Friday, February 29, 2008

Upcoming Posts

I had a post planned for today on Microcredit, and no, that is not the percentage of people's souls owned by Microsoft, nor how small your credit line is in the midst of the current credit scare. It's actually a very interesting concept about how small loans can stimulate an entire economy. I haven't had the time to research it with a sick family and the Virtual Book Club last night (which my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed), so I will put that post up on Monday. Feel free to read yesterday's post, which is long enough for two days (and really felt like two intertwined stories by the end) .

Here's a brief update (which I also did not get up yesterday) on A Whole New World, which I first wrote about two weeks ago. The bid process was extended an extra week, we can only assume because people were not getting in their bids. We had our entire bid in by the deadline, though, and have spent most of this week feeling like we're afraid to tinker with it and just wish it had already been finalized. We really hope this means wonderful things for our business, but we won't know for a month just how much of our bid we get awarded. "Hurry up and wait" is now into full-on "wait and see" mode.

Tomorrow I plan to post an email (with his approval) Todd sent me a few weeks back after his first half marathon. I know it took a lot of hard work and dedication to run it, and I wanted to put that on our blog.

-- Robert

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Behind the Scenes - Managing Leadership Roles

This post was inspired by Melissa at Taking What Is Left, whose post yesterday discussed the differences between boys and girls in school. I want to write about how I have managed leadership roles as a follower and a leader in my past, and a couple of those experiences deal directly with gender-related topics.

Many men I have worked with in life prefer to lead. They seek after important positions on teams - forward of the soccer team, point guard of the basketball team, quarterback of the football team, captain of any team. They seek recognition in the classroom - highest grade on a test, STAR Student, valedictorian. They seek after recognition in their business - promotions, important assignments, being "boss", titles with C-O or President in them. They seek after recognition in community groups - chairman of a political party, president of a social club, chairman of a fundraising effort, deacon of a church. They seek after public office. They lead from the front whenever possible. First into the fray, top dog, head of the class, alpha male. They are revered by many around them, hated by some, feared in some cases, but almost always respected for their talent or charisma (or both) in some regard. Not all of these men are born to lead, but most of them definitely aspire to it.

I have certainly encountered many women who want to lead as well. Some of the most dynamic leaders I have worked with have been women. One such leader took a high school Interact Club which had formerly been comprised of about ten members and grew it to over 100 members in one year. She did it by word of mouth, recruiting her friends and getting them to recruit their friends, and by being warm and inviting to anyone interested in the club at all. I think she shaped the future leaders of that group as well, because the president who followed her led it in a very different way than she had presided over the Key Club the year before (which still only had ten members when she was done being president). She built an organization that became a cornerstone of the high school in the years that followed, and one that became an important part of recognition at graduation, as members who worked enough hours of service received a rope to wear with their robes.

I realize the last paragraph did not parallel the one before very well, but I have also had somewhat less experience with seeing women seek after leadership roles. Because I have a fairly broad range of experience, I feel reasonably confident in saying that women are less inclined to seek top leadership positions in general, but there are definitely those who want to lead. Some are, as the one I described, compassionate leaders who inspire. Many, especially those in politics and business, built their careers on a reputation of bone crushing and ball breaking, emulating the men in those fields but outdoing them in that way. I have certainly known compassionate female politicians, like the current State School Superintendent of Georgia and my former State Representative from my hometown. I have seen compassionate bosses in the corporate world, at least in articles I have read. But again, my experience shows me that in general men are more often driven to lead from the front than women. Women regularly assume the roles of party or club secretary, vice president of public affairs, and other supporting offices that are not number one. The first female chair of the Georgia Republican Party was just elected last year, and most people would probably agree she received the position because she had earned it by serving in so many offices of support before being chair. I have a tremendous amount of respect for women who do so much of the work of so many organizations and get so little credit because they are not the one whose name is mentioned first. The same goes for men who choose supporting roles, but I find more of them seem to take those roles in the hopes of one day being on top, while many of the women are quite happy being reelected year after year to serve in supporting roles - or they simply support without any office recognition at all.

I have held many positions of leadership. President of clubs and men's groups, captain of several teams, treasurer of a political party, vice president of several social clubs, counselor to the leader of my local church, and president of my company. I might say I have experience in leadership, certainly for someone as young as I am (I still think of myself as young in general). One of the things I most prefer to do, though, is to identify leaders and encourage a group to follow them. I have handpicked numerous officers of various clubs, encouraged peers to enter politics (yes, I admit it is shameful to wish such a thing on anyone), and selected leaders to head social organizations I have started. I know there is a huge amount of work involved in being at the head of any group, and I would rather help those who want the job to achieve it by being part of their support group than to be the leader myself.

In graduate school, I personally chose to follow two women in two different teams because I felt they were the best to lead their projects, and I personally picked two men to lead two clubs I organized because they were uniquely suited to guide those clubs.

The first team leader I chose because I liked her project and it was hers by virtue of her forming the idea, namely to start a Hispanic movie theater in Atlanta. She knew the market from having grown up in that community in Atlanta, and she had identified a perfect location that was available in the heart of most Hispanic part of the city. She obviously had passion for the project because she wanted it to truly happen. I knew my experience with accounting would be an asset to her team because she was a public affairs specialist by degree, and her teammate had a background in journalism. I helped another classmate who was an excellent fact finder, data miner, and data analyzer decide to join the team, and we made a wonderful project. I came within a few signatures of actually starting that business after graduate school, but the project fell through when the movie supplier reneged on his promise to supply first-run blockbusters to our theater. Instead my teammate and I (her original teammate was "fired" from the group by both of us and my friend left because we had what we needed from him) wished each other well and both got married that summer, moving away to different cities.

The second team leader I chose to follow was one who I felt had the best chance to lead a team we were assigned to by our teachers. She had experience in consulting, and it was our job to work on a project consulting with a county school district in the Atlanta area on whether or not they should centralize food production into one facility in their district. I wanted to do a quality job, and her experience in handling consulting jobs would be key to making sure we broke up th project into logical parts. I also knew that the other female on our team would want to lead (I knew her personality) and I would not have wanted to work for her nearly as much. It was clear from the outset that none of the three men on the team would want to be project manager, so I quickly endorsed the experienced consultant within five minutes of our first meeting. Our project was highlighted in the school magazine for what we were doing (at least in part because we were helping a school district, but hopefully because we did a good job) and we gave the district leaders a lot to think about.

The two men I chose to head the clubs were pretty different, but both ambitious to lead. The president of the Terry MBA Toastmasters had a lot of friends, got along well with people, and had a passion to become better as a public speaker. I knew he would encourage many of our classmates to join the club, despite the fact that it meant more work on top of a very busy class schedule. To my knowledge, that club lived on because his presidency formed a succession that a second-year student would always be president, and a first-year student would always follow him so the club would never go without leadership through the summers and after graduation. The other young man I chose made sense to me because he had experience in ILA Toastmasters (ILA stands for Institute for Leadership Advancement, and was comprised entirely of Juniors and Seniors mostly in the business school), and because he was a junior who could serve the club after I was gone and steward it along. Not having the luxury of an experienced Toastmaster in the MBA club made my friend and classmate a logical choice for that club, while experience made more sense in the younger club. I would have been fine with another person who also wanted to be president of that club, but he was popularly elected by the club's members (as was my friend, but he had no opponent in his election). She was dynamic, passionate - a born leader. He, though, still did a great job of helping the club establish order and follow an agenda, which is an important part of the teachings of Toastmasters (running a meeting). He might have made a better second president, because she was a Senior and he a Junior, but I was glad for his leadership nonetheless.

Each of those graduate teams and each of those clubs demonstrate the value of being willing to follow, regardless of the gender of the leader. Great leaders can accomplish a great deal, but without men and women willing to follow them, they have a much more difficult job. I, for one, am glad for someone else to get the recognition when they ask for the job or demonstrate to me they would do a good one. By being a leader's follower, I can shape an organization through their efforts and my own, instead of fighting against a leader I do not agree with or having to lead myself and find people willing to help me. One day, perhaps, I will feel I can no longer avoid the role of leader anymore in certain areas, but by then, hopefully I will have found others like me who will encourage followers to join me.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Assertiveness And Gender Politics, Hump Day Hmm

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks us to evaluate assertiveness and gender politics in the workplace, relationships, educational environments, or where ever else they come into play. I started to write this post about success (and the techniques I have seen used to find it), and I may still post that effort on another day, but instead I will talk about gender politics in the community where I presently reside. I am not from here, or as locals have been wont to say I "ain't from 'round here", so this commentary might sound judgmental and perhaps even condescending. I don't mean for it to come across that way, but I do want to look at the gender dynamics I observe very frequently here as a relative outsider to them.

