You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2019.

What Does It Take to Get the US Congress to Do the Right Thing?

 Dogged Persistence & a Late-Night Celeb

 By   Shlomo Maital   

John Feal hugging Jon Stewart

     After 9/11, many many of the responders and site-workers fell ill, as the toxic materials of the wreckage destroyed their lungs, livers and other organs. It’s hard to believe, but the Federal Government has been criminally slow to replenish the fund that helped pay for their medicine and care.

       On July 23, the Senate passed the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund reauthorization bill. It will help first responders pay for health care through 2092. President Trump signed the bill.  

   Republican Senator Rand Paul, who voted for Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, creating a $1 trillion deficit, voted against the bill, citing fiscal irresponsibility.

Well done, Senator. Make us proud. Make America great again.

       Here is what it takes to get the US Congress to do the obvious right thing.

         It takes John Feal. For the past 15 years, he has organized trips to Washington, hundreds of them, by ill, injured and dying responders, through his FealGood foundation. Feal is a demolition construction worker, who was injured while clearing rubble at Ground Zero and had part of his foot amputated. He has tried to persuade Congress to do the right thing since 2004.

         And it takes Jon Stewart. Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, Stewart’s The Daily Show was for my money the funniest, most biting satire on television, for almost 20 years, since it began in 1999.  

           Here is how The Daily Beast’s Michael McAuliff describes how one dogged persistent citizen, Feal, enlisted a celeb, Stewart, and against all the odds – everyone said there was no chance to pass the bill before Congress went on vacation – got it done. Feal knew Stewart, because Feal had been on The Daily Show.

   “….when it came time to talk to lawmakers about the next bill reauthorization, [Feal] didn’t want Stewart to just read a statement he’d prepared with guidance from Hill staffers.     He wanted Stewart to speak purely from the heart, so he primed him.    He gave him a note in the morning about how much Pfeifer [a 9/11 first-responding firefighter who died as a result of the toxicity] and Stewart’s friendship meant to him. Just before going into the hearing room, Feal and former FDNY firefighter Kenny Specht presented the comedian with the fire coat Pfeifer had worn on his first job. Feal had bought it at a charity fundraiser the night before. He had dozens of responders sign it as a sign of thanks.  

   “I knew I was getting to him. I knew he was just a bowl of Jello,” Feal said.   In the hearing, Stewart was scheduled to go last. And as the proceedings progressed, Feal kept working on Stewart, pointing to the packed audience and empty chairs of representatives.    “He was just festering. I said, ‘Put the piece of paper away, and do what you do best,’” Feal recalled. “I think that moment was where we changed course. I think that’s where we took matters into our own hands. And I saw a window where we could get this done before the August recess, and I knew we didn’t have to wait until November, December like everyone else wanted.”

   Stewart’s talk went viral. He tore a strip off the Congressional representatives, chastising their utter indifference. “Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of”.   He was visibly emotional, and close to tears of rage.

   So what does it take today to get the US Congress to do the right thing? It takes one dogged, determined citizen, who somehow can enlist a celeb, who explodes spontaneously in righteous anger, at an outrageous display of indifference, by members of Congress who simply were not there. And media who helped the celeb’s talk go viral, playing it hundreds of times.

       Even stone-age fossil Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could not resist it.

       So, how often will Congress do the right thing in future?  

       It seems to me the Babylonians invented the zero for us, so we could answer that question precisely.   Because, how often will the Feal-Stewart duo recur?

     

 

    

Advertisements

In Politics – Too Many Lawyers?

 By   Shlomo Maital

 

     “98% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.” There are an infinite number of such jibes, most of them worse. I am an economist – Personally I think economists have done far more damage to the world than lawyers.

       But after watching the Mueller testimony, before two House of Representative committees… I can make the case that lawyer-dominated legislatures generally miss the point.

       The US House of Representatives has 535 members, of whom 168 are lawyers, by far the leading profession. In contrast there are only 11 physicians and three psychologists. Yet this body writes the laws for healthcare in the US.

