Wednesday Assorted Links

1. Why Financial Literacy is So Elusive.

“It is bad enough that most people are not financially literate, but the painful reality is that investor education does not work — at least not much beyond six months. After that, it is like any other abstract subject taught in a classroom, mostly forgotten. . . .

Not that this has stopped states from mandating financial literacy for high schoolers. The Washington Post reported last week that financial-literacy classes are mandated by 19 states in order to graduate from high school, up from 13 states eight years ago. This is well-meaning, but without a radical break from how financial literacy is taught, it is destined to be ineffective.

Why? There are a number of reasons: The subject is abstract and can be complex; specific skills deteriorate fairly soon after graduation from high school; the rote memorization and teach-to-the-test approach used so much in American schools is ineffective for this sort of knowledge.”

2. Japanese office chair racing. Hell yes.

3. Remembering the runner who never gave up.

4. Six places in Europe offering shelter from the crowds.

5. What ever happened to Freddy Adu?

The heart of the matter:

“When he wasn’t scoring, he wasn’t doing much of anything. ‘He saw himself as the luxury player, the skill player,’ Wynalda said. ‘Give me the ball and I’ll make something happen.’ ‘OK, I screwed up, give it to me again.’ ‘OK, again. Just keep giving it to me.’ And eventually it’s like, ‘You know what? I’m going to give it to some other guy.'”

6A. The Surreal End of an American College.

6B. The Anti-College is on the Rise.

. . . a revolt against treating the student as a future wage-earner.

The Hidden Cost Of Wealth

William James via David Brooks in Second Mountain:

“James concluded that there is something in us that seems to require difficulty and the overcoming of difficulty, the presence of both light and darkness, danger and deliverance. ‘But what our human emotions seem to require,’ he wrote, ‘is the sight of struggle going on. The moment the fruits are being merely eaten, things become ignoble. Sweat and effort, human nature strained to its uttermost and on the rack, yet getting through it alive, and then turning its back on its success to pursue another [challenge] more rare and arduous still—this is the sort of thing the presence of which inspires us.'”

Unwittingly, with this insight, James exposes a hidden cost of wealth. Often, the wealthier people get, the more their lives are taken up with endless conversation about how to make life more convenient and comfortable as well as with the actual researching and purchasing of products and services intended to make life less difficult and challenging. The amorphous goal is to eliminate struggle. The accomplishment of which fails to inspire anyone or anything.

Rick Steves Wants to Save the World

One vacation at a time. Lengthy profile of the travel guru, but really well written and well worth the time. In the spirt of Steves, I’m off on a two-week vacation, during which I’ll be pressing pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m agnostic on marijuana. Apart from that difference, I’m down with damn near every other aspect of Steves’s worldview. At the same time, I get tired just reading about his frenetic pace. I’m far too slothful to aspire to be Steves-like, but his non-materialism and associated generosity are definitely inspiring.

I’ll post pics to Twitter, @PressingPause, of my travels. First person to guess the correct country wins an all expense trip to North Korea.

Double Your Money—Guaranteed

The worst of the Humble Blog’s 1,504 titles fo sho, but stick with me.

One morning, a few weeks ago, I was listening to National Public Radio’s Marketplace show. They were telling the story of a 20 year old dude who discovered that his Legos, collecting dust in plastic bins in his parent’s house, were worth a lot of money. Why? Because (mostly) men in their 30s and 40s are nostalgic for their childhoods. Thus began a small online business with his mother who cleaned the Legos and readied them for sale. The two of them thus began buying discarded Legos on Ebay and then cleaning and reselling them for twice what they paid.

Which got me thinking. About alternatives to stock and bond index funds and certificates of deposit. What about investing in nostalgia.

My question for you is buy and hold WHAT for decades? I forgive you if you’re thinking I may not have decades, because life is fragile, so suggest something my daughters wouldn’t dread inheriting. Which of course complicates things because they may not be as enamored as me with men’s watches, air cooled Porsches, Ping putters, or late 80s Toyota Landcruisers. The car references raise another issue—storage and ease of transport considerations. Let’s assume my heirs may not have a detached garage like me and that they’re going to move from time to time.

With those parameters I turn to you loyal readers. I rarely ask anything of you, but what say you on investing in nostalgia? Where should I put my spare change to work? The only thing I ask is that we at least double my money*.

*goes without saying, adjusted for inflation

 

 

On Workism

Derek Thompson’s Atlantic essay “The Religion of Workism is Making Americans Miserable” deserves widespread discussion around dinner tables; and in churches; synagogues; and heaven for bid, workplaces.

It’s hard to excerpt from because the whole thing deserves a close reading. In particular, the conclusion is strong:

“Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.

One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.

This can start with public policy. There is new enthusiasm for universal policies—like universal basic income, parental leave, subsidized child care, and a child allowance—which would make long working hours less necessary for all Americans. These changes alone might not be enough to reduce Americans’ devotion to work for work’s sake, since it’s the rich who are most devoted. But they would spare the vast majority of the public from the pathological workaholism that grips today’s elites, and perhaps create a bottom-up movement to displace work as the centerpiece of the secular American identity.”

Insightful and important, but incomplete. Thompson misses the sociological nature of workism. He implies well compensated Americans are consciously choosing to work to the point of exhaustion, but the dynamic is far more complex. More of a sociological sensibility is needed to understand two things: 1) the subtle and nuanced way status anxiety contributes to conspicuous consumption, and 2) how a few workaholics can create workplace cultures that lead others to haphazardly conform until a critical mass of pathological workaholism takes over.

Simply put, in some workplaces, you are not truly free to choose whether to make work the centerpiece of your identity or not. Your co-workers make the decision for you.

 

 

Abolish Billionaires?

There are about 2,200 billionaires in the world, about one-fourth of those are U.S. citizens.

Farhad Manjoo recently wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times that engendered more than 1,500 comments. Most simply, he argued, we should abolish billionaires through much higher taxes and related policies.

When it comes to billionaires, I’m of a mixed mind. On the one hand, given rising inequality, I’m surprised more people aren’t agitating against members of the three -comma club. Not just writing commentaries, but taking to the streets Occupy Wall Street style.

On the other hand, as the philosopher Peter Singer points out, some billionaires are giving away the bulk of their wealth to philanthropy. Bill Gates, in particular, plans to give away 99.6% of the cash money I paid him back in the day for successive versions of Microsoft Office.

Of course, as Manjoo points out, we have to analyze whether the billionaires’ charitable giving is having positive effects or not. Anand Giridharadas style. As Manjoo explains, Giridharadas argues that many billionaires approach philanthropy as a kind of branding exercise to maintain a system in which they get to keep their billions. Especially when they put their largess into politics.

“. . . whether it’s Howard Schultz or Michael Bloomberg or Sheldon Adelson, whether it’s for your team or the other — you should see the plan for what it is: an effort to gain some leverage over the political system, a scheme to short-circuit the revolution and blunt the advancing pitchforks.”

Gates might be an outlier, but his giving is so exemplary, I’m less inclined to order a pitchfork from that billionaire with the online superstore.