Enriched by Immigrants

Even as the Freedom Caucus and their MAGA friend demonize immigrants, it might be good to pause and give thanks for the immigrants in our lives.  Right now the most visible one is my DREAMer exercise instructor, from Mexico, who is a joy to sweat with. Then there are the people who come into my retirement community who tend lawns, clean houses, recover roofs, and work in the Health Care Center across the street.

A different set of immigrants enriched my education across cultures.  I worked with a  group of three women, married to graduate Students at Clemson University, from three different countries—Turkey, Libya, and China.  I was a volunteer teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language). They were all Muslims, all had ambitions—one wanted to be a dentist—and they were anxious to become sufficiently competent in English to pas the Graduate Record Exam.  I learned a lot about their religion, the family life, and their experience of the United States.  We spent one class practicing English by reading aloud from the college newspaper!

A larger group of immigrants who affected the way I experience the world were students in my graduate classes in policy studies from 2003 to 2017 who came from everywhere—Mexico, Uruguay, India, The Bahamas, Nigeria,  Angola, Burundi, Argentina, China, Thailand.  Both my behavioral economics class and my ethics and public policy class presented interesting cross-cultural challenges, because the way the economy works in the United States is quite different from heir experiences, and their cultures offered different perspectives on ethical questions. I also had to recognize that one student from Uruguay or Thailand was not necessarily a representative of the “species,” brought home when I had two students from Nigeria, one Catholic, one Muslim, disputing the issue of reproductive choice!

A final group that taught me some useful lessons were not immigrants but also definitely not Americans. They were suddenly liberated citizens of the former USSR, whom I encountered on a two week mission to Bulgaria in the 1990s after the fall of Communism. While my primary role was to help them sort out the role of local government in a market system, we also traded stereotypes and puzzlements about each other’s cultures. We got used to hearing from certain individuals who wanted to use the question and answer time to attack the evils of capitalism, and my partner Jim and I had a secret code when we thought that was coming. Th code was “central casting.” We invoked it when the speaker appeared to look and talk like someone sent over from central casting to play the Russian. During our final session, I was on question duty when a man spoke who was the spitting image of Nikita Khrushchev.  As the translator prepared to turn his question into English, I whispered to Jim, central casting! Not So. The question was, “who is in charge of parking in your cities and how much do they charge?” So much for stereotypes!

We need immigrants to fill the gaps in our labor force. We need them to teach us even as we teach them, and both be enriched by the encounter. We need to seek out more encounters with people who are different from us because we have useful perspectives to share as they do for us.

May you be blessed by the presence of the strangers among us, and help them to become strangers no more.

Choosing Your Battles

Sometime during my life path, when I was working as a full-time professional, active as a community volunteer, and raising three children, I had to admit that I couldn’t do everything. Even if I could do anything (not true: I can’t draw, keep time, or play any known sport), I had to make choices. Over the decades, I have acquired extensive volunteer organization leadership skills and experience. At the same time, my faith community and other organizations, like the League of Women Voters, keep vesting me with leadership roles, where I am supposed to look after everything.  How do I manage to have a life, focus more narrowly on doing a few things well,  and be effective?

My passion is for social justice in all forms, but my skills and expertise lie in economic justice. I My focus on economic justice doesn’t mean I don’t care about racial justice or justice for LBGTQ or climate justice or legal justice or any of the other challenges humans have devised that do or do not treat others as they deserve.  My answer is to draw a line between wholesale and retail, to use leadership skills for the wholesale side and my more specialized economic skills for the retail part.  As social action chair in my congregation, I draw on the League and other resources to stay alert for action opportunities on pending legislation or other events where people might want to express their opinions. I share them with the individuals who have passion, or expertise, or both in those areas.  I know which people to whom I should send information about climate change, discrimination, reproductive choice, and lots of other issues.  But I don’t respond to these calls for action directly (I do often send money) because I want to reserve my voice for where it is most likely to be heard, and that’s economic justice. I want to frame my arguments carefully so that those whose political perspective is different from my own might nevertheless be persuaded that there is something of value in what I have to say. And those whose perspective is closer to my own are more likely to use my points, arguments, suggestions. In that way, I have from time to time been able to influence legislation and even once in a great while, court decisions in my adopted very red state..

