Tag Archives: America

The Crippling Economics of Inequality


A few months ago, Bill Gross, co-founder and co-chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company, wrote in his investment outlook letter that instead of approaching the tax reform argument from the standpoint of what an enormous percentage of the overall income taxes the top 1% pay, America’s wealthy should consider how much of the national income they’ve been privileged to make. Gross noted that in the share of total pre-tax income accruing to America’s top 1% has more than doubled from 10% in the 1970s to 20% today, and asked his wealthy clients to “admit that you… did not, as President Obama averred, ‘build that,’ you did not create that wave. You rode it. And now it’s time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes or reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions.”

But favoring average working Americans is not just a matter of fairness. America’s wealthy would actually do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than they’re doing now with a large share of an economy that’s still anemic — anemic mainly because the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to get it out of the gravitational pull of the Great Recession.

Put simply, the wealthy don’t spend nearly as much of their incomes as do people further down the ladder. That means that as more and more of the nation’s total income concentrates at the top, total spending is less than it would otherwise be. As entrepreneur Nick Hannauer says in our new movie Inequality for All, “the problem with rising inequality is a person like me who earns a thousand times as much as the typical American doesn’t buy a thousand pillows.” Or, for that matter, a thousand pair of blue jeans or restaurant meals or movie tickets or insurance policies.

It’s the lesson Henry Ford taught America early in the twentieth century when he paid the workers in his Model T factory twice the going rate, thereby pushing up wages in other factories and helping more workers afford to buy Model T’s. And it’s the lesson America put into practice in the three decades after World War II when nearly everyone’s wages doubled, and the bottom fifth’s wages rose even more than the top fifth’s – creating the largest middle class the world had ever seen, and propelling the American economy to its fastest growth in history.

Reforming the tax code to favor economic growth and labor is one step. Raising the minimum wage, encouraging trade unions, and investing more (and more prudently) in the education and training of all Americans are others.

The voices favoring such reforms shouldn’t be coming only from Democrats, labor unions, and the Left — and a few renegades like Gross and Hannauer. The entire American business community needs to speak out forcefully and clearly in favor of a more broadly-shared prosperity — and against the direction we’re heading. Shared prosperity is essential for faster growth.

Photo: Truthout.org / Flickr

Posted by:Robert Reich

It’s #Winning To Be Poor. Just Ask A Really Rich Guy


February 20, 2014

  • 280
  • 10 Likers
  • 1 Comment
  • This article was originally published on Linkedin

Tom Perkins needs to find a hobby.

It seems the billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist hadn’t gotten it out of his system after calling attention, in what turned out to be the most-read letter-to-the-editor in Wall Street Journal history, “to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany and its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

Weird. One might think unseemly. But he wasn’t done. In the same January 24th letter, he warned of, “’progressive radicalism”, which he described as “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.” Perkins continued: “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism is unthinkable now.”

Kristallnacht, the “Night of the Broken Glass” took place in Nazi Germany in 1938. In one night across the Third Reich, Jews were rounded up; many of whom were killed. More than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were damaged or destroyed, along with more than 1,000 synagogues. Yeah, Tom, Occupy Wall Street is a whole lot like Kristallnacht.

Most thinking folks dismissed Perkins comments as the ranting of a publicity-seeking billionaire gone bonkers. The venerable firm he founded, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, tweeted: “Tom Perkins has not been involved in KPCB in years. We were shocked by his views expressed today in the WSJ and do not agree.” Perkins response to the tweet? “They threw me under the bus.”

Given one of several chances to clarify his remarks, Perkins doubled-down on his attacks on the poor at an event in San Francisco on February 13th, saying that “the extreme progressivism of the tax system” is a form of persecution of the top one percent of earners in America. When asked by Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky how he’d remedy the situation, he offered this solution: “You don’t get the vote if you don’t pay a dollar in taxes. But what I really think is it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars, you get a million votes.”

