£330,000 for a 20-minute speech at a world hunger event? Tony Blair is an inspiration to us all

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Courtesy of Michael Segalov @ The Independent:

Over the weekend, it was reported that Tony Blair pulled out of addressing The World Hunger Forum in Stockholm because his £330k price tag for turning up and talking just couldn’t be met.

According to one source, the food company organising the event, Eat, dropped Blair because “his star power is fast diminishing”. But regardless of whether this is true or not, many agree that he was wrong to ask for such an astronomical payment in the first place. It was apparently going to be given to The Cherie Blair Foundation. So if his claim that he didn’t turn up and speak due to “prior commitments” is true, that’s a real shame; it would have been a huge donation.

But either way, I think it’s time we give the man a break. His impeccable record as a selfless public servant aside, Blair’s approach to life after his Downing Street days display the exact same values that both the government and opposition want us to tattooed on our foreheads: “aspiration” and “wealth creation”.

The next Labour leadership favourite, Andy Burnham, last week suggested “wealth creators must be valued as highly as NHS staff”. Burnham reckons these wealthy people are “everyday heroes”, in which case Tony Blair is basically Superman, creating cash money left right and centre.

Since leaving Downing Street he’s had to deny reports that he has amassed a personal fortune of £100m, and has insisted that it’s closer to £20m – a far more modest amount. But regardless of how many millions he has, Tony’s real message to us all is that we shouldn’t be bothered by those bleeding-heart liberals who think we should be paying a fair level of tax – in fact, a company he set up managed to halve its tax bill to just £300,000 on an income of £14m. Continue reading

Democracy v Psychology: Why People Keep Electing Idiots

The 2015 election campaigns are under way, and it’s clear that doing or saying unintelligent things is no barrier to political success. Unfortunately, there are several psychological mechanisms that lead to apparent idiots being elected into powerful positions.

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Clegg being interviewed by Joey Essex has been seen as blatant “dumbing down” of politics, but it’s been going on for quite some time now. Photograph: @nick_clegg/PA

Courtesy of Dean Burnett @ The Guardian:

Politicians. Their reputation is very poor. In fairness, this is largely their own fault, but it would be foolish to assume every politician is like this. If they were, the whole infrastructure would collapse before you could say “can I claim this on expenses?” Still, everyone assumes they’re despicable, so always assume the worst.

Politician enacts a bad policy? They’re a terrible person. They change their mind and reverse it? They’re weak and not fit to lead. Politicians promise improvements (cut taxes, increase spending)? They’re obviously lying. Politicians promise to do something unpopular (raise taxes, cut spending)? A cast-iron guarantee it will happen. It’s a lose-lose situation, so why do they bother? Many politicians are clearly in it for themselves, but there surely are plenty who really do want the best and just put up with the negative opinions they get.

So, for the record, not all politicians are idiots (although your definition of idiot may vary). But plenty are. The US seem particularly afflicted with them; Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, these people were/are contenders for the presidency. And the archetype George W Bush WAS the president. For 8 YEARS. The man whose idiotic musings managed to sustain businesses had a nuclear arsenal at his command.

Not that the UK can feel smug, with the amount of demonstrable idiocy in our own system. Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Grant Shapps, Jeremy Hunt, David Tredinnick, a ridiculous Labour party (complete with mugs), the rise of UKIP, and the beloved bumbling mayor Boris Johnson. Continue reading

The Gervais Principle, Or The Office According to “The Office”

Although positivistic in its framing of people and I disagree that sociopaths are creative, even so it makes interesting reading around the life cycle of a business. Courtesy of Venkat @ RibbonFarm:

My neighbor introduced me to The Office back in 2005. Since then, I’ve watched every episode of both the British and American versions. I’ve watched the show obsessively because I’ve been unable to figure out what makes it so devastatingly effective, and elevates it so far above the likes of Dilbert and Office Space.

Until now, that is. Now, after four years, I’ve finally figured the show out. The Office is not a random series of cynical gags aimed at momentarily alleviating the existential despair of low-level grunts. It is a fully realized theory of management that falsifies 83.8% of the business section of the bookstore. The theory begins with Hugh MacLeod’s well-known cartoon, Company Hierarchy (below), and its cornerstone is something I will call The Gervais Principle, which supersedes both the Peter Principle and its successor, The Dilbert Principle. Outside of the comic aisle, the only major and significant works consistent with the Gervais Principle are The Organization Man and Images of Organization.