Most of you, I know, have particular causes or issues that are dear to your heart.  If you can focus on just a few and develop some expertise so that your head will support your heart, that’s great.  Maybe that focus is related to your work or career, like librarians fighting book banning, health care professionals having a say on women’s reproductive choice, teachers resisting politically motivated censorship of teaching actual history or encouraging critical thinking. A good friend of mine is a computer scientist who has dedicated herself to ensuring the safety and accountability of voting equipment, and her work has made a difference.  My nutritionist friend uses her skills to teach people to eat in more healthful ways and also to address world hunger.Or maybe that niche is defined by an avocation. A neighbor of mine is a quilter. She uses that skill to work with and promote the work of a worldwide organization that makes colorful kits of menstrual hygiene supplies for adolescent girls, so they don’t have to miss school and drop out. My animal loving friend devotes a lot of time and attention to finding good hoes for abandoned or unwanted animals.

Everyone has a skill, a passion, some specialized knowledge that they can use not only for their own satisfaction and that of family and friends, but also to make a difference in the world.  What’s your skill? What’s your passion? How can you join the two in a marriage that will give you joy and satisfaction and make the world a better place?

What’s This ESG Thing?

Most Americans have probably never heard of ESG, but it is the most recent battleground in the ongoing “woke/asleep” divisions in American life and politics.  Corporations have impacts on society in many ways, particularly in environmental behavior (that’s the E) and the way they treat customers, workers, communities, and suppliers (that’s the S).  The G is governance, which has to do with accountability, transparency, and self-serving behavior by management in collaboration with the board of directors, whose responsibility is to look after the best interest of their owners, the shareholders.

The Trump administration created a rule that forbade pension programs from allowing ESG to be a factor in decision-making. Biden’s Labor Department reversed that rule, not requiring ESG, just permitting it to be a factor in the decisions of pension fund managers. The House voted to restore the Trump administration rule, and the Senate, with three Democrats absent and two voting with the Republicans, agreed.  Biden will veto the bill, which Congress clearly cannot override because it would require a 2/3 majority.

The underlying issue is whether corporations have any obligation to society other than to maximize shareholder wealth, according to the gospel of Milton Friedman, whose answer is a resounding NO. (For those of you unfamiliar with Friedman, he is the guru of free market economics and minimum government.). A secondary issue is whether good corporate behavior in these areas promotes or detracts from shareholder wealth. There is some evidence that firms that treat customers, workers, suppliers and communities well are more profitable in the long run, but that’s open to debate.

The people who manage pension funds control a substantial share of investment assets and have a fiduciary responsibility to manage them in the best interest of their beneficiaries, both present and future retirees. Many state attorneys general and legislatures in red states have been vocally opposed to having their pension fund managers take ESG into consideration.  But there’s a problem.  Many of these pension funds rely on large financial firms to manage their public equity investments for them based on an index.  These large firms (Black Rock being the best known) hold the proxies for the pension funds and vote them on behalf of their clients, to save the pension fund managers the cost of having to scrutinize every proposal coming forth from every stock in which they have an investment. If the financial firm is into ESG, it will vote those shares accordingly. And Black Rock’s CEO has been vocally pro-ESG.

What’s a pension manager to do?  They want to keep their costs down, and one way they have been able to do that is by outsourcing the voting of proxies.  Many of them have turned to specialists in following, evaluating, and recommending how to vote those proxies, providing clear guidelines on their own criteria.

Most of you are in a pension program of some sort, whether retired or actively working. You might want to inquire as to how this is working out in your state.  Stay tuned, in the meantime, from the next barrage of anti-woke ammunition.

Saving Social Security and Medicare

I am a more or less blue person in a very red state. So I don’t write my representatives in Congress very often. I do lobby my state legislators whom I know personally and have a pretty good rapport with. But every now and then my economist self joins the fray and, having spent my career in a very conservative department, I practice the art of framing my argument from the right of where they are. Today it was Social Security and Medicare, and I was not lying when I said I was a fiscal conservative. I am. And this is a fiscally conservative argument.


