Broken Capitalism

The Guardian has been running a series they call Broken Capitalism, and have featured articles about Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan. Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway or Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater, the world’s biggest hedge fund. Suddenly these and others have become aware that the way capitalism is currently practiced will soon affect their bottom line and possibly their future. It is not yet clear how serious they are in fixing capitalism, in making it more equal and in addressing the economic inequalities of our society, but the mere fact they are acknowledging it is hopeful. What I found of note in the article about Ray Dalio are the figures which are prompting his interest. Here they are.

  • 40% of Americans would struggle to raise $400 for an emergency.
  • The childhood poverty rate is 17.5% and has not meaningfully improved in decades.
  • In the developed world the US scores lower than any country (except for Italy and Greece) in educational achievement.
  • The US incarceration rate is nearly 5 times the average of developed countries and 3 times that of emerging ones.
  • For the bottom 60% premature deaths have increased about 20% since 2000.

OPMs And Higher Education

We all are aware of the increasing costs of a college education, of the pressure of admissions and the role money continues to play, and in a recent article Kevin Carey tries to explain why this has happened.  He writes universities had a choice and when they were at a crossroads they chose the way of profits. When online education took off, and some universities signed on, it was, he says an opportunity for education costs to be lowered, particularly benefiting low income and others who couldn’t afford the costs of elite institutions and receive an education regardless of their financial status. But that is, he describes in some details, not what happened. OPMs happened instead. They are online  program managers, sometimes called enrollment managers, people  and organizations which begun as start-ups  helping students with tests like the SATs and were so successful they  branched out to eventually be partners in offering online degrees. Some are now also publicly traded and have been able to show a large profit for themselves as well as for the universities they partner with, showing profits of about 42% roughly half for them and half for the universities. They tend to have strong marketing and operate much the same way as for profit colleges do and did, and some of the same people are involved. The Education Department  divisions which  had tried to change the rules to protect students against for profit colleges practices are now apparently rather secretly rewriting these rules  and the author points  out that it looks like OPMs will be able to do whatever they see fit to make as much money as they can. While some view the role of enrollment managers as being more benign and as being of use to universities, what I find distressing is how academic institutions which are meant to guide people to uphold the values that make us an open society, have allowed themselves to be led by profit motives. And even more distressing in the case of their involvement with OPMs they have done so in a way that does not benefit the current and future students who need help.

Economic Dignity

The definition of economic dignity has three parts, to be able to take care of your family, having the ability to reach your potential and being free from domination and humiliation. It’s from an article by economist Gene Sperling in the journal Democracy. Sperling worked with both presidents Clinton and Obama. He believes that economic dignity should drive economic policy and that metrics like GDP can be misleading and not produce the right results. In other words economic policy need to make sure for example that people can have jobs with living wages or that corporations not contribute to decreasing upward mobility. Here is how he ends his article: “Government cannot guarantee happiness. But there is little question that with wise and just policy, we do have the power to say to all our people that if you do your part, you care for your family, pursue potential and purpose without ever feeling that you have been given up on, and participate in our economy with a degree of fairness and respect as opposed to domination and humiliation. That much—that basic promise of economic dignity for all—is something that is within our grasp.”

If economic equality means anything to us, then economic dignity is a concept both powerful and useful. And as we begin to ponder national elections, gauging candidates by how closely their rhetoric to combat inequality mirrors this concept may be essential.

Yoga Training Glut?

In the Los Angeles area alone at least one hundred yoga teacher trainings began this month. It’s not a particularly demanding training assuming you are sufficiently expert with a number of poses. It only lasts a few weeks, save for the cost which can be quite steep—one I saw was $15,000—it can be available to a wide range of people. That’s a good thing, right? I am not sure. I began by looking at the name of those offering the training, 2 or 3 were unassailable experts, people with national recognition and as close to universal respect as one can in any given field. I couldn’t help but ask, how many are doing it out of commitment to their profession and how many are doing it for whatever financial gain? Then a bigger issue arose within me.  When one reads about the history of how yoga developed and why, one ends us with deep respect, and I count myself among those. Yoga is more than making your body conform to certain poses. Yoga is a way to understand the relationship between the visible and the non, a way to achieve some understanding, however small, about what lies beyond us.  That means that the teacher must be endowed with a certain wisdom to help the practitioner or would be practitioner of yoga move towards that greater goal. That is given to a few.  Perhaps that’s why when I look around at the proliferation of yoga studios, at the existing number of yoga teachers and at the projected increase in those numbers  I ask: Are we diluting a hallowed discipline, making it into an imitation of itself?