Author Archives: Jordan Anderson

Winners and Losers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The first step in preventing the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is raising awareness (via protests, petitions, and social media) about the possible consequences from its ratification.

There are very conflicting ideas on whether the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a good deal for the United States or a bad deal, and it definitely depends on whom an individual is speaking with.

First, I am going to briefly explain what the Trans-Pacific Partnership is, however, in order to save space I also included a few links for people that are interested in gaining a deep understanding.

Basically, it is a free trade deal between some of the most influential countries in the world, most notably: the U.S., Canada, and Japan, as well as 9 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The countries involved make up 40 percent of the world’s GDP and 26 percent of the world’s trade, so clearly the impact of this deal will be very large.

Each nation has their own goals that they are trying to achieve, such as the U.S. pushing for stronger copyright protections for film and music, and Japan demanding the U.S. eliminate its 2.5 percent tariff on auto parts imports.

Further reading:

 

So who are the real winners and losers from the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Understanding this will hopefully give an individual a better understanding of whether or not they should support it.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that the deal will yield annual income gains of $78 billion for the United States. At first glance this alone would make the TPP seem like a good agreement for the U.S. However, deeper analysis shows that the majority of the gains will go to the wealthy, and up to 90 percent of workers would actually see wages losses. It seems that the entire American public will not benefit equally and many, in fact, will actually be hurt by the TPP.

Another major issue with the TPP, besides the gains not being uniformly distributed, is its ability to undermine state and local laws, through the creation of special tribunals, which will settle claims (that cannot be appealed) by foreign investors that their corporate interests are being hurt by a nation that is involved in the agreement.

Although everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, I do not believe that the U.S. should sign onto the agreement. The heavily skewed income gains, along with the ability for foreign investors to undermine local laws make it seem like the TPP has special interests written all over it.

So assuming the reader is on my side, what can be done to stop it from happening?

The first step is gaining an understanding of what the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is, and what the ramifications of its signing will have on everyday Americans. In order for an individual to argue against the TPP they must understand what it is, at least at a basic level. I would also suggest making sure other colleagues and friends are aware of the TPP, because a majority of the talks have been secret. There are many organizations and activist groups fighting against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but without the numbers they most likely stand no chance against preventing its ratification.

Some other suggestions to fight the TPP, provided by International Business Times are take part in protests, contact elected officials, sign petitions as well as leveraging social media. The rise of social media platforms, such as Twitter has made it much easier for individuals to voice their opinions. Nearly all politicians have a Twitter account, typically run by staffers, that allows individuals instant access to the people making important decisions for them. So I suggest people use this outlet as much as possible, and maybe with a large amount of effort and a little luck we can prevent the TPP from being ratified.

Do doctors have to tell the truth?

Although doctors are a valued asset to society as a whole their actions should be able to align with their own best interest rather than societies.

For most people the word “doctor” is synonymous with credibility. Becoming a doctor if often comes with an instant level of respect from most people. They respect the time and effort people put into becoming one. This makes sense due to the fact that a person spends years of their time gaining a deep understanding of a specific field often doing research into a topic of their interest. People defer to your judgment on issues, sometimes even on issues that you do not have a deep understanding of. In regards to being a medical doctor, people often assume that you are good person. Believing that what motivated you to becoming a doctor is you desire to help people. Being a doctor is a very lucrative field for the most part, so the desire to help people is not necessarily the driving force behind a person seeking this occupation.

 

There is an issue with this seemingly instant association and connection between being a doctor and being credible and good. The situation when a doctor is acting in his or her own best interests and not focused on what is best for people.

A good example of this type of situation is The Doctor Oz Show. Dr. Mehmet Oz has earned a B.A. from Harvard University, as well as an M.B.A. and M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. Just from reading this one would most likely assume that Mehmet Oz is very credible and knowledge. Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania are some of the most respected universities in the entire world. However, Dr. Oz has recently received some scrutiny from the federal government as well as the scientific community for his suggestions to stay healthy deviating too far from established medical fact. A suspected underlying motivation behind this deviation is to attract a broader audience. He can then use his influence over this broad audience to his advantage, which has been coined as the “OZ effect”, as many companies would most likely be willing to pay for control over such a large market. 

