True Meritocracy

The world is a crazy place.  It’s probably always been a crazy place, but something’s different right now.  Something’s starting to boil over.

A war is being waged between how things have been done, and how they could be done.  It’s tradition versus progress.  People are afraid.  The future is uncertain.  If you have it good, change isn’t so appealing.  But most people don’t have it so good – so change is coming.

One thing we all seem to agree on though is the concept of a meritocracy.  The best person for the job should get the job..  Seems straight forward but I don’t think we really appreciate what that really looks like.  In a meritocracy, opportunities are only earned, no longer given.

 

I consider myself someone who has fought hard for almost everything he has, but I’d be foolish if I said that I had earned all my opportunities.  I went to an inner-city high school that probably had the lowest graduation rate in the city.  Most of my friends lived in the projects while my family was middle class.  When grade 12 came along, they were barely considering college.  Meanwhile, my dad kicked my ass into gear, paid for biology and math tutors, and even a guy to help walk us through the application process to universities.  That didn’t mean that I wasn’t working my ass off, but still.

And the idea of being able to afford university?  My grandparents set some money aside for that.  It didn’t cover the full ride, but it let me come out of university with barely any debt.  I know I’m intelligent, I know I’m capable, and I know I have a strong worth ethic, so perhaps I earned an opportunity at a university education – but how many other intelligent, capable and hardworking people never had that opportunity?  How many of them are working dead-end jobs because they weren’t given the same opportunities along the way that I was?

In my mind, in a meritocracy, resources and opportunities flow to those who are most deserving.  So how does one determine who is most deserving?  It’s a function of efficiency – If you’re going to do the most with the opportunity, you deserve it most.

In the case of post secondary education, it’s not a matter of payment, access, or even intelligence, it’s a function of who will do the most with that education.  How many times have we seen people end up with a bachelor’s degree only to find out that it had nothing to do with what they wanted to do with their lives?  How many times has someone who would’ve turned that degree into a bright future, been turned down?

In the case of jobs, how often have we seen friends hired over strangers?  I’ll concede that familiarity and trust are important factors to consider when hiring, but the inside track is real.  How many times have mom or dad made a call to one of their friends at the firm to get their kid set up?  How many other kids who were more qualified were turned down because of it?  And here’s the crazy thing, is the kid who got hooked up really better off?

How often do we see kids pushed into careers like accounting or law by their parents, only to discover that it’s not aligned with them at all.  Sure it comes with a decent income and some degree of job security, but if that’s not their gift to the world, they’re holding themselves back.  If they could make the effort to tap into their inner-genius and align themselves with what they were born to do, not only would they probably make a lot more money, they’d probably be a lot happier too.  And for bonus points, that would now free up a spot in their previous profession for someone who was born to do that.

And now we arrive at one of the most interesting and currently relevant oversights of a meritocracy: Inheritance wouldn’t exist.

If you googled: great leaders who come from wealthy families, you might be surprised to at what it returned.  Not much.  If you do, you’ll notice that google tries to auto-complete the query with ‘nothing’ instead of ‘wealthy families’, the second suggestion is ‘poverty’.  This query returns everything you would expect it to.  Is that a pattern worth observing?

If you’re born into a wealthy family, are you more or less likely to encounter obstacles and experience adversity?  Are you more likely to be given your opportunities or earn them?  How likely are you to experience sacrifice?  How likely are you to think of your own self-worth as an extension of your family’s success?  How likely are you to have a skewed perspective of who you are and what you can offer the world?  How likely are to you see equality between you and someone who isn’t as nearly well off?

Maybe this is why Warren Buffett, perhaps one of the most grounded billionaires of all time isn’t passing his billions along to his family.  Not because he doesn’t like them, but because he thinks it’ll do more harm than good.  Personally, I think one of the best things you can do for your children is to help them discover their own success.

Back at the banks, part of my role was to help devise estate plans for my wealthy clients.  More often than not, they were great people who had worked hard their entirely lives to build what they had.  Most were philanthropic, but almost all wanted to leave the majority of their estate to their kids while paying the least amount of tax in the process.  From their perspective, they earned the money and should be able to do as they please when they pass away – it was about freedom of choice.