Women in this community, for the most part, are not expected to be terribly outspoken. That is to say that those who are outspoken and under the age of fifty tend to look peculiar to the rest of the group. Women are expected to do more behind the scenes work to accomplish their goals and desires. Conversely, men make bold statements full of hyperbole (and swearing in many cases). Coming from a major city where plenty of women quickly spoke their minds on politics, religion, economics, and whatever else they felt like, this "gentile" mindset sometimes disorients me. When I brought a wife who "ain't from 'round here" to this place (I first live here as a single man) and who is definitely outspoken, it was very hard for her. People gave us both peculiar looks, and some even openly ostracized her or both of us. We have overcome some of those early "outsider" attitudes, but it still bothers some people (I think, anyway) that my wife holds an office in a political party when I don't, or that she is so free with her opinion. I know it bothers her (she tells me, for one thing), but it disturbs me. Many of the smartest people I know happen to be women, so why not listen to their ideas? I know it causes some strange looks from men that I almost always respond to questions with "I'll talk to my wife and get back to you." I've been called all manner of derisive names (which I don't care to write down) because I consult with or even let my wife in on decisions I make about how I spend my time. I won't say I was exactly raised to do that, but it is how I run my life and how I act in my home and marriage. We are equal partners who share in our responsibilities.

I also notice that tradesmen here have a habit of verifying things my wife tells them by asking me. They did it a lot to my mother when she built a home here, often asking my father "Your wife asked us to" whatever it was, then "Is that okay with you?" He finally got them cured of it by explaining it was "her house, she can do whatever she wants, don't ask me anymore." My wife recently asked a landscaper to trim some plants around our house, and he pulled over in front of me while I was walking to work to ask "Is what she said okay?" Their attitude seems to say "I know you're the one who writes the checks, so I better ask you." Fortunately most of the ones I have dealt with once have learned not to bother asking again.

The women in this community also do a great deal to organize events. They work with school and club fundraisers, Vacation Bible School, Relay For Life, and myriad other groups here. Men tend to fund these events through their businesses in lieu of spending the volunteer hours. These duty separations appear to be the case even when both spouses in a couple work. There are certainly men who give a great deal of their time to various projects, but besides a choice few in my age bracket (myself included), most of those men are retired or advanced enough in their careers not to need to worry about time spent out of the office now and then.

I can understand a lot of the dynamics of gender politics here. I grew up in Atlanta, where the South still has some influence, and I grew up visiting South Georgia often. Still, I got used to women being more able to share their opinions publicly without ridicule, or without being ostracized by most people for it. Women were definitely vocal in community groups and politics. In short, I notice that too many people here still think "the good ole boys" still need to run things. I'm just fine with that attitude going away, personally, and I'm happy to support my wife in her vocal nature as a small way of breaking down such stereotypes.

-- Robert

P.S.: I apologize that my post did not specifically point out one thing I meant to include in my explanation of gender politics here: assertiveness is not a trait appreciated in women here, unless it relates to advocating for their children. Aggressiveness is openly derided, but even women are simply assertive with their opinions are thought of as "uppity" in many cases. It is unfortunate.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Emergency Preparedness

On Sunday, we had a wonderful lesson about the importance of financial independence and preparedness for hard times. While some might think such lessons sound too much like doomsday paranoia, I believe in the message. Looking at the economy as a whole, it is possible that it will be harder to secure credit in the near future, making it harder for many people to buy homes or automobiles. When more has to be purchased with cash, it means more savings and preparedness comes into play. Dave Ramsey does a radio show weeknights helping people figure out how to deal with certain debts they have incurred, how to manage their cash flow, and (once they are debt free) what to do to save and invest for the future. He regularly talks about having a six-month emergency fund in the event of the unexpected. The lesson on Sunday also discussed such a plan, explaining various ways to manage such funds. Some cash should be immediately available (emergencies often mean banks are not available), as well as a 72-hour kits of food, water, and clothing (the link is just one example kit, but it is easy to prepare one without buying it ready-made). A good guideline is to have cases of bottled water, food that does not require microwave preparation (and if any heat is required, it's a good idea to have a pot and pan, as well as some means of making a fire), and clothes that are regularly updated to fit children as they grow. It never hurts to have some fuel around, as long as you have a safe means of storing it away from pets and children.

One of the best things to do for general emergency preparedness - losing a job, new illnesses, unexpected pregnancies, car accidents or maintenance problems, home repairs, extreme weather - is to get out of debt and stay out as soon as possible. Avoiding new debt can be hard with so many "get it now, pay later" sales out there, but it's better to plan for purchases by saving up instead. Debt avoidance can reduce the effect of any emergency on an individual or a family.

Three years ago, four major hurricanes hit Florida after none had come in several years. The next year, one of the most terrible hurricanes in recorded history hit Mississippi and Louisiana. I saw first hand at the sites of all those hurricanes (thanks to relief efforts through my church) how quickly a world can change. Tornadoes have destroyed homes across the nation for the past several years - even in places that almost never get them. Wildfires and mudslides have plagued the West in various places over the past few years.

Planning for such calamity might sound extreme, until it happens. Right now, many families wish they had planned their spending better as adjustable rate mortgages go up, as the economy slow-down means lower wages or lost jobs, and as inflation has caused everything to cost more today than yesterday. One of the best resources around for preparedness is Provident Living. It offers resources for budgeting, food storage, and various other areas.

One thing I personally agree with that Dave Ramsey teaches with his financial planning is including tithing (giving a tenth of one's increase to the church) and offerings (excess giving beyond ten percent). By planning that outlay, it helps begin the process of budgeting, and it blesses the giver. Even if someone does not follow a particular religion, giving to charitable organizations can be an uplifting way to share wealth. Tithing and charitable givings are also tax deductible, but it would be good to do regardless, in my opinion. I can certainly see how giving has blessed my own life, and the results of others' givings have blessed many.

In the end, the main reason to get out of debt and manage finances is to find peace and security. When a long-term savings plan is in place, it becomes easier to face good times and bad. By living on less, it becomes easier to save for retirement, plan for children's schooling, and manage day to day life. Too many in today's world live in the now, or really live on future earnings they cannot guarantee they will produce. We could all stand to learn to manage our finances better.

-- Robert

Monday, February 25, 2008

Proposed Legislation on the Tax Code, More from the Senator

When the Senator came Wednesday, he also discussed various elements of the new stimulus package, Social Security, and tax code. I want to highlight some of what he said, most of which I found encouraging.

Stimulus Package

In the past month, the Congress worked to pass a stimulus package in the hopes of avoiding an economic recession. He was proud of the bipartisan effort that went into getting the bill passed, and of what the package did. He like that the plan helped individuals and families with a rebate, and it helped business by allowing faster write-offs of new equipment purchases. The spending by families and investments by businesses should spur growth in the economy. While I am not as big of a fan of the package passed because it did not make the 2003 tax cuts permanent, I always appreciate the government cutting taxes.

Social Security

He explained that the plans President Bush had of allowing individuals to retain a portion of their Social Security had been sidetracked early in the president's first term. The senator believes, though, that the only long-term solution to save Social Security is to allow people to invest a portion of their Social Security withholdings in a private account like an IRA or 401(k). By allowing them to invest the funds, they can grow and actually build a retirement instead of relying on the present Social Security system, which does not invest any funds at present. He basically described a plan similar to the one I described here. I was very encouraged to hear what he had to say.

Tax Reform

The Senator definitely favors tax reform, but not overnight. He sponsored a bill that would dissolve the present tax code by 2010, with the understanding that it had to be rebuilt by that time. He recalled the effect that sudden changes in the tax code in the 80's had on the Savings and Loans industry (it was wiped out) and how it contributed to the recession of 1991. He favors a consumption tax (like the FairTax) because it allows individuals to decide whether or not they want to pay the tax instead of making it compulsory. I definitely appreciated his take on how to properly implement tax changes, and I look forward to seeing what else comes out of Washington in the next few months and years.

I really appreciated the senator's visit to our small town. He had not met my wife before, so it was good to introduce him to the new parts of my family, and to let my wife see why I supported him even though he was not the candidate we first supported when he ran for Senate. He is a good man, not so full of himself as many politicians. He had engaging answers, and regularly referred to the problems in Washington as something "we" need to change, instead of "they" (he knows he is there and shares in the blame, he explained). I hope he remains in Washington and gets more accomplished for now. If he decides to run for governor in the next election, though, I can't say I wouldn't support him.

-- Robert

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Boomsday, a book review

Thanks to the wonderful idea of Melissa at Taking What Is Left, I read the book Boomsday for her Virtual Book Club live blog coming up on February 28th at 8:30 CST. I decided to write a brief review of this book. I confess this is the only book I have ever read by this author.

When I was in elementary and middle school, I used to love creative writing assignments. I always wrote some tale of adventure, often involving myself and my best friend having to fight some force of evil. Each such story generally included a grandiose beginning explaining in great detail the peril of the main characters, the eminent need to achieve some goal, or the amazing scope of some epic war. I would expound on the tale, feeling it out.

