Polling The Natives


I’m at the beach this week. And, having taken vacations where we stay at a condo or a townhouse or a room with a kitchen before, we are working really hard to keep it “all in the family” by eating meals that we have cooked together.  Tonight was steaks on the grill.

In the community that we are staying, gas grills are prohibited.  In fact, charcoal grills are the only type allowed and even they are restricted to the “grill zone”.  That is, a very pleasant little area with 3-4 grills complete with seats, and a deck and plenty of room for co-grillers to meet and greet.

Tonight was a full house.

Three of us dad’s were grilling tonight and we began with the usual introductions.  Each of us was recently arrived and as such, we felt compelled to entertain conversation – we being neighbors for the next week or so.  As always in the “man way”, we began to introduce ourselves through our work, or career.

One guy ran a company that manufactured ball caps.  The other ran a boutique wine and cheese shop.  Me, I just work for the man.

We talked about the rain, the weather, women and kids.  We laughed over beers and burnt chicken.  We swapped stories and matches.  All nonsense talk really, just fillin’ time the way men do until they realize that the end is apparent.  That time in the conversation when we can reasonably claim we have to leave and still save face.  When that time comes, the conversation turns serious.

We all three began to gravitate to the economy and “the way things are”.  Now mind you, I have no idea these men’s name.  I have never seen ’em before in life and likely won’t even see ’em again here.  But we all three agreed that:

  1. A reasonable society should help each other out.
  2. That help should not create dependence.
  3. We have long ago crossed that line.
  4. Where unemployment benefits are concerned, we would be better off deciding how many weeks is enough and just lump sum the check.

I swear to gawd this is true.  I find more like minded people wherever I go.  This nation isn’t broke.  This nation is being managed by the morally inept.  By the intellectually inept.  By the spiritually inept.  Every single person I know and talk to understands that what our government is doing is buying votes.

The rest is just chit chat.

As I write this it occurred to me that my specific audience was perhaps biased; two business owners and a massive free market corporate lackey.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps there is something to be said about the fact that these individuals find themselves gathered in a rental community on the beaches of North Carolina for a week.  Maybe what successful people think matters.  Maybe when Michael Jordan advices about basketball people should listen.

Maybe.

Advertisements
11 comments
  1. dedc79 said:

    A few years ago I went backpacking in Russia. To be clear, this was post-Soviet Russia, with Putin leading the country. I was thumbing through the guidebook and came across a section on the economic disparity in russia under the energy boom the country was experiencing. According to the book, over 90% of Russians had never eaten in a restaurant.

    during the course of the trip we had conversations with russians at the hotels we stayed at, museums, restaurants, etc… But it always stuck with me — this idea that the people I conversed with were in all likelihood entirely unrepresentative of the Russian living experience. These were the few lucky people who had enough money, while most of Russia suffered.

    I would be very wary about drawing any conclusions (any at all) about the views of people you encounter on vacation. I don’t know if the U.S. has poverty of the kind Russia has, but I do know there is an enormous gulf in america between the haves and the have nots. There are hard working americans who will never take a vacation in their lives, and their are slackers who were handed all the money they’ll ever need and will never lift a finger.

    There’s a certain understandable comfort out of thinking/believing that the poor deserve to be poor but it just isn’t true.

    • pino said:

      There’s a certain understandable comfort out of thinking/believing that the poor deserve to be poor but it just isn’t true.

      Hmmm, by the way, have you ever been poor?

  2. nickgb said:

    “Then it occurred to me that people who could afford vacations were all in favor of maximizing personal wealth at the expense of public programs that they have never needed. Therefore, we must be right, because we could afford a vacation!”

    This is either really well-done self-parody, or you just wrote one of the most elitist things I’ve read in a while.

  3. pino said:

    This is either really well-done self-parody, or you just wrote one of the most elitist things I’ve read in a while.

    I’m gonna answer out of order and not “in-line”.

    I thought about this after I posted it. And then I considered it during the day today. For awhile, I didn’t like what I had written and even considered pulling it. I’ve never deleted a post I’ve written, or a comment. I’ve only edited posts without posting an “Edit” or an “Update” notice when it was spelling errors. I especially didn’t like the Michael Jordan reference. He was a special, once in a generation talent. In all likelihood, he ranks 2nd all time in the “better at my sport than anybody else is at theirs” category.

