Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Tue Dec-25-2012

'Tis the season - and there were some good messages in 2012.

Just a little while ago I ran across a link to a blog that rated the "5 Best Ads of 2012". And, I'm glad the author went to the trouble to post this - some of these ads are worth revisiting. For moral reasons.

For instance, the first ad listed (btw the page is best-ads-of-2012)
is a P&G ad. Now, P&G is probably one of the biggest, least personal conglomerates in the world. Yet, they DO make products that are aimed at our personal use - and for our use as families. So their ad, which is a tear-jerker, finding glory in Mom-hood, is definitely noteworthy. They do well to remind us of the importance of moms, and therefore, of our families. This 2 minute ad spans the trials and rewards of motherhood from 2 to 16. And does an amazing job of capturing same. Definitely worth watching.

The next 3 adverts listed, are, in my mind, ho-hum in the big picture. But the last ad listed brings us to my reason for this post. He lists Nike's "Greatness" series of ads, and notes the "Jogger" ad as his "best" Greatness - the jogger. And, once you get over laughing at this obese kid jogging, the morality of this ad - and the rest of the series is truly remarkable. It is a state of thinking that we all: zen, Christian, Jew, Muslim, and scientific, hold to be honorable and moral, attainable, and worthy of emulation. Greatness is one attempting to achieve what they are capable of. A person stretching, not the limits of the larger culture, but the limits of their own life. Stretching to a point that is not measured by what other people achieve.

And I think every one of us will agree that this is a wonderful objective, and a wonderful guiding light for our lives. Now, if I could just get over the fact that these wonderful and sentimental sermonettes have been delivered by a company I consider to be one of the premier examples of amoral corporate culture and greed, all would be well with the world. But, just like the African slum city pictured in some of the "Greatness" series (the bmx ad was one), such warts on life are with us. We are richer for having these ads.

Whether we are richer in total, for having these ads in the same world that their amoral parent lives in, I do not know.

Btw - very few of you will know what my gripe is against Nike. Way back, I felt they did dirt to Bill Bowerman, who invented the waffle sole, and "co-founded" Nike - but I'm not sure the relationship was all as good as the title "co-founder" suggests. I was friends, for a time, with one of his children - and that person was a guiding light in my life to this day. Bill Bowerman, even though we never met, changed my life (for the better, of course!), because of the child he raised.  The wiki on the life of this famous coach is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Bowerman.

By itself, I suppose this doesn't mean much. But, when I realize the same company sells hugely overpriced glitz sportshoes, and when I consider the markets that buy them, or steal them, I find little that is admirable. When I see that their ads, and their posturing, do not represent moral beliefs, but corporate profiteering, I find little there that I want to take home.

Sure, and you know I call myself an economist, which means that profit is the #1 goal, right? Yeah to all that, but that doesn't mean it has to be your ONLY goal. In the nature of economics, it is natural that companies with the strongest profit motive will become the biggest companies out there. This is why, as a society, we have regulations on companies and people in business. Having profit as the predominant goal is fine. Having profit as the goal so preeminent that other goals are interchangeable and complete malleable is not fine. The ultimate result of profit being too dominant is a world that is NOT beneficial to the most people.

2012 has been a banner year for examples. We have seen an athlete, so driven by the desire to win, that the desire came in front of any ideas of fair play and honest competition, we have seen that athlete exposed, and it has rocked the world.  Lance Armstrong was driven to win. And, he was so driven that he forgot any other rules or morals along the way. Now we know that Lance Armstrong used illegal techniques to win, to give himself an unfair advantage. He cheated. And it worked.

Nike is remarkable for having been a company with a strong profit motive. They wanted to make a mark on the running shoe world. They have done that. They are the #1 running shoe manufacturer. To what degree is their #1 position, and the #1 position of Lance Armstrong similar? All I can attest to is what I see - and what I see seems to me that the profit motive for Nike is like the desire to win for Lance. Worth anything, anything at all.

You know, I started this post with the idea of saying "these are wonderful ads, and we should keep stuff like this in mind, every day, and every moment of every day." But it has kinda devolved, because of my beliefs about the company that made those ads.

