Tag Archives: money

Equity Is NOT Equality

6 May

You hear the word “equity” a lot. It sounds like “equality” so how could anyone be against it? “Equity” means equality of outcome, versus equality of opportunity. Why is that bad? Because humans don’t work that way.

You’ve seen the cute graphic of three kids trying to look over a fence; how equal opportunity (represented by boxes) still leaves one kid unable to see. But if you give the smaller kid two boxes, and the big kid no boxes, everyone can see just fine. Looks correct, doesn’t it? After all, everyone should be able to see the game, some people just need more help.

One of the books I keep on my bookshelf from my grad school days (and most of them have been exiled) is “Declining by Degrees,” which is the PBS companion book to the documentary they did fifteen years ago. Because it’s been out so long, you can watch it for free. However, what interested me was the book was full of essays from different educational experts and journalists, all asking the same question, “Why are standards declining in our universities? Why are graduates able to do less than those who graduated a generation before?” Many reasons were given, but the solution was always the same: “You need to give more money to schools.”

Hmmm… that did not sound right. After all, LA Unified School District spends $18,788 per student, and as anyone in LA will tell you, never send your kid to a LAUSD school. New York City spends $25,199 per student, as compared to a nationwide average of $12,201. Now that may just be because LA and NYC are simply more expensive. However, that still doesn’t completely explain why there worse test scores in places that the spend the most?

Maybe it’s because money has nothing to do with outcomes.

Another lifetime ago, I taught at a private boarding school overseas. So our student body was a self-selecting sample; parents who wanted to pay a LOT of money to send their kid to an isolated location for an American school in India. They wanted their kids to either a) get into a Western university and/or b) have a unique international experience. As a teacher, I could always tell which students would succeed and which wouldn’t. What was the difference? How often their parents checked in with them.

The best students had their parents calling every night… or every other night, checking on their homework, they showed up at the parent-teacher conferences even though it was a serious pain to get to twice a year. They came to take their kids out on the weekends every so often. The parents made sure they were still in their lives. The worst students had no contact apart from holidays. The saddest example was the student who didn’t want to go home because all they would be doing is sitting in an empty apartment with a maid to take care of them.

No amount of money will turn a failed student into a successful one. The only thing that will is having that student find someone else who gives a damn. It doesn’t have to be a parent; it can be a coach, a teacher, a challenging friend. Putting up more boxes to lift someone up doesn’t convince the kid to actually stand; what it does do is give money to people who make boxes.

But what do you think? Am I just too jaded? Are there worthy charities that really just need more money, but get diverted to less worthy ones. (Of course.) Let me know in the comments below! Then if you need a worthy place to put your money, buy one of my books! However, if $1.99 is if too much to “donate,” go ahead and download one of my stories for free. Thank you for your support.

Country Club Judaism

29 Apr

Yesterday, I was talking about what I call “transactional religion,” the pay-for-play deal that you make with your local priest so that you get your lifecycle event. If that’s important to you, then you’ll pay. Now let’s take it to the nth degree.

I mentioned that my wife’s home congregation wouldn’t let us have our wedding at the synagogue. At first blush, that sounds fine. I’m a member of a veteran’s organization that runs it’s own bar. If you’re not a member there, you can’t drink there. Perfectly understandable. However, you can rent out the meeting space, because they’re bringing in money.

In our case, our son should have been bar mitzvah’d last year, but a little disease came through… maybe you heard about it. Despite being members of our current congregation for six months, they refuse to let him have the ceremony unless our son goes through another year of Sunday school, do a project, and vow to be a member for the next three years. Just like everyone else.

Now in fairness, we understand this, because traditionally American Jews only show up for the High Holidays, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals… the lifecycle events. So you want those people who come through to actually be willing to support the congregation and be good Jews. So there are tickets sold to attend the High Holidays, because people will actually buy them. They want to make sure the bar mitzvah has actually had the training before they get up in front of God and everyone.

But that’s not the case here. They didn’t take our attendance in consideration. They didn’t take the fact that he’s a year late in doing the ceremony due to COVID into play. They didn’t care that he’s been working with a cantor for TWICE the normal time. All they cared about was that “this is how we do things.” They didn’t trust us to attend after my son’s bar mitzvah, they wanted it in writing that we would. They didn’t think, “gee, they have a daughter who will need this same thing in three years.” Nope. Pay the money or leave us alone.

So… screw ’em. This is what is known (not just me) as Country Club Judaism–sign the membership fee and you get to play. We have never been rich; in our lives, we’ve hovered between paycheck to paycheck to comfortably middle class. We’ve gone down a little since I stopped travelling for consulting, but still not worrying how we’re going to pay the bills. We also live below our means. We can pay the money.

