A New Way to Keep Track

If you are a regular reader of my blog, than you already know about my fondness for the island of St. John, where I lived for 18 years. You will also know about the relationships I developed on St. John with the native West Indians and my collection of baskets. If you don’t know this about me, then I’d welcome you to check out some of my previous blog posts, which will get you up to date.

When I arrived on St. John in 1987, I was looking for evidence of what the island was like before I got there. One of the things that was very helpful were the pictures taken by the internationally famous photographer, Fritz Henle. Fritz lived on St. Croix and visited St. John in the 1940s and 60s. He gave me copies of 67 of his photos to help understand what the life, lifestyle, livelihood and the people on St. John were like at the time.

In order to get a comprehensive understanding of what the Fritz Henle photo collection had to offer, I got some help from a media specialist and photographer named Grace Camblos. With her help, we put together a spreadsheet. It provided a way to identify the components of the collection along with images and information about them. A copy of the spreadsheet is attached. It was very helpful in making decisions of how to handle the collection, which is still in my possession and contains vital components of my basket collection.

I found the spreadsheet so useful that it occurred to me that it might also be useful for others. A spreadsheet that contains images and additional information can be helpful to fulfill many objectives. Here are some additional ways that I think that an artist or craftsperson would find this approach helpful:

Continue reading “A New Way to Keep Track”

The Adjustments: Significant Changes

aloneLet me tell you about two recent experiences that have brought about significant changes in my life. They are, in fact, caused by important changes in the lives of two friends over which they had no control. The only thing I could do was to change my behavior and adapt to the new circumstances.

I met Wanda at a local craft show shortly after returning to Carrboro from the USVI’s. Typically Wanda and I would get together once a week. We’d hang out and have lunch together. Either I’d drive up to Hillsborough or she would come down to Carrboro. After I decided to stop driving, Wanda made the weekly trip to Carrboro and after lunch she would take me to Trader Joe’s to pick up the things I needed.

One day about a month ago, while she was driving in Hillsborough she passed out at the wheel and had an accident. Luckily no one was hurt. It is not clear what caused the problem. Wanda’s driver’s license was suspended for at least six months.

With me no longer driving that really changed things. Not only were we not able to get together on a weekly basis, I could no longer take advantage of the support she has provided. That has resulted in an important change in our socialization pattern and has required me to seek help elsewhere. Moreover, I could not drive to Hillsborough to give her a hand.

I have another friend, Sarah, whom I met at the Farmers Market. Sarah is a really fine, creative craftsperson. She is her family’s principal wage earner with a full-time job on the staff of Blue Cross-Blue Shield. She has three adult children, two of whom are married. They all live in the Portland, OR area. Two have medical issues. Last year when her son developed a life-threatening condition, Sarah went out to take care of him.

When he improved she came back to the area, only to learn that her ex-husband, who lived here on the property with her, developed medical issues as well. Amazingly, she has been able to perform her job and take care of all the problems as well. What she has had to put on the back burner was her passion — her art.

Before all this happened Sarah I hung out together at the Farmers Market every Saturday. We developed a really nice relationship. Not only do we have a common interest in art and craft, we have a special way of communicating with one another. From time to time we had lunch together. When Sarah invited me to her studio I’d jump into the MINI and off I’d go.

Understandably, Sarah has been overwhelmed by what has happened and I’ve barely seen her since. A couple of times we’ve been able to hang out briefly when we were both shopping at the Market.

With both Wanda and Sarah, the things that have happened in their lives have limited our time together. They were things that none of us had any control over. Our time together was and is very important to me. It is up to me to find ways to fill the gap that opens up when the help or services they provided are no longer available.

The new, current circumstances, over which I have no control, limit my independence, freedom and flexibility. They also make it more difficult for me to take care of myself. To accommodate to the new reality I am more reliant on others and have to make arrangements for their assistance. Some of my limited disposable time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) have to be used up to accommodate to the new conditions and to compensate those who provide assistance.

The thing that bothers me the most about these situations is that I can’t do what I really want to — namely, to jump into the MINI, hang out with my friends, and give them a hand. Not driving not only makes it harder for me to get the support and services I need, but makes it harder to me to support the people I care about. All I can do is adjust to the new circumstances as best I can. Which, trust me, is more difficult as we age.

