“Can Economists and Humanists Ever Be Friends?” by John Lanchester

What are you doing? I don’t mean what are you doing with your life, or in general, but what are you doing right now? The answer, in one respect, is simple enough: you’re reading this magazine. Obviously. From a certain economic perspective, however, you’re doing something else, something you don’t realize, something with a sneaky motive that you aren’t admitting to yourself: you are signalling. You are sending signals about the kind of person you are, or want to be. What’s that you say—you’re reading this in the bath, or on your phone in bed, or otherwise in private? Well, the same argument applies. You are acquiring the tools for a “fitness display.” This, the economist Robin Hanson and the writer-programmer Kevin Simler argue in their new book, “The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life” (Oxford), is an advertisement of “health, energy, vigor, coordination, and overall fitness.” Fitness displays “can be used to woo mates, of course, but they also serve other purposes like attracting allies or intimidating rivals.” So there you go: that’s what you’re doing, there in the bath with the magazine. Your rivals are right to feel intimidated.

Wait, though—surely signalling doesn’t account for everything? Hanson, in a recent podcast interview with Tyler Cowen, a colleague at George Mason University, was asked to give a “short, quick and dirty” answer to the question of how much human behavior “ultimately can be traced back to some kind of signalling.” His answer: “In a rich society like ours, well over ninety per cent.” He was then asked to cite a few voluntary human activities that “have the least amount to do with signalling.” The example Hanson came up with was “scratching your butt.”

That made me laugh, and also shake my head. Economists often do. I started reading up on economics twelve years ago. I was in the early stages of writing a novel about contemporary London, and had come to the realization that frequently hits you when you are writing fiction, which is that there is a story behind the apparent story. Partly because I didn’t grow up in London, I felt that I could see just how much it had changed in the past few decades. What had seemed a drab, provincial, gray place in the nineteen-seventies was by the two-thousands unmistakably a world city, a hub of great energy and color and brashness. When I was trying to write my first draft, I realized that I was missing an answer to the question, Why? What were the driving forces behind all the change? The answer turned out to be that after the deregulation of financial services, in October, 1986—known in the City (the financial center) as the Big Bang—London had become a capital of global finance. This was true not in a distant, abstract way but in a manner that literally determined who our neighbors were. In my part of South London, a street that was once economically rather eclectic was becoming increasingly homogeneous, with new arrivals drawn entirely from finance and its ancillary professions. I realized that to understand my city and to write my novel I would have to start trying to understand the world of money.

Books such as “The Elephant in the Brain” show why the experience has been stimulating and fun, and also frustrating and intermittently demoralizing. There is something thrilling about the intellectual audacity of thinking that you can explain ninety per cent of behavior in a society with one mental tool. Many of the details of Hanson and Simler’s thesis are persuasive, and the idea of an “introspective taboo” that prevents us from telling the truth to ourselves about our motives is worth contemplating. (That taboo is the Elephant.) Citing a seven-year study by the rand Corporation in which participants who used more free medical care didn’t become significantly healthier, the writers argue that the purpose of medicine is as often to signal concern as it is to cure disease. They propose that the purpose of religion is as often to enhance feelings of community as it is to enact transcendental beliefs.

Some of their most provocative ideas are in the area of education, which they believe is a form of domestication. “One of the main reasons so few animals can be domesticated is that only rare social species let humans sit in the role of dominant pack animal,” they write. “And we, too, naturally resist submitting to other humans.” They cite a study showing that unschooled workers from less-developed parts of the world aren’t nearly as productive as rich-world workers, even at repetitive manual labor that you might not think demands much education. According to Hanson and Simler, these unschooled workers “won’t show up for work reliably on time, or they have problematic superstitions, or they prefer to get job instructions via indirect hints instead of direct orders, or they won’t accept tasks and roles that conflict with their culturally assigned relative status with co-workers, or they won’t accept being told to do tasks differently than they had done them before.” In the rich world, we have learned to do all those things, and mostly we learned to do them at school, where “an industrial-era school system prepares us for the modern workplace.” Hanson and Simler explain:

Children are expected to sit still for hours upon hours; to control their impulses; to focus on boring, repetitive tasks; to move from place to place when a bell rings; and even to ask for permission before going to the bathroom (think about that for a second). Teachers systematically reward children for being docile. . . . In fact, teachers reward discipline independent of its effect on learning, and in ways that tamp down on student creativity. Children are also trained to accept being measured, graded, and ranked, often in front of others. This enterprise, which typically lasts well over a decade, serves as a systematic exercise in human domestication.

“Oh? Well, in that case, this is fake paint.”

