Saturday, 31 December 2016

Good luck!

How to get on in life... 

Futures Forum: Beyond Hope

Futures Forum: Are things actually getting better?


Oliver Burkeman writes a regular 'anti-self-help' piece - and has had a good look at the idea of how 'lucky' or not we are:

Don’t think you’re lucky? Think again

You probably think you got where you are today through willpower and elbow grease. But what about chance, asks Oliver Burkeman

Oliver Burkeman Friday 6 May 2016

‘It’s genuinely difficult to perceive the ways you’re privileged.’ Illustration: Thomas Pullin for the Guardian

Do you feel lucky? The answer, well known to psychologists, is that you probably don’t. You probably think you got where you are today through willpower and elbow grease. We chronically underestimate luck’s role, and this seems to get worse the richer we get; surveys show that the wealthiest are least likely to attribute their fortunes to, well, good fortune. They also seem to be meaner: one ingenious study found drivers of luxury cars were more likely to cut others off than those in cheaper vehicles.

It’s hardly surprising many such people oppose taxation and government spending: why should others get a handout if they didn’t need one? The ironic result is that they vote against the very policies that helped them get lucky to begin with. In a recent Atlantic essay, Robert Frank, an economist who has studied attitudes to chance, quoted EB White: “Luck is not something you can mention in the presence of self-made men.”

Yet to see this purely as a problem of the super-rich lets the rest of us off too easily. Anyone living in a highly developed economy in 2016 is already the beneficiary of stupendous luck – for example, not being born during the plague, or living in the modern-day Central African Republic (average life expectancy: about 50). Ponder that, and it’s easier to see why Buddhists speak of the incomparable luck of being born human at all. You might have been a battery hen, or a mayfly with a one-day lifespan.

Our blindness to such truths isn’t only because we’re self-absorbed jerks. As Frank explained, it’s also down to the “availability heuristic”, the bias whereby we attach more significance to things that are easier to call to mind. It’s not hard to recall countless times when you put in the effort to succeed: slogging through university finals, preparing for job interviews, tolerating a soul-killing commute. By contrast, it’s genuinely difficult to perceive the ways you’re privileged – let alone all the “negative preconditions” of your success, like not being born in a war zone, or before antibiotics, and so forth. We rarely realise it, but each of us is a walking testament to all the things that might have stopped us, yet didn’t.

Philosophers (and sometimes normal people) raise another worry: our luck always comes at the price of others’ misfortune. Like many people, I’m only here thanks to Hitler, without whom my grandmother wouldn’t have left Germany or met my grandfather. But if I deem my existence a good thing – and I do – doesn’t this slightly complicate my claim to condemn the Holocaust utterly? “We know that it would have been better if those horrors had not happened and, consequently, we had not been born,” writes the philosopher Todd May – and so “our lives are rooted in tragedies that have no reparation”. If such thoughts depress you, there’s a glimmer of hope: the finding that reminding people how lucky they are makes them kinder and more generous. The trick, then, is not to forget about your own good fortune. Good luck with that.

Don’t think you’re lucky? Think again | Oliver Burkeman | Life and style | The Guardian


Oliver Burkeman has also questioned the usefulness of 'positive thinking' [as he did in his Radio 4 piece on 'hope', as reblogged here: Futures Forum: Beyond Hope]

Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

…when experimental subjects are told of an unhappy event, but then instructed to try not to feel sad about it, they end up feeling worse than people who are informed of the event, but given no instructions about how to feel. In another study, when patients who were suffering from panic disorders listened to relaxation tapes, their hearts beat faster than patients who listened to audiobooks with no explicitly ‘relaxing’ content. Bereaved people who make the most effort to avoid feeling grief, research suggests, take the longest to recover from their loss.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking: Oliver Burkeman: 9780865479418: Amazon.com: Books


Published on Mar 13, 2013

Oliver Burkeman, winner of the Foreign Press Association Young Journalist of the Year Award, explores "happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking" in his best-selling book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking.

