Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Fairness Police

Anyone who has been a manager, or the parent to more than one child, has had their turn acting as the "fairness" officer. Over many years of management and parenting, I've come to the conclusion that the concept of "fair" is perhaps our most dangerous concept. This is because "fair" depends on your perspective. "Fair" is subjective. And "fair" is a standard where humans cannot possibly measure up.

Let me just remind us all of something we've heard since childhood -- life isn't fair.

Is it fair that one person has a job and another doesn't? Is it fair that someone was born into wealth, and you weren't? Is it fair that one child gets a pink slinky, while the other has to suffer with a purple one (a current real life example here at home)? It all depends on your perspective.

These issues permeate our culture. You can see it going on in current events right now. Is it fair that half of the population pays no income tax? Is it fair that Warren Buffett pays only 17% income tax? Is it fair that some people get huge bonuses working on Wall Street even as the banking system is falling apart? Is it fair that some people can only get a temp job? Is it fair that you can get any job? Is it fair that the government had to step in and provide funds for TARP? Is it fair the government doesn't provide a free college education to everyone? Or to just citizens?

Remember -- life fundamentally isn't fair.

I submit to you that the fairness argument has no legitimate place in any of these situations. Forget about fair. Your idea of fair is different from the next person's. Fairness leads to unworkable ideas and proposals. Fairness leads to measuring your gains (or losses) against everyone else, looking for the unfavorable (unfair) comparison. Fairness seeking leads to envy, jealousy and unhappiness.

Life isn't fair.

So my proposal -- forget about fairness. Measure your life and circumstances in absolute terms. Do you have what you need? Are you happy with your choices? Can you make things better for yourself or someone you care about? If you're in good shape yourself, can you derive satisfaction from helping someone else? Continually looking for someone who's got it better, easier, etc., will just make you unhappy.

Life isn't fair, and it never will be.

So take joy in your own accomplishments. Strive to be better every day. Make a positive impact on others. Be practical. And stop wasting your time worrying about others who have more/better/easier than you.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Illegal Immigration

Generally speaking, I've avoided blogging on political subjects, but this one I can no longer ignore. I read in the paper this morning (yesterday's paper, actually -- current news is sometimes a casualty of country living) that over the weekend both Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann spoke out on the subject of illegal immigration.

Cain wanted to electrify the (mostly non-existent) border fence at a lethal level, potentially killing those attempting to get into the U.S.. Or, he offered as an alternative, the National Guard could just shoot them.

Bachmann railed against the "illegality" of immigrant's entry into the U.S. (an argument I've heard a lot, which usually starts with "What is it about illegal they don't understand..."), and wants to build a "secure double fence", whatever that is.

Folks, I just don't understand the (apparent) conservative position on this subject at all. And I've been a conservative voter all my life!

There are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Most of these are Hispanic, with the largest group coming from Mexico. Why do they come to the U.S. despite the obvious dangers? Economic opportunity, combined with a sentence of horrible poverty in their home country. If you want to get a sense of the desperation faced by these people, spend a little time in an underdeveloped country. I have, and it is truly eye-opening. These immigrants aren't poor because they're lazy or stupid, and are looking for a "free ride" -- they lack a chance! There are minds equivalent to today's Nobel prize winners trapped in the bush somewhere because they have NO WAY to improve their lot. Most of the European immigrants coming to the United States in prior centuries arrived for similar reasons.

I don't find it odd that these immigrants want to enter the U.S., but it still must be a frightening undertaking. In fact, you might generally characterize illegal immigrants as brave, bold and willing to take a chance to better themselves -- the kind of people we would want in our country. And the legality or illegality of crossing a border, when compared to permanent punishing poverty in their home country probably represents little more than a speed-bump. If you are willing to abandon family, culture, and language (eventually), for opportunity, what does the often flaunted U.S. law on immigration matter? It's just another risk to be dealt with.

I think most illegal immigrants would enter the United States legally, however, if there was ever any hope of them getting a visa to do so. The chances of them obtaining one are about as good as you or I hitting the lottery.

U.S. legal immigration policies are a part of this equation. Over the previous decade, the United States permitted roughly 1 million people to annually enter the country legally -- 700 thousand if you subtract those leaving. That number equals approximately 0.2% population growth per year, hardly a large percentage. Of these, approximately 1/3 are from Hispanic countries. The inflow of illegals is twice this level. This looks like basic economics to me -- unmet demand (a shortage of domestic candidates for low skilled jobs), and artificially constrained supply (not enough legal immigrants allowed to enter the U.S.) creates the temptation for people to enter the United States illegally.