Having watched one son go all the way through secondary school, and with another who still has three years to go, I found that account painfully close to the reality of what modern schooling is like.

Hanson is a free-range thinker. His previous book, “The Age of Em” (2016), was a startlingly original speculation about a future world dominated by humanoid-robot intelligences. But the deliberately value-free and judgment-free nature of his thinking can cause trouble. After the death of ten people in Toronto, apparently at the hands of a self-described “incel” (or involuntary celibate), he wrote on his blog, “One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met.” This led to an article in Slate which posed the question “Is Robin Hanson America’s Creepiest Economist?,” and to a subsequent Twitter pile-on. “The Elephant in the Brain” is not creepy. But the book has moments of laughable wrongness. We’re told, “In One Thousand and One Nights, for example, Scheherazade uses her artful storytelling to stave off execution and win the affection of the king. Maya Angelou, in contrast, managed not to woo Bill Clinton with her poetry but rather to impress him—so much so that he invited her to perform at his presidential inauguration in 1993.” The idea that Maya Angelou’s career amounts to nothing more than a writer shaking her tail feathers to attract the attention of a dominant male is not just misleading; it’s actively embarrassing.

More generally, Hanson and Simler’s emphasis on signalling and unconscious motives suggests that the most important part of our actions is the motives themselves, rather than the things we achieve, such as writing symphonies, curing diseases, building cathedrals, searching into the deepest mysteries of time and space, and so on. The last sentence of the book makes the point that “we may be competitive social animals, self-interested and self-deceived, but we cooperated our way to the god-damned moon.” With that one observation, acknowledging that the consequences of our actions are more important than our motives, the argument of the book implodes.

The issue here is one of overreach: taking an argument that has worthwhile applications and extending it further than it usefully goes. Our motives are often not what they seem: true. This explains everything: not true. After all, it’s not as if the idea that we send signals about ourselves were news; you could argue that there is an entire social science, sociology, dedicated to the subject. Classic practitioners of that discipline study the signals we send and show how they are interpreted by those around us, as in Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” or how we construct an entire identity, both internally and externally, from the things we choose to be seen liking—the argument of Pierre Bourdieu’s masterpiece “Distinction.” These are rich and complicated texts, which show how rich and complicated human difference can be. The focus on signalling and unconscious motives in “The Elephant in the Brain,” however, goes the other way: it reduces complex, diverse behavior to simple rules.

This intellectual overextension is often found in economics, as Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro explain in their wonderful book “Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities” (Princeton). Morson and Schapiro—one a literary scholar and the other an economist—draw on the distinction between hedgehogs and foxes made by Isaiah Berlin in a famous essay from the nineteen-fifties, invoking an ancient Greek fragment: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog one big thing.” Economists tend to be hedgehogs, forever on the search for a single, unifying explanation of complex phenomena. They love to look at a huge, complicated mass of human behavior and reduce it to an equation: the supply-and-demand curves; the Phillips curve, which links unemployment and inflation; or mb=mc, which links a marginal benefit to a marginal cost—meaning that the fourth slice of pizza is worth less to you than the first. These are powerful tools, which can be taken too far. Morson and Schapiro cite the example of Gary Becker, the Nobel laureate in economics in 1992. Becker is a hero to many in the field, but, for all the originality of his thinking, to outsiders he can stand for intellectual overconfidence. He thought that “the economic approach is a comprehensive one that is applicable to all human behavior.” Not some, not most—all. It was an emphasis he was often to repeat:

All human behavior can be regarded as involving participants who maximize their utility from a stable set of preferences and accumulate an optimal amount of information and other inputs in a variety of markets. If this argument is correct, the economic approach provides a unified framework for understanding behavior that has long been sought by and eluded Bentham, Comte, Mark, and others.

That’s human society and history, solved. Becker analyzed, in his own words, “fertility, education, the uses of time, crime, marriage, social interactions, and other ‘sociological,’ ‘legal,’ and ‘political problems,’ ” before concluding that economics explained everything. In his work on the family, he studied “marital-specific capital”—that’s something you would probably call “children.” The utility of this form of marital-specific capital is to provide “child services.” Children are not “normal goods”—that is to say, demand for them does not rise as income rises. Child services are “the commodity that provides the utility a couple receives from having a child,” in Morson and Schapiro’s paraphrase. “The child is merely an input, and when combined with lots of other factors, such as educational and psychological investments and of course time, a couple produces something that gives it, in the best case, joy.”