The main issue with this is that people trust Dr. Mehmet Oz. Over 4 million people watch his show. They assume that what he is telling them is in their best interest, but that does not seem to always be the case.

This brings me to question whether doctors should be required to tell the truth?

This may be an unpopular and seemingly dark opinion but I do not believe that doctors should be required to tell the truth. Becoming a medical doctor requires gaining a certain extent of medical knowledge, but it does not require that person to spread that knowledge or apply that knowledge. People have the right to act in their best interest and that sometimes does not mean telling the truth. In this system, people will have to be much more cautious of their behavior but I believe that is a good thing. People should not blindly follow what anyone tells them, even if her or she is a doctor. One must remain skeptical and critical of all things.

Fixing the Tech Gender Disparity

The socially constructed archetype of the technology industry employee needs to be dissolved, along with the removal of the stigma surrounding women in the technology industry, in order for the gender disparity to be eliminated. 

There are two objectives that I am going to be focusing on with this blog post. First, I am going to try to discover the root of gender discrimination in the technology sector. Second, I am going to try to develop a solution to the problem, and if that is not possible at least figure out how to move the industry in the right direction.

There is a deeply entrenched male culture in the technology sector. One of the theories that I stumbled upon to explain the disparity in males holding tech jobs at technology companies (for example, at Google women only fill 17 percent of the software engineering, database analysis, and other technology based jobs) was described as the ‘Geek Bro Culture,’ which credits the disparity to traditionally nerdy activities, hobbies like comic books, video games, and the technology sector. This mentality encourages the treatment of women as sexual objects, regularly exposes them to inappropriate behavior, and causes them to miss out on promotions that they would have received if they were men. Since boys typically grow up playing computer games they would more likely be interested in computer games and technology causing them to dominate the technology industry. The proportion of males versus females that take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam acts as further evidence that the gender problem in technology starts at an early age. Out of the 30,000 students that took the exam, less than 6,000 of these students were female. There seems to be a socially constructed persona of a technology industry employee, which is constantly reaffirmed in practice, primarily socially awkward white males who love computers. Women would then have to be constantly combating this culture, trying to demonstrate that although they do not fit this persona they are equally qualified to do this work.

Some people claim that the lack of promotions and job placement for women is warranted because men lead better and therefore do these jobs better. However, the statistics suggest the exact opposite really. Companies with the highest proportion of women board directors actually outperform those with the lowest proportion of women board directors. Economic reason would lead us to believe that this alone would be enough to change the tech industry. If companies want to succeed and outperform their counterparts in order to remain competitive, diversifying their workplace would one of the ways to do that. This alone does not seem to be enough to drive significant change, as the proportion of women in technological based roles at tech companies has been declining over the past 25 years according the U.S. Census.

So, what can be done regarding gender discrimination in the workplace?

One practice undertaken by Harvey Mudd College has been very successful thus far resulting in 40% of its computer science students being women. They split their introductory computer science course into three separate courses. The goal was not overwhelm students by having to compete against students who have been coding since elementary school, which are typically males. Making women feel more comfortable with technology and computer science when they are young seems to be a good approach to fixing the issue since gender disparity starts at an early age. This could remove the deeply entrenched idea in our society that technology and technology based work is more suited for men.

Another approach to the problem is Girls in Tech’s “Raise Awareness” campaign: companies work on practical measures to make the work environment more welcoming to women along with women learning how to effectively ask for a raise. The company could do this with negotiation workshops as well as other policy changes. One of the important aspects of this campaign is that companies that join the movement will be published on the campaign’s website and other media outlets. As more women are made aware that companies in the tech industry are trying to address the problem they would most likely feel more comfortable pursuing this industry, which I feel will help fix the gender gap.

Getting the most from college

To get the highest return from a college education, academic preparation is not alone enough. It must be paired with mental health preparation.

