Thoughts

On governmental stimuli for child-rearing

As the rate of population growth in developed or developing countries decreases, governments interested in managing their financial risk for social programs quite often offer one short-sighted solution: financial stimuli for making more children. The idea is to increase the future tax base and cover the costs of running a country’s social programs. It’s what just happened in Romania earlier this year, as the monthly allocation for each child was increased. This is the wrong approach.

Contrary to unfortunately popular beliefs and populist politicians, a nation’s decreasing population is a good thing. It’s an educated, informed, working population’s natural response to overpopulation, to the state of the world and the world’s resources, and its preference for quality over quantity. They prefer to have less children, often just one, and to ensure that that child gets the best education and upbringing that each family’s money can buy. Gone are the days when a family would have several children, knowing that a few would be lost during childhood and also knowing the ones who’d reach teenhood and adulthood would be good help on the homestead. Also gone are the days when a country’s population growth was seen as a nationally strategic decision and encouraged against reason and odds.

Still, financial stimuly for child-rearing are a popular topic with voters. What are a country’s leaders to do as they try to shift their country’s focus from quantity to quality, on all levels of life? Here’s a thought: do what the educated parents do. Lavish proper financial stimuli on a family’s first child. I would increase the amount of aid offered by the government by quite a bit, but only for the first child. After that first child, the aid would stop. Each family should be completely on its own if they want to have additional children.

This could be taken one step further in order to fully address a country’s population growth: governments could institute a higher income tax on those families who choose to have more than one child. Whatever name gets attached to it, in those countries where population growth must be curbed, there should be a tax — perhaps even a tax that grows exponentially — for each additional child.

In a world that is well past the mark of overpopulation, each family that chooses to have additional children should ensure they have the proper resources to take care of them instead of being a burden on society. The making of children purely for the purpose of obtaining financial aid from the government (which is a thing in Romania among certain people) would no longer be a problem. The problem of uncontrolled population growth would be fully addressed.

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Thoughts

The best of times

Isn’t it interesting how timeless and true good writing proves itself, even in our modern age, and even though it was originally intended for a different literary context?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, 1859

We are indeed living in the best times of current recorded history and because every coin has a flip side, there are surely plenty of things to complain about. Yet I thought I’d point out some of the good things in this post.

Out of all our known and written history, I don’t believe we’ve ever had a time like this, when most of the world is enjoying a period of “not war” and when the options available to us in areas such as healthcare, living conditions, hygiene, infrastructure, learning, jobs, possessions, transport, personal freedoms and just about everything else you can think about are so many and so readily available. Yes, some of these options can get expensive, but they are there and they are available, whereas most of them simply did not exist in the past.

We get so caught up in our daily, mundane routines and our various disappointments that we allow to blacken our lives, that we forget we have it so good. I’d like to invite you to find and watch documentaries and TV series that portray our various periods of history with accuracy; there are quite a few these days. I’d like you to become acquainted with how people lived and how hard it was to simply get through a day and have some food to put on the table, much less be able to afford a few knick-knacks here and there.

Most people have never been able to afford what we call a proper home and have lived in sheds, hovels and small cottages for most of history. Most houses were a one-room affair in the past. The toilet was a pot under the bed or a communal outdoor hole in the ground. Chamber pots would be thrown into the street every morning. Think about taking a walk in those cities! Even in civilized cities, right up to the 1960s-70s, people would have to share a common bathroom or bathrooms in apartment buildings or subdivided houses. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we mind sharing a bathroom with our guests and we complain if our house has less than 3-4 rooms.

The capability to take a daily shower under hot running water, with a pleasant soap and shampoo, has been unheard of in all our recorded history, until recent times. And yet people still find excuses when it comes to maintaining proper daily hygiene and complain about water hardness and water pressure and soap quality, etc.

Dental care is so important. Without it, most of us would be toothless by our 40s and those who’d still have teeth would have some rather nasty decoloration and build-up on them. Should we be part of the majority of the population without teeth, we’d have to wear dentures made of wood or animal teeth, or of metals such as lead, dentures that wouldn’t fit properly and cause us daily pain. We now have access to orthodontics, fillings that match the color and hardness of our teeth and are almost invisible, crowns, implants and now stem cell implants, which can regenerate our own teeth! This was never available in the past. We’ve had to struggle with primitive tooth care for so long.

