Month: April 2018

April 2018 Wrap Up

Garden bed with raised sides made from recApril 2018

It is hard to believe but April 2018 is over. We are a third of the way through the year. April was busy for me as I wrapped up an extended stay in Florida celebrating the 80th birthday of someone near and dear to me.

In The Garden

Other events included planting quite a few varieties of vegetables in the raised row garden and a few plants close to the house. The deer proof fence is working. No signs of deer (droppings) in the new garden. So I consider the effort a success.  However, 70 M.P.H. winds damaged some of the poles. Therefore, replacement poles are now anchoring the garden.

An existing 4 x 8 foot raised box was elevated even more. Originally the height was 9 inches. Now the bed reaches just over two feet. This is easier to reach. Hopefully, the added depth will allow me to plant longer root vegetables.

Reading

Quite a few book were read this month. Thanks again for the suggestions both private and public. Several exciting books will be reviewed in the coming weeks. I am beginning to get used to the format that blends current events with fiction. No longer do I find these stories off-putting. I am sure novelists with a penchant for telling spy stories can’t resist utilizing the current world affairs as a backdrop.

Gardening references occupied a large amount of my time. There is a host of information in book and magazine form as well as online sites. Make sure you read the review of Gardening Shortcuts. I also recommend Edible Gardening, a magazine put out by American Farmer’s Almanac. I consulted the website put out by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds numerous times. The site has an easy to use planting guide that you can access by clicking here.

Spring

Our springs on the High Plains are short and varied. This year we have had cooler temperatures, a bit of moisture and lots of wind. The danger comes from the wind in the form of fire. So those of you living in a drought situation (which includes various states from coast to coast) be careful using any open flame outdoors. Fires in both Florida and on the plains made appearances near me in April 2018.

As always, feel free to share any great reads. Just use a first name or even initials. The month of May will be action packed. Stay tuned!

Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden Book Review

Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden

As regular readers of Econogal know, deer like to take refuge in my yard. Others can read about one often seen three-legged deer by clicking here. At this time I am working on deer proofing my new raised row garden. So, I checked a book on deer proofing a garden out of the library.

Rhonda Massingham Hart has written an excellent guide, Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden. The book discusses the problem of deer overpopulation. Also, the chapter “Getting to Know Deer” gives a background on the dominant species and where they roam in the United States. Hart includes a discussion on damages done by deer ranging across the yard. I learned much from this particular chapter.

The second half of Deerpoofing Your Yard & Garden focuses on deterring deer. “Deer-o-scaping” “Deer Deterrents” and “The Deerproof Garden” are three chapters chock full of useful information. These are the chapters I utilized the most.

Deer-o-Scaping

The almost forty pages of “Deer-o-Scaping” focused on ways to deter deer by what and how you plant. The chapter includes multiple lists of plants which either lure or repel deer. For those in the United States, the lists of deer resistant plants divide into regions of the country. Hart warns that the lists, while working in a general manner, can be challenged by a deer with independent tastes. Thus, just like humans, some deer are exceptions to the rule.

This chapter goes beyond what is planted. How things are planted also comes into play. The overall landscape design is also key. Hart suggests using hardscapes at entrance points to discourage deer. Currently, new walls are being constructed in our yard to disrupt the migratory paths of deer.

Deer Deterrents

The chapter “Deer Deterrents” while not confined to repellents, provides an excellent guide to both commercial and homemade mixtures. One trick I plan to try is the use of fabric softener sheets hanging in the garden. I like the idea of recycling these sheets in this manner.

Of course the best way to deer proof a yard is with fencing. But the fence should be designed with deer in mind. Since deer can jump quite high, extra measures need to be taken. Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden gives a good overview of fencing options. These include double fencing and electric fencing.

I believe Deerproofing Your Yard & Garden is an excellent reference book. Anyone having problems with deer should consult Hart’s book. I used several ideas including the tip to erect the fence before planting. If you have deer problems, find this book and read it!

Kentucky Derby Hats

Well it is hard to believe but it is almost Derby Time. The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is just around the corner. For some it is the fastest two minutes in sports. For others, the Derby means much more. Across the country Derby Parties are being planned.  Derby parties involve good food, mint juleps, party dresses and best of all, Derby hats.