Morson and Schapiro actually think that Becker’s arguments are useful, and explain why rich people tend to have fewer children than poor people do—their time is more expensive, so “child services” cost them more, and therefore they invest more in a smaller number of children to get the same utility for their buck. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s also a colossal shortcut through all kinds of other cultural and psychological and human realities. The story of Abraham and Isaac, of obedience to God in terrible conflict with parental love, is, as Morson and Schapiro argue, difficult to file under the heading of “child services,” and, of course, there is no moral dimension to this economic analysis: utility is a fundamentally amoral concept.

Their example of what that amorality can look like in practice has real bite. In the nineteen-eighties, Schapiro—who today is the president of Northwestern University, as well as a professor of economics—was part of a team that put together publications for the World Bank. One of their books had a chapter on onchocerciasis, also known as river blindness. It is a parasitic disease that has cost millions of people their eyesight, and is endemic in large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. In 1974, seven West African nations got together, contacted donors, and set out to create the Onchocerciasis Control Program, overseen by the World Health Organization. The program was a huge success, in that it prevented hundreds of thousands of people from going blind, but there was a problem: the economists involved couldn’t show that the venture was worth it. A cost-benefit analysis was “inconclusive”: the people who were being helped were so poor that the benefit of saving their eyesight didn’t have much monetary impact. “There are humanitarian benefits associated with reducing the blindness and suffering caused by onchocerciasis,” the World Bank report allowed. But “these benefits are inherently unmeasurable, and we will not account for them here.” In other words, the very thing that made the project so admirable—that it was improving the lives of the poorest people in the world—also made it, from an economic point of view, not really worth doing.

That story has a happy ending: in 1987, the pharmaceutical company Merck, which held the patent for ivermectin, a drug that prevents river blindness, decided to give it away, in perpetuity, to countries that needed it. Yet it’s hard to sidestep Morson and Schapiro’s argument about the limits of a narrowly economic assessment: “A traditional cost-benefit analysis could easily have led to the discontinuation of a project widely viewed as being among the most successful health interventions in African history.”

Economics, Morson and Schapiro say, has three systematic biases: it ignores the role of culture, it ignores the fact that “to understand people one must tell stories about them,” and it constantly touches on ethical questions beyond its ken. Culture, stories, and ethics are things that can’t be reduced to equations, and economics accordingly has difficulty with them. Morson and Schapiro’s solution is to use the study of the humanities, and particularly of realist fiction, to broaden perspectives and to reintroduce to economics those three missing factors. Realist fiction, in their view, is the territory of the fox. It is, they argue, based on casuistry, which gets a bad rap but historically was the idea that the ethics of a situation are based on the specifics of the actual case. The authors’ hero is Tolstoy, who understood in his fiction that abstract principles should not triumph over human realities. It is an old idea in philosophy, clearly spelled out by Aristotle: “About some things it is not possible to make a universal statement which shall be correct.” The way to convey this truth is through the humanities, which, “properly taught”—an important part of their argument, since “Cents and Sensibility” has plenty to say about the defects of the contemporary curriculum—“offer an escape from the prison house of self and the limitations of time and place.”

The idea that there is a gap between the world of economics and the wider world is also a theme in “The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by the Harvard Business School professor Mihir Desai. His title is quietly provocative, since wisdom, Morson and Schapiro and many others would argue, is exactly what is missing in the financial realm. Finance has ingenuity, expertise, and dazzling possibilities for earning and losing money, but none of these are quite the same thing as wisdom. “I had long been bothered by the common presumption that markets, and finance in particular, were a crass domain that we had to shelter ourselves from in order to live a good life,” Desai argues. He regrets the chasm between finance and the rest of society, and he sets out to bridge it with a warmhearted and engaging set of stories in which he pairs fundamental principles of finance with parallel examples from the humanities. “Viewing finance through the prism of the humanities will help us to restore humanity to finance,” he writes, making a claim very similar to that made in “Cents and Sensibility.”

The exercise is both entertaining and informative. Desai takes us on a journey through the fundamentals of finance, from asset pricing to risk and risk management, via options, mergers, debt, and bankruptcy. He does this by using examples as diverse as the movie “Working Girl” (which, as all Melanie Griffith fans will remember, “hints at the parallels between the process of merging companies and the process of combining lives in a marriage”), the novels of Jane Austen (risk management), the life stories of Jeff Koons and George Orwell (illustrating different approaches to leverage), and the unconditional love we give our children. That love, Desai argues, demonstrates the concept of “negative beta assets.”