Then the deadline loomed. And I tacked on a quick ending, sometimes as brief as a paragraph or two at the end of a multi-page story. The story was destroyed by the deadline, and I hated it. So what does this have to do with Boomsday?

Buckley has a very interesting style. He builds up his tale, and he sidebars a lot. Each character, by the end, has become somewhat clear in the mind of the reader, and the main characters each have some fascinating back-story that gives them life and intrigue. Then comes the end. He has a lot of pomp without much circumstance, a lot of cute ideas he presents but never brings to fruition, he takes you to the door of a new world, then closes the book. I like his style in a way, but his ending drives me to distraction in the way a Vonnegut story would. I doubt I would read him again, barring definite knowledge the book had a clearer ending.

I realize the purpose of the book is to provoke thought and discussion, and I am thankful for having read it in that light. Social Security absolutely needs a complete change to save it, and he draws the reader's attention very well to the extremes that might seem sensible if things continue much longer as they are. Here's hoping his book becomes laughable one day, when Social Security has undergone a drastic change well before something even close to his story could ever seem reasonable.

I look forward to the discussion on this book.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Senator's Tale

Wednesday morning, one of our U.S. Senators came to town to hear from his constituents. He is not up for reelection, so he really was just on what he called a "listening tour", giving people a chance to tell him their perspective. He started out by sharing a story about his recent trip to Iraq. He explained that he had been to Iraq every January since we had gone to war with them. Each time he had been flown in on a cargo plane, then quickly rushed onto a Blackhawk helicopter waiting on the airstrip. The Blackhawk would then fly low maneuvers into town to avoid radar detection and limit the chance a senator would be attacked. This January, though, after deboarding the cargo plane, he drove in a Chevy Suburban into town. He went to a plaza of store fronts that had been abandoned for years. He ate bread and drank "some of the stiffest coffee" he'd ever had at a coffee shop opened by two brothers. Twenty of the twenty-four stalls had stores now.

As I said, the story gave me hope. It gave me hope that things are truly improving in Iraq. It also gave me hope that most of our troops will be coming out. Right now, 500,000 Iraqi soldiers have been trained to take over the military and security enforcement in Iraq, and provincial government elections will be coming soon. Democracy seems to have found root in the Iraqi landscape. Here's hoping it flourishes.

-- Robert

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Whole New World, Update

This post is an update to this one from last week about the new realm my business may be entering.

After a week of analyzing information seemingly non-stop during long hours, we suddenly seemed to hit a point where we all felt like we might have bid on enough volume and enough lanes to just scale back from what we had. Then we had a wonderful conversation with a woman we had met at the conference who, despite being a competing bidder, had a great willingness to help us understand the process. I realize there is risk in trusting someone who is competing with me, but I think she realizes she has no hope of getting it all but would prefer to be competing against people who know what they're doing (which in her mind seems to be people who underbid drastically on price out of their ignorance).

That conversation left us very encouraged that we did not need to scale back at all. We also learned a great deal about the process of how awards would be made, and then how those awards would actually be given to us over time - something we were completely in the dark about. Instead of the award becoming a great source of concern (if we got too much, would we be in a lot of trouble), it became even more of a hope for the potential this new line of business would mean for our company. The process of awarding and actually placing business sounds like a wonderful new door for us to be opening because we have never had such a direct line to our customers, something that lets us know several days in advance what to expect from them. We are much more used to what they call the "spot market" where loads are covered the day we become aware of them. Having something to look ahead makes the job of our sales group - called brokers or dispatchers - much simpler because they know what they need to get covered for our customer and just need to find a truck to do it. Once that truck is under a given load, then the dispatcher can work on loading that truck when it arrives at the eventual destination, which is still an easier place to start from than we are in most cases right now. I really felt encouraged when we learned that even if we get awarded a small number, we might actually be given more than our award because it was easier to give out more loads than to go back and renegotiate with everyone if their volume increased. I would love to be someone they give extra business to after the fact. All in all, this new business could increase our efficiency and volume, and thereby our bottom line. We are very excited to see where it leads us.

This week we have spent most of our time reviewing what we've bid, reviewing contracts, and basically making sure we are confident that we are bidding proper amounts at good prices. We got a little bit of a scare yesterday when I happened to read a seemingly innocuous statement that meant my pricing calculation was off by an aver of $75 a load. I'm glad I found it now instead of later, though. Today we'll be deciding if we should change our prices to make up that money or leave them alone. The bid process finalizes a week from Monday (they added a week as of yesterday), and then we get to wait. A month later, the awards will come out and we will decide to accept or reject what we're offered. As we often say in this business, it's "Hurry Up and Wait" time.

-- Robert

Thursday, February 21, 2008

One Man's Proposal to Curb The Rising Cost of Health Care, Part 2

3. Government incentives to enter the most needed fields of medicine
Programs already exist that pay off loans for doctors who work a certain number of years in rural areas. Programs could also reimburse some measure of tuition or pay off some measure of loans for doctors to enter the fields in high demand that are not presently attracting as many doctors. There would be more primary care physicians available, helping people have greater availability. Loan payoffs could be tied to working in a given field as well as working in geographic or economic areas that need more doctors. If those programs already exist, then perhaps I am showing my ignorance. As it stands, new doctors are focusing on fields that earn them more money, and some further incentive to encourage more people to work in medicine as the field continues to have an increasing demand in years to come. I freely admit I am fairly ignorant on how these programs presently work to encourage doctors to work in rural areas. If they already include the requirement to go into certain fields, then good for them.

4. Remove the requirement that students must have an undergraduate degree to enter medical school
Once upon a time, students could go to veterinary school without completing a bachelor's degree. I know my former vet, now retired, did just that about fifty years ago. As it stands, for a person to become a doctor, they have to go through eight years of study and four years of residency to be a doctor free to practice on their own. If we removed the requirement for students finish the bachelor's program first, and instead required something more like an associate's in pre-med that involved all the necessary sciences, we could at least remove some of the time spent becoming a doctor. I know the enormous commitment to become a doctor has deterred many of my very intelligent friends from pursuing it, even some who planned all through their childhood to become one. If we shorten the path, we might hope to get more doctors.

5. Final Thoughts
In addition to these ideas, I also completely agree with Lawyer Mama that the system already pays for people's care, whether we like it or not. One commenter, SarcastaMom, on her blog post about universal health care, suggested we take the large sums spent on expensive care after the fact and invest it in more preventative care and education. I agree, but we need to come up with a good way to accomplish that shift in spending. Making it part of Medicaid and Medicare might make some sense, but not if it becomes "add-on" instead of "in-lieu-of" spending. My suggestion would be to require those on Medicaid to have an annual physical, which would help in curtailing major illnesses growing unchecked before they turn into something serious. Private insurance could also pay for an annual physical without regard to deductible as a further encouragement for people to get a better idea of how their general health is doing.

Doctors are already swamped in any office I visit, but with these government incentives, the cost of medical care to the consumer could and would go down and the availability would go up. These programs would also avoid the government taking over the role of insurance companies, but instead help the actual cost of medical care go down by removing the government-related costs from the equation. That's my two cents on the matter. Now I'd love to hear other ideas.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When Using My Words Cost Me

So, I had to write a second Hump Day Hmm. This story just shot out of my memory when I read another poster's comments.

In graduate school, I had a definite experience of using my words that cost me. I was taking a human resources class, and the profressor was terrible. She seemed to have little experience in what she was teaching, and she never talked at great length on the final project - creating a benefits package for employees at a business based on a given cost maximum and certain needs as a minimum. My teammates were an Indian (no US HR experience), a Navy officer (again, no HR experience), and me (who'd never had a benefits package with a job before). We did our best and, at a minimum, we complied with the project guidelines. But I wrote an anonymous (supposedly) evaluation of how terrible the professor was. We got a 40 on our project, and I got a C for the class. We appealed the grade, but since the professor was the Dean of Research, we knew after the first level the grade was not changing. I only found out later, from a classmate who worked in the office that processed evaluations, that many times professors came in to review the hand-written evaluation (despite assurances they were anonymous) to recognize the handwriting. I am solidly convinced I got a C because I ripped my professor to shreds in that evaluation.

My recourse, though, was simple. Any solicitations from my school for funds came with one question back, "Does Dr. [her name] still have a position there? Call me when she's retired."

She retired early this year, so I can now give to the school I love so much again.

Technician Who Left Me Wishin'

Today's Hump Day Hmm asks "when and how do I use my words?" and Julie was kind enough to propose several scenarios to elaborate on.

Her first and fourth scenarios each remind me of stories from my own experience. I want to relate the story that came to mind because of her fourth, since it ties in well with the general theme of my blog dealing with my working life.

