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This is a really long and boring post, but I am requiring my five kids to read it and discuss it with me. For everyone else, the useful and interesting content of this post is that portion where the text is in bright red all-caps font.

Is this post OT? Somewhere along the way I lost track of the topic, so I am not sure. It would probably be safest not to read it, though.

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I have been absent from these boards recently, trying to deal with the jolt provided by the discovery of the Higgs boson in the precise mass range that suggests that our universe is in a false ground state – an unstable vacuum.

If this turns out to be correct, it means that at some time –maybe in fifty trillion years, maybe tomorrow -- a small region of the universe will collapse into the true ground state, changing the laws of physics and the very constituents of matter and energy and destroying reality as we know it.

And, this “disturbance” – for lack of a better word -- will spread outward at the speed of light, changing the rules of reality and destroying everything that exists. There will be no way to see it coming; there will be no advance signal or warning – one minute everything will be as usual; the next minute everything we know will be gone.

This came as something of a surprise to me, and I have been wrestling with it. So far I do not have a real solution. My only step to date has been to abandon a long-held rule and add a spoonful of raisins – extra raisins, not from the box – to my bowl of organic raisin bran in the morning. After all, if space and time are going to be destroyed, why not have a few extra raisins?

But we should talk, on these boards, about macroeconomics. So although a specter is haunting St. Albans -- the specter of the end of the Universe – the relevant point is that this specter provides perspective for the economic issues that currently beset our economy, a perspective which I shall now share.

But first, a digression . . . .

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Once upon a time, there was a young man who graduated from an excellent Ivy League university and then entered a program under which he taught at an elementary school in a very depressed neighborhood.

When his contractual commitment was finished, he thought long and hard about the six-figure job that was waiting for him in New York, and then decided to continue his teaching work. So instead of living in an upscale Stamford apartment and hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he spends his days working with small children who have almost no hope, trying to fan the tiny flames of whatever hope they might have.

He has been beaten and robbed on several occasions, and threatened on many more; he is not a physically powerful guy, and much of the time he is afraid, but he wants to help where help is needed most, so he lives with the fear; he rises above it, and does what he can.

He is a very brave person – but I knew that many years ago. More on that later.

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My youngest daughter recently asked me how we could ever get back on our feet, economically speaking – this apparently has been a topic of discussion in her Social Studies class. She gave me the standard dismal litany of macroeconomic reasons why we are in a hopeless quagmire, concluding with the usual indictment of our political leaders and Wall Street. Her generation, she said, has little hope.

So I explained my macroeconomic theory to her, which maybe is not entirely macroeconomic in nature. In fact, I fear that my macroeconomic theory is colored to some extent by my complete lack of knowledge about macroeconomics, although thanks to yodaorange, wendy and the other denizens of these boards I am making progress in that area.

BTW, just to be clear, I do not celebrate ignorance; I merely acknowledge it. I do think that the macroeconomic problems we face can be thought of more generally just as problems – which opens the door to solutions that are not necessarily macroeconomic in nature. (In the same vein, the Gordian Knot was a topological problem that was solved using non-topological techniques.)

Anyway, I reproduce my macroeconomic theory here not to lecture other adults on these boards, but because these posts are required reading for my children, and I have grown a bit weary of their deflection of responsibility.

I note in passing that other generations have grown up and made their marks in the face of far greater challenges than such sissy things as Fed policy and over-leveraging.

OK, here goes:

The Daisy Theory of Macroeconomic Forces, Factors, and Fears Affecting Young People (the “Three F’s”).

1. Stop complaining about things you cannot control and start working.

2. Turn off the TV, put the cell phone in your desk drawer, and haul out a book. And read it. And then read another one, and another one.

3. Work hard, study hard, make something great of yourself, and then do something great.

4. Make a difference; help others, but most of all work hard and never give up.

5. The winds of dismay and fear are howling, but that is all they are: winds. Hollow words, hollow thoughts, hollow excuses.

6. Put a stake in the ground, stand firm, and carve out a territory that is yours. The winds will break upon the granite of your resolve, and you will build a great life.

7. And others will see what you do, and they will emulate you, and soon there will be a village of people working hard and making a difference, and then a city, and maybe someday a nation of young people who have decided to do what it takes to live a life worth living.

