Ageism, Power, and Intergenerational Animosity

Ageism is a two-way street, but is usually thought of only in terms of discrimination against the old. In federal employment law, protections are afforded to over-40s, but favoring an older worker over a younger one is not a problem.

In terms of power in society, almost every area is completely dominated by old people, from billionaires and boards of directors to major shareholders and company executives. In academia, tenured professors hold all the power and associate professors are disposable and work for scraps. The average age of the 113th Congress was 57.6 years, and our last presidential election was between two 70-year-olds.

The only voting blocs that politicians really cater to are “homeowners”, which is a codeword for landed upper middle-class people who are older and financially secure. They vote the most and donate the most because they want their land titles propped up in value through government policy. They want their healthcare and pensions. They want all taxes shifted away from accumulated wealth, which inevitably means that they want taxation redirected to the young. Meanwhile, political participation for the young is intrinsically a more altruistic endeavor, because they really don’t draw on government privilege for their existence.

Unfortunately, this also results in low turnout for young adults. More than half of eligible voters aged 18 to 24 stayed home for the 1998 midterms. Those young people who are politically inclined tend to care about a more diverse spectrum of issues, which creates divisions within liberal politics and keeps deciding power in the hands of older, more cohesive voters. This imbalance is likely to get worse, as declining fertility rates among younger generations will see seniors account for much higher proportions of overall population growth in the future than they did in the past. While the population aged 65 and older accounted for 18 percent of overall population growth from 1950 to 2010, they will account for 51 percent of population growth between 2010 and 2050.

Despite the imbalance of power, most conversations about age discrimination involve the young victimizing the old. Why is it that the reverse is rarely considered? Historically, the perception is that old people are responsible, with traditional moral values, and are inherently worthy of respect and capitulation. But at this point in time, statistically speaking, young people have far fewer vices.

Rates of teen pregnancy are at an historic low, and young people smoke less, exercise more and make better choices about what they put in their bodies. They are frugal, more secular, and more tolerant than any previous generation in memory. Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, with more than 63 percent of millennials having a Bachelor’s Degree. More than half either want to start a business or already have started one.

Sociology professor Judith Bessant has explored how two early-twentieth-century writers encouraged the perception of the young as less capable: psychologist G. Stanley Hall introduced the concept of ‘the adolescent’ and sociologist Talcott Parsons began the discussion of so-called ‘youth culture’. Both these men focussed on the most troublesome among young people, popularizing the notion that they are unpredictable, emotionally turbulent, and rebellious across the board.

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Surely the expectation of rebellion or failure is partly responsible for that same rebellion, or that failure. A lack of rights, responsibilities, and respect can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and if young people are not afforded treatment as equals in society, they will continue to boycott full participation. Intergenerational animosity can manifest itself as a healthy and friendly competition, or it can mutate into genuine resentment. In many cases, we seem to be trending toward the latter.

The generalizations they made have persisted for decades. Meanwhile, young people are showing themselves to be more purpose-driven in their work than any previous generation. Research from Deloitte showed that while millennials in leadership positions believe profit is important, they prioritize purpose, innovation, and the wellbeing of themselves and the workforce. Despite their demonstrable ability and ambition, young people have been walled off from many avenues of power in society.

Having started out with huge student debt, many young people have trouble getting jobs at all, and old people are living longer than ever, closing leadership opportunities off even more. Further confounding this is that there are formal and informal metrics by which the old judge the performance of the young based on the values of the old. Often times these metrics are outmoded in certain fields.

This is particularly true of technology. Consider the ‘rapid iteration’ work style of software development, whereby timeliness and planning are discarded in favor of live progress-tracking and goals that can be discarded as quickly as they are set. How does this compare to the clunky, paper-pushing environment in which much of business and bureaucracy still operates?

Older people will thus downplay the importance of technological understanding as a metric for leadership abilities and play up the importance of skills with which older people have more experience, even if these skills are outmoded.