         The US Senate has 50 lawyers, fully half of the 100 senators. Only 3 Senators are physicians.

         So what is the problem?

         In the Mueller hearings before the House Judiciary Committee (naturally, mostly lawyers, it makes sense) and the House Intelligence committee (also, lots of lawyers), one question dominated what members asked Mueller:

         Did President Trump break the law? Did he conspire? Did he tamper with witnesses?

         That’s the wrong question. Even if he did break the law, he cannot be prosecuted. That is what the Department of Justice says. He can be impeached – but not convicted, because Republicans dominate the Senate.

           So the legal approach is pointless.

           Then, what IS the point?

           Did President Trump act disloyally, treasonously, unethically, immorally? Did he act really really badly?  

           THAT is the question. THAT should have been the focus. It was, for a handful of House members. But mostly the lawyers dominated. And that played into Trump’s hands. Mueller was greatly limited in what he could say, because Special Counsel is a prosecutor – and prosecutors cannot say a whole lot. That in part is why his answers were hesitant. Plus – YOU try working long hours for 22 months, at age 74 and then testify for 8 hours before two committees, while having trouble hearing the questions (I really think Mueller needs hearing aids – vanity may prevent this, trust me, I know personally!).

           We voters should expect our elected leaders to behave honestly, morally, and to speak wisely, respecting everyone, especially their opponents. When they don’t — kick them out.

           2020 cannot come soon enough.      

World’s First & Greatest Democracy: R.I.P.

 By Shlomo Maital  

 

   This is a very sad, wrenching eulogy for Britain. The world’s first and greatest democracy is at a dead end.  Rest in Peace.

     I often watch Parliamentary debates on BBC TV, and enjoy the thrust and parry between the Prime Minister and her critics. Democracy at its best.

     This is why I am saddened today, when crackpot Boris Johnson will be chosen Conservative Leader, and automatically Prime Minister – by 1% of the British electorate. The other 99% have no say. Why? That’s how the system was set up. It must be changed.

       Johnson has vowed to take Britain out of the EU, come what may, by Oct. 31. This implies a ‘hard Brexit’ (exit without a signed agreed deal). Here is what Bloomberg thinks about this option:

   The U.K.’s planned exit from the European Union may have already pushed the U.K. into a technical recession, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.   In a gloomy set of new forecasts, Niesr predicted that, even assuming a smooth exit in October, the nation will grow 1% in 2019 and 1% in 2020. There’s an around a one-in-four chance that the economy is already shrinking, the think tank said.

Britain may already be in recession, because of Brexit. Not a great time for a crackpot leader.

     Crackpot? Isn’t that disrespectful, extreme, exaggerated? No.

    Today’s New York Times: “Is Johnson how Britain will end?”

       Tackling Britain’s deep divisions requires depth of character, conviction and principle, none of which its incoming prime minister has ever hinted at possessing….he prizes victory above government –his first ambition as a child was to be ‘world king’ – and his political career has been marked by ferocity of campaigning and indifference in office, both as London mayor and foreign secretary…

     And another NYT article:

     In his pursuit to become prime minister, Mr. Johnson has adapted his old habits – the theatrics, the polysyllabic putdowns, the outlandish plans –for the Brexit era…..his promise to extract Britain from the EU by the end of October has left many Britons worrying he will send the country hurtling toward a potentially calamitous no-deal Brexit.

     While Trump ruins America, now Johnson will ruin Britain. Two of the West’s great economies and democracies, heading down the tubes because of a broken democratic process – Russian interference in the US, and an archaic totalitarian system for choosing the Tory leader in the UK.

       Very sad.

    

 

 

 

 

 

        

July 1-22, 1944, Bretton Woods, New Hampshire:

The Forgotten Anniversary

 By Shlomo Maital  

Hotel Mt. Washington, Bretton Woods, NH

    Today, July 20, the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s Apollo landing on the moon – and all the media are obsessively recounting, replaying, and reliving it. We learn about the world-shaking debate, whether Armstrong said “one small step for A man”, as intended, or whether he skipped the “a”. (Complex voice analysis has been done to resolve this world-shaking question).

