Why Is This Man Running for President? (Ep. 362)

6 months, 1 day ago

Andrew Yang supports a universal basic income (a “Freedom Dividend”), the use of “social credits,” and a White House psychologist. (Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Collision)

In the American Dream sweepstakes, Andrew Yang was a pretty big winner. But for every winner, he came to realize, there are thousands upon thousands of losers — a “war on normal people,” he calls it. Here’s what he plans to do about it.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or elsewhere. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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Hey there. Hope your new year is off to a good start. Hope you haven’t broken all your resolutions yet. A couple quick announcements. First: next week, we’ll be resuming our “Hidden Side of Sports” series with a look at the mental side of sports. But also: in a couple months, we’ll be participating in the famous M.I.T. Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which means we’ll have access to some of the sharpest sports analysts, coaches and owners, and athletes in the world. So: we want your questions for them. Send us the sports questions you’ve always wanted answered, on any aspect of sport whatsoever — the weirder the question, the better. Our e-mail is radio@freakonomics.com. Thanks.

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Andrew Yang is not famous. Not yet, at least — maybe he will be someday. But let me tell you his story. He’s 44 years old; he was born in Schenectady, N.Y., a city long dominated by General Electric, the sort of company that had long dominated the American economy. But which, as you likely know, doesn’t anymore. Yang’s parents had both immigrated from Taiwan, and met in grad school. His mother became a systems administrator and his father did research at I.B.M.; he got his name on 69 patents. Their son Andrew studied economics and political science at Brown, got a law degree at Columbia, and ultimately became a successful entrepreneur, with a focus on widespread job creation. In the American Dream sweepstakes, Andrew Yang was a pretty big winner. But along the way, he came to see that for every winner, there were thousands upon thousands of losers.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter famously described capitalism as an act of “creative destruction” — with new ideas and technologies replacing the old, with nimble startup firms replacing outmoded legacy firms, all in service of a blanket rise in prosperity. The notion of creative destruction has for many decades been part of the economic orthodoxy. And it’s undeniable that global prosperity has risen, and not just a little bit. But Yang — like many others — has stopped believing in the economic orthodoxy of creative destruction. As he sees it, there’s just too much destruction; and the blanket rise in prosperity isn’t covering enough people. We’re living through what Yang calls “a war on normal people” — a war that Yang fears is getting uglier all the time. And that’s why he has taken to saying this:

Andrew YANG: I’m Andrew Yang, and I’m running for president as a Democrat in 2020.

Stephen DUBNER: I can think of a million things that you personally, Andrew Yang — with your resources and abilities and so on — could have done other than running for president of the United States. And yet that’s the one you’ve chosen. So why?

YANG: So imagine if you were the guy getting medals and awards for creating jobs around the country and realizing that the jobs are about to disappear in an historic way. And all of the solutions involve really a much more intelligent, activated government than you currently have. And I went around and talked to various people being like, “Hey guys, anyone going to solve the biggest problem in the history of the world?” And I could not identify anyone who was going to run and take it on.

DUBNER: So you put your hand up and said, “I guess I will?”

YANG: Yeah. I’m a parent like you are. I’ve got kids who are going to grow up in this country, and to me just believing that we’re going to leave them this shit-show that I think is coming and not doing something about it struck me as really pathetic.

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The conversation you’re about to read is in many ways a continuation of conversations we’ve had in multiple episodes over the years. Episodes like “Is the American Dream Really Dead?” and “Is the World Ready for a Guaranteed Basic Income?” Episodes like “Yes, the American Economy Is in a Funk — But Not for the Reasons You Think” and “Did China Eat America’s Jobs?” You may want to give those episodes a listen for a deeper look at the economics involved. But first: who exactly is Andrew Yang? Years ago, he worked as:

YANG: A knife salesman.

DUBNER: A knife salesman?

YANG: Oh yeah, Cutco, I still know the sales patter.

DUBNER: Let’s hear it.

YANG: What’s really dangerous is not a sharp knife. It’s a dull knife, because then you start putting elbow grease into, and that’s when accidents happen.

DUBNER: So here’s how I would thumbnail your story: immigrant kid, smart, got a good education, tried a few things in the labor force, including high-end lawyer, then some entrepreneurship, got involved with a company that was sold. So you cashed out, then took the nonprofit route to try to inspire other people to become entrepreneurs in places where there wasn’t a lot of drive for that already. And then during that process you got exposed to the way the economy was failing in large parts of America. But then instead of just saying, “Wow, that’s tough. But I got mine and I’m going to go back to my coast and lead my comfortable life, and for the people who are not leading this life — I wish them well, but I’m out of here,” you disrupted your life in order to do something about it.

YANG: As an entrepreneur, I feel driven to try and solve problems, and this seems like the greatest problem that we face. And you think, “Hey, if I bust my ass for several years, I have a chance to potentially accelerate the eradication of poverty and helping my country manage through the most difficult transition in decades. And I think if I put my heart and soul into it, I have some chance of making that happen.” And then if you don’t do that, you must be an asshole.

When he was 24, Yang landed a job in New York at Davis Polk, one of the most prestigious law firms in the world.

YANG: I was making $125,000 plus a bonus of maybe another $25,000 or so. And I have Asian parents, so they were quite pleased with this state of affairs. And I thought, “Wow, this is really lousy job.” When I was growing up as a kid playing Dungeons and Dragons, I didn’t dream about being the scribe. I dreamt about going in the woods and killing something, which did not help my parents feel any better about my decision to quit the firm.

So yes, he quit what many people might see as a dream job. He got involved in an internet startup that combined celebrity and charity.

YANG: So we called it stargiving.com. And we got Hootie and the Blowfish and MTV and Magic Johnson to donate meet-and-greets with themselves to their nonprofits.

The launch of StarGiving coincided with the bursting of the dot-com bubble; the firm lasted just five months.

YANG: I mean, I was a very sad 26-year-old who still owed $100,000 in law school loans and had parents still telling people I was a lawyer even though I was not. And I joined another startup, and I was very worried that it was also going to go under. So I started throwing parties on the side as a side hustle. And then I also started teaching the GMAT on the side for a friend’s company. So I had three jobs during that time.

The job that stuck was the GMAT teaching — GMAT being the standardized test you take to get into business school. The company was called Manhattan Prep and Yang ended up becoming its C.E.O.

YANG: That’s right. So I personally taught the analyst classes at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley. And so imagine doing that for six, seven years and then seeing the country go to shit during the financial crisis. And then think, Well, I know why that is — because the smart kids have been becoming Wall Street bankers and management consultants while the rest of the country was getting hollowed out.

In 2009, Yang’s company was bought by the testing firm Kaplan, which was owned by the Washington Post Company.

YANG: We were acquired for low tens of millions. So I walked away with some number in the millions.

He soon left the Washington Post Company to start a non-profit called Venture for America, modeled on Teach for America.

YANG: Venture for America takes a recent college graduate, trains them with various business skills, and then sends them to work at a startup or an early-stage growth company in Detroit, New Orleans, Cleveland, Baltimore, a city that could use the talent. Then you work at that startup for two years, helping it grow. And at the end of two years if you want to start your own business, we have an accelerator and a seed fund to help you do so. It’s going to create 100,000 jobs around the country. We’ve helped create over 3,000 jobs to date, and dozens of our alums have started companies, some of which have now raised millions of dollars and generated millions in revenue.

DUBNER: So you said you hoped to create 100,000 jobs, and then you just said you’ve created 3,000 jobs, so that sounds like you’re a little short.

YANG: Well, create 100,000 by a certain date.

DUBNER: What’s the date?

YANG: So we had 2025 as our target date.


YANG: So we would need algorithmic growth.

DUBNER: I gather what you learned about how the world worked outside of the coastal corridors and outside the Ivy League, and so on, was an awakening. Yes?

YANG: Yeah, it was for sure.

DUBNER: What was different in Detroit, in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere that you went, from what you imagined?

YANG: Well, so some of the structural force, and I’ll describe this — a company, it had a couple of very bright founders out of Brown University, and they got started in Providence. And the company starts to do well, hits its strides, doing a couple of million in revenue, and then an investor in Silicon Valley says, “Hey, you guys should come out here, and we’ll invest $10, $20 million in you. But you should really come here.” So then the guys say, “Well I guess we have to take that.” So that company goes from 100 employees in Providence, R.I., to zero employees.

DUBNER: And I can feel the mayor of Providence and the governor of Rhode Island thinking right now, “No, no, no, please don’t go.”

YANG: They were there. I mean the mayor — they were saying, “Please don’t go.” And the guys were like, “Well, you’ve got to do what’s right for your business.” And they went out to Silicon Valley and now the company has 100 employees in San Francisco. It becomes this really unfortunate dynamic that if you are an entrepreneur who’s succeeding in a place like Detroit or Providence or St. Louis, the goal is to get sucked up to the big leagues and wind up in San Francisco or Boston or New York.

DUBNER: But the other part is that what we used to think of as the backbone jobs of this country, the nature of that is changing really, really fast, due to technology and particularly automation. How much of that were you starting to see up close, and how surprising was that to you?

YANG: Yeah, so my thesis was that if you started a tech company in a place like Detroit that it would create additional jobs in that community that were not necessarily skilled jobs. But what I learned was that these companies, in order to be successful, did not need to hire huge numbers of people. That right now, the way businesses grow is that businesses grow lean and mean. They’re not going to hire the thousands of employees that industrial companies used to employ in a place like Detroit or Cleveland or St. Louis.

And it became clear to me that as much as I was excited about and proud of the work I was doing, it felt like I was pouring water into a bathtub that had a giant hole ripped in the bottom. Because we’re blasting away hundreds of thousands of retail jobs, call-center jobs, food-service jobs, eventually truck-driving jobs. And so my army of entrepreneurs, doing incredible work, starting companies that might employ 20, 30, 40 people, was not going to be a difference-maker in the context where that community was going to lose 20, 30, 40,000 retail jobs, call-center jobs, transportation jobs, etc. And I was horrified. I was flying back and forth being like, “What the hell are we doing? We are blasting communities to dust and then pretending like we’re not and pretending like it’s their fault, and pretending that somehow it’s unreasonable to be upset about your way of life getting destroyed.”

I had a wakeup call, a reckoning as you said. But then when Donald Trump became president in 2016 I was convinced that the reason why he won the presidency is that we automated away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri. And we’re about to triple down on that by blasting away millions of retail jobs, call-center jobs, fast-food jobs, truck-driving jobs.

David AUTOR: I think if we had realized how traumatic the pace of change would have been, we would have at a minimum had much better policies in place to assist workers in communities that suffered these very severe and immediate consequences.

That’s the M.I.T. labor economist David Autor from our 2017 episode “Did China Eat America’s Jobs?

AUTOR: And we might have tried to moderate the pace at which it occurred. And we also had a huge trade deficit and that meant we simply did a lot less manufacturing. So that meant that workers had to make a tougher transition out of manufacturing, into something altogether new. And I think that upped the challenge.

I think the other thing that we have to recognize, and that economists have tended not to emphasize, is that jobs aren’t purely income. They are part of identity. They structure people’s lives. They give them a purpose and a social community and a sense of relevance in the world. And I think that is a lot of the frustration that we see in manufacturing-intensive areas. And I think that that’s costly even beyond the direct financial costs.

It’s been tempting, especially from a political view, to blame all this job loss on global trade, immigrant labor, and offshoring. But Autor and most other economists agree that the much larger driver of job loss is technology and automation in particular.

YANG: So we automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs.

Back to Andrew Yang.

YANG: This is like the auto-manufacturing plants, a lot of the even consumer-goods, like furniture manufacturing in North Carolina, a lot of that stuff has gotten automated away. Now, I studied economics. And according to my economics textbook, those displaced workers would get retrained, re-skilled, move for new opportunities, find higher productivity work, the economy would grow. So everyone wins. The market, invisible hand has done its thing.

So then I said, “Okay, what actually happened to these four million manufacturing workers?” And it turns out that almost half of them left the workforce and never worked again. And then half of those that left the workforce then filed for disability, where there are now more Americans on disability than work in construction, over 20 percent of working-age adults in some parts of the country.

DUBNER: So the former manufacturing workers, a lot of them are on disability a lot of them are also especially if they’re younger men, they’re spending 25–40 hours a week playing video games.

YANG: Yeah so it did not say in my textbook, half of them will leave the workforce never to be heard from again. Half of them will file for disability and then another significant percentage will start drinking themselves to death, start committing suicide at record level, get addicted to opiates to a point where now eight Americans die of opiates every hour.

So when you say, “Am I for automation and artificial intelligence and all these fantastic things?” of course I am. I mean, we might be able to do things like cure cancer or help manage climate change more effectively. But we also have to be real that it is going to displace millions of Americans. People are not infinitely adaptable or resilient or eager to become software engineers, or whatever ridiculous solution is being proposed. And it’s already tearing our country apart by the numbers, where our life expectancy has declined for the last two years because of a surge in suicides and drug overdoses around the country.

None of this was in my textbook. But if you look at it, that’s exactly what’s happening. The fantasists — and they are so lazy and it makes me so angry, because people who are otherwise educated literally wave their hands and are like, “Industrial Revolution, 120 years ago. Been through it before,” and, man, if someone came into your office and pitched you an investment in a company based on a fact pattern from 120 years ago, you’d freakin’ throw them out of your office so fast.

The Industrial Revolution is a textbook example of creative destruction. Old technologies giving way to new; the rising tide lifting all boats. But history doesn’t actually happen that smoothly …

YANG: If you look at the Industrial Revolution, there was massive social change. Labor unions were originated in 1886 to start protesting for rights. There were massive riots that led to dozens of deaths and caused billions of dollars’ worth of damage that led to Labor Day becoming a holiday. Universal high school got implemented in 1911 in response to all of these changes. And it was a tumultuous time. I mean there was a whiff of revolution the whole time. And according to Bain, this labor-force displacement, this time, the fourth Industrial Revolution, is going to be three to four times faster and more vicious than that Industrial Revolution was.

So even for those lazy-ass people who are just like, “We’ve been through this before, Industrial Revolution,” be like, “Well, the Industrial Revolution was hellacious and it’s going to be three to four times worse according to Bain, who presumably you respect because they’re good at figuring this stuff out.” I mean if you look at government-funded retraining programs, the efficacy level, according to independent studies, is between 0 and 15 percent. And only 10 percent of workers would even qualify for these programs anyway. So we’re talking about a solution that will apply to between 1 and 2 percent of displaced workers. And that’s the kind of lazy crap that people are putting out there as a solution.

DUBNER: So if a revolution happens, how does it start, and what’s it look like?

