Tag Archives: economics

The End of Men

The Atlantic has an article out on the decline of men in society. The premise is that, in the new economy, traditionally male traits like competitiveness, linear thinking, and being violent brutes are no longer coveted or profitable. Traditional female traits like getting along with others, sitting still and paying attention, and being pretty make women the bestest.

I mean, they use fancier language than that, but I think I captured the gist of it. From the article:

Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?

As I’ve said before, I am deeply concerned by how society treats young boys. I am concerned that the values and logistics of social learning environments make young boys into early failures, and young girls in early successes. Time after time we see how critical the first few years of education are in determining how children think about themselves and their ability to achieve academically. Students who see themselves as failures in 1st grade may occasionally learn to shine later on, but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Now, according to The Atlantic, the idea that boys are only good boys if they act like girls has percolated up through the educational system into the larger society. The old stereotype that women had to act like men to succeed in business has been turned upside down.



Seriously. What would Jesus drive?

Every day, I see about five or six bumper stickers asking this exact question. I had no idea that Christians were so concerned with the Son of God’s chosen form of automotive transportation! Let’s see if I can figure out, just What Jesus Would Drive…?

SUV: Well, he could certainly carry all of his apostles in one vehicle with a big-ol’ SUV. I imagine for that he would choose the Hummer H2. The last time I checked, the H2 has 27 bench seats, a stadium theater with Dolby Surround, a jacuzzi, and a fully-equipped bathroom. Talk about travellin’ in style! Sandals and wooden carts be damned, the J-Man could haul his power boat (and all the honey’s) to the lake every weekend! And with that V-24 powerplant, he could leave the A/C on while truckin’ up the grapevine! But wait just a OPEC-Luvin’ minute – what about the gas mileage? The H2 doesn’t “get bad gas mileage”, as so many people think. Form the Hummer PR Campaign, the correct term is: “The Hummer H2 destroys everything in it’s path to move itself down the road. Gas Mileage is not our concern. This vehicle is designed to murder the environment, and any liberals who get in it’s path.” This vehicle actually drills for oil while it drives, eliminating the need to fill up the 40,000 gallon tank! That’s right, it actually drills and refines it’s own oil while it drives, leaving a trail of destroyed habitats in it’s wake. But there’s one thing I think Capt. Christ wouldn’t dig on: This thing is wasteful. The apostles only want to go to the club one, maybe two nights a week. For the other days of holy errand running, the H2 is just a waste of precious resources. Maybe something environmentally friendly, or at least socially acceptable….
Hybrid: Now we’re talking. 45 miles per gallon and a smaller ecological footprint. Envious stares from others at the gas stations would be awesome. Jesus would tell everyone what his gas mileage is every week. Whenever anyone says, “Man, the gas prices are just killing me!”, Jesus can say, “Listen, my son. My Prius averages more than 40 miles per gallon. It may not be much for the ladies to drool over, but it leaves me with more cash to buy that Pioneer 60″ Plasma. Know what I’m sayin’?” Heck, Jesus could use the carpool lane BY HIMSELF! That’s right. In California, hybrid vehicles are allowed single-occupant carpool access. No more waiting for the traffic on the 170 to move, just to get on the 118. He can zip by at a top speed of (maybe) 70 miles per hour, downhill, of course. But as we all know, even the carpool lane can get backed up with traffic. Because not everyone is smug enough for a hybrid…
So, what would be the perfect vehicle for Jesus? The answer:

A motorcycle. “Wha???” you say? Let me explain…

A motorcycle is built to do one thing: Carry and individual to their destination. No gadgets, no traffic, no compromising junk. 50 miles per gallon average, and style to boot. Jesus can make it to every appointment on-time and invigorated. He can split lanes on the 405 with ease. He can fill up the tank for a paltry ten bucks. On Sundays, he can do what I do – attend church in Malibu Canyon. Personally, I’ve never felt closer to God than I do every Sunday in Mullholland Canyon. Dragging one’s knee on the ground while cornering at 60 miles per hour requires faith. (And skill, and leathers, and knee-pucks, and a few loose screws.) There’s no windshield or airbags (or doors) to separate Jesus from the people. He can wave and give high-fives to anyone he pleases. He can park just about anywhere. With a motorcycle, he’ll never have to pay to park in a parking garage ever again! He can just go around the gate! All in all, I think the reasons are too solid to ignore:


Jesus Would Ride A Motorcycle

Ethical Content as a Commodity

It may not be intuitively obvious what American Apparel, fair-trade coffee, the Toyota Prius, and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch have in common. The connection is hiding beneath the surface, and it signals what may well be a seismic shift in the function of free-market economies. The connection is this: each one of these products carries something in addition to the basic goods, some value added component that makes them marketable in spite of a higher initial purchase price: they have an ethical content.