So is freedom of choice at odds with a meritocracy?  I don’t think so.  On first glance, someone might think that my suggestion would be a 100% estate tax with the proceeds used to fund something like free post secondary education.  I don’t think it’s that simple.  It would be too easy to invest your estate into a business or other asset, and gift that asset to your heirs, only for them to sell it and receive an indirect inheritance.  Rules create loopholes.  They need to be self-motivated to do it.  We have to convince the rich that their families are better off without all the money.  It needs to be logical, and it needs to be their idea.

So why is passing your fortune through to your kids so important?  The average price of a home here is about 20x the average household income.  The cost of living is high across that board.  What that means is that the only people who can afford real estate are people who already own real estate, people who in the top 1%, and children who receive financial assistance from their parents.  Under the guise of a free market, we exist in a scenario where only the wealthy and their children are capable of buying real estate.

You can only own property if your parents owned property – that’s downright feudal.

But how are you going to convince those parents not to help their kids?  I’m sure the parents would much rather spend that money on a vacation home or their favorite charity, but they’re deeply invested in the future of their children and will gladly sacrifice some of their success to see their kids get ahead.  But what if they didn’t?

A market will go up when there are more buyers than sellers.  A market will go down when there are more sellers than buyers.  When the well-off are funding the real estate purchases of their kids, they’re creating buyers.  They’re effectively raising the market price on everyone.  If they were willing to let their kids experience the realities of an unbalanced market, you’d be helping the market find its equilibrium – where an average income could afford an average home.  But they’re scared.  They don’t trust the system, and they definitely don’t trust that the system will look out for the best interests of their kids.  So they take matters into their own hands and take care of their family at the expense of others.  Do I blame them?  No, especially because I don’t think many of them make that connection.  Caring for your offspring is one of the most powerful instinctual drives we have, including protecting them at the expense of others.  So how do we move past it then?

Government as it exists now, if they ever came around to it, would want to put rules in place.  There would be regulations, and taxes, and other nonsense that would be more likely to shift wealth to the lawyers and accountants than to the people who would make the best use of it.  The movement towards a meritocracy needs to be a movement of the people, and it may have already started.

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates spent some time over the last several years speaking with their fellow billionaires about the impact of leaving their wealth to their families.   They’ve made progress.  More than 150 billionaires have already publicly pledged to give half their fortune away, including Zuckerberg who pledged 99% of his Facebook shares.  Just about every self-made billionaire will have a keen eye for investments so what does this really look like?  How is this connected to a meritocracy?  Does it stop at the billionaires?

When you’re looking to make an investment, the first thing most people ask is how much will I make?  I would ask, “of what?”  Investing is not financial by nature, it’s much more dynamic than that.  When these billionaires are looking to invest, most aren’t simply writing a check to their local chapter of United Way, they’re looking for the best return on their investment.  So what are they getting back?  I’d guess it varies on a case by case basis, but I think above all else, they’re looking to put those resources behind those who will do the most with them.  How many women are there in the world who are capable of so much more than the opportunities afforded to them today?  How many children die from poor health care before they’re able to contribute to society?  How much of the world is still off-line and unable to see beyond their own horizon?  These kinds of investments might create a return of capital, they’ll almost definite return some warm and fuzzies, but the real genius is the return that’s created for the rest of the world.

Think of how many women there are in the world who are operating at their full potential.  Now compare it to how many women in the world who will never have the opportunity to work, let alone at something that they were born to do.  Now multiply that number by how many neurons there are in the average brain and you’ll arrive at the world’s largest untapped source of brain power.  You could say something similar about most people living in poverty.  Imagine the power of bringing those minds online.  Imagine what the world would look like if we were all afforded the opportunity to tap into that inner genius – that’s the foundation of a meritocracy.

Does it stop at the billionaires?  I hope not.  They can’t do it alone.  They need our help.  They have the money, but we have the power – we just don’t know it yet.

Duality of Privilege

When you apply the concept duality to privilege, it creates a rather interesting perspective.  Consider example A:

John is the child of a wealthy family.  His grandfather did very well, and John’s parents never had to work.  John grows up knowing that he won’t have to work either.  John’s parents lead a lavish lifestyle and give John is given everything that he asks for.