Often, experience creates irrational biases, or a tendency to gloss over important details that a fresh set of eyes would catch. Furthermore, experience can often take the form of unending failure. Failing to learn from mistakes, and instead rationalizing them as a means to hold onto power is far too common in our society. There is nothing wrong with failing, but only if it comes with subsequent adjustments toward success.

Older people, being in the position to create rules and regulations, have the ability to subtly introduce ways to increase their perceived value to an institution. This makes the legitimacy of authority in an institution circular in its reasoning. Why do we do what we do? Tradition! Why should this be done? Because I said so! If there are no definable goals, there are no checks and balances on power. No newcomers can challenge that power on a strategic or meritocratic basis because strategy and merit are nonexistent.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the erosion of the union movement has made it more difficult for those with blue collar jobs to rise to the middle class. Males with high school diplomas in 2010 actually made less money than their 1980 counterparts: $30,000 versus $39,750 in annual salary adjusted for inflation. The younger worker is more likely to be laid off if a “Last In, First Out” policy is in place, simply because she has not been with the company for as long. The assumption persists that experience equates to merit, when in many cases the opposite may be true.

Despite the genuine difficulties young people face, it’s not uncommon to hear it suggested that the young are lazy, entitled, or incapable. It is socially acceptable to vent frustration about dealing with young people and children in public places, or in extreme cases to implement high-frequency sound technology only audible to young people as a deterrent to keep young people away from certain areas entirely. The fact that more millennials are still living with their parents is easy fodder for mockery. Yet, it is the economic policies of previous generations that have caused the current economic climate.

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As a brief thought experiment, consider these common criticisms:

  • “Oppressed ethnic groups shouldn’t be treated like children!”
  • “Women shouldn’t be treated like children!”
  • “Disabled people shouldn’t be treated like children!”

Maybe there is something deeply wrong with the way that we treat children and young people. The ageism that flows towards the young is insidious, since it is the powerful attacking the powerless. Whereas the faintest hint of ageism towards the elderly is met with grave condemnation.

Experience is sometimes correlated with merit, but it is not merit itself. Furthermore, people “rise to the level of their incompetence.” Young people are less likely to have reached their capacities yet. Therefore, there is a lag that needs to be accounted for when comparing young and old. There should be more active competition on objective standards of merit instead of simply discounting a person on the basis of age. Certainly, people at their peak physical and intellectual capacities stand an increased chance of being the best choice for a position, if irrational biases against the young are properly accounted for.

WIthout young people, we simply wouldn’t have seen the kind of power that brought the civil rights movement to the United States. Many young people postponed their studies and early careers for the sake of fighting for change, against entrenched powers that were not necessarily malicious but which had no reason to upset the present structure of society. There are countless other instances of young people being the engine of critical improvements throughout history.

How do we create the best situation for everyone? Public office, corporate boards, taxes, and voting laws disproportionately favor the old. The old need young people’s new talents and energy. The young need to learn from the experiences of the old. Both groups can work for the benefit of the other. If people are given power in proportion to their merits, irrespective of age and other irrelevant factors, we would see a more balanced age distribution and much more sensible policy outcomes. No rational agent wants to give up power, but there are rare occasions where doing so is better for everyone, including the powerful.

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A New Resource For Advocacy And Education

Over the years, many reputable researchers and organizations have dedicated resources to examining the theory and the implementation of Land Value Taxation. This system of tax is not just a good idea, it is a demonstrably effective tool for reducing speculation, driving down land prices, and incentivizing the optimal use of centrally-located land.

EarthSharing has compiled a database of high-quality research on LVT, which you can access here. This is not a gathering of platitudes presented by people who are influenced by their pre-existing support for such a policy; this is serious academic work that scrutinizes LVT alongside other tax structures and has reached the same conclusions. Consider the following from a 2015 OECD publication:

Property taxes can underpin sustainable land use. A pure land tax can help contain urban sprawl and foster the conversion of developed land instead of greenfield development. The land-use effects of property taxes – which also tax investment – are more ambiguous. Specifically designed “green” property taxes (soil-sealing taxes, development charges, etc.) can further help internalise land-use externalities

This list is far from exhaustive, and we strive to create a resource for advocacy and education that is as comprehensive as possible. If you can contribute to furthering the goal of this resource with additional research, please contact us and we will add to it.

