Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The virtue of happiness

How do we become happy?

Happiness for Aristotle was something he called eudaimonia which has been translated into different English words such as happiness and contentment. For Aristotle, it was a state of feeling that was not subject to the vagaries of every day life (which certainly sent him its trials and tribulations) but the effect of long term achievements, gradually gaining a sense of what we would now call self-worth from childhood up. Indeed, childhood is a crucial time for creating the foundation of a person's joy; but, fortunately, we've discovered that an unhappy or discontented child can become happy.

Today, positive psychology examines how we become happy and what sustains it. Several principles emerge from the literature including:

A happy person is one who has a plan - purposefulness and a sense of direction helps us understand where we should be going when times are tough or other people are pulling us in different directions. For my pupils I draw a line and say - right, this is where you want to go. Then I create diversions around the path but always come back to the true direction. It's like a pilot who needs to get to Paris from Edinburgh - he may have to divert to avoid a storm but he'll still get the passengers to Paris.

A happy person is content with him or herself at all times. Sure there are times when we pull ourselves up for failing or being too distracted from our daily chores or life time plans (but don't feel guilty for planning downtime/me-time/solitude/goofing around). A key point here is how we feel when we wake up in the middle of the night and everybody else is sleeping - do we feel at home with ourselves or do we need to call someone immediately because we feel lonely?

Success does not breed happiness, the psychologists are saying - but happiness breeds success. This has always been apparent but now the psychologists are catching up what the great philosophers have known for over two millennia. In our society, we often assume that to be happy we must achieve, we must get things or have things around us... if we do x or if we have y then we'll be happy formula.

But look at the people striving for something: if they are not internally content, will they suddenly become so for reaching their goal? Or will they need a new goal to struggle for? The research suggests that former - contented people succeed or fail and remain contented. When they fail, they pick themselves up, remind themselves of their plan and try again. From the struggle then regain their sense of self worth and direction.

For instance, on the volatile stock market, if a trade goes against a contented person, his or her reaction is  - ah, what did I do wrong, did I misread something? Or, ah well, that didn't work - good job I use stop losses. Similarly in business when she fails to get a client. Failure, as Zig Ziglar reminds us, is an event - not a person. The less contented person is going to read the situation as the markets hate me - they lose me money - they're after me. Or that client was an idiot anyway. 

Our culture doesn't do much to help us seek happiness. The mantra is always:
go to school
get the grades
work hard
get a job
pay the bills
produce more kids for the system
don't ask too many question
keep your nose down

Sounds more like the philosophy of an ant colony. Religion often connives too - when you're dead, you'll be happy.


That's a philosophy that serves the great manipulators of life but not a person's happiness.

No wonder that many people throw themselves into a hedonistic life style to try and fill the huge gaping hole at the centre of their lives. Despite the known effects, binge drinking has increased in the UK in the past few years...happy people may enjoy a tipple but not get blotto to erase the meaningless of life from their souls.

But life has meaning. This is something else happy people know - they have a plan or a path or a purpose, whatever they wish to call it. They know they're going somewhere.

Yesterday, I wrote about how our culture doesn't help our youngsters gain a sense of purpose: from a young age their choices and desires are ignored so when they become adults they have no real sense of their dreams.

Politically, in the past century, the land of dreams, the USA, has lost its sense of purpose by becoming more fascistic and interventionist in domestic and foreign affairs. The hopes of the 60s generation for true freedom and peace have been hijacked by political fear mongering and the advance of the TSA and federal institutions invading people's lives from folk who produce organic goods to those who want to know why the USAAF is spraying the sky with chemicals. Hmmm. Political tangent, I admit, but I enjoy joining the dots.

Politicians don't want happy people. They want miserable people they can "sell dreams" to. Well, forget that - that's the master-slave philosophy. And in the words of one my teachers, "I'm nobody's bitch any more." (He's financially free from trading, and no, he didn't start off rich - his business failed and had to pick himself up: he's a happy guy).

It's also a mistake to think that resources produce happiness. The great wise people have know this for millennia. Having or doing does not create happiness. It's the other way around - that's the secret. Be happy first and foremost. Then if things come (or not), you'll still be happy: and happy people tend to be more flexible and understand what they can change about themselves and their actions and what they can't change - the ubiquitous they who are out to short change them in life.

Of course, life's trials are easier with wealth than without it. But wealth does not come from grinding hard work. It comes from serving increasingly more people around us. When we help people get what they want or need, we feel better.

Funnily enough, that's what the free market is all about. The free market is all about the serving others: and the more people we serve, the more we gain - contrary to what the Marxists and socialists want us to believe (because they are selling a slave philosophy in which all are equally enslaved to the grind stone - not sure? Read Animal Farm for fiction, Mises's Socialism for academic study, or any work on history to note the effects of socialist societies on their people).

The philosophy of the free market is about freedom - however, that creates the troublesome culture of being free to fail. And that tends not to excite people - failure is fearful, failure is pain ... our schools penalise failure by keeping us down a set, marking us down a grade. We are meant to feel bad about our mistakes. (I see this in many pupils).

Yet avoiding failure and seeking riches/pleasure is not what happiness about. We are set up to avoid failure not be happy; but if we are given the great foundation is a sense of self-worth, a sense of personal identity - that we know, as children especially, that we are loved for who we are, and that we act towards helping others, our sense of happiness gains a stronger foothold. Over time, as Aristotle philosophised, it becomes stronger. Happiness is an armour that keeps us intact despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as Hamlet saith.

The miserable are often looking for happiness outside of themselves. It has to come from success or from having. Instead, it must come from being. By being happy, the rest will follow - or at least you'll go to the grave with a smile on your face.

When we learn to love ourselves for who we are, we can become happy. If we look back on who we were, we're not going to get anywhere. The Christian religion has a lot to say about forgiveness and it's a powerful message: if you look back on your life at the poor choices made, the failings and mistakes, you're bound to feel miserable and want to soak in the dark with a bottle of wine. But what good would that do. The next moment is yours and it's free of the past. Sure, you may have some things to tidy up such as pay off some debt - well, automate it so you can concentrate on moving forward; you may have kids from a previous relationship - find the system that works for all involved and stick to it; you may currently be working for a 'bad company' ... or is that your old self working for the bad company.

Today and the next moment are yours - you are free to choose your responses to people and events.

A tool I've come across in Michael Losier's The Law of Attraction can be really helpful here: write down all the things you don't like down one column of a notepad, keeping the right hand side free. Keep adding negatives such as I don't like my job, I don't like the people I work with, I don't like not having money, I don't like the mess at home....Take a couple of days to do this. It's amazing what pours out! Then, when you've exhausted your negatives for now, go back to the beginning and change  each negative into a positive statement. From I don't like my job you write I like getting paid or I enjoy looking for new jobs or I like the fact it only takes me ten minutes to get to work or that I can listen to some motivational tapes on the way to work.

Using this technique, I found myself happily tidying up the chaotic aftermath of my boys' play rather than get confrontational and making them feel guilty for having fun. And funnily enough, as my wife and I have helped them to tidy, they have also joined in.

There'll be more on this in other posts. Comments always handy - the blog will become a book!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Lacking purpose: how our culture undermines passion and purposefulness

If we take the useful notion that we are all here for a purpose and that our duty is to find and cultivate that purpose, then we can begin to examine the nature of burn out at school in its symptoms and meanings for what we can do about it.

Before we go into semantics inquiring into the metaphysics of purpose and the meaning of life, let's just keep it simple that possessing a purpose is much more useful or reflective of our nature than not having a purpose.

Purposefulness of purposelessness - what sounds better to you?

When we have found a passion, we have found purpose.

And passion and hence purpose comes from dreaming about what could be. As Einstein noted, imagination is so much more important than knowledge. Why? Because imagination can change things - from the little things in life to the well being of millions.

Our culture - our schooling and media - tend to kill passion. Oh celebrity may be adulated - but that's so superficial compared to the great passions that stir men and women to great feats or to insights and performances that in turn inspire.

A passion may be a primary overriding purpose that consumes our waking moments and our entire social and commercial activity. Or our passion may be a primus inter pares, a first amongst equals, that sits equally with several activities that bring great joy and happiness to life. Either way, passion creates purpose or purposes.