Technician Who Leaves Me Wishin'
My office relies on phones more than anything, though computers have become a close second. We make our living communicating with shippers and drivers, easing the correspondence between the two we have helped come together. We are, after all, a broker of freight.

Several years ago, we had several instances of needing some technical assistance from the phone company because of lines going down or individual phones going down. Each time we called, one of two men tended to respond. One man always seemed to solve the problem quickly and effectively, and we rarely needed him to return for the same issue he had previously solved. The other man almost always required a follow-up visit from the first to solve whatever else he managed to screw up, along with the original problem. Because of this continued record of disservice, I finally decided to make a specific request when I called for support. I talked to the manager of the local phone company directly and asked him to send the competent man, explaining I had always been pleased with his service.

Not long after my call to the manager ended, I was greeted by an obviously irate technician - the second man. He threw open the door of my office and began his visit with the words, "So I hear you don't want me workin' on your phones anymore?"

Given his obviously excited state, I decided to calm him down with an explanation that veered away from my dissatisfaction. Yes, it could easily be construed as a lie, but I mainly avoided the topic of his competence. I simply explained that it would be fine for him to work on the system. I had simply requested the other man, but I needed help and would take what I could get. It would not have surprised me if the man had gone in and torn out my phone system to spite me, but to his credit, he went to work on it instead. Once he left, I placed another call to his manager.
"I did not ask you to tell [the man I didn't want] that I did not want him," I explained, rather calmly I recall despite my agitation. "I wanted [the first man] to come because he gets it done right. I do not appreciate how this situation was handled."

Ever since, I am fairly certain we have always been serviced by the first man I wanted, or by another man who came to work for them later who is equally competent. Rarely have I been more displeased with how a service company handled a request I made. When people I deal with ask me not to refer their business to a particular employee of mine, I simply comply with the request in the hopes of a continued relationship. If they explain some problem they have with a particular employee, I admit that I have often had cause to take notes on their concerns and convey them to the employee in question. I do not recall ever forcing the specific employee on the displeased customer, though.

And for the record, I am not sure if the man who came in with such fury solved my problem or not. I do recall the first man coming the next day, which suggests he did not manage to get it done. Without any grisly details here, I will just say the second man is no longer employed by my phone company.

-- Robert

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One Man's Proposal to Curb The Rising Cost of Health Care, Part 1

Saturday, my wife and I were taking a lovely walk through our neighborhood. As we walked, we discussed this post on universal health care. We both agree that we do not want universal health care, but what good is simply disagreeing without proposing a solution, or at least an alternative. I came up with something I would love to have input on. Today I will post the first two parts of where I thought we could start.

1. Medical professionals no longer pay federal taxes on income

If we removed the income tax and payroll tax from medical professionals, we would allow doctors to charge less for their services. We would also encourage more people to consider entering the medical field. Presently, various economic studies have shown that the average doctor makes less than the average businessman when the costs and time spent becoming a doctor are taken into account. In simpler terms, while a doctor's actual income may appear quite high, the investment spent to become a doctor is much higher in dollars and time, and the average business school graduate can make a higher living with less time and money invested thanks to several more years of earning power to build up with. If doctors no longer had to pay taxes, we would substantially increase their ability to make a living, some of which could be passed on to patients in the form of reduced fees. As more students become doctors, the increased supply would also reduce the cost of medical care on the system. Presently, we need similar increases in the supply of other medical professionals, such as nurses and EMT's, and removing their taxes would definitely encourage more people to consider medicine when choosing a career.

2. The Federal Government pays malpractice insurance premiums on doctors

One of the highest costs any medical practice copes with is the premium on malpractice insurance. If government paid those premiums, doctors could again charge less for their services. If particular doctors had continual problems with malfeasance, then the government could revoke their license and cease paying their premiums to avoid a rise in those costs. Managing those malpractice premiums would also encourage the government to oversee medical care as well as evaluate awards in malpractice cases more carefully. Taking more of the burden off of doctors to manage the business side of their practice would give them more time to focus on actual medical care. If the cost of paying these premiums is anywhere near the cost of insuring the forty-six million presently without insurance in this country, I would be fairly surprised. Even if it was close, paying the malpractice premiums would go a long way to reducing the cost of medical insurance as the cost of medical care reduced, making the malpractice premiums an investment in reduction.

The second half of this proposal will be up on Thursday. I look forward to plenty of comments on both days.

-- Robert

Monday, February 18, 2008

Conservatism Versus Liberalism - One Man's Perspective

I have spent some time recently reading the blogs of self-described liberal women. I have once again been reminded of the definite similarity between the internal perspectives of their values and my own. They want people to be well cared for, and their fellow man to do well. They want to see injustices in the system reduced or removed, and they want to take care of their own needs while still not stepping on others to accomplish it. In short, all of us of care about the world around us a great deal, and we want to make a better world for our children to grow up in. The difference, in my opinion, comes in the outward projection of those inward designs.

For the most part, I find liberals prefer to mandate compliance with laws to affect a change in the world. They want the government to force corporations to do what the market will not. They want the government to supply insurance (and thereby health care) when the insurance agencies will not. They want to give those who are less fortunate a government handout - derived from taxing others - to help those who don't make enough to take care of themselves and their children. They look to the government to create logical retirement solutions in programs like Social Security and Medicare. In short, they prefer government regulations and government programs when the time comes to solve a problem.

As a conservative, I prefer to find solutions that encourage private entities and individuals to solve problems. I prefer to change the world by increasing opportunities for education and employment to encourage people to take care of themselves. I would rather cut taxes and regulations on employers (most often, corporations) to allow them to employ people at more suitable wages and charge prices more reasonable for all. I would like to give insurance companies tax breaks as an incentive to offer broader coverages to all people. I would rather the government allow people to save their own money for retirement in lieu of paying for Social Security. I can concede that mandating they put money into a retirement account to avoid payroll taxes would be a suitable first step, but I again prefer not to force people to take care of themselves through taxation. I believe the government has created numerous programs that hamper the market's ability to meet more people's needs. I believe excessive regulations and corporate taxes have driven jobs overseas, when removing the corporate taxes would likely promote an influx of jobs to this country.

I think liberals and conservatives both want to help their fellow man. They just go about it in very different ways. Liberals want the government to handle the job by taxing the haves and sharing with the have nots. Conservatives want to help people learn to take care of themselves, and for the government to primarily provide for the safety of individuals from criminals and foreign threats but otherwise leave people alone. I know I have oversimplified the arguments and viewpoints of both sides. My point is to look for common ground - the desire to help others - and to work toward that common goal with solutions that will work. I am willing to listen to both sides, with the understanding that I want to be listened to when I make my suggestions. The time has come that we forget the tension the media builds up for the sake of a good story and move forward as one people. Otherwise, we'll continue to be mired in the growing problems of economics, health care, national security, and individual rights. I want to start building a better tomorrow now, instead of waiting for catastrophe. Who's with me?

-- Robert

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Losing An Old Friend

Sometimes it's a trusty shirt that was always there when laundry day came one day too late. Other times it's the wallet full of business cards, receipts, and lint from years of use. And then sometimes it is a laptop full of important emails, documents, and memories from several years. Most of the time the shirt becomes a rag, and the wallet becomes a plaything for a child or is simply thrown away. But fortunately, for a laptop, sometimes a full system restore can save it. The memories may be lost, but everything else remains - the screen that is sized just right to view two documents at once, the keyboard that is quiet as a mouse, the touchpad with an oil spot from steady use... ah, it's good to save old friends.

Yes, this weekend my laptop suffered a near-fatal illness. One, two, perhaps thirty spyware programs seemed to have cropped up from nowhere, as if the same bugs carried home from airplanes by the user got carried home by the computer. Alas, nothing could save my laptop from a full system restore.

Having an old laptop renewed, though, can be like I might imagine it would be to get to play with an old dog as a puppy again. It runs fast, learns quickly, and falls into step with its owner after a few days. I will miss a lot of the desktop icons, and I will have to spend a few days very soon setting up various elements again, but at least I'm not out a great laptop.

Welcome back, old friend.

-- Robert

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Universal Health Care

This post is written in response to a post by Lawyer Mama which can be read in part here and in full here.

To preface, I am one of those who has to pay for my own insurance out of my paycheck. I have spent an average of more than 20% of that paycheck each year on medical costs.
I don't want universal health care. I would much prefer a private solution where group health care were more readily available to those who do not work for employers that provide coverage in the benefits package. There are more and more companies getting out of that benefit area anyway because the costs are skyrocketing. By the insurance companies offering group coverage based on locality, age, or whatever other logic diversified their risk adequately, more people could get coverage.