Welcome to 2020

When I was growing up in the 1930s and 40s, 20/20 meant that you had perfect vision. We’ve just reached 2020 and I just turned 92 years young. Obviously, 2020 now has a different meaning. Trust me, I never expected to make it to this age! Moreover, my vision is not perfect! In order to help it along I havebernie and Grace five pairs of glasses and a large monitor in order to read the large print on the computer screen. Just as a reminder, we did not have computers, the Internet, smartphones or GPS at the time.

Over my 92 years I’ve gotten considerable experience. In spite of that, there are a very few things I can assure you of. I do know that sometime in the future I will die; that is a certainty. My extended experience does give me a somewhat different perspective on things, and that is what I enjoy sharing with you all in my blog. My sincere hope is that my posts will improve your understanding of the things that are important to you.

Welcome to 2020, the opening of a new decade. One filled with chaos and hostility. Let’s hope that at the beginning of the next one, 10 years from now, we have arrived at a very different position, like the one advocated by Wendell Wilkie when he ran for President sixty years ago. Namely, that we are all part of “One World”. Let’s make it a world filled with Peace and Love. I’m not sure whether I’ll be around to see it, but I’m committed to working towards building a world community based on reciprocal love and respect. Let’s work together to see if we can make it happen.

The Adjustments: Giving Up Driving

miniFrom the time my son, Paul, was a teenager his passion was cars. Eventually he set up a business repairing foreign cars. When I got back up to the States after being in the USVI’s, he suggested and arranged for me to get a 2006 British racing green MINI Cooper S. Boy, was he right on. The MINI fit my minimalist lifestyle perfectly. It is small, compact and comfortable and has the extra power and space when needed. All that at 33 miles per gallon on the road. How about that! The MINI was right there when I needed it. I jumped into the car and took off. The MINI supported my independence and flexibility. And, it is great to look at to boot.

However, I have a condition called Aging Macular Degeneration (AMD), and a little over a year ago I had a cataract operation on my right eye. I developed an inflamed retina. The inflamed retina did not respond to the initial treatment. At the doctor’s recommendation we followed through with the next step — an injection of the medication directly into the eyeball. Two days later a haze developed over my right eye. There was no clear explanation and eventually the haze went away and a mild version of the inflamed retina came back. Continue reading “The Adjustments: Giving Up Driving”

The Adjustments: An Opportunity

Change, especially unexpected change, brings along with it the question of “Where do I go from here?” Often along with it comes a sense of hesitation, anxiety and, perhaps, even fear. Adjusting to the new situation can certainly take up a considerable amount of one’s limited disposable time, energy, resources and funds (TERF). That is even more likely when it is a type of change one hasn’t experienced previously.

As I’ve gotten older, I experienced all kinds of changes. Some are difficult, like not being able to drive—which I will write about in an upcoming blog post; diminishing vision, and feeling more isolated. Some of the changeschange present new and unexpected opportunities. In this series of blog posts called “The Adjustments” I’ll tell you about some of the changes I am currently going through and how I am navigating them. I will also share with you some of the major changes I’ve experienced throughout my life and how the decisions I made during those times affected the course of my life. I want to begin by telling you a story where I experienced a major change that led to new, unexpected opportunities.

In December of 1986, a month after my mother died, I went to St. John, USVI to sort things out. My middle son, Paul was there with me. After a very productive couple of weeks, it was time to head back to the states. We were standing in the bow of the boat heading back from Cruz Bay to Red Hook on our way to catch the flight from St. Thomas back up to the States. I turned to Paul and the words out of his mouth were “Yes, I know Dad.” I was about to tell him that I had decided to move to St. John. Six months later I did just that. I lived there for 18 years with no intention of ever leaving. Continue reading “The Adjustments: An Opportunity”

The Adjustments

earthTrust me, aging brings change along with it. Some of the changes are predictable, others not. In the hope of helping us learn better ways to deal with change, I would like to share with you the experiences I’m going through and how I am adapting to the changes they bring about.

To do that I am starting a new series of blog posts entitled “The Adjustments”. It is designed to address the issues that I am facing associated with aging and how I am adapting to them — sometimes successfully and sometimes less so.