I am a hat person. I love hats. Straw hats and felt hats, fedoras and even ball caps. My collection even includes a couple of fascinators. The best way to describe a fascinator is a headband (or barrette) on steroids. I think I need to add some fascinators because they tend to stay on your head if there is any wind in the forecast.

Hats serve a purpose in addition to looking nice. They protect from the outdoor elements. Both the sun and the rain can cause damage. Hats offer good protection from the sun for both the face and the top of the head. Guys going for the “Bald Look” need to consider the potential skin damage. Additionally, without a hat, one tends to look like a drowned rat if standing in the rain. Of course Derby hats, really fancy ones, need shelter from the rain!

Some hats are made specifically for an outfit. The photo to the right shows the winner of a hat fashion contest last fall in San Diego. I wholeheartedly agreed with the judges. But one needs to know a milliner to have a hat custom-made. There are none near me.

The next best thing is a store specializing in hats. Or at least a shop that carries hats. I am lucky to have a local shop with hats in my hometown. In some parts of the country such a store is not available. Fortunately, we live in the age of the Internet so for those without a local source of hats, shopping online is an alternative to driving a long distance.

Derby Hats

If you are hosting or attending a Derby Party the first Saturday in May you need to act quickly. Hopefully anyone lucky enough to attend the race in person already has purchased their hat. But in any case there is still time and several options.

First, if you are artsy and live near a shop like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s, consider making your own hat.  Most Derby hats start with a straw base. Then the decorations are added. The add-ons could include netting, silk flowers, feathers or all three. Some people go wild. I have seen horse heads and even the entire racetrack. The sky is the limit as you can see from the pictures.

If creativity is not your thing and you don’t live near a hat shop, go online. A simple web search will give you plenty of options. But at this point you may need to pay extra for shipping. Or you can spruce up a hat you already own by adding either a scarf clip or a piece of jewelry like a fancy broach.

No matter how old-fashioned hats may seem, the Kentucky Derby and Derby hats go hand-in-hand. So jump on the bandwagon and find a hat for the first Saturday in May. The slide show below will give the creative types some ideas. For the rest, it is time to go shopping!

 

Econogal’s Redecorating Tips

Redecorating either a residential property or a business office offers many challenges. Color schemes, style, textures, form and function, and cost all play a role. Interior decorators make these decisions for a living. But if you have an eye for color, a flair for combining things and can stick to a budget, you can meet the challenge yourself.

Budgeting

The first step is the budgeting. Know how much you are willing to spend. My personal preference is to save up for a project. But sometimes repairs or updating necessitate borrowing to complete the project. Of course an important part of the process is knowing how much things cost before you start.

Therefore, I spend a lot of time before I begin a project both online and in stores to determine an average cost. Individuals living in metropolitan areas are fortunate to have competition keep prices down. Rural areas often pay higher prices or have to go out-of-town. Of course this creates an economic leakage from those communities. But I digress.

My rule of thumb on buying is to buy local as often as I can. This might mean paying as much as 15% more. Above that point are some gray areas until you reach the 40% point. I am unwilling to give this much of a premium to a business just because of locale.

Redecorating with Color

After the budget is determined and the funds obtained the fun begins. I start all redecorating projects with a color scheme. The basics of the color wheel are discussed in an earlier blog post Color Wheel Use in Art and Life. Redecorating does add a challenge in the use of color that building from scratch does not have.

This challenge comes in the form of existing components. For example, one project I am currently working on is an office building with beautiful woodwork, red brick and brushed nickel in the interior. The woman’s bathroom is baby pink and the men’s baby blue. The exterior has greened copper roofing, brown and pink paint. All date from about forty years ago.
A similarly aged structure in a nearby town was gutted and rebuilt from the shell, but the cost involved in this type of rebuild are huge. Furthermore, an ongoing business does not have the luxury of shutting down the workflow just to make improvements. Therefore, incorporating the old into the new is imperative.

Fresh paint alone can perk up a space. The trick is finding the right color. The type of company may influence the color choice as can the personalities of not just the employees but also the customers. In some cases an off white or neutral makes sense. Other times call for bold, striking color combinations.

The biggest tip I can give you is to not rely on either paint chips or computer simulations. Find a small piece of drywall and paint it. Then take this sample into the room or building you are redecorating. A two foot square sample is the minimum size I would use.

Sample Size

Carpet, tile, laminate and solid surface large size samples.
Large size samples needed when redecorating.

