Monday, July 4, 2011

“Something to Consider ...”


Tonight, in the midst of crackling fireworks celebrating this great Nation’s birthday and in its birthplace Philadelphia, I give over this essay as a gift to the Nation and by extension to the world. For me tonight carries additional significance as many of my coreligionists mark the anniversary of the passing of a very saintly Rabbi, who was to my knowledge the only Rabbinical figure awarded the congressional medal of honor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, may his memory be for blessing. May what I write help of the people who form both the larger and immediate context of which I am a part of. Accordingly, there is no copyright on this essay. Please freely share it and publish it in hopes that the right people who are in the position to do something about this suggestion will receive it and will have the opportunity to consider its message.


As the divide grows between success on Wall Street and on the American Main Street, the world economy has suffered from tremendous setbacks over the past few years. Wall Street can prosper, while Main Street suffers. The clear financial pathways which for years had marked the trickle down from Wall Street investment to Main Street employment is fading. Today, laborsaving technologies have ensured that fewer jobs are opened by Wall Street investments and those which are often end up in foreign countries where labor is cheaper. As a result, one of the most difficult developments during our times is the loss of available jobs. 

Prior to this recession, capitalistic economies largely relied on standard market forces, which were considered reliable pillars of economic growth, to fuel job growth. This wisdom was culled from Adam Smith’s classic, “The Wealth of Nations”, where he used the term "invisible hand" as a catch-all phrase for intangible market forces, whose effects he was keenly aware of.

Truthfully, even Adam Smith's admitted that his "invisible hand" had at least one very visible driving force, namely, the "profit motive". However, what was largely glossed over in both the recent and distant past was the reliability of this “profit motive” to provide the whole Nation with the jobs and services leading to even the basics of a quality life, which include amenities such as food, shelter, health care, education, protection, sanitation, transportation, etc.

The past few years have proven that the profit motive is a fickle ally at best in the enterprise of providing jobs and was ("surprisingly") discovered to be "only in it for the money"! I once heard a story that might only be anecdotal. However, it carries valuable insight as a symbol of the realities we are facing today. 

President Obama met with some business leaders and appealed to them to produce jobs. They responded, "Mr. President that's not the way it works. You are placing the cart before the horse, you got it backwards. First come along the financial incentive to seduce businesses into growth and development. Then as a final step the jobs follow."

Finding Americans jobs is President Obama's number one challenge. Its might be easier to win his wars overseas than to win jobs for Americans. With answers like what he heard at that meeting, it sounds like the average American's basic quality of life has to wait, in shackles, for the enough greed (uhmmm...I mean "profit motive") to finally do its work.  Does it seem fair to have hundreds of millions of people, who are willing to work, suffer because the economy is powered by an unreliable fuel source?

Upon examining this economic "fuel source" which dignified circles call the "profit motive" and other circles more to the point label "greed", it basically comes down to "selfishness". It sounds humorously ridiculous to have expected a whole nation all this time to be cared for by selfishness. Imagine expecting a thoroughly selfish person to perform reliably in a nurturing role, like be a mother. Somehow, the two images of "thoroughly selfish" and "nurturing mother" don't superimpose on each other too smoothly. They seem to resist each other like two magnets brought together at the wrong ends. So how were we silly enough all this time to expect this unlikely combination of caring for a nation while placing it in the care of the selfish to work?

Well, rather than answering this rhetorical question and ruminating uselessly over the past, I'd rather focus on an idea which might make a difference in the future. I admit that I am not an economist or a business expert and actually this idea dawned on me in what some would consider a deeply religious moment. However, I would feel remiss if I did not at least put it out there and shared it in a way that the experts can access it in order to assess whether it has true value and possibly run with it to bring back some jobs to Main Street. The idea I have in mind is what I would call, "hybrid businesses".

I got the idea for the name from "hybrid cars", which are cars essentially designed to run on two fuel sources neither of which is ideal on its own. Electricity is cheaper than gasoline, but, until rather recently not powerful enough to allow a car to reach high speeds. However, gasoline also has a weakness. It became very expensive.  By wedding the two fuel sources each visit to the gas pump becomes less expensive while also providing enough power to achieve highway speeds. The vehicle owner enjoys the best of both fuels.