     There is another anniversary, ignored – and far more important:   The 75th anniversary of the Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, conference, July 1-22, attended by the Allies, that redesigned the architecture of the world economy. It was done in 21 days, because the wealthy Boston millionaires had booked the Hotel, Hotel Mt. Washington, for their summer vacation. That is symbolic, because ultimately, it is the 0.001% billionaires who are destroying the amazing system built in just 3 weeks in New Hampshire.

     Leading the US delegation was a Treasury official, a bureaucrat, Harry Dexter White. Leading the British delegation was the most renowned economist of his time, John Maynard Keynes. Keynes had the intellectual firepower. But White had the powerful US economy behind him. Keynes’ plan was to create a world central bank. White said, no, we already have one – the dollar will be the world’s currency.

     White won.

       At the beautiful old wooden hotel, the delegates created the I.M.F., World Bank, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Bank for International Settlements. They laid the foundation for a global trading system with zero tariffs (“Most Favored Nation”) that led to massive creation of jobs, exports and wealth, mostly in Asia but in war-torn Europe as well.

       The system created in Bretton Woods 75 years ago has served the world well. It helped China boom, as well as Japan, Taiwan and Korea, and India too. It helped Europe unify. It may have prevented a new World War. And ultimately, it sank the U.S.S.R. by showing that free markets worked best.

       The Bretton Woods agreement has affected everyone, mostly for the good. But – it had a fatal flaw. When you create opportunities for some people to grow wealthy, by definition you also create dilemmas in which many people (unable to compete) become poorer. So what was lacking at Bretton Woods was one thing – a truly effective mechanism to redistribute wealth, for people and countries left behind.

     Ultimately, that small omission is destroying the Bretton Woods system. It is bringing ‘populist’ leaders who ignite trade wars, foster xenophobia, build walls and claim to prioritize their own countries, other nations be damned.

       Let us celebrate Bretton Woods’ Diamond Anniversary. Let’s remember the enormous benefits it brought. Let’s remind ourselves that much of the Bretton Woods system is worth preserving and strengthening, while fixing the flaws.

       I was two years old in 1944. Most people alive today were born long after Bretton Woods. Most do not even know what was done at Bretton Woods or how it affected them.

       I wish the media could leverage this crucial Diamond Anniversary to remind everyone, to educate people, to reaffirm the ultimate value to humanity of free, open trading, of commitment to creating value for the world, not just for white American males, and to take responsibility (as the US did in 1944) for struggling nations left behind.  

         I just searched Google News. The Financial Times did print a couple of pieces on Bretton Woods. So did TIME magazine.  It’s barely a ripple…not even that.

        

No-Fault Debrief: How the Israeli Air Force Could Help Your Relationships

 By   Shlomo Maital  

   The Israeli Air Force is widely known for conducting a thorough, systematic debrief after every operation – including training flights.

     The rules of the debrief are simple and clear. Find out what went right. Find out what went wrong. It’s not about finding whom to blame. It’s about learning, to do better next time. What can we do better next time? In a debrief, military rank has no relevance. All are equal.

     It’s a no-blame-game zone. There is a practical reason. If it’s about blame, then in the debrief, people will be defensive, deceptive, ambiguous and will hide the truth. And the truth, so crucial, will be the victim.

     If it’s about learning, without blame attached, there is a far better chance to gain important insights that could in future save lives.

     So to this point – it’s about flying planes.

       But what does this have to do with relationships?

       Suppose you have an argument with someone you love. Something went wrong.

       Who’s fault is it?

       That path leads nowhere, usually.

       What went wrong? What can we do better? What can we change?

       That path leads somewhere, to deeper understanding.

       Arguments? Conflict? Can you make them a no-fault zone?   Debrief them, like the Israeli Air Force. Tell the truth, because only the truth will lead to real learning. Use the truth to be better in future, not to place blame in the past.