The same applies to other samples. Once you have narrowed down your selection of carpet, laminate, or solid surface, ask for a larger sample. The tiny chips are tough to read. This holds true for tile as well.

A further step is needed. Go online and search for examples of the product in use. You do not want any surprises. A case in point involves the current tile samples I am considering from Shaw Floors. Shown are samples of the Shaw Marvelous Mix Stainless in 350 Fossil Rock (lower left) and 770 Woodland Park (upper right). Online applications show key differences from the tile samples I have. The Fossil Rock has a very dark tile and the Woodland Park has quite a bit of blue. Yet the samples I have do not show either. The dark tile will blend in with the other materials I am using.  But, the blue would stick out like a sore thumb. In this particular case the decision between the two is easy because of the color not seen on the samples.

Textures Revolutionizing Redecorating

Fortunately, for the above project, metals are making a comeback. The brushed nickel look can blend with either silver or tin. The style you are trying to achieve will determine which you want to use. Tin tends to lend a country look, while silver gives a more formal presentation.

Interior wall with lower quarter stone and remainder raised wood.
Combination of stone and wood wall. Both are three-dimensional.

The metals add texture. But other treatments can extend this three-dimensional look. Stone in particular is making a comeback. One can see applications of stone both on the exterior and the interior. The stone can be combined with other finishes. I like a two item approach because I believe stone can be overpowering. You may not be able to see from the photo but the wood in this picture has varying thicknesses as well as differing widths. I love the combination of stone and wood especially because both are multi-dimensional.

Finally, a balance between form and function is important. An office or home needs to operate, not just look good. But in many cases a utilitarian look that is highly functional can be off-putting to customers. Additionally, a home that looks nice and functions is a home not a showcase. Perhaps in another life I will want a showcase. But for now I need a dual purpose place to live. My redecorating will reflect this balance.

Terminal Freeze Book Review

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child reminds me of the Hollywood movies from way back when. Scientists make a once in a lifetime discovery of a frozen creature previously unknown to man. Unfortunately, funding for their work above the Arctic Circle complicates matters. Instead of leaving the specimen frozen in place, filmmakers demand the removal with plans to thaw out the block of ice on live television. Much like a B movie, havoc ensues.

Child does a nice job in his writing of foreshadowing events. The fast pace of the plot made the book a fun read. A perfect escape for a rainy spring day. The characters are believable, although one of the secondary characters in Terminal Freeze seemed to be a carryover from perhaps an earlier novel.

The creature itself is a bit of a mystery. It does not fit the profile of any known animals past or present. Thus a fear of the unknown adds to the suspense. The thawing of the flash frozen specimen does not go as planned. The creature disappears and so do some of the humans,

Global Warming

While Terminal Freeze is an action adventure at heart, the author does go beyond sheer entertainment. Child introduces the scientists as a group studying global warming and climate change. The ice above the Arctic Circle is melting. Child is very descriptive of the changing environment. Yet the writing is not preachy. Instead, the facts of the changing climate in the Arctic Circle are straightforward and convincing.

The author also does a nice job in portraying a wide arrange of personalities. If this were a movie, (and it could be) there would be an ensemble cast. Human foibles are explored. Outcomes are not happy for all involved. Additionally, Child introduces a concept of a spiritual world that some may miss (or not buy into.)

I want to thank Moe for suggesting this book. This author was unknown to me. I read Terminal Freeze in an afternoon. It was a very enjoyable book, and I have another “new to me” author to watch for new releases. You might like Lincoln Child’s books too.

Gardening Shortcuts Book Review

Recently while browsing the 635 section of the Dewey Decimal system at the library, I picked up a couple of gardening books. Gardening Shortcuts by Jenny Hendy was one of them. This book claims to have “shameless shortcuts, tips and tricks for a great garden super fast.” I believe Gardening Shortcuts has all that and more.

The text is divided into eight sections. These divisions are not the usual groupings. Instead the guide has chapters that encompass both the macro and micro of gardening. Some of the chapters revolve around the use of outside spaces while others focus on specific topics such as growing edibles.

Hendy begins Gardening shortcuts with a basic overview one needs to begin gardening. This includes sections on soil typing and soil amendment, supplies and tools. The chapter also introduces container gardening, planting and the basics of buying stock or seeds.

