Gongol.com Archives: September 2014

Brian Gongol

September 5, 2014

Business and Finance On the demand for $15-an-hour fast-food workers
Is the minimum wage too low? In short, it's certainly too low for a comfortable full-time wage -- but that's not the point. Minimum-wage work should be entry-level work for people without many skills. Ideally, it should be a very low barrier to entry for young workers to get their first jobs. Make the minimum wage too high, and we create a system in which there are few if any opportunities for young people to get thir first jobs and start developing a track record for basic job skills, like showing up to work and following instructions. That, by the way, is a terribly unconstructive thing to do; a high unemployment rate for young people (especially young men, in their teens and early 20s) is a terrible thing for a society to have. Nobody wants young men hanging around with nothing to do and no reward system for behaving well and making something better of themselves. If we want to make life better for people who are older or more experienced but still earn minimum or near-minimum wages, we need to ask: "Why are they earning so little?". If the answer is that they are unskilled or under-skilled (which it may be), then we need to find ways of training them for higher-wage work. If it's because they are just filling some of their free time with low-wage work as an alternative to sitting around and watching television, then raising the legal minimum wage might only take away opportunities that some people use to help themselves to a higher standard of living. If it's because the economy is weak, then raising the legal minimum wage may only serve to accelerate investment in automation and other alternatives to human workers, thus ultimately putting people out of work even faster. If it's because the workers are unmotivated or disinterested and aren't delivering high-quality work, then raising the wage isn't going to change the value they create -- it will only accelerate that process of their replacement. Raising the minimum wage dramatically only looks superficially like a solution to a lot of problems...we need to really address what's keeping people at low wages and not putter around the margins.

News You may be better-off taking notes by hand
The rise of laptops and other computers in the classroom may cause people to lose something of their education in the translation. Students may also be finding themselves distracted by their devices during boring lectures. But at the same time, we have such marvelous tools available and at our easy disposal that any teacher, lecturer, or professor should be ashamed to give a lecture that bores their students. If you're in front of a room full of people, you should consider it a privilege to share your enthusiasm for a topic with the people in the room -- and be eager to put everything we know about teaching (and in the era of TED Talks, Edward Tufte, Pecha Kucha, the Khan Academy, and the Gates Foundation's work on education, we know a whole lot about good teaching) to use producing lectures that engage students. There's really no excuse for giving a bad lecture anymore.

News A foreign policy so incompetent it actually enlists Iran as an ally?
What's called ISIS/ISIL/QSIL (but what should be called "Al-Qaeda Land", which is what it really is) is now such a meaningful threat to Iran that they're willing to coordinate with the United States on military force to try to push it back. That's Iran -- the country with whom we haven't had diplomatic relations in 34 years. The Al-Qaeda problem has gotten so large (at least in part because the Obama Administration has failed to come up with a solution) that it's actually driving long-divided national interests together under an enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend foreign policy. That's not the same as detente.

News NATO will organize a "rapid reaction" force
It's supposed to be capable of getting reinforcements to an ally country in 48 hours. While this is apparently an improvement, it doesn't sound fast enough. The Baltic states surely would like to know that the cavalry would come in a matter of hours, not two days.

Iowa One of the last real farms inside West Des Moines is about to turn into a housing development
No need for over-worry about urban sprawl, though...the whole metro area has basically expanded about four miles westward in the last 20 years. That's hardly enough to cause real, legitimate alarm.

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