As a result of his unique circumstances, John has a unique perspective on life.  In that environment, I could see it being extremely challenging to develop qualities like a strong work ethic, perseverance, or the ability to deal with scarcity.  I could also see it being difficult to develop healthy relationships with others for a variety of reasons.  This doesn’t sound like a life of privilege to me.  Consider example B:

Jane is the daughter of two working class immigrants, and is raised in a rough neighborhood.   Jane grows up admiring the work ethic of her parents, knowing how their sacrifices let her grow up in a better place than where they were from.  Jane doesn’t have much growing up, but she appreciates what she has and learns how to work towards the things she wants.

In that environment, Jane was given several obstacles and challenges which John would be unlikely to face.  I’d like to think there are two ways to look at this.  You could say that John is privileged to not have to work for anything.  Or you could also say that Jane is privileged to have learned a great work ethic when she was young.  Perhaps there’s a key difference between these two though, in that Jane earned her work ethic while John didn’t earn his family’s wealth.  While that may be true, neither Jane nor John earned their circumstances – in this case, their family.  Had Jane been born to John’s family,   would she have turned out any differently?  Had John been born into Jane’s circumstances, would he have developed Jane’s work ethic?  Who’s life would you rather be born into?  If you’re like me and picked Jane’s life because it would probably lead to a more balanced, fulfilling, successful, and healthy life, wouldn’t that be the more privileged life?

When you think about our greats, from Muhammad Ali to Connor McGregor, from J Lo to Jay Z, from Abe Lincoln to Narendra Modi, from Indra Nooyi to Oprah Winfrey, from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs, and from Charles Dickens to JK Rowling, you start to see a pattern of overcoming a more challenging set of circumstances from a young age.  You know who I don’t see?  I don’t see the children of billionaires.  How often do we see the children of wealthy families behaving as inspiring leaders that move the world forward in a positive direction?

I think that inheritance doesn’t exist in a meritocracy but that aside, I genuinely don’t have any issues with someone inheriting a fortune and then settling down and living a comfortable life with their family.  I just know that’s not the best environment for producing good human-beings.  It looks easy, and nice, and better, but it lacks the struggle, and it’s the struggle which defines us.

The most challenging moments of my life directly preceded my most significant moments of personal growth.  If this pattern stays true for others, is adversity not to be embraced as the fuel of progress?  If so, perhaps privilege represents someone who’s arrived at the destination without having made the journey.  If so, perhaps there’s an argument to be made for an empathetic approach to this whole ‘privilege’ thing.  If we’re lucky, it might be contagious.

Win the Next Presidential Election With This One Weird Trick

I was tempted to throw in the /s but it’s true.  Seriously.

It wasn’t the republican right that elected Trump.  It wasn’t the democratic left that let Hillary down either.  It was the American people who made themselves heard.  Trump was elected as a giant fuck-you to how America governs – justifiably so.

It was a fuck-you to career politicians with fake smiles and fake laughs.

It was a fuck-you to wall street influencing monetary policy.

It was a fuck-you to the oversensitive and irrational alt-left.

It was a fuck-you to partisan politics and the inability of politicians to get anything done.

It was a fuck-you to the wealthy elite.

And perhaps most importantly, it was a fuck you to a lack of honesty and transparency between a government and the people it serves.

Trump may just be the best thing to happen to American politics in generations, in the same way that a bull is great for a china shop.  Bull wrecks china shop, owner realizes nobody buys china anymore and uses the insurance money to open a dispensary.  I think a lot of the people who voted for him already knew this, but if there was any doubt… he’s worse than a career politician, he’s the wealthy elite’s racist grandpa.  One of the first things he did was cozy up to wall street.  He’s just as irrational and oversensitive as the alt-left.  With republican control over the senate and house, he still can’t get anything passed. Bipartisanship is worse than ever.  Finally, and most importantly, Trump has probably solidified himself as the most dishonest politician in American history.  For anybody looking at this objectively, he’s the one you send in to undermine any remaining confidence in the American establishment.

So by the time the American people are ready to elect their next president, what are they going to be looking for?  The same thing we’ve always wanted…

 

Honesty and Transparency.

 

Seriously.  That’s it.  We’re just going to want it that much more after all this nonsense.  Run a campaign under the premise of releasing every confidential government file ever held.  Moon landing?  Release it all.  JFK?  Release it all.  9/11?  Release it all.  Area 51?  Release it all.  Every god damn piece of information that the government has – make it readily available to the public.  Maybe it all amounts to very little, but at least the public would regain their confidence in their government.  Or maybe we find out that the government hasn’t been as honest with us as we would’ve liked and we have an opportunity to rebuild that trust with a proper foundation.