But many people don't have a passion for anything.

Their dreams have been slowly squashed or never been allowed to flourish in the first place. They assume who am I to want things? Well, if that's how they think, the universe (the millions of interactions they have with the world and people around them) will provide for their lack of purpose - they will be used up accordingly whether in relationships or in work. I have clients who say I don't know what I want. Again, the universe will provide an unknown path, a life of floating on other people's actions and dreams... (I wrote about this in my first novel, Wither This Land, which follows the actions of a young student caught between two opposing political forces.)

Let's review how a normal person can be devoid of purpose and passion - or how many of us are in the quieter moments of life. When does it begin and what can we do about it?

Now, I can be critical of schools - as I don't see any great evidence supporting the casting of children into an institution as being terribly helpful to psychological and creative development: much of a person's personality has to be squashed by institutional learning. It's practically inevitable, as the young have to meld their behaviour and mentality to something not of their making. But the blame cannot be laid at the feet of the school system: we get out of school what we put in. So let's go back further.

When a baby is born, it has so much potential. But that potential is dependent on a healthy upbringing, one that recognises the child's individuality but most importantly one in which its needs are met with love and kindness. The role of the mother (and surrogates - aunts, friends, grandmothers) is vital. Unfortunately we often witness, or have ourselves experienced, alienated mothering in which the child's emotional needs are ignored by mothers who have culturally learned to separate baby from themselves postpartum. (I'm still reading this next book - it created a rather large emotional upheaval!!)

Our culture cultivates separation, but we're a social species needing a lot of emotional attachment and love in the early years until we are weaned as it were from mother's care (if we ever truly are - seeing my father say good bye to his mother at her funeral was an image that will never leave me).

The newborn gets "his own" cot, "his own" room even, and is then subjected to the current abusive fashion of conditional crying - letting the child bawl until he learns not to. Babies cannot dial child helpline - but their screaming should be read that they are trying.

When the baby becomes silent it has given up on its mother as a source of love.

Just like statins, one day the mass media will wake up and say, oh, the separation of infants from their mothers has caused a lot of damage. (Ever wonder why so many teens have, for the past few decades, been into highly destructive behaviour ranging from "Gothic" culture of isolated melancholy to drugs). What do we hear? Oh, she just wants to be picked up... by a mother who refuses to pick the child up. The effect is telling in the teenage years and the mother wonders why she doesn't have a great bond with her daughter and takes comfort in the crass media that explore this as somehow normal.

Paraded around shops and malls in a forward facing pushchair with no sense as to why it turns left or right with a dummy in its mouth rather than a nipple, fed industrially produced formula and jabbed with a range of chemicals (vaccines) no doctor has yet to offer to drink, the child becomes increasingly alienated and disaffected. Marxists should have a field day here analysing the subtext of modern parenting, but alas they they are far more interested in notions of wage slavery and the need for woman to become independent of natural chores and the rights to abortion rather than an insightful anaysis of the newborn and the importance of loving and nurturing. Our culture encourages us to cast our bairns into an isolated universe, removed from his natural connection to mother and others.

Things are slowly turning but for the past few decades we have created the Brave New World of separating babies from their mothers.

Coming home, the young child may be put in front of the tv or be given a basic electronic game to play, thereby stultifying its imagination from the first few months of existence. The ubiquitous plug in drugs of modern life diminish a child's imagination and abilities compared to naturally and freely frolicking with simple objects and construction bricks. The flat screen life certainly flattens his imagination. If you've not read it yet - please get a hold of this book: mandatory reading for anyone keen to help our youth grow up properly -

Then off to nursery or reception class administered by other controllers of the baby's life.

I have watched child minders and while no doubt they love children and enjoy spending time with them, they, perhaps of necessity, have to use controlling means to ensure the children obey their instructions rather than to be allowed free play. I've yet to be impressed by nursery schools. Brave New World lies therein. And what for? So mum and dad can earn an extra few grand a year. Now where that's necessary for economic survival, the importance of family time after nursery becomes so much more important. But when it's just a matter of having a few more doodads or keeping up with the annual purchase of a new car, it rather lacks moral weight - and for those who are wealthy enough to afford a nanny something is very awry.

Indeed, my good old friend, John Locke, wrote about such mischief in the 17th century. For him the family was the most important source of a child's education and upbringing. He would not have condoned sending young infants into the arms of strangers and into the perils of a life with other people's children. That was for the very poor who had no choice.

Also in the nursery, being thrown into the presence of other children, some of whom are so distraught over their mother's abandonment of them or mentally distracted because their vital formative years were spent sitting in front of screens, the atmosphere can be charged negatively, or be of such confusion as to render the world dark and dangerous from the young person's maturing mind. In such environments imagination and passion can swiftly die.

Is it surprising that in such environments, the young child learns that choice is not his or hers to make. She is the pawn in an adult game, the patterns of which may fall into a regularity and hence gain some sense of order, but in which nonetheless her choices and needs are secondary or peripheral.

Form nursery to school.

Drawn in by games and fun (controlled according to the administrators) the child is gradually subjected to the military equivalent of basic drill. She learns that her interests are secondary or even worthless. I recall one my students commenting that school lost it for him when the primary school dismissed his love of interests as it was not on the curriculum. I had another young girl, 9, who was put off art! Now that does take some incompetency on the part of the school. How do you put someone off art- that is where many of our pupils find refuge in self-expression. Well, she had to draw/colour as the teacher told her to.

Now, we can ask what is on the curriculum that does fire our passions? It may be maths, French, RE, or geography, or IT for some folk ... but then it may not be for the majority; some aspects of the courses may fire our interest for a moment but then it gets dropped as the curriculum moves on inexorably to an exam (which rarely enthuses us), or the pupil has to trot off to another class and lose track of where the subject was heading. (History's an interesting one here - often the GCSE syllabus is decided by the teacher rather than permitting pupils the choice over what is a wonderfully broad range of choices for an academic subject for young people.)

Finally, the student gets to choose a few subjects that he or she wants to do at A-level and degree level. At this stage, the use of a critical mind and the need for a passion and purpose are vital. Yet by then, much as been thwarted and repressed.

How do I know?

I work with teenagers and maturing people and getting some of them to make a decision is hard. For eleven or more formal years of schooling they have been told to do as they are told, follow the routine, change subject at time set by other people. At A-level we expect them to evaluate and judge arguments and theories - yet they have been conditioned to hold back their personal judgement.

Then they enter the work force and fall into a job. The rebellious and disaffected in school suddenly find that freedom means that they can create jobs and they often become business people; but most quietly move into the professional world, keep their head down, muddle along ... and get married and have kids and start the whole routine all over again - medicalised birth, separation of baby, push chairs and cots in separate rooms, off to nursery and school ... and so it goes.

For those who find it painful to make a decision, we start small with simple decisions over minor matters.

Then we try to cultivate aesthetic judgements and material goals (what kind of house would you love to design/live in; what kind of car do you really want...).

I watch my children focus on what they want and how the envisage the things they would like. They seek to alter the universe around them so they get them - not through pestering (they learn that doesn't work) but through working for funds (or saving gifts) to get what they want.

For adults, the journey back to that inherent love of purpose may require thinking like a child - seeing the world for its wonderful abundancy and vast opportunities. Harness the childish love of life to adult dreams and we can once again find our purpose(s).

So  how can we help our children? School is a must for many people because of economic constraints. Fine.

But explore after school - learn together by watching your child and see what they're interested in.

If nothing is forthcoming because they are quiet after school (and you're really, authentically not in a position to pull them from a place that is slowly stripping them of vitality), pick up your own hobby - music, drawing, a sport, something that uses motor co-ordination and activity (rather than, oh, let's put on the dvds...)

Show them your passions and interests and they will soon pick some thing up for themselves. In the extracurricular many students do find their passions.

But above all, don't feel guilty for the culture that we have all been brought up in - we didn't choose how our parents were conditioned and how we too were conditioned in turn; it is hard to go against the peer group which expects us to tow the line. But we can make a difference from this moment on - we can learn about the forces that condition us to behave in the ways we do (from marketing to government policies and our parenting and schooling) and think about them. Talk about them. Discuss them with our kids. 

Be yourself, no matter what they say, sang Sting. Quite right. But let's help foster that healthy self!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Bitcoins and the Central Banks - Austrian perspective on money.