Well, the ads are a good example of positive thinking, and positive living. We need to do that. All of us. The crap that comes with, we have to take in stride, and figure out how best to live with the shitty neighbor. Metaphorically. The ads are nice. And we SHOULD all remember to find our greatness. I just think I'll try and find mine without the brand that made the commercials.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Last time I wrote about different kinds of falsehoods, and how they applied to the politics in this country for the past 40 years. A lot of people believe what Romney and Ryan are saying - and I am appalled. I was more appalled by Bush 2, but I didn't have this blog then - and speaking out back then was certain to get me labeled anti-American (at the least, as I recall, Cheney and others were bandying the "traitor" label about a little), a reversion to the divisiveness of Vietnam.

As a cyclist, I have been following developments in the Armstrong saga. In this article: by David Walsh, about Lance  Armstrong, Walsh describes a press conference where we now have irrefutable proof that Armstrong was lying through his teeth. Yet he was so convincing and reassuring. He said exactly the right things - "we will fight against doping with all our strength" - "I have done no doping, now or ever". All the people speaking out back then were just bitter, ugly, losers. And he said it so we would believe it.

Every politician has to lie sometime. It comes with the territory. The objective, at least for me, is to find the ones who manage to lie the least, and to live up to general Christian principles of society.

I haven't seen a Republican do that since Barry Goldwater. Nixon surely didn't - he intentionally kept the Vietnam war going, and got our soldiers killed - so he could get re-elected. Reagan had people swapping dope for arms. Not to mention his huge debt, when he had gotten elected on a smaller government platform. Reagan was a two-edged sword, I will say that. He did try to do something about the debt by using sleight-of-hand to raise taxes. But his changes made the rich richer, and the poor poorer. Bush 2 was a disaster. He took something that was working and ran it into a tree, head-on. And he got us into two wars. I think one was justifiable - Afghanistan. But he abandoned the Afghan front to go to Iraq, and the consequence was that the Taliban stepped in and took over, in large part because of the power vacuum WE left. We are still in Afghanistan because of the mess he left us.

Just like Lance Armstrong. They have lied, but they have done it so well, many of us are believing them.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Liars, fools, fanatics, and the ignorant. Subtitle: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.


One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives. -- Mark Twain

We can put all of our untruths in 3 baskets. The first basket is for liars - it isn't true, and they know it isn't true.

The second basket is for when folly is involved. Folly is when a person ignores some basic part of reality that tells them something isn't true. We either call these people foolish, or a fanatic.

The third basket is for ignorance. I think that speaks for itself. So, we have liars, fools, fanatics, and the ignorant.

Now I want to show you a graph I ran into for the first time in the early 1990's, in economics classes. It made it instantly obvious to me that a whole class of politicians fit into one of the above labels. 


  You see, we had politicians pointing fingers at one side, shouting slogans like "Tax and Spend!" Easy to remember and repeat. But, it wasn't true. They fooled a lot of people with it, and their inheritors are still trying to use the same formulas. Let's take a look. The graph above is for a 50 year period, starting near the end of WW2. Obviously, Truman brought the deficit war-time spending right down. Things were pretty steady, until LBJ, and he has a little blip caused by Vietnam. Then we have Nixon, and he triples LBJ's deficit spending. Ford doubled what Nixon did! Carter kept things on an even keel, and even brought in a slight decrease. But Reagan looks like the Himalayas compared to everything in the history of the US up till then, except WW2. (We'll look at WW2 in the next graph.) Bush1 piles it on, and it climbs higher, until Clinton.  And Clinton got the bus running again. In the first graph, we only see the start of what Clinton did. On to the 2nd graph.

These are the same numbers, but over an 80 year period. Clinton actually brought us back to historical spending patterns - a balanced budget, and paying off our debts properly. Even though the budget was in the positive, you see, we still had a lot of debt to get rid of. Bush 2 blew that away, inserting tax cuts that did not benefit the economy, and bank deregulation that DID affect the economy, just a few years later, but not in a way that most of us could benefit from. Bush2 sent spending and debt so high that the first graph looks like little pimples now. Which is why I showed this to you in 2 graphs. I just don't think you can see the significance of Nixon, Ford, and Reagan in the big graph.