For each of us one thing is certain. At some time in the future we will die. When I was growing up in the 1930s Social Security –a.k.a., Old Age Benefits (OAB) –- was just introduced. They came into play at 65. The expectation was that you might make it to that age, or perhaps longer. My dad died at 68. The bottom line is that the amount of time we have left here on Mother Earth is uncertain. I certainly can attest to that at 91, going on 92. For each of us that opens up the question “What do we want to do during the rest of our lives?” There’s another way is to ask that question. In light of the uncertainty, how do we want to use our limited remaining time, energy, resources and funds (TERF).

I’ve addressed the question and here’s what I’ve come up with. Let me begin by telling you a little about myself.  I call myself a nominally retired economist. I have lived alone here in Carrboro in a two-bedroom ground-floor apartment for the last 15 years. One of the bedrooms serves as my office-study-studio-playspace. I am pretty much able to do all the things necessary to take care of myself on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis with some occasional help. (You can see more about me in the blog post entitled “Me–Then ’til Now“). My primary objective is to do just that — that is, to take responsibility for and take care of myself and when I require assistance, to compensate those who provide it. Most of my remaining disposable time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) are used in finding ways in which, based on my background, experience, and expertise, I can help others. The books, essays, video and blog posts on this blog are a part of my contribution. My plan is to continue on that path. Hopefully that will be part of my legacy. Continue reading “The Adjustments”

Creativity: Ideas, Invention, and Innovation

I recently attended a seminar on creativity at the Seymour Senior Center. It was conducted by Carl Nordgren and I found it very revealing. One of the things he emphasized was that creativity exists and that it changes throughout our entire lifetime. I’d like to share with you what my perspective as an economist reveals for me about the nature and consequences of that creativity.

Playfulness, curiosity, inquiry and improvisation are essential elements of creativity. However, by no means are they the whole story. It is one thing to have a creative “idea” and another thing to make the idea into a reality.

Let’s consider creativity under very different circumstances. The first is when someone comes up with an idea that has no prior experience or understanding of what it takes to get from here to there. For now it is just a new idea, one that popped into their head. The second is when the person who comes up with the idea has a clear understanding of the related processes of production — of what it takes to get from where they are to where they want to be. Then there is the situation where he/she is a recognized, highly-skilled Creative Master Craftsperson who comes upon an idea that pushes the boundaries of their discipline. Perhaps it is an entirely new product, a variation of an existing one, an art work, or a novel, lower-cost, more ‘efficient’ way of producing the product itself.

ideaKeep in mind that there is a significant difference between:

  • having a new idea,
  • bringing it to fruition the first time — the invention, and
  • producing multiple similar copies of it – the innovation.

Sometimes the new ideas come about because the creator has multiple skill sets or a familiarity with different materials or different methods of production.

When an innovation comes into being and is widely accepted, it displaces the old ways of doing things. The new ways make some portion of the population better off. Nonetheless, the displacement causes harm to others and makes them worse off, including those who were involved in supplying the products that were previously relevant.

To begin the discussion of creativity I’ll tell you a story. Last Saturday I was at the Carrboro Farmers Market. I was at Bill Daigle’s booth sitting on one of beautifully crafted chairs. Bill is a woodworker, who calls himself “The Chairman’. (Check out his website and the attached pictures of his work.) I spent a little time watching a three-year-old boy that we’ll call Sam.

His parents were deeply involved in conversation with friends they had just spotted at the market. Sam saw the footrest of one of Bill’s chairs and was singularly focused on it and playing around it. He climbed on top of the footrest, got off and moved it up against the chair. Sam then climbed onto the foot rest and then the chair, where he sat in it with his legs on the footrest. After a while Sam got bored and decided to check out the table that Bill had built with various paraphernalia on it. Along with the other things were some ‘healing crosses’ Bill created. Sam started playing with them. One fell off the table and hit the floor, drawing his mother’s attention. Sam ran over and grabbed his father’s leg for support. The video of the experience is still in my head!

Sam exhibited curiosity in dealing with a new, novel situation –a setting he had not previously experienced. His curiosity led to exploratory, experiential and experimental behavior, allowing Sam to do what he wanted to do. Sam’s creativity certainly worked for him.

