Depression was rolling out. Today, it seems as though his prediction was more than out of time, it was just plain wrong. Plus, it was undeniably utopian — which for most of us is usually translated something like, “Teah, don’t I wish, but that’s never going to happen.” Someone says “utopia,” and we automatically hear “dystopia,” which is where utopias usually end up, “reproduc[ing] many of the same tyrannies that people were trying to escape: egoism, power struggles, envy, mistrust and fear.” “Utopia, Inc.,” Aeon Magazine.

It’s just another day in paradise 
As you stumble to your bed 
You’d give anything to silence 
Those voices ringing in your head 
You thought you could find happiness 
Just over that green hill 
You thought you would be satisfied 
But you never will- 

The Eagles

To be fair, the post-WWII surge truly was a worldwide feast of economic utopia, served up mostly by the Mont Pelerin Society and other champions of neoliberal ideology. If they didn’t create the precise utopia Keynes envisioned, that’s because even the best ideas can grow out of time: a growing international body of data, analysis, and commentary indicates that continued unexamined allegiance to neoliberalism is rapidly turning postwar economic utopia into its opposite.

But what if we actually could, if not create utopia, then at least root out some persistent strains of dystopia — things like poverty, lack of access to meaningful work, even a more even-handed and less unequal income distribution? Kwak isn’t alone in thinking we could do just that, but to get there from here will require more than a new ideology to bump neoliberalism aside. Instead, we need an entirely new economic narrative, based on a new understanding of how the world works:

Almost a century [after Keynes made his prediction], we have the physical, financial, and human capital necessary for everyone in our country to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, and within a few generations the same should be true of the entire planet, And yet our social organization remains the same as it was in the Great Depression: some people work very hard and make more money than they will ever need, while many others are unable to find work and live in poverty.

Real change will not be achieved by mastering the details of marginal costs and marginal benefits, but by constructing a new, controlling narrative about how the world works.

Rooting out the persistent strains of economic dystopia in our midst will require a whole new way of thinking — maybe even some utopia thinking. If we’re going to go there, we’ll need to keep our wits about us. More on that 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!

 

The Perils of Predicting

“We were promised flying cars, and instead what we got was 140 characters.”

Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder[1]

Economic forecasts and policy solutions are based on predictions, and predicting is a perilous business.

I grew up in a small town in western Minnesota. Our family got the morning paper — the Minneapolis Tribune. The Stars ubscribers got their paper around 4:00. A friend’s dad was a lawyer — his family got both. In a childhood display of cognitive bias, I never could understand why anyone would want an afternoon paper. News was made the day before, so you could read about it the next morning, and that was that.

I remember one Tribune headline to this day: it predicted nuclear war in 10 years. That was 1961, when I was eight. The Cuban missile crisis was the following year, and for awhile it looked like it wouldn’t take all ten years for the headline’s prediction to come true.

The Tribune helpfully ran designs and instructions for building your own fallout shelter. Our house had the perfect place for one: a root cellar off one side of the basement — easily the creepiest place in the house. You descended a couple steps down from the basement floor, through a stubby cinderblock hallway, past a door hanging on one hinge. Ahead of you was a bare light bulb swinging from the ceiling — it flickered, revealing decades of cobwebs and homeowner flotsam worthy of Miss Havisham. It was definitely a bomb shelter fixer-upper, but it was the right size, and as an added bonus it had a concrete slab over it — if you banged the ground above with a pipe it made a hollow sound.

I scoured the fallout shelter plans, but my dad said no. Someone else in town built one — the ventilation pipes stuck out of a room-size mound next to their house. People used to go by it on their Sunday drives. Meanwhile I ran my own personal version of the Doomsday Clockfor the next ten years until my 18th birthday came and went. So much for that headline.