       Wingtips nearly brushed in tight formation flying?   Who was the stupid jerk who got too close? No.   What did we do that created a dangerous situation – and how can we ensure that will never happen again? Yes.

       Easy to say, hard to do.

       Worth a try?

The Great Money Mystery—Solved!

 By   Shlomo Maital

     There is a major economic mystery in Israel, US and the West.

     Governments are running big budget deficits, printing mountains of money, and yet – there is still virtually no inflation, while the inequality of wealth and income has grown alarmingly.

     Why? And — should we worry?  

     I spoke with my friend Arie Ruttenberg about this.   Ruttenberg built Kesher Barel into Israel’s largest advertising agency, sold it to the global McCann-Erickson, founded Club 50 and sold it to Migdal, and wrote a book about creativity with me [Cracking the Creativity Code, 2014]. He has expanded his assets through clever, at times contrarian, investments. Here is his ‘take’ on this mystery.   It takes him 1,267 words to explain – double the length of my usual blog. I hope your investment of time is worth it. I’m pretty sure it is.

       “In the old economy, the money that reached the marketplace was spread among everyone. When they used the money to buy goods, prices rose and this led to inflation. In the new economy, the money reaches only a few of the very rich, who mainly buy stocks, bonds and real estate. These are not included in standard measures of inflation, therefore it seems like there is no inflation.”   

        “Lately, Donald Trump, US President, has boasted about his ability to flood the system with limitless amounts of money and without causing inflation. Really? How can this be understood? There have been a few explanations of this phenomenon, that on the face of it contradict the Keynesian economic model: Huge budget deficits, together with an expansionary monetary policy and zero interest rates, and all this with full employment…and no inflation.   A true economic miracle, that invites other politicians, including some among the Democrats, to offer the nation a Paradise on Earth, of unlimited prosperity through printing money. How did this happen? Is this really sustainable? Or, is it an illusion, with inflation hidden and disguised as something else? And is there a ticking time bomb, very very quiet, a social ‘bomb’ that will result in a deafening explosion soon?”

     “A common explanation for this phenomenon is linked to globalization and technology. The argument is that we are at the dawn of a new macro-economic age, based on enormous global productive capacity and perfect competition through digital trade accessible for all. This explanation is only very partial, because it fails to explain why huge amounts of printed money enter the market and ‘evaporate’ without causing any increases in prices.”

   “My argument is that the budget deficits and the monetary expansion indeed have had an enormous impact, but in contrast with the past, they have not caused significant inflation in consumption goods, but instead have mainly brought a rise in the price of equities, bonds and commercial real estate, which in turn increase economic and social inequality.

       “John Maynard Keynes’ model assumes a uniform economy in which all consumers have similar preferences and compete for the same goods and services, available in limited quantities in the consumer goods markets. In this case, any additional money in the hands of consumers competes for the given amount of goods and so necessarily causes a rise in prices.

       “I propose that we think about consumers, in terms of two groups: a) owners of capital and b) those who earn a living by their labor. Owners of capital earn far more than they need for their subsistence, and they save the difference, mostly by investing in equities, bonds and commercial real estate. These investments continue to expand their incomes, from year to year, but the added income does not necessarily increase their consumption, which is already very high.   The second group, wage-earners or free-lancers who make a living from their wages, spend nearly all their income on their subsistence, and their savings are mostly targeted toward their pensions – that is, future consumption. Ultimately those savings will be almost completely eroded in value.

     The gap between the two groups continues to grow over time, and continually increases the degree of inequality between them.

     “What happens to the economy when the government vastly expands the amount of money? Or when the Central Bank creates huge amounts of credit at zero interest rates?  

      “The answer is: Most of the money and credit flows into the hands of the owners of capital, who grow wealthier as their assets expand, and as they continue to grow their wealth and create more jobs for wage-owners, until the economy reaches full employment. The wealthy grow even wealthier and those who live on their wages earn only enough to barely survive. In this way, the economy reaches full employment, but income and wealth inequality grow.”