Let’s compare Sam’s behavior with that of a Creative Master Craftsperson’s. We are talking about a person that is highly skilled, experienced and fully understands the “process of production” — what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. Among my idols are Frank Lloyd Wright, Isamu Noguchi and Louis Armstrong. Choose yours and imagine that you are right there along with them when they came up with n idea and begin working on it. They go through their own creative process, one based on their extensive knowledge and experience. The end result is there for all to see.

In that context let’s look at the situation where s/he comes up with a creative idea — a new object, piece of music, creative work, or new process of production. It is something no one ever thought of previously.

The next stage is when the new idea pushes all previous boundaries of the discipline. When the idea comes to fruition it becomes an ‘invention’, something that is new, novel and not simply an extension of previous experience. Under those circumstances it may be patentable.

invention-industrial-revolutionSometimes the new idea comes from a person with extensive prior experience. At other times it comes out of the blue. In either case, it is necessary to go from the idea itself to the initial successful attempt to bring it to fruition — the invention. The invention goes through its own process of production, which by its very nature cannot have been experienced previously. Typically, it is not a simple direct path without any hiccups. In all cases some of society’s limited time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) are required to make it happen.

There is another circumstance that is important to keep in mind. During the entire time from when s/he originally comes up with the idea until it comes to fruition, s/he must have sufficient TERF and the basic goods and services required to survive and to fulfill any obligations or commitments that they have taken on. All activities related to the development of the “idea” must come out of the individual’s and society’s discretionary disposable TERF.

Importantly, there is no guarantee that the idea will ever come to fruition. Nevertheless, all the limited TERF involved is used up in the process. When the idea does not become a reality, it is TERF that could have served a more useful purpose. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the invention, even when it is patentable, ever sees the light of day. In the 1930s my Dad got a patent for an umbrella tent. That is as far as it ever went. The invention becomes part of the public domain after the patent protection period when it becomes available to other potential producers.

The next step is to follow through with the invention and make the new product or new process of production available to potential users — its innovation. Two intermediary steps are required. The first is to set up the process of production for the new product or process. That often requires changes in the way the invention was produced initially. The second is to make potential customers knowledgeable about the innovation — its uses, benefits, potential issues and its price. To be able to remain in business, the sales price must at least cover all of the long-run, most efficient costs of production, marketing and distribution of the good or service at the selected level of output. (For more details about pricing in this situation, see my essay on “Monopoly Pricing”.)

When the innovator is able to provide the customers — the households, firms and/or governments — with the quantity demanded for the product or service at the market price (to use the lay-term) we’re in business! When the price charged exceeds all the long-run cost of production, the company makes “excess profits”. Those are returns over and above all of the costs required to produce the product or service, including a reasonable return for coming up with the invention.

When the price charged for the innovation is over and above its long-run cost of production, the higher price takes money out of consumer’s pocket. They could have used those funds to purchase additional goods and services that they would have preferred. That would make society’s product mix more consistent with the public’s desires. The net effect of that type of pricing is that it makes it more difficult for those at the lower end of the income distribution to become better off.

Moreover, the excess profits provide the company, the managers and owners with additional funds. Those funds help them maintain their position in the upper-end of the income distribution. Some of those funds can be used to maintain and extend the monopoly position and also to engage in economic and political activities that promotes their private agendas. It is also important to recognize that every innovation changes the basic technological and economic conditions under which we, as individuals and as a society, operate. That is especially true of the innovations that have a profound effect on our lives, livelihood and lifestyle. (If you are not convinced about that I suggest you check out my blog post entitled “Me — Then ’til Now”.

Also importantly, every innovation mandates change. The old ways of doing things are no longer the best way and, in fact, they may become irrelevant. As a result the companies and individuals that produced the “old products” — like horse-drawn carriages — are displaced and replaced by the firms and employees producing the new products. The technical economic term for it is “the reallocation of scarce resources”. The reallocationbottom line is that while some households and firms are made better off as a result of the innovation, others are harmed and made worse off. Perhaps one way to help them would be to assist them in their transition. Some of the funds necessary to make that happen could come out of “excess profits” earned as a result of the innovation.

In summary

The challenge we face, both as individuals and as a society, is to discover what creates and triggers our creativity. It is likely to be different for each of us. As an aside, it would also be interesting to find out what suppresses it. Once we determine that it will be easier to promote creativity.