I also remember a Sunday cartoon that predicted driverless cars. I found an article about it in this article from Gizmodo:[2]

The article explains:

The period between 1958 and 1963 might be described as a Golden Age of American Futurism, if not the Golden Age of American Futurism. Bookended by the founding of NASA in 1958 and the end of The Jetsons in 1963, these few years were filled with some of the wildest techno-utopian dreams that American futurists had to offer. It also happens to be the exact timespan for the greatest futuristic comic strip to ever grace the Sunday funnies: Closer Than We Think.

Jetpacks, meal pills, flying cars — they were all there, beautifully illustrated by Arthur Radebaugh, a commercial artist based in Detroit best known for his work in the auto industry. Radebaugh would help influence countless Baby Boomers and shape their expectations for the future. The influence of Closer Than We Think can still be felt today.

Timing is Everything

Apparently timing is everything in the prediction business. The driverless car prediction was accurate, just way too early. The Tribune’s nuclear war prediction was inaccurate (and let’s hope not just because it was too early). Predictions from the hapless mythological prophetess Cassandra were never inaccurate or untimely: she was cursed by Apollo (who ran a highly successful prophecy business at Delphi) with the gift of always being right but never believed.

Now that would be frustrating.

As I said last week, predicting is as perilous as policy-making. An especially perilous version of both is utopian thinking. There’s been plenty of utopian economic thinking the past couple centuries, and today’s economists continue the grand tradition — to their peril, and potentially to ours. We’ll look at some economic utopian thinking (and the case for and against it) beginning next time.

 

Apparently timing is everything in country music, too. I’m not an aficionado, but I did come across this video while researching this post. The guy’s got a nice baritone.


[1]Peter Thiel needn’t despair about the lack of flying cars anymore: here’s a video re: a prototypefrom Sebastian Thrun and his company Kitty Hawk.

[2]The article is worth a look, if you like that sort of thing. So is this Smithsonian articleon the Jetsons. And while we’re on the topic, check out this IEEE Spectrum articleon a 1960 RCA initiative that had self-driving cars just around the corner, and this Atlantic articleabout an Electronic Age/Science Digestarticle that made the same prediction even earlier — in 1958.

 

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 Kevin’s latest LinkedIn Pulse article: When We Move, We Can Achieve the Impossible.”

The Perils of Policy

Economics articles, books, and speeches usually end with policy recommendations. You can predict them in advance if you know the ideological bias of the source. Let’s look at three, for comparison.

First, this Brookings Institute piece— What happens if robots take the jobs? The impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy — written a couple years back by Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies and founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Institute.

Second, this piece — Inequality isn’t inevitable. Here’s what we can do differently — published by the World Economic Forum and written last month by a seriously over-achieving 23-year old globe-trotting Italian named Andrea Zorzetto.

Third, this piece — Mark My Words: This Political Event Will be Unlike Anything We’ve Seen in 50 Years — by Porter Stansberry, which showed up in my Facebook feed last month. Stansberry offers this bio: “You may not know me, but nearly 20 years ago, I started a financial research and education business called Stansberry Research. Today we have offices in the U.S., Hong Kong, and Singapore. We serve more than half a million paid customers in virtually every country (172 at last count). We have nearly 500 employees, including dozens of financial analysts, corporate attorneys, accountants, technology experts, former hedge fund managers, and even a medical doctor.”

The Brookings article is what you would expect: long, careful, reasoned. Energetic Mr. Zorzetto’s article is bright, upbeat, and generally impressive. Porter Stansberry’s missive is … well, we’ll just let it speak for itself. I chose these three because they all cite the same economic data and developments, but reach for different policy ideals. There’s plenty more where these came from. Read enough of them, and they start to organize themselves into multiple opinion categories which after numerous iterations all mush together into vague uncertainty.

There’s got to be a better way. Turns out there is: how about if we ask the economy itself what it’s up to? That’s what the emerging field of study called “complexity economics” does. Here’s a short explanation of it, published online by Exploring Economics, an “open source learning platform.” The word “complexity” in this context doesn’t mean “hard to figure out.” It’s a technical term borrowed from a systems theory approach that originated in science, mathematics, and statistics.