      “If the demand for workers grows, why don’t wages rise? Because of the two new phenomena I mentioned, globalization and technology. Through those two forces, we have turned the majority of workers into commodities – that is, into a basic good that has cheap plentiful substitutes. These two forces create a situation in which the supply of labor becomes almost infinite — in economists’ jargon, perfectly elastic. Therefore, when the owners of capital expand their businesses and assets, they do so almost without raising wages at all. When there is full employment, you can always hire cheap foreign workers.

        “And why doesn’t the fall in unemployment bring a major increase in the demand for consumer goods and hence, a rise in their prices?

      “Because of the same two reasons — globalization and technology. Workers can today buy cheaper goods anywhere on earth, via the Internet, and the supply of such goods is becoming nearly infinite. In this way, inflationary pressure in the goods market is prevented.

     “Why doesn’t the rapid growth in incomes of the owners of capital cause inflation, when they spend that income?

      “There are two reasons.   First, because wealthy capitalists cannot eat two steaks for breakfast; and second, because it does cause inflation, but it is not called inflation, it is called “a rise in the stock market” and “a rise in the price of commercial real estate”. Yes, the excess demand caused by the budget deficit and cheap credit creates strong inflation in the main “goods” that the wealthy consume, but because these rises in equity prices and real estate prices are not included in the consumer price index, it is regarded as part of economic prosperity, and not as inflation.”

     “Why do the wealthy people continue to buy stocks, bonds and real estate after they have become so costly?

      “Because the rate of interest is zero, and because there are no other investment opportunities. Thus, the wheel continues to turn, over and over, never stopping, when:   a) the wealthy grow more and more wealthy, pocket trillions of dollars of wealth, and feel super-rich; and b) the wage-earners enjoy full employment, stretch their income to last the full month, and are content. This can be described as the “happiness of the poor”; c) the politicians waste money endlessly and are pleased with themselves; d) the governments expand the debt they owe and nobody cares; e) the central banks expand their balance sheets, and again, nobody cares.   Hallelujah! The messiah has come!

   “Can this go on forever? There is no reason why not, on condition that: a) a few madmen do not arise and start to complain about the social inequality that is becoming unbearable; b) a ‘crazy’ US Central Banker does not appear who starts to raise interest rates, and thus puncture the stock markets, bond markets and real estate prices; c) a stupid American President does not appear who crushes globalization, imports of cheap goods and imports of cheap foreign labor, through trade wars.

   “Then, what happens to the global economy? It becomes an economy of rich feudal lords, and contented vassals who earn exactly as much as they need to go to bed with a full stomach, get up the next morning and to serve their lords. Is this what Paradise looks like?   No, this is what the economics of wealth inequality looks like.

     “At the end of the 1970’s, Israel had a cabinet minister who used the phrase “blessed inflation”, to describe the impact of influence on accelerating economic activity – until, that is, the inflation destroyed the Israeli economy. When the US President brags about flooding the American economy with money in order to create growth, he is boasting in fact about “increasing blessed inequality”.

   “How long will this last? Heaven knows”.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Britain (and the World) Deserves Crackpot Boris Johnson, UK’s Next PM

 By   Shlomo Maital  

 

   In a few days, rank-and-file Conservative voters in Britain will choose Boris Johnson as their new leader (and automatically, as Britain’s new Prime Minister), over the solid, stable, experienced Jeremy Hunt.

   Johnson follows in the footsteps of Donald Trump. Trump, once a Democrat, now leads Republicans, with hurtful racist words that fire up his “base”, white males, and sow discord, violence, dissent and hatred. Trump got elected, because — well, here’s my explanation.

     As author Yuval Noah-Harari writes, four ‘global’ ideologies exist: fascism, communism, socialism, liberalism. The first three were tried, disastrously, and mostly failed, except for the social democracy version now prevalent in Scandinavia, which isn’t really socialism (state ownership of property and businesses).

     Liberalism?   The United States built a powerful, beautiful vision of a world driven by liberalism (democratic nations trading openly, based on dynamic competitive economies) at Bretton Woods, NH, on July 2, 1944. That’s 75 years ago.   By exporting, many nations grew wealthy – mainly, in Asia (China, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, India). The US offered a huge market.  