Electing someone we don’t know to run a system we don’t understand isn’t exactly the best example of democracy but it does remind us how important honesty and transparency is between a government and its people.  Without good information, we can’t make good decisions and if we aren’t equipped with the information necessary to elect good leaders, where exactly does that leave us?  And yet honesty seems more scarce in politics than in any other profession.  Maybe this is what happens to lawyers when they don’t have to worry about perjury anymore.

We need to move beyond this idea that being uninformed makes us safer.  We need to move beyond this notion of the government taking measures to make us ‘feel’ safer at the expense of being less informed.  We need the government to stop treating us like kids and start treating us like equals and that starts with telling us WTF is actually going on.

I’m putting some brain power towards figuring out how to build an honest democracy that just doesn’t just hold itself accountable to the public, but also engages the collective thoughts and wisdom of its people on a regular basis.  I’m making progress.. might be ready in time for Mars.

 

Let me try something..

Anyone remember that scene from Old School where Will Ferrell steps up to debate ‘The Ragin’ Cajun”, James Carville?

Curious enough, something similar happens to me from time to time.  Some people say that I’m articulate and well spoken but I may just be well rehearsed.  When I’m discussing something that I’ve given a lot of thought to, I’ve already had those conversations numerous times in my own head.  Perhaps that’s why my mind wanders when I’m giving speeches.  Perhaps even more curious, it’s often this state of mind which tends earn me that ‘mic drop’ moment.

Anyways, I had one of those moments in the shower earlier and I thought it might be worth writing down.  The debate question is:

What’s the real issue in American politics today?

Going into blackout mode…

 

This isn’t a black versus white thing, this isn’t a rich versus poor thing, and this isn’t a left versus right thing. This is what happens when politics becomes more important than governance.  This is what happens when a duopoly of power prioritizes the short-term success of their party over the greater good of the people they’re supposed to serve.

The American people have democracy, but in a democracy where you’re asked to elect someone you don’t know to run a system you don’t understand, what exactly are you asking of your people?  In an election process that requires billion dollar campaigns, who do you expect to be influencing those candidates?  In a system with such obvious fundamental flaws,  why do we keep expecting different outcomes?

When we start to notice what’s happening though, rather that acknowledge our mistakes and work to solve our problems, we’re given someone to blame.  If you’re rich, blame the tax raising democrats.  If you’re poor, blame the heartless republicans.  If you’re middle America, blame the coastal elites.  If you’ve lost your job, blame the immigrants.  If you’re a liberal millennial, blame the white man.  It’s all utterly ridiculous because when someone understands how interconnected we all are, it’s very easy to see that we’re all in this together.

The American people want freedom.  That’s the freedom to be whoever we want to be and love whoever we want to love.  That’s also the freedom for businesses to compete without unnecessary regulations.  The American people want lower taxes, but don’t mind paying them as long as they’re spent well.  The American people want someone working 40 hours a week to earn a livable wage.  The American people want to stop invading other countries.  The American people want affordable access to health care.  The American people agree on almost all major issues, but through the spin cycle of politics and media, everyone’s divided without even really understanding why.

The universe always finds it’s equilibrium.  Just after Trump was elected, I said this may be a good thing.  Not because he’ll be any good at his job, but because he might just be catastrophically bad at it.  Just maybe he’ll lie more than any politician ever has.  Maybe he’ll flip flop all of his policies.  Maybe he’l have temper tantrums so frequently that people question if he’s mentally fit enough for office.  Maybe he’ll let his racist undertones influence policy.  Maybe all the shady stuff that he’s done in the past will come to boil over during his presidency and we can finally have a complete meltdown of the confidence in our government.

Maybe that’s when we stop paying attention to them, and start paying attention to each other.  Maybe that’s when we start to drive our own rhetoric around the values that got us here in the first place.  Maybe that’s when we’ll finally open our minds to what government could be.