But at this point, it’s not the money–it’s that lack of trust. They don’t think enough of us to be flexible. They’ve been burned too many times to even give us consideration. Because all we are to them is faces on a Zoom meeting; we’re not real. And that’s the most damning thing of all. We’re not part of this congregation, and the truth is, unless we’re bringing in enough money, we never will.

That’s what hurts the most; they don’t want to know us. They want our numbers, they want our money, but they could care less what we want back from the congregation. And that’s an organization I don’t want to be part of. So we’ll find another spiritual home. I doubt we’ll find anywhere willing to let us perform the bar mitzvah, it’s less than three months now. But we’ve got plenty of time to prepare for Eliza’s bat mitzvah, but are we willing to go through their half-ass preparation? Go through the hoops for her somewhere else? I might… but I doubt my wife will.

We’ve been burned before, too, and unfortunately, we’re running out of options. Apart from simply doing the ceremony ourselves, I don’t think there’s anywhere we can go where we can get what we want. So we’ll probably attend somewhere… and then just never bother getting our daughter bat mitzvah’d in a shul. Or ever have a funeral or anything… just paying month-to-month to support things, but never voting, because this pay-for-play system is not what we believe. But what do you think? Are we too up our own butts? Are we absolutely right? Let me know in the comments below! Then, if you feel like this congregation is worth supporting, buy one of my books. However, if $1.99 is too expensive, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. We want you here, money or not… and if you read up to this point, I love you, reader. May we have many years together.

Transactional Religion

28 Apr

I believe in God. I’m also changing congregations for the second time in a year because my wife and I are not willing to pay the price their board has demanded. No negotiation, no understanding, just… this our policy. This is why believers stop going.

This is what we have decided to call “transactional religion.” I accept the fact that when you join a congregation, someone needs to pay for the building, someone needs to pay the priest, and all the little things that people don’t take on credit. That’s fine. However, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Congregations wants people to show up; after all, if two or three don’t appear in His name, why did I bother showing up? Services are free; you are donating your time and activity to better the congregation. (Now I’m using the generic term “congregation” to apply it to all American religions.) However, when you want something back from the congregation, they want you to pay.

Now most of the time, you can accept that transaction. You ask the priest to come out for a wedding or a funeral, they usually get a donation or an honorarium… which means money. You ask a group of Buddhist monks to come out and purify your house, you’re going to provide food, drink, and cigarettes. (The monks who came to our neighbor’s house smoked like chimneys.) You got to a temple, you leave a donation.

However, that’s an accepted transaction. It’s also based on the willingness and ability of the person to pay. If two poor people want to get married, but they can only offer $100 instead of $300 to the priest, the priest might show up anyway. But they won’t get married in a church, because they can’t afford the site fee. My wife and I wanted to get married in her “home” synagogue, the one she grew up in, before she left for Nebraska and India. So she hadn’t been members for a while. We were poor but we were willing to pay the site fee. But because we weren’t members, the board refused. So we got married in a park, the rabbi came to us, and we paid the honorarium.

That was 15 years ago. It’s not like there was a monster truck rally at the shul we were interrupting, or trying to bump off another wedding, or even interfering with a regular meeting. The shul was empty, they were open on a Thursday, but because we weren’t members… screw you. You don’t get to use our building.

I fear my kvetching is going to take longer than a single post, so I’ll finish this tomorrow, but have you run into this before? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! Then since we’re talking transactions, the post is free, but the reason is not, so buy one of my books. 🙂 However, I want you to be a member of this congregation, so if $1.99 is too pricey, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Avoiding the Doctor’s Office

26 Dec

I don’t have a fear of the doctor–after all, I worked in hospitals for 11 years–but I have no great desire to go see one, even when I’m sick. Is it being cheap, annoyed at taking the time, just stubborn, or do I understand the limitations of what the doctor can do for me?

The answer is all four–sorry to give it away right at the beginning–but there’s no one reason. I certainly have a great respect for what modern medicine can do for me, but having worked primarily in emergency departments, I also know what is routine and doctor’s really can’t do anything about. These are known as Triage/Acutity 5 patients, and they take up so much time, that bigger ED’s actually have separate sections (“fast track” areas) to quickly deal with those patients, so they can leave space for the real cases.

Let me address my issues one at a time–yes, I’m cheap. Even if I had better insurance, it would still cost a significant amount of money to go into the doctor’s office. Thankfully, there are plenty of urgent cares, which do deal with the low acuity patients that ED’s would rather not see, but won’t wait to see a family practitioner. So even if I wait to see the local doc, I still have to pay $35 up front on top of whatever else he wants me to buy. I’ve actually gone to alternative medicine clinics more often because it’s far cheaper.