YANG: So to me the rubber hits the road with the truck drivers. I mean there are 3.5 million truck drivers in this country, only 13 percent of them are unionized. The odds of there being a collective negotiation are very low. Eighty-seven percent of them are part of small firms of let’s call it 20 to 30 truckers, and 10 percent of them own their own trucks.

So think about that. If you borrow tens of thousands of dollars to be your own boss and be an entrepreneur and then your truck cannot compete against a robot truck that never stops — the odds then of these truckers showing up at a state capitol saying, “Fuck this, let’s get 30 guys together with our trucks and our guns” and show up and protest the automation of their jobs. So we’re disintegrating by the numbers. You can see it in our political and social dysfunction. Expecting that disintegration process to be gentle would be ignoring history.

DUBNER: Well even though revolutions do happen and armed violent revolutions obviously have happened, most bold predictions turn out to be wildly wrong. And usually there’s a lot less deviance from the past than predictors predict. So what makes you think you’re not wrong on this one?

YANG: I don’t know thousands of truck drivers, but I do know some. And they do not strike me as the sort who will just shrug and say, “Okay, I guess that was a good run. I’m going to go home now and figure out what job is there for someone who’s a 50-year-old former truck driver.”

But you also are going to see call-center workers, fast-food workers, retail workers — I mean there are 8.8 million people working in retail in this country. The average retail worker is a 39-year-old woman with a high-school degree who makes $11 to $12 an hour. When 30 percent of malls close in the next four years, what is their next opportunity going to be? So we have to start being honest about what’s happening where the market does not care about unemployed cashiers or truck drivers or fast-food workers.

And the biggest issue to me is that we’re measuring economic value in a very narrow, archaic way. We invented G.D.P. almost 100 years ago during the Great Depression. The government’s looking around saying, “Things are going really badly, we need a number for this.” And then Simon Kuznets comes up with G.D.P. and says a few things: He says we should not use this as a measurement for national well-being because it’s really bad for that. We should include parenthood and motherhood in the calculation because it adds so much value. And we should not include national defense spending in the calculation because—

DUBNER: If I remember my history, all three of those were ignored then, yes?

YANG: Yes, yes, yes. We’re like, “That’s great, Simon.” And now it’s our end-all, be-all. My wife is at home with our two boys right now, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. And what is her work valued at?

DUBNER: I’m guessing $0.

YANG: Yeah, about $0. And I know that she’s working harder than I am and the work she is doing is more important.

DUBNER: So your wife doesn’t really factor into G.D.P. In fact, she’s probably kind of a drain on it really, right? Because she could be out there where there’s opportunity cost of her not working.

YANG: She might be able to be a management consultant somewhere and that would be a much more valuable use of her—

DUBNER: So management consultants and the finance industry, financial services, banking, real estate. You argue that many of the most remunerative occupations in America are rent-seeking activities. Rent-seeking as economists use it to describe, basically, extracting value from transactions without really adding value. And you argue that many of the most beneficial-for-society jobs — teaching, nurturing, caring, creating, etc. — are the least remunerative jobs. How can you rail against that disparity while also wanting to bask in the benefits of the capitalism that set up those incentives?

YANG: Capitalism is a wonderful, magical, powerful thing. But it optimizes for capital efficiency and capital gains above all else, really. And that worked well for a long time, because in order for capital efficiency, workers needed to benefit, the consumer economy needed to benefit, the middle class needed to benefit. It’s like Henry Ford and his, “How can my workers buy my car?” But we’re now at a point where Ford does not need those humans to build that car and they can have markets all over the place and don’t really care what’s going on in their own backyard.

There are just these big changes afoot, and the question is how we’re going to manage them as a country. And that’s what I’m trying to answer. That’s why I’m running for president.

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Until recently, Andrew Yang was running Venture for America, a non-profit that tries to persuade young, would-be Wall Streeters to launch startups in places like Cleveland, Baltimore, Detroit, and St. Louis. In 2014, he published a book about this effort; it was called Smart People Should Build Things. While the book pointed out the need for a dramatic overhaul of the American economy, it was for the most part an optimistic book. Last year, Yang published another book, called The War on Normal People, and it is not remotely optimistic. He argues that the American economy has failed most Americans, and that the American political class has failed them again by refusing to focus on the underlying fault lines in the economy.

This collapse in Andrew Yang’s optimism is what led him to run for President. He’s already been to Iowa and New Hampshire several times but, let’s be honest: he’s a very long shot in what’s expected to be a very crowded field. Let’s use Twitter followers as a proxy for the viability of some other possible Democratic candidates. Joe Biden has 3 million followers; Cory Booker, 4 million; Elizabeth Warren, 4.7 million; Bernie Sanders, 9 million. Mike Bloomberg has 2 million Twitter followers and over 40 billion dollars. Andrew Yang, meanwhile, has raised about $600,000, and has roughly 27,000 Twitter followers. But he also has ideas that he thinks will compensate. There’s one idea in particular that he’s banking on.

YANG: My first big policy is the freedom dividend, a policy where every American adult between the ages of 18 and 64 gets $1,000 a month, free and clear, no questions asked.

DUBNER: So the freedom dividend is your phrase for what most of us know as a universal basic income, yes?

YANG: It’s a rebrand of “universal basic income” because it tests much better with Americans with the word “freedom” in it.

DUBNER: Right, as nomenclature. The idea is the same.

YANG: So “universal basic income” tests great with about half the country. And then the other half of the country do not like it.

DUBNER: Because…

YANG: Because there’s—

DUBNER: It’s got welfare connotations?

YANG: Something along those lines. We tested a bunch of names and then when you had the word “freedom” in it, then all of a sudden testing shot up among self-identified conservatives. They hated “universal basic income,” hated “prosperity dividend,” all of a sudden “freedom dividend” is like “ding ding ding!”

DUBNER: What about progressives, liberals, Democrats?

YANG: Progressives, liberals, Democrats liked it no matter what the name was.

DUBNER: What were some of the other names that didn’t work?

YANG: “Citizens’ dividend,” “future dividend,” “prosperity dividend.” We had a lot of dividends.

DUBNER: I think of a dividend as a payout on an investment. What does it mean in this case?

YANG: Well, it’s a payout to ownership and we are the owners and shareholders of this, the most wealthy and advanced society in the history of the world. So this is a dividend for us. And there’s nothing stopping a majority of shareholders, a majority of citizens, from voting themselves a dividend. It’s been law in Alaska and it’s wildly popular in a deeply conservative state, where a Republican governor said, “Hey, who would you rather get the oil money: the government, who’s just going to screw it up, or you, the people of Alaska?” And the people of Alaska now love it, wildly popular, has created thousands of jobs, has improved children’s health and nutrition, has lowered income inequality, and it’s untouchable through many different regimes.

DUBNER: The Alaska dividend comes from oil revenues from the state, whereas the freedom dividend that would go to every person in the U.S. would be funded how?

YANG: So the headline cost of this is $2.4 trillion, which sounds like an awful lot. For reference, the economy is $19 trillion, up $4 trillion in the last 10 years. And the federal budget is $4 trillion. So $2.4 trillion seems like an awfully big slug of money. But if you break it down, the first big thing is to implement a value-added tax, which would harvest the gains from artificial intelligence and big data from the big tech companies that are going to benefit from it the most.

So we have to look at what’s happening big-picture, where who are going to be the winners from A.I. and big data and self-driving cars and trucks? It’s going to be the trillion-dollar tech companies. Amazon, Apple, Google. So the big trap we’re in right now is that as these technologies take off, the public will see very little in the way of new tax gains from it. Because if you look at these big tech companies — Amazon’s trick is to say, “Didn’t make any money this quarter, no taxes necessary.” Google’s trick is to say, “It all went through Ireland, nothing to see here.” Even as these companies and the new technologies soak up more and more value and more and more work, the public is going to go into increasing distress.

So what we need to do is we need to join every other industrialized country in the world and pass a value-added tax which would give the public a slice, a sliver of every Amazon transaction, every Google search. And because our economy is so vast now at $19 trillion, a value-added tax at even half the European level would generate about $800 billion in value.

Now, the second source of money is that right now we spend almost $800 billion on welfare programs. And many people are receiving more than $1,000 in current benefits. So, we’re going to leave all the programs alone. But if you think $1,000 cash would be better than what you’re currently receiving, then you can opt in and your current benefits disappear. So that reduces the cost of the freedom dividend by between $500 and $600 billion.

The great parts are the third and fourth part. So if you put $1,000 a month into the hands of American adults who — right now, 57 percent of Americans can’t pay an unexpected $500 bill — they’re going to spend that $1,000 in their community on car repairs, tutoring for their kids, the occasional night out. It’s going to go directly into the consumer economy. If you grow the consumer economy by 12 percent, we get $500 billion in new tax revenue.

And then the last $500 billion or so we get through a combination of cost savings on incarceration, homelessness services, health care. Because right now we’re spending about $1 trillion on people showing up in emergency rooms and hitting our institutions. So we have to do what good companies do, which is invest in our people.

DUBNER: So what persuades you that that number, $2.4 trillion, could even be close to justified through the menu of savings that you just described? I guess more broadly, why should someone believe that this Democratic-inspired version of higher taxes — or new taxes, with a V.A.T. — and more income redistribution, why should someone believe that any more than Democrats disbelieve the Republicans’ idea of lower taxes and trickle-down economics?

YANG: Oh man. I mean, if you put $1,000 into the hands of a struggling American, it’s going to make a much bigger difference not just to that person but it’s also going to go back into the economy. If you give a wealthy person $1,000 they wouldn’t even notice. You could just slap it into their account and it would be a non-event. Everyone knows that putting money into the hands of people that would actually use it is going to be much more effective at strengthening our economy and society.

DUBNER: One easy argument against a U.B.I. is that if you give everyone a dividend like you’re proposing, $1,000 a month per person, all that new money in the economy will cause the kind of inflation that will render that $1,000 much less powerful. What’s your argument against that?

YANG: Yeah, so I looked into the causes of inflation that are making Americans miserable right now, and they are not in consumer goods like media or clothing or electronics.

DUBNER: Those are all still getting much cheaper.

YANG: Yeah, and a lot of that is being made more efficient by technology and supply chains and everything else. The three things that are making Americans miserable in terms of inflation are housing, education, and health care. And each of those is being driven by something other than purchasing power.

Housing is being driven by the fact in some markets people feel like they need to live in let’s say New York or Seattle or San Francisco to be able to access certain opportunities and then there’s not much flexibility in terms of their ability to commute like a long distance. Education, it’s because college has very sadly gotten two-and-a-half times more expensive even though it has not gotten two-and-a-half times better. And then the third is health care, which is dysfunctional because of a broken set of incentives and the fact that individuals aren’t really paying in a marketplace.

So if you put $1,000 into the hands of Americans, it’s actually going to help them manage those expenses much better. But it’s not going to cause prices to skyrocket, because you can’t have every vendor colluding with every other vendor to raise prices. And there’s still going to be price sensitivity among every consumer and competition between firms.

AUTOR: I think people should have a guaranteed minimum income.

That, again, is the M.I.T. economist David Autor.

AUTOR: Essentially, our system of income distribution is primarily based on the scarcity of labor, right, the most valuable asset you own is your human capital. And if all of a sudden, there was a machine that could do exactly what you did it wouldn’t be clear what skills would you sell to the market.

The idea of a universal basic income has been around for a long time, and you might be surprised by the political diversity of its supporters. In the 18th century, founding father Thomas Paine argued for a universal payout, representing our collective share of America’s natural resources. In the 20th century, the economist Milton Friedman pushed for a different version, called a negative income tax. Then and now, there is a common objection:

Evelyn FORGET: If you give people money for nothing, why won’t they just quit their jobs?

The economist Evelyn Forget studied the effects of a small Canadian experiment that paid out a universal income. Her finding?

FORGET: The finding was that primary earners really don’t reduce the number of hours they work very much when you offer a guaranteed annual income.

YANG: A neuroscientist in Seattle said something to me that really stuck with me. He said, “The enemy of universal basic income is the human mind.” And what he meant by that is that people are programmed for resource scarcity. They think, “Hey, there is not enough to go around. If you get it, I don’t get it. And then if we all get it, it’s somehow going to harm us.” And that’s what we have to overcome. We have to overcome this knee-jerk sense of scarcity that is baked into, in many ways, the way we’re trained to perceive value in money.

So that’s big policy No. 1.

Alright, and what’s big policy No. 2 for would-be President Yang?

YANG: No. 2 is digital social credits.

Which are what?

YANG: Digital social credits are a new way to reward behaviors that we need more of in society. So right now, the monetary market does not recognize things that we know are crucial to humanity, like caregiving and raising children, volunteering in the community, arts and creativity, journalism, environmental sustainability. We’re getting less and less of those things because the market does not care about them. What I’m proposing is we create a new currency that then maps to various activities that we want to see more of.

DUBNER: Give me a for instance of how it would work. Let’s pretend that I am a 58-year-old laid-off carpenter. Maybe you, President Yang, are already giving me a freedom dividend, which I appreciate. So talk to me about what digital social credits would do for me and how it would actually work.

YANG: Right. So you get a message on your phone saying, “Hey, a neighbor has had a shelf break and they could use some help repairing it.” And then you click on your phone and say, “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Then you drive over, repair the shelf, and then the person thanks you, gives you a hug. Takes a picture of it. And then you then get this digital social credit. Let’s say call it 300 points. So you have these 300 points and you’re like, “Okay that’s good.”

And then you get another ping, it’s saying, “Hey, your neighbor needs a ride and they don’t have a vehicle,” and you do. So you give them a ride and then you get some more points and then at the end of the week you say, “You know what, if I go to Cabela’s, I can trade those points for hunting gear or camping gear. I could use it to go to the local ballgame.”

DUBNER: Okay. And then the vendors who are giving their goods or services to you for those social credits, what did they do with the social credits?

YANG: They can take the social credits and go to the government and then the government can exchange it for money.

DUBNER: And what’s funding the money for the social credits from the vendors?

YANG: So,  the U.S. government would be backing it, or foundations or various companies, because if you are a company you respond to this. I mean you’d enjoy the heck out of it and it would drive business to your establishments. But the great thing about this is you could induce hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of social activity at a small fraction of the cost. Because right now if I have 100,000 American Express points, how much does that cost American Express?

DUBNER: A thousand dollars maybe?

YANG: Zero, because I haven’t done anything with it yet. Before I redeem it, it costs them nothing, but I love my points. I look at them. They seem to have value. I could trade them in whenever I want. What you’d see is you’d end up building up a parallel economy around people doing things for each other. This is based on a practice called time banking that’s in effect in hundreds of communities around the country.

DUBNER: Time banking is one of these ideas that’s been around for a while now, and it’s met with some success in some places, but it’s certainly never been scaled up the way that you’re talking about. What makes you think that it’s attractive enough for enough people to want to use it and that it is ultimately scalable?