Now I will show you graph 3.

This graph shows the income tax rate for the top 1% over the last 65 years. A slow decrease for the top folks, and a big jump down with Reagan. (Remember 'trickle-down' economics? It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now.) Now, let me tell you a couple of numbers to go with this. Reagan has long had a reputation as a tax cutter. On the other hand, some people have begun to point out that Reagan raised taxes by other methods. I offer two numbers, and I'll let you decide whether he raised taxes or lowered them. In 1981, when Reagan took office, the IRS took in 407 billion in income tax. In 1988, when Reagan left office, the US received 607 billion from income tax. That is a 50% increase. In 1981, the US had 228 million people. In 1988, that had only increased to 244 million. That is less than one percent increase.

If you ask me, that means that the middle class was poorer because of Reagan's tax adjustments, and the upper class was richer. I will say this, Reagan did see that it was important to balance the budget. The history shows us he did try to make that happen.

In 2001, when Bush 2 took office, we had finally set aside decades of mismanaged finances, and we were on the road to fiscal health. Clinton raised taxes slightly, and you can see that on graph #3. But I sure don't remember that it hurt! I DO remember the Reagan tax adjustments, and I DO remember that they DID hurt. I also remember the Bush2 tax CUTS, and I remember I did not notice them at all. And I'll bet you didn't either.

Remember what I said in the title? If it ain't broke, don't fix it? Well, I've watched what people have been telling me over the years. I had come to the conclusion a long time ago that one side fit real well into one of those baskets I talked about at the start.

In 1937, FDR was forced by his political opposition into cutting spending. And it showed. FDR took unemployment from MORE than 25% (that is one in every 4 people was unemployed), to 14%. In 1937, it shot back up. By 1939, the recovery was underway again, employment was up. It was still not healthy, as unemployment was still in the double digits, but it had improved. It took the massive spending of WW2 to put an end to the Great Depression.

But we can learn from this. FDR had no history of economic management to draw on. We do. The messages to reduce spending TODAY are the same ones FDR got in 1937. And, we also KNOW our recovery has not finished yet. That is obvious.

We can also see, that we have paid off seemingly insurmountable debt before. Truman did it. I don't know if you remember the end of the Reagan years - I do. Interest was high, and so was the debt. The pundits and experts were saying we could never pay it all off before 2050! And then only if we basically went on an anorexia level fiscal diet. Clinton did it, and we didn't suffer. And guess what? When all that debt freed up, and we had a better balance on the books? Business skyrocketed. Investment was everywhere. Which made everything even better, with MORE government income as a result.

So, I look around, and I see people who were NOT standing up and shouting about the spending and debt happening in 2002 and 2005, and they are shouting about it now. These are the same people, and their children, who were telling us lies about the economy before. Some of them are fanatics, some are fools, some are liars, and some are ignorant.

I'm going to trust the people whose actions have spoken for them. The same people who have consistently shown more responsibility towards fixing our economy and running a tight fiscal ship. The people who do less name-calling, and more doing. When it comes to politics, unfortunately, actions do not speak louder than words. I wish they did. We need first to take things back to where they were when they weren't broke. Start with taxes. Clinton found a good level. He was paying off our debt, and running a responsible government. We weren't hurting! People calling for more tax cuts, or even KEEPING the Bush tax cuts, acting like fools. HISTORY is there for us to read, and it is obvious that the constant tax cutting is not increasing our income.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Two tiny, but significant, lessons on willpower

Below is a link to an article with two golden thoughts that are worth spreading and learning. I ran across it looking for something else, and I know I will include this knowledge in how I approach willpower and the cultivation thereof.

The golden thoughts are:
1: Willpower is affected by the nutrient state of our body.
2: Willpower is limited, and can best be utilized by pursuing a course of artful distraction.