According to recent reports, the Federal Reserve is slowly turning its attention to the Bit Coin phenomenon. Bit Coins were developed by Satoshi Nakamoto as an alternative currency to the paper fiat monies issued by central banks. Using encrypted software, transactions take place online using the virtual currency; physical bit coins have been produced to provide a substitute for online transactions.

Value is something that the market provides services. Since there is no such thing as intrinsic value in economic goods and services (contra Marxists and classical economists who thought mixing labour somehow created value); accordingly, the value of a monetary commodity comes from the demand and supply for the money itself and the demand and supply for the goods and services that it can buy.

Whether something is accepted as money in the marketplace depends on the willingness of traders to use it in exchange. That's it. It has nothing to do with intrinsic notions that the money is somehow valuable in itself or that its value is somehow decreed by an authority - the king or a central bank.

The value of money is dependent on these two markets (demand and supply for money and the demand and supply for goods and services - of which, of course, there are millions of markets transacting each day): the value of money typically becomes disturbed when its supply to the market becomes volatile - notably on the inflationist side of the equation.

Inflationism is the policy of systematically undermining the value of a currency by increasing its supply. When money was gold (and in many respects, despite political exhortation, it still is) the only way its supply could increase was through mining, melting down of jewellery and ornaments, or seizing enemies' treasure. The amount of extra gold entering the economy was thus limited to physical discoveries or alteration of use.

When governments discovered the fraudulent scam of fractional reserve banking and the commercial use of money substitutes such as cheques and paper, they had a field day: now inflationists could expand the money supply at will. And that is what governments have generally done.

When they have not been actively printing paper money, they have borrowed 'cheap' funds from the banking system that they permit to lend out more than the reserves held on account (fractional reserve banking).

The temptation for both practices is incredibly high and it takes an iron-clad constitutional prohibition to stop such scams.

Traders, properly speaking, are not really bothered what money they use. As long as its value is not volitive over time, they will converge on those monetary media that enable them to reduce transaction costs.

This principle is profound and highly useful for us to help us understand why Bit Coins emerged and why the Fed and other Central Banks are keen to regulate them. (Monitor = regulate).

It also helps us understand why throughout history traders have converged onto either gold or silver as universal media for exchange.

In the last decade, we have seen monetary wobbles around the world - as economists, we often look back to the hyperinflation of Weimer Germany and other nations as textbook cases of what not to do with a currency. We've had Zimbabwe's trillion dollar notes, but more importantly, the world's reserve currency's monetary base has, under Obama, expanded more than four fold. It has risen from around 800 billion $ to over $36 billion.

That money has to go somewhere and we know it will have deleterious effects.

Much of it has gone into the bond and stock markets (the Fed has been voraciously 'buying up' US government debt in exchange for paper - paper for paper...not economically healthy and it's the kind of accounting fraud that companies go down for); that is why we have had obvious bubbles growing in these paper markets. A proportion will have gone abroad as most commodities (e.g., oil) are still priced in US $.

For now.

But traders are not fooled by the growing quantities of $ and other currencies around the world.
Basically, if the Fed prints more money, or uses QE - same thing, other central banks generally follow suit so that the US$ is not seen to plummet in value against these other currencies: but we can assuredly see the effect on the price of gold that has risen from just over $200 dollars in 2001 to a high of $1900 in 2011; it has dropped to around $1200 over the past 12 months as investors' money has expected more gains from the paper markets, but it is slowly creeping up again and the savvier newsletters remain 'bullish' on gold.

When traders fear that the currency will fall in value or become unacceptably volatile, they seek alternatives. The ultimate alternative will always be something difficult to replicate, i.e., gold and silver. Entrepreneurs though are attempting to replace or avoid using paper currencies with Bit Coin.

Bit Coin is a symptom of the general implicit malaise in the paper currency world - a world that permits the creation of an extra $70-$80 billion per month without a moment's hesitation - and hence the attempt of traders to avoid the paper notes issued by and for governments (central banks are effectively government agencies regardless of their 'private status').

Although transactions are currently small, the Fed has expressed its  'interest'. Other US organs of violence have attacked illicit Bit Coin users - traders who are active in illicit markets who would be targeted by governments anyway - but now they are raising the attention level. Why? Because they cannot control Bit Coins so long as they are produced by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs.

Bit Coin or any such alternative forms and alternative money supply and hence an alternative monetary value to the use of paper currencies. If the latter are printed in greater quantities than the former, the value of the paper currencies will be seen to deteriorate with respect to the Bit Coin alternatives (just as the $ has fallen with respect to gold).

And being seen to deteriorate is not what the Central Banks want. They want the superficiality of all is normal and stable with their flimsy currencies; they do not want traders rushing en masse away from paper and back into gold or alternatives, because then the governments they work with would not be able to raise the monies required to pay their huge debts (currently, the US government debt is over $17 trillion and counting).

The entire monetary policy of the western governments would quickly be seen to be thoroughly hollow.

And so such entrepreneurial tactics to avoid using toilet paper money must be 'investigated' - i.e., controlled, regulated, brought to heel.

If Bit Coin use (or the use of gold coins in transactions) increases, the demand for paper currency will fall given a supply. This means that the market value of national currencies will fall - and that means inflation.  (Of course the supply keeps on increasing, which will heighten the inflationary effects).

As inflation becomes more apparent, commercial transactions will seek more stable monetary environments whether from Bit Coins or gold and silver exchanges. That is inevitable, regardless of politicians' desires. Traders will always seek the best form of monetary exchange, and governments have been woeful at supplying a stable and strong currency over time.

In many respects, I wish the Bit Coin entrepreneurs all the best in circumnavigating the Central Banks. However, an electronically based currency is not and cannot be as stable as a physical hard monetary medium such as gold or silver. It offers too much of a tempting target for governments and banks to either take over or prohibit. And while governments have prohibited the private ownership of gold in the past - notably and most embarrassingly the United States of America, the land of liberty - in 1933, gold can always be hidden, dug into the ground, melted into jewellery, etc.

A day after writing this: US Feds are keen to accept bit coins ... why not? There's so many transactions out there they can't tax! Also, two arrests of bit coin dealers acting in illegal markets (i.e. markets the authorities can't tax...) NEWS ABOUT BITCOINS ON THIS SITE

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Should children be targeted?

Okay, a pun.

For the past two decades or so, UK pupils have been given targets to aim for in their work. While there is much to support the notion for aiming for some value or goal in life, academic targets fall short of authenticity and are open to manipulation.

An authentic target is one that self-chosen, that reflects our deepest values and the purposes we have.

For instance, if a teenager wishes to go to medical school then her primary value may be to serve people through providing better health and alleviating pain and illness. To reach for that goal, she will need to go to medical school (or a complementary school depending on her philosophy of care); to get into medical school, she will have to secure excellent grades from her A-levels and GCSEs and show her commitment through work experiences and voluntary work. It's a heck of a track, but if that's what she wants, then commitment and hard work are part of the course. As tutors and coaches we can then work with her on her scores and encourage her to be accountable, listening out for deviations from the targets and considering options and potential changes of values along the way.

If a pupil wants to go into business, then scholarly grades are ostensibly less important than gaining experience in many different business environments; now the emphasis is on securing key values that make sense to the pupil. How many businesses does she want to run, what turnover, how much money does she want in the bank account by the age of 30 (a good question for all pupils!), how many customers does she want to serve and in what manner (services? manufactured goods?). School work becomes a means to an end in which the knowledge gained should be viewed as a stretching of the mind, gaining important research skills (all business people need to be able to research), picking up a language for international work; on the extracurricular side, we'd expect to see commitment to people through sports, leadership, teamwork, and individual initiative - all great values without which people flounder in business.

The target thus needs to be adapted to the individual and the course of studies moulded to his or her primary values. Only then do scholarly courses and targets make sense.

However, students are saddled with course choices that are not part of their overall game plan. They waste many hours having to research and study for projects that do not make sense to them and which  they often come to resent. From the perspective of an all rounder, such feelings are sad to see in young people: 'what do you mean, you don't like history??!' And when they are expected to gain certain targets, pulled out of the blue, for such courses, they do feel incredibly disgruntled - more importantly, such feelings can spill over to learning in general, which is something we do not want to have.