 

The Economic Case for Universal Health Care

So with health care being top of mind for a lot of people right now, I’ve been giving the system some thought as well.  In the states, generally speaking, conservatives think healthcare should be left to the private sector and that people should should be able to source their own coverage.  Liberals, generally speaking, think health care is a basic right and the government should assist in making sure everyone is covered.

The frustrating thing about politics for me is that these aren’t conversations about the most efficient way forward, these debates simply an arena where governing parties fight for power and control.  I say this with confidence because if you think about it carefully, both sides are right but they can’t see it.  Rather than working together and coming up with a solution that accommodates the priorities of both sides, those involved seem more interested in obstructing their opposition.

Healthcare should be privatized because privatization isn’t an evil word.  In fact, all it really means is opening that business opportunity up to the public.  As it turns out, the general population is filled with awesome ideas and great entrepreneurs who can bring them to market.  Add in some competition with one another and we’ll find some pretty fantastic ways to deliver healthcare to those who need it.

People should be able to source their own coverage.  Why?  For the same reason we should be able to choose our own internet provider, streaming subscription, or gym membership.  Where we choose to spend money reflects our preferences and our preferences let our providers know where they should be competing hardest.

All that said, health care should absolutely be a basic human right and the government should absolutely have a hand in providing health care to those without the means to provide it to themselves.  I’ll even explain why with basic economic theory.

So I have this theory that right and wrong are human constructs which are actually based in efficiency (I’ll explore that more in another post once I’ve refined the theory a bit more). Effectively, the most efficient manner of accomplishing long-term progress is perceived to be both the most moral and ethical way forward. This is because for it to be the most efficient path forward, it must take all variables into consideration and deliver us to our end goal with the least amount of effort and time.

The next concept that needs to be touched on is comparative advantage. It’s a basic economic theory which essentially says that we’re all built a little differently, and that if we’re able to figure out what we do really well, we should do the hell out of it. Everyone produces what they’re absolutely best at, and trade helps goods and services end up where they should.

Most republicans and economists recognize comparative advantage to be fundamental to the free market – and for good reason. But for people to reach the peak of their comparative advantage, they require favourable circumstances. People on welfare, working minimum wage jobs, etc. are unlikely to be producing at their highest levels (AKA maximum utility) and without more favourable circumstances, never will. I get the classic conservative approach of taking it upon yourself to create your own favourable circumstances – I often tell people to be the change that they seek, but it’s not always in the cards.  For you hold’em players out there, let’s use a poker analogy. Would you rather have pocket aces and hit nothing on the board or a 7/2 off-suit and hit nothing on the board? Most people will choose the aces, but statistically, both are losing hands. I think the best thing the government can do for itself and for its people is help the person holding aces to a hand where they flop the other two aces and the 7/2 to a flop with the other three 7s.

If we can do that, the entire country transforms and becomes an unparalleled powerhouse of production, delivering levels of value that we didn’t even realize were possible. Cost of universal health care in that scenario? Negligible.

I know, I know, what does comparative advantage and maximum utility have to do with healthcare? Stephen Hawking. He’s said on multiple occasions that he would likely be dead without access to the NHS, Britain’s public healthcare system. If that’s true, what if he had been born in the US? He’s one of my favourite examples of someone who was dealt a 7/2 offset, but because he existed in a system which wanted to give him every opportunity to reach his maximum utility, he was given the chance to make his contribution.

Would you agree that the value Hawking has provided to the world has exceeded the health care services he has provided? Perhaps my biggest point here is that everyone *should have* the opportunity to make their greatest contribution to society. Some of us are able to earn it, but as circumstance would have it, for those like Hawking it must be given.  Healthcare included.

Using Google’s Algorithm to Solve Democracy

So I don’t sleep much.  My issue is that when the lights go off and I climb in bed, instead of my brain thinking that it’s time to sleep, it think’s that it’s now time for an un-interrupted thought session.

Last night, at about 2AM I turned to the other person in my bed and announced that I might have solved democracy with an application of Google’s search algorithm.  Fortunately for me, I wasn’t greeted with a pillow to the face and I was given an opportunity to explain what I meant.

When defining democracy, it’s essentially a system of government by the people, for the people.  I don’t see a fundamental flaw in that regard, but I do see a fundamental flaw in our application of democracy to the election process. Even with variations like the electoral college system, democratic elections are still determined primarily by the popular vote – and that’s the problem.