YANG: Time banking holds that everyone’s time has intrinsic value and that if I do something for you for an hour, I then get a time credit that I can then give to someone else to do something for me for an hour. And everyone can do something — watch your kids or walk your dog or move some trash or whatever the task happens to be.

So the obstacle to more widespread adoption of time banking has been the administration, because you need a person in each community who is tabulating and keeping track of transactions. And now with technology—

DUBNER: This sounds like a job for the blockchain.

YANG: Yes, you could have a public ledger on the blockchain. You could make this happen much, much more easily, much more cost-effectively. And there are people I’m happy to say who were working on technical solutions for this.

People like this:

Anitha BEBERG: My name is Anitha Beberg and I am the C.E.O. of Seva Exchange Corporation, which is an A.I. and blockchain startup that’s reinventing volunteerism using time banking.

The chairman of Seva is Edgar Cahn, who helped launch the modern concept of time banking and wrote a book about it, called No More Throw-Away People.

BEBERG: He came up with this in 1980, when he was actually given a diagnosis after having a heart attack at 46. And he was only given two years to live and maybe two hours a day to do anything. So what he was thinking about was, Hmm, what can I do in this world to still be useful? So he came up with the idea of time banking, where you give an hour of your time within a community and you’ll receive a credit of that hour, redeemable for something you need. So it’s a give-and-take system rather than a one-way volunteering.

Edgar Cahn obviously lived on, and so has time banking. It exists in a few dozen countries, usually at quite small scale; one of the larger exchanges, similar to what Andrew Yang is proposing, is a British organization called Tempo. It found that nearly 60 percent of its participants had rarely or never volunteered before. Beberg’s time-banking group, meanwhile, Seva Exchange Corporation…

BEBERG: Seva actually means volunteer in Sanskrit or service, to serve.

The Seva app is a spinoff of Timebanks.org.

BEBERG: What we’re doing is trying to create the largest volunteer exchange network.

How would it work?

BEBERG: We offer powerful motivators to retain volunteers.

Motivators like gamification.

BEBERG: It’s a lot more exciting to run up a score and earn badges especially if you’re doing good.

Also: skills-matching.

BEBERG: Whatever you’re passionate about or you’re highly skilled at and willing to offer, you get matched to the critical needs of either an organization or a person.

And rewards, via the blockchain.

BEBERG: Our digital social credits is called Seva coins. And they will be redeemable for more time. Or you can donate them. We’re also working with colleges for loan forgiveness and micro-scholarships for students.

Beberg and Seva have gotten some pushback from religious institutions.

BEBERG: They’ve said, “Oh, we volunteer for the sake of volunteering.” And I said, “That’s wonderful. The more people like that, the better, because now they can just donate those to an institution in need or give it back to the church for hours.” So every hour you give, another hour can go to someone else in need.

Those are the micro components of how Seva’s digital social credits would work. But it’s the macro view that makes this idea particularly attractive to a would-be politician like Andrew Yang.

BEBERG: We’re redefining work. So there are some forms of work that money will not easily pay for building strong families, revitalizing neighborhoods, making democracy work, advancing social justice. Time credits were specifically designed to reward, recognize, and honor that work that most people never valued before or felt valued for.

Andrew Yang believes that injecting all that undervalued work into the “real economy,” would solve a couple problems at once: it would give people access to more of the goods and services they need and can’t afford; and it’d boost morale by revaluing skills that the market no longer values.

YANG: Yeah, that’s right.

DUBNER: I don’t mean to be a skeptic or a cynic, but what makes you think that the best overseer of a big scaled-up time banking or digital social currency is the government itself?

YANG: I don’t think so. I mean one thing I’ll say, to quote my friend Andy Stern: the government is terrible at most things but it is excellent at sending large numbers of checks to large numbers of people promptly and reliably. The government would not be administering this at all. The best the government would be doing would be allocating social credits to various communities, who could then have the credits flow through nonprofits and NGOs and organizations that are closer to the ground that could administer it more effectively.

DUBNER: But ultimately, when all those vendors want to take in their DSCs, their digital social currency coins, whatever, and cash them in for real cash, it’s the government they’re coming to, it’s the Treasury they’re coming to, yes?

YANG: Yeah, yeah. So there is a government budget allocation. But the government budget allocation would be essentially proportional to population and then each community would be doing different things with it. Because something that would be effective in Mississippi would not be necessary in Montana or Missouri.

So digital social credits and a universal basic income, these are Andrew Yang’s two most prominent proposals in his Presidential campaign. There are, of course, many others, most of which align with a standard Democratic platform. You can see them all at Yang2020.com. I’d asked him his most outlandish position.

YANG: We should have a psychologist in the White House that’s looking in on the mental health of the executive branch, because it doesn’t make any sense to me to have that much power and responsibility without some sort of mental-health professional monitoring.

DUBNER: Did you have this idea before the current presidency?

YANG: I always thought so. I mean, my brother’s a psychology professor. I think it would also help destigmatize mental-health issues and anxiety and depression around the country, and just say, “Look, we all have struggles.” That includes people at the top of the government.

Another thing I think is really important is that right now we expect people to be sort of martyrs if they enter into government service, and then they turn around and become lobbyists to make a lot of money. We need to take advantage of the fact that the government can pay much, much more, and then just require people to not go back to industry afterwards. Because if you’re a human being and your stint is going to end in two or three years, you don’t want to be too harsh on the companies that could end up paying you and giving you lots of money later.

DUBNER: So you’re arguing for a $4 million salary for the U.S. president.

YANG: Yeah, because it’s true for presidents too. I mean, if you’re going to get paid a quarter of a million by some company after you leave office just to show up and schmooze and give a speech, then human nature is like, “Maybe I shouldn’t be too harsh on this company.” And I’ll say, this raise can go into effect for the president after me. I do not give a shit how much I get paid. But the president after me should get paid enough so that we know that they’re just looking out for us and not going to just speech it up afterwards.

DUBNER: You happen to be the Democratic-entrepreneur-as-would-be-President who happens to be running after the successful campaign of a Republican-entrepreneur-as-President who a lot of people agree, his entrepreneurship and CEO-ship have not contributed to a stable presidency or to a business-like presidency, etc. Does that not strike you as potentially terrible timing?

YANG: Well, the reason why Donald Trump in my mind won — aside from the fact that we’ve blasted away all these manufacturing jobs — is that many Americans are desperate for some kind of change agent. And if you look at it, there has been a thirst for that not just with Donald Trump but with Bernie Sanders’s outsized success, even to some extent with Barack Obama winning in ‘08, where the citizens of the United States have been casting about for some kind of change because they know that our government is failing us.

Donald Trump is a terrible president because he’s a terrible president. He’s not necessarily a terrible president because he was not steeped in our government for decades. And genuine entrepreneurs like myself regard Donald Trump as a bullshit marketing charlatan. So he gives us all a bad name. And the goal is to show what real builders and entrepreneurs would do to solve some problems.

DUBNER: If you were a bookmaker, what are the odds that you’re laying off for Andrew Yang winning the presidency in 2020?

YANG: I think the latest odds I saw were like 200-to-1.

DUBNER: Let’s pretend for just a second that you don’t win the presidency. But that you do impress a lot of people with your energy and ideas and vision. And you are invited to run as V.P. on the Democratic ticket.

YANG: One of the fun things about running for president is you spend time with other candidates on the trail. I have some ideas, but my vision is that there is a set of patriots that are all heading to D.C. to try and save this country. I plan to be in that group. And if it’s as president, fantastic, if it’s as vice president, also fantastic.

I just want to solve problems, man. I don’t really care about the seating chart. And someone said to me, “Hey, what if Joe Biden takes all your ideas?” I would say that’s fan-freaking-tastic. I’m not some freaking crazy person who has been measuring the drapes since I was 16 or any of that jazz. I just want to keep this country together for your kids and mine.

*      *      *

Freakonomics Radio is produced by Stitcher and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Harry Huggins. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Alvin Melathe, and Zack Lapinski. Our theme song is “Mr. Fortune,” by the Hitchhikers; all the other music was composed by Luis Guerra. You can subscribe to Freakonomics Radio on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:


Anitha Beberg, c.e.o. of Seva Exchange.
Evelyn Forget, economist at the University of Manitoba.
Andrew Yang, entrepreneur and Democratic candidate for president.


Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality,” Karen Harris, Austin Kimson and Andrew Schwedel, Bain & Company (February 2018). 
No More Throw-Away People by Edgar Cahn (Essential Books 2004).
Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang (HarperBusiness 2014).
The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang (Hachette Books 2018).

The post Why Is This Man Running for President? (Ep. 362) appeared first on Freakonomics.

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A Week In Paris, France, On A $101,000 Salary

6 months, 5 days ago

Welcome toMoney Diaries , where we’re tackling what might be the last taboo facing modern working women: money. We’re asking millennials how they spend their hard-earned money during a seven-day period — and we’re tracking every last dollar.

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Today: a communications director working in software development who makes $101,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on roses. Editor’s note: All prices have been converted to U.S. dollars.

Occupation: Communications Director Industry: Software Development Age: 39Location: Paris, France Salary: $101,000Paycheck Amount (Month): $5,000 (I also get food vouchers as part of my company benefits — about $200/month.)

Monthly ExpensesMortgage: $1,235 ($1,185 a month on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage at 1.15%, with homeowner’s insurance at $50/month)Utilities: $485 for electricity, gas, and waterInternet: $43.75 (includes international calls, TV, and broadband)Cell Phone: $0 ($96 paid for by my work)Navigo Pass: $94Gym Membership: $200Subscriptions: $31.25 (This includes newsletters and business tools for my side business in communications consulting.)House Emergency Fund: $490Savings: $1,000

Day One

5:30 a.m. — On Mondays I take the train to Paris, which costs $15 if I buy my ticket ahead of time online. It’s three times as much if you buy it at the station, so I avoid that whenever possible. I can’t afford property in Paris, but there’s no work in my field where I live, so I work in Paris and live in a rural region about two hours away. My boyfriend, R., and our infant daughter will follow in the afternoon by car. We’ll spend Monday through Thursday afternoon in Paris, where my boyfriend owns a small two-bedroom apartment. $15

7:50 a.m. — It’s my first day back in the office since maternity leave started four months ago. No one else is here yet. I caffeinate with free office coffee and grab some fruit and nuts.

12:21 p.m. — Morning meetings are over, so I duck outside for lunch. I head to the supermarket to stock up on soup, yogurt, and bars for the next week. Paris is a lunchtime minefield, and if I’m not careful, I know I’ll end up spending more money than I can afford. I used to watch my expenses in this area and stick to a strict food budget, but I don’t anymore. It was unrealistic while I was single and working all the time, and it’s unrealistic now that we’re a family of three. When she was my age, my mother had two children and cooked three square meals a day, all while working. Despite the current constraints of my life, I feel like I should be, too, and feel halfway guilty when I cop out by buying bricks of soup. $21.17

5:17 p.m. — I can’t seem to settle down, so I go out for a quick walk around the block. I duck into a Starbucks for an herbal tea, as I’m trying to go to bed earlier and don’t need caffeine right now. I immediately regret throwing away money on vegetable-tasting water. I leave work early. Well, it feels early. I used to stay until 8 or 9 p.m. several days a week, and that’s just not possible anymore with a kiddo. So I get in two or three hours before everyone in the morning and leave around 5. $5.25

5:41 p.m. — I walk to the express train stop right at the Grands Boulevards next to Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. I top up my Navigo pass with a monthly subscription before taking the express train to R.’s place. It’s $94 for monthly access to the Paris metro, trams, buses, and suburban trains across a 60-mile radius of the city. Not great value if you’re just using it to commute within the city, but a steal if you use the suburban stations like I do. There are so many exquisite things in the store windows. When I first moved to Paris, I redid my budget to bump up the amount I thought I’d be spending on clothes and personal maintenance. Living here had the opposite effect, though. For one, everyone seems to wear the same thing all the time. Also, there’s so much trash and junk covering this city — even the pretty, touristy parts — that I’m put off by the idea of buying more stuff and adding more waste to the pile. Black sweaters, Chapstick lips, and eyeliner it is.

6:40 p.m. — We live at R.’s place three days a week, although “live” is a pretty big word for what we do, which is squeeze into his tiny two-bedroom and watch TV until we fall asleep. Before we moved to the country, he was supposed to renovate his place. This hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not sure how long I can live without a basic kitchen and a shower that doesn’t leak. I run some numbers in my head and figure that it will take at least $7,500 to redo the plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom, put in an oven and fridge, and finish the rest of his move. I don’t have that money just sitting around right now, so it’ll have to wait a few months. It wouldn’t bother me that much, but it’s different with a kid.

7:45 p.m. — R. and our daughter, B., have arrived. I consider stepping out to get noodles from the Chinese restaurant down the street, but R. has just finished an early dinner at his parents’ place a few miles across town. I’m not that hungry, so I eat an apple, make some tea, and answer some emails before it’s time to get B. ready for bed. Goal: no screen time at all while she’s awake. Nighttime is precious. I’m in bed and drifting off to an old episode of House by 9 pm.

Daily Total: $41.42

Day Two

6 a.m. — Alarm goes off at 5:07 a.m. I lie around for five minutes or so before I drag myself out of bed and set off for the 15-minute walk to the express train. I change metros and get off at Strasbourg-Saint Denis to go to the gym. A few bars and sex clubs are still open, and the bakeries are just pulling up their shutters. I realize that the gym has changed its hours since I was last here, pre-birth, and now opens at 7. I grab a seat at Sarah Baker and send a few emails over a double espresso until it opens. $3.30

7:47 a.m. — Finish working out and showering. Time for a quick hop into the steam room before dressing. This gym membership, at $200/month, is my only real indulgence. Unlimited entry to the steam room and sauna alone are worth the price.

8:18 a.m. — At my desk with a free office coffee. I have meetings all morning and afternoon, but I block off an hour from 10 to 11 to squeeze in some writing reports and plans.

9:49 a.m. — Coffee break on the second floor patio. I half want a cigarette, but there’s no way I’d go back to smoking now that I’m nearly 40, have a child, and work to stay in reasonably decent health.

12:23 p.m. — Time for lunch. I heat up a soup and then go out for some bread and a walk. End up getting a cheese roll from the bakery. $1.50

12:39 p.m. — On my way back from the bakery, I see a can of B.’s formula in the window of a pharmacy. I had problems breastfeeding, and as a result, B. started full-time on formula at two months when her weight gain lagged. We use an organic goat milk-based one, which is $37.50 a can here at the pharmacy. I can get it for $17 online by ordering a pack of six cans and using a promo code. I stop in anyway to pick up some ibuprofen for my back and shoulders, which have pretty much been in constant pain since I gave birth. $6.68

1 p.m. — I call a physical therapist when I get back to the office – I have a doctor’s prescription for 15 sessions for my back and shoulders, which will be covered by national health insurance. This therapist comes recommended, but part of his fee isn’t covered by insurance. (Guess that’s why I got an appointment so quickly). I decide I don’t mind paying the extra $50 per session fee out of pocket. My back has been bothering me for years. I can only imagine what it would cost me to get it fixed in the States. $750 isn’t so bad, especially since the payments will be spread out over four months.

