Many people write or speak to tell us what we should think. Some want to be believed because they are experts, or think they are. Some want to be believed because they claim to speak for us. Some have had revelations. Others want us to trust them because they communicate through prominent media outlets. Many tell us what we should think. I write to encourage my readers to think for themselves. I write to ask you to inquire. Question me. Have fun.

  
Comment of the Day
More parenting is needed

Aug 01, 2019

Peter Gray in Psychology Today advises for less parenting. The problem is exactly the opposite: There is not enough parenting. In the past, when most of our ancestors lived in self-supporting households, often a farm, out of necessity, children were an integral part of whatever adults needed to do during their daily life, and they learned that way. Now, we do not need to do as much at home. Work is outside the home, food is brought in, heat is turned on and off, and mysteriously magical, colorful screens are the center of most activities. If we leave children free to explore what they find the most attractive, they will play video games. There might be some educational value in it, but one needs to learn much more. Hence, we need more effort in parenting, with parents doing more in the home than is otherwise required, and spending more time with children outside in order to introduce them to the real world. This realization hit home after I witnessed the surprise of a 7-year old seeing apples on my apple tree.

PREVIOUS COMMENTS
Less fight more work
Jul 30, 2017

The fight over Obamacare repeal is over, at least for now. The GOP can start to work on a new proposal that each of us can look at it, and then compare how my particular health care solution would play in it, as compared to Obamacare. In a television interview, HHS Secretary Tom Price said that Obamacare “may be working for Washington, it may be working for insurance companies, but it’s not working for patients.” Maybe it is time to consider patients’ involvement in the preparation of an Obamacare alternative? It could be that Obamacare repeal failed just because it has been prepared by Washington with consultation from insurance companies. Let us start with addressing 19 health care issues that politicians avoid talking about.

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How to pay for the wall?
Apr 04, 2017

If you want to build the wall, pay for it with your own money. How much of your own money are you willing to donate? Trump received 62,979,879 votes. If each of Trump’s supporters voluntarily donates at least $1,000, which corresponds to about $42 per month for the next two years, and if we encourage those who are more affluent to double their donations, then Trump can have on hand about $100 billion, which may suffice for a substantial piece of the wall. Hence, all of you who are talking loudly about spending my money on building this wall, stay away from my wallet, but open your own wallet and send money to the “Build the Wall Fund.” Put your money where your mouth is.

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What is wrong with Russia?
Dec 22, 2015

It appears that Russian leaders cannot free themselves from the medieval concept of regional influence, where weaker neighbors were subdued into becoming serf states. Is anyone capable of explaining to them that in these times of a global economy, any influence comes from economic strength? Russia, thanks to its size, natural resources and well-educated labor force, has everything that it takes to maintain a dominant position in the region, just by maintaining free trade with all its neighbors. It can do so without military interventions in Georgia and in Ukraine. Russia has everything that it takes to be a respected wealthier neighbor, to whom everyone in the region would turn for help when needed. Instead, it is a bully and a hooligan. It would take so little to change that. But it is so hard for Russia to do it. 

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Closed mind for closed borders
Nov 19, 2015

Known to some as a libertarian, Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. speaks against open borders. His argument is that it is an infraction against private property. He misses the point that most people migrate just because Mr. Rockwell’s neighbors want them on their private property – for picking apples, washing the dishes or writing a computer code. Then, Mr. Rockwell wrongly laments that those foreigners invited by his neighbors violate his private property rights by loitering in the public spaces that he frequents. He wants the government to deny the rights of his neighbors to do on their private property whatever they wish, so he will not need to face immigrants in the public spaces. Mr. Rockwell left the train called “liberty” at the station called “xenophobia.”    

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They do not know…
Sep 14, 2015

Mr. Trump says: “A lot of what I’m doing is by instinct.” I prefer that our President would make decisions based on systematic due diligence. The instinct that guides Mr. Trump in his professional life arrives from his vast experience, starting when he was growing up under the mentoring of his successful father, followed by a solid education and years of practice. Mr. Trump's confidence is misguiding, as it gives his supporters the illusion that someone who mastered real estate dealing can be equally skillful as President. It is similar to the illusion surrounding Dr. Carson, that he can be as good a President as he is a brain surgeon. If both gentlemen were humbler, they would realize that they qualify to be President equally as much as Mr. Trump qualifies to conduct brain surgeries and Dr. Carson to run Mr. Trump’s real estate empire. The problem is not that they do not know many things they should; the problem is that they do not realize that.

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Freedom cannot be legislated, its restriction can
Mar 31, 2015

Indiana voted in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In his WSJ piece, Gov. Mike Pence claims it was needed to protect the religious freedoms of Hoosiers. Every legislative act by its nature limits someone’s freedom. The only way of increasing freedom is by identifying existing laws that curb personal liberties and then eliminating them.  Hence, if Gov. Pence sees that under some circumstances, the religious freedoms of Hoosiers are not respected, he could correct the situation by eliminating laws causing this problem. We have the Bill of Rights, and it suffices. No “enhancements” are needed.