Ethical content is becoming a market commodity. It is being advertised and sold as an integrated corollary to consumer transactions, something extra that you can purchase along with your coffee, or jeans, or car. At the Starbucks online store, a pound of fair-trade coffee costs $11.49, while a pound of houseblend costs $9.99. What am I buying for my extra $1.50? It seems to me that I’m getting at least the appearance of a more ethical process, a transaction that favors local growers more than it favors distributors and consumers. I am buying an ethical commodity.

The existence of the ethical commodity can be seen in the reverse, as well. Companies like Walmart are perceived as having a negative ethical content in their products. In pursuit of the lowest possible source-to-shelf costs, their economic and environmental policies are perceived as being detrimental to both local and global communities. In this case, the difference between paying $18 for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6) at your local book seller and paying $15.69 at Walmart is a negative ethical commodity. You’ve saved two bucks by not purchasing a more ethical process along with your savory teen fiction.

The idea of commoditized value in a transaction beyond the consumable goods is nothing new. Think about the difference between a $25 pair of shoes from Payless and a $225 pair of shoes from Nordies. Of course there are some differences in materials and in manufacturing, but most of the difference in cost between those two shoes has to do with the name Cole Haan, or Steve Madden, or Kenneth Cole. You’re buying a fashion commodity along with the piece of stitched leather. The value of the fashion commodity is demonstrated by the fact that people will buy $225 shoes. Think too about the difference between buying a mini-van and buying an SUV. For most people, the mini-van is more practical, and more economical, both in initial price and in long term ownership costs. But when you drive a mini-van, nobody thinks you might be on your way up to Yosemite for some base-jumping off of Half Dome. There is a lifestyle image that is commoditized with the SUV that doesn’t exist in the mini-van. When my wife and I bought a stroller for my daughter Sophia, we purchased one that had a higher safety rating than similar models. In addition to the cost of materials and assembly, we purchased a perceived safety commodity.

The emergence of an ethical commodity is a significant shift in economics. It is a redemptive use of one of the most powerful social forces around; free-market capital. The establishment of ethical content as a valuable commodity means that, rather than market forces driving consumers toward the lowest price, consumers can make decisions about whether or not to purchase a better process with their goods. In a commodified economy, this means that there are people who will want to purchase ethical content, and there are also people who will want to be perceived as people who purchase ethical content. For both groups, market forces will propel them toward goods and services with recognized higher ethical content (ordering Striped Bass instead of Black Sea Bass). As a raging free-market fanboy, you can see how this would make me ecstatic. Anything that accomplishes beneficial results within the community without sacrificing consumer choices or economic incentive is a good thing, and a robust thing.

I do, of course, have some concerns. First, I’m concerned that ethical content might be a fad. Introducing elevated market prices for fair-trade coffee growers in South America might be a good thing, but it can turn into a disastrous thing if those markets collapse when ethicism becomes unfashionable again. The farmer who made capital investments in equipment and stock on the basis of those inflated prices will be hardest hit when he can no longer sell his goods at $1.25 / lb. The same is true for the New England fisherman who invests in equipment to switch over to line-caught seafood, on the assumption that investing in a more ethical process will enable him to recoup that investment by marketing to ethical consumers. When those consumers are no longer willing to pay an extra $2 for his more ethical process, he is stuck bearing the costs of the market’s fadishness.

I’m also worried about the social perceptions that will trickle down to the poorest consumers. There are millions of people in this county for whom there is no real option; they can’t afford the two dollar difference between the cheapest item and the item with higher ethical content. American Apparel is not an option for them, the Walmart t-shirt is. In our striving for a more socially and environmentally aware marketplace, we need to make sure that we don’t denigrate those who can’t afford the commodity of ethical content.

We also need more accountability from independent organizations. As ethical commodity becomes a viable marketing tool, there will be companies that want the shine without the spit. There will be companies that appropriate the language and appearance of ethical content without the supporting processes. The Fairtrade Foundation and the Seafood Watch list are both examples of independent organizations with transparent goals and standards. We need similar organizations for apparel, sustainable farming, retail, and every other facet of this robust economic milieu. Consumers who are choosing to purchase ethical content with their goods need to do so in an informed way, and these sorts of accountability structures help ensure that.

So here we are. It has never been easier to make ethical choices as a consumer, and to do so within a coherent market structure that preserves consumer choice and economic incentive. I’m a fan.