1:19 p.m. — R. sends me a text message to let me know to meet him at his parents’ place after I leave work. He doesn’t have a full-time job, and when he’s in Paris, he spends a lot of time hanging out with his retired parents. (He has a net worth 10x mine, mostly in property and stocks, but is cash-poor. His family’s generosity has allowed him to not work full-time or pursue a career over the years.) He and his mother take care of B. during the day. We’re lucky to have this childcare arrangement, I just don’t know how long it’s going to last. I get off one stop before R.’s parents’ place to go by the florist’s shop, where I pick up a small bunch of miniature roses for his mother. $12.50

6:41 p.m. — R., B., and I are in the car on the way home to the apartment. We park a block away and I stop by the Chinese takeout place for fried rice and dumplings to split. We can’t cook in the apartment, so if we eat a full meal at night it’s usually Chinese takeout or sushi. $22.50

Daily Total: $46.48

Day Three

4:43 a.m. — I manage to sleep from about 8:20 p.m. until 4:30 a.m., when I hear B. cooing. I mix up a bottle, feed her, and change her diaper. I probably won’t go back to sleep before I get up and go into town. I hop online and place an order for more formula. It’ll arrive at my house in time for the weekend. $127.43

5:45 a.m. — Out the door as quietly as possible so as not to wake R. and B. I leave $62.50 on the table for R. He’ll probably need to buy diapers for B. and lunch for himself. I don’t mind leaving him money, but it makes both of us feel weird. I don’t like feeling like I’m giving him an allowance, but he has expensive tastes that I can’t afford, and aside from housing, gas, and food, we don’t agree on priorities. Money is a huge sore point between us. We don’t share finances per se, and neither of us has debt, but I pay all of our basics and 90% of other expenses. Plus I contribute to my own retirement. $62.50

7 a.m. — Gym. Treadmill. Listening to RTL through my headphones. I want to start lifting again but I’m not ready. Pregnancy and childbirth were rougher on my body than I was expecting. I hate admitting that I just can’t get up again and bounce back.

9:14 a.m. — At my desk with breakfast eggs and lentil salad from Prêt à Manger ($10), plus free fruit and coffee from the office kitchen, when I get a phone call from R., who wants to know what the money is doing on the table. He “doesn’t need money,” except I know that he does, and the next time we need something or he wants something while we’re out, we’re going to play some stupid game of “Mother May I” that’s going to leave both of us with hurt feelings. He hangs up in a huff. $10

11:15 a.m. — Macarons! One of our favorite partners has stopped by with goodies from Pierre Hermé. Time for an office coffee and a salted caramel macaron. I feel defeated about the R. situation; I can’t win. My salary package finally reached six figures last year, but four years ago I was making a grand total of $34,000. Living in substandard housing for many years and being worried about how I would pay for groceries at the end of the month took a toll on me. It’s why I usually drink office coffee. The idea of going to Starbucks so much that you would want a loyalty card horrifies me. (No judgment, just the residual effect of years of being poor.)

12:30 p.m. — I heat up some soup purchased earlier this week, supplement with a veggie salad and cheese roll takeout from the bakery, grab a pot of yogurt from my stash in the fridge, and head to the lounge to check out the FIFA action happening on the big screen. $6.50

2:20 p.m. — Long distance calls with an American client, who congratulates me on how well I speak English. I’ve learned not to say anything other than “thanks.” Men at my level never get these kinds of questions, like where they’re from or how long they’ve been wherever, whether or not it’s hard to move somewhere completely different, and do they like living in France?

3:35 p.m. — Seven minutes until my next meeting. I order a cool poster of wine — I’m a wine lover and a map geek and want to cover the bare walls of my house with all kinds of maps and graphics. I leave the office at 4:15 p.m. I worked straight through with 20 total minutes of break, so I’m out early to go to pilates at the gym. $24.75

7 p.m. — Pilates is over, I’m showered, and we’re at R.’s parents’ place waiting for traffic to die down so that we can get in the car and drive to mine. I’ll work from home tomorrow. I stopped at Franprix to bring some fruit and chocolate to the in-laws and pick up some diapers for B. She’s gone up a size in the last week, and for some reason the next size up is nearly three times as expensive as the ones she was wearing. I can’t really compare, though, since the packs of diapers have different quantities. This frustrates the comparison-shopping American in me. $26.84

9:21 p.m. — On the road with a sleeping B. in the backseat. We stop to fill up the car and I knock out a few emails before losing the 4G signal about an hour down the highway. $108.51

Daily Total: $366.53

Day Four

5:40 a.m. — Up early and caffeinated with B. fed and diapered. I check emails from my desk downstairs. I remember that I still need to send back a bunch of holiday orders for R. and B. that didn’t fit.

9:15 a.m. — Break for more coffee and a trip to the bakery ($6.25) and post office. I open the huge shutters facing the street and watch the light flood in. This place is so pretty (and cheap), but over the past few months I’ve had the nagging feeling that it was the wrong decision, for lots of reasons. $6.25

9:20 a.m. — Spend more than expected sending back the holiday items and buying stamps. Sending a letter will go up to around $1.25 this year. Crazy. On the way back from the post office, I see our neighbor coming out of the bakery. He’s a mysterious figure who, like me, works in the city. Sharp and well-dressed, in his mid-60s. I have no idea what he actually does or what he’s doing here in this poky little town. His girlfriend is closer to my age, and I’ve been wanting to hang out with her for a few weeks. I make a note to call her. I’m back on calls from 9:30 straight until noon. $45

12:07 p.m. — R. runs downstairs in a panic that we’re going to miss the Friday market. The market comes to town twice a week. Today it’s the fruit and veg wagon, plus the cheese van. R.’s thing is cheese. I’m in the middle of something, so I hand him $40 and tell him to get whatever he likes. He comes back 30 minutes later with two and a half pounds of cheese and $15 worth of muscle car magazines. “Some light reading for the lady,” he smiles triumphantly as he hands them to me. His cheek is incredible, but so is his ability to make me laugh. Market haul includes potatoes, pears, salad, and clementines. And two and a half pounds of cheese. We’ll probably do a raclette tonight. $40

4:40 p.m. — I finish up work, we pile in the car, and drive the 10 miles down the road to the butcher shop. It’s the kind of place that tourists love to come for the authenticity. We buy some beef for stroganoff, some smoked sausage for freezing and quick weekend dinners, and a couple of slices of pâté for snacking. Everything is local. $34.76

5:17 p.m. — On the way back, we veer off toward a neighboring village and pass in front of Cédric’s bar to see if it’s open. It is, so we go inside and share a pint of the local microbrew while showing B. around to the regulars we haven’t seen since she was born. We’re back home by 6:30 p.m. I start messing around with a communications plan for the local organic grocery store, which is in danger of closing. It’s not really clear why, but inexperienced management seems to be a factor. It’s one of the few oases of progressive thinking here, and it would be a shame if it went under. I attended the last co-op meeting and volunteered to help where I could: marketing, communications, sales. I stop to make the stroganoff around 8 p.m., then call it a day around 10 after B. is fed and things are reasonably clean. We drift off to an old episode of House. $5

Daily Total: $131.01

Day Five

6:13 a.m. — Wake up to B. glurgling happily beside me. She’s not hungry or dirty, so I check messages before heading downstairs. There’s a WhatsApp from a number I don’t recognize. Then I remember it’s M., a 20-something investment banker I met last summer shortly after R. left me. We had a few dates before R. came back. M. didn’t mind that I was single mom-to-be in my late 30s, but he was scared off by the fact that I was moving to the country part-time. I told him that R. was coming back and we dropped out of contact soon after. He kind of ghosted me on WhatsApp, which is why I’m surprised to see the message. Decide to wait awhile before replying.

6:30 a.m. — M.’s avatar is once again greyed out and there’s no status. I don’t have the mental energy to wonder what just happened. He’s a sweet guy, and I hope he finds someone.

8:17 a.m. — I ‘m caffeinated and the baby is changed, fed, and entertained. R. goes down the street for bread and pastries. $6.98

10:15 a.m. — Working on grocery store messaging when the doorbell rings. It’s the postal carrier with a package. I ask her to wait a second so that I can get her tube of homemade cookies and her yearly tip. In France, it’s traditional to tip service workers a little something at the end of the year. The concept is completely foreign to me as an American, but I play along. Connections mean a lot in a small place like this, and if you’re cheap, crazy, or strange, word gets around fast. $25

11:14 a.m. — Browsing clothes for B. I order a couple more pants and another jacket in a warm, comfy style I bought for her a few weeks ago. She looks and feels like a cuddly little penguin in them. $59.96

12 p.m. — Pâté sandwiches with goods from the butcher, fruit from the market haul, and tea. Then story time with baby, which turns into nap time.

2:30 p.m. — Get up and realize I’m late for a meeting with R.’s real estate agent. He bought a property to renovate in the same town at the same time as I was buying my house. I want to drop off a gift for her since she went out of her way to introduce us to people here, and since the transaction had a lot of ups and downs. Normally I wouldn’t pick up this particular chore, but R.’s not going to do it because it’s a “waste of money” — his words. But I know how hard she worked to get the deal done and smooth things over when things went belly-up with the owners. I want her to know that someone noticed and appreciated the extra effort that she made. $64.44

4:45 p.m. — Just discovered the air wash function of my washing machine. How did I not know about this?! This is going to save a ton on dry cleaning. I also discover that moths have eaten my new-last-season cashmere sweaters that were in storage this summer. I bought them on Grana, but I’m not sure I want to shell out $100 each to replace them. That’s not expensive for a decent cashmere, but it’s still more than I’m used to paying for a basic sweater. I may go with some merino Uniqlo ones for $29 a pop.

5:30 p.m. — Laundry and Columbo marathon until the late hours of the evening. I make a pot of tea and sandwiches, and a bottle for B.

Daily Total: $156.38

Day Six

1:24 a.m. — Can’t sleep. Browsing Amazon for The Feynman Lectures on Physics. I’m looking for something to do; a longer, bigger thing that is greater than the sum of its parts. Raising a child is part of it, but I feel like my intellect is going unchallenged. The last 10 years of my life have been about money and career. I grew up in an unglamorous place on the frugal end of middle class. No one had any particular expectations of me. I arrived at adulthood with no idea of what I should do, and no idea how to do it. Somehow – and most of the time I don’t know how – I arrived here at this place I never expected to be. Mostly because I was tired of worrying if I was going to be able to afford groceries and a house one day. I came to France with dreams of making a living from my translation and writing, but gave up during yet another year of grinding anxiety about finances. I just didn’t have the personal fortitude to push through. I feel like I failed sometimes, and wish that I had pushed anyway.

1:30 a.m. — The Lectures are over $100 for a box set, plus shipping. It’s an unnecessary expense I don’t feel like I can afford right now. I add them to my wish list. I keep thinking about the whole work-money-life thing. We often judge people who synchronize their lives to the fluctuations of the balance sheet and promotion cycle (I used to), but when you’re on the other side of that looking in and hungry…damn it feels good to even get within striking distance. I’m kind of surprised that I’ve pulled it off.

5:32 a.m. — Up and on the train. I got my ticket early, so it was only $15. I put on my noise-canceling headphones and try to sleep. Today’s a big day: the usual Monday meetings plus lunch out. $15

7:20 a.m. — Arrival in Paris. I take the metro to Grands Boulevards and pop into the Prêt à Manger on Haussmann. Get some eggs, a sandwich, and a small bar of chocolate. Fruit, coffee, and sparkling water will be free at work. $11.01

7:51 a.m. — At my desk and answering emails with office coffee.

8:22 a.m. — Scheduling all the little moving parts of an announcement this week. There’s a lot to coordinate and a lot of areas where information can potentially fall through the cracks. I got into marketing and communications by default. Good communication is a real job and an art, though. If I’m doing my job right, everything should look and feel seamless. That’s the part that takes the most work – making the rough edges invisible in order to create and highlight the main messages.

10:05 a.m. — Coffee break with the guys from finance. They’re talking about their next vacations. Realize that I’m happy enough going home on the weekends and don’t feel the need for anything more exotic than pushing a stroller through the forest at the edge of town.

12:03 p.m. — Meet a new friend at a Parisian corner bistro where we’re getting lunch. We met on a Facebook group for single parents a few months ago after R. left me, and she recently wrote to ask me for advice about buying an apartment. It’s the first time we’ve met in person. I also want to ask her about her family lawyer and her experience in the court system here. So far R. has been good with B., but I haven’t been able to get over the fact that he left while I was pregnant, and the fact that there’s increasing tension in our household — especially his badgering about money and our lifestyle in general. $20.08

1:20 p.m. — I stop at a Starbucks on my way back to the office. After hearing my friend’s story, I’m more resolved to at least contact a lawyer. Lately, there have also been some temper fits that leave me feeling on edge and unsafe. On the one hand, I feel gutted knowing that my daughter will probably not grow up with her two parents living under one roof. On the other, I know that this leads nowhere good in the long run, and that I need to sort things out now rather than wait until they get worse. Also, I don’t want her to grow up believing this is okay. It’s going to take a long time to get unstuck from this particular situation, but I’ve resolved to do it this year. $5.75

3 p.m. — Two pieces of fruit from the kitchen to get me through the rest of the afternoon of meetings. I call it a day around 6 p.m., think about going to the gym but am too tired, and get on the suburban train.

8 p.m. — I call in a sushi order for R. and me. One order is more than I can eat by myself, and he’s already eaten at his parents’ house, so we’ll split one order of sushi, tempura, rice, soup, and salad. It’s not great, but it’s food. I’m in bed by 9. $22.50

Daily Total: $74.34

Day Seven

7 a.m. — At the gym and on the treadmill after a 5:40 wake-up call. My goal is to be showered, dressed, and in the office by 8:20. Hope I’ll have time for the steam room. Even five minutes would be great.

11:07 a.m. — See an envelope lying in my bag and realize it’s the check for the plumber. Why have I not sent that back yet? I remember that there’s some complicated tax form that comes along with it that also needs to be completed. I want R.’s dad to take a look at it before I mess something up. I shoot his dad a quick email.

