Giving freely: Experimenting Basic Income in Kenya

Photo by Kat Yukawa on Unsplash

I remember a post a couple years back by Daniel Norris where he talked about the practice of handing cash to the homeless or marginalized. The common response by most is “I don’t want them to spend the money on alcohol (or the likes), so I’d rather just give them food”, but Daniel challenged that perspective reminding us that the most valuable thing you can give isn’t cash, but trust and respect.

The human and inspirational element of this isn’t the only consideration for this method of giving, as there’s also a growing movement for it on economic grounds. This movement is widely referred to as Basic Income, and is explained as “giving periodic cash payments delivered to all on an individuals basis, without means-test or work requirement.”

While entirely theoretical, there are a handful of quasi-experiments built on this idea. One that is particularly interesting, due to it being a non-profit (and thus using voluntarily given funds, as opposed to tax based) and run by a group of economists is the GiveWell. The GiveWell initiative in Kenya is like Basic Income in their giving of funds directly to the extreme poor for spending entirely at their discretion.

There’s plenty of skepticism around the idea, and for good reason due to it’s entirely unproven concept and complexity of execution, but it is an interesting idea worth exploring. Whether you buy into this or find yourself waiving it away as preposterous, there’s still plenty of reason for supporting a good cause in giving to GiveWell. Aside from helping to explore this idea, your minor gift can have a disproportionate impact on the extreme poor.

Insurgent Warfare and Cougar Football

Football coaches often borrow terms of war to inspire their teams, such as: “fighting in the trenches”; “unleash your inner warrior”; “going to war”.

Mike Leach seems to be taking this a step further, designing a college course showing how strategic leadership in football is like strategic leadership in insurgent warfare.

Taught along with Michael Bumgartner, the course will cover case studies of US military conflict along with game film from various Washington State games (e.g. WSU vs USC 2017, WSU vs Stanford 2016).

Appearing to be well received, it’s an interesting idea and one I hope they’ll record and share.

Jack Bogle rings an alarm on index funds

The passing of Jack Bogle, founder of The Vanguard Group, resulted in an abundance of articles highlighting his massive contributions to the financial world. The vast majority of them celebrated his creation of the Index Fund due to how it has lowered costs for the common investor. It’s particularly interesting then, to read Jack Bogle express concerns with the risk his own invention created.

His concerns are like another WSJ article written a year earlier, Index Funds Are Great For Investors, Risky For Corporate Governance.

At the heart of both articles is the concern of how, as index funds grow, institutional investors (State Street, Vanguard, etc) gain power governance of the companies invested in, but don’t necessarily carry the same incentive or capacity to contribute responsibly as voting members.

Historically, most financial catastrophes the US has suffered through have come about by not preemptively problem solving when risks are identified. Currently, this issue has only been raised by a handful of thought leaders within the financial industry. Beyond sharing this message to raise awareness, you can act directly by contacting the SEC.

Experience, an alternative education

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The world of higher education is full of opportunities and ideas for improvement, and it’s always interesting to discover unique ideas to address them. Isaac Morehouse came up with an interesting alternative to college in his Praxis Apprenticeship program. Praxis is an experience and project focused opportunity for high school graduates to jump straight into the world of business through a 6-month “boot camp” that includes working for a start-up.

This idea is like the unique and intensive MBA program Acton School of Business.

Although serving different markets, these two programs appear based on a similar philosophy that centers on an intensive and immersive curriculum paired with comprehensive educational support. Praxis is still early in it’s journey to change the field of education but if their graduates are as ambitious, driven and capable as Acton’s, there’s hope for a new avenue of higher ed.

To dig deeper into this way thinking, check out Seth Godin’s post on projects.

John Bogle, an investment innovator

John Bogle, the pioneer of index funds and the founder of Vanguard group, died at 89 yesterday. Those in the investment world, and largely in business too, appreciate his innovation and the impact it had for the common investor.

In an age where technology can solve everything and things of the past are treated as “outdated”, it’s worth pausing to recognize that the Index Fund is like robo-investing (e.g. Robinhood, Wealthfront) in it’s innovation.

Except, where robo-investing has potential, index funds have results.

RIP Jack.

p.s. An early 3-part series posted here on TILT was largely influenced by Jack’s index funds. You can read post 1 here.

Prison & Policing: How to amputate society

Photo by Feifei Peng on Unsplash

With a Criminal Justice degree and an obsession with finding economically and socially beneficial solutions, a recent post by Daniel Bier at The Skeptical Libertarian caught my eye (shout out to Alex Tabbarrok Marginal Revolution). Daniel provides an interesting and open look at spending ratios for prisons vs police in the U.S. and Europe.

This isn’t the blog to suggest the “simple solutions” to the complex challenge of reducing crime (Alex provides some suggestions here), but this is the place to show a similarity and call you to action.

Emphasizing prisons (via spend) over policing is like emphasizing amputation over wound care.

Prison cuts off members of our society and carries a heavy cost to us as a society (and more so to those individuals), just as the loss of a limb would to the individual. What can you do to positively impact the criminal justice system beyond your own life?

Air warfare in Silicon Valley

Eric Reis’ The Lean Startup was a New York Times best seller and vaulted Eric Reis from a successful but relatively unknown entrepreneur, to a household name in Silicon Valley and beyond. His book challenged businesses to think less about developing the perfect product before launching and more about delivering a viable product sooner, and rapidly iterating on it until it “crosses the chasm“. His theory centers around the principles of being fast, observing the market, and pivoting quickly to improve the offering. While original in his writing and successful at changing how many thought about product development, he wasn’t nearly the first to change a field with these principles.

In this, Eric Reis is like John Boyd, the legendary USAF Colonel who revolutionized air warfare.

John Boyd’s greatest contributions came after his time as a fighter pilot in the Korean War. Boyd believed that it was speed and maneuverability in air warfare was the key to victory. This belief led to the creation of the Lightweight Fighter program, which, after several iterations, gave birth to the F-16 Fighting Falcon and several other innovative aircraft. His focus on maneuverability went hand-in-hand with his theory-in-practice framework he called the OODA Loop; Observe-Orient-Decide-Act.

Both Eric Reis and John Boyd believed in the importance of speed and the ability to respond quickly in gaining victory. Like most great ideas, theirs were developed with the help of others and on the ideas of those before them. The OODA Loop was developed around the time of another loop that was gaining traction in the manufacturing field, the Deming Cycle. Which at their cores, are all simply variations of Bacon’s Scientific Method.

This idea of winning through action, learning and improving has shown up time and again in various forms because it works. While simple in concept, organizations can struggle to implement it if they don’t commit to building towards speed and being disciplined in its execution. For those who do, however, victory is likely theirs.

To read more on Boyd and the OODA Loop (vastly underappreciated), start here.