I am writing to you because I am concerned about the future of Social Security and Medicare.  I know that both parties are committed to their survival and fiscal health. It is an intergenerational contract that has been with us for 88 years and one that our children and grandchildren are counting on as a safety net for their retirement.

As a fiscal conservative, I believe that we must pay for what we get from government.  Since these two programs are supported by FICA contributions, that source is the right place to look for funding. These Social Security and Medicare contributions are NOT taxes. They represent the cost of a retirement pension and insurance premiums for health care and for the possibility of outliving one’s assets. They are grounded in the ability to pay by making them a percent of income, and like many state defined benefit programs, they come with an employer match as deferred compensation and purchase of insurance

I would recommend a modest increase in the employer and employee premium from 7.6% to 8% and a significant increase in the wage cap to provide the additional funds.

Thank you for your consideration.


Holley H. Ulbrich

Alumni Distinguished Professor Emerita of Economics, Clemson University

Hurrah for the Red, Purple and Blue!

Marjorie Taylor Greene recently said out loud (or more likely, a tweet) that we should just split the country into red states and blue states, let them go their separate ways,  and diminish the role of the central government—in other words, return to the Articles of Confederation which were our national governing document for 1781-89.  She raises the interesting question of how one defines a red or blue state and how stable that definition might be.  (Arizona definitely moved toward the blue end of the spectrum in 2020 and 2022  compared to previous years.)

Perhaps the best measure of a state’s collective political orientation would be statewide votes for president, governor and senator, because these elections are not affected by gerrymandering for the U.S. House and state legislative districts.  So let’s start with her home state of Georgia, which in the last two senate elections went blue (both senators being Democrats) while the Republican governor was recently re-elected and the Democratic presidential candidate won the popular and electoral vote.  I would call that bluish purple, with three of the four tests being Democratic.  And Georgia is not alone.

Wisconsin has a Democratic governor, one Democrat and one Republican in the US Senate, and voted for Biden.  That also makes them bluish purple like Georgia.  Vermont has a Republican governor, two senators who are more or less independent but both caucus with Democrats, and voted for Biden. Maine has a Democratic governor, a Republican Senator, an independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats, and voted for Biden. Virginia has a Republican governor at the moment (the predecessor was a Democrat) and two Democratic Senators, and voted for Biden.  North Carolina is reddish purple with a Democratic governor, two Republican Senators, and voted for Trump in 2020. 

Yes, there are states that are entirely red—my home state of South Carolina, Florida, Texas, North and South Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho.   And there are states that are entirely blue—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois. New Mexico, California. But they are not a monochrome. Within those red states there are blue people and within those blue state there are red people.  And increasingly, there are  many, many citizens who consider themselves independents and wish that the reds and blues would stop treating politics like warfare and rather accept it as an imperfect but useful way of making collective decisions.

Secession was not the answer in 1861. It still isn’t. Time to learn to live together with respect and an open mind.

Silos and Bridges

While teaching a short course for older adults, many of them newcomers, in South Carolina government,  I invited them to turn in questions at the end of the first class and I would try to answer them in the following week’s class. I only got two—one for explaining an issue in education funding, which I am always happy to do.  The other one was quite different. The writer wanted to know how to participate in government as a blue person in a red state. Interestingly, the same day, a friend who shares my political views got yet another forwarded screed

So as I formulated my responses to  the student and the friend, drawing on my own many decades of experience as a transplanted Connecticut Yankee, I thought it would be worth sharing with my readers. While I am thinking from blue to red, it works equally well the other way if you happen to be a more conservative reader of my blog.

I have done a lot of public policy work.  Education and advocacy through the League of Women Votes. Testifying at legislative hearings. Collaborating in research with various agencies such as the Department of Revenue, the State Department of Education and the county and municipal an school boards associations. I have actually held public office as a city council member and have testified as an expert witness in a couple of disputed cases regarding education funding.  I was the most persistently center-left member of a pretty conservative academic department for 30 years. I live in a retirement community where those of a more center-left persuasion are a minority.

Friend first. I told her she was being witnessed to (a fine Southern religious term!) by this person and it was not only appropriate but obligatory to witness back. (I have had to do that with a family member who saw religion quite differently, and after that reciprocal witnessing, we remained close until his death two years ago.)  Silence is so often interpreted as agreement.  No need to be hostile. Say thank you for sharing your views and let me forward a column by someone who more closely reflects mine, The correspondent closed the subject with “I guess we will have to agree to disagree” but I’m betting she won’t be sharing any more.

