Posts Tagged ‘Recession’

Different priorities

November 6, 2013

I talked to someone who is working part time and claims he is under employed. He’s spending more than he’s making. At one point in the conversation, he mentioned getting a bottle of water. I suggested a drinking fountain, which was actually closer than the machine selling water. No, he wanted a bottle of water. I realize this is not a major issue, but if I were short on money, I wouldn’t buy water.

 

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Greece’s problems

June 18, 2012

We visited Greece recently, and two tour guides gave me a clue as to why the country is in trouble.

The first one was happy that she bought a lot of clothes before all the trouble started, because it means she doesn’t need to worry about having enough clothes while she has a reduced income. Wouldn’t she be better off with money? I can understand her saying she is glad she bought clothes rather than something else, but I suspect that she would be better off with more money than with more clothes.

The second guide told me the following:

1. He chooses whom he works for and will not work for some companies. The implication was that he could work more if he chose to do so.

2. He has three or four tours a week. Our tour was a four hour tour.

3. He does not work when it is not the tourist season.

4. He considers himself to be working full time.

5. He was required to take three years of school (presumably after high school) to be a tour guide. His attitude suggested that he felt he put a lot of work into qualifying for the job.

The guides both were knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. But between the two of them, they gave a picture of a country that doesn’t work very hard and doesn’t believe in saving for the future.

The good old days weren’t good

January 28, 2012

“… the productivity of U.S. workers has increased fourfold since the 1950s. Put another way, as of 2000, employees work one hour to produce what it took four hours to create a half-century ago. Meanwhile, the buying power of wages has remained stagnant…” 

I don’t believe it. Not that I don’t believe the figures. I am sure that someone figured out that it would take the same number of hours to buy a 1950 car as a 2011 car. But the average age of a car on the road today is over ten years, and in the 1950’s five-year-old car was an old car, while the wealthy changed their cars annually. Tires? They advertised tires that lasted 3,000 miles. Housing? Only movie theaters had air conditioning, and coal furnaces weren’t unusual.

Medical costs have gone way up, but so has life expectancy. Neither mammograms nor colonoscopies existed in 1950. The polio vaccine was first tested in 1952 and the measles vaccine came in the next decade.

If we wanted a 1950’s lifestyle we could do it much cheaper than they did it then, but it wouldn’t be a safe or comfortable society. Not only did 1950’s cars not have airbags, they didn’t usually have seat belts. But don’t worry, we wouldn’t drive them as fast, because Interstate Highways didn’t exist. Air travel was for the rich, and jets were for the military, not for civilian travel.

Instead of cell phones, in the 1950’s people used operators and often had party lines. Calls outside of a small area were very expensive. Of course, there were no personal computers.

Perhaps the rich get richer, but the lower middle class lives much better today than most people in 1950.

How much help should be given?

January 27, 2012

Students with disabilities are given special accommodations in classes. Most of the time, I completely approve of what is being done. A student with a vision problem should be given tests in a larger font, and if the font is sufficiently large, be given extra time, since a large font takes longer to read. One of my students needed a 44 point font. Other disabilities require extra time, and that’s fine with me. I will leave the judgment of what students need the extra time to the experts.

Yet I wonder if we are being fair to the students. I know of a case where a speech teacher, not where I teach, was required to give a student the opportunity to take speech without actually giving any speeches. How realistic is that?

Do the students who get degrees with these accommodations think that they should be considered as equal to the students who don’t? The law might say yes, but would a boss say yes? Should someone who takes twice as long to do something be paid the same as someone who is faster? Can the nearly blind student do the same work as a sighted person? Sometimes the answer is yes, but often it is no.

In an attempt to make things fair, are we making things unrealistic? The student who is used to double time on a test will still have to rush to make a deadline on a job. I am not trying to fight the system, but I wonder if the students who are in the system are able to cope when they leave school.

They should be fired

January 7, 2012

I have many students who behave in ways in class that would get them fired in any well run business. Some aren’t there when they are supposed to be, either arriving late, leaving for long periods of time during class, or missing class entirely. Many don’t do the assigned work. A few cheat. These students generally flunk, and aren’t really the problem. I’m wasting my time with them, and they are wasting their time in school, but they will eventually flunk out or shape up.