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Uber explained

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

I was introduced to Uber in 2011, in a casual conversation with an early investor there, just before Uber took off big-time. That person was excited by how easy it was to order a ride from an airport just a few days earlier, in a nice limousine. Then I was told that Uber was a perfect option for someone who might have an upscale car, with payments still due, but with a well-paying job gone due to the recession. That person likely, most of the time, searched for a new job, but for a few hours per day could take time off and work as a driver for Uber. A few hundred dollars earned this way could help during the financial downturn, covering car payments, for example.

This is not the concept of Uber as we know it now. But I see a similar approach in the original pitch deck as disclosed by Garrett Camp, the Uber co-founder. In late 2008 Uber founders noticed that new mobile phone technology allowed for creating a simple application for car ride-sharing that was much easier and more efficient than the anachronistic taxi dispatching system. The timing could not have been better. Between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2009, 7.5 million Americans lost their jobs. Many of them had car payments still due, and eagerly jumped on the Uber opportunity. In their economic calculation, the only cost of driving for Uber was the cost of gas. They did not count how much they were making per hour; they valued the convenience of doing it when they needed it and for however long they were willing to do it. Their income objective was that extra few hundred dollars per week they desperately needed.

Things changed when the economy bounced back. There are very few people with nice cars and an abundance of time. Most people who can afford a nice car usually have an occupation with an income supporting this purchase. If they need extra income, usually they can make more by exploring their professional field than by downgrading to the relatively low-skill job of a personal driver.

I recall a conversation with a friend who drives for Uber part-time. He has a modest income from his primary job and is very entrepreneurial in finding additional sources of income. He seemed content with his income from driving for Uber. I asked him if he accounted for all his costs: the wear and tear on the car, insurance, the higher risk of accidents and his time of idle driving. After taking all these factors under consideration, in a similar manner as one can find it on the internet, we concluded that his income is about $10 per hour, if not less. He did not realize that. He has skills and opportunities to make much more by doing other things. I would not be surprised if many people still drive for Uber only because, like my friend, they do not know the basics of business accounting.

The calculation is even worse for those who try driving for Uber as their primary source of income. After all bills are paid, they see clearly that there is not enough money left. Instead of leaving for jobs elsewhere, Uber drivers turned to government for help in securing at least a minimum wage. New York set it recently at $17.22 per hour; California is tinkering with setting it at $21 per hour.

The irony is that history made a full cycle. Ride-sharing rose to popularity in response to an overregulated taxi industry. In major American cities, where most of the taxi driving takes place, one needs to buy a medallion in order to drive a taxi. That medallion is a city permit to operate a taxi service. By limiting the issuance of these permits, cities limit taxi traffic and, by curbing competition, help maintain a higher income for taxi drivers. With a limited supply, these medallions reached astronomical prices, up to several hundred thousand dollars, touching even $1 million in New York.

All that bureaucratic reality fell to pieces with the disruption caused by Uber and Lyft. Now, taxi medallions can be bought for one-tenth of what they were worth just a few years ago. Also, after all the glitter of the gig economy has faded, the bare truth emerged that passenger riding, be it in an old-fashioned taxi or a new ride-share, offer just a minimum-wage income. Uber drivers, who originally benefited from playing in an unregulated field, asked government for regulations.

Uber catapulted to its prominence because during the recession we had an oversupply of drivers who, hungry for cash, were willing to provide a ride-share service below cost. The public loved the convenience and the lower price. Early investors, dazzled by the flashy start, did not see that the model working only during the recession was not sustainable. They poured billions of dollars into these companies and now Uber is a cash-rich company desperately seeking the next big thing in transportation-related businesses. Undoubtedly, their investments in new technologies and in new concepts eventually will benefit some, not necessarily Uber itself.

Uber, cherished as the greatest success of the gig economy, will eventually run out of money that is needed for trying new things. As it is with new ideas, only very few of them work, and it usually takes more time and money than expected to get there. Uber has a shot at reaching a plateau of financial stability by becoming steadily profitable at least in a few areas of operations. So far it is not profitable, and profits are not on the near horizon. Hence, we cannot dismiss the possibility that, once an amazing triumph, Uber will end up as a spectacular blunder.

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About me

I was born in 1951 in Gdansk, Poland.
Since my high school years, I have interest in politics and love for writing. During my college years, I started writing to student papers and soon became freelance author to major Polish political magazines.

In 1980 I wrote a book “Czy w Polsce może być lepiej?” (“Could it be better in Poland?” – this book is available only in Polish) analyzing major problems in Poland at the time and outlining possible solutions.

I was among those Polish political writers who by their writings contributed to the peaceful system transformation that finally took place in 1989. Since 1985, I live in the Chicago area. I went through the hard times typical of many immigrants. Working in service business, I have seen the best and the worst places, I met the poorest and the richest. I have seen and experienced America not known to most of politicians, business people, and other political writers. For eleven years, I ran my own company. Presently, I am an independent consultant.

My political writing comes out of necessity. I write when I see that the prevailing voices on the political arena are misleading or erroneous. Abstract mathematics and control theory (of complex technological processes) strongly influenced my understanding of social phenomena. In the past, my opponents rebuked my mathematical mind as cold, soulless, and inhuman. On a few occasions I was prized for my engineer’s precision and logic.

I have a master’s degree in electronic engineering with a specialization in mathematical machines from Politechnika Gdańska (Technical University of Gdansk).

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