I don’t know Tom Perkins – though I’ve read his wife Danielle Steele’s novels – so it’s easy for me to discount his views as outlandish. I do know Kevin O’Leary, of Shark Tank fame, which makes it tough for me to slough-off something he said on the daily CBC show he co-hosts with my old friend Amanda Lang. On the January 21st edition of “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange”, O’Leary and Lang were discussing a recent OXFAM report which stated that the world’s 85 richest people hold the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the planet’s population. O’Leary said: “This is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one per cent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news and of course I’m going to applaud it. What can be wrong with this?”

It may not be flat out #winning to be poor, but it’s actually pretty good, according to Nicole Miller co-founder and CEO Bud Konheim. Konheim told CNBC that the poor should stop complaining, because: “we’ve got a country that the poverty level is wealth in 99 percent of the rest of the world… the guy that’s making, oh my God, he’s making $35,000 a year, why don’t we try that out in India or some countries we can’t even name. China, anyplace, the guy is wealthy.”

I can’t really decide whether any of these are actually attacks on the poor. Perkins framed it as an attack BY THE POOR on the wealthy, O’Leary pointed out how lucky the poor are, and Konheim wants America’s poor to think they’re not poor because, compared to low income Indians and Chinese.

America is not India. It’s not China. America is the biggest and most prosperous nation in the world. We’re debating raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from the current $7.25 an hour. If you work 40 hours a week earning the federal minimum wage, you earn about $15,000 a year. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute says raising it to $10.10 would eventually help more than 20 million Americans. Conservatives argue raising the wage will hurt small businesses and keep them from hiring workers. Both sides have valid arguments.

Leaving that debate aside, let’s look at income which, for our purposes, includes what you earn from work, and what you earn from capital gains, dividends from stocks and interest from bonds. U.S family income roughly doubled from the late 1940s to the early 1970s for almost all Americans. But, starting in the 1970s, income began growing much faster for the top five percent of earners, than for people in the middle or bottom. For the top one percent, their after-tax incomes jumped more than 200 percent between 1979 and 2010. For most Americans, wages make up the vast majority of their income, as opposed to income from investments and wages, adjusted for inflation, have declined nearly six percent for the lowest earners between 1979 and 2012. Over the same time 23-year period, wages jumped nearly 40 percent for people in the top five percent.

Let’s look at this one more way: total wealth, which includes everything someone owns, including their home, stocks and bonds. As of 2010, the top one percent of households owned 35.4 percent of all privately held wealth; the next 19 percent owned 53.5 percent. That means that just 20 percent of Americans owned a whopping 89 percent, leaving only 11 percent of the wealth for the bottom 80 percent. More starkly, the richest 400 people in the U.S. have more wealth than the poorest 150 million. It makes sense when you think about it, because wealth begets wealth. If you started 2009 with money to invest in stocks or property, and the ability to get credit at some of the lowest rates in history, this has been one of the best five year periods in history for you. If you started 2009 broke or unemployed, it may still feel like a recession to you.

Perkins, and his fellow uber-rich, need to comprehend that there is no war on the rich in America. The middle and lower classes are too busy working for their increasingly elusive piece of the “American Dream” to be waging war on anyone. Society’s top earners control wealth, wages and political power. If there is class warfare, they rich are the only ones with the disposable time and income to wage it. Historically, America’s had strong, growing and empowered middle class to work as a buffer; folks who work hard and earn money, but not enough to avoid paying most taxes. We’re losing that in America and, along with it, the dream of millions of Americans of making it into the middle class.

If the rich realized the implications of it, they’d be mad as hell, too.

Photo: Getty Images North America

The Road Beyond Nonprofit Overhead


Last summer I co-signed a letter to the donors of America called the “Overhead Myth Letter.” The letter has gotten a fair amount of attention within the US nonprofit sector (at least among the 1% of US charities that get 86% of the funding each year). In addition, representatives of some of those larger charities have told me that, at least among some of big donors and family foundations; it has been helpful piece of information. The letter urges donors to look at “other factors of nonprofit performance” beyond overhead, because we believe that “focusing on overhead without considering other critical dimensions of a charity’s financial and organizational performance can do more damage than good”. However, for the average donor to charity, the letter may not be all that helpful, because the availability of information on “other factors” is few and far between.

