Tag Archives: quality of life

What are we worth and how do we measure it?

If your first instinct was to answer in terms of bank balances, stock market portfolios, real estate, investments, retirement pensions and the like, you proved how right Professor Philip Roscoe was in his book I Spend, Therefore I Am: How Economics Has Changed the Way We Think and FeelIt says a lot about the world we’ve leaving to our children and what they need to understand about it.


From Maclean’s, March 17th, 2014
Economics is so mainstream, we can put a value on a kidney, and even the donor’s worth

In 2006, economist Nicholas Stern made a series of alarming predictions, in a report commissioned by the British government, of the potential results of a worsening climate. Among them were the extinction of up to 40 per cent of all species, 200 million climate refugees—many of them ominously gathered on Europe’s collective lawn—and “an average reduction in global per capita consumption of at least five per cent, now and forever.” Stern has been roundly berated in the media ever since, particularly over the refugee projection, but the actual debate in the media was waged over the five per cent, and whether he exaggerated the cost of acting in the future while underestimating the cost of acting in the present.

For Philip Roscoe, professor of management at St. Andrews University in Scotland and author of the evocatively titled I Spend, Therefore I Am: How Economics Has Changed the Way We Think and Feel, the response to Stern was a perfect example of his book’s target: the triumph of the economic model. Once Stern introduced his own calculator and slide rule into his projections the argument could only be engaged on those terms: There is no market price for species extinction or massive refugee influx, so there was, in effect, no argument to be had. After a half century of measuring everything in dollars and cents and proclaiming how financial incentives control all behaviour, Roscoe says, “We lack the language to understand or even talk about issues in any other way.” What’s more, economic speech brings into existence what it postulates: “human beings as self-interested, calculative and even dishonest entrepreneurs of the self.”

Literally. Roscoe sees the reach of the economic model of humanity in the way suffering dictated by economic policy—the effect of the austerity program in Greece, say—is seen as “the wrath of God—inevitable, and in its inscrutable way, just.” But also, eight years after Stern, in the appearance of theoretical and even actual markets in human body parts.

Economic thinking—especially about private property—and notions of personal autonomy are closely intertwined, notes Roscoe. Autonomy is perhaps Western civilization’s supreme value today, the flashpoint between its prevailing secularism and its traditional religious faith. That quarrel has played out for more than half a century in a host of sexual issues, and more recently, in the growing acceptance of our right to die when we choose. Arguments against it that boil down to a gut feeling of “because it’s wrong” no longer have any traction. “Paternalism is the greatest of crimes,” says Roscoe.

And if death is an individual choice, a market in organs—a legal one, that is, for a black market already exists—may be inevitable. Roscoe suspects so, even as he marshals powerful counter-arguments. To start, he notes, there’s no reason to believe a legal market would not mimic the illegal one, in which, as he quotes an anthropologist working for the anti-trafficking organization Organwatch, kidneys flow “from south to north, from east to west, from poorer to more affluent bodies, from black and brown bodies to white ones, from female to male.” In Iran, the only country on Earth where selling organs is legal, the poverty of the sellers makes follow-up care rare for most, leaving them weak, unable to work and even more impoverished. “So what?” is the market absolutist’s response. It merely stands to reason that sellers would be poor and buyers rich—who are we to strip away the individual’s choice? Especially when the demand is so high.

Yet it’s a fallacy to think an open market would bring a supply equal to demand, Roscoe says. Consider the blood market, where paying for blood seems to have transformed rather than expanded the supply chain. “Blood sales, where legal, have tended to slow blood donations. They don’t wipe out the latter, though, so they don’t shrink supply, but blood sales don’t increase supply by as much as you’d assume, either. The California plasma market now works well, with regular sellers, but when it started it had lower-quality suppliers and higher monitoring costs.”

And that is where Roscoe feels himself falling into the very abyss he sought to avoid. Did he just make an economic argument against the monetization of human bodies? Once you’ve arrived at opposing an organ market because it would increase transplant costs, you’ve joined a continuum that includes those trying to establish a baseline price for organs. One American economist has made calculations—arbitrary, in Roscoe’s opinion— for the $15,200 price tag he believes would match up supply and demand: $7,500 for “risk of reduced quality of life,” about $3,000 for a month’s lost earnings during recovery and $5,000 for risk of death. Note particularly the income cut-off, Roscoe says—the model assumes those earning more than $36,000 a year wouldn’t be interested. The debate, he predicts, will focus on that sort of question— “how much?”—and not on “should we?”

History: how things came to be the way they are — and how things could be

One of history’s virtues is that it gives us insights into how things are by helping us understand how they came to be and how they may look down the road.

When I was much younger, I believed that all company presidents and senior public officials were brilliant people who graduated at the top of their class and never made mistakes. The prospect of working for one was very appealing because great companies built great people and treated them well.

As it happens, companies stumble. Some right themselves, some don’t. Whatever happened to The Montreal Star or Control Data or DEC? Where can you buy a new Pontiac or Oldsmobile? Does anyone remember Eastern Airlines or Pan Am? Who’s gone from Wall Street?

The implications for stable and long term employment are obvious. The review of The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think by Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed in the July 13th issue of The Economist describes the book as “a more rigorous attempt to dissect the corporate mind and its effect on success”.

If you were on the market right now, which of the following (listed alphabetically) would you want to join? Air Canada, Apple, Barrick Gold, Bell Canada, Boeing, California (the state), Campbell Soup, Canadian Pacific, CBS, Chrysler, CN, Coca-Cola, CP, Dell, Ford (as in Henry, not Rob), GM, Google, HP, IBM, Intel, Kraft, Lamborghini, Loblaws, Maserati, Merrill Lynch, Microsoft, Motorola, Nabisco, New York Times, Porter Airlines, RBC, Research in Motion (now BlackBerry), Rolls Royce (owned by whom?), Samsung, SONY, Northern Telecom, Walt Disney, Xerox.