I also think a better solution is that more health-related items should be tax deductible. Pay for a gym? Tax deductible. Get an annual physical? Tax deductible. If more preventative medicine practices were covered by insurance or tax deductible, people would be more encouraged to undertake those practices. Universal health care without those remedies would only increase the velocity of the costs increases as more people become encouraged to "just wait 'til it blows" (my father once told me to do that with a tire that was leaky, and I did, so it happened on the way to school, kind of fits the poor timing comment). As one driver once said to another, regarding his truck, "I don't maintain my equipment. I just hope it goes out while I'm under a load with [my company]." I don't let him work with us anymore. Because the current system encourages people to wait until their problems are chronic, our costs will continue to go up.

The last reason I would not want universal health care is the same reason I don't want Social Security in its present form anymore. When the government takes tax dollars to pay for something, they are matching dollars with dollars. When an insurance company takes in premiums, they invest those premiums and use their profits to pay for health care. Government could never compete with them on their ability to cover costs (even as bad as they are already about paying for what they are supposed to). If government took tax dollars in and paid them to private insurance companies to handle those who qualify for some program, I would be willing to entertain proposals on the idea.

I have one further problem with creating one more program to help those who are "unable to help themselves." By aiding those considered less fortunate, more people become less fortunate. If I could quit paying what I do for insurance and just qualify for a government program instead, I might. Certainly many would. It happens time and again. The welfare rolls have plenty on them who could do more for themselves than they do, but they're satisfied getting by on welfare because they get medical costs handled and basic needs met. I won't discuss the criminal subculture of welfare recipients who find other sources of income here because I don't want to cloud the issue. Creating universal health care to insure those who are not presently insured would actually mean insuring more than their 46-million.

I know plenty of young people who are healthy and able-bodied who simply don't have insurance because they choose not to. Sure, they're taking a risk, but that's their choice. If I had saved all my premiums and simply paid for the various costs of medical care I had incurred with my family (and no, they are not low) over the past four years, I would still have money left over from my premiums I am sure. But I pay for insurance to cover catastrophies. I am also a diabetic who will need further health care for probably the rest of my life. If I had not gotten on insurance before, I might be faced with a serious problem now. Still, I don't want universal health care to save me. I prefer to look for better solutions than government managed programs. I am definitely interested in discussing government aided private solutions when the aid comes in the form of tax breaks and positive incentives instead of increased taxation to build more programs.

I would love to hear more thoughts on this subject. I have posted the links to the inspiration for my comments on the subject, so hopefully comments here will be something new beyond those endorsements.

-- Robert

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Whole New World

This past week, my brother-in-law and I attended a conference with one of the largest shippers of any type of meat in the world. We had never gone to anything of that sort before, but we wanted to see what we might learn about our industry there. I came away with some interesting perspectives on what we could gain from making a bid on their freight - which was the purpose of the conference.

First, we saw companies that started up in the last several years that already have done more in sales than we ever have. We saw huge companies that even ordinary (non-industry) people would recognize and we saw carriers that are far smaller than us. We used the conference as a chance to network and hopefully build some contacts, but mostly we listened to what we could gain from getting involved with this shipper, who actually owns eight companies that are all offering their freight together starting tomorrow.

We could double or triple our business if we got involved. We could miss out on a huge opportunity if we don't. We could damage our reputation if we overbid on the volume we could handle. We could be left wishing we'd gone for more if it turns out to be a perfect new line for us to be in and we didn't bid on enough. The likelihood is we will end up somewhere in between - not completely satisfied with what we get, but hopeful we'll have a chance to do better in the future.

The most fascinating part about the whole process to me was how they plan to accept bids. They are using an online software that allows everyone to look at all the business they're offering and to bid on what amount they want on a given lane. They call it an alignment process - they let their carriers and brokers align themselves with their freight lanes in ways that improve the efficiency of both the shipper and the carrier. If what they say is true - and I tend to believe it is - they are not simply trying to trick everyone into undercutting each other, but instead trying to place an ideal volume with an ideal number of carriers that they believe can be profitable and therefore fulfill the contract. They've given everyone the same two weeks to submit bids, after which they will analyze the bids for a month and decide what awards should go to which carriers at what volume. We have a lot of catch up work to do to be competitive, but we're hopeful that we have a chance to get some of the business and begin changing how we operate. As a result, my blog will suffer for those two weeks, but hopefully I can write here and there about what I observe in the process of building a bid.


I wrote this post at the start of this week of bid analysis, but I kept pushing it back in publication date because I had other posts to get out. Now I've been working on these bids for several days, and I feel wonderful about the chance our business has to really grow and flourish from this new opportunity. My brother-in-law talked today to another person who went to the same conference that gave us a lot of insight into how we should view the bid process, how we should price our freight, and what we might expect in terms of an award of business. She also gave us a lot of hope that even if we don't get as many loads as we want, we still have a wonderful opportunity to cover more than we're given, which could really raise our grade next year when they're rebidding the business. I am very hopeful for the future of my business right now.

On a side note, When I was discussing it with my father, he asked me if I was praying for new business (not a typical question, though we're both fairly religious people), and I told him I was. I further explained to him, "Dad, it took a lot of faith for me to make a reservation for a place to stay and to then hop on a plane when we never actually received any reply telling us we were welcome to attend this conference." I am glad I had the faith to make this leap. Now here's hoping our prayers are truly answered.

-- Robert

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Social Security - An Investment Strategy

Last night as I was driving home, I heard Dave Ramsey explain how Social Security looks as an investment of our wealth. If a person making $40,000 a year from age twenty to seventy with no pay increases were allowed to keep two percent of his paycheck out of the 7.65% held out now for Social Security, and he invested that $800 a year for that entire fifty years at the average market return of 12%, he could retired with over $2.6M in savings. If he lived off five percent of that and kept it invest at seven percent (for security), he would have three times the annual income he had made his entire life to live on, and he would still have the same money left when he died for his children to inherit. Instead, for the 7.65% he put in, he gets back about $1,200 a month to live on. Imagine how well off he would be if he had gotten to keep all his social security withholdings to invest. In other words, Social Security represents one of the worst investments in the history of the world. Our government withholds money, never invests it, and then gives it back at a faster pace than it was paid in, but the money never had a chance to even counteract inflation. Should we still continue to tinker with a system based on the hope that its investors die off before they ever collect, or should we let people opt out? I would love to hear input on this topic.

I am sure some government analysts (I will do my best not to sound condescending here) can determine what amount needs to still be paid in by employees to make sure everyone presently on Social Security can get it until they're 85 or so, and anyone who wishes to stay in will just be aware they will only get paid out of it up to the level of total contribution (which will give them an added incentive to opt out). Since it's so popular to burden the employers with this cost, they could continue to pay in on all employees who opt out for the first few years, with a phase out on any employees who have opted out. That will give employers a great incentive to offer employees who choose to opt out: they can use the 7.65% they're not longer paying to match retirement funds in a 401(k) plan. Let me explain that more clearly: presently, many employers match retirement funds for employees vested in their retirement plan (called a 401(k) when involving businesses). Since the employers are already matching those taxes, it will not cost them any more to give those funds to the employee in a matching situation, which will help even more people retire well. Those funds will be invested in the market in some fashion (stocks or bonds, most likely) which will help the economy. Social Security would be protected for anyone still paying in, but those who choose to opt out have a great opportunity to prepare themselves for the future in a way that unburdens the government and other taxpayers.

-- Robert

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hump Day Hmm - Are Friends and Associate Fair Game to Blog About

My friends, family, and coworkers are certainly included in my blog posts from time to time, so my immediate answer to whether or not they are fair game is yes. But I would say they are fair game with some basic ground rules. I don't write about people and include their full name, and I rarely include their name at all unless they're aware of it. I don't write about someone in a negative way with their name attached to the post. I tend to lean towards giving others their privacy whenever I write.

I started this blog at the repeated suggestion of friends who love to blog. I knew I would enjoy it myself, but I never could make myself want to commit to something I knew I would find so completely intoxicating. I was right about it becoming an addiction, but so were they. Why avoid what you enjoy? The five posts generated from the chat with my co-blogger have made the whole blog worth doing if we quit tomorrow. It was fun to share a conversation with people that highlights why I find conversations with my friend so enjoyable. He brings in such totally different perspectives, and still we often come to similar conclusions. He just makes me think.