    I left it up. Both the post and reference. Partially as a reminder to myself that what I say has consequences. To others and myself. And no matter what I may think, those consequences should be considered.

    So, if an even average MLB baseball player were to say that he knows a thing or two about how to play baseball because he is one of the best in the nation, or even world, at what he does, there may be two reactions to that.

    1. Huh. Yeah, brother has a point.
    2. But what an ass.

    We would be well reminded that just because #2 is true doesn’t mean that #1 isn’t true as well.

    There are hard working americans who will never take a vacation in their lives, and their are slackers who were handed all the money they’ll ever need and will never lift a finger.

    However, I left it up for another reason. And that reason is this.

    There are people who are good at putting a ball in a hoop. And then there are people who are good at running organizations of people who put balls in hoops.

    Mr. Jordan was good – great – at one. He has rather underperformed at the other.

    Just because an American is hard working does not make him skilled at running workers.

    Further, the conversation around the charcoal had many themes. Among them was the fact that it’s ironic that companies that outsource work to people living in the most bone jarring of poverty are being accused of greed. If we were REALLY concerned about the poor, we would rejoice that for the first time in over many many years, a child has a chance to grow up to be something other than what her ancestors have been. She can walk away from the life of a peasant farmer and work, earn a living and buy…..stuff.

    Is that the reason the work is being moved to China or Vietnam? No. Not at all. It’s done because labor is less expensive there. Plain and simple.

    We also spoke of the need to give back. We talked about the different ways that our companies and stores give back to the community in which they live and operate. The jobs that were kept because the family needed that money. The special considerations that were made to train someone who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise gotten the opportunity.

    However, the main theme was that people succeeded at things because they are good at those things. And it doesn’t matter how the circumstance brought them to where they are; you have to be good. Eli Manning had it made; famous dad and brother. But he’da been cut like nothin’ if he sucked. Same for Kyle Petty and Jr. In fact, both Jrs; Dale and Ken Griffey.

    In the end, over time, people who are good at running a business stay in business. Those who aren’t, well, don’t. And those who are good at running a business typically are those that KNOW business. Does this mean that any random successful businessman is spot on in every view he has? Certainly not. But when the trend of successful people move in one way versus another, it’s a decent bet to accept what they say as having some merit.

    When the vast majority of business owners tell you that extending unemployment benefits for 99 weeks isn’t the way to get people working I think you should believe them. When a majority of business owners tell you that passing this or that legislation will not result in growth I think you should believe them.

    Do these guys have the answer to all questions? No. Being successful in business lends you no more expertise on extending Liberty to folks who wanna get married but can’t because they’re gay. It doesn’t give them insights into the conversation regarding stem cell research. Or any other non-business type topic.

    But they get to have serious weight given to their opinion as it relates to what they’re good at.

    So, does me saying that the fact that a bunch of guys who are successful enough to vacation at certain vacation spot for a certain amount of time might be an indicator that they know what they’re talking about come across as crass, insensitive and a bit ass’ish? You betcha. I’ll accept that criticism and I’ll even try to work on my presentation. But does it change the fact that it might be an indicator of truth? No way.

    And that is another reason the post stayed up.

    Michael Jordon was the [second] best worker we’ve ever seen in pro sports. That doesn’t mean he knows how to RUN pro sports. If you wanna talk to people who are successful at running businesses, go to where people who are successful at running businesses hang out.

    people who could afford vacations were all in favor of maximizing personal wealth at the expense of public programs that they have never needed.

    Okay, enough of me in contrition. Two things:

    1. Are you so different that you are not all about maximizing personal wealth?
    2. Do you not acknowledge that capital in the hands of those skilled at growing capital will generally grow at an accelerated pace that capital in the hands of those not skilled at growing capital?
    3. Okay, three. Is it possible, just possible, that those public programs could be run better? And that the simple act of throwing more money doesn’t make ’em run better?