Complexity economics bypasses ideological bias and lets the raw data speak for itself. It’s amazing what you hear when you give data a voice — for example, an answer to the question we heard the Queen of England ask a few posts back, which a group of Cambridge economists couldn’t answer (neither could anyone else, for that matter): Why didn’t we see the 2007-2008 Recession coming? The economy had and answer; you just need to know how to listen to it. (More on that coming up.)

What gives data its voice? Ironically, the very job-threatening technological trends we’ve been talking about in the past couple months:

Big Data + Artificial Intelligence + Brute Strength Computer Processing Power
= Complexity Economics

Which means — in a stroke of delicious irony — guess whose jobs are most threatened by this new approach to economics? You guessed it: the jobs currently held by ideologically-based economists making policy recommendations. For them, economics just became “the dismal science” in a whole new way.

Complex systems theory is as close to a Theory of Everything as I’ve seen. No kidding. We’ll be looking at it in more depth, but first… Explaining is one thing, but predicting is another. Policy-making invariably relies on the ability to predict outcomes, but predicting has its own perils. We’ll look at those next time. In the meantime, just for fun…

                           

If you click on the first image, you’ll go to the original silent movie melodrama series. A click on the second image takes you to Wikipedia re: the 1947 Hollywood technicolor remake. The original is from a period of huge economic growth and quality of life advancements. The movie came out at the beginning of equally powerful post-WWII economic growth. Which leads to another economic history book I can’t recommend highly enough, shown in the image on the left below. Like Americana, which I recommended a couple weeks ago, it’s well researched and readable. They’re both big, thick books, but together they offer a fascinating course on all the American history we never knew. (Click the images for more.)

                    

 

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 Kevin’s latest LinkedIn Pulse article: When We Move, We Can Achieve the Impossible.”

Bills Signed Requiring Commercial Drivers to Receive Training in Human Trafficking Prevention, Modifying Water Court Process for Substitute Water Rights, and More

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, Governor Hickenlooper signed 23 bills into law. To date, he has signed 149 bills and sent one to the Secretary of State without a signature. Some of the bills signed Thursday include a bill allowing a water court process for mitigation measures, a bill requiring commercial drivers to receive training on prevention of human trafficking, a bill authorizing insurers’ agents to access the electronic motor vehicle title database, and more. The bills signed Thursday are summarized here.