So that’s one strategy: claim your silo, witness but be pleasant about it.  What else can we do?

  1. Find your people. There are lots of communities ranging from churches and bridge clubs and book clubs to neighborhoods and sailing clubs and amateur sports.  Eventually you will discern those whose leanings, political, religious, or philosophical, are more akin to yours.  That’s your silo, the place where you keep the food that gives you affirmation and support.  Silos have a role to play, but don’t be Rapunzel.  Let down your hair, cross a bridge, be in contact with people who think differently. Get involved in the community in ways that are collaborative rater than competitive. I know that my six colleagues as poll workers last November came from a variety of perspectives, but it had no bearing on the oath we took to conduct the election according to the rules and help people participate in their government according to their own values and priorities.  Serve on a board or commission, help build a Habitat House or rescue neglected animals, tutor a child.   Neither politics nor religion has a monopoly on making the world a better place.
  2. As for these other people living in different silos, be always mindful that they are more than their politics and/or religion.  They may share your enthusiasm for sailing, or quilting, or medieval history, or football or gardening or hiking.  Get to know the rest of them that isn’t politics. Learn to appreciate one another as human beings on the same journey through life.
  3. Find ideas on the other side that you can at least partially affirm, or common ground.  Often you will find that you have the same objective but different ways of achieving it.  As Stephen Covey would say, begin with the end in mind.  What are you trying to do with this law, this ruling, this policy? Is there another, better, more equitable and efficient way of getting the desired result? How can we combat homelessness, drugs, or violence in ways that are respectful of people’s needs, people’s rights, compassion, incentives, justice?   
  4. If you are left, learn to attack (an argument, not a person) from the right. If you are right, attack from the left. I once got into a discussion with one of my more right wing colleagues about requiring internet/catalog firms to collect state sales tax.  Oh, he said, you just want to raise taxes. Not at all, I replied. Cut the tax rate if it raises too much money.  I just want a level playing field between Main Street merchants who have to collect the tax while their state governments have to exempt their out of state competitors.  It’s not just unfair, it’s inefficient. (In case you ever get into an argument with an economist, you can always win by pointing out that his or her proposal is inefficient, the most grievous sin an economist can commit.) If you are the right wing person, attack the position from the left, invoking equity and compassion
  5. Find out what the other side is thinking, and try to understand their reasoning. If you are on the right of center, commit to watching MSNBS once a week.  If you are left, Watch Fox News or read the Wall Stret Journal. If you read any editorial columnists, don’t limit yourself to Eugene Robinson and Jennifer Rubin who will reinforce your thinking; check out Hugh Hewitt and Marc Thiessen for a contrary view.
  6. Get to know your legislators and public officials and find issues on which you can speak from authority or experience and bring about limited change. Tell stories—they are more effective than abstract arguments or statistics. But do b sure you have the facts.  Invite them to explain their position and listen thoughtfully.
  7. Finally, remember that we should not succumb to either optimism (this too shall pass, technology will save us…) or pessimism (we are going to hell in a handbasket and nothing I can do will make any difference).  Both optimists and pessimists are failing to exercise their free will on matters that they care about.  Theologian Joanna Macy tells us that the only appropriate attitude is active hope, the virtue that lies halfway between optimism and pessimism. Active hope calls us to define what we hope for and find ways to actively work to make it happen.  What do you care about, and what are you going to do about it? In the process of defining your passion, your concern, your hope, and developing strategies you can employ individually or as part of a group or as a citizen, voter, or elected official, you will find your tribe and can invite them for a  visit inside your silo!

The Muted Joy of Pronouns

I first learned about the pronoun problem decades ago from two sources of experience. One was feminism. The other was textbook writing.  The first problem was the word man, as in Darwin’s The Descent of Man. Jefferson’s “all men are created equal.” As a female, am I in or out?  With Darwin, I’m pretty sure he meant humans, but with Jefferson, I am not at all sure that he didn’t mean property-owning white free men.