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I’ll need to lay just a little bit of groundwork (lest you think this whole post is a riff based on cartoons) before I can get to the principle and my interpretation of The Office. I’ll be basing this entire article on the American version of the show, which is more fully developed than the original British version, though the original is perhaps more satisfyingly bleak. Keep in mind that this is an interpretation of The Office as management science; the truth in the art. Literary/artistic critics don’t really seem to get it. I’ll have some passing comments to offer on the comedy and art of it all, but this is primarily about the truths revealed by the show, pursued with Dwight-like earnestness.

From The Whyte School to The Gervais Principle Continue reading

Invisible art of etiquette: Having good manners delivers all sorts of unexpected gains

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Courtesy of Paul Ford @ The Independent:

Most people don’t notice that I’m polite, which is sort of the point. I don’t look polite. I am big and droopy and need a haircut. No soul would associate me with watercress sandwiches. Still, every year or so someone takes me aside and says, “you actually are weirdly polite, aren’t you?” And I always thrill. They noticed.
The complimenters don’t always formulate it so gently. For example, two years ago at the end of an arduous corporate project, slowly turning 1,000 red squares in a spreadsheet to yellow, then green, my office mate turned to me and said: “I thought you were a terrible ass-kisser when we started working together.”

She paused and frowned. “But it actually helped get things done. It was a strategy.” (That is how an impolite person gives a compliment. Which I gladly accepted.)

She was surprised to see the stubborn power of politeness over time. Over time. That’s the thing. Mostly we talk about politeness in the moment. Please, thank you, no go ahead, I like your hat, cool shoes, you look nice today, please take my seat, sir, ma’am, etc. All good, but fleeting.

When I was in high school I used to read etiquette manuals. Emily Post and so forth. I found the manuals interesting and pretty funny. There was good stuff about how to write a note of condolence, and ridiculous stuff about how to behave on boats or at The White House.

I didn’t expect to apply my findings to my daily adolescent life. I was peripheral in high school – uncool but also untortured, voted “most scholarly” of my class, roughly equivalent to “least likely to have sex”. In high school no one noticed my politeness except for one boy. He yelled at me about it. “Why you always so polite, man?” he asked. “It’s weird.” I took it as praise and made a note to hide it further, to be more profane. Real politeness, I reasoned, was invisible. It adapted itself to the situation. Later, that same kid stole my cassette copy of Aqualung. Continue reading

Look to ‘The Simpsons’ For Economics Lesson

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The book ‘‘Homer Economicus” zeroes in on a variety of economic fundamentals, as they have played in episodes of the show.

Courtesy of Brian Garr @ Boston Globe:

You might not have known it, but all those episodes of ‘‘The Simpsons’’ were just secret economics lessons. Turns out the yellowish, four-fingered cartoon characters have a lot of insight to offer on basic economic theory.

We know this thanks to Joshua Hall, an associate professor of economics at West Virginia University — and the brains behind the new book ‘‘Homer Economicus: The Simpsons and Economics’’ (Stanford University Press).

Hall got the idea to incorporate pop culture icons like Homer Simpson into his lessons after teaching a three-hour night business class. “It’s hard to go three hours when you’re just lecturing and eyes start glazing over,’’ he said.

Hall started using examples from ‘‘The Simpsons’’ to hammer home lessons — from urban transportation in the monorail episode to a gambling lesson involving Mr. Burns and a casino.

Hall began with the theory that episodes from the cartoon offered numerous: from the simple, such as supply and demand, to the more complex, such as the economics of immigration and health care.

‘‘Economics is about recognizing that everything has a cost and there’s tradeoffs — if you do X, you can’t do Y, we all have 24 hours in a day,’’ Hall said. ‘‘And ‘The Simpsons,’ even though it’s cartoonish, is not divorced from reality.”

Hall, editor of the book, teamed up with several other economists to produce it, with each contributing an essay on a specific economics lesson to be learned from the show.

Hall offers the following lessons from Homer Simpson and friends:

■ Individuals respond to incentives.

‘‘King-Size Homer’’ begins with Homer trying to avoid office calisthenics. He realizes if he is classified as disabled he can work at home and avoid any strenuous activity. After going through his options, he gains 61 pounds in order to be classified ‘‘hyper-obese.’’ While not everyone will respond to the same incentives as Homer, we all respond in a predictable way to changes in costs and benefits of an activity.

■ There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Continue reading