Burkeman says "For a civilisation so fixated on achieving happiness, we seem remarkably incompetent at the task. Self-help books don't seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth -- even if you can get it -- doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life and work often seem to bring as much stress as joy. We can't even agree on what 'happiness' means".

Oliver Burkeman seeks answers from an unusual collection of people -- experimental psychologists and Buddhists, terrorism experts, spiritual teachers, business consultants, philosophers -- who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. They argue that 'positive thinking' and relentless optimism aren't the solution, but part of the problem. And that there is an alternative, 'negative path' to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity and uncertainty -- those things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought provoking, counterintuitive and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is a celebration of the power of negative thinking.

New York based Burkeman, is a regular contributor to The Guardian. His work has also appeared in Esquire, Elle, GQ, the Observer and the New Republic. He holds a degree in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University.

Happiness for people who can't stand positive thinking - YouTube


Published on Jun 20, 2012
An illustrated introduction to The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking. 

The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman - YouTube

Others have also questioned the fetish around 'positive thinking':
RSA Animate - Smile or Die - RSA

Plus all the other promise-laden self-help notions:
Mindfulness is stopping the world from thinking - Telegraph
Jay Doubleyou: fish philosophy and the motivational mafia


Should people be rewarded according to their 'merit'? Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel posed this question on Radio 4 recently with people from over 40 countries:

Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

Many people who find themselves on the wrong side of growing inequality feel the system is stacked against them. 
But who deserves to succeed? 
Should we reward talent and hard work? 
If so, what do we do about those left behind? 
Do they deserve their fate, too? 
And is talent, in fact, little more than luck? 
Using a pioneering digital facility at Harvard Business School, Professor Michael Sandel is joined by 60 people from nearly 40 different countries. Together they look for answers to these tough questions; questions which lie behind some of the biggest political stories of the moment.

BBC Radio 4 - The Global Philosopher, Do Those on Top Deserve Their Success?

The FT has just put together an impressive series:
Architects of Meritocracy - Financial Times

Including this piece:

Workplace index will help track progress:
A new initiative will make it easier to see which employers are breaking the ‘class ceiling’

DECEMBER 1, 2016 by: Emma Boyde

An intense debate is under way on the underlying causes of rising populism. In simple terms, do its roots lie in the fears of the “left-behinds” for their economic future or in xenophobia?

Alan Milburn, chairman of the UK’s government-sponsored Social Mobility Commission, leans towards the first explanation. He says that policymakers everywhere have been slow to respond to the worries of voters who feel they are losing out to a privileged elite.

The commission has just published its latest State of the Nation assessment. “In our previous annual reports, we warned that without a dramatic change in approach to how we tackle issues of poverty and mobility, Britain would become a permanently divided nation,” he says. The commission’s Social Mobility Index, published earlier this year, separates England into 65 areas, with the lowest 20 — which have the poorest education and employment prospects — ranked as social mobility “coldspots”. Of these, only three areas voted to remain in the EU.

Workplace index will help track progress

The FT also looks across the North Sea as part of this series:
Nordic model myths beloved by left and right

Is this 'social democracy' - or the work of the 'free market'?
Futures Forum: Hygge >>> "It's part of the paradigm shift away from measuring profits in terms of GDP, but more measuring success in society through quality of life, or happiness and wellbeing."
Futures Forum: Economic freedom and political equality at the local level >>> or, the triumph of corporatism
Jay Doubleyou: the fall and rise of social democracy?


The notion of the 'self-made man/woman' has been explored extensively by Malcolm Gladwell:

Outliers: The Story of Success is the third non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell and published by Little, Brown and Company on November 18, 2008. In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. To support his thesis, he examines the causes of why the majority of Canadian ice hockey players are born in the first few months of the calendar year, how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth, how The Beatles became one of the most successful musical acts in human history, how Joseph Flom built Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom into one of the most successful law firms in the world, how cultural differences play a large part in perceived intelligence and rational decision making, and how two people with exceptional intelligence,Christopher Langan and J. Robert Oppenheimer, end up with such vastly different fortunes.

