Educating Myself on Economics

Oh, boy.  I just finished reading this here book and, boy, was it painful!  So much so that there were several times I almost marked the book DNF; Did Not Finish, for those of you unfamiliar with the terminology.  Pure will power kept me going.  That and a refusal to let a book I was really struggling to understand defeat me.

Pride.  It cometh before the fall, yes?

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler was recommended to me by an economics professor here at the university where I work.  It was one of many titles, actually, that he provided when I sent him a note in the middle of 2016 presidential election asking for books a newbie like myself would be able to grasp.  I explained to him that despite two degrees I had somehow managed to avoid taking a single economics course and had decided it was well past time for me to get a basic understanding of some general principles.  He sent back this list:

  •  how economics as a discipline analyzes how people make choices and how markets work/fail: How Markets Fail by John Cassidy (he writes for the New Yorker); 
  • Misbehaving by Richard Thaler (about behavioral economics, which argues that people are not as good at making choices as economists have traditionally assumed)
  • capitalism as an economic system: Capitalism by David Coates
  • summaries of what famous economists have said and why we still care: The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner

After a moment's consideration, I made a hasty purchase.  I picked Misbehaving because I find psychology so much more compelling than economics and that book seemed to promise a bit of psychology with its economics messaging.  That assumption wasn't far off.  The author began his pioneering career in behavioral economics by working with members of psychology departments across the academic landscape.

I will admit there were bits and pieces in the book that made me smile.  Perhaps knowing this subject is not an easy one to digest, the author does inject some self-deprecating humor along the way.  It helps.  Some.  Unfortunately, there were only a few sections of the book that really managed to break through to me.

In the section on American football, I actually found some of his observations to be of interest only because my husband is an avid fan of the sport and I thought he might find some of these studies of interest.  What I remember:

  • The teams don't make smart draft decisions because they're more interested in immediate payoff than long-term team composition.  This can be seen when they'll make poor trades to get a big name player that may or may not pan out when the smarter move would have been to let the big name player go and get more for their money in future drafts.  There was some math involved; I couldn't explain it if I tried. 
  • Statistically, not enough teams go for the fourth down.  Too many punts. 
The section on game shows gave him an opportunity to study risk assessment when big money was on the line.  He used a game similar to Deal or No Deal as his case study.  What I learned there was that people are not good at assessing loss and gains as pure math.  They use their gut instincts, which usually results in loss. Again, more math I can't explain. 

It wasn't until the end of the book that he hit on a couple of topics that I found of great interest: government and education.  I cannot summarize as well as he can state, so allow me a few quotes. 

Government andTaxes:

"One important macroeconomic policy begging for a behavioral analysis is how to fashion a tax cut aimed at stimulating the economy. Behavioral analysis would help, regardless of whether the motive for the tax cut is Keynesian—to increase demand for goods—or supply side—aimed at getting “job creators” to create even more jobs. There are critical behavioral details in the way a tax cut is administered, details that would be considered SIFs in any rational framework. If Keynesian thinking motivates the tax cut, then policy-makers will want the tax cut to stimulate as much spending behavior as possible." 

"The same questions apply to a supply-side tax cut. Suppose we are contemplating offering a tax holiday to firms that bring money home to the U.S. instead of keeping it stashed in foreign subsidiaries to avoid taxation. To design and evaluate this policy we need an evidence-based model that will tell us what firms will do with the repatriated money. Will they invest it, return it to shareholders, or hoard it, as many U.S. firms have been doing since the financial crisis? This makes it hard to predict what firms would do if they found themselves with a greater share of that cash held domestically. More generally, until we better understand how real firms behave, meaning those run by Humans, we cannot do a good job of evaluating the impact of key public policy measures."


"This intervention involved sending texts to half the parents in some school in advance of a major math test to let them know that their child had a test coming up in five days, then in three days, then in one day. The researchers call this approach “pre-informing.” The other half of parents did not receive the texts. The pre-informing texts increased student performance on the math test by the equivalent of one additional month of schooling, and students in the bottom quartile benefited most. These children gained the equivalent of two additional months of schooling, relative to the control group." 