Back in the day, say a millennium or so ago , a man in the emerging English language meant a human being.  A male man was a wer-man (as in werewolf and warlock), and a female human being was a wo-man..  Well, you can see where that went.  The folks with the Y chromosome co-opted the generic term. So I have become very careful about using the word man or men in my writing, limiting use to only the ones with the Y chromosomes. Just think, if we went back to using werman and woman, the term man could become gender neutral!

Other gendered terms have evolved.  Stewardesses and their male counterparts became flight attendants.  Chairmen became chairs. Actors and actresses pretty much became actors generically, as in one who acts, except for the still gendered academy awards. And the suffix -ette is a belittling term that is slowly going out of use. Remember the people with two X chromosomes who fought for the right to vote? They were suffragists, not suffragettes. I do accept the term dinette for a small version of dining room furniture and kitchenette for a very small kitchen, because they are non-gendered, nonhuman, and helpful descriptions.

As a female human being who is comfortable with my gender identity and a feminist, I have no problem being called she, her, female, woman. But I recognize that is not true of everyone, especially those who experience their gender as nonbinary, fluid, or transgendered. Unless people display their preferred pronouns on their name tags,  if they happen to be wearing a name tag , I have no way of knowing whether my use of gendered third person singular pronouns is offending someone.  That’s especially true with the second challenge as a writer.

As a textbook writer, I received help from my publisher in using a variety of techniques.  Alternate the use of he and she, her and him.  Use the word “one” instead of he or she.  Since economists are fond of illustrating principles or concepts with stories, give the characters names, perhaps gender-fluid ones like Sidney or Sandy or Terry. Use the plural—people, citizens, buyers, sellers, workers, or voters, so that the word “they” is its historical self, referring to more than one person of unidentified gender. Or more than one rock, building, or book.

Having said that, I am annoyed at being asked what my pronouns are. I am tempted to answer I, me, and mine. What about you (your, yours)?  Furthermore, I am offended as a lover of words and language and particularly our complex English language by the insistence that we replace the first person singular (he, him, she, her) with the plural (they, them, their). I channel my English teachers from many decades ago, putting a red mark on my paper for abuse of the English language. The language belongs to all of us, and while I am open to options, I reserve the right to find this change annoying, or unacceptable.

The choice of the third person plural to replace the third person singular shows a singular lack of imagination. What about hes (she putting he first for the nominative case) and herm (blending her and him) for the direct object? (Herm is particularly apt since a person or animal who has the secondary sexual characteristics of both genders is called a hermaphrodite, combining Hermes and Aphrodite.) What about going to another language to find a word—maybe ilelle combining he and she in French? Or Es, a gender-neutral pronoun from German?

What are your pronouns? And what would be your choice for a gender -neutral replacement for he/she, her/him, and his/hers?

The Housecleaning Holiday

Welcome to the only holiday that is celebrated by cleaning house!  Imbolc or Oimelc, February 1st or 2nd, means ewe’s milk and refers to lambing season, a first harbinger of spring. It is one of the lesser-known cross-quarter holidays on the Wheel of the Year. In addition to Groundhog Day or Candlemas, it survived as the feast of the purification of the virgin (Mary) after the birth of her son 40 days earlier and also as a day sacred to St. Bridget or Brigid. Bridget is actually the great Goddess in her maiden phase, converted to a Christian saint. The corn maiden from the previous harvest is brought out in her honor as a virgin once again, ready to encounter her beloved in the mating rituals of spring.

The purification part of this holiday was known in pre-feminist times as spring house cleaning. In ancient time among the Irish Celts, Imbolc cleaning consisted of removing the Yule greenery from the home and burning it, cleaning up fields and home, and relighting the hearth fire as well as burning old Bridget wheels and making new ones Most of us have already taken down the tree and put away the decorations from Christmas by February 1st, but if you haven’t, you can use Imbolc as the excuse for delaying it till now.  After Imbolc, you are at risk of being a lazy pagan if you don’t deal with the winter holiday residue.

Imbolc is an indoor time. It’s cold and still pretty dark, but it is the waxing period of light and warmth following the winter solstice. It represents a final stage of wintry inwardness before the crocuses and daffodils invite us to look outward again. Housebound, we have to find our spiritual practice within that space. It is the late stage of the hibernating season as we prepare for the cycle of life to begin again.