Of all healthcare options available, I would single out trauma surgery as the most important development. Nowadays we have the option of receiving triage and trauma care that allows us to fully heal without infection, including proper bone and joint surgery and for most of known history, we simply didn’t have this. Broken arms stayed broken. Torn joints stayed torn. Cuts and flesh wounds often got infected and led to death. Yes, healthcare is terribly expensive. Yes, good basic healthcare should be a right, not a privilege. But look at the bright side: it exists! How governments choose to make it available to their citizens is an open and ongoing discussion instead of a “No, we’ve never heard of that, it doesn’t even exist” kind of discussion.

How easy is it to learn things nowadays? Access to information is virtually free, and more resources (historical and modern) have become available online than we’ll ever have time to read, and yet I’m hard pressed to come across than a few learned, thoughtful individuals during the course of a day and sometimes even a week; (perhaps that’s also due to the way our educational systems are structured.) Various apps on our mobile devices compete to make learning as fun as possible for us. Universities and colleges post videos from their courses for free online access. For most of history, people didn’t know how to read or write. They were thirsty for learning but it was out of their reach. It was simply too expensive or just not an option for them. Trade secrets, for example, were closely guarded and only revealed to tradespeople in secrecy, after long apprenticeships. Now everyone can watch how-to videos and learn how to do something, but how many follow through and actually do those things or even more, persist at them until they get good? Most of us tend to confuse reading or watching the news with learning. Opening up our minds and pouring in the news isn’t learning, it’s just a deluge of unhelpful and depressing bits of information.

For most of our history, people couldn’t pick their jobs. There was little social mobility. If you were born into a peasant family, you were a peasant, end of story. Only the aristocracy could pick and choose what they wanted to do, but even if they were passionate about something, it could only be a hobby, because they were expected by all to be aristocrats, not do things (I know, boo-hoo for them…) Now anyone can be just about anything, and training for that job is within reach if they want it enough. One way or another you can make ends meet and get to do what you like in life. I know, I know, student loans are huge… that’s why it’s doubly important to figure out what you want to do before you start going to school for it, else you’ll be spending money you don’t have so you can get to do what you don’t want to do. While I’m talking about this, allow me to pitch you on choosing a career in the trades; good craftsmen are in severe demand these days.

The subject of possessions is huge, both figuratively and literally. We could talk all day about rampant consumerism and fake economies and fast fashion. The point is, it’s incredibly affordable to buy things today, and it simply wasn’t the case for most of our history. Even something that we often take for granted and is typically rusting in our garden sheds, such as a simple hand saw, was incredibly hard to make and buy during medieval times. Even an axe or a pick was hard to make. They cost lots of money, the equivalent of small cars nowadays, so people saved up for years to buy tools, then cared for them and handed them down to their sons and daughters. Clothes were made by hand, and that included the materials. You cared for them and mended them as long as you could. Someone would typically only have one change of clothing. Nowadays clothing is literally clogging up our homes and people are desperate to get help in order to clean them up and organize them.

In the last 100 years, means of transport have progressed tremendously. Whereas travel was slow and expensive, it’s now fast and inexpensive. We can travel by car, train, ship and airplane. We can even skip physical travel and visit locations virtually by looking at photos from those places, or street views in mapping applications. We can even immerse ourselves in 360 degree videos and virtual realities.

We find time to bitch about every little bump and pothole in our public roads, yet we’ve never had it so good. It’s true that Roman roads are legendary, but you have to remember they were cobblestone in a time where suspension hadn’t yet been invented. Every single bone and sinew in your body would have been shaken out of sorts by the time a day’s ride would be over. After Roman civilization degraded, we were back to mud ruts and dust for over 1500 years, plus frequent attacks from highway robbers. Now all but the most rural roads are paved and can be safely traveled.