It is no surprise that most parents want what is best for their children, but relatively new insight from experts shows that too involved parents may actually be hurting the development of their children, which may be one of the causes of the rising depression and anxiety rates among college students. Parents feel like they are helping when they do everyday tasks for their young ones, but once they arrive to college and have to starting doing things on their own the transition can be extremely stressful. I can recall my freshman year at the University of Michigan, I was lacking the ability to do many tasks that would make me self sufficient, such as little experience doing laundry just to name one. Not too surprisingly, doing my own laundry was not too difficult of a task to pick up, but it definitely was a task that I regretted doing, would often push off, and always had hanging over my head.

There seems to be a tendency in the preparation for college that focuses primarily, if not exclusively, on academic preparation. Such as hiring tutors, enrolling students in standardized preparation courses, along with making sure high school students stay up on their homework. Although these are all very critical aspects of preparing for college, they are not enough and are missing a major aspect of college: students being prepared to live on their own for the first time. Absent of family support students can feel lost and out of place, which is something that I definitely felt in my first year, typically being constantly surrounded by a strong support network.

In my opinion, the return from a college education is much more than just knowledge learned in the classroom. There are many different aspects and areas of expertise people can learn while in college, but becoming a self-sufficient individual, fostering real relationships with those around you, along with learning how to be happy while alone seems to be extremely important and is often not emphasized in the typical education process. Do not get me wrong; knowledge gained in the classroom is often useful after graduation. However, in order for a student to get the most out of what they are learning in the classroom they must be in a good mental state. Otherwise students would most likely be distracted in the classroom, if they even have the drive to get out of bed and attend class. To combat this issue, and allow students to get the most out of their education, it is important that the stigma surrounding having a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety be reduced. Many outreach programs have been trying to tackle this task but it is not an easy one. An idea that comes to mind that could be undertaken to reduce this stigma would be awareness. Roughly 12 percent of college students were treated or diagnosed with depression according to one survey. It is clear that this is a large problem, and I am sure that number of diagnosis would be much higher if more people felt comfortable about coming forward and seeking help. As more students are made aware that they are not alone in their battle with depression they would most likely feel more speaking out about their issues, which I think would greatly reducing the stigma.

Who’s driving who?

Critics of autonomous cars seem to be missing a major point.

The idea that roads will be filled with autonomous cars soon may be a little off, but that time will occur during our lifetime. Industry leaders seem to think so as well. Recently, Ford Motor Company Chief Executive Mark Fields stated that he expects fully autonomous cars to reach to market in 15 years. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk stated that autonomous-car technology is a solved problem and that self-driving cars should be available in the next few years. Although this is no guarantee, it is clear that industry leaders feel that the world of self-driving cars is very close.

To further emphasize this point, Delphi Automotive piloted a modified Audi all the way from San Francisco to New York without a driving taking the wheel once. The technology is available for one car to enter the system, but a full integration of autonomous cars is obviously much more difficult.

There are many critics, however, some more credible than others. At a robotics conference at the school we call home, the University of Michigan, a robotics professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John Leonard spoke in contrary to Elon Musk’s recent claim that the autonomous-car technology is a solved problem. He is claiming that there are many instances where a self-driving car would be stumped, and used three weeks of dash camera footage from his own car to illustrate his point. His main critique relates to human interaction, such as someone waving to let someone merge into moving traffic, which he believes would be very difficult to program into a self-driving car.

One thing that seems to be missing from his critique is that self-driving cars would remove human interaction from driving completely, assuming that every car is autonomous in this scenario. There would seemingly be no need for drivers to wave other drivers in, as the cars rather than the drivers would handle this process. A flaw in my own argument is that as self-driving cars hit the market it would take a significant amount of time for everyone to purchase their own autonomous car, whether it be financial constraints or simply personal preference. Obviously, the government could require all cars to be self-driving but that would require significant subsidies for poorer drivers and would most likely be viewed by many as a significant over step of power by the federal government. This issue makes the critique by John Leonard more credible, but eventually once self-driving cars are fully integrated into the market the issue should handle itself.