  • SB 18-011 – “Concerning Treatment of Students who are Excused by their Parents from Participating in State Assessments,” by Sens. Chris Holbert & Andy Kerr and Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Paul Lundeen. The bill clarifies procedures for parents who excuse their children from taking state assessments and students whose parents excuse them from testing shall still be allowed to receive rewards designed for students who complete the assessments.
  • SB 18-079 – “Concerning Classifying Sake as a Vinous Liquor for the Purposes of the ‘Colorado Liquor Code,'” by Sen. Lucia Guzman and Rep. Dan Pabon. The bill classifies sake as a vinous liquor (wine) for the purposes of the “Colorado Liquor Code.”
  • 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.
  • SB 18-106 – “Concerning Obsolete Statutory Provisions Related to a Local Government’s Pledging of Sales or Use Tax Revenues to Pay for Revenue Bonds Issued for the Purpose of Financing Capital Improvements,” by Sen. Jack Tate and Rep. Don Thurlow. Current law specifies that a county, city, or incorporated town may include the creation of a sales and use tax capital improvement fund (special fund) when the county, city, or incorporated town seeks voter approval to levy a sales or use tax. The creation of the special fund does not have a purpose for a county, city, or incorporated town post-TABOR because the question of using sales or use tax revenues for financing capital improvements is asked when the county, city, or incorporated town seeks voter approval for the bond issuance. Thus, the language regarding the creation of the fund is unnecessary.
  • SB 18-110 – “Concerning the Repeal of the Requirement that Each State Agency Annually Report the Amount of Federal Money it Received in the Prior Fiscal Year,” by Sen. Jack Tate and Rep. Jeni James Arndt. During the 2017 legislative session, the statutory revision committee put forth House Bill 17-1058, which, in part, repealed a requirement that the state controller submit to the general assembly a report of all federal money received by state agencies during the prior fiscal year. State agencies are still required to submit an annual report to the state controller of all federal moneys received by the state agency in the prior fiscal year for the state controller’s use in preparing the report for the general assembly.The bill repeals the state agency reporting requirement as the state controller is no longer required to prepare a report for the general assembly.
  • SB 18-127 – “Concerning the Repeal of the Department of Revenue’s Requirement to Publish an Historical Explanation of Income Tax Rate Modifications Enacted in the State on Every Income Tax Return Form,” by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and Rep. Dan Thurlow. The bill repeals the requirement that the Executive Director of the Department of Revenue publish an historical explanation of income tax rate modifications enacted in the state on every income tax return form.
  • SB 18-129 – “Concerning the Nonsubstantive Reorganization of the Law Exempting from State Sales Tax Certain Drugs and Medical and Therapeutic Devices,” by Sen. Dominick Moreno and Rep. Jeni James Arndt. The bill makes several modifications to the laws exempting certain drugs and medical devices from sales tax.
  • SB 18-136 – “Concerning Fees for Advising Clients About the Selection of an Individual Health Benefit Plan,” by Sen. Tim Neville and Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Lang Sias. The bill allows an insurance producer or broker advising a client on individual health benefit plans to charge the client a fee if the producer or broker does not receive a commission related to the individual health benefit plan selected by the client and if the producer or broker discloses in writing the fee to the client.
  • SB 18-161 – “Concerning Repeal of the Behavioral Health Transformation Council,” by Sen. Jim Smallwood and Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp & Lois Landgraf. The bill repeals the behavioral health transformation council.
  • SB 18-162 – “Concerning Substitute Child Care Providers,” by Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and Reps. Janet Buckner & James Wilson. The bill creates a license within the Department of Human Services for a substitute placement agency that places or that facilitates or arranges placement of substitute child care providers in licensed child care facilities providing less than 24-hour care.
  • SB 18-170 – “Concerning a Water Court Process by Which an Owner of a Storage Water Right Allowing Water to be Stored in New Reservoir Capacity may Release Water into an Identified Stream Reach in a Manner that Protects the Water Releases while Complying with Mitigation Measures Identified in a Fish and Wildlife Mitigation Plan Approved by the Colorado Water Conservation Board,” by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg and Reps. Chris Hansen & Hugh McKean. The bill establishes a water court process by which an owner of a water storage right allowing water to be stored in a newly constructed reservoir or an enlarged existing reservoir may comply with the mitigation measures identified in a mitigation plan by contracting with the board.
  • SB 18-172 – “Concerning Testing of Horse Racing Licensees for the Presence of Prohibited Substances,” by Sen. Bob Gardner and Rep. Pete Lee. The bill adds to the responsibilities of the Colorado racing commission the protection of all participants, human and animal, involved in horse racing.
  • SB 18-176 – “Concerning Changes to the Requirements for Meeting Dates for the Board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District,” by Sen. Don Coram and Reps. Barbara McLachlin & Marc Catlin. The bill requires the Board of the Southwestern Water Conservation District to meet once every three months and makes amendments to the terms of the board members and board president.