The “idea” triggered by creativity opens up uncertainty as to whether the new product or process of production is, in fact, achievable and also what it would take in terms of the time, energy, resources and funds (TERF) to make it happen. Nevertheless, the idea will never become a reality unless the necessary disposable discretionary TERF is available. Furthermore, the innovation brings changes along with it. They include the transformation to the new technological and economic conditions and the unintended consequences, like the use of disposable TERF for unsuccessful ventures and those firms and individuals who are made worse off by the new developments. Those consequences come along with the benefits the new innovation brings. An integral part of creativity and the innovation is that it brings along with it the resulting changes that the societies have to adjust to.

The Rash of Anti-Abortion Legislation

heart-3846613_960_720As human beings we are largely all alike, 99.9  percent of our DNA is the same.  Despite the differences in gender, sexual orientation, appearance, our skin color and the shape of our eyes and nose, etc., we have far more in common than different. Nonetheless, each of us is different. We all have different combinations of genes, skills, strengths and weaknesses, background and experiences. Those differences make it possible for us each to make a unique contribution.

There has been a recent rash of anti-abortion legislation. Some States have made it illegal to have an abortion once the fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur before the woman even knows that she is pregnant. Let’s take a closer look at the consequences — on the woman, the child and society — of making it illegal for a woman to have an abortion when she would elect to have one.

Regardless of the circumstances that led to the pregnancy, making it illegal for a woman to have an abortion puts her in a very difficult position. Because the decision is forced on her, this changes her life, lifestyle and her life path. It places her decision in the hands of others. She and the child bear the consequences and the burdens of the unwanted pregnancy. Typically, she receives little or no additional support or help adjust to the decision that was forced upon her. Much of the time the man, who is also responsible for the pregnancy, is not held accountable for the results of his actions.

The unwanted pregnancy also has important additional consequences. Each of us, as adults, is responsible for taking care of ourselves on a daily basis. That obviously becomes more difficult for a woman in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. That responsibility is present regardless of her age and marital status. It is even more difficult to fulfill when she is single, a teenager, or the victim of rape or incest. If she elects not to put the child up for adoption, that added burden of raising a child she didn’t plan on having, continues until both are adults. Under any of those circumstances not allowing her to have an abortion when she wants one, clearly, places an additional burden on her and the child.

Continue reading “The Rash of Anti-Abortion Legislation”

Monuments: The Unrecognized Achievements of Ancient Cultures

stonehengeWe are all familiar with ancient monuments like: The Egyptian Sphinx and the Pyramids, the Parthenon in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, the Cathedrals throughout Europe, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge in England, the Great Wall in China, the Mayan Pyramids, and the Statues on Easter Island, just to mention a few that have survived. There are others as well, including the recently discovered Mayan treasures that are hidden by the regrowth of the rainforests in Central America and the monuments that were lost to the ravages of war, conflicts time, and nature. This accompanying complete list provides additional information and references

It is one thing and fully appropriate to honor the magnificent monuments that previous societies created.  However, there is another very important hidden attribute to understand and honor as well. It is almost always neglected. It is the accomplishments of the cultures that gave rise to the structures. Especially impressive is the fact that the cultures were able to create the beautiful works of art under the limiting conditions they faced. Continue reading “Monuments: The Unrecognized Achievements of Ancient Cultures”

Of the People, By the People, and For the People

When our predecessors broke away from Britain in the late 1700s they set up a government of the people, by the people, and for the people — a Democracy. The governmenLincoln_Of_the_People-3ct has three branches, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. They are designed to help ensure that no one branch has control over the government.

Looking around the world today in many countries, both large and small, we see the government under the control of a ‘strongman’ — dictator, despot, demagogue, autocrat and oligarch — call him what you will. Frequently they have the support of the Military. Many will do anything to remain in power. Our country — the United States of America — was designed to help ensure that does not happen here.

The late 1800s brought about significant technological changes. Steam engines brought along with them locomotives, the railroads and steamships. Internal combustion engines led to the development of automobiles, trucks and tractors. Electricity added lamps and electric motors; and the telegraph and telephones. All were part of the Industrial Revolution. The new technology contributed to making ‘the people’ better off. They had new products that they could buy along with many more job opportunities and greater income. Initially, the changes remained largely within national borders. The changes also brought with them the “Robber Barons” who were relatively few in number. Continue reading “Of the People, By the People, and For the People”