While writing the book, Gladwell noted that "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."[3] In Outliers, he hopes to show that there are a lot more variables involved in an individual's success than society cares to admit,[3] and he wants people to "move away from the notion that everything that happens to a person is up to that person".[1]

Through case studies ranging from Canadian junior hockey champions to the robber barons of the Gilded Age, from Asian math whizzes to software entrepreneurs to the rise of his own family in Jamaica, Gladwell tears down the myth of individual merit to explore how culture, circumstance, timing, birth and luck account for success—and how historical legacies can hold others back despite ample individual gifts. Even as we know how many of these stories end, Gladwell restores the suspense and serendipity to these narratives that make them fresh and surprising.


Malcolm Gladwell Outliers - YouTube

Why do we cling to the myth of the "self-made man?"
The myths of the self-made man and meritocracy perpetuate income inequality

A "self-made man" or "self-made woman" is a person who was born poor or otherwise disadvantaged, but who achieved great economic or other success thanks to their own hard work and ingenuity rather than because of any inherited fortune, family connections, or other privilege.
In the cultural history of the United States, the idea of the self-made man, an "essential American figure," looms large. It has been described as an archetype, a cultural ideal, a myth, or a cult.[1][2]

Self-made man - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

Even the Forbes magazine would agree:

Do you view yourself as a self-made man or woman? If you do, you may want to take another look in the mirror. What’s wrong with the “self-made” theory? Everything. If your pride, ego, arrogance, insecurity, or ignorance keeps you from recognizing the contributions of others, then it’s time for a wake-up call. If your hubris is overwhelming your humility then the text that follows is written just for you.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Brexit: and looking backwards//looking forwards in the SouthWest

The messages are very mixed if not confusing for what's expected in the New Year for the SouthWest...

It looks good for the tourist trade:
Why Plymouth could enjoy the year of the 'staycation' in 2017 | Plymouth Herald
There are lots of jobs - but not enough workers:
Jobs are out there - but Plymouth employers just can't fill their vacancies | Plymouth Herald
And yet manufacturers are set to struggle:
Why 2017 could be a bleak year for Plymouth factories | Plymouth Herald
Meanwhile, the general outlook looks very good - but at a price:
South West economy soars since Brexit vote but prices are rising fast | Plymouth Herald
Employees in the SouthWest have the greatest confidence in the Westminster government:
Brexit negotiations: Fewer than a third of UK employees think the government will secure a good deal for businesses | City A.M.
But housebuilders are feeling a little shaky:
Construction industry jitters after Sherford firm issues profit warning | Plymouth Herald
And farmers face a lot of uncertainty:
What does 2017 have in store for British farmers? | Plymouth Herald

The Plymouth Herald, then, has pretty good coverage of the issues for the SouthWest:
Plymouth Herald | Search on Plymouth Herald

The national newspapers have their Brexit pages too:
Brexit: Latest news, comment and analysis on the UK leaving the EU - Telegraph
Brexit Results, News and Meaning as UK Votes to Leave EU | Daily Mail Online
EU referendum and Brexit | The Guardian
Brexit - latest news, breaking stories and comment - The Independent

This is the year's end view from the FT:

FT - 2016

Financial Times Reader Comment Sums Up Disappointed Brits' Feelings - NBC News
Brexit has locked us millennials out of the union we voted for

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Are things actually getting better?

The granddaddy of thinktanks, the Foundation for Economic Education, promotes the notion that it's human ingenuity that gives us progress:
Technology, Progress, and Freedom | Foundation for Economic Education
Steak and Seafood Are Signs of Prosperous Times | Foundation for Economic Education

As featured on this blog:
Futures Forum: Technology and economic progress
Futures Forum: Earth Hour vs Human Achievement Hour
Futures Forum: "Abundant, cheap electricity has been the greatest source of human liberation in the 20th century."

Here are a couple of end-of-year good-news pieces from FEE:

Why Are We Pessimistic When the World Is Getting Better?