    • nickgb said:

      First of all, I certainly don’t think you should delete the post, nor do I think it’s offensive. When I say elitist, I mean the normal meaning of the word: you’re elevating the value of a particular set of people (for example, taking their views with more weight). That’s not inherently wrong, as long as the set of people are more qualified. I guess it’d be fair to say it’s elitist that I only take nutritional advice from people who went to a good college and studied biology/nutrition, but that’s not wrong. Similarly, when the tea party decries liberal elitism, they’re right that we do look to educated people with more weight than an “average american”. I just don’t see anything wrong with that. So, my problem with your post is basically two-fold: (1) I think that you’d cry out against perceived elitism on the left, but this is simply an economic class elitism that you’re pushing; (2) I think you’re equating economic wealth with ability to govern, which makes little sense. First, though, answers to your questions:

      1. I’m not all about maximizing personal wealth. I try to make more money when I can, sure, but I also feel societal obligations that lead me to donate to charity, to political causes, and support taxes and govt. programs that I don’t personally use. If I knew that I could get away with not paying taxes, I’d still pay taxes, which is what separates me from a corporation (or, quite frankly, most people who have a lot of wealth).
      2. I’m sure that’s true.
      3. Sure, no question anything can probably be improved. And more money might not always be the problem. But less money is certainly not always a solution either, and I’d argue it’s probably not a solution to most programs we have now.

      But you’re equating very different things here. Sure, a person who is a successful business person is probably more likely to know how to amass personal wealth than someone who doesn’t have that experience (and I’m assuming for the sake of argument that all these people worked their way to success, which we know is not always true). But why does that mean they have any more insight into how to run a society? Or how to allocate government resources? A private business is not anything like a 270 million person country, and you can’t assume that skills transfer between the two.

      I would also posit that these people whom you meet on vacation probably know very little about what it’s like to be unemployed and suffering. I don’t think they’ve ever tried to live on poverty-level income, or wondered what to do if they can’t find a job before next month’s rent is due. Their input isn’t worthless, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. After all, what normal business decision has the same dimensions as designing an unemployment system?

      On a different level, the analogy doesn’t make sense. For one thing, asking a single player for advice doesn’t have anything to do with trying to even out the sport (or at least keep all players at at least 5PPG). Besides, Michael Jordan got where he was from a lot of practice and a lot of innate talent. It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll never play like MJ, who is the basketball-talent equivalent of being born into a rich family.

  4. Gas grills aren’t allowed? Yikes. To be sure, I prefer charcoal and actually I prefer a broiler…is there a reason gas grills aren’t allowed and grills are put in a ‘grill zone’? Is it an air quality thing in a vacation center (though the smell of food grilling usually enhances air quality…) I’m going to answer your questions to nickgb:
    1. I do a lot of extra work to make extra money, but I’m not about maximizing my wealth — if I was I would have chosen a different profession!
    2. I’m preparing for a couple lectures on the current crisis and part of the problem is that because of the fact more money went to the wealthy from the middle class, they sought quick profits — easy money. Instead of investing in productive things they created bubbles — the dot.com bubble followed by the real estate bubble. This meant that the profits we thought we were producing for nearly 20 years went into unproductive bubbles rather than helping the economy. The people were skilled at growing bubbles, it seems! Moreover, based on the illusion of growing wealth people borrowed more — private debt is as bad as government debt. If wealth had been more evenly distributed middle class purchases would have allowed a more effective growing of the economy because you wouldn’t have had the bubble pressures. That’s simplistic, it is more complicated, but the gist is that more money in the hands of the wealthy has not been money wisely spent growing productive capacity and economic health!
    3. I think programs need to be re thought. I agree that dependence is a bad thing, and often a result of current government policies. I don’t know if I’d say those “managing” the country are morally, intellectually and spiritually inept any more than the financial wizards who engineered the bubble economy are that way. The problem from the wealthy investing elite to the person on welfare to the person with massive personal debt is that too many of us from all walks of life really like the idea of “something for nothing.” Be it a government check or a guaranteed to grow AAA rated CDO or flipping real estate, easy money has an appeal that is hard for people to ignore. It’s not just a government malady, it permeates our culture.