Check out our LVT Endorsements resource and let us know what you think!

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The Henry George Program Ep. 6 – Economy of Cities with Kedar

In this May 16, 2017, episode of The Henry George Program, Kedar is back to talk about mobility. We have depressed economies and cities with excess demand. Why? Mark and Kedar discuss whether the desire to move to cities is still justifiable and necessary, and whether everyone should have the same opportunity to move into high-value urban areas. What are the best policies for making this available to all?

The discussion also hones in on the need to alter the incentives of the current building consent system, wherein it is in the interest and within the reach of communities to be as obstructive as possible in the face of development.

“It’s kind of a zero-sum game in our old systems of looking at things. Why shouldn’t you fight? If you say ‘hey, you’re going to block my view’, ‘hey, your neighbor will be worse off…’ Right now, the people who fight for it, they get rewarded and it’ considered to be a righteous thing. You’re defending your tribe, you’re defending your people in your neighborhood, you are keeping it pure. And I’d say there isn’t really considered to be a good alternative to this and I would say there is one valid alternative to NIMBYism and it’s George’s.”

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

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Building A Better Local Economy

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th, 2016. The ‘Building a better local economy’ panel brought together experts and activists across a range of fields to discuss the future of building communities using technology and compassionate organizing.

The speakers were:

  • Gustavo Aguirre, Director of Organizing with The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
  • Aaron Fernando and Mike Lomuto from Bay Bucks, which promotes and facilitates a local currency in the Bay Area
  • Chelsea Rustrum, co-author of ‘It’s a Shareable Life’, consultant and speaker on the sharing economy.

Rustrum spoke about the tremendous changes that had been brought about by websites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Uber and Craiglist. Many technologies like Open Source and Creative Commons were taking sharing beyond the profit motive, however, and this was a trend that seemed likely to continue, she said. “Technology is great but who is actually creating the value for these things?”

Bay Bucks’ Fernando spoke about the need to reform our system of money, by which 80 percent of people end up worse off because of interest. Local currencies that keep value circulating within communities were hugely beneficial, and Bay Bucks was driving a movement of interest-free value exchange between businesses.

“When you spend locally, only about 32 percent leaves the local area, whereas when you spend big bucks or chain stores, about 57 percent of it goes away. It is very difficult to keep 100 percent of all spending locally because you have things like taxes…but in general, spending locally keeps that wealth generated by the community within the community.”

Watch the full panel discussion below:

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Land Value Tax Searches Peaked in June

Following the U.K. election in early June, we discussed how the Labour Party manifesto had proven to be a springboard for public interest in Land Value Tax. Anti-LVT misinformation and encouraging support for such a policy filled column inches and websites in the weeks preceding what was an astonishing result for the party.

Beyond media coverage, though, interest in LVT skyrocketed in online searches. Google Trends recorded the highest interest in its recorded history for the period May 28 to June 3, most concentrated in the U.K. but visibly spilling across the Atlantic to the U.S.

Google’s ‘interest over time’ value for a particular term is relative to itself, with 100 denoting the highest volumes in the term’s history. The spike in interest around the time of the U.K. election was more than four times greater than at any other time in at least the past decade.

It’s reasonable to conclude that the election was solely responsible for the jump, and this is corroborated by comparing the trend with searches for ‘garden tax’. This was the pejorative name given to LVT by many tabloid publications, based on the misconception that homeowners with gardens would be charged exorbitant tax bills. Take a look at the correlation below:

Irrespective of the bias in media coverage, any increase of this magnitude in independent searches is a victory for proponents of a Land Value Tax. It’s up to us to capitalize on public interest at times like this and make sure that information and discussion online are productive and accessible. We are always on the lookout for interesting trends, and anyone can analyze and compare Google trends using this tool. Let us know if you find anything noteworthy!