As that example perhaps shows, there are moments when, describing the links between finance and real life, Desai reveals just how far apart they are. “The story of General Motors and Fisher Body”—the company that made G.M.’s car bodies—“in the 1910s and 1920s is, for economists, Anna KareninaMiddlemarch, and Jane Eyre all rolled in one—the classic story that explains the nature of flirtation, commitment, marriage, and love,” he writes. I am fairly interested in company mergers (spoiler alert: they often go wrong), but I have to admit to finding that claim inadvertently funny. The humanist response to Desai here is to say, You do you, but please put down the nineteenth-century novels and step away. His account of the invention of formalized bankruptcy is fascinating, but then he compares the story of the American Airlines bust, in 2011, to Aeschylus’ great play “Agamemnon.” Because the company’s stock price had already dropped before the bankruptcy was announced, and, as Desai says, “ultimately individuals who bought American shares and bonds at the filing made five to ten times their investment in two years,” we can draw an analogy with Agamemnon’s tragic decision to sacrifice his beloved daughter Iphigenia. To which the humanist response is: Yeah, no.

Desai explores the intellectual crevasse between the money people and the rest of us in his final chapter, called, trenchantly, “Why Everyone Hates Finance.” One explanation is “the asshole theory of finance”: that finance isn’t inherently bad and neither are the people it attracts, but “finance fuels ego and ambition in an unusually powerful way.” The underlying reason is that finance is full of “attribution errors,” in which people view their successes as deserved and their failures as bad luck. Desai notes that in business, law, or pedagogy we can gauge success only after months or years; in finance, you can be graded hour by hour, day by day, and by plainly quantifiable measures. What’s more, he says, “the ‘discipline of the market’ shrouds all of finance in a meritocratic haze.” And so people who succeed in finance “are susceptible to developing massively outsized egos and appetites.”

We can ameliorate the problem “through works—and work—of imagination, just as Wallace Stevens suggested,” Desai writes. “Finding narratives that allow us to stay attached to what is meaningful in finance can insulate us from the feedback loops of attribution error.”

It is possible to agree with the critiques and admire the proposed fixes in “Cents and Sensibility” and “The Wisdom of Finance” without thinking that anything is likely to change. The gap between economics, finance, and the rest of society would be difficult to fix even if everyone wanted to do so, and it isn’t obvious that everyone does. This point was brought home to me a few years ago, by a private-equity professional who came up to me after a talk I’d given on the language of money at a bookstore in Soho. My preoccupation at that point was with obfuscation and obscurity in the jargon of money, and the way they could be used as a tool to keep laypeople at a distance. The private-equity guy was polite about what I’d said, but added that I had left something out: the way professionals use the language of economics as a tool for dissociating—for switching off their feelings. He gave an example: he and some colleagues had been sitting at a meeting analyzing a company’s balance sheet. They were discussing the business’s “churn,” meaning the rate at which it lost customers and had to acquire new ones, and the resulting effect on profitability. He said that in the middle of the discussion he had a sudden moment of clarity, and had to get up and walk out. The business under discussion was a chain of retirement and nursing homes. “Churn” in this context meant the death of itsresidents. They were sitting around the table, talking about death. That, he said, was what the language was for: to let you talk about human realities without feeling their impact—to ignore death.

I thought about that conversation for a long time afterward. My new private-equity friend had clearly been shaken, and yet, on reflection, I wondered what difference his discovery had made. While it might be brutal or insensitive to regard the death of someone’s beloved parent as “churn,” that’s what it is, from a business point of view. The coldness of the language serves a function, and it is a function that society needs, since nursing homes do have to get their funding from somewhere. I was reminded that one of the things I liked about economics, finance, and the language of money was their lack of hypocrisy. Modern life is full of cant, of people saying things they don’t quite believe. The money guys, in private, don’t go in for cant. They’re more like Mafia bosses. I have to admit that part of me resonates to that coldness.

Another part of me, though, is done with it, with the imperialist ambitions of economics and its tendency to explain away differences, to ignore culture, to exalt reductionism. I want to believe Morson and Schapiro and Desai when they posit that the gap between economics and the humanities can be bridged, but my experience in both writing fiction and studying economics leads me to think that they’re wrong. The hedgehog doesn’t want to learn from the fox. The realist novel is a solemn enemy of equations. The project of reducing behavior to laws and the project of attending to human beings in all their complexity and specifics are diametrically opposed. Perhaps I’m only talking about myself, and this is merely an autobiographical reflection, rather than a general truth, but I think that if I committed any further to economics I would have to give up writing fiction. I told an economist I know about this, and he laughed. He said, “Sounds like you’re maximizing your utility.” ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the July 23, 2018, issue, with the headline “Doesn’t Add Up.”

  • John Lanchester, the author of “How to Speak Money,” is a contributing editor at the London Review of Books, and has written for The New Yorker since 1995

Sexual Harassment and Being a Woman in the Workplace

Laura Roeder is the founder and CEO of the successful social media company MeetEdgar which she grew to $4 million in her mid-20s.