       At the end of World War II, the world was largely destroyed, except for the US, whose economy doubled twice during the war, and whose GDP comprised a startling 75% of world GDP. By opening its market, and building a global trading system, the US helped the rest of the world (Europe, Asia) grow wealthy. And Europe wisely joined once-hostile countries into a powerful open economic bloc, of 28 nations.     This was an enormous success for liberalism.

       But now, 75 years later, it is failing. It is falling apart. Trump’s trade wars are spreading. Japan and Korea are now in a trade war. And there will be others.

       Why?

       Because of us.   Because those who saw what was happening, who knew enough to see it, who saw how many countries and people (nearly all of Africa, the underclass in the US, UK, Europe, and elsewhere) were left behind, how wealth became obscenely concentrated among the 0.001%, how these wealthy people controlled democratic systems with their wealth — those who saw it, simply sat on their hands and elected liberals who did nothing about those left behind.   

         And now – the bill for this neglect has been presented. And it’s huge. The US underclass elects billionaire Trump, who has rewarded fellow millionaires with an obscene tax cut – yet, the underclass still loves him Why? Because he twists the tails of the educated elite, the liberals. And that’s worth everything – because if you are humiliated and downtrodden for 70 years, and you think you have a leader who speaks for you (he doesn’t, really) – that’s worth everything.

         And now, Johnson. He was a left-leaning Mayor of London. Now he’s turned far right, for the Brexit crowd. Why? It’s in his interest. Votes, you know. He was once pro-immigration. Now he attacks Muslims and immigrants. He once strongly supported oil companies. Now he’s an eco-warrior. He beat up his girl friend, police were called – and he refused to explain, not a single word. He says he will take Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, by October 30 — when a no-deal exit will drive Britain into recession. He wrote a crackpot novel, “Seventy-Two Virgins”, — compare it with John F. Kennedy’s non-fiction book Profiles in Courage.

         Like Trump, Johnson says dumb hateful things – and gets away with it. And by the way – Trump strongly endorses him.

         In the disastrous referendum on Brexit, initiated by the hapless David Cameron (an ego trip, he was sure it would be defeated – and ended up throwing Britain into endless chaos), Johnson supported “leave” using false data and false claims. Totally false. And he got away with it.

     There is an alternative. Wise Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Minister, long-time Health Minister, who ran London’s amazing 2012 Olympics –   perfect for UK PM, but about to lose when rank-and-file Conservatives choose their idol, Boris.

         Johnson once wrote about Churchill:  he became Prime Minister “despite members of the Conservative Party having been conditioned to think of him as an opportunist, a turncoat, a blowhard, an egotist, a rotter, a bounder, a cad and on several well-attested occasions a downright drunk.”

         All of those words, each of them, describes Johnson. And Johnson is no Churchill. Britain will pay heavily during his likely-short tenure.  Britain will get anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn, in the next election, as their leader, and things will get much worse, if that is possible.

         Good luck, Britain. Bull in the China Shop Boris.   He’s your choice for Prime Minister.

         And we liberals are all to blame. We saw the huge gaps in income and wealth emerging, within countries and between countries – and ignored them.

         Now, with Trump, Johnson, and others – we are paying for it. In spades.

         Ouch.

        

Tell Yourself (White) Lies

 By   Shlomo Maital  

   I was lucky to watch on TV one of tennis’s all-time great matches, while at a conference in Switzerland. In the Wimbledon final, Novak Djokovic (Serbia) beat Roger Federer (Switzerland) in 5 long sets – longest final match in Wimbledon history. The final set went to a 12-12 tie, and, by the rules, to a tie-breaker, which Djokovic won 7-3. The match lasted nearly 5 hours!

      The crowd was one-sidedly cheering for the 37-year-old Federer, even (rudely) at times cheering Djokovic’s misses and flubs.

       Later, Djokovic explained how he overcame the psychological disadvantage of having the crowd nearly unanimously against him.  