Key Chapters in Gardening Shortcuts

Then Hendy switches to what I call the macro chapters. Relaxed Patios, Beautiful Borders and Smart Features are three extensive, wide encompassing chapters. Each is chock full of great tips. Each and every page contains photos illustrating the different tips. For example, the author gives tips for “Instant Impact.” Most of these suggestions can be achieved in a short amount of time. Also scattered throughout the book are ideas labeled “If You Have More Time.” Of course these topics will take longer to implement.

Gardening Shortcuts offers a nice mix of tips directly related to plants coupled with ideas for enhancing your outside living areas. The chapter Smart Features incorporates the two themes. Both hints for shaping topiary as well as a two-page spread on decorating for an outside dinner party are in this chapter.

A more traditional chapter is Grow It, Eat It. One will find the expected advice on edibles within. This chapter includes tips on growing in containers. The “You Will Need” boxes tells the reader items needed to complete the task. Visual aids provide further aids to the step-by-step instructions.

Hendy’s discussion of seeds includes sprouting in addition to planting. But the book does not provide thorough information on starting seeds indoors. The focus is on direct seeding into the soil.

The Welcoming Wildlife chapter provides ideas on creating inviting habitats for wildlife. This includes hardscape recommendations and suggestions of plants. Directions for a mini bog garden are given. I found this type of garden intriguing. Jenny Hendy suggests a mini bog as an alternative to a pond if a household has young children. I love this safe alternative. The habitat is attractive to kids,frogs, and other critters without the danger of water.

Gardening Shortcuts may be one of the books I re-check from the library. (My rule of thumb is after the fourth check-out, the book needs to be bought.) Jenny Hendy offers a wide range of ideas. So many neat projects that any reader should find one to try. Look for Gardening Shortcuts at a library or bookstore near you.

Financial Literacy Month

April is financial literacy month. So naturally, Econogal needs a post with tips on teaching financial literacy. Fortunately there are many ways to engage young people in learning financial responsibility. Even the youngest of children can appreciate a piggy bank.

In fact, two of my children received piggy banks from the OB-GYN who delivered them. At least one of the others was gifted a bank at a baby shower. Piggy banks are a fun way for the young child to begin saving. Some banks use piggy banks as marketing items.

Once the banks are filled, the kids can either roll the coins or use a coin sorter. The age of the child will determine the needed coordination to roll coins. A few banks will even allow kids to watch their large coin sorter. Just ask the next time you go to your bank.

Credit Cards versus Lay-away

Saving coins is just the first step. Many other lessons are needed. One of the most important is budgeting. In these days of plastic payment it can be especially difficult for kids to understand how transactions work. A swipe of the card at the check-out does not help with the concept of budgeting and payment in the same way as putting an item on lay-away. But the two are similar.

Although lay-away still exists, it is far more common to buy with a credit card. Both involve multiple payments. But with the credit transaction there is instant gratification. This is a two-edged sword. The item isn’t truly owned until paid in full. Many individuals forget this key concept. Using credit to buy expensive items or charging large amounts on services or vacations is a sure way to find yourself underwater financially.

Thus, if you have a store that still offers lay-away, consider using this avenue to teach the idea of budgeting. The child will understand the need to save to make each of the regular payments. The item will belong to them at the end of the lay-away. If this type of payment is not available, create your own system at home. Have the child put aside a certain amount each week until the amount needed for purchase is needed. Then go to the store. We need to get away from instant gratification.

Allowances or Earnings

Some families provide allowances. Others exchange payment for chores upon completion. Still others expect kids to pitch in as part of the family responsibility. Regardless of your methodology, kids can learn to participate in work at an early age. Work ethic is an integral part of financial responsibility. It is important to teach the concept of the exchange between work and pay.

Continue to emphasize savings. Either encourage or require the deposit of some of the allowance or chore earnings into a bank account. If possible, consider a small match of savings. This concept found in the working world of employee match for 401K deposits is important. Many individuals lose out by not contributing to these retirement accounts. Introduce the idea at an early age.

Track Spending

A problem faced by teenagers (and adults) is not knowing where all the money is going. A great exercise is keeping track of all expenditures in a month. All means all, down to the very last cent. For this exercise to work, several things are involved.

First identify income sources. This should include wages from part-time jobs, allowances, and gifts. College students can include scholarships and work-study.