11:32 a.m. — Takeout lunch of pesto salad, lemonade, and a yogurt pot from M&S. I also pick up some chocolates for my team and a can of double-acting baking powder for some cookies I want to make this coming weekend. I text with R. He’s trying to entertain B. with some rudimentary version of a puppet show. It sounds cute, and I’m sorry to be missing it. $20.01

2:45 p.m. — Office fruit won’t cut it today. I’m famished, so I head out for one of those prepackaged triangle sandwiches with egg salad and bacon. $4.50

5 p.m. — My friend T. texts me to let me know he’ll be a few minutes late picking me up. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Paris. We went out twice but weren’t right for each other, and he’s now dating another friend. We drive to a bar over on the Left Bank where we catch up over drinks every month or two. It’s one of those typically Parisian places with gold-plated furniture, glass tabletops, saucy service, and classics like Picon bières, rosé in pitchers, and vermouth by the glass.

5:22 p.m. — T. orders us each a glass of champagne. We’re celebrating a career accomplishment of his today. I admire his resilience and work ethic.

7:20 p.m. — R. and B. get home about 30 minutes after I do. R. is hungry and wants Chinese. I go across the street, order, and sit down to wait for another our fried rice and dumplings. Takeout and lunches out are a bigger portion of our budget than I’d like, but we really can’t do any differently right now living in a place without a kitchen four days a week. $22.50

7:25 p.m. — Making lists in my head of stuff I need to get within the next week. I order some baby pictures of B. $73.75

7:31 p.m. — I go ahead and buy my train ticket for next Monday. The online price has inexplicably gone from $15 to more than double. The national rail service is trying out dynamic pricing, except it’s not dynamic, it’s just bad and half-baked. $31.25

7:45 p.m. — Back at home, eating with one hand and cuddling B. with the other. I make a deposit on some baby books at Shakespeare & Co. I’m trying to get B. into a bedtime routine. She has some books in French, but only one or two in English. I’ll go pick up the books during one of my lunch hours next week. $25

11:41 p.m. — My eyes snap open after sleeping for two hours. I can’t sleep. This has been happening a lot lately. As usual for the past few months at night, I’m worried about something. Objectively, life is good. It hasn’t felt this way in a long time, though – last year was horrible and full of fear of instability. But then I look at the result: a beautiful, healthy baby girl, and my health is good. My salary and career are better than they’ve ever been. I’ve bought a house I can afford and have been careful to not squander the seeds of long-term financial security. I’m making new friends and volunteering again. I just wish I could relax.

Daily Total: $177.01

If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.

Money Diaries are meant to reflect individual women’s experiences and do not necessarily reflect Refinery29’s point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.

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How I Became The Most Successful Legal Sex Worker In The U.S.

6 months, 29 days ago

Last month, we ran a Money Diary from Alice Little, a legal sex worker in Nevada who managed to book $1 million in a calendar year. We followed up with Little to chat about the diary and how she became the most successful legal sex worker in the country (it involves a 60-to-80-hour work week).

Can you talk about what’s changed in your life since you did a Money Diary last year?”One big change is that I’ve had to hire an assistant to help me manage my busy schedule, help take care of all my animals, and do some of the editing that I’ve simply run out of time for. I’ve got a podcast called Coffee with Alice, a show on YouTube, and I’m doing sex toy and sex book reviews.

“I pay my assistant around $40,000 each year, and I have it set up right now with her as a private contractor underneath my personal LLC.”

You also mentioned in your diary that your minimum booking is now $2,000.”That is an absolutely massive change. Whereas before, I might have been available in lineup, I’m now available by appointment only. I was getting so many requests that I had to make a business decision and say, okay, I can’t handle three or four appointments each day and still be able to do my work in a way that I can feel comfortable. I had to adjust my business model so I could still get days off and manage my schedule in a way that works for me.”

Are you seeing clients less?”I would say I spend the majority of my time still working with my guests in a one-on-one context, but I’ve definitely taken some of my free time and dedicated it to my other projects. If I don’t have an appointment, I can finish up a sex toy review or get together show notes for a podcast. All of those little administrative tasks take up a surprising amount of time. In between that and social media photo shoots, I’m probably working a good 60 to 80 hours a week.”

You also hit a big goal during your diary: $1 million in bookings. How did that goal come about?”When I first started in the industry, it was just to see if it would be a good fit. But during that time I started to look at things from a different lens, switching from a short-term view to a long-term one. I saw potential for what [being a sex worker] could look like if I ran it as a full-time business. I set up what I called the ‘Million Dollar Sex Work Business Plan.'”

What does that entail?”I basically thought, If I wanted to book a million dollars in a calendar year in this industry, what would I have to do to accomplish that? I knew I would need a strong social media presence, since we can’t advertise in a traditional way. I would have to make time for Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Fetlife, as well as updating my own blog and writing for other blogs. It was all about trying different things, measuring how successful each thing was, and then determining where to best invest my energy to achieve my goal.

“Then I broke it down. A million dollars divided by 12 became a goal of $84,000 a month. If I have an overnight client every month, which is in the $20,000 range, that brings it down. Then I should have a range of five-figure parties between $10,000 and $15,000. If I have three of those, then I would only need to do so many $5,000 parties. I set time aside to build connections with my guests and arrange my schedule so I could meet that goal — and now I’m even exceeding that.

“We know, generally speaking, that the more successful individuals in our industry book somewhere between $400,000 and $700,000 in a calendar year. I’m almost doubling their performance, and it’s really astonishing.”

Could you call yourself the most successful legal sex worker in Nevada right now?”Even crazier: I can say that I am the most successful legal sex worker in America. Sex work is only legal in Nevada. But I’m not saying this to brag; the reason why I talk about what I earn is because it’s the only way that people will understand that legal sex work is a valid and real career. People always think of sex work as something short term, a stop gap, but I’m not unique in the sense that this is what I do full-time.”

Let’s talk about what it takes to ask for that kind of booking fee. How do you justify your rate?”A lot of what I do is emotional labor. This is essentially where you moderate and regulate your own reactions, feelings, wants, and desires in order to take care of someone else’s feelings, needs, wants, and desires. This is something that is oftentimes used within therapeutic models, and psychologists, counselors, therapists, and top relationship counselors might charge well over $1,000 an hour. So start there as a benchmark.

“Then we add in the physicality aspect. I am interacting with people in a physical way that is unique to my industry. It doesn’t just look like sex; it also looks like intimate touch, connective touch in the form of massage, cuddling, making eye contact, holding their hands out in public and giving that sense of normalcy and warmth that others get to enjoy but they haven’t been able to experience.

“Then you look at the communication aspect of it. Leading up to my meeting with that particular individual there have oftentimes been tens if not hundreds of hours of text communication, email communication, photos back and forth, and building rapport over time. The connection doesn’t just end when we’re not physically together. I continue to assist people, answer their questions, ask them how their day is going, so they feel warmth and support. Those kinds of things are all part of the services I offer.

“There’s also a huge educational component to what I do. Oftentimes, I am giving them advice. For my guests who are virgins I might be giving them some advice on where to meet ladies and some ideas for a first date.

“By the time that you add up all my job titles — essentially a sex professor, a psychologist, a relationship counselor, a companion, an escort, someone who is doing physical labor — I’d say I’m undervaluing myself for the amount of work I’m actually doing. Sex work is so much more than just sex. And personally, I love my job, which is why I choose to do it. I do this because I love people, and I love getting to meet people and establish these new connections. Of course, the financials are very helpful. Those will allow me to achieve other goals I have for my future. But that’s not the primary reason why.”

I think one thing we have to touch on is how your circumstances allowed you to choose the industry, and how privilege has helped your success in some ways. Can you talk about that?”I have been privileged in several different ways. We have to acknowledge that there is a privilege in society that is associated with being conventionally attractive. It would be unrealistic to say that looks have zero influence on success. It is unfortunately an industry that, to some degree, looks for, and favors, certain features more so than others. If someone is looking to enter this industry, they have to think, O kay, how am I going to choose to present and market myself? You can change things like your hair color, how you do your makeup, your styling, and the way you dress. You could choose to show your tattoos or hide them. Those are all business decisions that each person needs to make based off their own individual circumstances. You have to consider what aesthetics are most marketable to the industry.

“It’s also not just looks. It does pay to have an education. I am lucky because I am a member of MENSA, and when I was a freshman in college I chose to make sure I did everything to graduate debt-free and have my education covered by various scholarships. That involved applying to probably 500 different scholarships, writing at least 100 essays, several phone interviews, numerous in-person interviews, all sorts of different things. I ended up getting less than 5 percent of the scholarships I applied for. I just tried to play the numbers game for it.

“And of course, there’s also a financial aspect [of becoming a legal sex worker]. You have to fly yourself out to the Bunny Ranch, pay for your doctors expenses, pay for your license, and all of that comes out of your own pocket before you even start earning income at the ranch. You have to have certain financial abilities to enter this industry, too.

“I was privileged enough to take advantage of the opportunity. I think when I’m done with this and choose to retire from being a legal sex worker, I most likely will lobby and work on furthering legal sex work in other areas so others will have the opportunities I had.”

But it’s a specific career that works for you — it won’t work for everyone, right?”It’s not a career for everyone, and that’s okay. I’m somebody who has a very high emotional IQ. I understand how I am feeling, and I’m able to control my emotions and feelings so I can better assist someone else in the process of handling their own feelings. That’s not a skill everyone has.

“It’s also not a job of desperation. It is not a last-resort job. It requires a lot of business planning to be a successful legal sex worker. For example, I thought long and hard about how I wanted to portray myself, what kind of photos I wanted to share, what kind of individual I wanted to see. I sat down and did brand strategy and market research to determine what services I’m comfortable offering and not offering. If someone enters this industry from the standpoint of get rich quick, could you make a little bit of money right away? Absolutely. But generally speaking the long-term successful people in this industry, much like any industry, are putting in a tremendous amount of hard work.”

I think a lot of discussion in the comments of your first Money Diary was around the question of whether you chose this career willingly, and why. “The reason why people have this last-resort perception is because it’s such a stigmatized industry. I turned down a six-figure offer from a Fortune 500 company because I love the job I’m in now. That happens to be a privilege that I’ve had, but it goes to show that this is genuinely a choice for me. I could choose to do something else but I chose to do this instead.”

Are there other misconceptions around what you do?”Recently, I had to ask a crew to leave the Bunny Ranch after not respecting my autonomy when I told them No, I’m not comfortable filming this on camera. I don’t want to blow little kisses at the camera. That’s inauthentic, that’s not who I am, and I don’t want to do that.

“When they wouldn’t take no for an answer I asked them to leave. They were sitting there, trying to beg and plead with me, saying, Oh please honey baby, please help me out. This perception of sex work is so terribly skewed by all aspects of society. Even the media fails to understand us and interact with us in a way that’s respectful.”

Can you talk about why that depiction is so problematic for you?”I’m a professional in my industry. If you want to film what my job looks like, it looks like me doing field research on different scientific studies surrounding sex. It looks like me answering emails or doing a sex toy review. It looks like me doing a podcast interview. It does not look like me wearing skimpy sexy lingerie and shaking my booty back and forth or blowing kisses at the camera. That’s representative of a Hollywood stereotype that I simply am not, nor does that stereotype actually exist. They’re trying to paint a fake story and to essentially take my professional business and pantomime it and mock it on film. It’s just so inappropriate.

“They wanted me to crawl around on all fours towards the camera like a dog while making flirty faces at the camera. There’s literally no other profession where someone would ask a professional to get on their hands and knees to crawl towards the camera. It’s just so grossly inappropriate and shows such a lack of understanding for who I am and what I do.

“I am a flesh and blood human being who loves my dogs and cats as any other person does. I have hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with my career. I spend a crazy amount of time playing Dungeons and Dragons and video games. My entire existence cannot just be summarized as being a sex worker, and they wanted to paint me as my profession rather than paint me as a person. And I’m so opposed to that that I refuse to let it happen.”

Recently, there was a high profile campaign by the self-described “faith-based non-profit” Awaken to potentially end the legalization of brothels in your county.”General public in Lyon County has shown us their incredible and overwhelming support, but if [legislation] had passed, I would have had to change counties, get licensed in different locations, find somewhere new to live. It would have turned my life upside down; I’ve had to put my life on hold because of this petition, and it’s been very, very frustrating.

“It’s the girls who are hurt by closing the brothels — it takes away their careers. It also hurts 134 staff members who certainly don’t earn what I do and might not have the savings to weather it out in-between jobs.

“What happened with the petition blindsided us, but after [Awaken] has done this once and endangered our careers, we’re going to be ready for them next time. We’re not going to be caught off guard. I want to do some proper research on who is working in the brothels, why are people choosing to enter the industry, and I want to look at the financial impact of having so many people fly into the region. We’ve never done an economic impact report on what sex work does for society. There is already a bill introduced to potentially remove legalization statewide, and in the next couple of years, this could turn into a statewide issue. Our industry is going to have to defend itself, so I think my focus is shifting to that next year.”

A lot of discussion in comments of your most recent diary was centered around the Bunny Ranch’s late owner Dennis Hof, including allegations of rape. Can you comment on that?”I can only speak for my personal experience during my three years working here. I have never been pressured [by Dennis], I’ve never seen him pressure anyone, and I’ve never seen him assault anyone. It goes so far against what I know of him. If something of substance does arise I’m absolutely willing to look at it with a fresh set of eyes.

“Much of all of this is sex workers being used in a political forum. We just want to be left alone to do our jobs. I just want my life to go back to normal. I want to be able to focus on my business and not defending my business. I want to work on my book and my podcast. It’s ridiculous and unfair. It’s no longer good enough for me to say, Hey here’s my Money Diary. I have to now justify everything going on in my life, everything in the brothel system.”

If evidence does come up that you believe, if something does arise, would that change your outlook on your work or career? Would you stop what you’re doing?”No. Dennis has passed on; he no longer even owns the brothel, so if anything arises posthumously, even better for having Suzette in charge in that case. At this point, the brothels are being run by a woman. That’s very empowering.

“We cannot undo the ills of the past; we cannot take back mistakes, but what we can do is do better. Let’s make sure we do better in the future.”

Can you talk about what changes might be happening at the Bunny Ranch? What’s next?”I really think the sky is the limit. I think that this next year with Suzette at the helm of the Bunny Ranch, we’re going to see a lot of changes being made, updating some aspects of the business. I’m going to continue to be an advocate, but I’d like to formalize things a little bit more moving forward. One of my goals in 2019 is to establish a Nevada Brothel Association that acts as a legal advocacy group for the continual legalization of sex work in Nevada.”

This interview, conducted over two phone calls before and after the midterm election, has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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What It Feels Like To Have PTSD

7 months, 6 days ago

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events.

Someone with PTSD often relives the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of isolation, irritability and guilt.

They may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and find concentrating difficult.

These symptoms are often severe and persistent enough to have a significant impact on the person’s day-to-day life.