"Considering that schools are one of the oldest of society’s institutions, it is telling that we have not figured out how to teach our children well. We need to run experiments to figure out how to improve, and have only just started doing so. What should that tell us about creations much newer than schools, such as modern corporations? Is there any reason to think we know the best way to run them? It is time for everyone—from economists to bureaucrats to teachers to corporate leaders—to recognize that they live in a world of Humans and to adopt the same data-driven approach to their jobs and lives that good scientists use.."

Perhaps the most interesting and salient quote of the book, though, is rather short and simple: " we agree about the facts, we just disagree about the interpretation."  This truism appeared continually through the book as the author and his various co-authors went up against more traditionally-minded economists in both print and in person. 

Rating this book on Goodreads is difficult for me because I don't think I can give the content a fair assessment.  I can only rate it based on my emotional reaction to the text.  This seems unfair because I think had I understood more of it better, my rating would improve.  Therefore, with this in mind, I've given this a slight bump to a three star rating.  

The Post I've Hesitated to Write

My intentions for this blog are fluid.  One day, it's a place to talk about books and writing.  The next, I've decided I don't have enough to say on those two topics alone and this space would better serve as a kind of family or personal journal.  A mommy blog, if you will.  I try not to post anything too intimate or controversial.

Yet, here I am, going where I'm not even sure I want to go.  

Politics and religion.  Feminism.  Liberal ideology and conservatism.  These are topics I normally avoid writing about without a fictional filter.  These are topics I know bring out the trolls in groves, and who has the time or energy for angry, argumentative people?  Not me.  In fact, before writing this post I debated for several days on whether or not I would close down comments.  Because while I feel compelled to write down the thoughts that are overwhelming me these days, I really do not feel the need to justify how I feel or think or believe to anyone.  Also, my beliefs are well ingrained and not so malleable.  

So, if I'm really not interested in debate, why do I feel compelled to write on these hot topics?  It's a reasonable question.  

I write because I can. 

I write because I have strong opinions on a variety of issues.

I write because I hope there's someone out there who will find a like-minded soul and feel a little less alone.  

I write because I know there are many who call those like me precious little liberal snowflakes that need to get a life, get a job, and check into reality.  They say the protesters this weekend following President Trump's inauguration are just sad that their free hand-outs are coming to an end (insultingly dismissive).  They mock the participants of the Women's March as being overly sensitive feminists who seem to be unaware that women have achieved perfect equality (they haven't). Those kind of comments tend to rile me a bit because I want to point out this precious little liberal snowflake is immersed in reality and wonders if the person complaining about those protesters and marchers has ever looked beyond their own privilege. 

You see, I check off a lot of boxes that my Facebook feed tells me conservatives alone think they fulfill.  For example, I don't get any government (state or federal) handouts.  Instead, I'm employed and make a decent living wage.  I have employer-provided healthcare.  I pay taxes.  I am Christian.  I support the Second Amendment.  I uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.  I support the police.  I condemn violence. I support veterans and active military personnel. I honor our flag. 

That a liberal can be a contributing member of society and can support some of the same things conservatives do should come as no surprise, but I imagine it does to some.  Sadly.    

This last weekend I've experienced a multitude of emotions as a plethora of negative comments streamed across my social media.  I've been dispirited, outraged, saddened, disgusted, and uplifted. I've struggled to keep my opinions to myself with mixed results.  For everything I say on Facebook or on Twitter, there's so much more I keep to myself.  

But I've reached the point where I feel more needs to be said, which brings us to this post.  This is my space in a way that Facebook and Twitter are not.  Here I can take time and space to say what I wish without worrying about bombarding my friends with yet another political post they do not want to read on Facebook.  Here I have more than 140 characters to express myself.

As I have already outed myself as Lefty Liberal, it should come as no surprise that I did not vote for Trump.  I have a great many reasons, none of which are because I'm afraid of someone taking away the free ride I don't get.  I didn't vote for Trump because I found him problematic in a number of ways.  I doubt his ability to run this country in a way that will uphold the democratic values of the United States of America.  Frankly, I think he's unfit.  

That being said, as much as I dislike it, he is my president.  At least, he will be my president until he's impeached and Mike Pence takes over the position.  And that's not wishful thinking because I really don't want to see what a Mike Pence presidency would look like, either. 