There is another category of student that is harder to deal with. It is the student who appears to work, but doesn’t learn anything. I wonder how they got into my class, because their skills are so poor, I can’t imagine them passing the prerequisite course. The online homework is attempted, they come on time, they pay attention, and work in class. But in Intermediate Algebra, they haven’t learned elementary school math. Four times one-fourth? Three times seven? Two numbers whose product is forty-eight and whose difference is two? They simply don’t know.

I don’t grade on effort, but on results. It bothers me more to give an F to a student who worked hard than one who didn’t, but I give the F.

A plague on both your houses!

July 24, 2011

And both your parties, and both the executive and legislative branch of the government. Find some kind of compromise. Raise the debt ceiling. Both sides are intransigent, and not only will the American public suffer if some kind of agreement is not reached, but potentially the whole world. I can’t believe how irresponsible the government is.

July 24, 2011

OK, Shakespeare actually wrote, “A plague a’ both your houses!”

What did you pay for your house?

December 11, 2010

About fifty years ago, my grandmother told me that there is no point in concealing anything that is available in public records. For example, counties allow people access to records to find how much people paid for their home. Then it involved a visit to wherever the records were kept, but it was available. Now most of that information is on the Internet and can be found in minutes.

Now a surprising amount of information is in the public records and can be found with very little effort. I checked sales history of all seventeen of the apartments in our building. Our apartment is too big an investment for us to be ignorant of what is going on around us.

With the economic downturn, the question I have to ask is not “What did you pay for your house?” but “What is your house worth?” That is a harder question to answer, and sadly, it is a lot less than what we paid for it.

Exploited workers

June 21, 2010

If an American company opens a plant overseas, is it exploiting its workers? Some people would say, yes, unless the workers have the same pay, benefits, and working conditions as American workers. But companies do not build factories in other countries unless it is to their advantage, and that means it must be cheaper. One of the easiest ways for it to be cheaper is for workers to be paid less. By this definition, the answer is always yes, it is exploiting the workers.

If an American company builds a plant in another state where wages are less, is it exploiting its workers? Americans move freely between states and presumably could get jobs elsewhere, so we usually say no to that question. For decades people moved into Michigan because of the automobile industry. Detroit’s dramatic population decline is a testimony to the fact that they did not stay when the jobs left.

Overseas workers often do not have the choice of moving to a place where there are better jobs, but they do have a choice of whether to work in a factory owned by Americans. They are not slaves and can quit. They don’t quit because there are no better jobs. Many Americans work at jobs that are underpaid, unpleasant, or dangerous because it pays better than “Do you want fries with that?”

Unions limit the exploitation, based on the power of the group. A company might be able to replace a few workers who quit over low pay or bad working conditions, but it could not replace all of them. Many people who are pro union would cross a picket line to feed their families.

Oddly enough, the absence of unions in overseas plants suggests they are not exploiting workers.

It doesn’t save money; it changes who pays.

May 31, 2010

Educational institutions are trying to save money. We’ve been told to cut back on copying. We will post copies on the web and students will print out worksheets.

If the students do this at home, they pay. If they do it at the college, the college pays. This may save our department money, but it doesn’t save the college money. What is worse, the printing is done inefficiently, a copy at a time. Using the correct technology, it is cheaper to make 28 copies at once than 28 copies, one at a time.

I will solve the problem by having copies made elsewhere. I can pay for it, so my students will not suffer. I strongly believe in worksheets for mathematics, and I have posted some at this website. I have a relative who bought a box of paper for his third grade class.

The difference between us and a third world country is that in the U.S. some teachers can afford to buy the supplies the school doesn’t have.

Four Mythical Countries: a thought experiment

May 17, 2010

Let us assume there were four countries that were on a large island. A hundred years ago they had the same population and the same resources.

Country Green was environmentally responsible. It allowed its population to grow, but forced people to live near work and use public transportation. Individual houses were only allowed for farmers in remote regions and the country prospered. People recycled and used a minimum amount of energy.

Country Small limited its population. It was careless with its resources, but its small population meant less of them were used.

Country Ideal was was environmentally responsible and kept its population down.

Country Red allowed its population to grow and was careless about the environment and the resources.

The four countries are on the verge of war over the resources. They agree to arbitration. What should the arbitrator do? I don’t have answers, but would like to see what others think.