       I pretended they were cheering for me, not for him, he explained.

       What? Tell yourself a bald lie? Fool yourself? Deceive yourself?

       Well, why not! When you’re in a tight spot, or even when you’re not, it is entirely allowed, and even desirable, to tell yourself white lies – narratives that pull you through.

         For instance — you’re on a long flight, scrunched into an Economy seat, nearly no leg room – and the ADHD 10-year-old behind you is slamming your seat back incessantly, playing a video game on the touch screen. For three hours. And he just won’t stop.

         The white lie? “this is good for me. I’m learning resilience, endurance, patience. I’m learning from suffering. It will come in handy one day.”

   Try it. Tell yourself a white lie. Try hard to believe it.

     And if people say, stop kidding yourself!   Ask them, innocently:

     Why?

A Frank Sinatra Approach to Teaching Math –

And Fostering Creative Thinking

By   Shlomo Maital   

    “ Yes, there were times…I’m sure you knew…..When I bit off more than I could chew….But through it all when there was doubt….I ate it up and spit it out….I faced it all   And I stood tall     And did it my way”

     I’m in Basel, Switzerland, attending a school psychology conference with my wife. Yesterday I presented a Poster on “can effective creativity be taught to, and learned by, students?”   Effective creativity is defined as having creative ideas and successfully implementing them. Of course, the really hard part is implementation.

     A young psychologist approached me, at my Poster, and described her partner’s unique method for fostering creativity in teaching math. Now, in general, high school math teachers teach “the right way” to solve problems. They describe a problem, show how to solve it, and demand that students use this approach in solving similar ones. Our son often came home from high school with big X’s – because he successfully solved a math problem in a way other than what the teacher described.

   Now, math is a tool, a powerful one. Is there room for creativity in a math classroom?

   There is indeed.   Here is what the Swiss psychologist described, and how I believe math (and everything) should be taught, to foster creativity:

    I gladly describe to you the teaching technique my partner uses as opposed to a more broadly conventional teaching style here in Europe or even America:    

    Most teachers in high school mathematics, when introducing new mathematical topics from the curriculum, will show the students a problem on the blackboard and will solve it in front of the class to make their point. Whether it is a hard or easy level of a problem does vary sometimes of course, from teacher to teacher. Afterward they will ask their students to solve similar easy problems and from there will offer tougher and tougher ones for them to elevate their thinking skills for the problem.  

What makes my partner’s approach different -and as I have been told, it is a typical Asian style of teaching- is that he wants to really elevate the students capability to find creative mathematical solutions for problems. How he does it is simple: He will present a problem to the class that is not solvable from first glance, he DOESN’T solve it in front of them at the blackboard.

    He gives the students time to think about their own solutions for the given problem. In the end, he will let all of the students tell the class their approach, and the fascinating thing about it is, that even though some of them did not solve the problem all the way through, they still could contribute to its solution with some unique thought steps the other ones did not think about.

     The second, and even more fascinating fact to me is that even if the approaches to solution offered by the students sometimes differ strongly from each other, my partner will take the ideas of every single student and THEN will show the whole class on the blackboard, how each of the students is not wrong, and how they can solve the problem proposed with their very own ideas individually, as he picks up sometimes unfinished thoughts from the students and finishes them for the “aha!” effect to occur.

    What evolves from that is pure joy from the students side, and creative and strong classes. As I mentioned in our conversation, he teaches mathematics on a high school level at a high school in Zürich, which is particularly known for putting the focus on MINT subjects, and many of the students from that high school will enter into ETH Zürich afterward [a world-class science and technology university].  The children love having mathematics come to life with this approach, and in the end, I believe, what a country needs is curious minds, to bring it forward, not thinking inside a box.

     What does this have to do with Frank Sinatra? Remember his memorable song: I did it MY way!   Why not let our kids be Frank Sinatra, in math class.   Solve it YOUR way! Not my (teacher’s) way. Having trouble? Keep trying. Persist. Learn to overcome frustration and temporary failure. And come to think of it, why not let our kids be Frank Sinatra in ALL classrooms.   Here is a problem, or challenge. Can you solve it? Can you help your classmates solve it?