I write on my blog, or on anyone's blog, to share my view of the world. I might talk about business, politics, or whatever else strikes my fancy, but that is the point of a blog. It is a place where I can let other people hear what I think about, and it gives them an opportunity to respond and help me consider a different side. Invariably, some subjects include personal relationships or business relationships, and therefore those posts include people. If the people being discussed are unaware that I am writing about them, though, I consider it only fair to avoid being specific. I've actually learned to use non-specific but descriptive nouns (i.e., my friend's roommate, my best friend, my daughter) in conversation and it comes fairly naturally to avoid using proper names. I can't explain just how I picked up that habit, but it does make writing in a more anonymous fashion easier. Most of the times I have gotten in trouble for something I've written about someone have been in direct chats with a friend or associate of the person when I wasn't thinking about it getting back to that person. Because of those experiences, I take even greater care when I blog not to give specific details that might lead someone to get offended- at least not because the materials is about them. I am sure I have offended people with my opinions or my tone when I write about politics, but I find that comes with the territory. Passions run deep in campaigns, and adrenaline runs high, so people can get very caught up in their viewpoints or with their candidates. I don't tend to apologize for offenses caused by my opinion, simply because it is what I believe. If someone reading my blog does not like it, they can read somewhere else. If I offend someone on their blog (or on a blog not my own), I do try to apologize if I find it is warranted. If anyone reading my blog has been offended by my comments on their blogs, I hereby apologize for writing what I did there. I know no one believes it, but I am not a terribly confrontational person by nature. I just get wound up in what I believe at times, and sometimes I find it hard to contain.

Julie Pippert, Sponsor of Hump Day

-- Robert

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Favorites, A Non-Entry to EllieBellieBaby's Contest

I have long loved to watch life move around me. I am more than a people watcher, though. I enjoy encouraging people in their various interests and watching the results. My favorite thing probably has to be seeing someone else enjoy their favorite thing.

In high school, I got known for picking election winners for club offices. It started out as a joke among a few friends. We went to a club at the end of the year to elect the next year's officers, and we realized that we could choose any office we each wanted if we simply voted in a group for each one. Because it was my idea, they made me president. I learned in that year, though, that I much preferred to pick a good president and let someone else do a good job. The next year, I chose the president of three clubs and all the officers for that same one. I felt like I did a good job picking good leaders for those groups, and I know I helped me friends accomplish some things they wanted for their resumes.

As time went on, I realized I had a talent for identifying talent. When I saw someone had a particular skill in a subject or field of work, I often encouraged them to develop it. That skill has helped me identify employees who will do well in given areas in my work life, too. I have not always been perfect in my selections, but I have a high success rate. I have hired several employees to fill roles that have done an excellent job, and my company has benefited from it.

I have another reason, a deeper reason, I love to identify and encourage the talents of others. When passion meets talent, very often new heights of ingenuity are achieved. Just as most people enjoy watching a great home run, an excellent touchdown pass, or a great shot from the top of the key in crunch time, I enjoy seeing what happens when desire blossoms into brilliance. People give off a radiance, an energy, whenever they discuss something they love to do or be a part of. I love to feel that glow and feed off of it. Most of all, I realize how competitive the world can be about anything. Whenever someone is brave enough to stand out, I know others would love to see failure, if only because it maintains the status quo and keeps anyone from getting ahead. For that reason, most of all, I love to help people identify their talents and passions and encourage them to go the distance. What a beautiful sight it is to behold when it happens, which is why it is my favorite thing to do.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Some More On My Perspective - A Response to Lawyer Mama

I don't mean this response to sound defensive, so please don't read it with that tone. I am simply posting it to explain my own perspective.

My father was dirt poor growing up as he did in the Depression Era South. The fact is, where he lived, the "Great Depression" was nothing new, as the area had been in Depression for decades. He and his brothers wanted a better life. As one teacher advised them, they wanted a job where "their head was above their butt". So they worked hard and went to college. They worked their way through college, struggling at times, but they did it. When my father decided he wanted to marry my mother, he explained to her simply "I want to marry you, but not if you won't let me finish my Masters Degree." She didn't, and he helped her get her own in Library Science while he got his Masters of Accounting. They both understood that sacrifice comes with the territory of wanting a better life.

My concern is that today, people have forgotten the meaning of sacrifice. They think having their cable turned off for a year means they're really giving up something. One article I read recently (I believe it was the Deseret News, but I can't say for sure) described how well the "poor" of this nation live compared to the average person thirty years ago. Most have cable, phones, air conditioning, and available food. That's more than many people can say in the developing world even among their wealthy. Americans have grown fat on the entitlement mindset. Once in a while I still hear of someone truly giving up something to get something more, and almost every time it seems to be in the memoirs of someone successful. Most of the most successful people I know - and I've had the great fortune to know quite a few, having been around politics and industry all my life - have come up from very poor circumstances thanks to a lot of hard work coupled with opportunities they sought out and made good on. The list of those who have come from a life of privilege and managed to grow their already large wealth is much shorter. The fact is, I've also had the chance to observe the children of the wealthy and successful, and all too often they are squanderers. I do not look at them with admiration any more than I look at someone from the projects with automatic derision.

Right now, our nation has several built in programs that are making progress of any kind difficult. Corporate taxes, high regulations, minimum wages, welfare programs... each of these contributes to the growing debt and the growing number of companies leaving this country in favor of localities with freer markets. Americans continue to buy their products after they leave, so why should they stay? Obviously, we have all voted with our dollars to say "we'd rather you paid low wages and had lower regulations so we can pay less." We can fool ourselves into thinking idealistically that the evil corporations need to suffer for all the things they do wrong in this country, but the ones we end up paying are the ones who do even more wrong when they leave to avoid our bogus policies. We are one of the only nations in the world that has policies that favor foreign corporations over our own.

What I want to see in this country is an absolute revolution in our way of thinking. The tax system we have puts a huge burden on every citizen - even those who don't pay taxes.
We need a better way to implement taxes, and we need a better way to encourage good habits - saving, investing, getting an education, sacrificing present wants for great opportunities in the future. I honestly believe the FairTax would go a long way towards achieving my desired goals, but it will take an absolutely revolution for it to ever pass. Too many people are apathetic to government or to change of any kind. The status quo is maintained simply to avoid having to get involved. We need more people to care. We need more people involved. There are many great thinkers in this nation who have long since given up trying to be heard because the political process has so many ways to destroy changes. I want a dialogue, even though it may involve some passionate views that disagree with my own, I want to hear what people have to say about what needs to change. The political process has got to improve, or the people have got to learn how to work through the system to improve the nation. Whatever happens, the status quo in this country will not suffice much longer.

-- Robert

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Corporate Tax - The Most Regressive Tax in America

Most people I know debate whether taxing a corporation more is good or bad, or whether giving corporations tax breaks is good or bad. Corporations pay very high tax rates. The fact is that taxing corporations at all is bad for everyone.

What is a corporation, after all? A corporation is an entity funded by investors and lenders, run by managers in charge of creating a profit for the investors and repaying the lenders by creating a product or providing a service for a group of consumers. In a legal sense, a corporation is a distinct entity, but in a practical sense it is a group of people. It is also an employer of people in most cases.

What effect does taxing a corporation have on the economy? First, it reduces the capacity of that corporation to employ people because of the reduction of funds. It also reduces the ability of that corporation to research new products or improve existing ones. Worst of all, it forces the corporation to raise prices to compensate for the reduced revenue. What happens when fewer people are employed, less product development occurs, and prices rise? It hurts the poor, and creates more poverty. Those with less income are less able to afford basic goods and services, and with fewer people employed there are more people who have less income.

So, in short, a tax on corporations is the most regressive tax around. A regressive tax is one that taxes the poor more than the wealthy. Another example with be any form of sales tax not refunded or reduced for the poor. Corporate taxes have the same effect because they create inflation through the ideas mentioned above, which is just one more reason they should be unilaterally repealled and the FairTax should be adopted. By taking the inflation out of the market, taxes can be paid in a smarter way while more jobs become available, more research is done, and prices go down for everyone. The FairTax represents a win-win that both political parties should be falling over themselves to pass.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Welfare, Social Security - Thoughts on Government Programs

Private enterprise could help single mothers by lowering their prices after their taxes are eliminated. They could hire more single mothers, too. If we changed welfare from a handout program to one that paid for training opportunities, then it would be a much better program. Social Security should be something the younger generation should be allowed to opt out of. It has been one of the worst programs in history because it has taken money away from people, never invested it in anything to counteract inflation, and then handed it back after it was worth half what was taken. If we all had the same six percent back to invest how we choose (even if it was only in CD’s), we’d all be better off.

The statistics do show that private/non-profit aid to the needy reduced after welfare was implemented. They also show that crime increased dramatically after welfare was implemented. If welfare recipients were working – especially working hard – to receive their benefits, then it would encourage them to get off welfare. Imagine forming recipient groups that aided each other by some number working outside the home, some caring for children while their parents worked, and it all being coordinated in some fashion to help them all work to get off the dole. Would that not be an improvement?

Fiscal analysis is not necessarily cold-blooded. If you ask me to decide if I would rather someone else’s children have health care or mine do, the financial analyst in me says mine every time. So does the heart in me, but the numbers make sense on that, too. In any financial system where people do not take care of their own costs, the system breaks down because people are less encouraged to do more. The more money you take out of a working man’s pocket to give to someone else, the less encouragement he has to work.

