August 15, 2011

Magic of Technology

Fascinating! I wish you a magical week :)

August 07, 2011

About the economy

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This is the starting quote from Charles Dickens' classic masterpiece "A Tale of Two Cities". The cities are London and Paris, or maybe metaphorically the old Paris and the new Paris, before and after the French revolution of 1789. It is the story of how the privileges of the wealthy and politically powerful, their pride and sense of entitlement, and not least their abject disgust of the less fortunate, who are unable to lift themselves up from poverty, brought about a revolution and all the horror that followed in its wake. It is a cautionary tale about how ugly, emotional, and violent things can get, if the majority of the people in a country is continuously disregarded and feels neglected by their entitled leadership. Of course, there are no parallels to our modern enlightened democracies, where people choose their leaders themselves. Or are there?

I just came across this documentary involving the statements of some politicians and economists done by Al Jazeera English, that makes an excellent case, that there is a growing disconnect between the politically and economically powerful and the majority of Americans.

Although this report is specifically describing the American situation, it is not an American problem. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening or already as wide as it gets in many countries of this world. I could cite GINI coefficients or top tax rates to make this point, but the sad thing is that we are all already very aware of the inequality in the world.

But there are two very different outlooks on the problem and how to solve it. Some say: "Well, if we could only get the world economy on it's feet again and finally relax those trade rules to get government out of the way and stop pussy-footing around who is really creating value on this planet.", while others say "We are in a desperate situation, where the rich control politics through money. Trickle down economy has been proven wrong, but they try to keep people oblivious. If we could only get the rich to pay their fair share, maybe through a global tax on financial transactions, or there will be hell to pay."

I personally believe in the democratic process of debate and compromise. I also have a high opinion of meritocracy, when it comes to economic issues, but not when it comes to social class. You should not have to earn your right to speak by having enough money, but every voice should be represented independent of its weight in gold. Politicians who do not follow this guideline of balancing the interests of all members of society, irrespective of economic power, but based on their human value as citizens, are making a devil's bargain. They are becoming puppets of interests other than the common good.

I happen to agree with the rating agency Standard & Poors on their assessment of "America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed." I think one way out of this mess is to re-establish reliability and accountability in politics. Not by "brinksmanship", as the Republicans have shown by holding the country's future hostage, but by putting every opinion out there and having an unemotional and reasonable debate that does not negate any of the facts. A compromise is when all sides give a little and everybody albeit grudgingly still supports the final deal. It would definitely make policymaking a lot more predictable and effective! And, hopeless idealist that I am, I think also a little more just...

August 02, 2011

Open choices

You are free, but you have to choose something. My mother used to say: "an open oven bakes no bread" -- Paulo Coelho

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a choice. There is no choosing without alternatives. Well, alternative choices are all around us. Life itself is a series of choices: subconscious choices, immediate choices, well-thought-through choices, forced choices, emotional choices, hurried choices, bad choices, good choices. Living is choosing. And one recipe to give ourselves room to make good choices is openness. Openness about the direction a choice might take us in.

I am a social scientist, an intellectual, a people person, a traveler, but I might as well describe myself as a manager, an entrepreneur, an analytic brain, and a good networker. It's about the self-definition, not about the contents or skills of my person. By realizing this, a lot more choices open up to me. I don't have to follow a pre-drawn path that is determined by what I have done in the past. The Self that made those decisions does not exist, because every time a decision was made there was a random collection of (mostly unconscious) decisions about what experiences to pick from my past and what behaviors to nominate as "characteristic" of myself (my self!).
WWID - What Would I Do? in this situation is the question that many people ask themselves to feel consistent in their self-image. But a consistent self-image is a trap. It locks your choices into a cage that becomes harder and harder to break. To minimize the pain and anguish at our limitation, we proceed to rationalize the cage as the real us, our personality, and if we are lucky we can say of ourselves (our selves!) that we are what we have always wanted to be. there is so much more out there. Throwing the past overboard can be healthy. It's never too late to start looking again for what you wanna do with your life. Maybe you would love to start a new career, there are usually lots of new places that you would like to see before you die, or you could be looking for a hobby by crowd-sourcing the search.

What helps me are my advisors, the people around me that challenge my arguments for doing the things I do, but never stop me from doing something they did not really expect. Friends and family know me well enough to trust my decisions, once I have made them and still help me while I collect arguments for or against a certain idea. Change is always scary, but with people like this, it is half as bad!