Instead of focusing on all the reasons why I detested Trump on November 8, 2016, though, I'd like to focus on what has happened since his inauguration.  When people tell me to "give him a chance," I can already point to some troubling trends that tell me he's already wasting that chance to prove he's the man I want representing this country.

1.  The birth of Alt-facts.  

A combination of photos taken at the National Mall shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies to swear in U.S. President Donald Trump at 12:01pm (L) on January 20, 2017 and President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, in Washington, DC, U.S. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (L), Stelios Varias

The emergence of Alt-facts followed Press Secretary Sean Spicer's accusations that the press misrepresented the crowd sizes of the 2009 and 2017 inauguration ceremonies in this side-by-side visual of the two events.  It was coined when Trump's best defender and spin-doctor attempted to defend Mr. Spicer's lies.

Yes, all this over something as ridiculous and petty as the crowd size at Trump's inauguration.  That our new president's ego is so fragile that his Press Secretary felt the need to condemn the media for simply reporting a demonstrable fact is alarming. I see this as a continued attack on not just the press but on American reality.  I say this because I know - just know - there will be Trump supporters who will buy into the alternative facts being spun by Kellyanne and now Mr. Spicer.  And I find this alarming.

It worries me because I wonder how far our new administration will go to control what the masses consume.

It brings to mind Orwell's 1984.

The only thing that gives me some reassurance is this amazing letter written by the U.S. Press Corps.

2.  His Aggressive and Mocking Tone on Twitter

I was raised to respect the office of the President of the United States even when you dislike the man in the chair or disagree with his policies.  Trump makes it difficult for me to respect him as a person, which means I can only respect the office in which he has been appointed and hope the man holding it does not tarnish it in such a way that we're years in repairing the damage he does to it.

President Trump's thin skin and delicate ego make headlines almost daily because he uses Twitter like some people use their best friend's sympathetic ear.   Only, instead of bemoaning the world's abuses in the privacy of one's home or over a glass of wine or beer at the local pub, he does it on the internet for the entire world to read.  I find this embarrassing.

Allow me to demonstrate and try to remember citizens and leaders around the WORLD are able to read these tweets.

These are from January 2017 and they are mild in comparison to what came during and before the election.  There have been so many petty and childish whines on his Twitter account that many people, myself included, do not find funny or acceptable.  I try to imagine a world were those tweets were written by Hillary Clinton or President Obama, and when I do I can almost hear the outcry of conservatives across this nation.  The only reason I think they excuse Trump's thin-skinned retaliatory nature is that they can't admit to any disappointment in someone they've championed for so long.

That or they delight in his petty childishness, which I find even more saddening.

Maybe this is the kind of behavior you find amusingly inappropriate when it's your friends or family, but our president should have a better temperament when operating in the public sphere.   He should show more class and restraint.  More graciousness.

3.  His First Moves

For the most part, his cabinet selections have been appalling.  I didn't realize his "drain the swamp" slogan meant he was going to fill every high level administrative position with individuals who appear to mostly oppose the mission of the departments they've been asked to run.

Then again, I have to remind myself that while I find this problematic, most of his supporters want so many different things dismantled.  What I mourn, others celebrate.  That's been the hardest lesson learned this election.

I want clean drinking water, clean oceans, and breathable air over jobs that have historically been responsible for destroying those very things. Yet, I know others are willing to sacrifice the environment by easing EPA regulations because they believe those regulations prevent jobs from being created in their states.

I want someone in charge of education that actually understands and has experience in the public sector as an educator.

I want someone to protect workers over corporate bottom lines. Someone who wasn't sued by his employees because he denied them lunches and asked them to arrive early and work late while "off the clock".

I want someone who is able to engage in diplomacy in the highest office in this nation and, if he's not up to the task, I want the Secretary of State to be able to moderate his knee-jerk, playground bully mentality.  I also want the Secretary of State to have the general citizen in mind while making decisions and not cater to corporate greed.  This pretty much sums up my thoughts on what I'm seeing in the cabinet selection process and Trump's ascension.

Not my image.  Borrowed from original copyright belongs to Occupy Democrats.

