Thursday, February 25, 2010

Serenity, courage and wisdom

I love this quote:

Strive for the serenity to accept the things you cannot change;
courage to change the things you can; and wisdom to know the

It's the opening to the Serenity Prayer (from the Bible), but I've taken the liberty of replacing God grant with strive for.

The idiom "pick your battles" means the same thing as the 3rd goal.

This great quote from George Bernard Shaw relates closely to the 2nd goal:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him...
The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself...
Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man

Think about these goals. You'll likely find that each goal is distinct, very important, and somewhat surprisingly often applies in your day to day life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why do people vote against their own interests?

I found this article very interesting.

The first thing that struck me is its detached tone -- sort of like the curious look a child gives when looking inside a cage at an exotic animal. Probably this was written by someone who lives in Great Brittain, looking over the Atlantic ocean with mild curiosity at how crazy the US health care situation is.

The second thing that struck me is that the observation is very true. A huge majority of the population in this country would benefit from health care reform, including the public option. Those who cannot afford health insurance now, those with pre-existing conditions, etc.

Yet, many people who stand to benefit angrily fight reform. It's just plain weird. Here are two quotes from the article:
  • Why are so many American voters enraged by attempts to change a horribly inefficient system that leaves them with premiums they often cannot afford?

  • In Texas, where barely two-thirds of the population have full health insurance and over a fifth of all children have no cover at all, opposition to the legislation is currently running at 87%.
Finally, the two books referenced by the article certainly look relevant, roughly concluding that the average American doesn't really make decisions based on facts. (This also means "trial by a jury of your peers" is not a very comforting approach.) While I haven't read these books, I have come to the same depressing conclusion.

A democracy is only as effective as its population is at making rational decisions.

Why not create a public bank?

Why don't we have a public bank already? I mean a bank run by the federal government that competes with private banks, keeping them honest.

Let's recap what's happened in the past few years. First, the financial world collapsed (the risky sub-prime loans, CDOs, etc.). So, the federal gov't was forced to loan insane amounts of taxpayer's (and our children's future) money to the banks, just to barely keep them afloat. By and large, that worked: the banks have survived and recovered.

Yet, today they still pay out insane bonuses to their top employees, still fly around in private jets, throw lavish parties, travel to exotic places, etc. They are not extending the loans to small businesses that are required for our economy to really recover. And they are now spending lots of money, fighting the legislation that would regulate things to prevent a future collapse from happening again. In short, they have not changed.

Something has gone terribly wrong!

See, these banks don't contribute directly to economic progress. They don't build houses, invent new products, grow food, create more fuel efficient cars, etc. Really they are just the "lubrication" to enable all the real progress in our economy. They are not suposed to make tons of money, yet they do. And they most certainly shouldn't be given the power to hold our economy hostage, as they are today.

So why not create a public bank, run by the federal government, that would extend legitimate loans with reasonable terms, today? This would put a strong competitive pressure on the existing banks to lend, as the public bank would otherwise take customers away. It would be a much more direct way to stimulate the economy, than the "give lots of money to the banks and hope they loan it out instead of paying themselves fat bonuses" approach that is clearly not working very well today.

It could be a temporary creation, only around until the private banks start behaving well again. Or it could remain indefinitely, keeping the banks honest over time.