How about personal freedoms? Have societies ever tolerated so much free speech, even when it’s hateful and offensive, and offered so much personal freedom for various lifestyle choices, even for something that we now consider so commonplace as divorce or adultery? Do you know how shunned people were for adultery in the past, or how impossible it was to get a divorce, even when situation was terrible and abusive? How about the open criticism and ridicule of politicians, business leaders and other figures of authority or fame that we now tolerate? When was that sort of thing well-tolerated in the past? And yet we still find ways to take these things to the extreme, and we keep pushing the boundaries till things get truly and downright brazen and defamatory, instead of celebrating the freedom of speaking out against someone and doing it with some sense of decency.

I do wish more people would realize how good we have it and would be more grateful for all of the opportunities, amenities and conveniences that modern times offer us. We certainly don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we lose what we’ve worked so hard for as a human race and civilization, because then we’ll have really failed ourselves. I think the way to become more grateful is to pay attention to the past, because it offers up enough contrast to the present to make us have those little epiphanies of conscience that raise our collective morale.

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Thoughts

The answer to a great many questions of today

This post will seem to fall right out of nowhere for you, mainly because you haven’t been privy to my thoughts in recent years — how could you be, after all? It may also strike you as highly inconsiderate and you may even become angry with me. Let it be so. You will inevitably calm down and you may also agree with me in a few months or years. 

The pompous title may lead you to think I’m going to philosophize. Nope, it’s just a little bait meant to entice you to read on. I’m going to speak plainly, because this must be said plainly and repeated loudly, for all to hear and understand: the answer to a great many questions of today is “too many people”

Go ahead, ask a question about the state of the world or the state of the planet. Any question at all. The answer, if you dig right down to the core, is inevitably overpopulation

Shall we have a go right now? Here are a few examples; keep in mind you already know the answer: 

  • Scarcity of clean drinking water?
  • Disappearing forests?
  • Disappearing fish? 
  • Disappearing animals?
  • Garbage piling up everywhere?
  • Pollution?
  • Overconsumption?
  • Poor quality of manufactured goods?
  • Poor quality of foods? 
  • Traffic jams?
  • Growing numbers of lonely and depressed people in large cities? 
  • Filled up cemeteries that are now contaminating water tables and surrounding land?
  • Crowded schools?
  • Crowded hospitals?
  • Crowded nursing homes?
  • Crowded mass transport? 
  • Crowded buildings/smaller apartments/taller buildings/feeling like a sardine in a tin can?
  • Natural beauty ruined by poorly planned and poorly made modern development?

I could go on and on, I suppose, but I would also get sadder and sadder as this list grew bigger. It’s daunting to face up to the problems we’ve created for ourselves, simply because we collectively thought there should be more of us. “Sure,” we thought, “let’s go on f*****g, it feels good and we’re making babies. The world needs babies…” 

It turns out, the world doesn’t need that many babies. Babies of all species are absolutely adorable and they melt your heart with their cuteness, but the overpopulation of any species is a real threat to the species itself and to the planet as a whole. 

In the past, people thought the answer to many questions were more people. How do you solve a labor shortage? How do you fund social security? How do you gather enough revenues as a government in order to build and maintain a modern infrastructure and have enough employees to take care of it all? How do you grow the economy? We thought “more people” was the answer. Well, it turned out not to be so. 

Paradoxically, at over 7.2 billion people, we still have massive labor shortages, social security and other social safety nets are in the dumps, it turns out that governments can never have enough revenues, and most puzzling of all, that economies and companies do and must stop growing. As a matter of fact, the very economic model that drives every economy in the world is based on constant growth. We can talk about “boom/bust cycles” and “contagion” and “recovery” all we want, but in the end, it’s about growth. And you can’t have growth forever. At some point it stops. It has to stop. You either run out of people or you run out of resources. To pick an example out of recent memory, there are only so many smartphones that people will buy. Given the limited resources available on Earth, there are only so many TVs/cars/houses/pieces of furniture you can make before you turn the whole Earth into a dug-up wasteland. 