Second, estimate how the money is spent. For example, a third is going to gas, a quarter is deposited in a savings account. The remainder might be broken into multiple uses.

Next, create a record. This can be as simple as a folder with notebook paper. Or an accounting ledger book could be used for those interested in accounting. The record needs to identify each day of the month. After creating separate daily logs, the information can further divide. Additional divisions could include categories such as food, rent, gas, and of course discretionary spending. Receipts should be kept.

Then, at the end of the month, analyze the expenditures. This is eye-opening. My students often discovered a large amount was spent on fast food even though they were paying for the college food service. Others underestimated daycare expenses because they did not include babysitting during evenings. The analysis is key in understanding spending habits. Unfortunately few save any money at all much less a quarter of the income.

Financial Literacy

These are just a few ideas for teaching financial literacy. While some states have incorporated financial literacy in the curriculum, parents need to take the lead. Start with a piggy bank and move onto a coin sorter. Kids are interested in how money works. Help them out by introducing financial responsibility at an early age.

Make sure budgeting is a concept they know and understand. Unfortunate events can wipe out a family, but far too many are in trouble from out of control spending. Instant gratification needs to be replaced by the satisfaction of payment in full. If you use credit/debit cards instead of cash, make sure the youngsters understand the payment transactions involved. An increase in the savings rate is necessary for long-term financial stability. Share this habit with your children.

We Were the Lucky Ones Book Review

We Were the Lucky Ones is a work of fiction based loosely on the family of Georgia Hunter. The book is written in present tense with historical facts found at the ends of the chapters. Hunter did not realize she was part Jewish until she was in her teens. While the book is a novel, the story is based on her great grandparents and their five children. All of whom managed to survive the Holocaust.

The stories are told through the eyes of the siblings. Both the dialog and story lines are fictional. However, this is historical in nature and some of the events actually took place. Many of the family events have been retained through oral history and two members of the family, small children at the time, contributed first-hand knowledge of the family saga.

The book begins in 1939 in Paris, France. Addy is the middle child of Sol and Nechuma Kurc and is living away from the ancestral home of Radom, Poland. His mother writes in a letter that things in Radom are changing. She is warning him to stay away. Of course, this makes Addy want to return as soon as possible. Naturally, he wants to be with his parents and siblings. Events quickly unfold from there.

Kurc Family

We Were the Lucky Ones follows the various members of the Kurc family through World War II. Although Addy escapes Europe early on, he serves in the French Army first. His path to safety in Brazil is not direct.
Their stories are fascinating. But, I am not sure where the line between fiction and fact is drawn. Much like many historical novels the events of the past are brought to life. Hunter involves the reader in each of the siblings’ plights by dividing the book among the five. So the point of view changes from chapter to chapter. Instead of a book that feels disjointed, the result is an edge of your seat reading.

The various family members are separated by events of the war. Many extended family members and in-laws do not survive Hitler’s purge. Each story is harrowing. It is amazing the Kurc’s and their five children survive the war. They truly were among the lucky even though many scars were carried on past the war.

Jewish Persecution

Many books cover World War II. We Were the Lucky Ones paints a startling picture of what it took to survive the type of persecution the millions of Jews faced. The perseverance of the characters is inspiring. Thus, the novel serves as a testament to the survivors.

Hunter paints a realistic picture of what the Jewish people of Poland faced after Hitler invaded the country. While the characters are based on her family, this is a novel. Evidently, gaps in the oral history handed down to her were filled as accurately as possible. Hunter explains in her afterword her research methodology. So the accounting is historically sound. Just the dialog and the point of view of the family members come from her imagination.

I thoroughly enjoyed We Were the Lucky Ones. For the Kurc family to all survive the holocaust is remarkable. A fact that I am sure all their descendants appreciate. Georgia Hunter was correct, this was a story that needed sharing.

Find a copy of We Were the Lucky Ones. It is a must read. Both World War II buffs and individuals just looking for a good book will enjoy this story.

Random Economic Thoughts

Sprinkler heads.
New and old sprinkler parts.

I am currently travelling away from my small town and thought I would share some random economic thoughts. These ideas spawn from a few weeks stay in a city whose population ranks in the top 25 in America. This is a far cry from my hamlet of 7500. This post contains my opinions. I am fortunate to live in the United States of America. The Constitution guarantees my right of free speech. You may differ in your opinion on the below subjects. I respect that. We may end up agreeing to disagree.