This is what people who have PTSD say it feels like..

It’s constantly looking over your shoulder and having difficulty trusting people… It’s not just something you can walk away from.

Triggers can come from anywhere at any time… a smell, a look/ glance, a vibe, a dream… how someone treats you. You are unable, as hard as you try, to turn it off.

You know that feeling you get when someone jumps out and scares you and you are on high alert for a few minutes? That alertness never goes away for me.

It’s like being trapped in a time capsule. Your surroundings change, but you’re forever in the state of your trauma

It’s like when you watch a scary movie and you’re on edge the entire time… except that’s how you live, all day, every day. You’re literally afraid of everything.

Do you have PTSD?

How does it affect your life?

Let me know in the comments down below


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I Dyed My Jet-Black Hair Blonde — & Am I Beyoncé Yet?

7 months, 17 days ago

Between hidden rainbows, jewel tones, and pantry-inspired shades (like red velvet and mulled wine), I’ve got serious whiplash from all the Instagram hair color trends. Each one seems more eccentric than the last, and honestly, most of them don’t work on women who look like me(brown skin, jet-black hair, natural curls). Because of this, I have no problem resisting all the hair-color hype.

But that all changed when I saw Beyoncé’s most recent style change (leave it to Queen Bey to make me a believer). During her On The Run II Tour, she debuted cocoa-colored hair with pieces of her iconic caramel blonde framing her face. Her stylist Neal Farina h dubbed the look “hot chocolate hair,” and I was in love. Finally, a color that looks good on brown skin and wouldn’t be considered last week’s hair trend after a few months passed. I was game.

But I haven’t dyed my hair since getting horrid yellow streaks in high school (which doesn’t really count if you ask me). And after that debacle, I was nervous permanent dye would permanently eff up my curls. Even though I wear my hair straight 90% of the time, I want to keep my ringlets as healthy as possible. So, I took the time to research colorists who cater to natural hair. After weeks of searching hashtags on Instagram, I found Jaxcee, color director at HairRules salon in New York City, who has years of experience bleaching curls and Afros. I knew my 3B hair would be safest in her hands.

Here’s a look at my hair before. Photographed by Kara Birnbaum

I walked into Hair Rules seeking hot chocolate hair with subtle highlights, but two weeks later I was practically blonde. Here are the things you need to know if you’re considering a drastic hair color change for your curls.

You don’t always need bleach to lighten your base.

To start, Jaxcee lightened my jet-black hair to create a brown base. She used Pravana permanent light brown hair color to lift my entire head to a warm cinnamon tint. “This color is ammoniated, and there’s no bleach or lightener,” Jaxcee explained to me. “You only need bleach to lift your base if you’re going more than four levels lighter.” In other words, since my virgin hair was only transforming to a light brown, no dye was required. After about 30 minutes, my base was lifted, and it was time to get on with the fun stuff: highlights.

Hand-painting is the best method for coloring curls.

Jaxcee used the foilyage technique to do my highlights. Foilyage is where foils and balayage meet. She hand painted my curls, then wrapped each highlight in foil to trap in heat. “Keeping the color in foils allows it to process better,” she says. To create warm blonde highlights (think: milk in your hot cocoa), Jaxcee mixed up three different bowls of bleach with different volumes of peroxide: 10,20, and 40, respectively. “Using different volumes of peroxide will lift the hair to different shades of blonde,” Jaxcee explains. “Some pieces will be lighter than others, so you can achieve a multidimensional look.” After placing my hair in foils, Jaxcee let it cook for 40 minutes. Once the bleach processed, I was back in the shampoo bowl to remove my foils.

A gloss keeps blonde from looking brassy.

After bleaching my hair, Jaxcee applied a gloss. “A gloss is a demi-permanent coloring agent that revives your hair color and makes it vibrant and shiny,” she says. To mimic the creamy froth on a fresh hot chocolate, she coated my bleached pieces in beige gloss. But a gloss can also be used to darken strands (more on that later), and they are easy to use at home between appointments to keep color fresh.

Here’s a photo of my hair after my first appointment with Jaxcee, where we did a single process and highlights.Photographed by Aimee Simeon

Bleach and split ends don’t mix.

The morning after my color session, I was really able to get a look at what my new hair looked like in natural sunlight. Running my fingers through my hair, I noticed my ends felt like straw and looked downright raggedy (I desperately needed a trim). “Bleach can emphasize already dry or damaged ends by drying them out further,” Jaxcee says. “Lighter color can also highlight things you wouldn’t normally see on jet-black hair.” So, I made an appointment to go back to Hair Rules for a cut. Anthony Dickey, owner of Hair Rules salon, chopped my fried, dead ends into a cropped lob for “sexy movement.”

At this stage, I also realized that I loved the lighter pieces surrounding my face so much I wanted more. Prior to coloring my hair, no one told me it was addictive, but as I envisioned myself as a blonde in the mirror, I quickly realized it’s a slippery slope. So I went back to Jaxcee, thirsty for more highlights.

Curls can survive bleach without looking limp and frazzled, but you have to do it the right way.

I was nervous that more highlights would completely fry my hair, but Jaxcee reassured me that natural hair can be color treated and still thrive when done correctly. The key to avoiding damage is not overprocessing and keeping your hair hydrated. “Single process color doesn’t damage hair texture per se,” she says. “But if hair is overprocessed from bleach, it can cause curls to loosen temporarily. If your hair is super dry leading up to the chemical process, your curls can also loosen.”

This time, we spent over an hour highlighting my hair to achieve more blonde. My entire head was covered in foils, and as I gazed in the mirror I was anxious: Am I going overboard? Would my hair match with my outfits? Would I have any curls left? But there was one step left before I could find out: shadowing.

Going darker at the roots will help the color grow out more naturally.

To contrast the vibrant highlights, Jaxcee warmed up my roots with the shadowing technique. “Shadowing is when you apply a darker gloss to the roots of the hair,” she explains. Once my roots were shadowed, she followed with a beige glaze to give my highlights a “coffee creamer” effect.

Photographed by Kara Birnbaum

The color process was a long one, but it was more than worth it in the end. When I faced the mirror after my hair was completely styled, to say that I was feelin’ myself would be a huge understatement. This must be what Beyoncé feels like after her hair appointments, was the only thing that danced through my mind.

Having colored curls requires a lot of maintenance.

Jaxcee sent me on my way with a list of homework. “Natural hair is delicate, and you can really cause damage if you don’t care for your hair color correctly,” she says. Her to-do list: Use a sulfate-free shampoo (or cleansing cream) to gently lift dirt from your hair, invest in a magical deep conditioner and use it weekly, avoid excessive heat styling, and — most importantly — keep your hair hydrated.

I have to admit, my hair was feeling drier than usual, so when my first wash day as a blonde baddie came around, I pulled out the big guns. I shampooed my hair with Kérastase Elixir Ultime Shampoo, which is oil enriched to add shine to dull hair. I followed with the sister conditioner and gently detangled my strands with a wide-tooth comb. Masking, according to Jaxcee, “is like giving your hair medicine,” so to treat my strands I mixed Kérastase Elixir Ultime Mask with the Vibrance-Boosting Mask by Frederic Fekkai. Both formulas are meant to restore dry hair and keep color vibrant. I let the cocktail sit on my hair for 15 minutes, and afterwards my curls felt incredibly slippery and were soft enough to run my fingers through. To style my hair, I used a color-safe leave-in conditioner, heat protectant, and finishing oil to straighten my hair and curl it into loose waves (like pictured above).

Deciding to dye my hair (thanks to Beyoncé) was one of the most freeing choices I’ve made in a long time. A fresh color gave me a fresh perspective on hair: Life is too short to hang on to hair you’re bored with. Do whatever you want with it — even if that means waking up one day and deciding to bleach it all. Maybe one day I’ll decide to return to my dark hair, but for now I’m content living on the brighter side.

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For F***’s Sake: Why Is Modern Flying Such A Soul-Crushing Time Suck?

7 months, 24 days ago

“It was an unforgettable nightmare,” says Donna Beegle. In 2015, she and her family were attempting to travel in coach class from Houston to Portland on a United flight. Midway through, they were removed from the aircraft by police. The reason? The pilot “didn’t feel safe” flying with Beegle’s then-15-year-old daughter, Juliette, who has autism.

Juliette was experiencing low blood sugar that day. Like many people with autism, she has some specific sensory issues, one of which being that she only eats hot food. The family hadn’t been able to get her anything prior to the flight, and when they politely asked if they might be able to purchase one of the extra hot meals being served to first class passengers, they were repeatedly told no by crew members. Over the course of about an hour, Juliette began crying and was visibly agitated. Eventually, Beegle says, they were given some rice from one of the meals.

After that, Juliette was able to calm down, and by the time the plane made an emergency landing in Utah, she had settled quietly into a movie. “My husband and I both turned to each other thinking, oh my gosh, somebody probably had a heart attack or something,” Beegle remembers. But suddenly, the paramedics arrived at their aisle. Beegle explained the situation and said that Juliette was fine now. “[The paramedic] rolled his eyes and he said, ‘Oh my God, another over-reactive flight attendant.’”

That should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t. The police were summoned. About ten minutes later, Beegle and her family were removed from the plane. They were eventually rebooked on a Delta flight. Beegle says both she and Juliette were “crushed” by in the incident and the lack of compassion displayed by United staff. They initially filed charges against the airline, but after the National Autism Society got involved and used the incident to broker with the airline for a staff training on how to better interact with people with developmental disabilities, they dropped all charges. Nevertheless, the interaction haunts them. “I cried and cried. I cried for the ignorance toward my daughter. It just broke my heart,” Beegle says.

This is just one entry on an ever-growing list of people who have been shamed, discriminated against, and otherwise wronged by major corporate airlines. There was the passenger who was violently dragged off an overbooked United flight, the dog who died on another flight by the same carrier after its owners were forced by staff to store it in an overhead bin, and the family with a toddler that was kicked off a Southwest flight because the child wouldn’t stop crying. A flight attendant reportedly instructed the two-year-old to “shut up.” All of these instances occurred in just the past year. This month, a passenger on a Delta flight sat in dog poop that had somehow been left in his seat from a service animal on a previous flight.

These stories and videos often go viral, followed by a brief period of outrage. We talk of boycotting. Sometimes there’s a lawsuit. (It’s usually settled out of court.) But rarely does any meaningful, lasting change occur. A few days or weeks pass, and there’s another ugly confrontation. Another child or animal or person with disabilities is mistreated. Another pile of dog shit, metaphorical or otherwise, waits atop a seat. The specifics may change, but the moral of the story does not: flying sucks.

Even if you’ve never personally experienced anything quite as dramatic as the Beegles did, air travel is, for many of us, a necessary inconvenience at best. If you have family members that live in different parts of the country or world, or have a job that requires you to visit different places regularly, you really don’t have much of a choice but to fly. Plus, traveling is fun and enriching. It expands our minds, fosters acceptance, and helps us to grow as human beings. But these days it feels like there are a lot of reasons to be wary of getting on a plane. There are the often inexplicable delays, which according to the Department of Transportation, happen on 15% of flights. There are the tiny seats, which have shrunken up to four inches over the past two decades, even as Americans themselves have gotten larger.

“The industry could make flying more comfortable, that meaning the bigger seats bigger with more legroom,” says Annette, a flight attendant with an unnamed carrier who asked that we not use her last name. “That would make it better for the passengers and the flight attendants. That would reduce revenue for the company and drastically increase airfares. We probably will never see this.”

The worst part, though, is that “you have to take whatever they give you because they can just take you off, and so you people put up with things they wouldn’t normally put up with,” says Beegle. “When you’re on a plane, you have no power.”

Illustration by Louisa Cannell 

The fact that we’re able to move people and objects from one place to another through the air is, if you think about it, very impressive. It’s safe to say air travel ranks pretty high within the canon of human achievement. But the evolution of flying from something absurdly rarefied to something increasingly akin to an airborne dictatorship leaves a lot of room for inquiry into why things are the way the are, what made them that way, and how they need to change.

There’s a constant push-pull within the airline industry that makes it feel like as soon as one thing gets better, another gets worse. For example, while an increasing number of planes have TV screens and charging ports, flights are still regularly delayed and overbooked. It’s the same with airports: While there are healthier food options and more electrical outlets, TSA security is time-consuming and seems to randomly change requirements based on which airport you’re in and even who happens to be on duty that day. There are many Band-Aids, but few opportunities to get at the larger issues of air travel, some of which have been festering below the surface for decades.

Kelsey Myers, a new mom who was traveling in May of this year, was attempting to board an already-delayed American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when she was told she’d have to check a bag containing her breast pump, even though she’d checked the rules on American’s website before the flight and the pump and its accoutrements had not been an issue when she had gone through her TSA screening that day.

It didn’t matter. The man in charge of boarding the flight was unfamiliar with all of this, and he wasn’t about to take Myers’ word for it. After an increasingly heated exchange, she requested he call his supervisor, who arrived on the scene seemingly uninterested in her side of the story.

“You’d think if it was a supervisor, they would know the rules, but also, if you are coming into a situation, that you would ask both parties involved what’s going on,” she remembers.

After more heated back-and-forth, she gave up and said she’d check the bag with the breast pump equipment in it, despite the fact that she needed it, and later observed there was plenty of room in the overhead bins. But that wasn’t the end of it.

He asked her: “‘do you have extra breast pump stuff in your luggage too?'” Myers recalls. “And I was like, actually I do have pumps in there. And then that’s when she responded with: ‘uh, lady, how many boobs do you have?’”

Illustration by Louisa Cannell 

Perhaps you’ve heard stories from your parents or grandparents about the golden days of air travel. In the 1950s and ‘60s, flying was a glamorous affair worth getting dressed up for. So-called “flying boats” glided through the sky as well-heeled passengers sipped stiff cocktails from the comfort of their plush, roomy seats. “Air hostesses” were, in a way, the equivalent of today’s Instagram influencers — young, beautiful, well-travelled and even better dressed. People smoked and socialized and ate three-course meals from 35,000 feet. It was like a cocktail party in the sky, and the sentimentality over this era is well-established in everything from Chrissy Teigen’s 2017 birthday party to a Pan Am-themed restaurant in Los Angeles, which for $300 a head recreates the experience of flying in the ‘50s.

But for all the storied glitz and glamour, flying was also prohibitively expensive, a luxury only afforded to the upper class. “The full fare was probably the equivalent of a secretary’s monthly salary,” according to Guillaume de Syon, Ph.D, a professor of history at Albright College. “Very few people could afford it.” And those pretty young airline staffers faced sexism and discrimination, forced to, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, meet job requirements like being unmarried, maintaining a maximum weight of 135 pounds, and wearing a “well-fitted girdle” at all times.