Addressing the Issue of Wealth Inequality

In order to deal with the problem of wealth inequality in America the root of the problem must be addressed, which I believe is a political system that is too easily influenced by money, and the high cost associated with obtaining a college education.

Wealth inequality is a problem of increasing magnitude in the United States.

“… As the highest and lowest incomes in the US move further apart, well-off and low-income Americans also know less and less about each other and what it truly means to be from another social class” – Anand Giridharadas in an interview with Vox.

It is clear that something must be done to fix the disconnect between those with money and those without money.

But what can be done to fix this problem?

One of the first steps to help fix the problem would be repealing Citizens United, which opened the floodgate for money to enter the political system, by prohibiting the United States government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. This allows those with a disproportionate amount of money to have a disproportionate amount of say in the political system. They are able to use their money to further their best interests, lobbying for laws and regulation that help them keep their wealth, creating a cycle where the wealthy and powerful remain wealthy and powerful. This is a huge problem, as it becomes increasingly difficult to enter this elite group.

Another action that should be undertaken to fix the problem of increasing wealth inequality in America is to make education more affordable. Education, along with nepotism, is how most people are able to enter the wealthy elite. Although earning a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States is not a guarantee of future success, for a typical American it definitely helps.

SDT-higher-education-02-11-2014-0-07

According to the graphic above, provided by Pew Research Center, it is clear that graduating from college as oppose to just graduating high school is becoming increasingly important. The difference in median annual earnings of college and high school graduates for millennials in 2013 has grown to $17,500. The gap has been widening since 1965 and shows no sign of slowing down. Stanford University, one of the most respected institutions in the United States, made headlines recently due to how they are addressing the cost of attending college. Students whose parents have less than $125,000 in income or assets will have tuition completely waved, and students whose parents make less than $65,000 will have their tuition waved along with receiving free room and board. This is a nice initiative undertaken by Stanford, and I hope more universities do the same if they are capable. However, this is not feasible solution to make college more affordable for a typical institution. Stanford is able to make this change primarily due to their large endowment, which is $21.4 billion as of August 31, 2014. The fact that Stanford is able to due this really shows how valuable an education is.

Another approach to deal with the cost of obtaining a college education that could be undertaken by the Federal Government would be to reduce the interest rates on student loans. The current interest rate for undergraduate student loans is 4.66%. Having high interest rates on student loans may make potential students more hesitant when deciding whether they should take the risk of attending college.

Reducing the influx of money into the United States political system, along with making college more affordable to the typical American, through various methods I discussed above, could greatly reduce wealth inequality in America making a more equal and better society.

Fixing the Tech Gender Disparity

The socially constructed archetype of the technology industry employee needs to be dissolved, along with the removal of the stigma surrounding women in the technology industry, in order for the gender disparity to be eliminated.

There are two objectives that I am going to be focusing on with this blog post. First, I am going to try to discover the root of gender discrimination in the technology sector. Second, I am going to try to develop a solution to the problem, and if that is not possible at least figure out how to move the industry in the right direction.

There is a deeply entrenched male culture in the technology sector. One of the theories that I stumbled upon to explain the disparity in males holding tech jobs at technology companies (for example, at Google women only fill 17 percent of the software engineering, database analysis, and other technology based jobs) was described as the ‘Geek Bro Culture,’ which credits the disparity to traditionally nerdy activities, hobbies like comic books, video games, and the technology sector. This mentality encourages the treatment of women as sexual objects, regularly exposes them to inappropriate behavior, and causes them to miss out on promotions that they would have received if they were men. Since boys typically grow up playing computer games they would more likely be interested in computer games and technology causing them to dominate the technology industry. The proportion of males versus females that take the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam acts as further evidence that the gender problem in technology starts at an early age. Out of the 30,000 students that took the exam, less than 6,000 of these students were female. There seems to be a socially constructed persona of a technology industry employee, which is constantly reaffirmed in practice, primarily socially awkward white males who love computers. Women would then have to be constantly combating this culture, trying to demonstrate that although they do not fit this persona they are equally qualified to do this work.