To be targeted a grade in a course that has no primary meaning to one's life implies a form of social engineering, and our youth are quite sensitive to such manipulation, even though they rarely are able to voice what's going on.

Imagine telling an adult: right, you're going to sit this course, which will take up five hours of your week, no, I don't care that you don't like it, and we'll give you a target for it, and if you don't hit the target, you're in trouble.


In the business world, one of the greatest mistakes is putting the wrong person in a job.

This is what most of our schooling does - wrong person in a class, and then to make matters worse they are given targets to hit and have to explain themselves when things go wrong.

The other main problem with academic targets in schools is that the are historical in nature. I have pupils tell me that they are 'expected to get a C grade' or whatever and they cannot explain to me why they are so targeted.

Well, it's from statistical analysis of past behaviour. A moving average as it were - working back to their year 7 work through to their year 10 scores. So someone scoring a C along the way will be expected to score a C at the end of their exams. No account is made for the possibility of a change of momentum, which we do often see in 15 year olds as they approach their exams: the realisation dawns that the exams they will do this coming summer actually matter - and then they go up a gear, get really motivated, can be coached and mentored with ease (because they want to be), and hey ho, they pull an A.

Except we have a feudal system of exams: if a pupil is hovering around the 'C expectation', they are not permitted by most schools to take the higher papers which could gain them a B or an A.


Because schools don't want to risk that pupil messing up and getting a D, when they could easily score a C on the lower paper.

In other words, politics.

In setting targets for children, the teachers and heads will work the children hard to get the best resuls for the school - not the individual.

In my practice, we offer pupils a separate route. Smile and nod at school, as you're not going to change the system, but take the higher paper independently. In the commercial world, there is always another way of doing things!

So our youth certainly need targets: but those targets need to relate to their goals, their career choices, and their primary values. Then they will make sense to the pupil. When we ignore those, the targets are manipulative and even counter-productive. Schools could do this - and the better teachers no doubt reach out to explain why working at a certain level will be part of the game plan for the individual pupil; but they in turn are targeted by national statistics and this renders any attempt to work with the individual pupil nugatory - ultimately, the pupil is a statistic for the school, and beyond that for the government (and whatever pedagogic fashions hold sway).

To help your child - or yourself - think about what you want to achieve. Then work back from that primary value to secure the path that you'll need to take to get there. Then consider what courses and grades are then appropriate (and which are therefore inappropriate!). That's when we can all provide authentic targets for ourselves.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Budgeting...and kaizen

Frightening word. Budget.

Money = sexy.

Budget = grim.

We'll think it'll be alright...earn some money, spend some money.

But will they balance? Who cares? Why should we worry about such things?

These writings are forming the back bone of a book I'm planning on writing once I have completed a current novel. I will be adding to these writings as I proceed closer to planning and writing the book.

Sometimes we let our expenditures run away with themselves - we dive into purchases for the sake of purchasing, we spend thinking that the money will sort itself out, we ignore warning signs, we fall back into habits that brought us into debt.

Kaizen, a Japanese method used in businesses, is about making small changes to improve productivity. For instance, if you place the bin closer to where you work, you save yourself a few seconds than if it is further away.

A few seconds? Who cares?

Well, a few seconds add up each day. Let's say, you saved yourself 10 seconds each time you put something in the bin. Five times a day = 50 seconds, five times a week = 250 seconds. You work 350 days a year, so that equates to 76250 seconds or 21 hours. Wow! That's three days of work. Just by bringing the bin closer.

I love this analogy and I love the philosophy.

I try to implement kaizen in many things that we do - keep things that I am currently working on close at hand and in the same place; but keep things that will distract me further away. (Closing the door on the kids playing, I've just found, cut their interruptions from once every few minutes to a twenty minute stretch of quiet writing!!)

I've been teaching this with pupils for years: you have a hundred pages to read in six weeks: that's 42 days, so that's 100/42 = 2.3 pages a day. Call it 3 pages and get it done in 33 days instead. 3 pages isn't much, I remind them. Next issue: when will you do this? We need more information. Timing the pupil, we find it takes them 5 minutes to read 3 pages. 5 minutes - that's all we require. 5 minutes a day for 33 days, or 42 days and have the weekends off, and you're done. So when will you put 5 minutes into your reading...get home from school, grab a drink, find a quiet space and read. Time yourself too!

If we can do it with reading or other tasks, we can do it with money too. It's all about getting good habits and driving away bad habits.

In his highly recommendable book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Ancor relates how he changed his habits by making some things easier to - such as putting his guitar that he wanted to practise in the middle of his living room - and some things harder to to - such as taking the batteries out of his remote control. I love the image of the guitar in the middle of the room - okay, he was living alone so he didn't have children who could move it or get in the way of their play, but the image is really helpful.

We can do the same with our money. Put the money in the middle of the room...perhaps. Just make it easy for you to cut bad habits and get into good habits.

Let's imagine that each time you enjoy a lunch, you buy what you want and don't care or think about the cost.

It usually comes to say 11.95 because you buy a muffin with the sandwich and treat yourself to a second coffee...Next time just take 10 with you (£,$,€...whatever); that'll save 1.95 a day for five days, or 702 a year. Wow!!

Leave your cards at home. I've not used my debit card for over 6 months; I've forgotten its pin. This is part of a strategy we're currently using to minimise expenditures - only one of us has access to the current account when we're out. That means that I can't go play with money when out and about. For the odd lunch I need to buy, I use cash. Once or twice, I've hit the budgeted amount (10) and had to put something back. I'm still alive and smiling. And it's taught me to add up the purchases as I'm going along the aisles.

Keeping easy payment methods out of reach can save a small fortune.

The other thing - which is harder - is to check your balances daily. Why not weekly or when I feel like it? Because by then, my accounts may be in trouble - I won't be able to budget so easily, I won't know where I am.

If we're going to master life, we must master money.

Money is the great force of the human universe that motivates, intimidates, frightens, and empowers us. Yet most people (and many highly intelligent professional people I've spoken to) prefer not to think about it; they prefer not to worry about it.

Well, when we ignore it - it has a tendency either to avoid us like the plague (and keep us poor) or we end up in immature spending habits that perpetuate debt cycles. For some that can end in bankruptcy, for others it can end in middle class poverty - lots to show but not much to invest.

Each banking day of the week (I get the weekends off!) I sit down and go through our accounts. There are three that I need to assiduously check daily - business and two personal accounts, one used to pay all the direct debits and the other our current account. Three different banks. Sounds like a pain - well, make it fun!

Kaizen is all about saving time. So I time myself each time I sit down at the computer to check the online banking. I've downloaded apicmac timer which I clock my time spent on checking my balances and making any transactions I need. You can download free ones for the PC too. Simple idea  but it makes me accountable for my time.

Time is money remember. (How much to do you earn per hour? Use it as a gauge to assess the value of your time.)

But what about the guitar in the middle of the room? Okay, more difficult to do with the laptop - so I've put a sheet of tasks, in order of importance, to be done daily.

At the beginning of each fortnight, I set up an excel sheet that I then print out with my list of daily activities. Make checking the accounts and budget the first thing to do. That's the equivalent of putting the guitar in the middle of the room.

Lists are important - but they need to be tied into overall goals of what you want to achieve in six months, a year, two years, ten years, etc. I make a note of the times I take on the sheet (on the print out rather than on the computer, as then it is hidden and not visible - think of Ancor's policy of placing his guitar in the middle of the room! - my sheet is next to my laptop) so when I finish my banking, I jot down the time and check my 'score.' I've noted that it takes on average 10 minutes to do the banking.

This then gets put onto the excel template:

2) WRITING BLOG: 1 hour.

I keep a note of the times for about three weeks, after which it has become so automatic like brushing my teeth, which means it has become an habit.

These are good habits and kaizen techniques can help streamline our lives by making the good things more habitual and the bad things we do less accessible.

Of course, you have to implement the initial changes - hence I've found keeping an excel sheet with things to do and a check box next to them makes me accountable (to myself, sure, but you do feel bad when you've not done something.)