Competition between airlines to make flying more accessible began in the late ‘60s, De Syon says. The proliferation of fanjets enabled planes that could both fly faster and carry more passengers. Propeller planes faded away, and airlines began flying to a wider range of destinations.

A deregulation act passed in 1978 dissolved the Civil Aeronautics Board, which had strictly regulated airlines as a public utility, including disallowing them to sell tickets below a certain price point, and only approving one or two carriers to fly on a given route. For years, the government had hoped to curtail competition between airlines through these regulations.

Suddenly, it was a free market — meaning carriers could more or less fly where they wanted, charge what they wanted, and serve passengers how they wanted. The pomp and circumstance didn’t immediately disappear, but many in the industry see this as the beginning of the end for flying’s glamorous days. By the early 1980s, ultra low-cost airlines had sprung up everywhere, and others had to struggle to compete.

Deregulation also led to the shrinking of seats, which have been whittled down over the years from 18 to just 16 inches wide. The “pitch” of the seat, which accounts for legroom, has shrunk from 35 to 31 inches on average in coach class. Some seats, on budget airlines like Frontier and Spirit, have pitches that go as low as 28 inches. Meanwhile, American men and women are both significantly heavier on average than they were in 1960. Consumer advocates have been arguing against the so-called “incredible shrinking airline seat” for years, but earlier this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration rejected a rule that would have imposed a minimum size restriction on seats, arguing that seat size has no impact on passenger safety.

This isn’t to say that deregulation was a bad thing. Without it, the vast majority of people would probably not be able to afford to fly today. But by the time four planes were hijacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, the experience of flying was already trending toward the unpleasant. Then—quite literally overnight—there was an extreme tightening of security measures, which extended from the substantial pre-boarding procedures we’ve grown accustomed to today (shoes off, laptops out, pockets empty, etc.) to heightened levels of caution from staffers when dealing with passengers aboard the aircrafts themselves.

There was also a sudden, drastic reduction in passenger demand. According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines experienced a $22 billion revenue drop between 2000 and 2001. That led to a government bailout of several airlines, lest the whole American air travel system effectively collapse.

In an effort to recoup funds lost after the attacks, airlines began charging extra for things like checked luggage, and even as their profit margins have corrected, those fees have mysteriously stuck around. A joint study by IdeaWorks Company and Cartrawler revealed that in 2017, global airline carriers took home a whopping $82 billion from these kinds of fees, with $57 billion of that going to US-based carriers.

“It’s a bit of a cliche, but 9/11 took away the innocence of flying — the sense that you could go and, for example, meet your party at the plane in United States. There were some very civilized elements that still existed in the US that were gone after that,” de Syon says.

Meanwhile, in the past decade, mega-mergers of airlines have led to decreased competition, which means pricier flights and increasingly lackluster customer service. “You have four airlines that control over 80 percent of traffic [in the US],” explains Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare, a company that curates deals on flights and hotels. “So the fact that each of those airlines has effectively divided up the country by city and there’s only a handful of cities with really, really good competition has essentially made it more difficult for people to find a cheaper ticket there.”

The so-called “big four” that Seaney refers to are American, United, Delta, and Southwest, and it’s estimated that nine out of ten domestic flights are operated by one of those carriers. If you wanted to boycott one of these airlines, but you still want to visit your parents without defaulting on your student loan, the logistics are not in your favor.

From the perspective of flight attendants, it’s passenger behavior that is at the root of the problem.

“We are to de-escalate when we can, and assume we are being videoed. If I am unable to de-escalate, I would leave and have a flying partner step in. She may have a totally different approach that works. We do not want any confrontations onboard,” explains Annette, the flight attendant. She says that within the company she works for, there have been numerous conversations about how to minimize these type of flare-ups between employees and passengers. And that the first priority is to focus on safety, not comfort.

Annette cites factors like sleep deprivation, stress, and excessive consumption of alcohol as common reasons why some passengers become aggravated on and around airplanes, and take their anger out on them. The high cost of airport food and parking, hassles they may have experienced getting through TSA, and confusion navigating the concourse can also rev up passengers, she explains. None of these are factors the airlines themselves have much control over, but, flight attendants bare the brunt of the complaints, she says. “A passenger finally finds their gate, and they hustle to get onboard, find their seat, and put their bag in the overhead compartment. Just as they think they get to relax, here I come, asking them to put their tray table up.”

Illustration by Louisa Cannell 

And yet, it’s likely none of this will ever get fixed. Because even in an era where everything from feminine hygiene products to money transfers have been “disrupted” by eagle-eyed innovators, no Elon Musk-type has really emerged with big promises to do it all better. The closest is Richard Branson, whose beloved airline Virgin was absorbed and then retired by Alaska Airlines in 2017 following a struggle for profitability. Branson referred to the watering down and eventual termination of the brand as a “castration.” Because Virgin was a US-registered airline, Branson and his foreign businesses were unable to control voting interests during the acquisition

“It was a long and hard journey but in the end you are the best consumer airline in America. You invented concepts like ‘moodlighting’ and ‘on-demand food,’ you reinvented cabin amenities from seat-to-seat chat to Netflix in the sky. You chose warm and soothing pink to purple moodlighting that transitions based on outside light,” Branson wrote in a farewell letter to the airline. “You proved it is possible to run a business with a strategy that does not rely on low fares and a dominant position alone: you attracted premium flyers with a fun and beautiful guest experience.”

There are several companies, including FareCompare, Hopper, and Hipmunk, who purport to make finding a deal on flights easier. And, hey, when you’re paying something like $200 (as opposed to $500) for a flight, maybe you’re less likely to be annoyed when the seat is small and the food is bad and it’s delayed an hour and a half.

But when it comes to actually revamping the experience of flying, that’s easier said than done, apparently even for someone with the resources, vision, and business acumen of Richard Branson. As you might imagine, it costs a lot to run an airline. There are countless regulations and tons of red tape to navigate. And it’s almost impossible to compete with industry behemoths like American and United, even as they continue to bungle interactions with passengers. While most airlines do undoubtedly want to create better PR for themselves, there’s little financial reason for them to make real, substantive changes. For a country that so values competition and choice, we have very little of it.

A 2016 survey by Airlines for America shows that, for all we like to complain, more people are flying than ever before. As Annette revealed, the biggest thing on carrier’s minds isn’t how to make flying more pleasant, or even how to cut down on heated altercations between their staff and passengers, but simply how to squeeze more people onto aircrafts to meet this demand (and, yes, turn a profit).

Thatcher A. Stone, a prominent aviation lawyer who has argued cases for people discriminated against or harmed by airlines, thinks there are accessible solutions: “If they gave you a box of chocolates, a pair of earplugs and either a toy for a kid or a newspaper for an adult as you walked on the airplane or as you left the gate… [Passengers would] have a sugar high from the chocolates. They’d plug their earphones in and they wouldn’t bother anybody. They’d listen instead of talk, and then they’d read and watch, the kids would play with the toy. But [the airlines are] not smart enough to do that, which is unfortunate.”

To be fair, certain airlines are taking small steps in that direction: Delta, which already offers complimentary beer and wine on all international flights, recently revealed that it’s testing out offering three-course meals and gratis champagne in economy class on flights between Portland and Tokyo. American has decided to allow early boarding for people with nut allergies, giving them time to properly sterilize their seat and tray table. These small comforts probably won’t do a lot to mitigate the stress felt by people regularly victimized by racial profiling, sizeism, and other types of discrimination that still run rampant on planes, in airports, and during TSA screenings. And they also won’t fix the problem of delayed flights and insensitive staffers and insulting $75 vouchers. But they are, at least, an acknowledgment on the parts of airlines that a lot of people are pissed off — and that if there is, for example, the ever-looming threat of accidentally sitting in dog poop (or something like that), they have every right to be.

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Manchester United look suddenly, surprisingly competent

7 months, 24 days ago

Jose Mourinho is acting up like himself and his team is starting to look like one.

Something strange is happening with Manchester United. Something unexpected; something unsettling. Something that you might almost — impossibly, unthinkably — call competent.

Martin Keown, on the television, called it United’s best ever result in Europe. Martin Keown, on the television, was being silly. Still, United’s 2-1 victory over Juventus was a cracking result, and it came attached to a performance that wasn’t perfect, that creaked and groaned in places, but that made quite a lot of sense.

Beating Juventus in Turin is, however you manage, a decent achievement. Nobody else has managed it this season; only Lazio, Napoli, and Real Madrid managed it last. As a win it relied on a few excellent saves from David de Gea, some profligate finishing from Juventus, and some magnificent late Arsenal-ing from Wojciech Szczęsny. But United went 1-0 down to Juventus a few weeks ago, and meekly accepted their fate. Here they didn’t.

Indeed, it’s becoming a habit: concede, then come back. It’s probably not as useful a habit as taking the lead, controlling a game, and winning, but it’s not a bad placeholder in the meantime. Since Jose Mourinho woke up on the morning of Oct. 6 to find the story of his imminent sacking all over the papers, United have played six games. They’ve conceded first in five of them, and haven’t kept a clean sheet in any. But they’ve only lost the one.

A kind of attacking shape is starting to appear as well, predicated on a move away from the tired, goal-shy figure of Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian may be injured, or may just be taking a moment to gather his thoughts, but in his absence United’s attack has been a shifting thing. Alexis Sanchez started against Juve, with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard for company, which meant that United had nobody to fire low-percentage long balls and inaccurate crosses towards.

In place of that, there was movement, pace, energy, a little bit of trickery. Even Sanchez looked a little revived, causing more problems for his opponents than his teammates. Meanwhile, Martial is starting to purr again. Admittedly, this didn’t lead to a grand weight of chances against Juventus’ brutal central defenders, and both goals came from set pieces.

But it did mean that United looked a better kind in their toothless. A team with teeth coming, perhaps, not long gone. Teething problems, not gummy decrepitude. We’ve probably spent too much time talking about teeth. Let’s move on.

Add to that a settled central defensive partnership — of all the defenders Mourinho despises, he despises Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof the least — the re-emergence of Ander Herrera in midfield, and a sudden happy knack for substitutions, and United are starting to come together into something.

This thing may not be good enough to win the Champions League. It may not even be good enough to qualify for it next time around. But it’s already better than whatever that was that lost to West Ham.

There’s a simple test for when United are in a good moment: If we take it as a given that Mourinho will always be acting up, come rain or shine, win or lose. And in Turin, as he ambled around the pitch with his hand to his ear, then laughed about it in the press conference afterwards, he looked like he was having fun again.

This may not be particularly concerning to Europe’s settled big beasts. Manchester City, in particular, will be eyeing United’s still-rickety defense hungrily ahead of Sunday’s derby. But over the last month and a half, ever since rumors of Mourinho’s imminent dismissal came to a head, United have looked like a team getting better.

Which is nice. Because before that they looked like 11 men with a headache, being shouted at by a man with a toothache. And that’s not a Super League that anybody’s signing up for.

Read more: sbnation.com

How “False Expertise” Can Damage Your Business—and How to Protect It

8 months, 24 days ago

When I last checked, there were 987,119 “thought leaders” on LinkedIn. Soon, there’ll be more than a million. How many of those do you trust?

“False expertise” is misidentified competence: We perceive expertise where there is none or evaluate expertise based on irrelevant factors.

False experts include legions of self-appointed “gurus” and “visionaries” who saturate social media with bad advice. But they’re not the only sources.

Our brains are hardwired to take shortcuts that bias our identification of expertise, helping charlatans thrive and warping our decision-making.

Why are we so bad at this?

Why we fall for false expertise

1. We’re bad at making rational decisions. Thinking, Fast and Slow, the seminal book by Nobel Prize–winning economist Daniel Kahneman, makes a clear case for human vulnerability in decision-making.

We like to think that we make rational, “slow” decisions. Most of the time, however, we’re using our much faster, less rational system to choose. It’s one reason we continue to fall for false expertise.

2. We want to validate our own perspective. Khalil Smith, the Practice Lead for Diversity and Inclusion at the NeuroLeadership Institute, summarizes the biases that lead us toward false expertise:

Similarity. “People like me are better than people who aren’t like me.”
Experience. “My perceptions of the world must be accurate.”
Expedience. “If it feels right, it must be true.”

Because of those biases, explains University of Utah Professor Bryan Bonner, we focus on “proxies of expertise” rather than expertise itself.

Those proxies can be anything from height (we tend to elect the taller political candidate) to gregariousness in a meeting or the extracurricular activities on a resume.

3. We fall victim to the Halo Effect. Even if we initially judge someone based on real expertise, we often overextend that evaluation—a cognitive bias known as the Halo Effect.

E. L. Thorndike first demonstrated the Halo Effect in the military by showing the high correlation among soldiers’ ratings for physique, intelligence, leadership, and character.

grass flower haloThe Halo Effect falsely extends our perception of someone’s expertise to areas beyond it.

In the modern office, if someone has great creative ideas, the Halo Effect makes us more likely to admire that same person’s copywriting or management skills.

4. We overestimate our knowledge. Some people knowingly claim expertise they don’t have. Others aren’t aware of their deficiencies. The Dunning-Kruger effect highlights how those with the least knowledge are also the least capable of recognizing their ignorance, but subtler aspects of self-assessment affect perceived expertise, too.

How much do you know about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? What about Acadia National Park? Or Monroe, Montana? If you’re familiar with all three, you’re not alone. But you’re also mistaken: There is no Monroe, Montana.

Researchers have shown that a higher self-assessment of topic knowledge leads to a greater likelihood that we’ll claim false expertise (like knowing about a city that doesn’t exist.)

Not every motivation is malevolent—our brains may work harder to find any connection for topics we know well. But it’s nonetheless a cautionary tale about the “illusion of knowledge” or “overclaiming,” a condition to which experts are particularly vulnerable.

5. Traditional barriers to expertise have diminished. It costs less than $100 per year to run a website, and—unlike the print publishing era—no reputable editor or printing costs stand in the way of immediate, uncensored, worldwide distribution.

A conspiracy theorist may have a better-looking website (or larger Twitter following) than a renowned academic, and it’s left to the consumer to push aside those proxies.

flat earth society tweetTwitter verification adds credibility to blatant falsehoods.

The digital era also tempts us, David C. Baker writes, to engage in “expertise of convenience.” It takes only a few minutes to create a new webpage that targets a subset of your market, even if that market is outside of your wheelhouse.

Marketing campaigns, Baker argues, are now chalkboard specials: readily changeable menus of expertise that require no long-term commitment—unlike the 20-foot neon sign above a restaurant.

The result of these vulnerabilities is that we hire the wrong candidates, listen to the wrong people, and fail to differentiate our businesses.

How false expertise leads us to hire the wrong people

Resumes are noisy:

The name at the top may suggest gender and ethnicity.
A college choice may betray class status.
Extracurriculars may create a bond—or distance—between you and a candidate.

