One clear sign of the End Time is when the media starts publishing my opinions on the economy.


Worse yet, now I have to worry that, for the benefit of the world, Warren Buffett will send his goons to kill me. As long as I'm a dead man walking, I might as well make things worse before I go. Here now, more of my opinions about the economy.

I wonder what people mean when they say the economy will recover in 2010. The only way that can happen is if another irrational bubble forms thus creating an illusion of wealth similar to our previous illusions. If you take illusions out of the equation, there isn't anything to get "back" to. The wealth was never there in the first place.

I said before that I think we're on the cusp of a change as fundamental as the industrial revolution. But this time the change will be on the consumption side, not the production side. As a society we have dabbled with recycling and such, but it has always been fairly optional. There was no real penalty for waste.

The coming consumption revolution won't be strictly for the benefit of the environment. It will be an economic necessity, driven largely by the huge numbers of retired poor. There simply won't be enough stuff for everyone if waste is allowed.

The Internet will make this revolution possible. I've already written about the concept of ride sharing becoming widespread if the Internet and smart phones allow you to easily find rides going your way. That's just one example of how society could adapt to having less money without losing much in terms of happiness. Here's another example:

In California we're facing a severe budget deficit, and this will demand cuts in education among other things. I can imagine a future economy where everyone is home schooled over the Internet, and the average result is an improvement. With the Internet you could leverage the best teaching methods to the entire country. No one gets the bad teacher or the disruptive class. There are no bullies and no cliques.

Obviously you can see lots of problems with this approach. We assume that kids gain a lot from the social interaction of being in school. And of course personal attention from a teacher is important. But we have enough home schooled kids in the world to test that theory. My guess is that as long as home schooled kids have friends in the neighborhood, and siblings, they socialize just fine. The social skills can be learned on sports teams and at Girl Scouts. And I suspect a parent can give better personal attention than a teacher with 20 students.

Poor kids don't have computers and Internet connections. But subsidizing them would be far cheaper in taxes than sending them to school. And suddenly everyone would get the same quality of education.

I'm reading an excellent book called Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. One of the topics involves the huge academic disadvantage absorbed by kids who are the younger ones in a given class. Eleven months is a huge difference in maturity when you are in second grade. Home schoolers could start grades on their birthdays, and always be at the same maturity level as their peers. That change alone can buy you a big gain in average academic achievement.

Gladwell also discusses the disadvantage of having no school in the summer. It's a legacy of our farming past, with no current utility. Every summer the American kids lose ground to the Japanese kids who school year round. Home schooling would have no long breaks. Another problem solved.

This is the sort of change that could never happen if the economy was in a happy bubble and it seemed that money was abundant. But as the reality of our economic situation settles in, unthinkable options become thinkable. The good news is that the unthinkable options will have lots of advantages.

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Jan 6, 2009
Your assertion that summer breaks have no utility parallels a basic assumption that going to school does, in fact, have a great deal of utility and naturally more school would make people more successful (a dubious assumption) while being able to decide yourself what to do with your time has no utility. People who have kids and haven't been in school for a while often seem to think this, and have forgotten that you use maybe 10% of what they taught you in school - at best.

When was the last time you wrote a 5 paragraph essay? How many hours did you spent memorizing physics formulas and geometry equations that you will never, ever, ever use again in your life. How much of history class do you actually remember, do you think? Was memorizing the dates of battles a worthwhile endeavor that you continue to use into adulthood? How much of your schooling do you use in your current occupation - how many "draw a cartoon" classes did you take in high school and college? None whatsoever?

People look at their summer vacation and think about the amount of time they "wasted". But it's only a fair comparison if you compare that to the amount of time they wasted going to school. I'm not saying school is worthless - I'm just saying that in reality, you put up with the 90% of the worthless to get the 10% of the very useful. And I'd say that my summer breaks were at least 10% useful information. I went to the boundary waters during summer break - something I still do today. I got a job and learned about spending money, making both good choices and big mistakes along the way - something far more valuable than anything I learned in geometry class. And frankly, one summer I started watching tv pretty much all day. And you know what? I learned that being free of any sort of work or responsibility with absolutely nothing to do was no more fun than being overworked.

Americans still have summer breaks from school because, unlike the Japanese, we still place great value on creativity and people need time to express and develop their creativity. If all we want to do is copy others and refine products that other people invented than by all means, we should have year round school and no breaks.
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Jan 6, 2009
I've also noticed the mainstream media is starting to cover this whole "the world ends in 2012" thing. Not saying you're as wacky as they are Scott. But you do have to wonder what's going on.
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Jan 6, 2009
With regard to sharing, it's already been around for a while:
Jan 6, 2009
Ultimately the amount the world can consume depends on the amount it can produce, not how much "money" it has. The asset price bubbles would seem to have little real effect on the ability to produce, so I don't see this future of less consumption being forced on us. (We may choose to work less and consume less of course, but that doesn't seem likely ).

Of course, if one adult in every family is forced to stay home and watch their kids learn on the internet, we certainly will produce a lot less.
Jan 6, 2009
You better hide Scott- the teacher's unions are taking out contracts on your life right now.
Jan 6, 2009
There are a couple of problems with home schooling. One, in order for parents to pay the bills they have to work. In one parent households, home schooling is not an option since they have to leave their kids home alone. Maybe telecommuting can fix some of this, but not all jobs can be done that way. Two, home schooling has less oversight than schools. Several religious fundamentalist don't want to send their kids to school now and choose to home school which leads to teaching of "Intelligent Design" instead of evolution because less educated parents disagree with highly educated professors with PHDs. I prefer to let the experts establish the curriculum and make sure it gets taught, instead of letting parents cherry pick the knowledge they want their kids to learn.
Jan 6, 2009
I like the fact that kids are locked away in a building all day when I'm not home to guard my stuff...
Jan 6, 2009
Hi Scott - if the education topic grabs your interest, you should try John Taylor Gatto. His first book, The Underground History of American Education, is online (complete) at http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/index.htm.

We've all known that modern education is more about baby-sitting and social programming than it is about actual education, but it turns out most of us didn't realize the half of it. This book shatters a lot of illusions, and provides evidence that our scholastic system was purposely intended - by the people who developed it - to dumb us all down.
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