Which ones are thriving? Which ones have changed the way they do business over the last 10 years? Which ones have changed their original focus? How many concluded that the needs of the business would be better served by contracting with third parties to operate what they considered to be non-strategic functions? Clicking here will take you to a discussion of the kind of thinking that went into Canada Post’s decision to do just that. The deal was done and Canada Post continued to deliver mail and packages to the entire country.

Many other employers came to the same conclusion. The practice continues today. Service bureaus like Data Crown and Canada Systems Group were among the first to offer faster processing speeds, newer equipment, enhanced data storage, state of the art data centres and IT professionals whose skills were always at the cutting edge, all at lower cost. Some companies have returned to in-house computing, some haven’t. You might find it interesting to research what happened to both of those companies.

Pre-packaged applications software took over from in-house systems analysts and programmers long ago. It’s produced by people who will likely never meet the users of their product or set foot on their customers’ premises. Microsoft Word and Excel and QuickBooks are three well known examples. Corel and Adobe defined the desktop publishing industry and changed the face of typesetting.

Information Technology is one of many functions being outsourced. The trend will continue. Does this apply to all employers? You’ll want to find out. What will it mean for career development in general and for the industry that interests you in particular? Is there a correlation between measures like outsourcing and being included on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list? What are smaller companies with bright futures doing? How much of what they do revolves around the Internet?

The role of permanent headcount has changed and will go on changing. Which of the companies and organizations you’re thinking of approaching are looking to reduce to the bare minimum the number of core employees they need to operate the business as you’re reading this? Are smaller companies still more likely to be sources of employment and professional development opportunities than larger ones? We know that they tend to be less hidebound, more agile than larger ones and often more innovative. That’s why they exist. Click here for some thoughts about Apple.

Are you entrepreneurial enough to start your own business?

The Canadian economy isn’t running out of steam or innovation as much as it’s shifting gears. Personal Due Diligence believes very strongly in the benefit of researching the history of the work you’re thinking of doing and of the industry in which you’re thinking of doing it. It could influence your decision about what you study or when would be the best time to change employers. We’re here to guide you in conducting and evaluating the results of that research.

As you consider companies on and off the list of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, ask yourself whether their values have historically aligned with yours. Do or will they offer an environment and a culture in which you’ll feel as though you count? Will you want to wear the company T-shirt and baseball cap? Will you look forward to going to work in the morning? How much of a life do you want to have away from the office?

While we’re on the subject, what do you think someone who works for SNC-Lavalin would have to say about its recent corporate history? Or BP’s?

Collectively, the people of PDD have experienced more corporate cultures than most working people will in a lifetime. How those companies came to be what they are and what that means for you should make for very interesting reading. And a powerful basis for preparing for and pursuing the work around which you’ll be building your life.

After all, isn’t that all that really matters?

Everybody is somebody’s child

Among the city-states of ancient Greece, Sparta stood out because of the quality of its warriors—male and female. The tribal elder inspected all babies to determine whether they were fit to live in that society. Those who were were assigned to a regimen of education and training to become soldiers. Those who were not were exposed to the elements or left in the marketplace for others to find and adopt. 1, 2, 3 

By today’s standards, that would be considered barbaric. But for us to call it that would be hypocritical.

The difference between the Spartans and us is that Sparta made no bones about what it was doing and why it was doing it. Was their behaviour right or ethical or moral? Can we make that judgement without understanding that Sparta lived in a tough neighbourhood? That, dear reader, is for you to decide. But as you ponder, consider the state of today’s workplace, quality of life, the world economy, the rise and fall of once great companies, job and financial security and what it takes to survive in our neighbourhood. Then ask yourself:

Where did our children’s ideas of entitlement come from?

Why don’t managers use plain language to tell their subordinates what’s expected of them and what the consequences are for failing to deliver?

Why do employers tolerate environments in which energy that should be going into producing better products or delivering superior service is being spent playing politics?

What does it really take to climb the corporate ladder?

Why do we need euphemisms like “team building” and “coaching” and “training” and “professional development” when we could just as easily—and candidly—call them what they are: measures for increasing output and corporate profits, hopefully with commensurate increases in employee salaries?

Why are managers afraid to tell the people they separate from the business that, yes, you are being released because your performance was substandard and we should never have hired you in the first place and then left you to fend for yourself?

Do we realize that, with few exceptions, everybody’s job and the lifestyle it pays for are hanging by a thread?

Maybe we’re not telling them this because nobody ever told us. We know that none of these malaises will disappear any time soon. They represent the current state of business ethics and human nature, and human nature changes very, very slowly. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t equip our children and ourselves to test for the presence of good management and candour. Johnnie and Jeannie deserve to know that it’ll take more than a postgraduate degree to be set for life.

Our children are our future. A mind is a terrible thing to waste. How many times have we heard one or the other or both? We are somebody’s children. The present is the future we’ve created. Were we told to be on the lookout for any of this before we started our first full-time job? Are we teaching our children to protect themselves and their future by not sharing any of this with them before they start community college or university? And what are we teaching ourselves?

Sparta prepared its children to survive in its neighbourhood. Can we justify not preparing ourselves and our children to survive in ours?

1.  Ancient Greece — 500 BC to 100 AD –  http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~duchan/new_history/ancient_history/greece.html

2.  The Ancient Greek City-State Of 
Sparta – http://greece.mrdonn.org/sparta.html

3.  Ancient Greece – Sparta Story – The British Museum – ancientgreece.co.uk