Writing this column is a once a week task. It's on the sheet. It's fun waking up and checking what blog I'm going to write, as I change the days on which I write - that removes a sense of 'oh, it's Wednesday, I'm going to write my Mastering Life blog' to 'hey! I wonder what it'll be today!' Shawn recommends removing the choices - and I agree: but the choice is already made on the day I set the timetable: I jot down a scheme of work, Monday = Economics Circle Blog; Tuesday Education blog; Wednesday Economics powerpoint for pupils; Thursday Mastering Life blog... I don't have a choice that I will write or not - I will write.

Each night, I  also write at least ten minutes on my current novel. Ten minutes can stretch to thirty, as I do it last of all when my boys are in bed, so it's open-ended. But ten minutes minimum each day, that's 70 mins a week...I'll be finished before the Easter deadline I've set.

Similarly with the budget - I take £10 into the supermarket to get lunch; what I shall get is dependent on offers, prices, and reading my body's needs. Hmmm, fish today! I've taken the choice away of spending more than my budget, thereby saving pennies but left some creativity for what I shall eat.

For some people, the range of choices may have to be further limited. If you're of the mind, "oh, I can't decide what to eat" then get a meal planner and stick to it. It's Wednesday, so it's mackerel, salad, brazil nuts and dark chocolate for afternoon snack. Thursday, it's chicken breast with mixed vegetables, pine nuts, and 9bar for snack. Friday... you get the idea: remove choice to help sustain the good habit.

So it goes with money. The hardest thing about budgeting is sitting down to do it. But with three accounts to juggle, I found it only took me ten minutes. I do it first thing in the morning, straight after breakfast. Doing it daily can save me a £50 bank fee if I happen to go over my overdraft limit - which has happened a couple of times in the last year - but not since I've been checking my budget daily, motivated in part by the pain of an unnecessary fee and in part by the need to save more, to build up investments, and to really know what's happening the accounts.

(Not knowing what your money's doing is like driving a car blindfold - a very dangerous practice!)

Several weeks into the discipline (discipline - to follow a principle), I feel much more confident about our monetary flows. When an unexpected expenditure comes up, it hurts. It's not in the budget! But rather than panic, I adjust the flows and work out what needs to give to pay for it. Accordingly, I'm building a fund. Our mentors suggest at least six months' worth of income to be put aside for such unexpected events. That can be a lot of money for some, but the pain of having to pay extra bank interest or fees is much much worse.

Kaizen can thus help. Say to yourself - right, what kaizen can I do today? What little thing can make life that little bit easier? Yesterday, I innovated painting door (I'm doing two to three doors a week so the whole house will be done in a month) while playing some investment videos - I get an education while I paint! Great use of my time.

Setting up the budget plan and and writing a basic excel sheet with your current balances and expected outgoings can take an evening or two. But once it's automated, you're off! Ten minutes a day. That's it.

But you need a goal. What are you saving for? What investment would you like to make? A really good notion is to find what is the basic expenditure you need to make monthly and stick to it rigorously. E.g., £1000 dead on. No more. When your income grows, keep the expenditure the same otherwise, you'll fall into bad habits and spend more money and not feel the improvement over time. That's another area of course.

This is a HUGE area - and I shall be adding to the file over time, as the goal (always have a goal) is to produce a book from this.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Conversation versus chat


Conversation: engaging, involves listening, both people mutually benefit and learn or feel inspired.

Chat: time wasting.

Sometimes a chat is needed to break into conversation (the English etiquette of mentioning the weather, i.e., something non-political), but mindless chat with no purpose wastes your time and takes away from you other more engaging or profitably activities.

This is something we can think about before we engage in a verbal response with someone. Are we waiting 'to have our say' because we have to make a noise, or are we interested in what the other person has to say (genuinely so)?

If someone just wants to make noise and flap and chat and get nowhere, excuse yourself with pressing matters. As Dan Kennedy proclaims, these are time vampires who will take your time and energy and you'll get nothing done!

Conversation - spontaneous or planned - should be enlivening.

When we read literature, we are engaging in The Great Conversation that has been taking place since humans first wrote things down. What a wonderful privilege that we can still enter a dialogue about people's thoughts who lived over two thousand years ago.

Two lovely books to peruse and learn from:

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Scotland's potential to strike it rich - devolution

Very rarely do the politics of devolution offer the chance for a nation to become incredibly rich - but when the move is combined with a policy to engage in sound monetary policy, the nation could become a new Switzerland.

It's politicians however are dooming it to failure from the beginning. But that's what politicians generally are good at doing.


Because a new Scotland will be founded on dependency and cheap money whereas if it stood up for sound money and banking, it would flourish properly and with genuine reasons to be proud too.

In September 2014, Scotland will be voting in a referendum to become independent of the United Kingdom (to some extent or less that the politicians have not yet clearly worked out). A yes vote would end 300 years of political union (or rule from London, depending on your view point).

The nation was brought into the Union following a horrendous monetary debacle in which a quarter of the nation's money was invested in the Darien Scheme; at the time Scotland was relatively poor and the idea of setting up a trading colony to enrich the Kingdom appealed enormously to the landowners. It failed and Scotland was propelled into political Union with England. (The Crowns had already been united with the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English thrown as James I).

The Darien scheme precipitated the Union: what could the Scots lose from an economic and political union with the wealthier England? Well, as Robert Burns penned (and it is well worth reading aloud to feel the great poet's ire! Or hear it here by the bbc)

Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
Fareweel our ancient glory,
Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
Sae fam'd in martial story.
Now Sark rins o'er the Solway sands,
And Tweed rins to the ocean,
To mark where England's province stands -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

What force or guile could not subdue,
Thro' many warlike ages,
Is wrought now by a coward few
For hireling traitor's wages.
The English steel we could disdain;
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

O would, or I had seen the day
That treason thus could sell us,
My auld gray head had lien in clay,
Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak' this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Stirs the heart of any person keen on securing their independence of greater political unions and powers that interfere: the rogues will sell their flag, their people, their ideals and traditions to secure personal gain and glory.

And so we turn to the current momentum building towards the referendum. Here's the great chance for Scotland to raise the Saltire with pride ...

here's the great chance for a highly developed, highly educated and stalwart people to generate wealth and freedom and help reduce its poverty.



What got Scotland into its mess with England, what prompted its loss of freedom and what gained the  sarcasm of one of the world's greatest poets, was monetary failure: sure, there was misplaced optimism and a risk adventure - but the whole scheme was drummed up by William Paterson, who following the great misadventure went on to found the Bank of England - another great misadventure, which, unknown to most people swiftly went bankrupt and only maintained its existence through government decree and the promise that the government would bail it out (or it would be allowed to bail itself out...). The Bank of England - and indeed all central banking - is based on the premise that the central bank can never go bankrupt because ... it can print money. Naturally, printing money creates economic disasters and it still amazes me how naive researchers, think tanks, politicians (well perhaps they don't amaze me for their 'naivety'), and most economists think that printing money (or 'quantitative easing') can be economically neutral or is indeed somehow beneficial - one has to ask: to whom?

Sound money on the other hand is based on a hard currency - something that cannot be created out of thin air (e-currencies) or from printing more of it. Hard currency is typically based on gold and silver. For centuries before governments got wind of the power of central banking (or perhaps before the money changers got wind of how they could harness government to maintain their monopolies and privileges of defrauding the rest of the community), gold and silver were currency. And when countries' wealth increased, the prices of most commodities fell - the poor earning low salaries became wealthier as standards of living improved. And economic growth was easy to ascertain - your penny or shilling or pound (all derivatives of weights of the hard metals) would be worth more at the end of your lifetime than at the beginning.

Sound money also presupposes that banks do not lend out more money than the deposits they take in. For centuries, the money changers and the governments that work closely with them in a mutually enriching partnership, banks have manipulated deposit schemes so they lend out a greater proportion of funds than that taken in.

This is known as fractional reserve banking and is the greatest scam perpetuated on humanity. It is an ancient scam going back to the Egyptians and Greeks. Whenever banking in any form has developed, there has been the temptation of defrauding the people by lending out more than what is taken in. For a wonderfully detailed survey of this, read De Soto's erudite work and Rothbard's easy to follow overview of banking:

Fractional reserve banking has been the bane of all economies where ever it has been introduced. It requires a central bank and government promises to maintain the fraud - and Scotland's move towards voting on independence provides a useful time to raise the issue and to present to its people the chance of revoking its three hundred year political and economic dependency on more powerful countries.