Spiritual practice has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent decades.  A spiritual practice is anything that is centering, mindful, focusing, and connects you to the sacred in a very inclusive sense.  Practicing patience with difficult people is a spiritual practice.  Listening attentively is a spiritual practice.  Eating mindfully is a spiritual practice. Meditation and prayer are traditional spiritual practices in many religious traditions.  But there is also a form of spiritual practice that invests the ordinary activities of daily life with significance in the way carry them out.

The essence of spring housecleaning as spiritual practice blends several Christian and Buddhist ideas.  One is humility; no task is too menial that we are above it, as in Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The second is mindfulness, to be engaged in the moment, to calm the monkey mind, to focus all our attention on the window being washed or the floor being swept. The third is letting go of attachment to possessions as an encumbrance on our spiritual life, passing them on to another use or another user. The spiritual practice of spring housecleaning can incorporate all three.

Housecleaning means two different things.  One is the emphasis on clean, as in wash windows, polish furniture, remove cobwebs, paint, scrub floors, clean woodwork, dust the books. That’s both the humble and the mindful part.  In the words of one contemporary Buddhist writer, “after enlightenment, the laundry.” The other kind of housecleaning is to declutter, simplify, recycle, let go of possessions no longer needed, like the greens from Yul in the Celtic tradition.  That’s the letting go part. 

For many years my Lenten practice, for the forty days that begin sometime after Imbolc and stretch to the floating holiday of Easter, has been to wash a window every day.  Then I moved to a smaller house, which taxed my ingenuity to find forty windows.  I included car windows, TV and computer screens, mirrors.  Friends helpfully offered their windows, but I did not wish to discourage their own spiritual practice.   There is something very satisfying, very symbolic in letting the light of the returning spring shine through a clean window, but it means more when it’s my window. 

A friend described a similar cleaning ritual, only she does it all on New Year’s Day.  She takes each of her many books down one at a time off the shelf, dusts it (and the shelf), and decides whether it stays or goes.  If books are a rich and meaningful part of your life, revisiting these old friends and deciding what role they still may play in your life and which ones should be shared with others  is definitely a spiritual practice.  This particular ritual embodies both humility (dusting). mindfulness (concentrated attention on the books and the memories and teachings they hold), and letting go (books to be passed on).

So, as the daffodils and crocuses pop their leaves through the ground, as the groundhog in Punxatawny ponders his forecast, we can prepare to emerge from the hibernating season by renewing the spaces we inhabit. Like the bluebirds, whose house I have to clean very soon because they refuse to return to a used next, let us be about the humble tasks of maintaining our habitats. Spring housecleaning only comes once a year!

Scarcity and Abundance

Scarcity blog

The annual release from copyright took place last week.  One of the songs that is now public domain is, somewhat ironically, “The best things in life are free.”  Don’t sing it to an economist, though.  Theirs is a world of scarcity, not abundance.

Right at the start of initiating students into the mysteries of economics, we introduce them to the central role of scarcity. (When we were developing materials for K-12 education incorporating economics, that concept was introduced to first graders.  One enterprising youngster believed that it was actually two words, Scar City. That precocious child undoubtedly grew up to be a philosophy major.).   

If wants are unlimited while resources are limited, society needs to direct those scarce resources to their highest and best use in order to get the most out of scarce resources of time, energy, materials, whatever.  Most is normally an adjective, so what’s the noun? Economists are rather vague what the noun is to be maximized.  Most happiness? Wealth? Well-being? Satisfaction?

Following 19th century utilitarianism (which is the foundation of economics), the most likely answer is welfare.  No, not as in aid to poor families.  Welfare is just a synonym for well-being.  Since economist like to be able to measure and compare, they generally use per capita Gross Domestic Product as a rather questionable measure of societal well-being. The Kingdom of Nepal measures Gross National Happiness as an alternative to Gross Domestic Product. I’M WITH Nepal.  The World Bank and other entities construct multiple measures of well-being, like life expectancy, access to health care, and education al attainment.  By those measures the United States does not do so well, because they measure outcomes or access to some of the good things of life—the ones that are not free.

