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.

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.

 

Fuck the Rules.

Think about the last time you were driving.  How fast were you going?  Was it at or below the posted speed limit?  If you were like me, you were going with the flow of traffic which is usually about 20% over.  Despite a blatant disregard for the law, millions of commuters get to and from work every day without any intervention from law enforcement.  Why?

Natural order supersedes civil law.  People are driven to pursue efficiency and it’s usually achieved through a group effort.  Collectively, we decided that the speed limit was too low and that we could safely operate our vehicles beyond that range.  Since we’ve done it collectively, and have demonstrated its success, law enforcement has conceded this victory and have effectively decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.  I find it curious that the laws have not changed to reflect this, especially considering that cars have become far more agile and much safer since current speed limits were introduced.  Perhaps they’ve assumed that if they increased the limit to what we actually drove, people would simply drive 20% above that and it would be chaos.  Maybe.  Maybe we find that natural balance between speed and risk on our own.

Another perspective, well known by the tinfoil hats, suggests that this is done on purpose as it gives a government direct control over its population anytime it’s deemed to be necessary.  If a cop wanted to pull you over, he could start with the fact that you were probably speeding.  If you were driving the limit while everyone else was speeding, well now he’ll pull you over for acting suspicious.  A well-known lawyer wrote a book about the idea that the average American professional broke several federal laws each day.  This wasn’t because of a lack of morals, ethics, or competency, but because the rules, laws, and regulations were so numerous, broad or vague, that it was nearly impossible to do your job without breaking some set of rules.

While I think government and law enforcement largely recognize the system and understand how to exploit it, I don’t think it was purpose-built nor do I think most governments work with the goal of exploiting their people. If you think about why rules are put in place, it’s usually to retain power or to promote efficiency.  When a king decided that only his bloodline would rule, this helped to protect his power.  When slave owners decided that slaves didn’t have rights, this was to protect their power.  When men decided that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, it was to protect their power.  While it still does happen, I suspect that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to introduce laws for the purpose of retaining power.  If I’m not mistaken, those types of laws rely on a lack of access to information and the internet seems to have undermined that quite nicely.

What about speeding though?  That law doesn’t do much in the way of consolidating power in any direction does it?  Of course not… I don’t think.  That’s a law designed to promote efficiency.  The idea is that we want to maintain a healthy flow of traffic, with as few accidents and injuries as possible.  Not difficult to understand and most would agree that it’ a sensible solution – so why does almost everyone break that limit?  Well as it happens, we’re capable of finding that equilibrium on our own.  Once upon a time, when cars were heavier and couldn’t stop as fast, back when they weren’t loaded up with airbags, back when there weren’t seatbelts, those speed limits may have represented that equilibrium – but we’ve since evolved.

We actually have our own criteria for setting a speed limit.  We want to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible, without causing an accident, and without being pulled over by law enforcement.  As it turns out, we’ve identified that this new equilibrium is usually about 20% over the posted limit, and it’s why so many of us get frustrated when we’re being obstructed with someone who is only going the limit or just below.

So rules are good as long as they’re promoting efficiency then right?  No murdering is a good rule because it decreases our population’s mortality rate, time spent thinking about being murdered, and resources spent not getting murdered.  Net result is more people with more time to think about things besides being murdered – makes sense.  Consider this though, if murder wasn’t against the law, would you?  For those that have, was the law an effective deterrent?  For those who it did deter, would they have done it had they known they wouldn’t get caught?  What I’m getting at is that the law isn’t driving our sense of right and wrong, that’s something you find on the inside.

So we have these internal drivers that help us pursue efficiency and internal drivers that help us understand right from wrong.  I think they overlap and when I’ve refined this idea, it’ll certainly be its own blog post.  Until then, follow me on the assumption that our concept of right and wrong is based on our understanding of efficiency.  It’s why speeding doesn’t feel unethical unless you’re creating a dangerous situation for others.

So back to murder.  It’s a concept which is almost universally understood to be unethical or immoral. Why is that?  Well there’s an emotional perspective, an intellectual perspective, and a societal perspective that most of you will already be familiar with, but here’s my perspective from the side of efficiency.  I don’t think murder is inherently right or wrong.  If you were given a chance to assassinate Hitler prior to the holocaust, would you?  Someone who did would likely be considered a hero.  Someone who refused may even be considered to be immoral by the masses.  But what if you were only given an opportunity to kill him prior to him doing any harm?  What if you were given an opportunity to murder Hitler as an infant? Quite the ethical conundrum.

From the perspective of efficiency though, I don’t think it’s that simple.  The most efficient approach would likely be some level of early stage intervention.  I know I’m probably one of the few to suggest this, but imagine if Hitler’s passion, intelligence, and charisma were better channeled?  Not only would we have avoided a second world war, Hitler was probably capable of making a very positive contribution given the right circumstances.  All that said, in a universe of infinite possibilities, there are bound to be scenarios where murder is the most efficient option.  Where I’m sitting on this currently, is that while murder can be ethical or the most efficient course of action, it rarely ever is.  How many of us have the wisdom necessary to know which lives are worth keeping and which aren’t. How many of us would you think are entirely incapable of making a positive impact on the world when surrounded by the right people?  I think the answer is barely any and I think those are probably the biggest reasons why this exists as a social rule, regardless of law.

Finally, the fun part.  I was trying to come up with a law that was already in place, which embodied efficiency.  I couldn’t.  Then the lightbulb went off.  I suspect efficiency is like an exponential curve, meaning that you can always become more efficient, but in most cases you can never become completely efficient.  Effectively, there’s *always* room for improvement.  The purpose of a rule, is to dictate behaviour.  That rule may dictate how to behave in a highly efficient manner today, but what happens when our behaviour evolves beyond that construct?

The more rules we take away, the more we’re allowed to be ourselves.  The more we’re allowed to be ourselves, the better we can understand our maximum utility and the value of others.  The better we understand each other and ourselves, the better we are at working together towards a common goal.  The better we work together towards a common goal, the more efficient we all become.

Best laws ever ‘put’ in place? Allowing people to govern themselves.  Allowing slaves to be people.  Allowing women to be equal.  When you remove laws and regulations, allowing us to be what we should be, amazing things happen.