Should the Scottish gain a grasp of what opportunity could be exploited, Edinburgh could become a major financial centre attracting capital and monetary flows. It could become the northern Switzerland and Luxembourg. The move would be simple and highly attractive to millions of concerned investors and savers around the world: bring back sound money and banking.

Take the Scottish pound and declare it's value against gold as a weight (not as some nominal fluctuating value - the pound was a pound of silver, period - what it bought was dependent on what people produced, so its value was determined by the productive economy rather than by money printers printing more or less of it).

Say £1 = one thousand of an ounce of gold, or one gramme equals £35 of gold. Fix the rate in stone (preferably in Scone - joke, but culturally important place for the Scots). Simple - just as the rate of centimetres is fixed against inches, so too should a currency be fixed against other currencies in the same manner. It begins though by fixing the currency against gold ... and sticking to it. No fraudulent devaluations allowed.

With a hard money currency and a 100% reserve banking system, true wealth would flow in. Scotland has good traditions of banking, finance, and insurance to exploit the potential from sound money. As wealth flowed in, the economy would gradually find itself becoming wealthier as the Scottish banks acted as gold depositors and traders. All sound money systems have enjoyed flourishing economies, because their wealth creation is based on hard principles of earning your daily bread, saving it, and investing it, rather than pumping the economy with steroids, which is what the inflationism of printing money and quantitative easing produces: short term gains for the few not the many.

Would William Wallace have accepted defrauding the people with counterfeit money and quantitative easing? I doubt it. Would those who signed the declaration of Arbroath accepted it? I doubt it.

Scottish independence based on sound money would be a beacon to the rest of the world sick of inflation and declining currencies. Politicians would  have to change their tune and become honest in monetary policy.

It's a grand opportunity!

But what do the politicians want from independence...more EU welfare. Independence, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon proclaims, would increase the welfare payments to Scottish farmers by £850 million.

Such a parcel of rogues in a nation
Would sell their people for EU paper.

Shame on them. It's rather sickening to hear an intelligent woman call out that her people should vote for independence to become welfare dependents. Pathological in many respects.

I just hope the Scots have enough pride in themselves and their nation to vote for independence for true independence (sound money and banking) not for vile dependence on welfare.

Dr Alex Moseley
(Connections: I've always had a soft spot for Scotland following their 1970s World Cup endeavours, when my own country, England, failed to get in! I enjoyed the privilege of three years' sojourn in Edinburgh and fell in love with the city and the mountains to the north. It's a grand place to live!)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Our multiple intelligences - extending Gardner's theory

Working with pupils of all ages and abilities, I often have to remind them that they have a range of skills rather than the ones that schools and academic institutions focus on. And that the weaker of those skills can be worked on just like a weak muscle can be strengthened.

Howard Gardner is a great proponent of multiple intelligences - but I think a few more can be added to his traditional seven.

Schools focus for the most part on linguistic intelligence (being able to speak and write clearly, learn languages, and to use language to achieve goals), and logical-mathematical intelligence (carrying out mathematical, analytical and investigative procedures). These are why there's so much emphasis on maths and English at schools. The former is easy to test the latter is deemed a requisite skill of civilisation (to which I agree, I'm just not sure that schools go about enthusing people for literature very well though! A case of too much, too soon as considered by Richard House in his edited collection below.)

That's it. Really just two.

Of course, schools try for more, as many teachers are well aware that children presents more than just two areas of skill to be tested and graded, but at the end of the day, that's what they will be examined on and which will enable to rise higher up the academic ladder. That enables the systems that be (created politically, philosophically, haphazardly, accidentally over decades) to divide and grade pupils on their abilities in these two areas only.

Yet someone poor at maths may be an excellent artist, or vice versa. Now, I often have students who are 'good at exams' but who can't draw/dance/sing, etc, and who are not interested in working on those areas. After all, exams in art and drama and music are not as held in such great esteem as maths and the sciences. But why's that? The mathematically minded pupil is failing in art...shouldn't we help them overcome their inability just as we would an artist struggling with maths? After all, people are more likely to be able to communicate with pictures than they are with numbers.

A useful analogy is the gym addict who is passionate about his (we'll go with the male here as it seems more common) pectoral, abdominal, biceps and deltoids but who doesn't work his hamstrings, glutes and triceps because he can't see them. All muscles need working and our bodies need balance otherwise they end up being overused in some areas that will then increase the risk of injury. We could say the same with the intelligences.

But our academic system predominantly only focuses on two.

Hey ho! What other intelligences according to Gardner's theory do we possess? (The following image is from It's lovely in its visual intelligence.)

Musical intelligence - performing, composing, understanding and appreciating rhythm. Well, that gets killed by much of modern pop culture and school music lessons (for the majority - there are always exceptions, usually propped up by parents and music tutors).

Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence - using parts or the whole body to help solve problems; having great coordination. Now, we certainly are in awe at students and adults with great physical co-ordination, and to some extent it is encouraged at schools, particularly those with good sports resources. Sadly, most of the population come out of our educational institutions will little appreciation of their own physical intelligence - why else do we see growing numbers of unhealthy people in our midst whose resemblance to our hunter-gatherer ancestors is remarkably absent? Who took the fun out of games? Was it the schools or the diet people followed? Was it the advent of 'plug in drugs' such as tv, computer games, and the whole paraphernalia of screens?

Spatial intelligence: understanding and orienteering through space. Some people seem to have a better sense of size, volume and area than others, but I don't think it's wholly genetic. By referring our selves to the world around us, we can certainly gain a better appreciation of size, and who is not awed by a massive mountain, a beautiful valley, or the immensity of the sea or the heavens? If you're not, start measuring things around you!

Interpersonal intelligence: understanding the motivations, intentions and desires/fears of people around. While a prerequisite for sales and teaching, it's also something that can be taught people who believe themselves or who have accepted themselves as lacking in this regard. Mimicry is a good place to begin - copying what others do (politely that is, with permission or watching people on tv), acting out dramatic parts and drawing people's faces can all help here. A tip from the great psychologist and philosopher, Nathaniel Branden, is to take on the poise/posture of the the client you're with - now that's if you want to get an insight into how they are feeling. However, my personal trainer, Guy Baker (Nottingham, Triple B Gym) prefers to sell his great poise to clients - walk like a king and people will want to emulate you, is his philosophy! Either way, you're stretching into other people's thinking. Literature is another great way to help us understand more complex motives.

Intrapersonal intelligence involves being able to get in touch with our selves. This is the fun of introspection - of gaining a sense of the big picture of who we are, where we came from (metaphysically as well as culturally and biologically), and the patterns we have generated in our own lives. This is all about the intelligence needed to master one's life: to know thyself as the Greeks rightly put it.

Others have added:

Environmental intelligence: this is an awareness of one's position relative to the natural world, having a sense of the flows and cycles of nature; being able to navigate the woods say. "I went to the woods to live deeply" ethos. It's interesting that townies are often quite low on this area. We see the ramblers in our neighbourhood, dressed very brightly and tending to make a heck of noise as they stomp through gorgeous English countryside wondering, if they got around to it, why they hadn't seen any deer or badgers. Some country folk are like that too of course. The key is get lie down in a field and just sense the immensity of life all around - to 'ground' oneself (ions, I hear) and moreover to listen and survey the living world, to feel how it grows without effort, to feel the energy of the living systems all around.

Existentialist intelligence: an understanding of greater, metaphysical issues, or at least a keen interest in them. Spiritual experiences, an openness to viewing the planet as a whole, the universe as a whole or querying the nature or existence of God, the universe, and mind. These are often invoked over a glass of wine or a theological seminar, but we're all open to pulling away from ourselves to wonder at our existence. Jean Paul Sartre had us "thrown into the world" without choice. Buddhists claim that we choose to enter this world from the spirit world: we choose physicality.

To these intelligences, I would also add:

Value intelligence: an extension of interpersonal intelligence to commercial values. Some people train their intelligence here to become excellent traders and entrepreneurs - they see value where other people as yet do not; or they know the difference in values across economies or time, so are good at arbitrage or investing. Again, this area can be exercised and trained through such subjects as economics and business studies, but more importantly through experience. Perhaps Gardner incorporates this skill into others, but there is something unique and attractive about someone who reads markets well.

