Thursday, September 30, 2010

How Much is He Worth? Part 2

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”* Those words from Christian thinker C.S. Lewis give some idea of the real value of human beings.

I agree with most of Lewis' words above (though I do reject the idea that dull and uninteresting persons are likely to become horrors and corruptions). The idea that people can become something we might be tempted to worship has a solid foundation in the Bible as well as additional scriptures that I accept.

What does such a statement say about the worth of a man (or woman)? If we can become something that marvelous is it not rather silly to try to measure us in terms of mere money? Indeed my own church teaches, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.”** If the Son of God did that for us what are we really worth? Indeed the difference between the world's wealthiest man and the pauper becomes insignificant in an eternal sense. Likewise why should we worry about the difference between the queen of England and the ordinary citizen? Earthly titles are insignificant compared to our eternal potential.

Now I hope non-Christian readers are not put off by my references to Christianity, I can only speak from my own beliefs. If you belong to a different religion I hope you will consider what your own religion says in this regard though of course it might be quite different from what I'm describing.

In any case, for those of us who believe in eternal life, human value must be considered in terms of that life. What is our eternal purpose? Again my religion gives a hint, “men are that they might have joy.”***

There you have it. Our purpose is joyous living and that is what makes life invaluable, both here and hereafter. Note that joy is different from fun or even from a life of ease and comfort. I've known many people who lived joyfully in spite of handicaps I would hate. To them life is precious and they live it to the full.

Those people and others who really know how to live find joy in their work, their families, Nature and every other aspect of their lives. They have made a habit of looking for what they can enjoy and by so doing they add value to their lives and to the lives of those with whom they associate.

If there is a true measure of a man (or woman) it is the joy he provides to himself and to his fellow beings. That doesn't take money; it doesn't even take good health. It takes a joyful attitude. It takes realizing who we are and what we should become. Another statement from the same lecture by Lewis helps understand this.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

Lewis continues with some practical advice on joy,

“This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.”

What he is describing is an added value way of living, both for ourselves and others. The value we thus add will apply both to this life and to the next. If we combine Lewis' suggestions with the other aspects of true charity we will add immeasurable value to our own lives and the lives of others. Our already immeasurable worth will increase even further. We will live fuller, happier lives. And not incidentally we will concentrate on building up what is good rather than expecting government to give us what we have not earned.

(Note: True charity is far more than giving to the poor, though that is included. As described in scripture it is a deep love for God and man.)

*From C.S. Lewis' lecture entitled “The Weight of Glory.” That lecture is available on the web and it is worth reading the entire text.

Doctrine and Covenants, 18:10-11. For those unfamiliar with that book, the Doctrine and Covenants is one of the books of scripture accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons.

***Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 2:25

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Much is He Worth, Part 1

At the funeral of a wealthy person we often hear the question, “How much was he worth?” I submit that the answer will inevitably be wrong and in fact the question is impossible to answer adequately. There are at least two reasons for this:

First, the answer is usually given in dollars, claiming that the person is worth $10 million, or a billion etc. That assumes that men are to be measured in money.

Second, the “worth” so defined considers only how much the person has at a given moment. What he has earned and spent or given away is neglected.

Consider for example Jon Huntsman, once ranked as the 47th richest man alive. After his death someone might ask what he was worth and the answer might be zero, nothing, zilch. Huntsman's ambition is to donate his fortune to the effort to eradicate cancer and to die broke. If he achieves that he will have no money at all. Would he really be worth nothing?

A much better measure of a man is described in the book Co-opetition.* The authors use the term “added value” to describe the worth of any person or company in any endeavor (which they call a game since the book is about applying game theory to business). Added value is the value of the endeavor with the person or company in the “game” minus the value of the endeavor without the person or company.

If we consider Mr. Huntsman in that manner we might look at the value he has added to our society by his efforts to eradicate a terrible disease. Could we assign a dollar figure to that? I doubt it. We might be able to determine how many dollars he has given but not the result of those gifts. How many lives has he saved? We cannot know. It is impossible to calculate what Mr. Huntsman has been worth to society.

Even if we could put a dollar figure on people like Jon Huntsman, is that adequate? I would say that it is not. Money is necessary in our society but not the only thing people desire. In fact money itself is good only for what it can do in terms of other values. The person who hoards money for its own sake is called a miser and usually lives a miserable life. (In fact I wonder if it is coincidence that “miserable” sounds so much like “miser.”) No, money is not the measure of a person's worth

That confusion is the source of much mischief in our society. Too often we think of the job that pays a lot of money as more important than one paying little. We regard physicians as of more value than plumbers even though plumbers do more for our health than do physicians. We regard the person working for money as of more value than the mother who stays home and raises great children, though our society depends on the nurture of children for its continued existence. A mother's work, important though it is, cannot be measured in dollars so we tend to value it less than its immeasurable worth.