Way to go, Laura. 💪 💰

But as a woman in business, her journey to grow her company wasn’t easy.

With all the stories about sexual harassment in tech and business, I wanted to hear Laura’s female point of view.

If you’re a male, my #1 goal is you’ll come away from this post and podcast episode with an appreciation of what women have to go through in business.

Below, you’ll learn 3 key things…

  1. Laura’s experiences being a woman in tech
  2. How Laura recommends men interact with women in the workplace
  3. Why she was able to start a business while other women haven’t

Plus a bunch more.

How to interact with women in the workplace

I’ve never heard of a woman that’s raised money that hasn’t had some super sketchy situations. It’s just part of how things work.

Women in tech and business face daily challenges.

We see it in the news all the time…

Laura Roeder and sexual harrassment

As a woman, Laura has to decide every time she receives a message whether the other person really wants to talk business (or whether they just want to try and flirt with her).

The most important thing that men can do is one be very straight-forward with their intentions, Laura told me.

If you want to ask someone out on a date or grab a drink, ask them… and make it clear.

But if you say something like “let’s talk shop” or “discuss business”, then everything has to be 100% business.

And if you’ve there’s a power dynamic (like you’re their boss, or an investor interested in their company) then that’s where the relationship should stay.

Whether you’re a boss or colleague, having a women colleague can be a sensitive topic — but that doesn’t mean you should avoid talking to your female colleagues out of fear.

I have a friend who organizes these informal weekend retreats for founder friends. He told me that some of the men’s wives don’t want women there.

If it’s the norm for it to be unusual or uncomfortable for men and women to talk to each other, how can women ever progress at work?

We have to get over uncomfortableness and awkwardness.

Sometimes there will be an awkward conversation about how to treat your female colleague at work, or you might not be sure what kind of complement is okay.

The only way things will improve is if we open ourselves to the vulnerability and difficult conversations.

Female entrepreneurship and starting a business

It’s not uncommon for people to ask Laura questions like:

  • “Who started your company?”
  • “Do you work for your dad?”
  • “Is this your husband’s company?”

It sucks that she faces these questions all the time. No one has ever questioned me founding Sumo.

Laura sees some the silver lining.

I know that people aren’t trying to be terrible. And now they know a young woman that started a business, maybe they’ll put that in their data set for next time.

There are more female business owners and founders than many realize: More than 9.4 million companies are owned by women.

Laura even grew MeetEdgar to $4 million ARR, which is impressive for anyone regardless of gender.

Laura believes a lot of women are interested in running smaller businesses and not interested in the fundraising game, which is why you don’t hear about them on the news.

Personally, Laura wants flexibility and freedom in her time which is why she hasn’t raised millions of dollars and become a household name.

Those certainly aren’t female-only traits. Many entrepreneurs choose to start their own businesses so they can be free from the corporate world.

Laura also believes there’s some cultural differences in the way men and women are raised to view work and their careers:

  • Often, men are raised to believe your salary and job is very important. As a male, your role at work is very important to how the world sees you
  • Often, women were raised to focus on families, avoid coming off as aggressive, no negotiating, etc.

Laura explained:

The good part about that is maybe women don’t have as much ego attached to our job title or salary, so maybe we’re not desperately searching those things as much.

Resource: https://okdork.com/laura-roeder-sexual-harassment/?utm_content=buffer1f5db&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Article “Why Capitalism Creates Pointless Jobs” by David Graeber

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.

So what are these new jobs, precisely? A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, “professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers” tripled, growing “from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.” In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is exactly what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the very sort of problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don’t really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ‘60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for almost all the new industries outlined above. There is a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it.  Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well.

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it when tabloids whip up resentment against tube workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that tube workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It’s even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilizing resentment against school teachers, or auto workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or auto industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It’s as if they are being told “but you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and health care?”

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the – universally reviled – unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Resource: http://evonomics.com/why-capitalism-creates-pointless-jobs-david-graeber/

Article “How I deal with sexual harassment in tech” by Gillian Morris

A few years ago, I gave a pitch at a startup event and a young man came up to me afterwards.

He was looking to transition from his work in consulting to something in ‘tech’. I’d been a consultant before learning to code and starting Hitlist. He asked if he could buy me a coffee and learn about how I’d made the transition from consultant to founder.

I proposed we grab a beer instead. I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t like taking non-business related meetings during the day. In my previous jobs it had been common to mix business and beer, so I didn’t think much of it.

We ended up having a few beers. We talked about the practical concerns of how to downsize from a consultant paycheck to startup salary, but then the conversation began to branch out.

We talked about our personal goals, our appetite for adventure, our past relationships and how we managed work/life balance.