Similarly, the idea of "hybrid businesses" also works on two (economic) fuel sources, each of which carries a weakness, but, taken together they can cover each other’s vulnerabilities. What I am unveiling is a brand new business structure, which partners the United States government and the private sector – be they individuals, partnerships or corporations. The private sector’s profit motive is a weakness, as it selfishly tramples over the larger societal implications of its business decisions. The government has a weakness, as it lacks business visionaries who have true enterprising appetite. However, together they can form a legal business structure which moves with both vision and societal concern.

Federal, State and city governments can all participate in this model. This is different than socialism where the government runs certain select mega-businesses on its own. Here there's private sector participation as well, which encourages visionaries to step to the plate and rewards private participation by retaining some measure of profit motive.

While maintaining the current capitalistic economic structure, which despite the recession still provides some employment, I am proposing the government adds on “hybrid businesses” as another possible way for businesses to legally structure themselves. So, besides having a market swimming with corporations, partnerships, private enterprises, not for profits, government services and independent contractors, we will also have "hybrid businesses" among these market swimmers.

How would a hybrid business work? I am sure that there are many ways of designing and structuring a partnership between government and private entities. However, just for the ease of description here is one many possible examples. A private business seeking help with its growth and development will apply for government partnership. If the business meets certain criteria, the government will agree partner with them. The government can bring to the table a range of resources like expertise, contacts, ability to buy in bulk, cheaper medical insurance for employees, lower taxes, office space, start up capital, cheaper legal services, etc. In return for this vast menu of government “goodies”, the business will required to make certain concessions, such having a certain percentage of its employees United States citizens and/or residents.  Also, submitting any future decision to terminate an employee relationship to the government for review and approval. This way layoffs and firings cannot just happen in the midst of a boss riding upon a whim of greed, but, will require a more protracted objective process, with checks and balances in place. The idea is to extend a safety net over people's livelihoods and spare them from the horrors of uncontrolled job loss - which can literally ruin people's lives in a single swift stroke.

If this approach favoring national or local labor seems unfaithful to the notion of a free market economy, please bear in mind that the government is not dictating how the free market economy of the Nation as a whole should run. Wall Street remains Wall Street. Private enterprise remains private, with it's entire standard package of accepted privileges fully in place. The government is merely dictating the negotiating terms under which it will conduct business - just like any other business does.  So if the government chooses terms that lead to heightened job availablity and security for an intended workforce, it's just behaving in accordance with the freedoms of a free market economy. 

Besides the prospect of heightened job availablity and security for the intended workforce, the hybrid system will also likely offer other benefits as well to all parties involved: employees, government, businesses and society as a whole. Here are some benefits that are easily noticeable.

The entire society benefits as hybrids create new positions within their businesses. Also, the government infrastructure, partnering with the hybrids, will create new positions on their end as well. These new private sector and government jobs will translate into new employment opportunities which haven’t previously existed. More and more people will be able to join the ranks of the Nation’s employed.

Besides solving part of society’s problem of job creation, hybrids can also benefit the government in another way, by creating a new revenue stream. Until now taxes and government bonds were the government’s main sources of revenue. The nation today is asking, “How will we be able to find the funds to climb out of our present state of debt, which has risen with the advent of the government bailouts?”

The answer might be, "By having a brand new revenue stream."

 A new revenue stream can be put to use in a large variety of ways, like towards resurrecting abandoned programs, expanding current programs and creating new programs. All these efforts need funding and a brand new revenue stream flowing into government coffers certainly goes a long way towards unlocking these possibilities – leading to a more robust economy.