Back in grade 9, I ran for student council.  I was the representative for the grade 8 class, so why not.  I was one of two people who were voted in.  The second was a classmate named Collin who was egged on by the popular crowd to run.  The problem is that Collin had very few intentions of actually participating on the council.  He was elected, partly as a practical joke and partly as an act of defiance.  This was the first time I had experienced a failure of a democratic election and certainly wasn’t the last.

If we agree that the purpose of a democratic election is to collectively select the leader most capable of leading, then we have a fantastic starting point.  Where that falls out of line with the democratic process though, is that all votes are counted equally.  That makes the assumption that everyone is equally capable of selecting the most capable leader.  Effectively, someone who has put no effort into understanding who’s most fit to lead has an equal vote to someone who’s put in a tremendous amount of effort.  That’s strikes me as an efficient process.

Imagine if a company’s CEO was determined by the popular vote of its employees and customers.  Sounds fun, but how qualified are those individuals to make that decision?  A search for a major CEO is a highly strategic endeavor in which significant resources are dedicated to finding the absolute best candidates, and vetting them to the nth degree.  Would it not make sense to apply a similar strategy to electing a president or prime minister?  For most companies, the CEO is elected by a board of directors and the board of directors are elected by the company’s shareholders.  Effectively, you have people who are highly educated on the operations of that business, have had a chance to review all the candidates personally, and have selected the person who’s best capable of leading that company – in theory.

I certainly wouldn’t be the first person to suggest applying business principles to government, but I think this approach falls short of the end goal as well.  Let’s use the states as an example with a 320 million person voting base and let’s say that this hypothetical board of directors that would be responsible for selecting a president was 20 members deep.  So the 320 million Americans would elect those 20 board members and those board members would elect the president, but this doesn’t solve the issue of people choosing someone they don’t know, whose policies they don’t understand, for a role they don’t entirely comprehend.  That board of directors becomes another exercise in the popular vote, but now they’ve also been given the autonomy to select someone who may not be in the public’s best interest.  Somehow, the elected leader needs to be reflective of the general population’s best interests, but be selected by those who are capable of making such decisions.  Enter Google.

I suspect that the majority of people who use Google know that it’ll do a fantastic job of helping you find something, but they might not understand what’s happening behind the scenes.  The way it was explained to me was with a soccer team.  How do you determine the best player on the team?  Is it the player who scores the most goals?  Is it who the crowd cheers loudest for?  Probably not as defense wins championships and fans are fickle.  Based on the Google Algorithm, a player’s value is determined by the passes they receive.  Effectively, if they receive more passes than the average player, they’re simply identified as a more important player.  The best player is simply determined by which player receives the most passes from the most important players.

Makes sense right?  Well let’s take that one step further and recognize that what Google has really done is created an algorithm that identifies and then prioritizes trust.  The best player on the team receives the ball more more often from other top players because they trust that player to be more capable.  This trust factor is important when discussing the relationship that most voters have with their candidates.  Most career politicians seem to have issues with integrity and keeping promises, yet every cycle, millions of voters talk about how they trust their preferred candidate.  Personally, I think it’s unreasonable to trust someone you’ve never met, let alone seen how they behave when their morals and integrity are challenged.  The reality is that it’s unfair to expect these individuals to choose a leader simply because they’re not equipped to do so.  Another unfortunate reality is that the political system and media are fully aware of this and it’s why every few years, the circus comes to town and the status quo is maintained.

In order to make an educated decision for the leader of a country, you need to have a deep understanding of how government works and you need to have a deep understanding of who that candidate is.  I think I’d be safe in assuming that 99% of Americans who participated in the last election were unqualified to vote by those standards – but they absolutely still deserve a voice.  Time to deploy Google’s algorithm.

The idea is that you may only vote for someone you know and it would be encouraged that you simply prioritize character, integrity, and vision. Neighbourhoods all over the country would then put their trust behind a few key individuals who would then put their trust behind other key individuals.  Through 6 degrees of separation, this algorithm would include just about everyone.  Eventually, the algorithm would produce a group of peers who are effectively the most trusted and capable individuals in the country, and through their votes, they would elect the individual who they deem to be the most capable and trust worthy.

Earlier we agreed that the purpose of a democratic election was to collectively determine the individual most capable of leading.  Democracy solved.