I realized I was incredibly attracted to him. I felt like I was getting similar vibes from him, though it might have been the beer. And then he asked me if I’d ever consider bringing him onto the Hitlist team.

It wasn’t a total shock. He’d said he was interested in working in startups, I was hiring, and I’d gone into the evening thinking I’d assess him as a potential candidate. I didn’t realize that I was going to end up with a crush on him.

I suggested we meet on a Saturday afternoon to dive into our business model and figure out if there might be a role for him at Hitlist.

That Saturday, we tore apart the pitch deck I’d been using to raise money and came up with something that was, conservatively, ten times better. We got fired up about where Hitlist could go. We laughed, and I wondered whether he was flirting with me, and whether that was clouding my judgment.

I sent one of my advisors the revised pitch deck and he agreed that the young man would make a great addition to the team. I was conflicted because I knew one thing without a doubt: if I offered him a job there was no way I could explore the personal side of our relationship.

And I’m human. We got along well. He had a great butt. Could I have this guy work for me without the attraction side of things driving me nuts?

How is that even a question?

Of course I could. I’m an adult, not an animal. It would have been completely inappropriate for me to hit on someone who had come to me for professional advice and a job.

I knew that it might be distracting to employ someone who I found so appealing but the ethics of making a move on him were so black and white that there wasn’t a choice. And I wasn’t going to let a good candidate walk out the door because he happened to be attractive.

This is what gets me about all these ‘code of conduct’ pieces that have been coming out in recent days: I don’t understand why this is so hard for people to grasp.

If someone comes to you for advice, applies for a job, and/or pitches you for funding, don’t hit on that person.

Am I saying that workplace romances can never happen? No, but if you’re the person in a position of authority, you don’t initiate them, full stop.

If your subordinate makes a move on you, you two can discuss the ramifications like adults and decide whether you want to have a romantic relationship (or be friends with benefits, whatever).

That discussion should happen when you both have clear judgment, i.e. not at 3am at a conference when either or both of you have had alcohol. And that expression of interest from your subordinate should be crystal clear: an invitation to grab a beer is not a date unless he or she explicitly says it is.

In the words Anjali Kumar, founding general counsel at Warby Parker, former senior counsel at Google, and current angel investor:

Resource: https://medium.com/startup-grind/how-i-deal-with-sexual-harassment-in-tech-3bce2ab93a32

Article on Immigration by David Sax

Last fall, I took a taxi home from the airport in Toronto. As the conversation with the young driver moved on from the weather, I asked how he got into driving. He was a Punjabi from India, a member of an immigrant group that tends to dominate jobs at the city’s airport. He had moved to Canada two years earlier, when he was twenty-seven, and now drove his uncle’s Lincoln Town Car several nights a week, while studying engineering at a nearby university.

I asked him how he liked the school, which was reputed to be the best in the country for engineering. “The school is great,” he said, “but it’s kind of pointless for me. I know everything they’re teaching, because I did it all before back home.” In India, he already had a degree from one the country’s top engineering schools, and had spent several years working there for the global engineering firm Siemens, as a mechanical engineer. “You see that train there?” he asked me, pointing at the new express train linking the airport to the city’s downtown passing overhead. “I designed, built, and maintained airport trains exactly like that back in India. Now, I have to finish my degree just to apply for an internship with Siemens here. It’s insane!”

Our conversation happened just two weeks after the election of Donald Trump, who last month backed sweeping changes to America’s own immigration system. At the heart of this is the raise Act, proposed by Republicans senators, which would move the United States from an immigration system that focusses on family reunification to one that prioritizes skills and experiences suited to the job market. Though Trump’s primary motivation may be cutting legal immigration to the United States by as much as half, the core of the raise Act has frequently been compared to the Canadian immigration system.

If you want to immigrate to Canada, and do not have some other form of entry (such as refugee status, as hundreds of Haitian asylum seekers now housed in tent camps along the U.S. border are claiming), you can apply for the Federal Skilled Worker program, which ranks applicants based on a hundred-point scale. Points are awarded based on how an applicant matches up with the current needs of the Canadian job market: education, work experience, age, a spouse’s qualifications, whether a person has a job offer here, proficiency in English or French, and whether that person already has family in Canada. Those with scores of sixty-seven or above qualify, and are sent an invitation to apply to a specific program. Acceptance, however, is by no means guaranteed.

The system is lauded around the world as fair and effective, and successive governments, especially that of Justin Trudeau, love to brag about its basis in making Canada a land where immigrants are encouraged to come and prosper. The country is second only to Australia, which has its own points-based system, for the percentage of its population that is foreign born. Shouldn’t countries choose the best and brightest candidates to live there, the logic goes, just like a company would seek the absolute brightest person to fill a job?