My parents and my family taught me to "just be tough, just do it, and be strong". Ok, but I might be more successful being strong, not by focusing on being strong, by going and doing something to distract myself from the need for that kind of rigid strength. Also, a little sip of cider or juice will help me resist impulses to indulge in bad habits.

This would be why the diet advisors who say to eat a little, frequently, are giving good advice. This would be why a little fruit juice can help resist the urge to have a beer! :D

This would be why trying to force myself to sit down and do something can be excruciatingly painful, while performing the same work within a workplace, where a little social repartee exists, can be easy. Of course, sometimes distractions can be overdone! So, finding the balance is always the key!

What could be more zen?

The link is actually a book review, but the review focuses on these two thoughts beautifully.

The science of self control  (this was originally a link, which is now bad. I believe that it was a link to a review of the book, "The Science of Self Control", author Howard Rachlin)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Follow-up on the Harvard Town financials

In my last post, I studied our town finances, taking a look at historical income and spending.  But I still wondered, how many people would be seriously affected by an increase in the property tax rates? I took a look at this, using the town assessor's property valuations - the base for our tax revenue in Harvard.

Here is a graph of said property valuations from the assessor's office (the assessor's office provided the values. I created the graph, so don't blame town hall for the graph). This is public information, in case you wonder.

About 14% of the values fall below 100K - probably secondary buildings and smaller property parcels. Starting from there, though, you can see about half the town has property value below 500K. About 90% have valuations below 750K. At the far end, we have about a dozen properties valued over 1.5M. Several of those are businesses. This graph doesn't show government or non-profit (untaxed) properties.

The 2010 census tells us we have a shade over 2,000 households in town. The property count over 100K is about 2100 - so I think this gives us a pretty good view.

Next, let's convert these numbers to what we pay in taxes. So I ran some simple numbers. I started with 2011, and raised the property tax the maximum allowable amount through 2020. It turns out that for about half the town, the forecast tax hike over that 9 year timeframe would be 2,000 dollars or less. Until you hit 780K of property value, you are still under an added 3K tax per year. I can't say exactly based on these numbers, but at least 80% of our community is below that line, and it could be more than 90%. 780K falls at the 92nd percentile of the property valuations.

I also found a source for a few more historical years of tax rates - back to 1985. The rate at that time was just over $13 per 1,000 of value. This tells me that to see the rate where it is today is not really unusual, even historically. We are about to enter "unusual" territory, as our rates today are higher than they have been. But again, when the dollar impact is examined, the actual cost is, to me, surprisingly low, all things considered.

I realize the quality when posted is not ideal.  If you want the original graphs, just email me. I'll send them to you.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Local Politics, Town Budget, and the Harvard Town Hall

Big surprise, our local budget is a hot topic in our current local elections. I listened to neighbors from both sides (pun intended, one lives to the left, and the other lives to the right) tell me about what was going on. Our local newspaper had a good article about the fuss. But, one official interviewed really got my attention! They said that our local real estate tax had been going up, and would continue to go up in the future, at the MAXIMUM legal rate, every year! Doesn't that get your attention?

I have updated my numbers, and I have come to some conclusions. First - the increase in costs has been very significant. Revenue has had to increase to match it. If you look at those graphs alone, you might be right to feel a little panic. I know I did. But I still wanted to know what this meant to me. So, I translated all the numbers that are being tossed around into something I can grasp - what it will cost me. Last year my taxes were close to 1.5% of my property value. For every 100,000 of my house value, that means I paid $1,547. Since my house is valued at $300K, I paid 3 times that, or about $4600. In another ten years, at the maximum rate of increase, I will be paying about $6,000 dollars.  Assuming my house value does not go up, which today seems to be a reasonable assumption. I do not believe you will find many residents of Harvard who will be hurt by paying out another 1500 dollars.  Still, the dramatic rise in costs is more than worthy of attention.

Another conclusion I have reached is that the Selectmen who are groaning loudest about what we are spending are also the most responsible for the position we find ourselves in today. This is also true for the candidate who is groaning right along with those Selectmen. Remember, this group has been in the majority for many years. You know the saying "Penny-wise, and pound foolish". After having looked at 30 years of annual reports, it looks to me like that is a good description of this group. They are postponing necessary maintenance, "nickle and diming" legitimate spending, when they would be getting better return in the long run by showing more concern for long-term thinking.


