Why I Will Never Live With My Children

There was an article in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal about “helicopter” children: children who are overly worried about their aging parents, who hover, and who take control of their parents’ affairs (to varying degrees). Or, as I see it, children who treat their parents like adolescents or perhaps even grade-school kids.

I’ve seen it in action. And I hate it. That said, I understand intervention is sometimes necessary and appropriate. Sometimes the mind is too far gone. Or the body has given out. But a child’s response to such situations isn’t helicoptering; it’s necessity.

Helicoptering isn’t a necessity; it’s a choice. Usually if not always, it’s the product of sincere concern about a parent’s physical welfare. “You might fall.” “You might leave the stove on.” Etc. Etc. Implicit in many of the comments is this question: What might happen if you’re left to your own devices? Continue reading

Certain Lessons Are Hard to Learn

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story about retirees of General Electric who have lost a sizable chunk of their retirement savings. Over the past 12 months GE has lost $140 billion in market value. It was a blue chip stock that most people thought was safe. They were wrong.

It’s happened before — major losses incurred by employees and retirees stemming from their decision to hold all or most of their personal savings in their company’s stock. Enron, Valiant, GM, Lehman, and Bear Stearns were mentioned in the WSJ article. But the list is much longer than that.

On the one hand, it’s easy to see how it happens. Confidence in one’s company builds up over a career. Loyalty. You become part of the family. It’s hard to be objective about the risks you’re taking. Why sell the stock that has treated you so well over the years?

On the other hand, there is the matter of history. And history tells us why we should sell. It highlights the risks of concentrated stock portfolios. And the benefits of diversification. Yet history is often ignored.

And so it’s happened again. As a result, some retirees with depleted retirement savings are returning to the workforce. Lives are being turned upside down.

You hate to see it happen. But it’s not that the risks were kept secret. To the contrary, they were in plain sight.

It makes me wonder what risks I might be taking that are in plain sight. What lessons from history am I ignoring?

There’s probably something.

Wanting to Believe in Heartfelt and Authentic

Last week an engine on a Southwest Airlines’ flight threw off a blade, resulting in serious damage to the engine casing and fuselage of the plan. A window was blown out, and one of the passengers lost her life, while seven others sustained injuries. For the next 20 minutes, until the plane was able to land safety in Philadelphia, over 100 passengers lived in fear that the plane would either fall from the sky or crash on the runway. Fortunately, the pilot pulled off a safe landing.

Passengers reported that, within a short time, Southwest had sent them a $1,000 voucher for future travel and a $5,000 check. My initial reaction was that Southwest was smart: treat people well and they’re less likely to sue you. But when Southwest was approached by the media to confirm the story about the payments that passengers had relayed, here is what the airlines said:

Ours is a company and culture built on relationships. Many of the Customers on that flight have flown with us before. We can confirm the communication and gesture are authentic and heartfelt.

So was it? Was it authentic and heartfelt? Continue reading

Is Your Connectivity Making Your Life Better?

A memo written by Facebook VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in the summer of 2016 contained the following controversial passage:

“[Connecting people] can be bad if they make it negative. Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.

And still we connect people.

The ugly truth is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is *de facto* good.”

Continue reading

Daniels Is Proving Just How Bad Colleges (and People) Are at Controlling Costs

Mitch Daniels took over the presidency of Purdue University in 2013. They have yet to have a tuition increase on his watch. That, quite frankly, is remarkable in the world of higher ed and, perhaps, even unimaginable in a world in which annual tuition increases are a given. For more details, I refer you to this Inside Higher Ed story.

I’m particularly fond of the Daniels story because he’s proving me right. And everyone likes to be proved right.

Since becoming intimately familiar with the world of higher ed, when preparing for and then occupying the presidency of a college, I’ve contended that annual increases in the cost of a college education were not inevitable, as many claim, but were, in part, the product of gross mismanagement, namely, the pathetic inability of college trustees, administrators, and faculty to control their costs. Stated differently, higher ed is smothering in waste, inefficiencies, and extravagant spending.

They get away with it because students and their parents are willing to pay the ever-rising prices, in tuition, fees, and room and board, and are willing to go into debt to finance these purchases. Moreover, thanks in part to the cartel called the accreditation system, the competition isn’t there to constrain price increases, as it is in many other industries. But that doesn’t make it right or without consequences.

One of the consequences is student-loan debt, which is now in the neighborhood of $4 trillion. Not that most college trustees, administrators, and faculty care. They don’t. If they did, Daniels would have more company in his campaign against out-of-control spending. And Purdue wouldn’t be alone in holding the line on tuition increases for seven straight years.

Colleges and universities mismanage resources on so many levels. But, of course, they’re not alone. Their bad habits are shared by other nonprofits and governmental agencies — organizations that are not accountable to investors. But it’s not that all for-profit organizations excel in this regard. They don’t. Many of them do a poor job of controlling expenses, too. But, overall, they do a far superior job than their nonprofit relatives.