Temporal intelligence: having a conception of the passing of time. Time is ... philosophically awkward ... but some people do have a keener sense of their mortality, impending deadlines, the need to be punctual and timely in comments and replies. There are times when silence is important - and that relates to intra and interpersonal skills, but a sense of timing in the sense of a duration is critical in sports, business, trading, the military, politics, and diplomacy.

 Expressive intelligence: this one I owe to my pupil, Zoe Gascoyne. You never know where ideas come from and she, being an artist, thought that her greatest strength lay in being able to express ideas and emotions artistically. It overlaps with other intelligences of course, but in a great sense, all of the above will overlap and should not be construed as sitting pretty by themselves (exclusive of all other categories, logicians would say); but I think she hit upon something. When we look at a dancer, an artist, a composer, a comedian, an actor, a rhetorician ... yes, they are all using verbal-linguistic-musical-spatial skills, but to use them all together to great effect that we appreciate in awe, then the ability to express surely accounts for an intelligence. A bard relates a story so much better than the average reader or reciter. I don't know this book, but I've put it on my wish list!

Any feedback on these ideas are more than welcome - the purpose is to help us all gain a little more understanding of the breadth of intelligences we possess and to cultivate those we are relatively weak in.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Elasticity of supply for economists: how to understand it in a few simple moves

Elasticity is a useful concept in economics and sometimes pupils get a bit confused about elasticity of supply, often muddling notions from elasticity of demand into their thinking.

It's easier to start off with the logic of a demand increase (and just reverse your thinking for a demand fall).

Basically, elasticity measures how flexible a producer is with respect to a price change. If demand for the product rises, to what extent can a producer increase commodity production or offer more services to the market?

We naturally say that it depends... but on what?


Well, how quickly can the producers switch on the machines or ask workers to do extra time? If the resources used in production are not working to their fullest capacity (usually only reached in extreme situations) companies can usually gear up to satisfy their customers.

Would they have to open more hours (Christmas rush time) or offer overtime to the workers or just dust off the older machines? What restricts them from achieving higher production given the resources as their disposal? Regulations on opening hours? Union rules or legislation maximising the number of hours workers can work?


If the factor has spare stock - no problem, it just takes its goods off the shelf. If the tutor has spare time in his or her timetable, demand can easily be taken care of. A storage company with unused space ... a chiropractor not working five days a week ... just look at any supplier and ask yourself to what extent can they increase their sales by what they have on the shelves?


Another determinant is how quickly a producer can switch from one line of production to another. Imagine a plumber who is also a qualified gas installer - the switch is immediate. But what about a masseur qualified in full body massage but not sports massage and he's finding increased requests for sports massage - it may take him a few weeks to qualify in the more intensive application of his hands! A car company shifting from the production of petrol to hybrid cars may also be a few weeks, but if it needs to shift from small family cars to SUVs, it could take over a year.


All of the above involve the use of time. Some service providers and producers can adapt to changing conditions very quickly while others take much longer.

Time is the key element in anything we do. For instance, I'm compiling a series of online presentations for beginner Economics students in the UK via (although it also covers the basic elements of Econ 101 in Canada and the States): each presentation can take over an hour to produce before recording, which can take anything between forty to sixty minutes. Accordingly, should a student require a lecture on a different topic than one covered so far, then it can take up to a couple of hours to produce and then probably half an hour to upload. Job done.

As an economist, I'm always keen to reduce the time costs involved in my work - including producing these blogs - so I time myself! That way, I get a good idea of how much time is required to write and compile my output.

It's always a good place to start, and by the way, on that note I HIGHLY RECOMMEND the funny and punchy Dan Kennedy's No BS Guide to Entrepreneurship:

Monday, 13 January 2014

When should schooling begin? A strange question... Begin with homeschooling first.

When should schooling begin?

An interesting question that we in the UK certainly need to consider in more depth than what the government says! Over the past few decades there has been a pressure to get toddlers into some form of schooling! Two years old. Hmm.

Also the question presumes that schooling should begin at some point. Perhaps.

But it's not necessary to send your child to school (or legally mandatory in the freer nations of the west, although I believe Germany still forbids it...!) The homeschooling or home education movement is gaining strength across the UK and it's very strong in the USA reflecting many people's beliefs that school is either not conducive to learning for most people or just for their children.

Aristotle, whom I've written on (might be in paperback soon, so look out for it at stations, airports, WH Smiths...), argued that we owe our civilisation to the polis (the state) and therefore it's the state's duty to educate the children as it sees fit. Despite being a highly influential philosophy, it's not the philosophy of a libertarian or one who embraces the need for plurality, individuality, and creativity in life. State education, by its very nature, must be directed - the government pays for it and it will want to ensure that the taxpayers are getting their money's worth and therefore it will inevitably end up interfering.

It made it! It's in paperback...(Oct 2014)

Now to assume that all children's education should be directed by the state reeks, or it should reek if you know your history, of totalitarianism. It does not matter how 'well-intentioned' the politician is, or how 'in tune' with the people he or she is: imposing a curriculum upon the children is totalitarian. Quite simple really. It also explains why so many pupils (who want to learn) and teachers (who want to help them learn) feel repressed. The room for manoeuvre is crushed by such things as a national curriculum. And even though the UK government is allowing more flexibility in 'the system', it's still a system and systems attract systematisers and people who enjoy fiddling with the exam boards and curricula.

If you think, oh, but when I'm in power, or my party's in power, we'll do things better...that's the reason the classical liberal heritage exists: to block such moves. To curb such grandiose dispositions. Power corrupts, n'est ce pas? Such thoughts are totalitarian and our constitutions should be such as to inhibit any bureaucrat or politician imposing their values on others.

Instead, let's begin with the assumption that the child does not have to go to school and that schooling is something extraordinary. (Just because you went doesn't mean to say your children should go...anyway, did you enjoy it? Seriously? Or was it the social life you enjoyed?).

This is the move I make in political philosophy - begin with a small community who live without government (I'm not saying without laws): this is an anarchistic community.

Then try to justify the formation of a's quite interesting and hard to do. (Rather than presuming the existence of the state, as Aristotle does, and then justifying its diminution or abandonment. You'll find most philosophers accept Aristotle's position and so abhor the notion that people could live without government, even though they have done for most of our evolution and continue to do so quietly and small groups - and such communities tend not to wage genocidal and total war campaigns against neighbours by the way, something governments are particularly good at...don't believe me? Please, look through a history book.)

So the child is born to a family and a particular culture. It belongs in the family as a maturing person, gaining greater moral distinction and intellectual and spiritual independence as he/she develops. Okay - so why then pass the child over to someone else who will instil in him/her values that may be very different from your own and who will be thrown in with other children, many of whom, if you do have values of sorts, you would not invite back into your home?

To get an education you say.

Really, what kind of start is it when the young forming child is cast into a jungle warfare of children all the same age yet with highly variant needs and demands and actions (violent, sullen, fashionable, afflicted with poor diet and too much screen time...). Is the nursery or kindergarten or school such a great place to get an education?

Didn't do me much harm, you say. Really? It's hard to tell - most of us went to school and we survived. We enjoyed bits, we were bored for most of it, we were subtly and not so subtly manipulated and conditioned into accepting authority. Some wanted to gain that authority to wield over others, others collapsed with a failing sense of self-confidence in the world and end up working for the 'headmaster' bosses of the work place.

I exaggerate. Really? Why do many parents get nervous when they have to go and speak to the head of their child's school then? Why do so many yield authority to teachers when helping to forge their child's educational programme? Or why do others get so angry with school teachers that their rebelliousness is echoed in their distrust of the educational system and teachers in general...

But the teachers are trained to teach...

What is teaching? In a school, much of the teacher's skill is crowd control. It has to be given the curriculum and lack of freedom they possess: give that control up and they will have mayhem. The whole system is authoritarian and obedience by the individual to the dictates of the teacher is necessary.