On New Year’s Day, I wrote a piece for CapX entitled “Sixteen Reasons to be cheerful about 2016”.
Some of those reasons were general (poverty would fall, average IQ would rise) and some were tied to specific forecasts (driverless cars would move from the labs to the roads, Britain would vote to leave the EU).
The world continues to get cleaner, greener, healthier and wealthier.
Depending on precisely how you define them, I reckon I got between 12 and 14 of my prophecies right. Daesh has not been defeated, though my prediction that Mosul would fall to the Iraqi Army this year looks as though it may be out by only a few weeks. Nor has India quite made the breakthrough to the first rank of world powers – though, again, that is surely a matter of time.
But driverless cars are indeed on the roads in California and Texas, with Australia set to follow. The world economy grew – albeit by slightly less than was predicted last year. Extreme poverty continued to fall.
Our screens are filled with the horrors of Iraq and Yemen; but we forget about the conflicts where violence is tapering away: the Mexican drug wars, the Colombian civil war, the insurgencies in Burma, Xinjiang, North-West Pakistan and Burundi, the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war which claimed more than 70,000 lives. Even in Syria, the overall death toll continues to drop from its 2014 peak.
Meanwhile, the world continues to get cleaner, greener, healthier and wealthier.
So will we extrapolate from the uplifting news? Nope. We will continue to believe, like every generation that has gone before, that ours is a uniquely troubled, violent, corrupt and soulless age.
Books predicting disasters – planetary overheating, asteroid strikes, drugs-resistant superbugs, a collapse of the monetary system, the imposition of sharia law on Europe – will continue to sell. Few publishers will give time to authors who argue that, in general, things will get better – patchily and erratically, perhaps, but better none the less.
If you go to church over Christmas, you will be enjoined from the pulpit to think of the homeless and the hungry, and quite right, too. But you almost certainly won’t hear a clergyman admit that the homeless and the hungry are proportionately fewer than at any moment in history. This is the season when Christian ministers are meant to preach the Good News; yet they struggle, like the rest of us, to admit that it can have an earthly as well as a celestial manifestation.
Optimism, in the present age, represents a victory of intellect over intuition.
Why are we all such moaners? Because we still have the instincts of hunter-gatherers. On the savannahs of Pleistocene Africa, pessimism was a survival mechanism. Our ancestors lived in a world of constant danger and violence: strangers were more likely to be a threat than an opportunity. Hopeful and trusting souls were less likely to survive.
Optimism, in the present age, represents a victory of intellect over intuition. It reflects the rich, secure, interconnected world of voluntary exchange and private property, not the Hobbesian terror of the tribe.
And here’s the really good news. Once you accept, intellectually, what is happening to the world, you start to realize how extraordinarily lucky you are. When that happens, your emotions catch up, and you truly become more cheerful. Seriously – try it.
Republished from CapX.
Why Are We Pessimistic When the World Is Getting Better? | Foundation for Economic Education

Are We Really Worse Off than our Parents?