The problem is how the lofty rhetoric that surrounds Canada’s points-based immigration system contrasts with the reality on the ground. As that young taxi driver’s tale highlighted, there is a tremendous disconnect between the way Canada brings people into the country and how their talents are applied after they arrive. More often than not, the taxi driver’s story is the norm rather than the exception. Pakistani and Indian engineers, Polish accountants, and Colombian teachers drive cars, fold laundry, and sling shawarma late into the night. Talented individuals are brought to Canada for their skills and experience, only to find those skills ignored once they land here.

Immigrants to Canada in their first ten years are more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population, according to government statistics. That applies even when the immigrants are college-educated, compared to those native born with only a high-school diploma. Among those who have jobs, only a quarter of Canada’s immigrants are working in the fields they trained in, compared to more than sixty per cent for native-born citizens. A government report in 2013 showed that more than a third of recent immigrants to Canada were living in poverty, particularly in immigrant-heavy cities like Toronto and Vancouver, where half of residents are foreign born. The problem has become so acute that policymakers have coined a specific term for this phenomenon of squandered immigrant intellectual talent: brain waste.

The reasons why Canada’s skilled immigrants struggle so mightily are numerous. Immigrants lack the professional and social networks that native job-seekers have, and their knowledge of local markets and practices are understandably limited. Many professions are protected by unions and guilds that erect significant barriers to entry. I have two friends who were successful lawyers in Mexico and Israel, respectively, but who, once they moved here, found that their experience was essentially useless in the eyes of the Law Society of Upper Canada, which is the Canadian equivalent of the American Bar Association, and the Canadian law firms that operate under its rules. Both had to return to law school, at great cost, for several years, all while raising young children, only to compete in the same apprenticeship program with twenty-five-year-olds who were fresh out of law school—all before they were even allowed to bill a single hour.

Professional standards do vary around the world, and no one is keen to go under the knife of a cardiac surgeon who just arrived from a distant country without having her qualifications thoroughly vetted. But I also know of a Canadian cardiac surgeon who trained at the finest teaching hospital in New York, then moved back to Toronto and was made to requalify over several months under strict supervision, as if the practice of cardiovascular medicine in Canada were so radically different from professional norms just a hundred miles to the south. An orthopedic surgeon I met in Argentina lasted just two years after he moved his family to Winnipeg, before his frustration at being unable to practice led him to return the whole family to Buenos Aires. While a shortage of health-care workers continues to plague rural Canadian communities, more than half the foreign-born doctors living in Canada are not practicing medicine, according to figures compiled by academics Michel Girgnon, Yaw Owusu, and Arthur Sweetman. And while some of these people end up finding work in other areas of health care, other medical professionals, including nurses, pharmacists, and and even E.R. surgeons, are driving for Uber, or operating a gas station that they bought when they ran out of other options.

Jeffrey Reitz, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, has been studying this problem in Canada’s immigration system for years. Reitz said that it emerged very shortly after the country adopted a skills-based immigration system, in the nineteen-seventies. “People’s skills are not being used when they immigrate,” Reitz told me, noting that there has actually been a slow decline in the employment success of skilled immigrants over the past forty years, despite the government raising the level of skills that it wants immigrants to have. “The problem of underutilized skills has actually gotten worse,” he said, noting that this could be fertile breeding ground for the sort of anti-immigrant sentiment that Canada has not yet seen. “If immigrants are stumbling and not doing well, then it may eventually undermine the success of the [skilled] immigration program.”

Often, the system falls short on what is broadly defined as “culture fit.” This is the shorthand for the kinds of stereotyping, subtle racism, and general conservatism that some employers have regarding those who look, speak, or think differently than they do. When my wife worked as a corporate headhunter, she was often asked by clients not to send in “new Canadians” as candidates to finance jobs, even if they had worked at investment banks in cities like Singapore, because of a lack of “Canadian experience.” This is a tidy euphemism for “no immigrants wanted,” especially if they are dark-skinned or if English is not their first language.

No society can perfectly cherry-pick the immigrants it needs and have them fit neatly into all the open slots in its economy, like pegs in a hole. Migration is messy; people’s lives aren’t easily tallied as points; and no culture ever fits together perfectly. Behind this notion lies the false belief that we can be like Dubai, bringing in only the wealthiest, best, and brightest, as though immigrants were something to be ordered off a menu.

“In both Canada and the U.S., when you have skilled immigrants with university degrees, they struggle,” Reitz said, noting that the same problem already exists in the United States, though it is dwarfed by issues around illegal immigration. The key, he said, is that the children of skilled immigrants do well, in what he deems “a kind of delayed positive impact.”