Movies I'm Willing to Pay to See in 2017

Going out to the movies is expensive.  While I'm not at all opposed to going by myself, I prefer to take the husband, our boys, my sister, or a friend with me.  While my sister or a friend will pay for themselves, my boys and the hubby tend to be on the same bill I am.  Most of the time - 9 times out of 10 - it's me and the boys, which means our tickets and concessions run anywhere from $40-50 per visit.  Because of this, we usually pick and choose which movies we'll wait to watch on Netflix and which ones will help support our local Emagine Cinema.

There are a lot of movies I'm content to wait for, that I feel lose little in terms of viewing quality by being watched on our flat screen at home.  Then there are these movies that I'm perfectly willing to temporarily pauper myself to watch at the theater.

Not shared because I'm still waiting on an official trailer...

A Writing Update

I started this blog with the intention of sharing my writing process and progress.  Over time, this site has morphed into more of a mommy blog and the writing became less and less of a focus.  That doesn't mean I stopped writing.  What it might be indicative of, though, is that I don't write as often as I should or, more honestly, could. Take my current work in progress (WIP), for example.  I have been working very unsteadily on it, choosing to watch television or read books in my down time instead of adding another paragraph or two whenever possible.

Yet, the urge to write never goes completely away.  It might be weeks or even months that go by without me touching the WIP, but eventually I will pull the rough draft out, reread the last bit I had written, and then add some new material.  It's not a very effective or efficient writing method.  It's actually quite the opposite. 

However, it is a new year and I've decided this is my year to make changes.  First, the dreaded weight gain has to be conquered.  I need to loose about 25-30 pounds.  It's not just about how I look any more, it's about how I feel.  So, yes, I'm watching what I eat and heading to the gym on a regular basis. 

The only other area of my life where I really feel any desire to improve myself is my writing.  I want to finish the rough draft of this book by December 31, 2017.  I've already written 123 pages.  If my pacing continues to be on track, I believe I'm about 1/3 of the way through the novel.

This is 100% doable.  I just need to do it. 

My Favorite Books of 2016

Goodness...where to start?

I guess I should mention that these are my top five picks from the books I read in 2016 and they are presented in no particular order.  To see a more comprehensive look at all the books I read this last year, take a peek at Krista's Year in Books (2016).

The Black Jewels Trilogy: Daughter of the Blood, Heir to the Shadows, Queen of the Darkness (The Black Jewels, #1-3)
Technically, this should count as three books but, as the trilogy was packaged in one massive tome, I'm going to count it the same way Goodreads did: as one gigantic book.

This was the first book I read in 2016.  Apparently, I like to tackle the thickest of books right at the beginning of my challenges because this year I selected Stephen King's 11/23/63, which is 849 pages long.

The Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop came in at a whopping 1204 pages!

And I loved every single word of it.  I thought Jaenelle Angelline's growth throughout the series was precocious without being tiresome.  In this trilogy, Jaenelle appears first as a young girl that catches the heart of three men: the Lord of Hell and his two sons.  As she grows, their love for her becomes more defined: the father-figure, the brother, and the lover.

Yet, it is Jaenelle's character that kept me so thoroughly engaged.  Her legendary power is offset with emotional and psychological vulnerabilities that were spawned in childhood.  Watching her grow over the course of the three books was a true delight.

Just talking about this story makes me want to jump right back into the story, which is why this is definitely on my keeper shelf.

Alight (The Generations Trilogy, #2)
My last read of 2016 was the second book in The Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler.  I had read the first book, Alive, in a couple of days in mid-July 2015.  As I had quite enjoyed Alive, I wanted to make sure I kept on track for the final book's release, which I believe is scheduled for publication in March 2017.

I'm glad I made it a priority as it did not disappoint.  Em and the other Birthday Children have an interesting tale to tell.  Sentient clones with fragmented memories, this group of teenagers and tweens managed to survive their awakenings, a run-in or two with their progenitors, and some space-travel dangers in the first book.

In Alight, Em and the Birthday children find themselves on a strange new planet with a whole new set of troubles.  There are strange creatures that make it a challenge to address even their most basic of needs.  There are alliances and coups.  There are unsettling discoveries about who they were and who they might become.

I am really looking forward to how Scott ends this trilogy.  I think he's going to have a lot to do in a few hundred pages.