Overall economic impact is hard to assess, when it comes to illegal immigrants. There appear to be opinions across the board ranging from those who tally up only costs (education for children -- many of whom are U.S. born, and rightfully citizens -- government services, and criminal justice), to those who make theoretical arguments that Social Security would be insolvent without the payments of illegal aliens -- payments which will never be claimed in benefits.

I put my stock in the near-consensus opinion of economists. In a 2006 survey by the Wall Street Journal, 46 noted economists were asked if illegal immigrants had an overall positive or negative impact on the U.S. economy. All but two believed the net impact was positive.

Is illegal immigration then a victim-less crime?

Not completely. There are some citizens who will suffer as a result of illegal immigration. A person injured in a car accident where the fault lies with an illegal immigrant. The victim of a crime committed by an illegal immigrant. And there is evidence that the availability of an illegal immigrant workforce does depress wage levels slightly in some low skill job classifications.

But on balance, I don't believe illegal immigrants are the "problem" many people make them out to be. And there are other uglier explanations for anti-immigrant attitudes. Things like fear of loss of political power, concerns over "sharing the pie" (although most economists will tell you population growth causes the pie to get bigger), or perhaps xenophobia.

So what's the solution? Certainly it isn't rounding up 11 million illegal immigrants and shipping them back to their country of origin. That would be inhumane in the extreme, in addition to being completely impractical. How can there be any other solution than to provide a path to eventual citizenship for these people?

As to border control -- I can't support Cain's plan to electrify the (mostly non-existent) fence, and or shoot anyone who wants to enter. I could support tighter border controls, but in conjunction with a more liberal (yikes, did I really use that word?) legal immigration policy which gives those living with the prospect of permanent poverty a realistic chance to enter the U.S.

None of my ideas, however, will counter the potential loss of political power of conservatives. Let's face it, the democratic party has done a good job making themselves the friends of immigrants, something the Republicans should ponder a bit. And it might mean we will continue to see more dual language signs, instructions, and the like -- a small price to pay for economic growth, IMHO. And, there is nothing in my thoughts to pacify outright racism, although I don't believe that motive deserves any pacification.

So, my conservative friends -- let's hear your arguments. Tell me where I've got it wrong.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Don't rely only on your own observations

Some people can quickly assess others. Some take a long time to get a clear picture. Many more think they can make a quick judgment, but are often wrong.

One place where the chances run particularly high that we will "get it wrong" is during the interview process.

In interviews, the normal reality is for the candidate to be in hardcore sales mode. "Doing your homework" as a job candidate means understanding what the company is looking for, and trying to "morph" your education, experience, and personality into the required mold. If you can make yourself into an ideal candidate, then at least you get to make the call when it comes time to take or reject the job.

Doing this is probably in the best interests of the candidate, and as a result, I don't fault them for trying. The downside is, of course, many people end up in companies and positions that aren't well suited to them.

Why does this happen?

Because candidates don't recognize and/or accept the implicit responsibility they are taking on when "morphing" for interviews -- they don't make good judgments when it comes to fit with the company. By "morphing", the candidate must take responsibility to assess fit. After all, the company can't do it -- you're not really letting them know who you are.

And even when the candidates accept the theoretical responsibility for assessing their fit, the don't execute it very well.

Candidates often see what they want to see, or look only for the things that were missing from their last job. And they systematically rely on their own observations alone, rarely asking for outside opinions or information.

So here's a wild idea -- why don't candidates ask to see references from employers? Why not check social media to find out what their bosses and coworkers will really be like? Why not independently track down former employees and ask them why they left, and what the environment was really like? The companies check candidate's backgrounds of employees, so why not the other way around?

Had I done this, I would have avoided a couple of difficult employers/positions during my career, and the resultant pile of angst, discomfort and agitation. I would have wasted less time, and disrupted the lives of my families a lot less.

So here is a modest proposal -- you as a candidate have as much obligation to check out potential employer, boss and coworkers, as they have to check out you. Perhaps more so, if you are doing the typical "morph" stuff during the interview process. So make sure you do it, and turn down opportunities where there is poor fit.