For the record, I have no company health insurance. Over 20% of my paycheck goes to it each year, and I am the sole breadwinner. I do not want government health insurance because I know it would degrade the quality of care I get, which is already somewhat lacking at times. We need to implement the FairTax, pure and simple, and watch how encouraged businesses are to return to these shores – which would lower the costs of products simply by lowering the need of transportation. There are a lot of inefficiencies in the system thanks to the illogical corporate tax. I’m sure I’ve written quite enough here. My post tomorrow is all about how corporate taxes are the most regressive in America. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts.

-- Robert

Dialogue Between Robert and Todd (Part 5)

Todd: I wonder often about the issue of health care and how well citizens understand the issue. I do believe that a society has a moral charge to ensure that people have access to high-quality healthcare. People have a fundamental right to receive treatment when they are sick. But...there's a caveat. People don't have the right to have someone else pay for it. THey don't have the right to a government program that ensures they have treatment when they need it. They don't have the right to ignore preventative measures and get treatment when they could have prevented the illness. There's a lot of caveats.
Todd: Unfortunately our present government (therefore the people) seem much more interested in this pie-in-the-sky notion of "universal health care." Now, universal health care sounds great! Everyone has a good doctor and everyone gets treated and everyone is healthy. Who wouldn't vote for that!??!? But, we know the reality is that we don't have unlimited health care resources. We know that health care organizations have a tough time making money under universal systems.
Todd: We know that employers need relief from health care costs as much as (more than) individuals who are uninsured.
Todd: We know we need a system that invests more heavily in preventative care than band-aid treatment.
Robert: One thing that could help that is to encourage people to take those measures. Let people write off all physicals, for instance.
Robert: Helping insurance companies form more co-ops for individuals without access to health care through their work place could help.
Todd: We also know that putting caps on drug prices doesn't necessarily work because drug companies need bigger profits to ensure that their shareholders will continue to invest in the HUGE cost of developing drugs. I'm not sure that deregulation is necessary the answer to drug costs because the bulk of costs aren't necessarily borne in getting a drug approved, and I would argue that ensuring research-based drugs get to market in this country is a justifiable duty of government.
Robert: Health care is definitely a huge monster for the government (and everyone) to tackle.
Robert: But the worst thing they could do to solve it is to get into the business.
Robert: Working with industry, instead of squeezing it, is definitely something the government needs to get back to. Continuing to treat corporations terribly does not encourage people to come to the table.
Todd: It's tough, but something isn't working right within the market. Drug companies are spending more and more to put out products and health insurers are making less and less money. Businesses can't afford coverage, individuals can't either. Businesses are struggling to offer health insurance to employees or even their owners for the self-employed. And every year, we have higher quality medical technologies in the USA, and each year we have higher infant mortality rates, and our life expectancy is no greater than other developed nations. Something isn't working right here.
Todd: I wish I knew what the answer was, but I just don't. There are a lot of proposals out there that I've yet to read, and with most things the answer probably is within a combination of them.
Robert: As Glenn Beck said the other day: we can now do things to people (medically) in this country that we can't afford to do.
Todd: And as we're having this discussion I just saw Hillary Clinton say at a rally something about freezing interest rates to ensure people "Keep their homes." It's solutions like that that make me cringe when both sides of the aisle start pandering like that. Not only would freezing interest rates accomplish nothing, it does not speak to the fundamental issues of bad usery laws that allow predatory lending and allow uneducated people to get credit that they cannot afford.
Robert: One thing I heard on the radio a few weeks ago was about what we're eating. We're too into processed foods that we microwave, and our bodies don't get the nutrients they used to from pasture fed meats and organic vegetables, so we have to eat a lot more to get those nutrients. We gain weight, and our health declines.
Robert: The telling statistic the author describing this pointed out: look at our spending on health care versus food from around 1960 (I think) and compare it to today. The percentages are inverted.
Robert: And it will lock more people out of homes, as people are denied loans because of the locked rates even though they might have been able to afford such rates.
Todd: The move to organic food is an excellent one, and one that the market is driving in a very real way. The government is doing well in states and at the federal level to provide some relief to smaller farmers to ensure they at least have access to the marketplace. More public education on the value of eating better and investing in organic research for mass-food production is a good use of public funds, personally. It's a much wiser investment of public money than continued public health care dollars going into a giant grave (literally).
Robert: Definitely, by finding ways to improve health from the beginning, we save a fortune down the road. Just like educating people on any subject will save society long-term.
Robert: That's one reason I support turning welfare into a training program, and even providing some child care for single parents who enter the program.
Robert: Help people get jobs and get off instead of staying on the dole.
Todd: Which is one of the reasons I believe in the agency I'm working for. Invest in early development, and you save bundles down the road on the child who turns into a functioning adult who can learn and improve him/herself
Todd: A question that I've personally struggled with is this. What is government's role in promoting or providing access to postsecondary education?
Robert: Well, if the government would remove a lot of the taxes from the equation that make it so hard to live on a low wage, then people who are not interested in post-secondary education can still make a living to survive.
Robert: But while they do keep those taxes in place, they should do what they can to help individuals who cannot afford it to find ways to fund further education. We should not have a system that puts everyone in college, and certainly not one that pays everyone's college costs, but we could have one that makes college loans more available, and gives grants to truly exceptional students (though I'm not sure how to determine who those students are).
Todd: Do you think that providing college tuition assistance would hinder research universities from making more money, in other words manipulating the marketplace to keep their costs low? Research universities need that revenue to do the research. Endowments alone don't pay for it.
Robert: Hard to say.
Robert: But imagine what corporations could do to work with colleges if they had more funds to invest with them thanks to the elimination of corporate taxes.
Todd: That's very true.

And that was where our one night chat ended. Now I hope the readers of this blog understand why I appreciate Todd contributing. He brings a lot to the table that helps me think and expand my knowledge. I hope anyone still reading at this point has enjoyed these posts. Hopefully we will get to post a chat like this again soon.

Friday, February 8, 2008

A Dialogue Between Robert and Todd (Part 4)

Robert: Who would be harmed by the FairTax?
Robert: Other than people who thrive on the current system?
Todd: Well its different degrees of harm, but there's the probability that those who now pay no income tax pay more. Whether that's right or wrong is beyond me to decide, I'm simply pointing out that they would be adversely affected. That's my whole point that there's no means of collecting from the public that won't adversely affect someone.
Robert: With a prebate to everyone up to the poverty level, it's unlikely people who are not paying now would start to pay.
Todd: That's an excellent point
Robert: The fact is, the Fair Tax is well named. It might actually give a "welfare" effect to the poor, if they are wise about spending money for new goods only on food and buying all they can used.
Robert: They'd actually get some help paying for those with the prebate.
Todd: I think that the prospectg of a Fair Tax is appealling. I think the threat of the "underground economy" is a reasonable concern, and one I'd like to learn more about. I think proponents make sense when the reference existing tax laws. I'd like to read more about the pros and cons of the Fair tax when compared to a VAT.
Robert: What's VAT?
Robert: There would not need to be an underground economy. The FairTax is only imposed on new goods and services.
Todd: Value Added Tax
Robert: And if all income taxes (and federal taxes in general) are removed, then people will have far more funds available to pay the tax that way.
Robert: So what does the VAT do?
Todd: No I understand that, but I believe the critic's point is that you may have a widespread desire to avoid the tax by purchasing the goods as a business rather than from the retailer. The proponents of a VAT argue that this could be avoided by taxing the good throughout the cycle of transactions up to and including the retail transaction. That's just one concern I'd like to learn more about.
Robert: So in other words, tax at each step of the building process to avoid cheating?
Robert: Well, one thing to note about enforcement of the FairTax: with 80% of all tax returns removed (only business would file, no individuals), the government would have more ability to handle oversight and cut out cheaters.
Todd: I think that's a fair argument, plus businesses are already required to have a sellers license to purchase tax exempt goods and the laws are already on the books.
Robert: Exactly, so the VAT complicates things more than necessary, it would seem.
Robert: By moving the tax to only the final transaction, you simplify the market processes and help businesses grow by cutting red tape.
Todd: It's disheartening that only Mike Gravel, Ron Paul (sort of) and Huckabee are the ones talking seriously about tax reform, although to be fair McCain, Romney and Giuliani said they would sign the fair tax act if passed.
Todd: Tax reform is a bipartisan issue because the current system, in my view punishes the working American as much as it does the super-wealthy.
Robert: It punishes the worker more.
Todd: And tax relief doesn't have to be an issue that you cast aside whenever you are talking about promoting a healthy economy or protecting American jobs. Frankly I don't see how they don't go hand-in-hand.
Robert: It pushes out corporations that the working man can work for. It makes the necessary wage so high that people hire illegals to avoid taxes or just move overseas to avoid them legally.
Todd: Tax reform is a middle class issue, frankly, and it makes sense that it should be as important as the Environment or Health Care. This is a complicated system that all pieces fit together.
Robert: That's probably my main irritation with the current "solution" being pushed by the President. It's a one-time tax rebate, giving people back their own money. If that is an answer, why not give back more of the people's money and stop taking it away?
Robert: Absolutely.Robert: And that is also one thing I hate about our current tax system. It gives people the false impression that the government "gives" them something around April every year (if they're among the fortunate folk getting a refund) and they go spend it in many cases.
Todd: This all leads back to the issue of public will. You need public will to accomplish things in government, and to have public will to solve problems, you need an educated public that sees practical realities. I'm not so sure America has EVER been that way.
Robert: Indeed, that is why the framers were so afraid of giving the "common man" the right to vote.Robert: They felt such people could not be trusted to understand what was best.