  • SB 18-182 – “Concerning the Authority to Allocate a Portion of the Source Market Fee to Statutorily Authorized Purse Funds,” by Sens. Don Coram & Lucia Guzman and Reps. Marc Catlin & Jeni James Arndt. Current law requires persons outside of Colorado who accept wagers from residents of Colorado on simulcast horse racing events to be licensed in Colorado and to pay a source market fee into the racing cash fund. The bill authorizes the Director of the Division of Racing Events to allocate a portion of the source market fee to be paid to any horse purse trust fund established pursuant to existing law, if necessary, to maintain a sustainable and competitive purse structure in Colorado.
  • SB 18-183 – “Concerning Authorizing Agents of Insurers to Access the Electronic System that Insurers Access for Owner and Lienholder Information of a Motor Vehicle,” by Sen. Jack Tate and Reps. Jeni James Arndt & Larry Liston. Current law authorizes the creation and maintenance of an electronic system that vehicle towers, insurers, and salvage pools may use to access motor vehicle title records if the vehicle is insured or possessed by those entities. The bill allows an agent of an insurer to use the system in the same circumstances.
  • SB 18-184 – “Concerning a New Permit for the Short-term Extraction of Construction Materials,” by Sen. Don Coram and Reps. Hugh McKean & Daneya Esgar. The bill creates a new class of limited impact construction materials permits for one-time activities that produce construction materials as a by-product and are not intended to be ongoing mining operations and authorizes an application fee of $400 for the permit and an annual fee of $200.
  • HB 18-1017 – “Concerning the Adoption of an Interstate Compact to Allow a Person Authorized to Practice Psychology in a Compact State in Which the Person is not Licensed, and, in Connection Therewith, Making an Appropriation,” by Rep. Dafna Michelson Jenet and Sens. Bon Gardner & Stephen Fenberg. The bill enacts the ‘Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact Act’ allowing psychologists licensed in any compact state to provide telepsychology services to clients in any other compact state, or temporary in-person client services in any compact state not exceeding 30 days in a calendar year.
  • HB 18-1018 – “Concerning a Requirement that Education to Prevent Human Trafficking be Included in the Training to Obtain a Commercial Driver’s License,” by Reps. Terri Carver & Dominique Jackson and Sens. Rachel Zenzinger & John Cooke. The bill requires that the training to obtain a commercial driver’s license to drive a combination vehicle contain education to prevent human trafficking if the training is conducted in a driving school. The department must also publish information about human trafficking for commercial driver’s license holders and trainees.
  • HB 18-1049 – “Concerning the Department of Human Services’ Authority to Continue to Lease Portions of the Grand Junction Regional Center Campus to Third-party Behavioral Health Providers,” by Rep. Dan Thurlow and Sen. Ray Scott. The Department of Human Services currently leases portions of the Grand Junction regional center campus to third-party behavioral health providers. The bill authorizes the Department to continue such leases until June 30, 2020, and each party to such lease may terminate the lease early provided that the terminating party provide the other party with 90 days notice before vacating the property or requiring the property to be vacated.
  • HB 18-1056 – “Concerning the Statewide Standard Health History Form that Members of the Fire and Police Pension Association Complete when Commencing Employment,” by Reps. Kevin Van Winkle & Dave Williams and Sen. John Cooke. Every member of the fire and police pension association (FPPA), at the commencement of employment, is required to complete a health history on a statewide standard health history form. The bill clarifies several aspects of the form.
  • HB 18-1078 – “Concerning Court Programs for Defendants who have Served in the Armed Forces,” by Reps. Lois Landgraf & Tony Exum and Sen. Bob Gardner. Under current law, the chief judge of a judicial district may establish an appropriate program for the treatment of veterans and members of the military. The bill states that, in establishing any such program, the chief judge, in collaboration with the probation department, the district attorney, and the state public defender, shall establish program guidelines and eligibility criteria. The bill requires a court, in determining whether to issue an order to seal criminal records of a petitioner who has successfully completed a veterans treatment program, to consider such factor favorably in making the determination.
  • HB 18-1154 – “Concerning Consumer Protections Relating to a Solicitation to Provide a Copy of a Public Record for a Fee,” by Reps. Edie Hooten & Kevin Van Winkle and Sen. Cheri Jahn. The bill requires a person who solicits a fee for providing a copy of a deed or deed of trust to give a copy of the document that will be used for the solicitation to each county clerk and recorder where the solicitation is to be distributed; not charge a fee of more than 4 times the amount charged by the county clerk and recorder; and include specified disclosures.
  • HB 18-1239 – “Concerning Continuation under the Sunset Law of the Environmental Management System Permit Program, and, in Connection Therewith, Implementing the Recommendations of the Sunset Report by the Department of Regulatory Agencies by Allowing the Program to Repeal,” by Rep. Lois Landgraf and Sen. Ray Scott. The bill implements the recommendations of the sunset review and report on the environmental management system permit program by allowing the program to repeal.