    • pino said:

      Gas grills aren’t allowed? Yikes.

      They really wanna stay away from the small propane “camping” units that can sit on’a balcony. Wood and wind and all. I don’t know why they restrict us to a grilling deck; cleanup maybe? But the social aspect was cool.

      but I’m not about maximizing my wealth

      I think that we all try to maximize our “value”.

      more money went to the wealthy from the middle class

      I’d love to take that class. I don’t know that money went from the middle class to the wealthy.

      easy money has an appeal that is hard for people to ignore. It’s not just a government malady, it permeates our culture.

      This is true.

    • Scott – have you seen the documentary “Inside Job”? You can find it on Netflix…

  5. pino said:

    I certainly don’t think you should delete the post, nor do I think it’s offensive

    I thought about it. And I do think it has an offensive nature to it.

    That’s not inherently wrong, as long as the set of people are more qualified. I guess it’d be fair to say it’s elitist that I only take nutritional advice from people who went to a good college and studied biology/nutrition, but that’s not wrong.

    Well, yeah. My point certainly IS that if you wanna learn about what it takes to build businesses, that is -what causes a business to grow by hiring, you should talk to successful businessmen. That point could have been made out of the context of wealth.

    (1) I think that you’d cry out against perceived elitism on the left, but this is simply an economic class elitism that you’re pushing;

    Hmmm….

    So I’ve typed and erased several responses to “elitism”.

    I’m not sure if it’s the proper use of the word or not, but the elitism that I’ve come to hate is the one where people gravitate to people like themselves even though they have no expertise in the matter at hand; much like your discussing.

    So, it’s not being “elitist” so much when an attorney seeks out a nutritionist. However, it WOULD be if an attorney went to another attorney for the same advice. Or a graduate of his school without a degree in the nutrition.

    (2) I think you’re equating economic wealth with ability to govern, which makes little sense.

    Umm, where I try to link economic success with governing, I agree. However, I hope the point I’m making is that listening to successful businessmen on topics such as unemployment seems to make sense to me.

    I would also posit that these people whom you meet on vacation probably know very little about what it’s like to be unemployed and suffering. I don’t think they’ve ever tried to live on poverty-level income, or wondered what to do if they can’t find a job before next month’s rent is due. Their input isn’t worthless, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. After all, what normal business decision has the same dimensions as designing an unemployment system?

    Well, to be fair, we shouldn’t be designing a system that keeps people IN it. We want the system to be built such that people want to get OUT of it. I think we’re bumping into an aspect of policy that I haven’t been able to successfully over come.

    I don’t know how to make people understand that I acknowledge there are two aspects of this dilemma. 1. The part where you are running a “system” that is meant to get more out of it than before. That is, you have some group of people who become unemployed. What is the best way to make them be employed again. 2. The part where you are providing relief to a distressed human being with real needs. Depending on which angle your coming from, your policy is going to be different.

    While I’m sure there are some, many?, heartless bastards out there who really honest to God could give a fuck about someone else, most everyone I’ve ever known does care. So, on one hand they have real empathy for individuals, but on the other, much like a parent, love sometimes has to be tough.

    But why does that mean they have any more insight into how to run a society? Or how to allocate government resources?

    I think I stipulated, and if I didn’t I will now, that being wealthy doesn’t give any more insight into how to run a society than anyone else. For example, some one who is really good at running a business has no more expertise when it comes to gay marriage. But government resources? Maybe. THAT is what business is all about. Which is why we generally elect governors to be President, not other people. They have demonstrated that they can DO.

    trying to even out the sport (or at least keep all players at at least 5PPG).

    Well, we’re not trying to even out the sport, are we? After all, just by playing with Jordon, the bench warmer got a ring. Likewise, just by being in America, the poor have it better in many respects that the median in Europe.

    It doesn’t matter how hard I work, I’ll never play like MJ, who is the basketball-talent equivalent of being born into a rich family.

    He was cut during school remember. I suspect Michael worked his way there.

    10,000 hours after all.

  6. “10,000 hours after all.”
    Malcolm Gladwell?

    • pino said:

      Malcolm Gladwell?

      Yes. Great books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: