Investing in People

Without your employees, you are nothing.

Greed powers the American economy. The vast majority of employers are hellbent on grinding every single ounce of profit out of their employees. If someone gets crushed under the corporate wheel, so be it. Another body will come along soon enough. If it weren’t for unions, most of us would be working 80 hour weeks for subsistence wages.

That may seem like a good idea for your profit margin in the short term, and it may make your investors very happy, but if you’re playing the long game, grinding your staff down is the most idiotic thing that you could possibly do.

The reason you even have a business is because of the people who work for you. If you’re going to invest in anything at all, invest in your people, because without them, you are nothing. Nothing.

Rick Steves understands this. You might be familiar with him because of the PBS show Rick Steves Europe, but here in the Pacific Northwest, he’s an even bigger deal than that. His headquarters are in Edmonds, Washington, and overall, he employs 100 people. (You may have also read my other post about him, which highlights what how he invests in his community.)

According to this article/video, Mr. Steves has made no profit whatsoever this year. As you might imagine, the travel industry isn’t the place to be in the COVID era. He had 20,000 tours booked, and he had to fully refund every single one of them. His office is currently closed.

But he understands the value of his professionals. He wants to keep them around. He could have laid them all off and saved a fortune on the front end, but many of them probably wouldn’t have been able to come back, and the money he would have had to spend on training, and the unknown factor of whether or not new staff would be a good fit would have cost him in the long run.

So Rick Steves is paying his employees to volunteer in their community. Some are working at food banks. Some are cleaning up park trails. Some are working at charitable thrift stores, or manning phone banks to get out the vote.

These people know they’re going to have a job to come back to. They are making a difference in the community. They are not going nuts with boredom, sitting on the couch and gaining weight. They will come back to the office feeling healthy, happy and confident. And I’m willing to bet they’ll be forever loyal to Rick Steves. There’s no better investment than that.

Granted, over the years this man has made a tiny bit a heck of a lot more money than I have. He can afford to be generous. Then again, compared to the bottom line of the greedy Jeff Bezos, he’s small potatoes. But in my estimation, he’s the better man by far.

Rick Steves, in Bruges, Belgium: He spends July and August north of the Alps. ( via Getty Images)

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Maximum Wage

There’s no reason that any American should be homeless or hungry.

Okay, I’m just putting this out there. Why does anyone need millions of dollars a year to survive? I mean, seriously. It’s quite obvious that it’s not necessary. The vast majority of us get by on a mere fraction of that. If Jeff Bezos lost a billion dollars tomorrow, he wouldn’t even feel it. But society would certainly benefit from that billion dollars.

Asking for an increase in the minimum wage in this country always seems to spark great controversy, even though, on the all-too-rare occasion when it happens, not only does the world not come to an end, but it causes the economy to thrive. It’s blatantly obvious that we all do better when money is more widely distributed.

So maybe we should focus more on the opposite end of the spectrum. I truly believe that there should be a maximum wage. Most obscenely rich Americans could easily maintain their lifestyles even if their income was limited to, say, 750k a year. All the rest of their profits could prop up social service agencies, education, infrastructure, health care, and yes, dammit, an increase in the minimum wage.

The fact that this idea seems so radical, the fact that it causes this reflexive flinch in the very gut of most Americans, is a clear indicator that we’ve been well trained. Even worse, this idea will never flourish because money is power, and we allow ourselves to be ruled by it. Literally.

We make it so politicians have to be rich to get elected. We make it so they are supported by the ultra rich. Even if we tried to implement a maximum wage plan, the rich would find a loophole. We have no power ourselves, and yet we’re the ones who prop up this system. We are treating ourselves as if we’re the enemy. This insanity has got to stop.

There is no reason on earth that any American should be homeless or hungry. There is no reason a child should go without shoes. There’s no reason why anyone should be deprived of health care.

By not supporting those in need, we are supporting the very people who don’t need support and never have. We shouldn’t be here. It’s obscene. And yet, here we are.


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I’ve been learning a very unpleasant economics lesson lately. Attempting to buy a house in the Seattle, Washington area is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth indeed. This is the most booming seller’s market in the entire country, and therefore I’m experiencing cutthroat competition.

I’ve seen house values nearly double in the three years I’ve been here. There’s a good reason for that. Seattle is issuing 200 new drivers licenses every single day. That’s how many adults are moving to the area. And the number of available housing units isn’t even coming close to keeping up with that pace, so everyone, including me, is getting desperate.

Personally, I’d sit back a few years until this foolishness dies down, except that rents are going through the roof (pardon the pun), as well. I’ve had more than one friend experience a $500 a month rent hike when they went to renew their leases. If that happens to me I’ll be sleeping on a park bench, in the rain, using my dog Quagmire as a pillow.

The frustrating thing about this is that the “value” of these houses is hyper-inflated simply because it can be. I saw a little 900 square foot house with a tiny yard, built in the 1930’s, and the seller is asking 2.5 million, and will probably get it. Location, location, location.

But what is this city going to turn into if only the type of people who can pay that kind of money are able to live here? In terms of quality of life, it’s been my experience that any city is better off without an overabundance of rich, insufferable, entitled assholes. You need people like me to scrub your toilets and flip your hamburgers. You need diversity and culture to be a really stellar city. But that’ll only work if we have a place to sleep during our off hours.

A lot of sellers aren’t even bothering to tidy up their places before listing them, because they know they don’t have to. Somebody is going to buy it regardless, and probably for 75k above the asking price, so why waste your energy?

Recently I saw my dream house, and the asking price was within my range, so I bid on it. But 8 other people did, too, increasing the price so much that I couldn’t come close to competing, and the person whose bid was accepted not only waived the inspection, but paid cash. Cash. There’s no way I can keep up in this market. I’m going to wind up in a hovel right on the end of the airport flight line, or in a dangerous neighborhood, or with a 2 hour commute each way.

There is something wrong when a 52-year-old woman who has worked steadily since the age of 10 cannot afford to live anywhere within 50 miles of her place of employment. Did I pull the wings off flies in a former life, or something? This is a truly messed up situation.

Everybody knows that their houses aren’t “really” worth what they’re getting for them these days. But they’ll take it, by God! Greed trumps everything in this country. Granted, a lot of them kind of have no choice if THEY are trying to buy another house in this area. Some people are born greedy, and others have greediness thrust upon them. It’s not a good look either way. Sometimes “because I can” is not the best reason to do something.

If I were selling my house, I don’t think I’d take the very top bid. I’d also take into consideration if the person will continue to make the house a home, and be a good neighbor, and really loves what I’ve tried to do with my abode over the years. Better yet, I wouldn’t put it on the market at all. I’d find a deserving person and work with him or her to make it possible. I wouldn’t sell it to an investor or someone looking to turn it into a rental property, or worse, tear it down and put up a high rise, for Pete’s sake. Because avoiding that is the right thing to do. The decent thing to do. It’s the thing to do if you have any integrity at all.

But that’s the nasty thing this home buying experience is teaching me. People, as a general rule, do not have integrity. Their moral compasses are spinning in lazy circles.

The only way I’m going to find a home around here is if someone gives me a little bit of a freakin’ break. And here’s the thing. No one is going to do that.

So there you go.

Park bench

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A Plea to Seattle Area Home Sellers

Hi everyone. I’m a 52 year old woman who has been working since I was ten years old, and will most likely work until I drop dead. I’ve always led a simple life. I’ve saved when I can, and done my best to survive. In most housing markets, I’d be able to buy two houses. One to live in, and one to rent out. Every day I drive through Seattle and see hundreds of cute little homes that ought to be within my price range, but as we all know, this area is booming.

Currently I’m renting a house just north of the city. I actually love living there, but the rent goes up, up, up every year. I foresee a time in the very near future when I won’t be able to afford to live there, or anywhere else in this part of the country for that matter.

That would break my heart. You see, I love every single thing about this area except the traffic. I love my job. I love the friends I’ve made. When I pulled up stakes in Florida almost 3 years ago, due to the unexpected death of the man I loved most in this world, and moved out here without knowing a soul, it was lonely at first. It was scary. But it turned out to be the best thing I had ever done. Now I think of this place as home.

The only way I’ll be able to survive here is if I stabilize my living expenses by buying a house. And therein lies the problem. The most I can afford is 250-300k. That eliminates 99 percent of the market right there.

I have seen a few houses. (I have a great Realtor.) They’ve actually been quite nice. But by the time the bidding war ends with the 25 other people who like it, the price has gone way, WAY beyond my means.

There have been some homes with no buyer competition. They’ve had rotting roofs, or they’ve been right on the airport flight line, or they’re sliding down a hill, or on train tracks, or in really, really scary neighborhoods. So it’s looking like I’ll either wake up in a cold sweat wondering how I can pay the mortgage on a house that’s beyond my means, or wake up in a cold sweat worrying that my roof is going to collapse or some gang is going to invade my home. None of these options sound appealing.

So, here’s my plea. If you are about to sell your home, and you don’t want to go through the frustration of having hundreds of people tramping through it, picking it apart; if you don’t want to stress out over listings and being pestered by dozens of real estate agents, if you’re willing to get a decent price but not an outrageous one, in exchange for the peace of mind that someone will love and take care of your home long after you’ve sold it, then please, please contact me. You may be my only hope.

I’ve already been preapproved for a loan. All I need is about 700 square feet, a yard for my little dog to play in, and off street parking. I want a free standing house. I have long since outgrown the desire to share a wall with a total stranger. I’m losing sleep over the idea that these few requirements may be too much to ask.

In my fantasy, I’d be living in Seattle itself, but I’ve come to realize that this is but a dream. I’d love to live in Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Edmonds, Lynnwood or Bothell. But even that is looking impossible. I’d therefore also be willing to go for Renton or even Kent if necessary, although that would be quite a commute to work.

Please spread the word for me. I just want a place to call home. There’s no place like home.

Thank you.


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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.


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Basic Economics

Many people fall for the fantasy of the American Dream. Who could blame them? It’s a beautiful story. Its moral is that you are completely in control of your own destiny. If you work hard enough, do everything you’re supposed to, and floss your teeth once a day, you’ll live happily ever after. Pffft. If that were true I’d be a millionaire.

There are several flaws with this theory. First of all, it’s fairly safe to assume that most rich people aren’t self-made. God knows Donald Trump isn’t. If it weren’t for daddy, the Donald would probably be one of those loudmouth losers sitting on the last bar stool at the corner pub, and everyone would go out of the way to avoid him. And do you think Paris Hilton would be rich from her own efforts? Please.

Second, getting you to buy into the American Dream has some very nefarious results. It undermines your confidence. You’ll always be able to look around and see people who are doing better than you are. What are you doing wrong? Aren’t you working hard enough? What’s wrong with you? Work harder! And it also makes you focus on what you should have, rather than taking a hard look at your current circumstances.

Rich people need all of us down here being worker-bees, so they won’t have to. They need us down here focused on grinding out our widgets rather than getting uptight about our current situations. We are commodities to them. The more they can get us to produce, the more valuable we are to them. It’s the same in a slave-holding society. The hardest workers are sold for the highest prices.

Third, the American Dream is based on the concept that there’s an unlimited amount of wealth in the world. Rich people would have you believe that wealth is like kudzu. Just provide the right conditions for it, and soon you are up to your eyeballs in the weeds of abundance. You’ll be so darned rich that you’ll be chopping money down with a machete in a desperate attempt to see daylight.


Poppycock. Wealth is finite. If it were infinite, it wouldn’t be worth anything. If our economy were based on the kudzu standard, you’d need acres of the stuff just to buy a loaf of bread. This is why so many economies were originally based on the gold standard. There’s only so much gold on the planet. When something is rare and hard to obtain, it’s considered precious. It is said to have worth. But really, gold is just a lump of metal. It’s just that we all agree to assign it value.

Now that we’ve established that there’s only so much wealth out there, you have to face a hard fact. In order for people to accumulate wealth, they have to take it away from the rest of us. In other words, they are rich because we are poor. The system is set up to keep you down.

But here’s where it gets really weird. Even the rich people are now bumping up against the problem that wealth is finite. They want more, but there isn’t more. Not really. So they create all sorts of fictitious types of wealth that are based on… well… nothing. More and more rectangular pieces of paper that are called money for no good reason other than that we all agree it has worth. Credit. Stocks, bonds, loans, unsustainable mortgages, liens that will never be honored… All of these things are starting to get further and further away from actual substantive value, and that’s why we have things like the economic disaster of 2008. Things fall apart. The center does not hold.

I think the thing that scares the 1% more than anything else right now is the internet. The 99% are starting to share information with each other. We are starting to pull our heads out of the sand and actually see things. We’re getting smarter, and they’re not able to get away with as much. And when they do, we’re getting angrier. We’re starting to share our anger with each other.

We are also starting to reevaluate what has worth. We are talking about quality of life issues such as human rights and healthcare and climate and education and housing. These are things that you can’t fake or inflate.

That’s got to be terrifying for rich people. They’re sitting there, jealously guarding their pots of gold. What will they do if we all decide that gold is no different than lead? If that happens, then the Trumps of the world will be revealed to be the fools that they are.

I think economics is going to be a vital and dynamic field during the rest of this century. Change is coming. I, personally, am looking forward to it.

It’s just paper.

Community Supported Agriculture

If ever I am no longer a party of one (or should I say, “if only”), one of the first things I plan to do is join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a brilliant idea. You pay a monthly fee, and almost as if by magic, each week a box of fresh, local, in-season produce shows up at your door.

Not only are you supporting the local economy and helping local farms to thrive, but you are treating your body to the local, organically grown harvest in all its glorious variety, and helping the environment by not having your food shipped in from great distances. There’s nothing about this concept that doesn’t make perfect sense.

Sadly, it’s been my experience that it’s way too much food for one person, and I am someone who hates to see things go to waste. It becomes stressful, trying to keep up with the steady flow of healthy foodstuffs. Sometimes when you’re all alone, you just want to watch old movies and send out for pizza, you know? When eating your vegetables becomes a stressful chore, much like it was in childhood, something’s got to give.

But if I’m ever a party of two again, I’ll be signing up for Pacific Coast Harvest CSA, which serves the Seattle area. Just going to their website makes my mouth water. Maybe someday…

A typical box from Pacific Coast Harvest CSA. [Image credit:]
A typical box from Pacific Coast Harvest CSA.
[Image credit:]

Time Machines

I was sitting with a couple of friends the other day (waving at Caly and Mor) and we embarked on a flight of fancy, a sort of thought experiment about time machines. And now I can’t get it out of my head. I don’t know if this will reveal as much about the subject matter as it does about how my mind works and how I view society, but there you have it.

In most science fiction stories that I’ve read about time travel, the main concerns seem to be changing the future and/or running into yourself. I think there is a lot more to worry about than that. A whole lot more.

I sincerely believe that humanity’s main motivator is greed, so the first thing that people would do is try to figure out a way to make money from this invention. And at first it wouldn’t be very hard. Since today’s money would buy a lot more yesterday, you’d simply have to convert to the gold standard to avoid pesky questions like, “What’s a Euro?” from the people of the 1400’s, and then buy up everything in sight.

Of course, as all the gold flooded into the past, that would make the present time economy rather hard to navigate. So the next step would be making sure that you and yours were well positioned, and the best way to do that would be to give your ancestors an unfair advantage. Get them the gold, have them buy up the real estate, and when the gold runs out, then it’s time to give them modern day weapons. That would make for some scary times. If my AK47 encounters your bow and arrow, who do you think would win?

Another advantage would be in the form of increased health. If you could make sure your relatives thrive during the plague, wouldn’t you do it? And that would definitely put them in positions of power and influence.