     At this ISPA conference, a leading Swiss psychologist told us (in Latin) that schools teach “not for learning, but for life”. Life poses challenges. Only rarely are we given a canned easy solution. We have to find it for ourselves. And we have to help our friends and seek their help.

       Why not help our children practice life, in school?   Even in math class?

 

 

 

        

Make Meaning – Not Money

    By   Shlomo Maital   

   My late grandmother Rivka, a small slip of a woman under five feet, with a crooked leg that had been broken and not set properly, was widowed early, with five children to raise and feed, (including my father), in a poor village in Bessarabia, today’s Moldova. Then, as now, there was deep poverty.

     She spoke only Yiddish. I remember her saying often, in Yiddish:   “Er iz nisht a mentsch.” (He’s not a good person).  It was the worst thing you could say about anyone.  …And “Zol ir zayin a mentsch”. (You should grow up to be a good person).

     Being a “mentsch” ( a good person, with strong values) was her core value for herself and her children and grandchildren.

      I often recall this when speaking to entrepreneurs and giving them guidance. Bobba Rivka’s sage words are echoed by an unlikely person:   entrepreneur, innovator and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki, who said memorably: Make meaning, not money.     He added: If you make meaning, you may make money. But if you only try to make money, you probably won’t succeed.  It’s all explained in his fine book The Art of the Start.

       Today’s New York Times brings an Op-Ed by David Brooks, about Gen Z (those born after, say, 1995), the generation that follows Gen Y, born 1981-1994.

     The title of his Op-Ed: Will Gen Z fight to save the world? The answer is: happily, yes.

       Brooks cites a study by Pew Research Center (in the US), showing that “a shocking number of respondents described lives of quiet despair”.

    The data support this.   People do not find meaning in their lives.

       “Some 300 million people around the world have depression, according to the World Health Organization. 16.2 million adults in the United States—   6.7 percent of all adults in the country or one person in every 14 —have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.”  Suicide is a major cause of death among the young.

       What has gone wrong? Per capita GDP in the US is $60,000. America is wealthier than ever before? Why are so many people depressed?

       Here is my take, echoing David Brooks.   America has embraced capitalism. Even those Trump calls “socialists”  (Democrats) embrace social democracy, which is capitalism combined with a strong safety net.

     Today’s Capitalism is based on a false premise. The premise is: If you make money, you will be happy. And the more money you make, the happier you will be.

     It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work. Above a certain minimum necessary level of income, money does not bring happiness. Stuffed closets don’t bring euphoria. They bring clutter.

     The pursuit of happiness is guaranteed by the US Declaration of Independence, celebrated last Thursday. But this wonderful document doesn’t say HOW to pursue it.

     Bobba Rivka and Guy Kawasaki knew and know. Make meaning in your life, with your life.   David Brooks:  “Many seem to have rediscovered the sense, buried for a few decades, that one calling in life is to become a better person. Your current self is not good enough. You have to be transformed through right action.”

     That is what it is to be a ‘mentsch’ and to become a mentsch.

     If Gen Z is indeed rediscovering this old truth, we have cause for hope.

     Meaning in life comes from the love of those we love, whom we help and support,   from family, friends and even strangers, and from the value we create in the world.

      Capitalists love to quote Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, published in the year America got its independence, which praises capitalism and the struggle to gain wealth. But they forget Smith’s earlier book, on Moral Sentiments, 1758, which says that our happiness comes from the love and esteem of our fellow human beings.

         There is a solution. Reframe capitalism as the drive to use innovation and creativity to create value for others (‘make meaning’).   Dump the ‘greed is good’ credo.   Teach our children to become ‘mentschen’. Help them find a cause that brings meaning to their life. Help Wall Street rewire its brains.  And start early.

         Find meaning. Make meaning. It’s that simple. But so hard to do.

         

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
July 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun   Aug »
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Pages

Archives

Advertisements