(to be continued tomorrow)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Dialogue Between Robert and Todd (Part 3)

Robert: Stepping away from Kyoto and emissions, just anything: should the government make choices for us that we do not want?
Todd: No, by definition it shouldn't. I’m not suggesting an elitist or non-constitutional approach. I used the words "public will" deliberately. We, as the citizens, need to be more educated and more rational about how we combat harmful emissions. When we have the support of the business community and their influential dollars, this makes it easier. It's up to us, not some phantom government that is going to decide for us.
Robert: There are things that make some sense - like protecting people from being murdered for trying to vote, even though those people are in the minority. But if the vast majority of people don't want something, should the government be doing it?
Robert: One good place to start helping corporations invest more in the research you suggest: eliminate the corporate tax, which has no reason to exist in the first place.
Robert: It hinders our economy, causes inflation, hampers the job market, increases illegal immigration.... it is responsible for much of what's wrong with our country.
Robert: Put the money back in the hands of the corporations so they can do the research, they can hire the staff, they can grow the economy... I know it's not going to happen in this very liberal environment, but that's what would help the most.
Todd: I think tax relief for corporations always has that sort of bad taste to many working Americans. I don't know how you get by that, but in principle I agree with you. You have to provide a financial, profit-driven incentive to get corporations to do anything. Corporations aren't a person that has altruistic intentions; corporations need to show shareholders benefit to anything they do. And the easiest way to do that is not to hand them a check, but relieve their burden to the Government.
Todd: The less a corporation has to "render unto Caesar" the more willing they are to talk to Caesar.
Robert: Not just tax relief: tax elimination. Tell me one reason that corporations should pay taxes?
Robert: All you do by that is take money out of the hands of employers.
Robert: Corporation owners already pay taxes on dividends and gains, why should corporations pay taxes, too?
Todd: Corporations shouldn't pay taxes. The corporation isn't anything the government protects. And corporations don't pay taxes anyway. There's nobody to pay it. You and I, the customer and the employee and the shareholder pay it. So yeah, that's what I'm saying. Lessen the burden that the employee and the customer and the shareholder pay to the government, and you have relieved the American of some of his burden overall.
Robert: Then we agree on that.
Todd: That allows decision-makers in corporations to invest their money in things that help them make more money, and when that's coupled with public will (who are the customer and shareholder) you have the ability to improve a host of social and environmental ills because you are letting the market do what it does best.
Todd: In other words, you're working within industry and not trying to manipulate an industry. Robert: Exactly.
Robert: And again, exactly.
Robert: That is what people need to understand.
Robert: The government is harming the economy and harming the market's ability to respond to some of what its customers want because it is robbing the corporations of money.
Todd: Well that's kind of what taxation is all about unfortunately. The question, is there a balance? I can't imagine a taxation system that doesn't harm someone. Even the Fair Tax would do that. The issue is one of costs and benefits. If I harm the middle class worker just a little bit here, are the returns going to be that we can reduce significantly the chances of his daughter getting sick from mercury poisoning and hindering her development that makes her less productive and makes her earn less and pay less taxes and so on and so on.....

(to be continued)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ethics and Mores in Social Media

I am writing (or attempting to write) for the weekly Hump Day Hmm on ethics and mores in social media. Rarely do I write a more boring or bland opening statement, but I am suffering from a dilemma of being interested in writing about the subject and not having the time to truly devote to the topic. Such as it is, here are my thoughts.

First, there are certainly far more tools to communicate with today than probably ever before, and yet human beings seem to be communicating less and less effectively all the time. The social media available have contributed greatly to the degradation of our language skills, both writing and speaking. When I hear someone say "LOL" or anything of that kind from chat-speak in normal conversation, I have to avoid slapping them or screaming. I have been actively using online forms of communication since the early Nineties, and I have refused to ever completely break from using complete sentences because I know that my ability to share my thoughts in a clear and cohesive manner would be destroyed. I see my fears realized vicariously every time I see teenagers texting in truncated letters and numbers that have some vague meaning to the people using the jargon but clearly are not English (or any other standard language, though I can't speak to how those things work in any other written languages). I am greatly disturbed by how much those things have started creeping into our general culture. It has become completely commonplace to talk in acronyms - today I listened to a speaker continually refer to the IOC's and the TMS without ever explaining what an IOC is (someone else explained what TMS stands for). I am sure my experience was similar to that described here so eloquently by Julie Pippert. Many people in the room obviously knew what was being discussed, but I know for a fact that other people in that room did not know what was being discussed. Two people asked me if I "got anything at all out of that" and we discussed the confusion of being new to such a meeting.

Back to the main idea, though: what are the ethics and mores in social media. My main concern is to maintain my own standards in language and proper respect of others as I use social media. I also do my best to make sure that my time spent utilizing any media is something of value to me and (hopefully) to others. One reason I avoided starting a blog for so long was the fear that it would consume my time and take me away from my wife and kids. I also did not want it to conflict with my working life. I feel I have managed to avoid becoming obsessed with blogging, but I know it can quickly become a struggle because other bloggers are so fascinating. Other people are fascinating. I can be very empathetic with people, and as I become involved in knowing more about a person, it becomes far too easy to care about them. I know that sentence sounds callous, but I am a person who can care far too much about other people if I don't keep myself in check. I have lived through periods where I was more concerned with other people's wants and desires than my own, and I suffered for it. So, again, I have to avoid worrying so much about what Joe Bobby Tucker in Middleofnowhere, USA, is suffering through at this moment because I have my own life to live.

We, as a society, need to harness the tools we have and utilize them in ways that improve education, improve communication, and improve relationships. As long as we continue to move further into hermit-like existences in our own communities and homes for the sake of keeping up with blogs/chats/twitter/texting/Mushes/whatever else, then our tools are leading to our downfall as individuals and as a society. If we do turn the tide and make these into true tools, perhaps we will find the way to solve some of the great problems facing the world today - poverty, hunger, pollution, education, debt, health care, the list goes on.

A Dialogue Between Robert and Todd (Part 2)

Robert: What if we study how to combat emissions in our air?
Todd: I'd like to believe that the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It is proven that we can reduce emissions by doing certain things that help Americans save money. When we invest in public transport, carpooling promotion and cheaper fuel alternatives we can help raise standard of living while reducing emissions.
Robert: So far there are no cheaper fuel alternatives.
Robert: Ethanol is far from an answer.
Robert: Without government subsidies, right now nothing save perhaps nuclear power has shown promise as a viable alternative.
Todd: We (as a government, I suppose I'm saying) will invest billions in combating the spread of HIV/AIDS and various Cancers. We do this because everyone can more or less agree that using public money to try and save lives around the world is a good thing to do. This public funding makes sense for drug companies and health care conglomerates because it helps them make money.
Todd: I would argue that providing that same type of public health, if not on the same scale, is just as reasonable when we talk about reducing mercury emissions from coal mining operations, for example. We know that Coal Miners are going to be able to make more money, employ more, expand more and produce more energy more profitably if we can make it more worth their while to make the considerable investments in cleaner technologies.
Todd: Now we know mercury in the air ends up in the soil and water. We know it poisons fish, and it poisons humans eventually and disproportionately poisons children. When the coal companies make more, and our air, soil and water get cleaner, we now have an opportunity for all sides to step back and say, "Y'know, we think that's a pretty good thing."
Robert: So what we need to do is help corporations get benefits from using those technologies, instead of penalties from failing to.
Todd: Right now, the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts regulate without proportionate investment. That's one-sided and shortsighted. We should keep in mind a conservative (Nixon) saw the potential in reducing emissions, but unfortunately the public will to push public money toward cheaper technology is simply not there.
Robert: And here's the question that has to be answered: is it the place of government to take our money and spend it on things we, as a public, do not want?Todd: The voting public seems to collectively think that the only assistance should be to the individual, and markets won't work that way. Public investment SHOULD help the corporations that pollute, but vilifying polluters is a much easier way to get votes. Kyoto has some good market-based principles in it, but the encouraging of public investment falls short of what it needs to be in a nation like the USA.

(to be continued tomorrow)