Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Ideal Nation

We shall dream....

Extracted from book "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" by David S Landen Chapter 15

"Let us begin by delineating the ideal case, the society theoretically best suited to pursue material progress and general enrichment. Keep in mind that this is not necessarily a "better" or a "superior" society (words to be avoided), simply one fitter to produce goods and services. This ideal growth-and-development society would be one that

1. Knew how to operate, manage, and build the instruments of production and to create, adapt and master new techniques on the technological frontier.
2. Was able to impart this knowledge and know-how to the young, whether by formal education of apprenticeship training.
3. Chose people for jobs by competence and relative merit; promoted and demoted on the basis of performance.
4. Afforded opportunity to individual or collective enterprise; encouraged initiative, competition, and emulation.
5. Allowed people to enjoy and employ the fruits of their labor and enterprise.

These standards imply corollaries: gender equality (thereby doubling the pool of talent); no discrimination of the basis of irrelevant criteria (race, sex, religion, etc.); also a preference for scientific (means-end) rationality over magic and superstition (irrationality).

Such a society would also possess the kind of political and social institutions that favor the achievement of these larger goals; that would, for example,

1. Secure rights of private property, the better to encourage saving and investment.
2. Secure rights of personal liberty
secure them against both the abuses of tyranny and private disorder (crime and corruption).
3. Enforce the right of contract, explicit and implicit.
4. Provide stable government, not necessarily democratic, but itself governed by publicly known rules (a government of laws rather than men). If democratic, that is, based on periodic election, the majority wins but does not violate the rights of the losers; while the losers accept their loss and look forward to another turn at the polls.
5. Provide responsive government, one that will hear complaint and make redress.
6. Provide honest government, such that economic actors are not moved to seek advantage and privilege inside or outside the marketplace. In economic jargon, there should be no rents to favor and position.
7. Provide moderate, efficient, ungreedy government. The effect should be to hold taxes down, reduce the government’s claim on the social surplus, and avoid privilege."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What doesn't kill you will make you stronger (?)

To tell the truth, I'm going through a rough patch (even as I'm nearing the end of my working life).  They're throwing a job at me which I've no stomach for, because they can't get anyone else to take this responsibility.  And I'm holding on for as long as my stress tolerance can take.  Even though there's not much pressure on me from upper levels, the pressure I unconsciously put on myself is building up.  I'm dreading every single work-day.  The fear that I would not perform to expectations and the fear that I would do or say something wrong or stupid grips me every now and then.  Everything I say and do is now being scrutinized.

I'm due for official retirement in a couple of months.  I volunteered to extend my contract on a year by year basis.  But I'm watching my stress levels very closely.  The worst thing that can happen is, I capitulate and throw in the towel and forgo a few more years of steady income.  Who cares?  After all, it's only money... 

I try to hold myself up by reading whatever little encouraging stories that come in on the email from friends.  So, here's another one I'd like to share with you.  Anyone living in Beulah, Michigan, USA, please check this out. 

Great little story to encourage me.  But then, I'm not a tree.... 



Po Bronson, in his book WHY DO I LOVE THESE PEOPLE?
(Random House, 2005), tells a true story about a magnificent elm tree.
The tree was planted in the first half of the 20th Century on a farm
near  Beulah, Michigan (USA). It grew to be a magnificent tree.

In the 1950s, the family that owned the farm kept a bull chained to
the elm. The bull paced around the tree, dragging a heavy iron chain
with him, which scraped a trench in the bark about three feet off
ground. The trench deepened over the years, though for whatever
reason, did not kill the tree.

After some years, the family sold the farm and took their bull. They
cut the chain, leaving the loop around the tree and one link hanging
down. Over the years, bark slowly covered the rusting chain.

Then one year, agricultural catastrophe struck Michigan in the form of
Dutch Elm Disease. It left a path of death across vast areas. All of
the elms lining the road leading to the farm became infected and died.
Everyone figured that old, stately elm would be next. There was no way
the tree could last, between the encroaching fungus and its chain belt
strangling its trunk.

The farm's owners considered doing the safe thing: pulling it out and
chopping it up into firewood before it died and blew over onto the
barn in a windstorm. But they simply could not bring themselves to do
it. It was as if the old tree had become a family friend. So they
decided to let nature take its course.

Amazingly, the tree did not die. Year after year it thrived. Nobody
could understand why it was the only elm still standing in the county!

Plant pathologists from Michigan State University came out to observe
the tree. They observed the scar left by the iron chain, now almost
completely covered by bark and badly corroded.

The plant experts decided that it was the chain that saved the elm's
life. They reasoned that the tree must have absorbed so much iron from
the rusting chain, that it became immune to the fungus.

It's said that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. Or, as
Ernest Hemingway put it, "Life breaks us all, but afterwards, many of
us are strongest at the broken places."

The next time you're in Beulah, Michigan, look for that beautiful elm.
It spans 60 feet across its lush, green crown. The trunk is about 12
feet in circumference.

Look for the wound made by the chain. It serves as a reminder that
because of our wounds, we can have hope! Our wounds can give us
resources we need to cope and survive. They can truly make us strong.

-- Steve Goodier

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Information, Please"

I must have read this story a half dozen times, but I'll still read it whenever I receive it again....
 When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall.  The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box.  I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked to it. Then I discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person--her name was "Information, Please" and there was nothing she did not know.  "Information, Please" could supply anybody's number and the correct time.  

My first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible but there didn't seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy.  I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to my ear. "Information, Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head.  

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into my ear, "Information." 
"I hurt my finger," I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience. 
"Isn't your mother home?" came the question. 
"Nobody's home but me." I blubbered. 
"Are you bleeding?" the voice asked. 
"No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts." 
"Can you open your icebox?" she asked. 
I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice. 

After that, I called "Information, Please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography and she told me where Philadelphia was. She helped me with my math. She told me my pet chipmunk that I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruit and nuts.  

Then, there was the time Petey, our pet canary died. I called "Information, Please" and told her the sad story. She listened, and then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child, but I was inconsolable.  I asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?" She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in."  Somehow I felt better.  

A few years later, on my way west to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information, Please." Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well, "Information."  

I hadn't planned this but I heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"  There was a long pause. Then came the soft-spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now." I laughed. "So it's really still you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time?"  "I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls."  I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister. "Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally." 

Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, "Information." 
I asked for Sally. 

"Are you a friend?" she asked. 
"Yes, a very old friend," I answered. 
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "Sally has been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago." 
Before I could hang up she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?"   "Yes," I replied. 
"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you." 
The note said, "Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in.  He'll know what I mean." 

I thanked her and hung up. I knew what Sally meant. 


Never underestimate the impression you may make on others. Whose life have you touched today?