And none of those elements has anything to do with how well that person can do the job.

Research confirms our focus on “looking glass merit,” which results from interviewers—most of whom have minimal training—judging a candidate based on similarity. In short, we seek to validate our own characteristics: Hiring someone who’s like us reinforces our own value.

Familiarity, in particular, has dangers. One of our cognitive system’s favorite shortcuts is “familiar = safe.” The “mere exposure” effect helps explain why we continue to push similar songs to the top of the Billboard charts and why high-level brand awareness can ultimately lead to a sale.

In hiring, it means that our strongest biases exist where we least expect them—with characteristics so familiar as to seem standard. Just as our brain’s craving for familiarity swings wide the door for underqualified candidates, it also blocks pathways for those from different backgrounds.

(If individual hiring biases remind you of those demonstrated by prospects during a proposal process, they should.)

Mitigating the impact of false expertise on hiring
woman playing instrument“Blind auditions” reduced the noise in orchestra auditions.

Reduce the noise. The implementation of “blind auditions” for leading orchestras—where applicants were heard but not seen—increased female membership from just 6% to 21% in a little over two decades.

Microsoft rolled out an “Inclusive Hiring” effort that’s tailored to those who would never make it through a traditional hiring process, like exceptional coders on the autism spectrum who may not have linear employment histories or engaging interview skills.

Other companies, like Blendoor, have developed technology platforms that automatically strip out some of the “noisiest” parts of resumes.

Strengthen the signal. Reducing the noise also increases the signal. And honing that signal, Smith explains, requires advance preparation. In the case of hiring, it means asking, “What is it that we’re actually hiring for?”

Smith concedes that no single process can help organizations answer that question, but he outlined a loose order of operations that, simple as it may be, is too often ignored:

First, define the skills and characteristics that are essential for job performance.
Then identify the questions that you need to ask potential employees.

Even with the right people in an organization, false expertise remains a daily threat.

How false expertise elevates bad opinions and strategies

Managers and employees encounter false expertise in three ways:


The issues associated with promotions parallel those for hiring—an unstructured promotion process risks greater deference to false expertise.

The other sources of false expertise, however, bring their own challenges.

Meetings: Being the expert doesn’t mean you’ll be heard

Groups are superior to individuals in recognizing an answer as correct when it comes up. But when everybody in a group is susceptible to similar biases, groups are inferior to individuals, because groups tend to be more extreme than individuals. – Daniel Kahneman

As Kahneman explained in an interview, groups are overly optimistic and suppress individual dissent. (He cites the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 as a classic example.) That can lead to a “risky shift”—a polarized consensus based on false expertise, or, as it’s known more commonly, groupthink.

What makes opinions stand out in a meeting? The research is divided. One study demonstrated that even when meeting attendees recognize expertise (i.e. the group knows who the most knowledgeable person is), groups take the expert-recommended path just 62% of the time.

In other words, the problem is not simply recognizing expertise but also deferring to it. How often (or loudly or persuasively) someone speaks may serve as the proxy for expertise. As Smith cautioned: “Volubility is not trust.”

In contrast, a study that reviewed audio recordings from NASA meetings found that the amount of “air time” affected the perceived influence more than the actual influence, which usually deferred to “real” expertise.

Ways to focus meetings on real expertise

two people meeting

The push and pull between research on System 1 (fast) and System 2 (slow) thinking won’t resolve soon. Nonetheless, there are ways to combat the impact of a particularly charismatic meeting attendee:

Set up “if-then” plans. According to Smith, if you’re agreeing with a dominant personality (or a beautiful slide deck), then get a quieter person to paraphrase the same message after the meeting (or review the argument in plain-text notes). Is it still as persuasive?

There are other strategies, too, such as one put forth by Utah’s Bonner:

Anonymize ideation. Write out ideas on index cards or in shared documents, then review them anonymously. You’ll judge them only on the strength of the idea, not the person pitching it.

In some ways, reducing false expertise in hiring and meeting management is easier—these are decisions and processes that happen over and over again.

It’s far harder to limit the impact of false expertise on one-time strategic decisions.

Strategy: Adding accountability to decision-making

Even if you could neutralize false expertise entirely, strategic decisions would still be wrong from time to time. Business climates change rapidly. Unexpected events occur.

More likely, you’ll fail to notice a bias, or recognize one but not know how to remove it. Strategic decisions are some of the largest decisions your organizations makes, but because each one is unique, it’s more difficult to defend them against false expertise.

Ways to focus strategic decisions on real expertise

At the very least, Smith offers, document your current decision-making to make it easier to review mistakes in the future:

Detail your process. Write out an explicit thought process: “We decided X, which led us to conclude Y, which is why we’re going with strategy Z.”
Incentivize awareness. Celebrate moments when team members identify flawed thinking or decision-making—encourage people to identify bias.
Slow it down. Take a short break before making a big decision. It increases the chances of making a “slow,” System 2 decision.
Host a “pre-mortem.” Assume your planned decision was wrong and work backward to understand why. You may uncover current biases.

The right people and right processes are critical components to take on the most challenging work—differentiating your business from those who are all too happy to claim unwarranted authority.

How to differentiate yourself in an ocean of false experts

Hiring and management are internal challenges. But the most frustrating aspect of false expertise may be its elevation of undeserving people and businesses to the top of the industry.

Differentiating your business depends on understanding how the hucksters got there and to how to fight them off.

The big business of “thought leadership”

We’ve poisoned the well. Political scientist Daniel Drezner argues that our society traded skeptical, analytical “public intellectuals” for simplistic, rah-rah “thought leaders.”

In the words of Matthew Stewart, author of The Management Myth: Why the Experts Keep Getting It Wrong, we’ve fallen for “corporate mysticism.” Why have thought leaders run amok? Because being a “thought leader” has become incredibly lucrative.

Certainly, in digital marketing, it’s a shortcut to success. Consumers don’t know a good agency from a bad one, so social media presence or a major speaking gig becomes an easy proxy.

PR professionals and marketers have recognized the potential value of that proxy and shoved their leaders into the spotlight. Some CEOs join Twitter, in other words, not because they engage honestly and regularly but because it generates leads or boosts stock prices.

When marketing goals are the primary motivator—not real expertise or a desire to share it—Minimum Viable Expertise proliferates.

How an obsession with “growth” blunts expertise

In Baker’s The Business of Expertise, he outlines a path for the development of “hard-won, noninterchangeable expertise.” Baker sees a continuum: on the left is specialization; on the right is general knowledge.

Expertise grows as you move to the left, but the number of potential clients increases as you move to the right. For example, a social media marketing agency for credit unions (Baker’s example) has tremendous expertise but limited market appeal. A generic “digital marketing agency,” on the other hand, can pitch any client but has no niche.

The biggest mistake that many make, he contends, is drawing a massive circle around all experience so that no opportunities fall outside. As Baker argues, you must have the courage to specialize to differentiate yourself and justify a price premium.

That means declining bad-fit opportunities for client work, which, in the near term, slows business growth. The challenge, of course, is that industry publications continue to laud the fastest growing companies—they hand the biggest microphone to those with the least expertise.

Here’s how to keep that from happening.

How to establish expertise for your business

[This post contains video, click to play]

1. Credentials will not rescue you.

In his book, Matthew Stewart highlights the proliferation of MBAs and laments the shallowness of course offerings. (McKinsey admitted that its MBA-less employees “are at least as successful” as those with credentials.) As Stewart argues, an MBA is training; experience is education.

Smith carried the point forward: Credentials can become part of the false expertise marketplace—a degree doesn’t guarantee job performance and, in some cases (like an obsession with Ivy League grads), may be a distraction.

For marketing, in particular, credentials are lacking. Credentials successfully separated doctors from snake-oil salesmen, but, as Smith noted, that process took decades, and the stakes for marketing likely will never justify such a rigorous framework.

2. Focus on process, not just results.

Does your website highlight thinking or implementation? Baker asks the same question in his book. After all, in the marketing world, what website doesn’t have case studies with triple-digit growth or a stack of impressive client logos below the fold?

“The past is not always a great predictor,” noted Smith. “You have to show your work.” That commitment to detailing process, not just results, is key to separating real experts from false ones.

“There’s a world of difference between experienced UX designers and people who read a blog post about it,” explained DePalma Studios’ Zach Watson. “One of the most important is having a proven research process.” (You can find ours here.)

“However,” Watson continued, “Most of our target market doesn’t understand this, so we’ve made it a huge part of our content strategy. By educating our audience on the critical nature of user research, we’re putting distance between us and other agencies that use graphic designers to do UX work.”

3. Challenge false expertise.

“You have an opportunity to draw a distinction between bad operators and what you do,” Smith explained. How? Educate and undermine. It’s not enough to share best practices—you must also call out false expertise.

As Smith envisioned, “Whether you buy from us or not, let’s educate you with what ‘good’ looks like. I may not get your business right now, but you’ll understand that I’m doing this for your benefit and my benefit. It’s mutually beneficial.”

It’s also the long play: To push experts forward and bury its false prophets, you must change consumer thinking about your entire industry.

4. Establish authority first.

Widespread false expertise can also undermine preferred marketing strategies. Dr. Nicole Prause, a neuroscience researcher, has continually battled an array of pseudo-science that plagues her field of sexual physiology.

For her company, Liberos, she abandoned a preferred, casual tone (such as using her first name) to keep signals of expertise at the forefront. Prause also focuses on outreach to credible media sources and cites media interviews on her website—a typically unnecessary approach for a neuroscience laboratory engaged in academic research.


Rooting out false expertise can improve the hiring process by reducing the “noise” of resumes. In meeting management, anonymous ideation or post-meeting fact-checking can diminish the influence of a persuasive presentation. And a pre-mortem on strategic decisions can spot biases you’ve so far ignored.

Improvements in each of those areas make it easier for you to hone your real expertise and differentiate your business from the hundreds (or thousands) of “thought leaders” whose haphazard growth, they believe, conveys expertise.

When I spoke with Smith, he was waiting on a flight at Dulles. He relayed an example unfolding before him. In this instance, the “experts” were potential security threats: “TSA is constantly trying to read behavior. But are they looking for a certain demographic or style? The way someone looks or sounds? Are they doing due diligence?”

Combating false expertise—in your head or others’—isn’t easy. “You can’t do this kind of rigorous decision-making for everything,” conceded Smith. If you’re hungry, he implored, just pick a restaurant.

“But do the hard work and avoid lazy decisions.”

The post How “False Expertise” Can Damage Your Business—and How to Protect It appeared first on CXL.

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Real Doctor Reacts to THE GOOD DOCTOR #2 | Medical Drama Review | Doctor Mike

8 months, 24 days ago

The good doctor is becoming my favorite show on TV let alone my favorite medical drama. I really have come to appreciate the writing/humor of the show.

I think it is so important to be able to not only create a show that is interesting but also keeping it medically accurate and give a great example of how one with autism can strive to new heights.

If we can get this video up to 100,000 likes I can use that to try and get Freddie Highmore to do a review with us so smash that like button!!!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this episode of Real Doctor Watches The Good Doctor / Real Doctor Reacts to The Good Doctor . If you want me to continue making this doctor reaction video please give it a like and leave me a comment on which tv drama or show you’d like for me to review next. Love you all!

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Dr. Mikhail Varshavski D.O. ( dr mike )

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Why I advocate for Direct Support Professionals

10 months ago

“…I believe that grandparents (who often have the time and resources that working parents may not have) serve an important role which extends far outside the borders of their own families: to fight on behalf of this dedicated faction of people who care for those with disabilities.”

This guest blog post was written by Kit Peterson, a grandmother of a young man on the autism spectrum. She is an advocate for fair pay for the direct support professionals who have become family to people like her grandson. 


Despite how difficult it was to accept our family’s reality, we all jumped in to support Karla. Jonathan received every service available: occupational, speech, and physical therapies, special education, and more. The interactions with the professionals behind these services became more frequent than anyone could have imagined when he was first diagnosed. These folks offered more than professional expertise; they offered compassion, consistency, and care for a child who needed them to help him navigate his complicated world.

By the age of 8, Karla knew it was time to place Jonathan in full-time residential care, a very painful juncture in a family’s life. We had come to understand more than we ever imagined learning about the neurological disorder that was initially such an enigma to us, and were continuing to learn every day. One of the biggest discoveries made was that people on the autism spectrum typically need a highly structured, customized atmosphere to make real progress, which is why residential settings become a must for children like Jonathan. A cornerstone piece of the residential experience is having staff who, by virtue of the fact that they are with the students and residents all day every day, learn the intricacies of each person’s unique needs and strengths. Like a parent or grandparent, it is that breadth and depth of knowledge which direct care professionals develop that can catapult kids like Jonathan to success. And it is their dependable, consistent presence that gives people with autism the much-needed continuity and routine in their lives while fulfilling the universal need we all share for love and support.

Sadly, direct support professionals are so grossly underpaid that many are forced to leave agencies for better-paying jobs. They earn, on average, $10-$13 hourly, but their job descriptions encompass everything from complying with OSHA regulations and managing medical treatment and educational needs to keeping people with developmental disabilities (some of whom are completely nonverbal or present with serious behavioral issues) safe, healthy, and happy. Yes, it’s requires the type of support a full-time parent would provide. At a rate which is barely over minimum wage. Imagine that: these are the people who bring a child with autism to the hospital in the middle of the night. They are the ones who reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. They collaborate with other staff. They have to be familiar with laws protecting those with disabilities. They communicate regularly with families. They often have to work overtime (no matter how exhausted they are) or give up holidays to stay with the residents who don’t have family who can bring them home. And yet, working at a fast-food restaurant often comes with better compensation. So, many of these wonderful caregivers understandably opt out, leaving kids and adults just like Jonathan mourning the loss of someone who feels like family – which can result in regression, an increase in difficult behaviors, and of course, depression – all totally counterproductive when they are working so hard to learn and progress.

Today, at 84 years old, I have become passionate about this issue, and travel to Albany, NY to lobby for better pay for direct care professionals. With 1 in 59 now diagnosed with autism and all of us living healthier, longer lives, I believe that grandparents (who often have the time and resources that working parents may not have) serve an important role which extends far outside the borders of their own families: to fight on behalf of this dedicated faction of people who care for those with disabilities. This is our responsibility to our grandchildren. For every grandparent of someone with autism, there is a path to helping hundreds of others who are impacted: it begins right in Albany, but can reach far beyond New York State. We must raise our voices on behalf of a group who often cannot speak for themselves; they are our grandchildren. They need direct support professionals who can afford to stay in their positions and provide the consistent care that serves to help them live the most fulfilling lives possible. And we need to do our part to help make that happen.

If you love someone with autism, I urge you to get involved.

Read more: autismspeaks.org