But back to scarcity. More than one economist has observed that scarcity is a universal fact of life outside of paradise—which in their (warped?) view, makes paradise boring and reality more interesting. Scarcity forces us to make choices and tradeoffs, and stimulates competition, creativity, and innovation.  Scarcity forces us to conserve the scarcest resources and rely on the more abundant ones—substituting capital for labor when labor is scarce and vice versa, shifting to sun, wind and hydropower as fossil fuels become scarcer and more expensive.  The price signals emanating from the market let us know what shifts we need to make.

HOWEVER…a mentality of scarcity gives rise to greed, and greed gives rise to poverty and inequality, something economists don’t talk much about. Most of what they teach is efficiency, which is how to get the most out of your scarce resources. Most being, implicitly, material goods, services, and other good things that can be purchased with cash.Or credit. So perhaps it is time to switch our attention from scarcity to abundance and efficiency to equality.

Yesterday I tested positive for COVID after escaping it from three blessed years. It’s not severe or incapacitating but the best wishes and offers of help from friends and family were overwhelming.  They did more to raise my spirits than even the over the counter remedies money can buy.

When I was growing up, my mother used to by Reynold’s Doughnuts. On the side of the box was a picture of a tree and two men sitting with their back to the tree.  One was facing a doughnut with a small hole, the other on the doughnut with a big hole.  Accompanying the pictures was the little verse “As you wander on through life, brother, whatever be your goal, Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.”

Good advice from a doughnut box.

Reflections on a New Year

Happy New Year, everyone!  2023 was a pretty good year, all things considered, although our country and our world still need more cool, sane, calm heads in charge. Starting with each of us and moving ever outward and upward.

I have been making New Year’s resolutions since I was a child. I remember being ten and resolving to master lighting the gas stove, which didn’t have a pilot light and had to be lit with a match. And people wonder about my lack of interest in switching to gas Every New Year’s Day I go back to my journal from a year earlier and see how I did. Some of these resolutions I actually keep. The more generic I make my resolutions, the better the score I can give myself.  I did not do so well on managing weight in 2022, so it’s back to the drawing boards. I have been very faithful to my exercise regimen, so much so that it no longer qualifies as a resolution, just somewhere between a habit and a positive addiction. I’ve done a fair job of practicing various forms of mindfulness (meditation, mindful eating, focused listening) and doing what I can to further and protect democracy through teaching, writing, donating to political campaigns, and working at the polls. I have worked at simplifying my surroundings and being environmentally responsible and trying not to personally dislike or avoid people for supporting Donald Trump. And like the Girl Scout that I once was, I made a conscious effort to make new friends and keep the old.  Attrition among friends speeds up after age 80, so it’s important to enjoy and appreciate those we have and add to the roster.

This new year also marks a transition in my community volunteering life. After three years on the church board, two of them as president, I have sworn off serving on any more volunteer boards. Since 1968 I have served as president of nine volunteer organizations, some of them multiple times.  I estimate a total of 30 years of being president of something.  And countless years on boards.)   I am trying to refocus my volunteer activities to more hands-on, episodic things like planning and carrying out the League’s monthly programs, teaching at OLLI, managing social action activities for my congregation, and preaching here and there.

As you reflect on the year past and the year ahead, the good news is that there are many new year’s days during the year ahead when you can begin again. I actually celebrate many new year’s days each year. The new calendar year, the old calendar year (which began in April, hence April fool’s day), a new year of my life on July 1st that coincides with a new state fiscal year (only an economist would celebrate that!). A new Celtic year which begins at Halloween, a Jewish New Year in the fall, a Chinese New Year in early spring, and of course, the solstice.  I used to celebrate a new academic year in August.  One year I had a New Year’s Eve Party on August 14th, the night before the official start of the fall term. My ties to the academic year have dwindled since my second retirement, but it still lingers in my consciousness with the ebb and flow of some 27,000 college students in our little college town. In other words, there are many chances to acknowledge bumps along the path and get back on track with another new year. No need to wait till next January 1st. There are many chances to begin again!

However and whenever you celebrate, observe, or ignore the New Year, may it be a happy, meaningful, rewarding, surprising year for each of you.