Thursday, September 12, 2013

Walmart? More like Wal-NOT!

WAL-NOT--as in, Not In My Backyard!

Walmart has become the new NIMBY as Washington DC residents organized to prevent 3 Walmarts from being built in their city last July:

"Walmart is becoming more of a cancer everyday," says angry Huffington Post user Bigodiddy.

"We all subsidize WalMart's poverty-level wages!" cried lightnessandjoy.

"Walmart is big enough we don't need new Walmart stores anywhere...Walmart is evil and unless they step up and show us otherwise we will continue believing it is evil," explains Zachary Carder.

See, no one wants a Walmart in their neighborhood anymore.  And it's easy to get rid of them, too!  How did DC save itself from having unsightly Walmarts decimate their community?

They simply required that Walmart pay all its workers a minimum wage of $12.50 an hour.  This would require the impossible price raise of 1.1% for its stores in the DC area.  Now, 1.1% might not sound like a lot, but you know who that would really piss off?

Mr. Smiley.  When he says "Low Prices, Every Day," he really means it!  How else are Walmart's execs supposed to "Save Money. Live Better?"

Fun Fact: With over 2 million employees and 8,500 stores, Walmart is the largest private employer in the world. (source)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Back to School, Back to Debt

Ah, back to school. Fall air, cozy sweaters, and crippling student loan debt. Last year we talked about how USA colleges are actually increasing the income gap, and higher education is losing most rights to call itself a stepping stone. brings us more detail on this problem:
Since 1980, the cost of a college education in the U.S. has risen 900%, many times higher than inflation. Over the same period, federal student aid programs, such as Pell Grants, have shrunk from covering approximately 70% of total public college costs to only 34%. As a result, more and more students have been forced to take out loans to pay for school, loans that have become much harder, if not impossible, to pay back. The average student today graduates with $25,000 of debt, and default rates are as high as one in three.
How has it gotten so out of control?  Well it seems our economic incentives are misaligned: "Private lending corporations have turned higher education financing into a predatory lending system where they—and the government—make more money when a borrower defaults."  1/3 students are defaulting, and when you default you can end up paying back way more then the original amount of your loan, over 50% more than the balance of your original loan!  And if you don't pay voluntarily, collectors can garnish your wages, social security and disability benefits, and tax returns.  You can't even declare bankruptcy to avoid student loan debt.  Most students who default DO pay back their loan eventually (85%), but their credit rating, job prospects and housing situation may be far pushed into poverty by that time.

What can we do? Well, we could just stop going to college.  Most high school diplomas don't grant a livable wage, but there's always technical school or online universities.  Some students are also protesting for tuition freezes or returning bankruptcy protections to student borrowers. Most drastic, we could consider moving the USA to a public university system like Canada.  They still have plenty of schools in the Global Top 300 (while USA school rankings have been declining since 2003):

However, USA colleges still dominate the top 100, so even at our worst, we're still pretty good.  The bigger question is, what's best for the students?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Life Advice for Young Adults

Written specifically for the 22- year olds who are struggling to find jobs and a meaningful existence in our current climate (from Neal Wu at Quora):

  1. Make friends as opposed to networking. Your friends will go a lot further than the professional contacts you make, especially since only one of the two groups is invested in your personal happiness.
  2. Become an expert by learning as much as you can and deeply seeking out the things you are curious about. Find the things you enjoy and practice the skills you want to develop. If you can achieve expertise then it will be easy to obtain an audience.
  3. Volunteer to help out those less fortunate than you. In the process you will gain a ton of new perspective and will better understand other people's real problems. In a society that always looks upward, those can be easy to forget.
  4. Become as independent as possible. Even if you work at a big company, constantly make small steps to reduce your dependence on your job. Write a book, build an app, or start a small business on the side. Release your inner entrepreneur.
  5. Don't spend too much time worrying about your personal brand. Accomplish things, and the recognition will follow.
  6. Stop treating life as a competition and do things for their own sake. Genuine interest should be what drives you to improve yourself, rather than simply a desire to beat others. Find a community of people who are interested in the things you are, and drive each other to be the best you can be.

This was in response to some more traditional advice given by Robert Wagner.