This is a huge topic: an immense “minefield” that we’ve built and that we’ve got to wade through and “disarm” if we want to have a sustainable future. It’s filled with “hot potatoes” that no one wants to touch or step on, because there’s a real price to pay in the real world if you are a person of any clout and you dare talk about these things publicly. But these things must be said and someone must make the hard decisions, or else… 

Shall I tell you what you’re thinking? If you’re a parent, the basic question swirling through your mind right now is: “How dare YOU tell ME whether or not I should have MY children?” How dare I even bring up the question of procreation, which most people, at some level or another, conscious or subconscious, believe is their God-given right and even more so, God-given blessing? 

I wonder though, should God ever truly speak to us — if He or She or It would even deign to speak to an arrogant, dirty, criminal and avaricious species like ours — would would be said? We don’t know. God isn’t speaking to us, in spite of what some deranged “religious leaders” seem to think on the topic. We are left to figure this out on our own. 

I think it boils down to egotism. We are all so caught up in ourselves, most of us much more so than we realize, that we believe the world would be deprived of something if we didn’t have children, as if our exact chromosomes will combine to create a super-child that will solve the problems of the world. Let me assure you, right here and now, that collectively, the world won’t miss a beat if any one of us stops having children. It might even breathe a sigh of relief, as in “Thank God, I’ve been spared another mouth to feed!” And no, your “super-child” won’t solve the problems of the world. YOU need to work on solving them RIGHT NOW, so STOP procrastinating and passing the buck to future generations! 

What about the other egotistical question, “But who will take care of me when I’m old?” Does it always have to be about you? Must you be a burden to your children in old age? How about you figure out some other way, such as taking care of yourself and your money, so that you reach old age in relatively good shape? That way you can be independent and function well, living from your own resources. Why, you might even be able to give back to society, through volunteering and donations, instead of being a feeble shell of your old self, depending on social security and being carted around by a nurse. 

Is it any wonder that the rate of birth among well-read, well-educated folks all around the world is declining rapidly? As people better themselves and start to think beyond their bellies and their willies, they begin to see that all is not well with the world, and they choose to have less or no children. 

When I think of the people who are having more children, it is unfortunately those who shouldn’t be having them. Let me make it CLEAR here that I am NOT talking about RACE. What I am talking about is: livelihood, education, household resources, strength of the couple’s relationship, geographical location, available opportunities and so on. Let me make it plainer: a child born to a couple who abuse each other physically and verbally, living on government aid or in poverty, or in a country roiling in upheaval and conflict, will have limited or no opportunities and will have a poor quality of life. That child will likely be abused by its parents, perhaps even sexually — certainly and at the very least emotionally — and will grow up just like them, stunted, tortured, a stump of a human being that will likely continue to hurt others, just as it was hurt, knowing no better way in life, unable to do better in life even when shown and helped. That mother and father should give serious thought as to whether they should be having children at all, because they cannot provide for them, but unfortunately they give no thought to this at all and typically have them in droves. Is that the right thing to do? 

The solution is simple in theory but near-impossible to implement: we must each of us choose to have but one child or no child. It must not be forced upon us, or else it’ll feel horrible. We must make that choice. If all the families in the world would choose to make this decision, for the sake of our world as a whole, the world population would enter a steady and unforced decline, a very welcome decline that would allow us to slowly plan and become accustomed to an ever-decreasing population and re-work our economic and government models in order to account for it. 

I cannot state how dire the situation truly is. In developed countries, it’s easy to get lost in the abundance of it all, even if you’re poor. You can still dream about “having it all” and you think it’s going to be like this all the time. But we are on the precipice. We have been for some time, our end postponed for a little longer and a little longer. Mind you, I’m not talking about Biblical stuff here. I’m talking about the planet shaking and scratching us off like a bad case of fleas, but it’ll certainly feel Biblical to us. I’m talking about us doing it to ourselves, because as a species, we are all of the stuff I said we are in the paragraphs above. And it’s so easy to solve this peacefully, slowly, without the use of force and fear and horror, if we act now and we act collectively. 

I am sorry to dump this on you so near to Christmas. I’ve been mulling over this stuff for years and I’ve alluded to it here and there, but I haven’t come out and said it outright so far. Since most of us will have some downtime and our bellies full this year-end, it might be a very good time to think on these things. 

