Will “free college” be like taxpayer sports stadiums?

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When the owner of a professional sports teams decide their team needs a new stadium they’ll often seek tax-payer support in the form of tax-exempt municipal bonds. Their argument goes, “our new stadium will create jobs for the community and drive economic growth for the region, so tax-payers will come out on top by helping to fund our stadium”. This argument seems to win over the local government officials as an estimated 36 of the 45 sports stadiums built between 2000-2015 received some level of tax-payer support. This crony-capitalist acceptance by government officials runs counter to recurring research showing that the “economic payoff” of sports stadiums is largely a myth (U of Illinois study, Sports Jobs, and Taxes, and St. Louis Fed Reserve Bank). I’d guess few tax-payers would march through the streets demanding teams recieve free stadiums, but what about a more noble and meaningful cause like higher education.

Is it time for college tuition to be “free”? The rhetoric of many progressive politicians is resoundingly yes; most notably Bernie Sanders in his bid to be president in 2016. The argument goes that college is critical to driving economic opportunity for individuals, and more college-educated people would be better for the country, so college tuition should be free for all.

Is this true, or would tax-payer funded college education (i.e. “free”) be like tax-payer funded professional sports arenas?

In his WSJ op ed Think College is Expensive? Wait until it’s free, Jason Riley suggests that a free college might not be as much of a benefit to individuals or our society as some would have us believe. College tuition is only 20% of the cost of college considering there’s known costs such as room & board, dining hall and books and supplies, not to count the various hidden costs. What may be even more surprising is that based on work by economic historian Richard Vedder, as student aid becomes more generous college costs go up, not down. To compound the concern, much of the supposed benefit to individuals, particularly the lower-income students, may not be as beneficial as first thought with a decrease in the graduation rate of lower-income students. So would “free” college tuition actually deliver us into a better future, or would it simply pave a path to office for a handful of politicians and be an economic drag on our future.

Interested in taking action on either taxpayer stadiums or tuition? The most direct route is to contact your US Government Officials, which you can do here, and let them know where you stand. For stadiums, you can also stay up to date via the Mercatus center at George Mason University (recent article), and while contacting your Government Official tell them to take action again on Bill H.R.811.

Uber is the new Band-Aid

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Since it’s public launch in 2011, Uber has been revolutionary in its impact on the transportation industry. In it’s infancy, users might describe Uber as “the AirBNB for transportation”. Even now some may describe it that way (despite Turo being much more similar to AirBNB), but Uber has transcended that comparison.

Whether due to the size of its impact or simply great marketing, Uber is like Kleenex and Band-Aid.

Like these two brands, Uber has dominated their market so well (despite Lyft’s recent surge) that the brand name is commonly used in place of the actual service; No one ride-shares to the bars, you “Uber” there. When your nose is runny, you’re more likely to reach for a “Kleenex” than a facial tissue. When your child scrapes their knee they ask for a “Band-Aid”, not a bandage.

Uber has it’s sights set far beyond ride-sharing however, having already tinkered with Autonomous vehicles and Scooters. Their most ambitious path may just be over the horizon however, as they wade into the world of public transportation.

Overcoming the Planning Fallacy with Agile

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Time management is hard, predicting how much time it will take to accomplish a task is even harder. This second challenge is attributed to the Planning Fallacy, after Daniel Kahnemans and Amoz Tversky’s influential paper on “intuitive prediction” in 1979.

Proposed solutions to overcoming the planning fallacy, by using past similar projects to estimate the amount of time needed, is like the Agile Practice of calculating “Velocity“.

Velocity is a piece of the larger practice of Agile, but simply put is the discipline of tracking past efforts so as to be better able to predict the amount of future work one can do in any given time frame. The Agile movement revolutionized the ways of working within the software development field and is slowly being integrated into other business disciplines in one form or another.

Here are a few resources to learn more about various agile practices and frameworks: Scaled Agile Framework; Agile Alliance; Scrum.org. Also keep an eye out for a future series of posts here diving a bit deeper into Agile and it’s history.

p.s. Shout out to The Comprehensivists for sharing the Quartz article

This or That is Marketing

Marketing, refers to all advertising done through both paid and owned marketing channels. It’s about creating messaging that drives a targeted action, and it’s key to “hitting plan”. At least that’s how most people think of marketing, as tactical work by an organization trying to sell something.

Marketing, however, is so much more and so much deeper than that. Those who understand this are at an advantage, so I’m always looking for ways to reframe it.

David Perell’s That Is Marketing is like Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing.

David and Seth both eloquently and quickly strip marketing down so as to build it back up into something stronger. They’re not just worth a read, they’re worth truly thinking through.