Small Great ThingsThis is not the kind of book I would normally pick up.  There are no dragons.  No magic.  No space ships.  No technological wonders. Nothing supernatural or supersonic about it.

That being said, this is still one of the most memorable books I read last year.  The story flowed effortlessly between the three main viewpoint characters: Ruth, the black nurse; Kennedy, the privileged white female attorney; and Turk, the racist white man whose actions cost one woman her job and, tragically, his son his life.

I felt a wide range of emotions as I read this book. First, I felt outrage for the untenable position Turk's prejudices put Ruth in.  In a moment of crisis, she had to choose between honoring the family's wishes, which were being supported by the hospital's administration, or ignoring direct orders in order to honor her profession.  Her choice is the linchpin upon which this story rests.  As the narrative unfolds Ruth, Kennedy, and Turk provide insight into the ugly reality of race relations in America.

It was riveting.  It was tragic.  And it was timely, at least for me.  As the 2016 American Presidential race steamed forward, the themes Picoult played with in Small Great Things transcended fiction and began appearing almost everywhere in my life.  I saw racism and sexism everywhere.  It was on the news.  It was in the newspapers and magazines I read.  It reigned supreme on my Facebook feed.

Picoult's book may not have any answers, but it at least raises awareness.  It dares the reader to step outside their own lifetime experiences and consider what their life might have been like had they not been born into their current circumstances.

Arena (Arena, #1)This book was just plain and simple fun.  Kali Ling is a gaming goddess, which she proves time and again when she enters a virtual gaming world that streams live for all the world to see.  The RAGE tournaments are streamed live to the world and watched much like today's Superbowl game.  There's big money in it, not just for the players but for the company that sponsors the VR athletes.

Kali and her teammates learn how to navigate the Virtual Gaming League's social and professional standards.  When the unthinkable happens to one of her teammates, Kali's fantastical world is shown for the illusion it is.  I appreciated that these gamers suffered the price of fame, that the life of a professional gamer wasn't made out to be a utopian fantasyland.  I liked the ugly and gritty underbelly.

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam, #1)I should list the entire Maddaddam trilogy here.  You can't read Oryx and Crake and just stop there, not when  you have the rest of the trilogy near at hand.  Or maybe you could.  I couldn't.  I read them in fast succession.

I was fascinated with this first book in the trilogy.  It introduced me to Snowman, who in turn introduced me to the cataclysmic Crake and the woman that fascinated them both, the mysterious Oryx.  In true Atwood fashion, though, the backstory for each character took multiple books to fully explore.  The present and past blend and blur,  Story lines jump and pivot.

Atwood is a brilliant writer.  How she manages to keep everything straight in her own head is a mystery I will never be able to solve because I can hardly keep what I've read straight.  For all the connections I managed to make between the three books, I'm positive I've missed a hundred more.  This is likely why this is on my keeper shelf and will be pulled out again and again. Forewarned and forearmed and all that jazz....

One Second Everyday Videos

It's a new year, which means it's time to do a couple of  One Second Everyday compilations.  First up, my 2016 in Review.  As you will see, I did not remember to snag a one-second video once a day.

Next, the app had a little holiday "gift".  It offered to take my most popular Instagram photos and turn them into a quick little slideshow video.

Next year...I will do better!

2017 Reading Challenge

First, there's the #RetroRereads challenge that I feel is rather timely.  It took me some time but a list eventually emerged.  As I said on the Goodread's challenge board, most of these titles were selected in order for me to continue on in a series.  Only items #1, #7, and #10 were added for the simple pleasure of rereading an old favorite.

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
2. A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin (GRRM hereafter)
3. A Clash of Kings by GRRM
4. A Storm of Swords by GRRM
5. A Feast of Crows by GRRM
6. A Dance of Dragons by GRRM
7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. Scar Night by Alan Campbell 
9. Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold
10. 1984 by George Orwell

I also intend to continue reading books that I already own.  Thus, so continues the #ReadYourOwnDamnBooks challenge.  I'm hoping to move at least twenty books off the physical TBR in 2017 and twenty off the virtual (Kindle) bookshelves.  

That's fifty books right there.  This leaves me at least 25 spots in my overall goal of 75 books in 2017 that can be borrowed from the library or newly purchased.  

Wish me luck!