I remain hopeful. Who knows, in the near future, instead of bugging newlyweds for grandchildren, parents might ask them instead, “Have you thought about not having kids?” or “Isn’t one child enough, honey?” Wishful thinking, I know… 

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Video Log

The need for true craftsmen

I filmed a short vlog today about the need for true craftsmen, which is becoming more apparent in developed countries pretty much everywhere. The more emphasis is placed on white collar jobs, IT and college degrees, the less people you have going to vocational schools in order to learn how to become craftsmen. Countries don’t run on computers alone. We need people doing real, physical work, building the infrastructure and taking pride in their jobs, building with the best methods and to the highest quality available to them, otherwise fields like construction are going to get worse, not better. (Have you looked at the build quality of the sheds we call “homes” these days?)

I hope you take a few minutes to watch the entire video and do your part to encourage your children or your students in schools to become real craftsmen. They can make a good living, even a great living, doing craftwork, and they can do it without going into debt by the tens of thousands of dollars, getting college and post-graduate education which isn’t going to be useful to them. If you’d like a list of good, honest trades and crafts, this article which lists 19th century occupations alphabetically should help.

I’m not alone in my views. You can also watch Mike Rowe, host of “Dirty Jobs”, give a testimony before Congress where he urges the US government to encourage our children to choose to go to vocational and tech schools, because there’s a real need for these kinds of people in the US economy.

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Places

Beware of chimney sweeps in Romania

As cold weather begins to set in Romania, itinerant chimney sweeps begin to make their rounds. They’ll come to the gate and offer to clean your chimneys, or they’ll use lines like “We’re here from our head office, we’ve been sent down to check and clean your chimneys,” which of course is a bold-faced lie. Chimney sweeps mostly work alone, they have no companies, and no headquarters. It’s been that way for centuries. Sometimes, as an added bonus, they’ll reek of cheap wine. And almost always, they’ll be of Roma (gipsy) origin.

The keyword when using their services is CAUTION. If you don’t exercise caution, you do so at risk to your wallet and some of your smaller and perhaps valuable belongings. I’m not stereotyping here, I’m summarizing popular wisdom. I’ve met honest, hard-working gipsies, but they are few and far between.

If you ask them what it costs to clean a chimney, they’ll give you a quick look-over (if they haven’t already), and since they’ve already checked your house from the outside, they’ll quote a price that’s in line with your neighborhood, your house and your clothes.

If you say okay and bring them into your attic to start cleaning, you’ve got to be very careful, because they’ll often double their prices. They’ll say, and I speak from personal experience here, that your chimney is too tall, and they’ll need to charge double. At this point you have two choices: pay the extra money, or begin to escort them to your gate so you can kick them off your property. You should ALWAYS choose the second option.

What’ll happen next is they’ll back down and try to haggle a new price, somewhere between the one they quoted at the gate and the one they quoted in the attic. NEVER back down. Stick to the quoted price or kick them out. They’ll usually give up and agree to the original price.

Make sure they come equipped with all the equipment they need. They should have an adequate chimney brush, not a make-do one, and they should have a mirror, to look up the chimney and ensure that it’s clean. If they don’t have a mirror and ask you for one, make sure to check around when you get back to make sure nothing’s gone. Also make sure to monitor their every move while they’re in your attic/house. Something may just disappear when you’re not looking.

Photo courtesy of Northern Tool & Equipment

Finally, when they’re done, make sure they give you a stamped and signed receipt which states your full name and address, and also a certificate which states that your chimneys have been checked and are working properly — you may need the latter in your dealings with Romgaz and its subsidiaries, the only (can you say unfair monopoly…) natural gas company in Romania.

If you happen to live in a nice neighborhood and have taken care of your house, then beware of the initial quoted price, it may be higher than what their services are worth. Try to halve it, then negotiate up to 65-75% of their asking price if need be, or try to get it down to 50%. For example, one price I heard lately (fall of 2010) was 30 RON per chimney. I think that’s adequate, but it could be negotiated down to 20 RON if your budget is limited, or if you’ve got lots of chimneys (5-6 of them, for example). Use your judgment and exercise caution.

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