30 June 2015

Millennial communications...

As a follow up to last week's post on listening and connection, I want to add two thoughts:

First, "millennials" (those born 1985-2005) will have trouble communicating if they are better at posting selfies and self-discovery rather than listening to what others think. The internet has "caused" this by making it easier to broadcast and find "friends" who agree with you. In the past, people had to talk to those around them (as well as listen), which gave them a better sense of their own weaknesses and strengths.

Second (and as I wrote 10 years ago [pdf]) the internet -- by giving us access to art, music, lectures and information -- threatens our ability to produce, learn and think by making it too easy to "consume" the refined thoughts of others. It's in the struggle to understand, paint or play that we learn about topics and ourselves. The internet makes it too easy to avoid that struggle. School is supposed to force us to "learn how to learn" but many students are using wikipedia, calculators and other shortcuts to complete assignments. Those assignments may look better, have better spelling and even read better, but they may not induce as much learning as examples from 20 or 50 years earlier. (The same holds for teachers!)

Bottom Line: It takes work to listen, think and (thus) make. Internet with caution.

29 June 2015

Monday funnies

Everyone's a critic

Should water managers target users or use?

LH sent these articles, asking for my thoughts:
  1. This Southern California water purveyor (Antelope Valley) will punish "users" who go above "average" use.
  2. This one (California Water) has developed a water budget for each household
In the first case, I worry that the utility is calculating averages based on meters (i.e., per household) rather than people (per capita). Few American utilities have headcount data,* so most of these programs will end up punishing large families as "water hogs." The solution, to me, is to set a standard at two people's use (e.g., 50 gallons/200 liters each, per day) and let people give names and social security numbers** for higher allotments. The alternative -- assuming 6 people per household, as many utilities do -- does very little to cut back on excess use.

In the second case, it's common to include headcounts (gathered one way or another) as well as landscaping area. I dislike this system because "lawns" have a right to a budget allocation, just the same as people. I think people are more important.*** Further, budgets are VERY expensive to implement, given their data intensity.

As I've said before, I'd set one price of water for all use and raise that price in drought to prevent shortages. Higher prices will cut down on outdoor "waste." Would they penalize the poor? Not if they have a low per capita use (and thus low per capita bill). My suggestion of rebating excess revenues is also progressive, as it creates a net transfer from heavy to light users.

Why don't water managers take my advice? First, I think they like taking "off-the-shelf" solutions from consultants (like those above), rather than trying new ideas (even if those have been used for hundreds of years in other sectors). Second, I think they dislike the idea of setting one price and allowing customers to choose their use (this is why there are water cops [funny!] rather than higher prices). Third, they are "not allowed" to collect too much money, but this is untrue, given the long-standing use of "rate stabilization funds," etc.

Bottom Line: Don't manage my water use. Manage demand for the whole system.

* The American fear of "being counted" has been attributed to concerns about privacy, vulnerability to exploitation, and/or the return of the AntiChrist ("And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads" -- Rev 13:16). Here's a rebuttal.

** Social security numbers are supposed to be used for retirement, but they are used by banks et al. to track accounts and avoid tax fraud. That practice is semi-legal but tolerated because America has no national identification card scheme. That lack (see *) complicates welfare, voting, and many other government programs.

*** Los Angeles Water and Power has a perverse system of subsidizing lawns without helping people.

H/T to JF

22 June 2015

Looking for more?

I've posted a twitter feed on the right sidebar of the blog, or you can just click over to here.

Only connect

Over the past few months, I've run in to a variety of communication failures. Most of them involve a failure of empathy, i.e., taking the other person's perspective into account.

I've been told "this is what YOU believe." I've been told "that's not what YOU'RE saying." I've been told "nobody would think that."

I've been told, in sum, that the speaker has not realized that there's another way of seeing the world that does not revolve around them.

This problem -- of empathy, ego, or perspective -- is common as well as devastating to our societies.
  • In the first instance, you have disagreements or misunderstandings with people.
  • In the second, you cannot work with people.
  • In the third -- and worst -- your "community" weakens.
Adam Smith spoke of "acting as if your better other was looking over your shoulder." F.A. Hayek reminded us that we cannot know everything and must try to understands the ideas of others. Jane Jacobs illustrated how cities drew their strengths from the random interactions and interdependencies of residents. Billions of people live every day thanks to the efforts of others who, somehow, think about them.

Those small scale examples can be applied on a larger, national or international scale, but they depend on respecting the views of others, taking the time to understand those views, and finding ways to reconcile or abide by others' views (except when they harm others).

Does this mean that people cannot disagree? Does it mean that they cannot say hurtful things? No. People are always going to say these things -- intentionally or not. The key is to find ways of living with them and -- hopefully -- removing their sting, two outcomes that come with thoughtful living (wisdom).

Bottom Line: We must spend more time listening to others by spending less time on ourselves.

19 June 2015

Friday party!

Yes, this is cool terrifying, but do not do this at home!


18 June 2015

Anything but water

NB: This was left over from before the big reset...
  1. Stiglitz and Reich discuss the political economy of American inequality from the inside (hint: agenda setting)

  2. Fish are smarter than we think (maybe we're not smart enough to figure that out)

  3. Estonia's digital government helps citizens, but Russia's digital government spreads lies

  4. Solving homelessness by... giving them homes

  5. Nice to see the NY Times catch up with me (and other economists) on the carbon tax. Advantages: predictable charges and domestic re-distribution of funds
H/T to RM