And then, of course, there’s the ability to foretell the “future”. As in, you might not want to be in San Francisco on April 18, 1906, when the great earthquake is going to hit. But on the other hand, you could make a fortune selling tents, food and water in the aftermath.

But while predicting natural disasters would remain constant, what would change drastically is human events, as the future would be in a constant state of flux. For example, would World War II occur if a different group of people survived the black plague and produced an entirely different population?

I for one am glad that the laws of physics make it highly unlikely that we’ll overcome the concept of time, because we humans have a knack for mucking things up. I certainly wouldn’t want to be around to see the consequences.


[Image credit:]

You are not Indispensable

Apologies in advance. I’m feeling rather cynical today.

Recently a dear friend told me he got into a very heated argument with his boss because he felt he was being underpaid and unappreciated. While I can understand how he feels, I have to say I inwardly cringed. It’s been my experience that nothing good comes of such conversations.

My friend seems to be of the impression that his employer will now see the error of his ways, appreciate the value he brings to the organization, and a raise will soon follow. Not bloody likely. If his boss were the type to recognize the value of his employees, he’d be properly compensating them already.

The fact is, as good as you are at your job, you’re never indispensable. Even Steve Jobs got fired from Apple. Look over your shoulder. There are at least 10 people standing behind you, eager to take your place. Especially in this economy. This means that the average employer can, and will, treat you like crap. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but if you want groceries and a roof over your head, that’s the way it is.

So before you start shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!” consider this: we are all cogs in a massive wheel, and cogs can be replaced.


How “Little Mary Sunshine” Looks from the Darkside

A friend of mine recently posted a meme on her Facebook page that said “Slow progress is better than no progress.” My first thought was, “Great. That would be comforting if I were making slow progress.” The fact is, I have felt as though I haven’t moved forward in years. If anything, I’ve been sliding backward.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. Quit my job, sold my house, went back to school. Graduated with honors. Applied for hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of jobs. Even got one. It lasted two whole days. Fortunately my old job was still waiting for me. Of course, now I have twice as many expenses, so this job isn’t sustaining me like it once did.

When someone tells me I need to get a positive attitude I want to punch him in the throat. If you get an electric shock every time you push a button, it’s SANE to not want to push that button anymore. So imagine what it feels like when someone tells you that you should push that button with enthusiasm. Yay team!

And then there are those who will criticize you for still being picky. Don’t want an emotionally abusive guy who constantly shouts at you in your life anymore? “Why not? He’s a guy. You’d be less lonely”. Or, “Oh, look! There are job openings for prison guards. You could do that.” Yes, because I want to be surrounded by people who want to kill me every day. “But you’d be making more money…”

The problem is, what’s the effing alternative? Doing nothing? Yeah, that’ll get you somewhere. Self-sabotage? I’m quite adept at that. I cover myself with fat to keep people at a distance. I’m sure my constant depression and exhaustion radiates out of me like the cry for help that it often is. I wouldn’t hire me or date me either. What a relief. No surprises this way.

A counselor recently told me that failure is a form of success, because you learn something from it. I looked at her and thought, “Does this woman sniff laughing gas or what? Can she really BE that deluded?” Yes, I bring failures on myself, but the economy, the fact that I’m aging, and the fact that employers and men can afford to be more discerning these days because they have plenty of prospects doesn’t help either. Failure isn’t success. Failure is just one more volt that that surges through the electric button that you’re expected to push.

Another friend says I need to figure out what’s holding me back. I KNOW what’s holding me back. Fear of rejection. I have been electrocuted by that button so many freakin’ times my hair is starting to smoke and I’m developing a nervous tick. If I don’t apply for that job, I don’t have to be reminded that they don’t think I’m good enough. If I eat enough cookies, when a guy isn’t interested I can blame it on the fat, not on me.

Self-sabotage may as well be self-mutilation. It’s the emotional equivalent of cutting my thighs with a razor blade. So now I guess the trick is to figure out how to keep pushing that button with a smile on my face. Because that will feel soooo much better.

But in the mean time, kindly stop telling me to let a smile be my umbrella, would you?