I also get annoyed at the waste of time. Average visit to the urgent care/ED still run between 2-4 hours, depending on the capacity. I understand why that is the case–the patient can’t, because they don’t see the other patients, or the amount of paperwork that has to be done for every intake, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Especially when you’ve been waiting an hour and the doctor comes in for two minutes, takes a look, and then says, “Oh, yeah, you’ve got X. I’ll write a prescription.” Unless you’re looking for a antibiotic, it’s usually not worth the wait.

There’s also a limit to what doctors can do. A majority of doctors tend to die at home, because if you know what’s killing you, you also know what can be done to stop it. And if there’s nothing–or the price is too high–why bother going somewhere else to die? I’m not saying you shouldn’t go in for testing or a physical every so often, but there’s no point going in for a sniffles.

So there’s the stubborn issue–my mother actually died from it. She was deathly afraid of doctors, and even though the ovarian cyst she had was perfectly and routinely treatable (and probably hurt like hell before hand), she didn’t want to go in. So when it burst–poof, she died of blood loss. (This was thirty years ago, so don’t feel too bad for me; man proposes and God disposes.) However, I have that stubborn streak, and if my kids cut their hand, my first thought is not, “My God, get them to the hospital!” It’s usually, “Okay, let’s get a bandage.” I’m worse with myself; I’m more willing to go for my family members.

What do you think? Do you have trouble going into the doctor’s office? Do you have the opposite problem? What’s your line for wanting to be seen by a medical professional? Tell me in the comments below!

Just a Spoon Full of Sugar

22 Oct

Modern medicine provides miracles, but the sad truth is that medicine only provides miracles because there’s money behind it. So should we expect miracles in our health care? How much are we willing to pay for it?

There’s an easy answer that most people (usually my wife) give: “then we need public health care funded by our taxes! Make it free for all!” First of all, it’s not free – at present, Medicare/Medicaid/CHIP (America’s version of free health care) already covers 25% of Americans and takes up a huge amount of the existing budgets at the federal and state level. Here in Arizona it was 30% of the state budget five years ago; at the federal level, it costs $555 billion/year in matching funds to states. All of that amount goes UP when you add the other 75%. And Americans complain about taxes now.

Second, money drives people. Any family practice doctor will tell you that Medicare pays terribly compared to regular insurance; in fact, many family practice stop seeing Medicare patients for precisely that reason. (Well, most family practice is pointless in my opinion anyway.) “Well, if it’s all public health care, they won’t have a choice. They’ll have to see patients.” Really? To be a surgeon requires 20 years of schooling, 3 years of residency, and 2 (or more) years of fellowship before you’re considered qualified. Sure, they love cutting into people, but the reason they put up with the extra crap involved is because they get paid two to three times the amount of an emergency room doctor.

Now take money out of the equation – doctors get paid like teachers – based on length of education and time in grade. You might say that’s a false argument – specialists would still get paid more for their work… but if you look at Medicare rates, it would still be a lot less. If you’re a new doctor, you might say, “hell with surgery, I’ll be a urologist.” Why? There’s almost never an emergency in urology, so you’re never called in, and you don’t have to work weekends. (That was what my neighbor, the urologist, told me when I asked why he picked his specialty.)

Don’t believe me? Here’s my story – I was trained as a history teacher; I really like teaching history. I worked as an instructional designer (corporate teacher) in hospitals because it pays twice as much. It’s not because I had a great love of medical software – I needed a job and it paid great. After five years, I became a travelling consultant and travelled the country, working in hospitals because (wait for it), it paid twice as much as being an instructional designer. It wasn’t because I had a great love of flying to Allentown, Pennsylvania; I do like flying, but I went to these not-tourist destinations (or tourist destinations in the off-season) because that’s where the job was. If I got the same pay for medical software versus history, hell, I’ll teach history. I get to come home every night and I don’t have to deal with doctors. So you’ll have to wait on that medical software training.

And we can see that in Canada, in the UK, in any place with public health care… you have to wait. Six months for a routine appointment, years before surgeries, and many patients die because there’s no bumping the queue just because you need it more urgently. If you’ve got the money, you fly to somewhere else to get the surgery done faster. There’s a whole industry in Thailand dedicated to cheap surgery for western patients; their hospitals look like frickin’ palaces.

My wife likes to say, “People are willing to pay higher taxes if they see the benefit they get from it.” I agree – in Finland, you’re willing to pay 80% taxes if you get free and quality health care, education, infrastructure… sure, it’s great! My experience with any level of government in the United States tells me you might get free, but you will not get quality. And Americans won’t accept raising their taxes sky-high for not much benefit.