Employees can benefit greatly as the hybrid system achieves integrated employee information sharing on a national level. This will help employees easily transfer from job to job without needing a huge job search and interview process. Presumably, employees will over time develop a government database profile, which can be more objective than resumes'. This pool of employee records can be matched against a pool of job vacancies, allowing for smoother transitions between jobs. The network easing such transfers will spare people from suffering an exhaustive job search process, typical in today’s private sector. Legitimate reasons for seeking a new job can be varied. Some reasons can include relocation to another locale, desiring a fresh work environment, a hybrid has bankrupted, an employee acquired new skills, etc.

Depending on how the government wants to layout its range of incentives and services in order to lure new businesses into considering a hybrid structure, there will also be significant benefits to the hybrids themselves. These benefits can include tax incentives, access to cheaper wholesale prices (as part of the government's bulk buying), access to special technologies, seasoned business advice, access to capital or low interest loans, cheaper quality medical insurance, low cost or free legal advice and services, and computer services, etc. The government can even create a mega-accounting department and IT department, either low cost or free, to add to its list of hybrid services.

Though there might be a concern about whether a government agencies' performance can keep pace with the private sector, I would suggest that they can. Firstly, it's clear that when the government truly wants to act efficiently it does. Just consider the following: the careful precision planning of military operations, access to technologies beyond private sector reach, the IRS’s abilities to catch tax evaders and how congress functions. None of these scenarios is fraught with the inefficiencies of a state welfare office, which actually at times might be slow, bureaucratically inefficient by unwritten government design in order to discourage people from using such services. By hiring truly qualified individuals and offering them the correct incentive package, it's possible for the government to coax highly efficient work out of its own employees. Secondly, in this case the government is also a business partner and has a vested interest in being businesslike on its own initiative.

 Author's personal comment: Those who know me know that it's not my style to write about the economy. You can check out my blog and you will see that this is not my typical subject matter. This particular idea dawned on me at a very special spiritual moment seemingly out of nowhere. When I reviewed the situation with a leading Rabbinical figure in the Lubavitch community, he advised me to cast the idea into an article in a way that it might come to the attention of the right people. So please spread it around to raise public awareness. This idea probably can be used by almost any government. Let's help our fellow human beings climb out of poverty.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Science vs. Creationism

Ever since science has attempted to determine the age of the universe there has been an intellectual battle between the forces of science and creationism. I tend to believe that there doesn't have to be such a war between the two camps. There are genuine approaches for reconciling the two accounts of creation.

An example of one possible approach was set forth by Dr. Gerald Schroeder. He argued that seven days from the outer rim of the universe can equal billions of years within the universe. 

His approach is based on Einstein's time dilation theory.

The gist of it goes like this:

When the big bang happened the outer rim of the universe ballooned outward with such a tremendous burst of energy that it approached the speed of light. Time dilation theory teaches that the faster you go in space the slower you go in time. Therefore by reaching such high speeds, time greatly slowed down at the outer rim of the universe when measured relative to clocks within the universe.

So while the outer rim experienced only seven days, the interior of the universe could have experienced 15 billion years.

Once the framework of a seven day creation has been paradoxically greatly expanded while simultaneously being very literal, there is room to discuss a protracted process of creation, along with what tools might have been in the Creator's "tool box" to bring this about. Without any knowledge to the contrary, evolution should be as good a tool as any other for the Creator to slowly make the various species.

I'm not personally saying that this is how it happened or that I throw my full support into Dr. Schroeder's theory. (Actually, I personally believe in an entirely different mechanism for creation based on Lurianic Kabbalah, which for the moment I consider outside the scope of this blog.)

However, the very fact that such a neat reconciliation exists should bring both camps to question whether the argument is really worth it?

For those who are interested in further exploration of Dr. Schroeder's teachings, the following link will take you to his official website:

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Prayer for Our Time

"Woe to one who takes issue with his Creator ... Does a piece of clay say to his fashioner 'What are you doing?' ... Woe to one who says to his father, 'For what reason have you begotten?' or to his mother, 'For what reason did you go into labor?' (Isaiah 45:9-11)

Dearest Sweet Beloved Divine Parent, in light of so much going on in the world I don't know what to say. On one hand, You truly do everything for the very best ! There's no being, including ourselves, who loves us like You do. There's no being that's even the tiniest dimming spark compared to Your vast light of knowledge. You created the whole creation, spiritual and physical. You keep creation going. As the Designer of creation, You maintain it's parts in perfectly designed interaction. To say that You know how it all works and integrates is a far vaster understatement than to point out how effortless it is for a grown healthy man to take a slight breath of fresh country air.