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Heather VanCura: How To Ally For Women In Tech

BIL: Oakland 2016 Recession Generation was an Earthsharing.org conference in Oakland, California on July 9th. Heather VanCura spoke about the need for companies and employees in the tech industry to change direct and subconscious behaviors and “ally” for women in tech.

There are myriad ways to encourage more women to take up roles in the ever-expanding tech industry, but policies that attempted to force change could be counterproductive, VanCura said. “Giving people quotas and forcing things on them… people react very negatively to it,” she said. “Just try to focus on being human.”

It was helpful to think of ally as a verb, not a noun, to encourage the idea that small actions could make a huge impact on employment culture for women, VanCura said. Things like being aware of how assignments are distributed, being prepared to change the subject from conversations about sex, and creating normalized expectations about salary negotiation and job competencies all have the potential to create a more positive environment for women.

“Women do not want to put themselves up for a job, they want to be told that they should go for that job. They will not put themselves up for a job unless they have all the requirements listed in the job description,” VanCura said.

 

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Almost half of the women who take tech jobs leave within 10 years, and this was in part to an environment in which work traits were interpreted very differently in men and women.

“Some of the feedback that I received from my mentors and sponsors was that I was perceived as a little bit bossy or aggressive, sometimes abrasive, where when I think about it myself, I saw myself as a strong leader, independent, taking the lead, being brave. So there’s two different ways you can think about those types of behaviors.”

In an environment where perception is as or more important than performance, it was extremely difficult for women to succeed solely on the basis of their skill set. “I really did think it was a meritocracy, and I think that’s a big misconception,” VanCura said.

Overall, there is a need to disrupt the natural tendency to make assumptions about people, and to build a culture where everyone is treated as an individual.

“Remember that we are all human. We are more similar than we are different and we can all be the change that we wish to see if we focus on people as individuals and focus on what brings us together rather than what divides us.”

 

Heather VanCura is chairwoman of the Java Community Process standardization efforts at Oracle. She spearheads efforts to transform the JCP program and broaden participation and diversity in the community. She is passionate about women in technology and development, and is a regular international speaker and organizer of developer hack days around the world.

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The Henry George Program Ep. 5 – Corey Smith of SFHAC

In this May 9, 2017 episode, Corey Smith of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition talks about the policies and the politics to get the housing supply up to 5,000 units a year. All your favorites are here: CEQA and Prop 13. Some talk about the limits of empathy: are our land-use policies making us meaner?

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: San Francisco Housing Action Coalition

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Oregon And The Self-Sabotage Of Civic Cutbacks

At the beginning of April, 10 public libraries shut their doors all at once across Douglas County, Oregon. The mass closure of these critical civic institutions is the result of a democratic process in communities where every extra dollar on a tax bill is seen as an affront to personal liberty. The only hope for the future of these libraries rests on volunteers.

Oregon’s public purse has historically been filled by the spoils of logging the timber-rich regions of southern and western Oregon. Douglas County and its neighbors experienced a surge in demand for timber during and after World War II, and a flood of federal cash allowed small communities to provide all kinds of public infrastructure and services. For Douglas County, this included a public library system that would grow to encompass 11 branches.

Photo: courthouselover via Flickr.

Logging began to decline in the 1980s, and environmental protections on public land in 1990 sealed the fate of many communities reliant on timber. In Douglas County, federal timber revenues fell from $50 million a year to just several million. Once-free public services began to charge locals for use.

With library services firmly in the sights of further budget cuts, library supporters put together a proposal last fall that would have added about $6 per month to an average tax bill and saved the libraries from closure. This in a county where property taxes are subject to a cap set in 1990 that cannot be exceeded without a public vote, and specific county services like libraries must be funded out of special tax districts.

The taxpayers rejected the proposal, in the process generating a lot of negativity around the purpose of libraries in general and their perceived obsolescence. County authorities are seemingly ambivalent, caught between families and community groups on one hand and a complete lack of revenue on the other. Property taxes have always been one of the most effective and widely used mechanisms for public funding of vital services. This includes schools, roads, energy and waste infrastructure, and critical facilities like libraries and pools.