Looking for Overlooked Ideas

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There is no shortage of ideas in the world, especially good ones. What there is a shortage of, is action. That lack of action is due to either individual(s) unwillingness or inability to take action, although oftentimes individuals will believe/claim that their barrier is inability when it is in fact their unwillingness. That said, one of the highest “inability barriers” is seed funding, or having the financial resources to act on an idea. I get excited when I find initiatives that seek to overcome that “inability barrier” by investing in action on ideas.

Pioneer is like Emergent Ventures, in their unique and direct approach to provide open ended funding to ideas that would otherwise fail to pass a typical grant of investment evaluation.

Pioneer seeks to find the “Lost Einsteins” of the world and fund their ideas through a peer voting process (similar to employee innovation programs). Taking it a step further, Pioneer seeks to create a strong support system for their winners by bringing them to Silicon Valley and setting them up with strong mentoring.

Emergent Ventures (EV) similarly seeks to discover otherwise overlooked individuals with ideas through both funding and mentoring. As might be expected from an organization run by an economist (and seed funded by the Thiel Foundation), EV seeks to minimize waste and bureaucracy and maximize the potential of the entrepreneur. For more on EV, also check out the Marginal Revolution blog, who takes credit for bringing my attention to both EV and Pioneer.

Both programs are accepting applications now, so if you have an idea worth pursuing and are simply seeking for a kick-start this is your chance, don’t waste it. Emergent Ventures application can be found here. The Pioneer application can be found here, with the deadline to apply being end-of-day February 3rd.

P.S. Another cool funding initiative I came across a couple years ago was started by a Texas based Venture Capital firm, Notley Ventures. Notley Ventures facilitates and funds an event called Phialnthropitch,that offers grants to non-profits via a start-up-pitch like event. Along with being a interesting concept, it is a great event to attend.

Washington and Romulus

Looking for something to entertain myself with while I packed, I came across Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome. With short episodes (most about 15 min) and a depth of knowledge I quickly became hooked.

His 2nd episode, Youthful Indiscretions, covers the “life” of one of the mythical founding brothers of Rome, Romulus. Towards the end he highlights how Romulus likely wasn’t an actual person and yet so much of Rome’s beginnings are told as if this individual the key contributor

Mike relates this to George Washington, in how Washington’s fame has replaced our awareness of other important figures in US history. Such as Horatio Gates, who according to Mike, helped secure French support and thus a critical contribution to the fledgling nations success in the revolution.

Would we one day only remember Washington? In place of even other famous founding fathers like Hamilton, Madison and Jefferson?

Could, one day, US history look like Roman history? Where we no longer know The “whos”, “what’s” and “whys” of history and only know of the legendary hero Washington, who in a single crossing of the Delaware River, wrote the complete Constitution and upon landing grew the first great US cities from a handful of seeds of a fallen cherry tree?

Maybe we’re already on our way considering how little we seem to know about our own history. There’s much we could take away from this, but in the least, I’d hope we’d recognize that we don’t know as much as we think we do. We should be slow to assume we know the answer, and be willing to research before we react. It might be better to first assume No One Knows, and be more comprehensive in our understanding of past and present events.

A Carbon Tax becomes a Basic Income

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Yesterday’s post (Giving freely: Experimenting Basic Income in Kenya) highlighted an interesting non-profit that is investigating the potential effect of a basic income in Kenya. While the impact is meaningful and the potential for conclusions influential, their work won’t answer a critical questions; where will the money come from?

An opinion post in the Wall Street Journal opinion post in the Wall Street Journal (Economists Statement on Carbon Dividends) signed by a breadth of economists suggests a four-part carbon tax policy recommendation that might answer that. Their fourth point calls for the collections from the carbon tax be distributed via “equal lump-sum rebates” as a “carbon dividend”, thus making their carbon dividend like basic income.

While many economists see a carbon tax as a potentially effective solution (in theory) to carbon dioxides impact on the environment (e.g. “climate change”, pollution, etc) there are reasons to be skeptical of the ability to execute on this idea (Big Names Bake a Climate Pie in the Sky). In fact, some early bids to legislate this have failed in recent months, Washington State Voters Reject Carbon Tax. Whether a carbon tax would help reduce pollution and protect the environment is uncertain, but it is at least an interesting potential solution worth considering.

To support the idea of a carbon tax, you can visit the Carbon Tax Center website, and find other organizations that support the idea. If you feel strongly against a carbon tax, and legislation is drafted, you can always contact your representative or start a petition similar to what was done in Canada. Before you do either though, I hope you’ll consider the idea independently, reading arguments both for and against the idea.

Shout out to John Cochrane at The Grumpy Economist for the post that brought my attention to this. He has another carbon tax post worth reading here.