It was like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy emerges from the grey remains of her dislocated home into an exotic world of color. That was how I felt at twelve years of age upon my arrival in Minnesota.
Home up to that point had been the dank flat malaise of inner-ring suburban Detroit. In many ways, the Motor City evoked Dorothy’s Kansas. Everything was built on the grid system, many right angles, old houses of stone and brick. It was tangibly dull, colors muted by wear and grime. Winters were especially bleak. An amalgam of overcast, endless concrete and dirt-ridden snow drowned the world in grey. By comparison, the big skies and rolling hills of the Mississippi valley seemed a storybook paradise.
That first trip to Minnesota was made in order to spend time with my father. He had been maintaining an apartment in the Twin Cities while starting a new position with Northwest Airlines. We were to scout out potential homes in anticipation of transplanting the rest of the family, my mother and two sisters. It was perhaps the most visceral manifestation of upward mobility in our family’s history, chasing opportunity across the country.
It was the culmination of my father’s economic journey, which had its beginnings in poverty. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about my father’s childhood aside from the scraps I’ve managed to glean from remarks thrown here and there. I know enough, however, to understand that my father’s rise to the middle class beat the odds — which were stacked against him from the start.
Many years later, I continue to benefit from the choices Dad made. Now the father of my own young family, I stand atop his shoulders looking to grab the next rung. From that position, I realize that some of the essential concepts my father applied are still relevant to me today. As I seek to renew the momentum my father achieved, I reflect upon where he began and how he got to where he did. There are valuable lessons there.
First, it’s important to understand the goal. When we consider the quest for upward mobility, what is our measure of success? In a 2011 piece for Time magazine, assistant managing editor Rana Foroohar makes a crucial distinction:
You can argue about what kind of mobility really matters. Many conservatives, for example, would be inclined to focus on absolute mobility, which means the extent to which people are better off than their parents were at the same age. That’s a measure that focuses mostly on how much economic growth has occurred, and by that measure, the U.S. does fine. Two-thirds of 40-year-old Americans live in households with larger incomes, adjusted for inflation, than their parents had at the same age (though the gains are smaller than they were in the previous generation).
But just as we don’t feel grateful to have indoor plumbing or multichannel digital cable television, we don’t necessarily feel grateful that we earn more than our parents did. That’s because we don’t peg ourselves to our parents; we peg ourselves to the Joneses. Behavioral economics tells us that our sense of well-being is tied not to the past but to how we are doing compared with our peers. Relative mobility matters. By that standard, we aren’t doing very well at all. Having the right parents increases your chances of ending up middle to upper middle class by a factor of three or four.
It’s a mistake to take for granted the notion that “relative mobility matters” without asking why. As we consider some ideas for rising from poverty to the middle class, it will become apparent that improving our individual quality of life is a superior consideration to how our wealth compares with that of others.
What can your smartphone teach you about gratitude? A great deal.
Not many years ago, I despised the idea of a cell phone. I value my autonomy, which to my mind includes the ability to remain deliberately unavailable. The notion of carrying around a phone in my pocket sounded a lot like putting a leash around my neck.
The issue was forced one Christmas when my in-laws purchased phones for my wife and me, even paying the subsequent bill for a year. Later came the advent of smartphones. I stood unimpressed. Phones make calls. They don’t need to sing and dance. Nevertheless, a new device caught my wife’s eye during an opportunity to upgrade our cellular contract. The price seemed reasonable and I reluctantly traded up.
It was my exploration of that device which prompted a dramatic change in my attitude toward mobile technology. As I pilfered apps and discovered capabilities, I quickly realized that this tiny gadget was becoming the most used and essential tool in my navigation of life. It came to serve as my administrative assistant, my calendar, my GPS, my library, and my gateway to news, information, and entertainment. It grew into an extension of my civilized being. Like my wallet or keys, it stays with me at all times and remains jealously guarded.
No longer pulled reluctantly into the future, I recently became the puller, convincing my wife that it was time to switch providers and upgrade to the Samsung Galaxy S III. Our old phones barely qualified as “smart” and were woefully inadequate to fulfill our new demands.
Consider that transformation in attitude. How could I go from not knowing I had a need to eagerly fulfilling it? Behold the magic of the market!
The critic of consumer culture might suggest that I was right to perceive no need for something like a smartphone. After all, people got by fine without them for millennia, and much of the world still does. Then again, people got by without electricity and automobiles too. If you regard the function of the market as meeting only known demand and current needs, then it becomes easy to dismiss an innovation like the smartphone as somehow decadent.