Initially, I wondered what the numbers really were. I figured they might tell me something. I went down to the library, and pulled out town records. Let's take a look at what I saw.

Ok - so here are the tax rates for the last 25 years (orange line). We only this year got back to the previously highest rate - from more than 10 years ago. The blue line is property valuations. Note that these have gone stagnant over the past few years. This is important to pay attention to. {On 17 May I updated these graphs. They now read left-to-right, just as we are accustomed to!}

Now let's look at our spending. The next two graphs only go back 10 years, but we get the idea.

General fund spending is all the stuff we want our city to do. Police, fire, trash, water, roads, building maintenance, town government, etc. Schools are our biggest expense category. Notice that general expenses and school expenses continue to rise. Payments on borrowed money have been very stable, and very low. Schools, as a percent of the total, have not changed much. Historically, I found a chart in the annual report from 1986 that listed schools as about 52% of our spending, which would fit right in with this. In 2009, schools were 58%, loan payments 6%, and general expenses 37%. In 2011, schools were 54% of expenditures.

Here you see our revenue by source - property tax, local fees and licenses (the biggest contributor to this is car tags), and money received from the state.

I had been told one reason we were having money trouble was because we were getting less from the state. The numbers I see make me think this isn't a very big part of the problem. Relative to total income, what we get from the state is pretty stable. The local revenue is from town car tags, trash fees, fines, tickets, licenses - stuff like that. It is also pretty stable.

Now I can see why the town official said what they did. The graphs tells us a lot. Cost is going up. Income from fees and licenses is stable. Income from the state is stable. Property values have gone stagnant. Which means there are only two ways to pay for the increasing cost. One is to borrow more, and the second is to continue to raise property taxes. 

What does this really mean to me? Remember the numbers that showed how much I would pay? Here they are in a graph. {This graph still reads right-to-left. But see my next post. I think that is more useful to understand what we are looking at.}

Since 1960, the town of Harvard has completely changed. In 1960, there were about 1,000 people in our village. Today there are more than 5,000. New properties have been built, and values have increased. In the chart above, we can see the affect of that - a relatively constant growth in value.

One of the reasons I got involved in this was because our Town Hall has become a point of contention in this debate. People are disagreeing on how much should be spent to renovate the town hall. Over the past 50 years, some temporary measures have been taken to accomodate our growth. Some of them were meant to be - or should have been meant to be - temporary. Some were short-sighted.

Our town hall has some extremely critical condition issues. These are serious problems which could result in loss of the town hall altogether if they are not taken care of. The exterior envelope has major issues. Moisture is getting in to the frame of the building. One can not tell the extent of the current damage from these conditions until after work will have started. I think most people are already aware of this. The Town Hall has been subject to deferred maintenance for more than 50 years. How else can you explain that, in this day, the walls are not insulated! I do not think you can find a single standing house in our town that you could say the same thing about. It has also been the object of temporary measures that have begun to take on an air of permanence, because of the simple fact that they have been in place for so long. One example of this is the temporary office structures on the 2nd floor of the town hall. The town hall has also been the subject of some bad spending decisions. I refer here to the addition put on some years ago, that is now the cause of greater maintenance issues.

So, recently, our Town Selectmen got various possible plans evaluated about how to manage the cost of the town hall. I was raised in the tradition of: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." One took care of their tools. It is not a throw-away position. The Town Hall is one of the town's tools. It needs to be appropriately taken care of.

Now, if my memory serves me, we had basically three or four scenarios brought to us. One was cheaper - but not by much. Two were in the middle, and the last was more expensive. Our town voted already for one of the two plans in the middle. Maybe we should change our minds, maybe we shouldn't - but if that cheap plan does not take care of the maintenance issues, it is false economy! The people who are saying we should stick to the renovation we already voted to do, are saying that the cost difference, between the cheap plan and the plan our town voted in, is not significant in the big picture. Frankly, the numbers back them up.