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My daughter was singularly unimpressed with this theory. Her main response was, “What is the point, if life is all work and no fun?”

She should know better by now. My response was to provide her with a lecture on my theory of psychology, which I reproduce here in summary form.

The Daisy Theory of Psychological Forces, Factors, and Fears Affecting Young People (the “Other Three F’s”).

A. What are you, some kind of a wimp who lets the world tell you what is fun and what is not fun?

B. Some things are objective and not arguable: for example, every Mersenne prime can be used to generate a perfect number; and frosted brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts are the best of all Pop Tarts.

C. But it is our great good fortune that the definition of fun is not on the list of such objective facts. No, fun is a concept that each of us gets to define for herself. It is one of the few important things in life over which we have absolute control.

D. Take advantage of this fact: define fun in a way that makes your life better.

E. Personally, I think digging a trench is fun; solving a path integral is fun; patching drywall is fun – so my life is full of opportunities to have fun.

F. I cannot imagine anything more boring than playing a meaningless video game for hours on end; for me that would be “work,” and you would have to chain me to my desk to get me to do that. And, strangely, it is not difficult to avoid that sort of “work.”

G. Look at it from a slightly different angle. There will be times when there is something you really should be doing. Why compare that thing to a list of other things you would rather be doing and feel bad about how you are spending your time? You need to dig a trench? Well, forget the comparisons; just enjoy the moment – find the intrinsic pleasure and value in the job at hand.

H. Note that I recommend this approach as a way to help you do the things you know you should do and want to do – it is *not* intended to recommend acceptance of rules and duties imposed on you by someone else. By all means let dissatisfaction be your tool in escaping from the dominion of others.

After presenting this theory of psychology at great length to my daughter, I asked her if she had any further questions or comments. She did not.

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Here is a Lemma to the two above Theories.

If we want to deal with large macroeconomic problems, maybe we should enlist our greatest macroeconomic asset: our people.

Instead of finding reasons to marginalize people based on their skin color, background, sexual preference, religion or gender, perhaps we should hand them an oar and ask them to help us row.

Instead of focusing on how we should constrain these people, maybe we should focus on educating them, and everyone else, and welcome their contribution to our grand economic enterprise.

A politician said this much more eloquently a few years ago:

Tonight every one of you knows deep in your heart that we are too divided. It is time to heal America.

And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other - all of us - we need each other. We don't have a person to waste, and yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what's really wrong with America is the rest of us- them.

Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays.
[And I would add, “Them the religious. Them the conservatives. Them the gun-owners.” Etc. – so that the list is a bit more bipartisan.]
We've gotten to where we've nearly them'ed ourselves to death. Them, and them, and them.

But this is America. There is no them. There is only us.

(OK, now that you have read this with an open mind, I will admit that it was said by Bill Clinton, in his Address Accepting the Presidential Nomination at the Democratic National Convention in New York on July 16, 1992. You can Google it for the complete speech.)

So maybe if we educate everybody – give them a chance – and if everybody works real hard, who knows? We might solve a few problems.

Perhaps you will agree that the young man mentioned at the start of this post – the guy teaching poor children – is doing his part, right?

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Many years ago, the ninth grade art teacher at the local high school had a big project where every student drew a Time Magazine cover about some issue that concerned them. The idea was that all of the covers would be posted on the hall walls where everyone could see them.

Well, there were posters about murder and rape and abortion; posters about religion and whether there is a God; posters with nudity and violence and jingoism and even prejudice in various forms. All of these posters were put up on the walls.

Only one poster, out of about three hundred or so, was banned from the walls. Can you guess what it depicted? What horrible message it conveyed?

It turns out that one young man – one of my eldest daughter’s friends – was struggling with his sexual identity. He had recently figured out that he was gay, and was having a terrible time dealing with it in an environment where homosexuality is not accepted at all. So he did a poster of two male faces, shadowed and in silhouette, kissing, with the caption, “How Can It Be So Wrong but Feel So Right?”

The teacher referred that poster to the principal, who advised the authoring student, with kindly demeanor, that his poster would not be displayed because “it would be confusing to the other students.”