It will be harder for other colleges and universities to peddle their excuses now that Daniels and Purdue have shined the spotlight on them. Yet I don’t expect much to change for most institutions. They’ll continue to increase prices every year.

There’s only one thing that will bring about change, and that’s competition and consumer awareness. If and when students stop enrolling because there are better values to be had elsewhere, then and only then will boards of trustees hire administrators with the skills and guts to act in the best interests of the students.

But there’s a bigger lesson to be learned here, Vera, for what we see in the world of higher ed and organizations generally, we also see play out in the world of household finances. Continue reading

Why Does Bombing and Killing Make Us Feel So Good?

Once again, our president bombed another country. And once again, so many of my fellow citizens take delight in such actions. I’ll never understand.

Here’s what our president tweeted this morning:

So just what has America accomplished in Syria?

Well, we (or our surrogates) killed a lot of people. And destroyed a lot of homes and property.

We’ve caused untold suffering. And helped create millions of refugees.

In short, we’ve been an agent of death and destruction.

Mission accomplished, America. To some we “could not have had a better result.”

To others, we lack the good sense to feel shame.

Are You One of Those People Who Don’t Stay Put?

The above graphic is interesting if you’re the least bit interested in the immigration issue. Not that all the people living outside of their country-of-origin have emigrated. Some are living abroad merely on a temporary basis — perhaps for a job or education. Nonetheless, the differences among countries tell us something about the cultural and economic variances at work.

Spain and France stand out as being the most homebound nations. Their citizens tend to stay put. Few live outside the country.

Ireland isn’t surprising, at least from an American perspective. Many of us know someone who was born and raised in Ireland but now lives in the U.S. But Portugal surprised me a tad. I suspect it has to do with limited economic opportunities there, but that’s only a guess.

Greece surprised me, too. Given its economy and plight of their people, I’d have thought the percentage would have been higher.

What the map overall shows, however, is that there are quite a few people in the world who feel free to leave their country-of-origin, whatever the reason. In my opinion, that’s not a bad thing. Languages and cultural differences need not constitute a fence or wall.

When Can You Hide Behind the Attorney-Client Privilege?

According to President Trump this morning:

Hardly the reaction of an innocent man.

But is he right nonetheless?

Of course not. It’s just another of his many lies. And of his repeated attempts to obstruct justice and derail investigations that could implicate him or his minions.

As I’m sure Mr. Trump’s lawyers can tell him, clients cannot hide behind the attorney-client privilege to perpetuate a crime involving the lawyer. The crime-fraud exception to the privilege is well established.

Justice Cardozo of the U.S. Supreme Court put it well in 1933:

“He must let the truth be told.” What a novel concept this must be to someone like our president.

If You’re on Facebook but Care about Privacy

Don’t delude yourself: if you really cared about your privacy, you wouldn’t be on Facebook.

Or you’d be on it but:

  • would not enter any bio info;
  • would never post anything; and
  • would never click a Like or emoji.

But if you’re on Facebook and sharing fully, while clinging to a belief that your information is somehow protected from whatever disclosures, sharing, and use Facebook deems to be in its best interest, then you’re pretty naïve.

Moreover, if you’re using Facebook as your primary source of news, then you’re probably worse off than not being informed at all. There are worse things than ignorance.

And if you believe whatever propaganda comes your way, whether it’s delivered via Facebook, Fox, MSNBC, the pulpit, the classroom, or any other outlet, without subjecting the claims to scrutiny and skepticism, then you’re a tool. You really shouldn’t vote or participate in public discourse of policy issues. Leave the decisions to the skeptics and people who at least try to discern what’s really going on in the world (as opposed to the twisted views of ideologues or devious people who are trying to manipulate public opinion merely to serve their own selfish interests).

Personally, I’m not all that concerned about privacy. But I’m very concerned about humans’ susceptibility to propaganda. And our capacity to fool ourselves.

Are You a Good Judge of Character?

I’m a lousy judge of character. Early on, that is. Once I get to know someone well, it’s a different matter (although I still tend to be too generous, even then). But I suppose anyone could say they’re good at sizing up the situation when the body of evidence is large. The true test is, can you judge someone’s character when you meet them? Or early on in a relationship, when the body of evidence is slight? I can’t. I tend to give people too much credit, only to be disappointed later when reality reveals itself.

I take some solace that I’m not alone in this weakness. Indeed, most people are poor judges of character. But that only gets me so far, principally because your grandmother is a pretty good judge of character, Vera. She’s a constant reminder of just how bad my judgment is in this regard.

The “Dunning-Kruger effect” comes to mind (named for David Dunning and Justin Kruger). Continue reading