The town has other needs that are being stuck, today, on the town hall, too - with predictably bad results. Records storage is a major problem. Our town is 5 times the size it was 50 years ago - and our space needs reflect that. If we do not exercise foresight now, we will pay a greater price 10 years down the road! We are seeing this today because maintenance was deferred in years past.

I think the folks who are shouting about the tax levy are right to be worried about it. But from talking to both sides, I also think BOTH sides are worried about this. I don't think we have anyone in the public discussion who is NOT worried about it - although the shouting people would like us to believe that there are people in the public debate who are not worried about these financial issues. We know that school costs will continue to rise, year by year. Increasing insurance rates, medical costs, and fuel costs are examples of pressures that keep general costs rising. Nobody is predicting that house values will increase again in at least the next 5 years. Still, we in Harvard are lucky - our values have decreased very little, if at all. We might even beat the general trend, and see some growth in value. But, we can also see that our property tax rates must go up for the foreseeable future.

You might conclude from what I have said, that I would be looking forward to voting for those in our town who are shouting the loudest against (among other things) spending money on the town hall renovation. You would be wrong. In going through all the annual reports to gather the information I have here, it seemed clear to me that some of the same people who are complaining about the Town Hall cost now were complaining about that cost in past years, and voting against spending on maintenance. Those votes are now costing us more money to repair, expensively, what could have been maintained, relatively cheaply, then. I am sure nobody intended for it to end this way - but sometimes a longer vision is the wiser course. It is a good thing to be wary of spending money - it is a bad thing to forego changing the oil on your car to save money. 

We are in a pickle now. And it will take us at least 5 years to change our course. But, if we plan wisely today, we can work it all out.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on growing younger

I got a letter today, from a friend who is my age. Having watched this friend go through some personal gyrations recently, it became clear to me that they were deep in a period of self-realization. Now, I am still learning about myself, ways that I can improve what I do, techniques to make me more successful in life. What amazes me, a little, is the depth of the self-searching and realization that we are going through. But we are not the only ones. I see it in other people of my generation. I see it in our age - from Hemingway to Kerouac.

Forty years ago, when we were young, this was no surprise. But now? It seems odd. Are we peculiar? Or, are we just a sign of our times?

I look at the example of my grandparents, and I can not find this depth of self-analysis, self-realization in my memories of them. Grandpa W- my mother's side - by this age had married his last wife (of about 4, if I recall) and he seemed happy enough with it. Grandpa B: there was a little more that I witnessed there. He was a bit rocked when Dad died (Dad was 60). His comment was you didn't expect to outlive your kids. Somehow, I think that experience opened him up a little. He changed a little when he had his strokes, and lost the ability to speak, not once but several times. He had to relearn how to speak each time. I remember after the first round or so, he made a comment about the words were there - but he could not grasp them. Grandma B was always generous, to the end, and I do not remember her ever changing much from that. Grandma W was always tough and thorny. I do not recall her ever changing that much either, although I understand from others in the family that she did grow a shade more tolerant in her later years.

But I do not recall any of them going through basic self-realization at this late age. I do not recall seeing them in deep thought about who they were, or their place in the world, or the place of mankind in the universe. There were certainly reminiscences. Grandpa B remarked more than once on how he was the last one left, both of his immediate family, and his boyhood friends.

Maybe it is like the knights of medieval days, spending most of their life pillaging, cheating, fighting, bullying, and otherwise trying their best to be financially successful in medieval knight terms, all of them pretty reprehensible by our standards. Until late in their life, at a time when they felt the hand of Death on their shoulder, then they seemed to get religion. That was when the chapel got built, the cathedral funded. Then they started asking for forgiveness. But was that self-discovery, or just the fashion of the times? When you had a God you could spurn during your life when he was inconvenient, but call upon when you needed that little extra oomph in a battle? Then finally to ask and be given forgiveness when you were essentially past the days when you had the energy or need to commit atrocious acts? Nah, I don't think that was so much "self-discovery".

