Monday, January 26, 2015
How do We Help the Less Fortunate?
I am always concerned about the right way to help those less fortunate. The conundrum centers around the old adage of giving fish verse teaching to fish. First of all, there is the perception of wealthy. A couple of interesting data points on that issue:
Wealth is not liquid. It is generally determined by the markets desire to own verses scarcity. I diamond has little intrinsic value outside of its ability as a tool. The real value is determined by the disposable income of the buyer and the scarcity of the object. The same is true of stocks and bonds, or art. You cannot redistribute this type of wealth because it loses its value once you eliminate the buyers ability to buy. The same might be true of a large ocean transport. They can cost tens to hundreds of millions to build. But if we assume no one has the cash to buy it (we are redistributing wealth and cash is wealth) then the wealth value drops to almost nothing. Wealth isn't so much redistributed as evaporated.
What is wealth (top 1%) and who are they? The top 1% includes anyone with net assets of $800,000 or more.(a) There are about 47 million people in the world who meet this classification. There are eighteen million in the United State. Switzerland has the highest density. There are a couple of things to take under consideration. First, it is assets, not income. Young professionals may have a household income of over $200,000 per year, but very few assets. Older people, especially those who have saved wisely for retirement, may have little income, but a lot of assets. For retirement planning it takes about two million dollars in assets to generate $80,000 a year in income. The second considerations is cost of living. A millionaire in Cape town will live much better than a millionaire in Paris.... By the way, to classify in the top 10%, your assets only have to be greater than $77,000.
So we can conclude that redistribution of wealth would be both hard to identify and hard to implement.
Let's say we find a way to redistribute some wealth without demotivating innovation. We find that fine balance that takes cash from the rich who have excess, but not from the middle class that just needs it to assure their futures. Also, we can't take too much via businesses, because businesses don't print cash, they get it from their customers. Taking too much from businesses will only cause inflation of prices as the business passes it on. Once we have the money, what do we do with it?
Second there is the methodology for helping. Well the "give a man a fish" approach won't work. We all know that. We have seen it over and over. Our entitlement system is living proof. A small per cent will learn to fish while they eat their first fish, but most will procrastinate as long as there is another fish. I have thought and written about the impact of advanced technology on the lower class. It's a train wreck waiting to happen. Most technology advancements displace low level jobs because those jobs are simple and repetitive. They are the exact jobs that the lower class is prepared to work.
Here, I think, is the hard lesson. It is a not so quick an answer. We have to elevate the lower class to have both a positive attitude toward and training in technology jobs. How do you elevate someone's attitude? Our attitude is more positive toward something that we are more comfortable with and understand. By increasing our exposure to different aspects of technology at a very young age, it loses its mystic. The UK has made it mandatory to teach children to code as early as age five. The idea is to get them comfortable with technology early enough to stimulate interest. They make a game out of it so it doesn't seem all techy and scientific. By the time they graduate it will be as common to them and reading and writing.I think the key is mandatory, because people will not do it of their own volition. I mean if they would, they would already be doing it, right.
Zack Simms is a Columbia School drop out that now teaches programming to over 26 million students at a time. Seriously, he really does. He found that most of his peers didn't have the fundamental computer skills to effectively work in industry, himself included. He first got a friend to help write a program to help him learn programming. This was so successful that other people wanted to use it. CodeAcademy now has 26 million students from over 100 countries, learning six different program languages. CodeAcademy is only three years old.
At the Davos Conference they talked about 8.4 million jobs left unfilled in technology because of a lack of skills. Technology jobs run the gamut of aptitude. Some are creative like digital art. Some are more hands on like hardware maintenance. Others require planning, programming, installing. Maybe it requires only an high level of technology understanding as in customer service or sales. You don't have to be a geek or a nerd. You can be yourself.
The way to redistribute wealth is to find a way for the lower class to create their own wealth. We might have to give them fish for a while, but I would suggest that we simultaneously nurture them into fishing for themselves. Life is much more enjoyable when a person feels independent and self reliant. Waiting for the government to determine your fish allocation, knowing your life depends on it, is a form of slavery. But knowing you have the skills to catch fish in any pond is freedom.
As more and more simple jobs like lawn care, cleaning, ground transportation, Fast Food Restaurants give way to technology, the lower class has to find a new way of making a living. Building and maintaining the very machines that took these jobs is the best answer. Start them young and when the time is right they will forge their own path.
(a) Wealth report by the charity Oxfam