Great education...? Now, are you literate? Can you do basic numeracy. That is all you need to impart to a child. Once they can read and do basic numbers, you can explore together (many great books on that out there, never mind the internet!) and you'll be amazed what your child gets interested in...and you will be learning with them rather than imposing. Much teaching is teaching ON children not WITH. There are many great teachers out there - lovely people, lovely values, people you would invite home and with whom the children feel comfortable: but the system is against them. The systems governments (inevitably) create attract managers and target manipulators rather than inspirers. There are inspirers and for goodness' sake - tell them! It's not just their salary that keeps them propping up kids' lives.

We (or I) have to work...

That's the big issue for most parents who would love to home educate. For a great part of the day, they require their children to be schooled so that they can earn the living required to live. Fair enough. But don't then expect that the school will teach all that you or they would like to learn: schooling is from 9-3.30, but education never stops. When you all return to the family nest, don't put the tv on (get rid of the damnable thing) - listen to your children, encourage new interests, expose them to your learning, learn something new yourself if you're not already (why should they continue to learn if mum and dad don't? - you're the greatest role models they have (or should be)). When the child is with you - you are home educating!

So the last resort is economic. For that we must turn our attention once more to how we got ourselves into such a state, in such a rich economy - why do we have to give up so much of our time to the market place?

Well, because taxes are so high, inflation rampant and there is so much distortion in the economy because of government intervention and regulation. I consider myself a feminist in the sense that men and women should be held morally, legally, politically, and intellectually equal, but it does seem as if we are poorer when both parents have to now work compared to the past. There is an economic necessity that both work - yet we are so rich as a country! Taxes, my friends, taxes, keep many from making the choices they would like to make. (Don't think taxes make a difference - check the taxes you pay...on everything, you may be dismayed by the proportion of wealth that is diverted through government offices [and at the moment of writing, Kiev is revolting over the amounts being diverted]).

If you can properly justify sending your child to school, explain to them why you do. That also helps kids, especially those going through a tough time for whatever reason.

Don't just say - you have to go to school. Because that is a lie. Be honest: you have to go to school because your mum and I have to work to pay for the food. But when you're back home, we'll have fun and learn about dinosaurs, the Romans, rocket science, Pythagoras, the use of calculus, politics, world issues, psychology...together.

Check out the books below for further research (there are many for those interested in home schooling, from educators who like structured school-like days, to those who prefer to let the children come to learning themselves, also called "unschooling"):

Friday, 10 January 2014

Avoiding the No word - how to change our conditioning to be negative!

In dealing with children it is easy to block their actions and intentions with a simple, single syllable word, "no."

How many times do were hear it when we go out amongst people? Can we avoid using and instead teach a principle instead?

"No you can't do that..." Easily said but then it creates a duality between authority and obeisance rather than a position of mutual equality in which information is exchanged.

Now, I think using "no" is appropriate for wrong answers. "Is the capital of France Berlin?" "No, it isn't."

But what about forming letters, as my elder is doing:
"Is this the way I form an A?" "It's better to start at the bottom, it makes it easier to form the A shape..."

"Can I have a chocolate?" "You've had a couple today already...why not save the next one for tomorrow..."

I'm going to try a week of avoiding saying "no" to my children and see what alternatives I can generate...

A few days later - okay, score coming in: two no's on the factual account - "no, that's not a brontosaurs" sort of reply and six on the "don't do that..." Hmm, one a day on average. I'll get that down!

Best way to stop the "don't" habit is to pause and let the negatives fly around the brain for a while, let the conditioned reflex do all its jumping around and when it finally runs out of power, think about what would be better said. Each time I caught myself uttering a "don't" phrase, there was no pause between what I was thinking and saying. Wedge a pause in a get a different result!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bastiat on liberty - just get the "G" out of economics.

I love reading Frederick Bastiat (1801-50) - two centuries ago, Bastiat was explaining the fallacies in people's economic thinking and supporting freedom and free trade as the quintessential foundations for liberty.

The ideas he espoused have not lost any meaning, but since his time new attacks on economic and political freedom arose. Firstly, there was the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century, which effectively reduce the life of the individual to that of expendability.

Here's an excellent quotation that captures much of the political philosophy I've espoused over the past two decades:

“If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?” 

This is why we seek to limit political interference in our lives and economies. When there is interference  - the ubiquitous G in macroeconomics - guaranteed it will create chaos and economic distortions that hurt people. The people who 'run' our economies (into the ground) are not made of finer clay than us - we believe they are because we have three to four thousand years of conditioning that authority somehow gives people godlike abilities.

Remember King Canute? He showed his courtiers that a king could not turn back the tide. He was - in that respect - a humble and good king.

Today, our politicians think they can drive economic wealth. No they can't. They do better by getting out of the way.

Principles - of life and death

A disciple is a person who follows a set of principles.

What are your principles?

Do you have any? Or are you just stumbling through life taking what it throws at you and falling into positions, friendships, having children, going into debt ... as it comes?

Principles can be very broad or very narrow depending on the action we're talking about.

A broad principle is one that helps us understand life as a whole.

Is life a series of lessons for the soul, or am I just a bunch of chemicals randomly thrown together? Do my actions have any meaning? Should I conjure up visions of our purpose on earth or leave it to others or chance? Do I think I have meaning? Do I have right to pursue happiness and live in freedom? Or should I forego my pleasures for the greater good? Who determines the greater good? Are there actions that are right in themselves, and what makes them so? Is there a God and if so does God care what I do? Does the past have any meaning for me? Should the future? What is the nature of reality - is it a figment of the imagination or is it a hard rock upon which we founder when not looking carefully? What is death? Indeed, what is birth and sentience, conscience and consciousness? Do we need a government at all? What is justice or fairness? Do rights make sense?

A narrow principle is one that helps us understand what to do in a certain situation. Etiquette helps us smooth our passage through society - don't eat with your mouth full, don't drum your fingers while someone is talking, don't interrupt.

Except, I don't like negatives...let's rephrase that otherwise we get into a vicious logical circle: I prefer positives. So - don't eat with your mouth full becomes: when chewing food, chew the food and let the saliva do the work, i.e., respect other people's views of your actions.
Don't drum your fingers while someone is talking becomes pay attention to what others are saying, they may be saying something useful or about you! i.e., respect and listen.
Don't interrupt becomes what you have to say is critical and may be the things that the other person is saying too i.e., respect and be patient.

The broad principle behind much etiquette is respect for others and how we are seen by them. When we enter the day with an attitude of 'I don't care how I look' don't be surprised that other people may be offended or find your appearance distasteful.

Then there are the principles of every day personal action - these need to be in harmony with the grander principles. When they are not, you feel it, your whole body and demeanour say some thing's up and some thing needs to change.

Let's take a principle that's quite popular today: "There are no principles, we'll just make it up as we go along."

Okay, you're ill, you fall into ill health and have no energy and no desire to move; your body is fatigued all the time and you're pale and lethargic. Do you say, oh well, there are no principles, whatever happens to me is random and I can't do anything about it, because life and all its events and actions are random. Nothing makes sense and nothing I can do will help it to make sense.

Or do you pop into the doctor's? Do you start reading up on why you may be so lethargic? Do you start thinking about what go you into this state...several nightlong parties, a heavy work load, alcohol, smoking, poor diet, stressful marriage, redundancy...and then when you join the dots things make a little more sense?

Logically, the argument that there are no principles is a fallacy, because the statement admits at least one principle: there are no principles, as a principle (vicious logical circle). But if there's one, there may be others ... But life and experience shouts loudly that there are principles of good living as well as principles of bad living. Similarly, there are principles of good thinking, and principles of bad thinking.

Good principles are those that are life affirming, life supporting, and life enhancing. They are the good food for our actions, they keep us strong and healthy, mentally sound and focused, and on track with what we're striving for. They are loving, friendly, ethical, fair, just, creative, enjoyable; they are free and voluntary.

Bad principles are those that are destructive and detrimental to life, they hinder, harm, thwart, hold back, impinge; they keep us weak and ill, mentally addled and unfocused, random in our actions with ourself and others; they are unloving, unfriendly and unsociable, unethical, unfair, unjust; they keep us unfree, servile, enslaved mentally or physically to other people and their opinions, they imply fear.

So what are your principles? To love and give love, or to avoid people and to shun the love they may have? In any given moment there's a principle to be used (or learned). Life tests us and tests our commitment - do we run at the first sign of awkwardness, or do we hold fast?