That also leads to pressure for people to pursue endeavors measurable in money instead of satisfaction or other values. I once helped interview a young woman for an engineering job. She was smart and did reasonably well in her studies. However it was apparent that her real interest was not in electrical engineering but in homemaking. She had apparently been persuaded that she owed it to the world to pursue the more lucrative job instead of what she really wanted to do.

We also see government edicts based on the false assumption that everyone should pursue lucrative careers. The EEOC goals assume that women will seek the same type of jobs and career advancement as men. If a company fails to hire and promote the right proportion of women it is automatically considered guilty of discrimination. There is no allowance for the fact that many women want to be mothers and homemakers first and that jobs take lower priority in their lives. Yet the satisfaction a woman receives from her family is likely to exceed that that which a CEO receives from his career. Furthermore, her added value can exceed that of any CEO.

The added value from a CEO is not the value he brings to the company. It is the difference between that and what someone else would have brought had he been CEO. If he were not running the company, someone else would do it, and do probably a similar job. Since there are usually several highly qualified candidates for a CEO position, the difference in value is generally small. In fact the CEO may have added no value at all.

However the added value from a good parent is immeasurable. Should the parent not be there even the most dedicated substitute caretaker is unlikely to provide the same nurturing and teaching as the parent would. And no substitute caretaker can fill the hole left behind if a parent dies or is otherwise removed from the scene. We cannot measure the added value of parents in dollars. However that value is immense, both to society and to the children they raise.

No, neither the worth nor the added value of a human can be measured in dollars. We must think of people in other terms, and that is just for their value to society.

Next time I plan to discuss human worth from a different angle.

*Co-opetition, A revolutionary Mindset that combines competition and cooperation, The Game Theory Strategy that's Changing the Game of Business. Adam M. Brandenburger and Barry J. Nalebuff, Currency Doubleday, 1996

Thursday, September 16, 2010

When Will the Party End?

Are we about to have a major change in political power in the United States? It's too early to say, but so far the Tea Party backed candidates have done better than anyone could have expected. The general election is yet to be held but it is clear that many are no longer regarding them as a fringe to be ignored. A measure of that can be found in Russ Feingold's claim to Tea Party backing. Nobody would accuse Feingold of being right wing but he sees political advantage in claiming association with them.

This is a major shift from just a couple of weeks ago when most politicians were trying to ignore the Tea Party. They claimed it was out of the mainstream, a fringe group, a passing fad. Of course it remains to be seen if that movement really has staying power, but both politicians and the news have now been forced to take it seriously. They have defeated several establishment candidates in primary elections and it would be surprising if they do not win at least a few congressional seats in the general election. If congress ends up narrowly divided that could give Tea Party people the swing vote on many issues.

Furthermore, the Tea Party's natural audience is growing. A large majority of voters no longer trust their government and want it pared back. People are upset about big government, high taxes, Obamacare and other issues. Voters favoring Tea Party candidates and other mavericks are much more enthusiastic about voting than are other voters.

What will be the outcome? Prophecy is dangerous so I am reluctant to make firm predictions. However I believe the Tea Party will be able to influence the next congress, either by controlling swing votes or by public pressure on representatives. If exercised wisely that power could slow or even reverse the trend toward ever bigger and more powerful government in this country.

The next question is if those people will have staying power. I remember the Republican “Contract With America” and how it put Republicans in charge of congress during the Clinton Administration. It was a well thought out plan which grabbed the attention and support of voters. As a result the Republicans took over Congress and promptly shot themselves in the foot. They started acting in an arrogant manner, several being caught in major scandals. They also continued to support pork barrel projects, changing only the beneficiaries. The result was that they quickly lost what they had gained. Should the Tea Party supporters duplicate those actions we can expect them to also duplicate the quick exit from power of the Contract With America Republicans. They need to do better.

In case they are listening, here are my suggestions for any Tea Party candidates who get elected:

1. Stay humble. Put something on your mirror to remind you to avoid arrogance. That should be where you cannot miss it every time you shave or put on make-up. If you ever become arrogant it will be all over for you. Remember that you are fallible and the voters are your boss.

2. Institute a zero tolerance policy toward any behavior that could lead to scandal. If one of your people is unfaithful to a spouse, engaged in financially questionable activities, or anything else of that nature, give him the boot. Make it publicly known that he is no longer in good standing with the Tea Party movement. I mean immediately, once the evidence is in treat him like an outcast. I don't care how important you think he is to the movement, you cannot afford a scandal.

3. Do all you can to block pork-barrel projects, earmarks etc. That includes those any of your own people propose. Publicize those wasteful expenditures and how much they are costing the taxpayers.

4. Articulate constitutional principles and why they are important. Refuse to support any appointee or project that is even questionable constitutionally.

5. Avoid any taint of racism and be religious about rooting out anything that appears racist. Pay attention to both real Tea Party people and the agents provocateurs your enemies will try to insert into the movement.

If the Tea Party people will do that I believe they can provide a lasting influence for the better on our politics. If they fail in any of those areas they will be a short-lived phenomenon.