He was crushed, despondent, despairing; he felt rejected and terribly alone – he wondered if he was evil and wrong and bad. When he spoke with my daughter, she became alarmed that he might do something terrible, something irreversible. So she told him that he was OK and she would support him.

I think, in retrospect, that the young man was incredibly brave. I did not really appreciate at the time what courage it took for him to create that poster and expose himself to ridicule and torment from the Neanderthal population of his school. He is the real hero here. But there is a secondary hero, and it is her story I will tell now, because I saw it develop and play out, and ended up being very proud of her, despite my own prejudices and initial misgivings.

My daughter came home from school and immediately asked me o drive her to the bank, where she withdrew her life’s savings. As we drove along, the story gradually came out, and I was not sure what to think. I did not really say anything, and she was very quiet and tense.

When we got home she went into the basement and spent several hours down there. When she came up, she was carrying a draft of an underground newspaper, entitled, “Two Floors Down” – apparently a take-off on the name of a band that was popular ta the time.

The front page of the newspaper, unfolded, was an 8.5” x 17 full-color reproduction of the poster in question: two men kissing, with caption. The rest of the newspaper was an editorial explaining, in careful and sober germs, why the school administration was wrong in taking the action that it had taken. The young man had agreed to my daughter’s plan -- further evidence of his remarkable courage.

And what was that plan? Well, in a nutshell, it was to take 700 copies of the newspaper – full color 8.5x 17” poster on the front – into the school and distribute them. Why 700? Because that was what my daughter’s life’s savings would buy at Kinko’s.

So, instead of one offending poster on an interior wall somewhere, the principal was going to be greeted by 700 full-color copies of the poster, in the halls, in the classrooms, on the playground; copies would be taken home and showed to parents; copies would be everywhere.

I am embarrassed to admit that I tried to talk my daughter out of this plan. I feared that she would be suspended or expelled – that her academic career and reputation in the school community would be affected permanently. I also feared reprisals against her from the community at large, which is and was bigoted and occasionally violent when it comes to such matters.

My daughter was resolute, so the plan proceeded. And, as you might imagine, the next day the school was in an uproar – although my daughter’s editorial was very reserved and polite, everyone knew that this was absolutely a challenge to the authority of the principal. And of course the underlying topic was incendiary in our conservative community. Both the young man and my daughter were heckled and harassed throughout the day, and had to be protected by the constant presence of teachers around them.

Finally my daughter was called into the principal’s office. I know she was afraid -- she called me, crying, on her way to that meeting. (The young man was not involved because he was not the perpetrator of the violation of school rules in this case.)

The principal is a friend of mine – she later reported the meeting to me. Both she and my daughter were very reasonable, and the principal, to her great credit, rose above the incident and simply decided to take no action at all. She did warn my daughter about safety concerns. She also reported one funny thread of dialogue:

Principal: “OK, Martha, but why have an underground newspaper? It is disruptive, and we have an excellent school newspaper; you would enjoy being on the staff there and working within the system. How about giving that a try?”

Martha: “Would you ask John Lennon to join the school marching band?”

The principal told me she had to pause for a moment because she could scarcely control herself; she found that so funny.

Anyway, despite all of the fears and misgivjngs, everything turned out OK – there were a lot of bumps ad hiccups along the way, and a number of incidents, but no one was hurt and life at the school eventually returned to its quotidian routine.

But let me close the loop here.

You see, the young man in question is the same young man described above – the guy who has foregone a life of wealth and prestige to help inner-city children. The guy that was rejected by the school and by his peers turned out to be better than any of them; he turned out to be an exemplary citizen. And so we see Mr. Clinton’s point in action: we do not have a person to waste.

And the solution to our macroeconomic problems?

Well, maybe at the level of our society it is as simple as including rather than excluding, empowering rather than rejecting, and educating rather than criticizing.

And maybe at the individual level it is a simple as working hard and trying to do the right thing.

Maybe we do not need a grand, macroeconomic solution – maybe it is enough to cobble together a bunch of small individual solutions.

Maybe we have it within our power as individuals and citizens to make things better – maybe we even have enough power, acting together, to withstand the pernicious efforts of our economists and politicians.

Or maybe a wave of disruption to reality as we know it – a collapse of the unstable vacuum -- is winging its way toward us as we speak, making all of this moot. . . .


A Drumlin Daisy
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