Thousands of small communities around the world are struggling due to a lost industry, and the only two options seem to usually be hoping for that industry to return, or tightening the purse strings exponentially as the community evaporates. There is a need for creative thinking in places like Douglas County, where an untold number of people have now lost access to essential services.

The many factors playing into this shameful development are summed up by Shane Dixon Kavanaugh, writing for Vocativ:

Just three hours south of Portland, where residents enjoy the fruits afforded by a tech and real estate boom, this rural community of loggers and agricultural workers is preparing to do without a publicly-funded institution considered by many to be as fundamental to American life as schools, paved roads, and the local police. In some ways, the demise of the public library system in Douglas County, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, is the outcome of a perfect storm of factors confronting towns and cities across the U.S. — the slow death of an industry; an exodus of young people and influx of retirees; an explosion of anti-tax fervor; and shifting perceptions on what government and people are willing to pay for today.

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The Henry George Program Ep. 4 – James Hughes: Technoprogressivism

We featured the libertarian transhumanist perspective of Zoltan Istvan a few weeks ago. In this May 2, 2017 episode, we speak with James Hughes, who couples a concern for transhumanism with a progressive attitude and a focus on economic justice.

Hughes is an American sociologist and bioethicist who falls on the progressive side of the political spectrum. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, which he founded with Nick Bostrom. He serves as Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Starting in 2017, EarthSharing.org has been collaborating with KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM to create a weekly hour-long radio show. The Henry George Program is a platform for interviews, roundtable discussions, and debates on economic justice and policy.

Tune in for challenging content on the housing crisis in the Bay Area and beyond, economic stagnation, widening wealth inequality, and environmental degradation ― can Henry George’s ideas offer a path forward that unfettered capitalism and incremental socialism lack?

An archive of the Henry George Program can be found here.

Featured photo: KnightCap via Wikimedia.

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Will Robots Take Our Jobs?

This year at BIL San Francisco 2017, talks such as “When the Robots Don’t Work”, “Are Robots Trying to Kill Us?”, and “Why AI Works – The Epistemology of Deep Learning” take on a subject similar to presentations given at BIL Oakland 2016, for example, the “Will Robots Take Our Jobs? panel”

Julia Bossman argued that, given an explosion in robots and AI, there will be massive unemployment, with Timothy Roscoe Carter arguing that we need a basic income to protect people from such unemployment. Edward Miller questioned the assumption that AI will permanently replace human labor, instead arguing that AI will cause disruptions that temporarily displace workers as they attempt to provide their ‘comparative advantage’, referencing the classical economist David Ricardo.

Miller goes on to state that Ricardo’s Law of Comparative Advantage, demonstrating that even parties who are worse at producing everything (e.g. futuristic humans) will still be involved in the productive economy. This is true even if the other parties, in this case robots, are vastly better at producing everything.

Bolstering his point with an example, he said that there are even cases of de-automation especially in poor nations where labor is much cheaper. Miller went on to say that basic income will tend to increase people’s rent, such that the benefit provided by a basic income will be siphoned off by people who own high-value land in places like the San Francisco Bay Area. He cites a similar dynamic in the Bay Area where an increase in many people’s wages have simply driven up rent.

It was mentioned in the panel that humans in the future will likely not be separate from AI, leveraging it to augment their own intelligence as cyborgs, as opposed to a disembodied super-computer. Perhaps AI will not “take” our jobs because we will merge with them.

Andrés Gómez Emilsson questioned the panel’s assumption about what humans would even desire in a world with advanced AI, saying that such advancement would enable humans to fundamentally alter their own motivational systems, indeed human nature, not to mention our economic systems. This tied in with Miller’s statement about barring fantastical futuristic scenarios like in The Terminator, ones where robots literally try to exterminate humans, and in effect do a lot more than merely take our jobs. A more sober view is one in which land, natural resources, and other fundamental aspects of political economy persist, regardless of technological advancement. In such a scenario, It was argued that a land value tax would be the best way to fund a basic income because, as the basic income bids up rent, these higher land values would be continuously recollected via the tax to fund increasingly higher levels of basic income.

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