Some people claim that the lack of promotions and job placement for women is warranted because men lead better and therefore do these jobs better. However, the statistics suggest the exact opposite really. Companies with the highest proportion of women board directors actually outperform those with the lowest proportion of women board directors. Economic reason would lead us to believe that this alone would be enough to change the tech industry. If companies want to succeed and outperform their counterparts in order to remain competitive, diversifying their workplace would one of the ways to do that. This alone does not seem to be enough to drive significant change, as the proportion of women in technological based roles at tech companies has been declining over the past 25 years according the U.S. Census.

So what can be done about this issue of gender discrimination in the workplace?

One practice undertaken by Harvey Mudd College has been very successful thus far resulting in 40% of its computer science students being women. They split their introductory computer science course into three separate courses. The goal was not overwhelm students by having to compete against students who have been coding since elementary school, which are typically males. Making women feel more comfortable with technology and computer science when they are young seems to be a good approach to fixing the issue since gender disparity starts at an early age. This could remove the deeply entrenched idea in our society that technology and technology based work is more suited for men. This change will take time and men and women will both have to get onboard. This would also have to be supported by strict regulation and tough scrutiny of hiring and promotion practices of the tech industry. Each of these things working together seems like the best bet, rather than hoping one solution will be able to fix the entire problem.

Sending a signal to the labor force

In order to better motivate employees to generate more value out of their work, employers should pay above market-clearing levels in order to signal this intention.

“McDonald’s Corp. plans to raise pay by more than 10% and add benefits like paid vacation for workers at U.S. restaurants it operates, an effort to rejuvenate the struggling fast-food giant that offers fresh evidence of rising wage pressure in the American labor market.” – Annie Gasparro and Eric Morgath from the Wall Street Journal 

I am writing this blog post to discuss how companies should set wages to most efficiently generate value for their company. The federal minimum wage is has been set at $7.25 since 2009, although many other states have set wage minimums above that level. Removed of government involvement, companies could set wages at any price they see fit, however, if the wage was set at a substandard price economic reasoning would lead us to believe that people would refuse to work there, or at least the type of employees companies are seeking would refuse to work there. This seems to be one of the reasons behind the change at McDonald’s, in order to create a better work environment and increase employee effort.

“Motivated teams deliver better customer service and delivering better customer service in our restaurants is clearly going to be a vital part of our turnaround.” – McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook

 

People need jobs to make money to live, so sometimes they may accept a job with low wages because a little money is better than no money. This would cause the economic reasoning discussed above to fail, due to the fact that people feel that they have no other choice but to accept the low wage, although this would be an illusion because there are always other options.

Companies have the option of paying wages set at federal minimums, but it is often not in their best interest. Imagine a scenario where there are only two types of workers, high effort workers and low effort workers, the act of setting wages at the federal minimum may create the scenario where only low effort workers accept this position. Although this is an extremely simplified scenario, it highlights why it may be in a company’s best interest to pay above minimum levels. By setting that higher wage they are sending a signal to the labor force that they are seeking high effort workers and that they are willing to pay them according. This is one of the underlying principles of the efficiency wage hypothesis.

 

“Specifically, it points to the incentive for managers to pay their employees more than the market-clearing wage in order to increase their productivity or efficiency, or reduce costs associated with turnover, in industries where the costs of replacing labor is high.” – Efficiency Wage from Wikipeida.org

 

This seems to be exactly what McDonald’s is trying to do. Increase productivity and send a signal to employees that they value their effort that they are putting forward. The feedback has been positive so far, and although they will be increasing costs through wage hikes the change seems to be a net positive, due to the extra productivity generated.

Who should determine wages?

Government set wages can create unnecessary burdens on employers, which is why it should be left up to companies to determine wages. If wages are set too low, societal pressures would lead to an increase.