Steven Horwitz
A recent New York Times piece by David Leonhardt reports on the research of Raj Chetty which shows that the odds of a child earning a greater real money income than his or her parents has declined from 92 percent for children born into the average American household in 1940 to 50 percent for those born in 1980. The implication is that the “American dream” of doing better than our parents is dying and the policy prescription is, of course, that we must reduce the inequality that is causing this problem through the usual progressive wish list of government interventions.
Even if you make less than your parents, would you go back in time to the world they lived in at your current age even with their higher real money income?Let’s step back, though, and ask if the data Chetty presents really make the case they appear to. That is, even if it’s true that children are less likely to earn higher inflation-adjusted incomes than their parents, does that make them “worse off” in any deep sense? More specifically, is real money income the best indicator of one’s standard of living and therefore the best way to make these sorts of intergenerational comparisons?
Types of Mobility
What is meant by the “American dream?” Leonhardt implies that the dream is to earn more than our parents did. But another version of the dream is that everyone has an opportunity to work their way up the income ladder. Economists talk about this in terms of “income mobility,” or how easy or hard it is for people to move from one place in the income distribution to another (either up or down) in a later year.
We also distinguish intragenerational mobility from intergenerational mobility. The former refers to how easily households in one generation can move from year to year, where the latter refers to degree to which children end up in a higher or lower income range than their parents. The data on the first indicate that mobility is still alive and well, though slightly less than in the past.
Over pretty much any ten-year period since the 1970s, well over 50 percent of households in the lowest percent of the income distribution in one year had moved up at least one quintile by the end of the period. Some data sources indicate that over 80 percent of poor households were no longer poor a decade or so later.
With respect to intergenerational mobility, a 2007 study found that the children of the top 20 percent of income earners in 1969 had real incomes in 2000 that were roughly equal to what their parents had in 1969. At the other end, 82 percent of children of the bottom 20 percent in 1969 had incomes in 2000 that were higher than what their parents had in 1969. The median income in 2000 of those children of the poor of 1969 was double that of their parents. The differences between this study and Chetty’s may reflect differences in their data sources, but at least it suggests that taken on their own terms, Chetty’s results might not be the only way to parse the data.
Other Forms of Compensation
Even if our real money incomes are less likely to exceed that of our parents, what our incomes can buy us is far more than what our parents’ incomes could buy them.One other point to consider is that comparisons of money incomes ignore the question of non-monetary compensation, which has become a much greater portion of total income over the period Chetty is examining. As one example, just looking at money incomes ignores the value of employer-provided health insurance (as well as the value of employer contributions to retirement programs). A whole variety of studies have pointed out that once we look at total compensation, much of the decline in money wage growth rates since the 1970s disappears.
But even if Chetty is right on the data, his study does not address the question of what our real incomes can buy us. What ultimately matters for human well-being is what our real incomes enable us to consume. Consider the fact that even many of the poorest Americans are walking around with smartphones in their pockets that were not available at any price to the richest Americans of a generation ago. Consider the range of foods available at the typical grocery store in a middle class suburb, or even a rural town, and then compare it to the typical grocery store of the 1970s or 1940s.
Even if our real money incomes are less likely to exceed that of our parents, what our incomes can buy us is far more than what our parents’ incomes could buy them. From food to clothing to electronics to medicine to cars, most goods and services are cheaper and/or better than ever before in human history.
What Can We Buy?
One way to see this is to calculate how many labor hours at the average private sector wage it takes to purchase typical goods and services. For example, if the average wage in 1975 was $6/hour and a pair of jeans cost $24, it would take 4 hours of labor to buy them. Suppose the average wage in 2015 was $21 and the jeans now cost $42. It would take 2 hours of labor to buy them, cutting the price in terms of hours of work in half.
We can see this process at work with a variety of consumer goods over the last 55 years:

Other data
 make clear that these household items are increasingly available to poor Americans. In fact, Americans below the poverty line today are much more likely to have these sorts of things in their homes than was the average American family in the 1970s. And when we consider the higher quality of these goods and services, we are that much more well off than our parents were, whether rich or poor.
In 2013 this typical set of household appliances required less than 20 percent of the working hours than it did in 1959 and less than 30 percent of what it did in 1973. That we spend so many fewer of our working hours buying these items, not to mention food and clothing, is what makes it possible for us to afford smartphones, Uber rides, more widespread air conditioning, not to mention new medications and other health care.
It may well be less likely than in previous generations that children have real money incomes in excess of their parents, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily materially worse off than their parents. Those born in 1980 have innovative new medicines and technologies, new production processes that have reduced the real cost of most goods and services, and breakthroughs that have improved the quality of many products as well.
Ask yourself this: even if you make less than your parents, would you go back in time to the world they lived in when they were your current age even with their higher real money income? My guess is no, and that’s the most powerful evidence that whatever your income, you perceive yourself as better off today than they were then.

Are We Really Worse Off than our Parents? | Foundation for Economic Education
We Are Approaching Exponential Innovation | Foundation for Economic Education