But I could be wrong – what did I miss? What oversimplification did I make? Let me know in the comments below!

Should We Expect Miracles?

21 Oct

It’s a clever slogan – “expect miracles” – but by its very definition, you can’t expect a miracle. And yet, we hear about miracles everyday and wonder, “Why shouldn’t I expect one? It happened to him, why not me?” The reason? Miracles aren’t cheap.

The slogan was about a medical charity for children – what’s more noble than that? We can and do deliver miracles daily in modern medicine. A disease that would have killed someone five years ago is treatable today. Surgeries that would have required two weeks of inpatient recovery are now outpatient procedures.

But here’s the sad truth – medical miracles are expensive. I was talking with Tom, a former potentate of the Shriners, which operate a chain of children’s hospitals that specialize in many diseases and offer their services free to kids who are suffering from them. He told me that their daily money requirement to keep their services operational is $2.3 million US. Daily. Here in Arizona, they don’t have a Shriners hospital, so they spend $22,000 (weekly?) just transporting the 800 kids here to their locations in Los Angeles, Galveston, and Salt Lake City.

At the same time, their own membership is decreasing. Here in Phoenix, they went from 6000 members thirty years ago to a present number of 1100. They’re trying to downsize from their large halls to more reasonable facilities; and due to escalating rents, those are often not there. Since they don’t need inpatient facilities anymore they’re trying to get rid of their specialty hospitals in favor of specialty clinics which already work with children’s hospitals to give kids the free help they need.

Miracles costs money. Since this post is running too long, let me answer the obvious answer to this question tomorrow. Otherwise, what do you think? Should we expect medical miracles? What are we willing to pay for them? Put your answers in the comments below!

Shrug Shoulders, Smile Awkwardly

4 Aug

When I was living overseas, I figured that if I ever wrote a travel book, I would have to call it “A Land Where No One Makes Change.” Where I lived in the Indian Himalayas, everything was a cash economy. Yet strangely, no storekeeper EVER had change for your big 500 rupee bills. Were they lying? Or was there a deeper reason?

To preface this, I was working in Uttarakhand State about 15 years ago, but I just bet this is still the case. Lot of things changed while I was living in Mussoorie. First off, they changed the state name from Uttaranchal to Uttarakhand (Northern Valley to Valley of the Gods… I think), we finally got a real pizza place (Dominos is frickin’ gourmet compared to sweet tomato sauce on baked bread), and our very own cafe (Barista). I’m sure I wouldn’t recognize the Buz (bazaar) if I went back.

However, I bet few people have credit card readers, and most of the stores will have difficulty making change for a 500 rupee note. Now, for my Western readers, if you do the calculation, that’s only US $6.67. However, the purchasing power of that note in the hills is closer to $13-20! To explain, I was making $3600/year – that put me in the poverty range back home in America, but made me upper middle class in the mountains. I had two servants (a housekeeper and a laundry man) and a 43-year-old Bajaj green scooter that I called the Hulk (it was mean, green, and dangerous to ride).

Of course, I didn’t pay for my apartment or utilities, so there was some benefits. However, I saved up enough cash even on that little to pay for a round-trip plane ticket back home! THAT’S how far my US Poverty Level salary extended. So when you’re going to a storekeeper than maybe makes… oh, Rs.100-200/day and has to pay rent, food, fuel, and take care of their elderly mother singing bhajans (hymns) all day, that burns out fast. Gee, I wonder why they couldn’t make change for a note that equaled a week’s profit?!

So when I see signs in the US saying, “We can’t make change,” that’s where my mind goes. It didn’t help that the ATM machine only kicked out 500 rupee notes, so if you wanted change, you went to the “grocery stores” or you waited in “line” at the bank. NOTE: neither of those statements are accurate. “Sardarji’s” was the size of a big closet and crammed to the ceiling with packaged groceries, with fruits and veggies on top of other shelves crammed with stuff. If something didn’t sell, it stayed there… forever. That wasn’t even the name of the store: it was “Harkrishan Store” and it was run by a father and son who were both Sikhs. So since “sardar” is the (insulting) nickname for Sikhs, you soften it by giving it the honorific “-ji.” Also, no one ever lined up at the bank teller; they just moved as a mob to get to the front. Not always the case in India, but at my bank, yes.

In the US, I rarely use cash–everyone has card readers, except for the rare exceptions of the dive bar I frequent weekly–and that has more to do with the economic hit they took for being closed for three months. They couldn’t afford to pay their fees!

Have you been having trouble making change? Have you run into this problem before? Let me know in the comments below!

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