Later in time, during the days after the Renaissance, when the great thinkers were abroad (Hobbes, Pope, Locke,  Newton, Descartes, etc.) we see people thinking, learning, and examining life later in years. I think I can see, in history, this current of intellectual accumulation and activity throughout one's lifespan, continue into and through the end of the 19th century, fading as the 20th century bloomed.

It faded, I think, with the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution produced men and women of action, more than thought. I don't have numbers, but I would bet the Industrial Revolution, in spite of its promise, initially led to a weakening of the middle classes. And, thus, less opportunity for cogitation as casual entertainment, and more reason that people inclined to action became a dominant trend.

The financial crises at the end of the 19th century, and the waves of emigration, followed by the 1st World War, the Great Depression, the Weimar Republic, and the death of the Chinese imperial world, these were trends that led to people who did what they did young - and they kept going at it. The 2nd World War - or the Great Patriotic War if you are Russian, seems to have put a cap on that, with a feather in it. Then, we had a period of greatly improved economies around the world, a strengthening of the middle classes, around the world, and this was topped by the computer age. Today, the computer barons are a throw-back to the industrial barons of the late 19 century - but that is a function of a new technology in an economic system that is not expecting the changes wrought. While history has not yet had its final say, it does seem that our computers are a leveling influence in the long run. Like the rest of the Industrial Revolution, perhaps eventually it will empower the middle classes. I say it has not YET done so - because look at the growing disparity of income in the 1st world countries (the industrialized world). There is a growing body of service workers - low pay, and a growing sector of highly paid specialists. You can't have both sectors growing faster than the population, unless you are losing members of the middle classes. Maybe it is just a temporary labor displacement, the kind of thing we learn about in economics in college. But keep in mind, my guess is that "temporary" here would be a couple of generations, or at least 30 years. I think it  took that long, or longer, for labor unions (and government regulation and intervention) to catch up to labor management to protect and defend the middle classes.

I can place the character of my most accomplished grandparents (Grandpa B and Grandma W) squarely in the influence of the changes wrought by the industrial revolution. They were definitely in the mold of the day. Grandpa B did his self-discovery young, and went on to become a pioneer in his field. Grandma W was a trailblazer of her time - a young divorcee and single mother goes to college, gets a professional degree, and goes on to success. They found whatever it was in themselves that they needed at a young age.

By the way, I only use my grandparents as a reference point. They represent the most distant point in time that I personally have a remembered and significant connection to. While I remember one of my great-aunts, the rest of that generation passed away before I had any significant memories of them. And that great-aunt passed away when I was quite young - so I have little idea of who or what she was as a person.

So, what conclusion can I draw from this? Maybe we just had a higher concentration of lost souls than is common. I think we were part of a rare time, or an eddy in the current of history,  Maybe I have already explained why it could be - we are part of a period in history when growing up was relatively comfortable. We had more options, more alternatives, and less need to remain with our original choices than was true in other periods of history. Top that off with a wide-spread attitude that intellectual activity had some benefit, and you have the prerequisites for a thinking population, yes? Top that off with a better access to whatever knowledge earlier generations left behind. Or, just better access to the knowledge our own generation has gathered and left behind.

Worker bees go through a fixed pattern of duties as they get older. In a pattern more rigid than our school systems current performance-based testing, a worker bee will move from one set of duties to another as they grow older. When a beehive loses bees, the worker bees go into a state of flux. The worker bee can regress in age - and becomes younger (true!) - when the hive needs the resource. In the beehive - there is a mutual imperative that causes the bees to grow younger in body as they still grow older in time.

Today, the world is in flux - like the beehive after it has lost bees. We are in a day and time where we can grow and think at a later date in our personal timeline than is historically normal.  In my grandparents' day, that would only have come as late regrets of things that might have been. For us, unlike the bees, the imperative is self-powered, our own choice of action while dealing with the world. We look around us, and we can find ways to deal with the world in better ways. We also know that we can still change what we do in the world, and that we can change how the world responds to us. And for us, because we are in a time of flux, and a time of knowledge, it is more likely that our thoughts and explorations at a later time in our lives can impact either our own lives, or the lives of those around us.