Working Thoughts: Odds and Ends

Here are some items I wanted to circle back around on, but I don’t have enough for a full entry:

I find it sad that even though the US has some of the largest unemployment numbers ever, Congress is failing to act. It’s sad because politics is getting in the way of making America better from a business perspective. I can’t get over the Republicans mainly. This is supposed to be the party of business, but they seem to be only protecting current business and not expanding markets for new business. For instance, renewable energy is a frontier that will produce both knowledge workers as well as the more routine jobs. And really, jobs are being created in this space. They’re just being created in Europe and China. They see this a possible lever to dislodge the US as the main economic super power. And in the absence of another internet, I agree. Tom Friedman wrote an Op-Ed piece about the reality and potential of this market.

The SEC is probably going to ban flash trading. I wrote a bit about this called The Value Twist. The reason for the post is I feel the US has gotten too involved in creating thin value. Flash trading is thin value. Its where traders make money because of the millisec advantage in knowing the price of a stock. Smart companies like Goldman Sachs wrote great computer code which then executes buys and sells based on this window of knowledge. I applaud their ingenuity, but there is something inherently wrong the concept itself. The idea behind buying and selling stock is about the value of a company. But flash trading is more about the price and the company the stock represents is practically meaningless.

Tim Kreider wrote some of the best writing I’ve read this year. And its also very identifiable to me. The piece is called The Referendum and its about the different choices people make throughout their lives. Particularly in the 30s and 40s part. Kreider talks about always thinking about your decisions against those your friends have made. At times you feel superior as if you’ve won whereas other times you wish you could trade lives. And as Kreider implies, there is no right answer. We all just consider a different life. Check out this excerpt and give it a read:

Recently an editor asked me for an essay about arrested adolescence, joking: “Of course, I thought of you.”

It is worth mentioning that this editor is an old college friend;we’ve driven across the country, been pantsless in several nonsexual contexts, and accidentally hospitalized each other in good fun. He is now a respectable homeowner and family man; I am not. So I couldn’t’help but wonder: is there something condescending about this assignment? Does he consider me some sort of amusing and fecklessmanchild instead of a respected cartoonist whose work is beloved by hundreds and has made me a thousandaire, who’s been in a committed relationship for 15 years with the same cat?

My weird touchiness on this issue — taking offense at someone offering to pay me money for my work — is symptomatic of a more widespread syndrome I call “The Referendum.”

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife,whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’differing choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt. The Referendum can subtly poison formerly close and uncomplicated relationships, creating tensions between the married and the single,the childless and parents, careerists and the stay-at-home. It’exacerbated by the far greater diversity of options available to us now than a few decades ago, when everyone had to follow the same drill.We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated — that we are, in some sense, winning.

I have never even idly thought for a single passing second that it might make my life nicer to have a small, rude, incontinent person follow me around screaming and making me buy them stuff for the rest of my life. [Note to friends with children: I am referring to other people’s children, not to yours.] But there are also moments when some part of me wonders whether I am not only missing the biological boat but something I cannot even begin to imagine — an entire dimension of human experience undetectable to my senses, like a flatlander scoffing at the theoretical concept of sky.

But I can only imagine the paralytic terror that must seize my friends with families as they lie awake calculating mortgage payments and college funds and realize that they are locked into their present lives for farther into the future than the mind’s eye can see. Judging from the unanimity with which parents preface any gripe about children with the disclaimer, “Although I would never wish I hadn’t’t had them and I can’t imagine life without them,” I can’t help but wonder whether they don’t have to repress precisely these thoughts on a daily basis.


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