Big Box Hardware versus Mom and Pop Hardware Stores

This time of year I make many trips to the hardware store. Spring heralds longer days. More daylight means more hours to work. Since I am currently in a city I have visited both the Big Blue and Big Orange hardware stores. Neither have been satisfactory in the service category but the orange guys are at least passing. However, the price points are great. So, if you know exactly what you need and can tolerate the lack of personal service you are good to go.

I prefer good service. My blood pressure rose a bit after five trips for a landscape project and poor service. This particular Big Blue store used to be a favorite go to store. My Mom and I spent many enjoyable mornings picking out plants. The store became slightly tarnished in my mind two years ago because it could not hire someone with a physical handicap. This is well within the law due to the type of work and the specific handicap.

However, the place is now in purgatory-at least this location because of the abysmal service. Multiple trips were made for 2 cubic foot bags of mulch because the rental car could only hold so much. On three of the four trips to haul the mulch, no offer was made to help. The other time a young man,able bodied so hired, appeared by the stack of mulch and proceeded to watch me load the already carted bags into my trunk. Watch me. Best case scenario, he was dumber than a doorknob. As was another young man who told me one bag would cover one and one half square feet.

I have worked on both professional and personal levels with physically handicapped individuals. One of whom is a quadriplegic. In each and every case their work ethic is/was fantastic. Sometimes the physically handicapped are much less handicapped than the able bodied individual.

Today, I opted to go to Big Orange Box store instead.

What is the long-term economic impact of poor service? I am not sure service value can be measured. Economies of scale make it hard for the Mom and Pop stores to compete on product price. The big box stores enjoy discounts from their volume purchases. In my little town the Mom and Pop stores are often almost double or double the price of the big box stores. (Not to mention the online opportunities.) However, if I knew of a Mom and Pop place here in this metropolis I would be willing to give them a try.

I will pay a small amount more to support a local business, but only a small amount. After all I wouldn’t want to negate Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Theory. This is just one of the theories posited by Smith over 200 years ago.

Specialization

Another random economic thought from this trip is specialization. Adam Smith wrote about the positive impact of division of labor in his 1776 publication Wealth of Nations. In a small town you will find many Jill of all trades (some Jack’s as well.) Because of scarcity of a wide number of services you learn to do more. Specialization occurs, but in multiple areas.

For example, neither one of my parents love the kitchen. My skills came from necessity. Unlike a city where you could dine out for a solid month without ever repeating restaurants, choices in small towns are limited. But I do not even consider my cooking to be in my top three skills. I am thinking in multiples, so there goes the idea of specialization out the window. Perhaps that is why David Ricardo is my favorite economist and not Smith. Although I do describe myself as a capitalist.

So two small town people tried tackling a sprinkler system in defiance of Adam Smith. If we were playing baseball we would be a hit. But I see our fifty percent success rate as a failure. In hindsight, I should have found someone who specialized in sprinklers. Or waited for daylight to return. Of course a little more service from Big Orange would not have hurt either.

Just-in-Time Inventory System

The reliance on Just-in-Time inventory also plays a part. A lack of stored sprinkler parts demanded the trip to the hardware store. I deem items, such as sprinkler heads, as non-storage items. They are easy to purchase, inexpensive, and not often needed. This type of item lends itself to Just-in-Time inventory at my home. Unless one desires their own hoarder’s reality show, replacement inventory for everything under the sun cannot find a place under one’s roof. This is not a contradiction to an early post on National Preparedness Month. Some inventory is needed in the home. Items I categorize as Just-in-Time parts differ from items preparing a home against events such as hurricanes and blizzards.

For those who detested economics or skipped class that day, Just-in-Time manufacturing appeared in the 1970s. The approach, generally credited to Japanese car manufacturers, cut costs by delivering parts as needed. This reduced the footprint needed by production companies by eliminating storage costs. Thus today it would not be unusual to see vertical components within the same industrial complex, For example a factory producing air condition units for buses might be found a few blocks away from a bus manufacturer.

Social Media Regulations

Facebook dominated the news the first few days of my trip. Mr. Z would like you to believe the pop-up ads on Facebook are as random as these random economic thoughts. He took out full-page ads apologizing for a breach to your privacy. Theoretically the breach was unintentional.

