Friday, March 30, 2007

Paying for a superior US public school education

While we like to think in a country with equality of opportunity, people will pay more for housing in areas where schools are better. In a system where schools are primarily locally funded, parents will pay a premium to live near good schools. This still is cheaper than sending children to a good private school because it relies on the tax payments from people who do not get any benefit from it - people with no school age children.

As a result, schools in some areas, which also benefit from higher standards set by parents, outperform schools in the average area, and of course, many schools under-perform the average. This results in many being poorly educated and never reaching their full potential.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sports do not built character, they reveal it.

One of the main reasons why sports movies can be so gripping, even if the viewer is not interested in the sport is that sports can be a metaphor for life. People often say that sport builds character. In fact, like many other endeavors which put people under pressure, sport show what character people have. Much as leadership cannot be taught, so we cannot teach character. People who have it will show it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Extracting money from the desperate and needy - getting more common

There are activities today which focus on getting poor and desperate people to pay money to get hope. This ranges from state run lotteries, to companies which guarantee to find you a job for a substantial fee - even though they rarely deliver. There are groups who offer to fund start-ups, but which charge them to present, even though they provide little chance of funding. They may make more money by their charges to people who have no money than by the business enterprise in which they theoretically specialize.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Darwin's dilemma

Charles Darwin was a very conventionally religious man. He agonized over the existence of Evolution. It seemed to conflict with his understanding of and belief in the Bible. However, he did not reject the evidence of his scientific research. Nor did he lose faith. Instead he used his scientific learning to modify his understanding of the Bible. To the end of his life, he remained a believer in both science and God, rejecting neither. he would have been surprised and shocked by people today who reject the evidence, whether or evolution or global warming.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Does "overqualified" equal "too old?"

Many people over 50 have experienced being told that they are "overqualified" for a job. On the face of it this is ridiculous. If you have more skills and experience than they originally envisaged, then they should be over the moon that they have you as a candidate - right? If you are rejected then it is clearly age discrimination - right?

It is not so simple. In many cases, managers feel insecure about supervising someone who may be older or better qualified than they are even though perhaps their subordinate does not want their job. In other cases, hiring managers may feel that the person is only taking the job as a temporary step and will move on. In fact, older people tend to stay longer than younger ones. A few years ago, when pension plans were defined benefit, it cost more to hire an older person. so there are other reasons that age alone, even though there is a growing shortage of skilled and experienced people, is not the reason for turning someone down.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Menu Foods and Product Recalls

Companies have a huge opportunity to become heroes when they handle a product problem with openness and integrity. J&J's management of the Tylenol product tampering problem is still the text book case. Now we have Menu Foods, co-packer of many well known brands of canned petfood, including some items from Iams, Eukanuba, Science Diet, Nestle-Purina, apparently released some product which has killed some dogs and cats. If any evidence surfaces that they withheld or hid information (and if they did, it always does), the company will be in trouble. I also feel sorry for companies which relied on Menu Foods. If a company puts its brand on a product, it takes responsibility for it.

While a tragedy for the animals and their owners, it will be interesting to see how the companies involved handle the situation. It will tell us a lot about them.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Are private companies moral or immoral?

With the growth of Private Equity funds, much has been written about whether or not they should be more closely regulated. The press, public, and legislators are often suspicious of privately owned companies, which are not bound by the same disclosure rules as public ones. Yet, we forget that the purpose of disclosure is primarily to protect shareholders, not simply to address the prurient curiosity of the uninvolved public.

I could argue that it is the public company which is immoral in that it is a form of ownership which takes control away from the owners and gives it to a self-perpetuating group of managers. In the case of a private company, ownership and management are more closely linked - in some the same. Owners know all that they want to - often much more than shareholders in a public company. Those who are not involved do not need to know, and certainly competitors are kept in the dark more effectively.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Do Powerful people always realize when they are getting favorable treatment?

While every day it seems that we hear about an abuse of power or fame, this may be misleading. When Henry II said "who will rid me of this turbulent priest," four of his knights overhead him, and thinking to anticipate his orders, went to Canterbury, where they killed Thomas a Beckett. So often, people who want to impress the high and mighty try to do what they imagine they would like done. While often they are right, in a few cases they are doing something which was not expected.

Also, people in authority can become so removed from the real world that they do not even realize that they are getting special treatment. They may come to believe that everyone gets it. So when you see someone who declares that they did not ask for, nor expect something, they may be being truthful.