This is especially true when it comes to the most important information of all – data on the results (including outcomes and impact) of a nonprofit’s work. After years of research we have conducted at Charity Navigator, we have come to the conclusion that the vast majority of nonprofits do not publically report meaningful information on their results. In addition, we suspect that the vast majority of nonprofits have NO SUCH DATA to share with the public! That is because they have never built the required performance management systems to measure what they do. Therefore, when I signed the Overhead Myth letter with my colleagues, I said to them, if we are not careful and take at least one additional step, we will have possibly done more “damage than good” ourselves. I said that because following the advice in the letter could lead the donors of America to a dead end. On the one hand we tell donors – don’t consider overhead as most important, but on the other hand – we do not have a place for them to go to get what is most important to consider. This could lead to charities being even less accountable to donors than they are currently. Not good!

I do not mean to imply that it is entirely the fault of nonprofits for this state of affairs. In fact, there is a perfectly logical yet tragic reason to explain (but not excuse) why nonprofits are in this situation. The vast majority of funders do not provide the necessary resources for nonprofits to build the required performance management systems so they can provide meaningful information on their results. Although nonprofits are usually required to generate an endless stream of reports to their funders, they usually are more focused on activities and outputs rather than real evidence of social value (meaningful change in communities and people’s lives). At the same time the funders usually do not supply the resources (money and technical expertise) to help charities develop the capacity to manage, measure and report on their results. So even when the funders ask for such information, the charities typically end up going through a kabuki dance to appear to supply it, when in fact it is simply repackaged outputs.

However there is good news on the horizon on a variety of fronts. A lot of people are working hard to make more information on nonprofit organization’s results available to the public. In addition, there is a growing demand that funders (especially foundations) not just ask for charities to report on their results, but show a willingness to provide the resources for nonprofit’s to build their capacity to better manage and measure what they do. So do not despair! Here are just a sampling of the efforts that are underway to provide nonprofits with the tools and donors with the information they need:

For Nonprofits: Check out these resources that can help you to get on the road to managing and measuring your performance: (1) Perform Well (2) Keystone Accountability (3) Charting Impact (4) Social Solutions (5) Root Cause (6) Leap of Reason (7) The Center for What Works and (8) The Nonprofit Outcomes Toolbox. Whatever size and cause area your nonprofit works in, there is something available on this list to get you started.

For Donors: I admit I am biased but the only resource I know of that has the depth of analysis and scale (i.e. number of charities rated) that is working on compiling information on results for the average donor is Charity Navigator. Specifically, we call our new rating system CN 3.0. You can check it out here.

Finally, at the beginning of this article I mentioned that there needed to be at least one more thing that we signers of the Overhead Myth letter needed to do. That is, to write a second letter to the Foundations and Nonprofits of America, urging them to make sure that they do whatever it takes to build the capacity to manage and measure results and to then supply that information to the donors of America. THAT is the road beyond nonprofit overhead!

Photo: Saad Faruque/Flickr

What I learned by quitting my “good” job and driving around the country all summer long


15 lessons from cruising the USA on local, two-lane roads for 80 days and 17,000 miles.

Early last summer I left my job at a top strategy consulting firm in Manhattan, my high rise apartment, and what would have been a six figure income had I stayed in consulting for a third year. At the time, a lot of people thought I was crazy, and their skepticism made me wonder if what I was doing was insane. However, three months and seventeen thousand miles later, it seems crazy that I waited so long to do it. I returned to NYC last week after, as one of my college pals put it, “living a lot of life” in the last few months. Here’s what I learned on my journey.

Note: Although I originally wrote this post at the end of September and it was posted on Thought Catalog in October, looking over it again in 2014 I felt compelled to share it with Medium’s community of dreamers.

1. Few people will actually take the leap to make a dream real

I heard it over and over again, from people all over America: “I’ve always wanted to take a trip like yours.” I heard it from farmers, entrepreneurs, investment bankers, and hotel clerks. I heard it from sixty-five year olds, twenty-five years olds, and people all along the spectrum in between. They’d all invented reasons for not going. Financial concerns (I did my entire trip for about $6k); family concerns (you can leave for two months — you’ll be back); career concerns (you don’t even like your job, why are you afraid to leave it?).