Yet, on the other hand You ask us to pray for the suffering. The problem with such prayer is that it questions Your judgment - or at least seems to. Unless prayer is just like any other co-creative behavior that You placed in human hands. There were people years ago who refused umbrellas on the basis of a belief that it interfered with Divine will for rain. Of course You made Your world "perfectly imperfect" so humanity has room, tiny room, to finish off creation. It's in this spirit that people design umbrellas. This is closely tied with the Kabbalistic notion of tikkun olam - mending the world.

One of the central areas where the masters of Kabbalah teach specific meditations to bring about this tikkun / mending is in the context of prayer. Here they teach Divine names to be visualized or at least identified with, accompanying certain specific words of the daily ritual prayer.

Prayer plays a role in this tikkun / mending. In some sense, it's no different than a carpenter banging in a nail to complete a cabinet. Sometimes a prayer is the missing nail. The problem was just awaiting a prayer. Once the prayer is recited, the problem no longer serves a purpose and can disappear. Other times, the problem awaits prayer plus action and so on ...

In this sense I am addressing You in prayer. Not to interfere with what You know is best, but, rather as part of the co-creative role You assigned to me, as a human - lacking true understanding as I am.

Sweet Divine Parent, there's tremendous suffering in Your world. There's suffering in Israel. My heart returns to this past Sabbath when as the whole Jewish world read in the Torah scroll about the sacrifices from the portion of Vayikra - You took a sacrifice of Your own - almost an entire family in the settlement of Itamar. Those conducting the sacrifices were not priests from the holy line of Aaron. They were very far from being an image of consecrated people. They were not motivatd by love for You. Rather, they behaved cruel and heartless.  

The whole Jewish nation mourns our loss of a loving Jewish family who tried very hard to live the most beautiful possible Jewish life available today. Please bring healing and let what this family stood for grow, blossom, and flourish for the whole world to see and appreciate.

Sweet Divine Parent  there's unspeakable suffering today in Japan. In many ways even harsher than the actual tsunami, which was the worst in Japan's recorded history, is the occurring and  pending nuclear hazards. There are thousands, maybe even millions of humans whose life, health and property hang in the balance over these tragedies. Please have compassion and play the role of Divine Parent, Supernal Father and Mother, and help all these people. They are in need of Your sweet nurturing. You had compassion on the city of Nineveh on the basis that it was a large inhabited city populated by people who didn't know any better. Please also take compassion on Japan.

All over the Middle East there are Arabic countries where people suffer from grinding poverty despite being bright and educated. Besides this, to add to the pain, many of these countries are dictatorships that oppress their own citizens. Please take compassion on these countries inhabited by people who worship You, to the best of their understanding, and please send them the prosperity they need to calm down, feel good, and focus on truly healthy and productive achievements - the way it was for them under Caliph Abdul Rahman of Al Andalus.

Please help the economy of the United States and the neighboring countries. These are countries that stand for human rights, freedom of religion and in short, being nice and fair to others. As nations they are strong in the area of "between human and fellow human". Please have compassion on the so many people who are unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, etc. So many of these people would love to work if only the opportunity is presented. Please have compassion on this great region of basically good people and return the jobs, even in greater abundance then they used to be when times were considered "good".

Most importantly, I beg You to please bring the Messiah. No resolution to any problem is ever complete without the Messiah. Please send him ! However, I'm not just begging of You to send him to solve the world's problems. I'm begging for him, so that we humans can learn how to have a deeper and more open relationship with You.

Thank You for the words of prayer. May they be sweetly accepted before You in love. Thank You for my health. Thank You for giving me the co-creative role of being a human in prayer. Thank You so much for being You. Love and kisses ...