Amsterdam’s Flower Solution

The City of Amsterdam has many canals. It also has many cyclists. It is a regular mode of transportation for many in the Netherlands, and since COVID the number of cyclists has increased. It allows people to avoid public transportation and also to feel safer than inside a car. Using some form of cycling has become so entrenched  many said they would continue it after the pandemic. The city now has more cyclists than people with something like 438 miles of cycle lanes. Those lanes are not only for bicycles but all sorts of cycles, motorized, electric, cargo and racing bikes. Before the virus lanes were already overcrowded, now it is of course worse. The problem as it is for those cities which rely on cars is parking. Lanes are often not wide enough for both parking and passage. People have been parking on the canal bridges chaining their bicycle to the fence, making it difficult for people to walk. Instead pedestrians have to walk on the street which is dangerous. It also interferes with sightseeing and with tourists since standing on the canal admiring the city becomes difficult. The answer: the city has now installed large wooden flower boxes in an effort for people not to park there. What is even more noteworthy about this story is that the flower boxes are to be tended by the homeless people who visit one of the city’s drop-in centers.

I once had a professor who was an expert on parking. His solutions, which have been adopted in several cities including Los Angeles,  revolved around charging for parking or charging  more. For those cities where charging or charging more wouldn’t have been viable, we would have found a technology oriented one. In either case Amsterdam’s answer is a reminder of how easy it is to forget simple people-based solutions—and in this case flower-based ones too.

Euthanasia for Children?

Euthanasia for children? The whole idea sounds forbidding to say the least, and probably criminal to some. But let us put aside any initial reaction. Is it forbidding because it is for children, because it is euthanasia, or perhaps because one compounds the other? We live in a country where euthanasia is not only generally illegal, in many circles it is also a big no-no. It is illegal in most of Europe too, but the Netherlands and Belgium have been trailblazers. Euthanasia has been legal there since 2002. In the Netherlands, children over 12 can request euthanasia with their parents’ consent. And parents of children under one can request it. That left children from one to 12. It’s been a contentious debate and a long one, but now the Netherlands has approved euthanasia for children one to 12.  They estimate that it will affect 5 to 10 children a year. These are children who have a terminal illness, and whose suffering is unendurable. To be honest,  I would be among those who would want to spare my child. I would hate it, would agonize about the decision, but ultimately would realize that is the best of bad alternatives. I realize that euthanasia for children adds to a core idea behind the right to die with dignity which gave rise to euthanasia and that is that children do not have the same voice about their fate—an idea which adds to the gravitas of it all. But  parents who would make a request for their child, would rarely if ever do so without much soul searching. If one accepts the premise of dying with dignity, of having a say in one’s own end, and in the fact (which to me personally is at the heart of it) that life is more than biology, then euthanasia for children seems a logical follow up for a country who has already accepted it.

And Billionaires’ Fortunes Grew!

The world’s billionaires’ fortunes has now reached $10.2 trillion. That comes from  a report by UBS, a Swiss bank which found that their wealth has increased by 27.5% during the height of the pandemic crisis from April to July 2020. This growth occurred while millions were losing jobs, income, health coverage, and were struggling to get by. I had previously written about the increase in the number of billionaires, this is far more revealing, the growth of their wealth as a result of the pandemic—not only because they were able to ride the storm created by the virus but also because they were able to gain from its downside. Jeff Bezos as most already know is a prime example. Why this is so important is  so well expressed by Luke Hilyard,  executive director of the High Pay Center a think tank that like its name focuses on undue and disproportionate pay: “…extreme wealth is an ugly phenomenon from a moral perspective, but it’s also economically and socially destructive.”

“Billionaire wealth equals to a fortune almost impossible to spend over multiple lifetimes of absolute luxury. Anyone accumulating riches on this scale could easily afford to raise the pay of the employees who generate their wealth, or contribute a great deal more in taxes  to support vital public services, while remaining very well rewarded for whatever successes they’ve achieved.”

“The findings from the UBS report showing that the super-rich are getting even richer are a sign that capitalism isn’t working as it should.”

This is not without consequences. Josef Stradler the head of the UBS office which deals with the world’s richest people, admits that these facts could lead to public and political anger. He further admits that the wealthy themselves are aware of it and in the past had warned that the inequality between rich and poor could lead to what he called a “strike-back”. He further explains that “We are at an inflection point. Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest- that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” It’s a question many are already asking.

A Startup for Evictions

Civvl is a startup for evictions. As a result of Covid many are behind on their rent and despite eviction moratoriums, some landlords are opting to evict their tenants, or may in future when the moratoriums are lifted. Violating these moratoriums can result in jail time and fines. When asked how they kept these evictions legal, Civvl did not answer. Meanwhile some property owners avail themselves of the option to call on a team  of gig workers  as process servers and eviction agents to evict their tenants, including people who will move out furniture. They’re called the Uber of evictions. And Civvl is not the only one, OnQuall does something similar. They say that at a time of high unemployment they provide jobs, even if it’s a gig. One such  worker who needed the money to pay his own rent was seen crying as he moved out furniture of someone being thus evicted. Legally people are free to engage in such businesses, and should be. But if you believe as I do that a society needs to provide a moral compass, needs to provide a framework for more harmlessness, then like me you will have difficulty with these kind of businesses, and even more when these businesses look to be skirting the law. Making money out of someone’s suffering is wrong. Enabling someone to hurt another is wrong. Yes, landlords have the right to their rents, but they are not without remedies. They can, for example, through their property owners groups lobby local state and federal government for subsidies or other kinds of aids.  In all cases, less rent will mean less income and will therefore be reflected  in the amount of  income tax they will have to pay. Few are the landlords who will be homeless as a result, which is not the case for some of those evicted. Of course landlords do have the option in some instances to simply do a good deed.