Although the leap to make many dreams real isn’t too big, most people will never jump. Be in the minority that does — make the leap.

Grinnell Lake, Glacier National Park

2. All the worrying most people do is baseless — it’s your adventure, not theirs

Had I listened to everyone who said, “you’d be nuts to go to _____, it’s dangerous there!” my trip would have lasted three weeks instead of three months. The warnings came in from all directions — family members, locals with an opinion, the news. Ethanol content in Midwestern gasoline is too high; it’ll kill your motor! Williston, ND is full of murderers and rapists. Detroit is more dangerous than Mexico. Watch out for banditos in Arizona. Southerners will run you New Yorkers off the road. Bad shit happens, but in no way is it likely to happen. It’s important to mitigate obvious risks by traveling with companions, packing the right supplies, and checking weather reports (lest you have a scrape with a flash flood). However, don’t be curtailed by other people’s fears unless they are remarkably well informed (which is rarely the case).

A perch high above Canyonlands National Park in Southern Utah

3. The wealth of protected American land extends far beyond National Parks

Everyone knows about National Parks, the crown jewels of the American conservation movement. Less known are the millions and millions of acres of pristine land preserved in national forests, national monuments (think canyons, not Washington, DC), and recreation areas. Places like Glen Canyon (UT), the Black Hills (SD), and the Sierras (CA). And let’s not forget the additional places protected by state and local governments — for example, the Adirondacks and unadulterated stretches of the Pacific Coast. Any traveler would be remiss to draw the line at National Parks.

Sunrise in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation area on the Tennessee-Kentucky border

4. Starting to live simply is easy; staying simple is hard; but the longer you stay simple, the less you come to need

It’s easy to adapt to having less (especially if you have no alternative); what’s hard is maintaining your simpler life when confronted with the expensive, convenient lifestyles of others — gorgeous houses, comfortable cars, hot water all day everyday. That’s what I meant when, one month ago, I wrote, “starting to live simply is easy. Staying simple is hard.”
I found that the lesson doesn’t end there. It’s not just that staying simple gets easier, but that the simplicity curve is sort of exponential — every consecutive day that you live without creature comforts, the number of comforts you rely on will decrease dramatically. For example: after Day 1, you might realize that you can shower once a day rather than twice. After day 2, you might realize that you can wear the same shorts two days in a row and eat a cold breakfast. After day 3, you might prefer answering emails and text messages just once each day, and eating soup straight from the can is just fine, and one pillow for sleeping is such a luxury (you used to need two). Your ability to adapt accelerates with every consecutive day lived simply.

Waking up in Badlands NP

5. All it takes to really “get away” is 2 or 3 days

“I need at least a week. Anything less and it doesn’t feel like I got away.” That’s what I used to say about vacations. I must have been going to the wrong places, doing the wrong things. Any block of 2 or 3 days from my trip would have been the best two or three days of my post-college years. Anywhere in the country, you’re only a few hours (on two lane roads, of course) and a couple of days from a new adventure.

6. Hypothesis confirmed: two-lane roads > highways

The beauty of any community is in the details — the mom and pop diners and hardware stores; the seventy five square foot post office next to the town pool; the different varieties of recreational vehicles that dot yards all over the country. Those details aren’t visible when you’re going ninety miles per hour in the middle lane of some massive highway. No matter where you’re going, there is usually a two-lane alternative to interstates, and it will almost always weave its way through miles of Americana that highways do not.

You do not get scenes like this on interstate highways

7. Stretches of emptiness abound all across America, and no two are the same

I explored this idea a bit in a post I wrote after one month on the road, and I feel even more strongly about it two months later. The vast majority of America is wide open, and every stretch has characteristics that don’t exist anywhere else. I was most surprised by the high desert in eastern Washington, and the unexpectedly lush mountains and meadows interspersed between red rock deserts in south central Utah.