The economic reality is that all countries, including Canada, need a wide variety of immigrants from different national, educational, and vocational backgrounds. Despite what Trump says, skilled immigrants, but also unskilled ones, are needed.

Resource: https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-fantasy-of-trumps-skills-based-immigration-proposal

My film critic on Rashomon


Hi everyone! From now on I am planning to publish some of my critics on films that I find interesting and worth to comment on. It might be a good start to produce and spread ideas. Lets start with the first one:

Rashomon directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1950 is based on that narrative where a Japanese samurai and his wife see a bandit on their way and he rapes samurai’s wife ,and then samurai is found death. Story just begins with woodcutter’s point of view how he finds the body and other stuff , later we listen the background of the murder and rape event in three different eyewitnesses’ (the wife, bandit, woodcutter himself)  accounts. But woodcutter also  being storyteller in the film by telling what happened in the court to the commoner in the Rashomon gate. In the court each eyewitness sits in front of a judge who is invisible to audience as if the audience itself is the judge. Director uses flashbacks while each one begins to talk and leaves the decision to the audience which one is true or is there any absolute truth. This technique is a great way to question about perception and reality, emphasizing  the main theme of the film, reality.

The film starts with a raining, cloudy environment at Rashomon gate, woodcutter’s saying “I dont understand “. This scene perfectly confronts with the main theme of the film, we are not able to understand or know the reality and there is always uncertainty due to insecurity of human perception. Later, it goes on with woodcutter’s words and flashback to the time in the forest. Now, we are able to see a little bit of sun light among the trees, meaningly the film begins to give us clues about the reality. While he is walking, the sound follows his movement and stops at every moment he surprisingly finds some staff from samurai and his wife.We don’t see every angle from these scenes which makes us being not totally informed like we don’t see the samurai’s body, only hands. So we can not be sure that if woodcutter is telling the absolute truth in the court although we see the court scenes as the most lighted ones where we come closer to the reality.When we look at the flashbacks that Bandit tells the story in his point of view, quick cuts, close ups are seen in the forests. In contrast, while we are in the in wife’s flashback, much longer takes and longer shots  director chooses and he uses more slowly cuts to a close-up. The technique perfectly confronts with the idea that reality changes according to the perception of each character.  Additionally, we don’t hear the judge’s voice during the film and  it makes us to feel like we are the judge and we investigate the truth. Thus, director succeeds to make audience participating in the film.


Second eyewitness caught and brought by police is bandit. We see first perspective to the murder and rape by his telling that the wife was also willing to be with him. But most importantly, he tries to justify his act by claiming it was because the soft wind while he was resting in the forest. Then he tries to give a reason why he wanted to rape her by describing the wife’s anger making him seduced. Also, he says that they fought with honor and that can be a justification or comment to look better in the eye of judge So, we may conclude that even in any disgusting crime people wants to justify their act and secretly hopes to be understood. This might be a criticism to the human nature ‘do people really feel guilty from their acts or they find ways to justify their acts’. As Gopalan Mullik  (Head of Film Studies Deptt, St. Xavier’s College, “ Kurosawas Rashomon”  Nov 16th 2010) suggests that “deeper conflict between human being’s primitive instinctual desires of lust and greed on the one hand and his social values on the other which seek to curb such instincts. The distortion of facts which each person indulges in is really the result of trying to make them appear to be better than what they actually are in the eyes of the society!“. So we may consider bandit’s distorting the fact that he committed such a crime results from his concern in front of the  judge symbolizing  society.


The film also intensively questions that if there is goodness in the world or  in the humanity,if  memory is a good or bad thing, why or how people distort their memory. Distorting memory is explained in the dialogue between commoner and priest as  “ –Commoner: Well, men are only men. That’s why they lie.They can’t tell the truth, even to themselves. Priest: That may be true. Because men are weak, they lie to deceive themselves.” So, human nature can be considered  weak and their distorting even their own memory results from it. This might be another perspective to distorting reality besides from social concerns. Secondly, we need to examine the goodness assumed that people have inside in the film. Priest  symbolizes  moral part of the film and make us to think about humanity in a broader sense. He claims to have faith in humanity and wants to keep his faith. Even though commoner advocates the dark side of humanity by his speech and his act at the end of the film, priest insists on believing goodness and spirituality in humanity. At the end of the film, a baby in the Rashomon gate appears. I think, this part might be included to summarize ideas about human nature in a humanistic perspective. The opposite way of commoner’s and  woodcutter’s behaving  represents our contradictory nature while emphasizing there is still hope in humanity