However, the magic of the market is that it does not stop at known demand or current needs. It anticipates demand for products which do not yet exist. Specifically, individuals apply their minds to dream up new ways to deliver value. Strangely, more individuals seem to dream up new products and methods when they are politically free with their rights protected. Something called profit motive, they say.
Izhar Gafni, 50, is an expert in designing automated mass-production lines. He is an amateur cycling enthusiast who for years toyed with an idea of making a bicycle from cardboard.
He told Reuters during a recent demonstration that after much trial and error, his latest prototype has now proven itself and mass production will begin in a few months.
“I was always fascinated by applying unconventional technologies to materials and I did this on several occasions. But this was the culmination of a few things that came together. I worked for four years to cancel out the corrugated cardboard’s weak structural points,” Gafni said.
“Making a cardboard box is easy and it can be very strong and durable, but to make a bicycle was extremely difficult and I had to find the right way to fold the cardboard in several different directions. It took a year and a half, with lots of testing and failure until I got it right,” he said.
Cardboard, made of wood pulp, was invented in the 19th century as sturdy packaging for carrying other more valuable objects, it has rarely been considered as raw material for things usually made of much stronger materials, such as metal.
Hat tip: Kurzweil AI
More on technological innovations at PJ Lifestyle:
Ann Romney is a valuable asset for the Romney campaign. Not only is she an inspirational wife and mother and apparently a talented speaker, but she’s also a woman who effortlessly draws errors from the Democrats. Last night, Juan Williams felt lukewarm about Ann’s performance and called her a “corporate wife” because her husband has always taken care of her.
To the extent he meant that someone wealthy enough to not have to worry about the price of gas isn’t the most believable person on the plight of the middle class, Williams isn’t way out of line. But after decades of being groomed by feminists not to dismiss women’s opinions, his comment smacks of dismissing the experiences of an entire group of women based on career choice. She hasn’t had to take care of herself financially so her opinion isn’t valuable.
One might think that feminists would come to Ann Romney’s defense, but they beat Williams to the attack months ago. Remember the Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life” comment from Hilary Rosen back in April? Both comments suggest that unless a woman works for money and accolades outside the home, then she has nothing of value to say.
Not only is the notion insulting, it’s also wrong.
From Larissa Faw at Forbes, Why Millennials Are Spending More Than They Earn – Forbes:
There’s a striking disconnect with today’s Millennials that can be best described through Steve Jobs’ infamous reality distortion field: Millennial lifestyles and spending habits do not reflect their financial realities.
The majority of the 79 million U.S. Millennials are either unemployed, underpaid, or weighed down with student loans. One in four Millennials, for instance, has more debt than savings, according to Bankrate.com. Some 94% of college students currently graduate with debt. The current unemployment rate among workers ages 20-24 is 13%, compared to 8% for older workers, according to the most recent economic data.
At the same time, Millennial college students (without full-time jobs) spend $784 a month on discretionary expenses, especially food and entertainment, according to the Mooslyvania marketing agency. Millennials are the largest demographic purchasing new technological gadgets and fashion apparel. And their spending on jewelry increased 27% in 2011, according to American Express Business Insights. They even start riots at outside retail malls over $200 limited-edition Air Jordan sneakers.
In my generation’s defense: it’s not like our predecessors did any better.
In order to avoid throwing his money into the maw of an increasingly oppressive and spendthrift government, Facebook co-founder and about-to-be gazillionaire Eduardo Saverin has renounced his U.S. citizenship in favor of Singapore. To put an end to such sensible behavior, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey have proposed a punitive tax on any wealthy Americans who try to escape the clutches of Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Casey by leaving the country.
But I have a much better idea, a much simpler and more effective idea. Why not just build a wall? Come on, this is a great, creative approach! How could it not work? We build a wall around the country and anyone trying to escape with his money or his brain power or his hard work, we capture him and bring him back. Or shoot him, if we have to.
U2 frontman Bono will become the richest musician in the world tomorrow (May 18), overtaking Paul McCartney.
Facebook is set to float on the stock exchange tomorrow and all its early investors are set to earn huge amounts of money from the flotation, with the Irish singer among them.
The U2 singer owns 2.3 per cent of the shares in Facebook through his private equity firm, Elevation Partners, which they bought for $90 million (£57 million) in 2009 and now stands to make a handsome return.
Given the social media company is currently valued at over $100billion (£63 billion), this makes Bono’s share worth over $1.5 billion (£940 million) and puts him well above Paul McCartney, who is currently the world’s richest rock star with a fortune of £665 million.