Country roads in South Dakota
Open road en route to the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in the Arizona Triangle

8. No matter where you are you can find both likeminded and people who seem totally crazy

Back in July, I wrote about the prevalence of Republicans in Colorado, which I wrongly assumed was a hippy state through and through. The lesson I learned from Colorado holds in general: no matter where you are there will always be people whose beliefs fall on either side of the spectrums of politics, religion, and pretty much anything else.

This story sums it up well: I worried for weeks about how Southerners would react to my New York license plates. Yet, when I finally drove through the Deep South in late August and early September, the people I met were nothing but nice. In fact, the only time I was called a Yankee was in the place I least expected it: Portland, Oregon. Are you kidding? I never would have predicted that.

9. On the road, there is strength in numbers

It’s more than the idea that experiences are best when shared with others (though I subscribe to that belief bit time). It’s the idea that testing one’s comfort zone — exploring back roads; swimming, climbing and hiking in unknown places; visiting the rough parts of a new city — is easier in the company of other people. They are a safety net if anything goes wrong, and they will (hopefully) keep you from doing anything too crazy. I would never have driven down as many dead end dirt roads or grabbed a stool at so many local watering holes had I been traveling alone. Maybe I’m weak; but if I’m weak in this sense, then so are most people. Travel with company — you’ll experience so much more.

Lumberyarding in NorCal

10. Confirmed: pickup trucks are the most popular class of automobile in the USA

I’ve always been aware of the sales figures indicating that in the USA pickup trucks outsell every other class of vehicle. However, it’s one thing to say and another thing to see. Beyond the outer rings of our cities, America remains a land of the working man (and woman), and pick up trucks — able to navigate rough roads, weather different climates, and carry heavy tools — are America’s vehicle. I ate at several diners where my Chevy Suburban was the smallest vehicle in the parking lot, dwarfed by F-250s and F-350s.

11. For 99% of people, itinerant living will get old after some number of months (though that number is different for everyone)

Drive down the California coast and you’ll meet people who’ve been traveling their whole lives. I used to think they were enlightened, that they’d found something that would appeal to the rest of us if we would just give it a try. Having given nomadic living a try, however, I learned not that they had found some universal nirvana, but that their tolerance for constant movement is exceptional. Most of us will tire of traveling after a certain point. For me, that point was about two months. Judging from the are you coming home yet’s that I heard over and over again from friends and family after the one month mark, most people would prefer less than that.

RV living on the Oregon coast

12. Nothing gets random people in any bar, anywhere, talking like a road trip

If you ever on the road and want a dose of local culture, ask a local what the most popular bar in town is, go there, and mention to the bar tender that you’re on a road trip. People will line up to hear about your route and what you’ve seen, and they’ll be eager to share their own stories. This happened everywhere: Minnesota, Idaho, California, Louisiana, the list goes on…

13. Life goes on in your absence

When I returned to Manhattan in late September I found that New York City, and my minuscule sphere within it, had persisted unchanged. Friends I hoped would leave the jobs they hated are still in them; most people had a “normal” Summer and were looking forward to a “normal” Fall. Embarking on an adventure will change you. However, while you’re out driving American roads (or cycling around the world like this badass Englishman) everyone you know will continue to live life as usual.

14. As hard as it is for city folks, particularly those from the BosWash corridor (i.e. the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and DC metro areas), to believe, there are millions of people who want to live as far away from big cities as possible

The distance between towns (and, in some instances, between houses) in places like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, southern Utah, eastern Washington, and southwestern Kansas is shocking. Nearly every day I passed through a town that made me wonder, out of curiosity, not arrogance, “why would anyone want to live here.” In any one of these towns, most of the residents were born either in town or nearby; they love life for what it is in that slow, simple (in my eyes) place; and no matter how befuddling it might seem (cue the Tupac), “that’s just the way it is.”

15. There will always be more to see

Eighty days on the road seems like forever, but it’s a blink in comparison to the time it would take to really get to know America. Even if I had traveled twenty five percent longer, for a hundred days, I would still have had only two days for every state. It would take a lifetime to really see everything in any one state, let alone the entire country. What a gift: there will always be more to see.