“McDonald’s Corp. plans to raise pay by more than 10% and add benefits like paid vacation for workers at U.S. restaurants it operates, an effort to rejuvenate the struggling fast-food giant that offers fresh evidence of rising wage pressure in the American labor market.” – Annie Gasparro and Eric Morgath from the Wall Street Journal 

I am writing this blog post to discuss the role of the government in regulating wages in the United States. The federal minimum wage is has been set at $7.25 since 2009, although many other states have set wage minimums above that level. Removed of government involvement, companies could set wages at any price they see fit, however, if the wage was set at a substandard price economic reasoning would lead us to believe that people would refuse to work there. This seems to be one of the reasons behind the change at McDonald’s, in order to create a better work environment and increase employee effort.

“Motivated teams deliver better customer service and delivering better customer service in our restaurants is clearly going to be a vital part of our turnaround.” – McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook

People need jobs to make money to live, so sometimes they may accept a job with low wages because a little money is better than no money. This would cause the economic reasoning discussed above to fail, due to the fact that people feel that they have no other choice but to accept the low wage, although this would be an illusion because there are always other options. The low paying job may just be the best option given the circumstances. This is where government intervention could play a key role in improving the lives of American employees. However, government set wage minimums can place an extra burden on companies, being required to pay wages above the value generated by employees creating an inefficiency. This could cause a reduction in hiring across the United States, which would be an unintended negative side effect of the wage increase policy implementation.

This unnecessary burden is why I believe that it should be left up to employers to determine wages, rather than allowing government intervention. If people do not believe the wage offered by a specific company is equivalent of the value that they generate, then they can reject that position and search for another company that pays them what they feel is adequate. Societal pressure should be enough to drive wage changes, removing the need for government intervention. Also if companies want to motivate their employees, increasing wages would be a way of doing that.

Guns, Germs, Steel, … and Milk?

Specific genes may lead to a more advanced society, but it is not the one that you would guess, such as a gene that makes one smarter than their counterparts.

Differences in developmental rates have been a very puzzling topic since the beginning of time. In the past and still today, some societies seem to be advancing at a much faster rate than other societies, but why? Many people in developed areas have credited the difference to their own innate superior intellect, but the idea that some groups of people are smarter than others does not really seem to hold up, as there are “smart” and “dumb” people in every different group of people. One of the most famous books on this topic is Guns, Germs, and Steel written by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“Diamond argues geographic, climatic and environmental characteristics which favored early development of stable agricultural societies ultimately led to immunity to diseases endemic in agricultural animals and the development of powerful, organized states capable of dominating others.” – Wikipedia

This argument opposes the idea that Eurasian groups were of superior genetic intellect. A recent article published by The Economist, presents the idea that there may be another factor that played a large role in human development, the ability to digest milk. Surprising at first glance, but the argument presented seems to have some merit.

“People who could digest milk, the theory goes, used resources more efficiently than those who couldn’t. They could extract liquid energy from livestock, in addition to the wool, fertiliser, ploughing power and meat for which others raised them… All this suggests that milk-guzzling societies could support higher population densities (although it remains puzzling that lactase persistence evolved in parts of Africa, but did not spread).

When people are tightly bunched together, the theory goes, growth takes off. Rulers find it easier to build infrastructure and administer the law, including property rights. Cities can develop, which allows workers to specialise. Technological innovation explodes; bigger armies can defend what is produced. Small wonder, then, that places with high population density in pre-colonial times tend to be relatively rich today. No single factor can explain long-run economic outcomes, of course, but Mr Cook’s idea may be worth milking.” – The Economist

People often credit their own superior intellect to why they are successful, claiming that something in their genes makes them smarter and therefore superior. However, it is not a specific intellect gene that makes them smarter than others, it is growing up in a population group with the ability to digest milk along with various other factors discussed in the book Guns, Germs, and Steel. Although this may be upsetting news to people that believed they were simply born smarter and better than everyone else, overall this is a good thing because it emphasizes environmental factors, which can change and improve.