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

The Fatal Flaw

Several years ago I wrote a screenplay that did okay in a contest. I made a couple trips to Burbank to pitch it, got no sustained interest, and gave up on it. Recently, someone who actually knows what he’s doing encouraged me to revise and re-enter it. Among other things, he introduced me to Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc, by Dara Marks (2007). The book describes what the author calls “the essential story element” — which, it turns out, is remarkably apt not just for film but for life in general, and particularly for talking about economics, technology, and the workplace.

No kidding.

What is it?

The Fatal Flaw.

This is from the book:

First, it’s important to recap or highlight the fundamental premise on which the fatal flaw is based:

  • Because change is essential for growth, it is a mandatory requirement for life.
  • If something isn’t growing and developing, it can only be headed toward decay and death.
  • There is no condition of stasis in nature. Nothing reaches a permanent position where neither growth nor diminishment is in play.

As essential as change is, most of us resist it, and cling rigidly to old survival systems because they are familiar and “seem” safer. In reality, if an old, obsolete survival system makes us feel alone, isolated, fearful, uninspired, unappreciated, and unloved, we will reason that it’s easier to cope with what we know that with what we haven’t yet experienced. As a result, most of us will fight to sustain destructive relationships, unchallenging jobs, unproductive work, harmful addictions, unhealthy environments, and immature behavior long after there is any sign of life or value to them.

This unyielding commitment to old, exhausted survival systems that have outlived their usefulness, and resistance to the rejuvenating energy of new, evolving levels of existence and consciousness is what I refer to as the fatal flaw of character:

The Fatal Flaw is a struggle within a character
to maintain a survival system
long after it has outlived its usefulness.

As it is with screenwriting, so it is with us as we’re reckoning with the wreckage of today’s collision among economics, technology, and the workplace. We’re like the character who must change or die to make the story work: our economic survival is at risk, and failure to adapt is fatal. Faced with that prospect, we can change our worldview, or we can wish we had. Trouble is, our struggle to embrace a new paradigm is as perilous as holding to an old one.

What’s more, we will also need to reckon with two peculiar dynamics of our time: “echo chambers” and “epistemic bubbles.” The following is from an Aeon Magazine article published earlier this week entitled “Escape The Echo Chamber”:

Something has gone wrong with the flow of information. It’s not just that different people are drawing subtly different conclusions from the same evidence. It seems like different intellectual communities no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Maybe nobody cares about the truth anymore, as some have started to worry. Maybe political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Maybe we’ve all become trapped in echo chambers of our own making – wrapping ourselves in an intellectually impenetrable layer of likeminded friends and web pages and social media feeds.

But there are two very different phenomena at play here, each of which subvert the flow of information in very distinct ways. Let’s call them echo chambers and epistemic bubbles. Both are social structures that systematically exclude sources of information. Both exaggerate their members’ confidence in their beliefs. But they work in entirely different ways, and they require very different modes of intervention. An epistemic bubble is when you don’t hear people from the other side. An echo chamber is what happens when you don’t trust people from the other side.

An echo chamber doesn’t destroy their members’ interest in the truth; it merely manipulates whom they trust and changes whom they accept as trustworthy sources and institutions.

Here’s a basic check: does a community’s belief system actively undermine the trustworthiness of any outsiders who don’t subscribe to its central dogmas? Then it’s probably an echo chamber.

That’s what we’re up against. We’ll plow fearlessly ahead 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 Kevin’s latest LinkedIn Pulse article: When We Move, We Can Achieve the Impossible.”