The view from High Dune, 600 feet above the valley floor at Colorado’s (yes, this is Colorado) Great Sand Dunes NP

Thanks for reading! To learn more about my trip, check out my road blog. And, if this article interested you, please take a moment to hit the Recommend button below. Thank you!

Further Reading

Storyteller Steph Bradley on ‘Tales of our Times’, red flipflops and “stuff”

 — Following your dreams, Tales of Our Times, story telling, tales of transition.

The Past, The Future & What This Means For Our Developing World.


Peter Thiel SXSW

There are four quadrants used to organize the past and the future views of the developing world.  These quadrants are optimistic, pessimistic, determinate and indeterminate.

optimistic139009150158316

China is currently thought to be pessimistic/determinate meaning it has a clear view of where it would like to be in twenty years but at the same time China is worried about whether or not they will get there in this modern time frame.  China is more likely to save money, then invest money over the next few decades.

“China will be a somewhat poorer version of the developed world, people will become old before they become rich”  –  Peter Thiel, Co-founder, PayPal.

America is thought to have fell in to a quadrant called indeterminate optimism.  Presently, the United States is believed to have both a low amount of investment and a low amount of saving, this is arguably the most unstable position for a country to be in.

“One of the strange things about indeterminate optimism is that its the quadrant that has low savings and low investment.  Is it possible for the future to be better when no one saves and no one invests? Because no one is thinking and everyone is outsourcing all of the thinking to other people.”  –  Peter Thiel, Co-Founder, PayPal.

Both Japan and Europe are thought to be indeterminate/pessimistic meaning the future does not look bright and no body is sure what to do about it.

Big Idea 2014: Banking on Infrastructure


 

 

 

 

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers pick one big idea that will shape 2014. See all the ideas here.

America is literally falling apart. We need a publicly-owned, 21-century infrastructure bank that attracts private capital – from investors big and small – to rebuild, improve our climate resilience, and create the next wave of growth.

After a decades-long credit binge, a Financial Crisis, a Great Recession, multiple rounds of economic stimulus, Quantitative Easing, zeroed-out interest rates and all the rest, what have we got? Pathetic job growth rates, a steroidal stock market that’s frothily dependent on Fed stimulus, and Depression-era levels of inequality between the Lucky Few who punch-in in Palo Alto or Greenwich, and the Everybody Elses who find themselves in the Barista Economy.

What we need now is not more of the same, but an engine of inclusive economic growth and sustained prosperity, on the scale of the Internet or the mass entrance of women into the labor market – the kind of watershed event that transforms productivity and powers the American dream.

Our version of this opportunity is staring us in the face, everyday. It’s rebuilding, rethinking, and refinancing our infrastructure.

The need is certainly urgent. The 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, gave the nation’s roads, dams, bridges, levees and other facilities an abysmal D+ grade, and estimated that the country will need to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 just to bring our creaking underpinnings up to par.

And that’s to say nothing of the urgent need to redesign and retrofit our communities to improve their climate resilience. Michael Bloomberg’s post-Sandy plan for New York City cost $20 billion alone. There’s concern that other parts of the country, like Florida, may soon become uninsurable, because, while people continue to spend more and more on insurance, nobody’s doing much to mitigate the actual, underlying risk.

Rethinking our infrastructure requires more than just making sure that things don’t fall down when the wind blows. It also means putting in place the advanced platforms that will spur national competitiveness, like wireless broadband. When Google brought gigabit connectivity to the first of Kansas City’s ‘fiberhoods’, for example, it ignited an entrepreneurial renaissance that has grown by the day. (Indeed, the draw was so great there have since been tensions over the residential vs. commercial intent of the service.)

The above is more than any government could shoulder alone, particularly one in our sorry, gridlocked state. Much of the funding will have to come from the private sector. To channel it, we need a public bank whose sole purpose is to connect private and public capital to build the platforms on which America’s next chapter can unfold.