This is not the case. Social media needs to sell your data in order to make a profit. The economic model does not work without advertisements. Of course advertisers want their dollars to work efficiently. They need to target their ads to people most likely to use the product they sell. Hence the role of Big Data. Social media platforms are great ways to socialize in the 21st Century. But they come with a cost. (Remember nothing in life is free. Not liberty, not love, not even water, but I digress.) Facebook has expenses so they need revenue in order to operate. Since Facebook users can sign up “free” of charge, the money must come from somewhere else.

So should Congress regulate social media? I think your answer will reflect your politics. My own answer is to use outlets such as Facebook sparingly.

Striking Teachers

Another random economic thought concerns the striking teachers. In general I am not a big fan of strikes. However, I can at least understand why these strikes are occurring. Teachers in the United States are not paid well. Some attribute it to the nine month school year. I think even if they worked twelve months and the pay was increased proportionately the profession would still be underpaid.

But the traditional low pay scale is only part of the story. Violence in the schools is increasing. The media do report the shootings, but other acts of violence occur as well. Fistfights can be everyday occurrences and I know stabbings happen as well. Teachers are handling all of these violent acts. In addition, drug overdoses are occurring during the school day. Education has become a hazardous occupation. Usually jobs that involve a risk to life and limb are compensated with an increase in pay. I believe teaching needs to fall into this category.

In general, I think most kids start school wanting to learn. I also believe most students are good citizens. But we seem to have reached a tipping point. The minority number of trouble makers and in many cases troubled students is now large enough to have a sustained negative impact on the education system. Teachers are on the front line. They need combat pay.

Full Circle on Specialization

Why is there so much violence? What can be done? These questions have many answers. My answers are quite opinionated. I believe we have become over specialized. I doubt Adam Smith ever addressed this and to be honest I will need to reread Wealth of Nations to see if over specialization was discussed other than in terms of the Invisible Hand. In a well oiled economy if too many carpenters exist, some will change careers. This is the theory of the Smith’s Invisible Hand. Equilibrium will occur naturally over time.

As applied to school violence and societal violence, we have tipped beyond a point of balance. I believe we need to re-think our system. We have too much idleness in our youth. This is not a new concept. Devout readers of the Bible as well as staunch fans of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales understand this notion. Idle hands are the Devil’s tools. Of course both the Bible and Chaucer predate Smith.

But how do we achieve this? Do we really want sixteen year olds with no interest in higher education roaming the streets? I am in favor of vocational-technical (vo-tech) education. We need more plumbers and electricians. But both professions need individuals with strong work ethics. Power outages occur day and night as do broken pipes. We need to introduce vo-tech careers as early as grade school.

Vocational-Technical Education

By the sixth grade there can be an indication of which students have lost interest in education. There are a myriad of reasons. Some don’t have the aptitude for book learning, others are hindered by environmental factors. The problem with fixing an arbitrary age to divide children into tracks of learning is the fact some people are slow developers.

Again, a child can be hindered by outside forces. Tara Westover is a prime example. Please read my review of Educated to understand why I am against a set age for kicking individuals off the path to higher education.

Grade school needs to incorporate some career development. Many of you may remember the early reader books on careers. These stories introduced jobs in many fields. Unfortunately, many were out of print by the time my children were learning to read. Children can multi-task by learning to read from books introducing various types of jobs. Maybe the desire of the young to multi-task is a response to over specialization.

Equilibrium Balance one more Random Economic Thought

One last thought on idleness. Some nations as well as some religions require service commitments. I have no first hand knowledge of the parameters of this work. Nor do I have data on the success of these individuals. However, I believe the idea has merit. We need to promote the idea of work and working with others. Two years serving a country or as a mission to a religion seems likely to give an individual time to mature. Of course hard work at a full-time job may also achieve the goal of self sufficiency.

This country needs to regain balance. Teachers are underpaid, in part due to the new work conditions facing educators. Needed vo-tech employees are scarce. Too much violence is a result of mal-adjustment. At the risk of being labeled a Keynesian, somehow the Invisible Hand needs a little help. Individually and collectively a push needs to be made concerning work ethic. We see this in the service industry as well as in the emerging industries of the 21st Century.

Somehow the education system needs to alter so that kids retain that desire to learn you see on virtually every kindergarten face. This is not a task just for the teachers or the parents. The students themselves need to be involved. Work ethic comes from within.