Investors in such a bank shouldn’t just include huge hedge funds, private equity and pension funds – we should create opportunities for the regular citizen, too. Imagine a savings bond where you could get a rate of return by investing the repaving of your own roads, or the climate retrofitting of your local school. Already, organizations like Code for America are developing tools so that citizens can do things like ‘adopt a hydrant’ in a community – a small example of crowdsourcing civic infrastructure. It’s a small step from crowdsourcing to crowdfunding, and an infrastructure bank could be a catalyst.

Several design considerations are essential to making such a bank work in practice. First, there have to be investment “exit ramps” and other policy considerations so that the bank does not merely become an engine for privatizing what was once public.

Second, the bank has to be of sufficient size so that it can go after big problems in a big way – anything smaller, like the laudable but underfunded proposal by Democratic Senator Mark Warner and Republican Senator Roy Blunt will be too small to get the job done.

Finally, we need to take on a tumble of competing regulatory and jurisdictional issues that inhibit meaningful, climate-smart rebuilding. (For a painful, if illuminating look at these issues, watch Susannah Drake’s terrific short PopTech talk about building resilient infrastructure, in which she shows how there are 200 potential permits required for any waterfront project in New York City – many of them dependent on each other.)

By investing, not in propping up Wall St., but in propping up our actual streets, an infrastructure bank can help employ millions, and catalyze a kind of physical operating system for our country’s future. The alternative OS is outdated, buggy, and just might get us killed.

Image Credit: Pipe Dreams 1 by Carol Von Canon (Flickr/Creative Commons)

A High Level Strategy by Corporate America to Keep Travel Out of the Public Limelight?


Note: I have absolutely zero inside knowledge on this topic, nor was it a result of speaking with (or overhearing) anyone at the highest levels of corporate America.

The other day, I got to wondering: Is there a high high up strategy in corporate America, to keep travel suppressed from the public eye? To keep it mysterious, unknown, and therefore “dangerous”?

Why would I wonder such a thing?

Simple: Follow the money.

Consumers only have so much disposable income. They cannot magically pull another 10k out of their bank account every year (aside from accumulating more credit card debt). They EITHER spend their 10k of disposable income on a 2 week trip to Europe, South Africa, or Asia (or anywhere else) OR they spend that 10k on consumer goods. Very few people save the 10k rather than spend it on one of those two items.

It goes without saying C-level executives would prefer people spend their money on consumer goods here in the USA rather than travel abroad and spend their money elsewhere.

I think it’s universally known that (in general) the more someone travels abroad, the less they spend on consumer goods. Particularly if they are traveling to places where they are not just at a resort being pampered 24/7. From my interactions over the last 8+ years traveling, those who have gone through Peace Corps, been a Kiva Fellow, or just volunteered abroad in any capacity, live life with a different mindset than the rest of society. People change once you realize life in the US is a fairy tale to the majority of the rest of the world, and that the items we enjoy on a daily basis —quality shoes, a warm bed, plenty of food on the table— are extreme luxuries to the majority of the world’s population. We are privileged beyond belief, yet it’s impossible to truly understand that without witnessing poverty with your own eyes.

An America where that socially conscious, experienced traveler is the majority rather than extreme minority? It wouldn’t function and grow the way our economy does now. That segment doesn’t buy consumer goods. They travel instead, and live a minimal lives. And, corporate America would take a massive hit.

Marijuana has been kept illegal for years and years precisely because the alcohol industry has spent millions lobbying year after year to keep it that way (so I’ve heard, from trusted sources). Those running the largest corporations in America are far from dumb. They surely realize mass international travel is a threat to their bottom line. Given the billions at stake, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that strategic steps are taken at the very highest levels of corporate america to keep travel off the public radar. After all, when was the last time you saw a massive movement backed at the very highest levels promoting international travel?

Call it a conspiracy if you like. I just chalk it up to very smart businessmen not doing anything to help further a movement that will take money out of their pockets (& the US economy) in the long run.

This is likely one of those things I believe that few others do. But that’s okay. It takes all types to make the world go round.

PS: If you are in the camp that believes more people should travel & that great connections make or break travel…join the Oh Hey World community.

Written by

Travel, Microfinance, Real Estate Enthusiast, Blogger, Social Entrepreneurship. Doer. @Zillow Alum. Co-Founder – @OhHeyWorld.