In The WEIRDest People in the World Joseph Henrich argues that ending polygamous marriage helped strengthen people’s sense of community by allowing more men to father children and have a reason to invest in the future. His argument is that in polygamous societies the highest status men attract multiple wives, making it harder for lower status men to get married and have children. Without prospects for a wife or family, these men become more transient, are more willing to take risks, and are less committed to any single place or community. Only allowing one wife per high status man means that lower status men can get married, have children, and find a reason to invest in their communities.
This idea from Henrich supports an argument made by Matthew Desmond in his book Evicted. Not writing about marriage and family policy, but instead about housing policy, Desmond also argues that transient individuals with no future prospects harm the development of community. He writes, “neighbors who cooperate with and trust one another can make their streets safer and more prosperous. But that takes time. Efforts to establish local cohesion and community investment are thwarted in neighborhoods with high turnover rates. In this way, eviction can unravel the fabric of a community.”
Community requires long-term relationships, investments in people and places, and a commitment to the future. Henrich argues that giving men the opportunity to get married and build families provides these community pre-requisites. Desmond argues that the American system of evictions undermines these requirements. I think that looking at these two arguments together is interesting, and reinforces both.
Low-income tenants who face eviction, whether men or women, lack community and the benefits it provides. Their transient nature in places makes it hard for them to invest in relationships and doesn’t give them hope that the place they live can be better in the future. They underinvest in the places they live, hurting the community for themselves and others. Single men in polygamous societies are similar. They can’t find a wife and engage in the community in a complete way, and also disinvest from the community, harming community growth and safety for everyone.
What is important to recognize is that community requires people with a commitment to a place and reason to invest in growth and development. Individuals need to feel that they are in a place where they can achieve their desires and where they feel they can be socially accepted to connect with others. When people do, they can create real communities that help make life better for everyone. When they don’t they can create problems and havoc that holds communities back.
For many Americans, their job provides them with some type of retirement savings account. Historic legal action, laws, and regulations require that companies who offer retirement savings vehicles responsibly manage the money they invest on behalf of their employees. The investment options that employers chose must perform at a reasonable level. A company can’t push all of its employees to invest back in the company (as Enron did in the 1990’s) and a company can’t just take employees retirement savings accounts and put them in a low return savings account at a bank – the return to the employee in interest would be so small that it would be meaningless. Employers fiduciary duty requires that they offer legitimate retirement savings options that are in the best interests of their employees and will likely achieve a reasonable level of return on the investment. We understand this fiduciary responsibility for employers when it comes to our retirement savings, and now, some leaders are starting to look closely at the fiduciary healthcare responsibility of employers in the same way.
In his book The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call, Dave Chase explains his concerns regarding wage stagnation in the United States. He shows that real hourly wages in the United States, across all education groups, has fallen since 2007 (the book was published in 2019 making the time period of falling wages 12 years). At the same time that wages have fallen or stagnated, healthcare costs and expenditures have soared. With out of pocket spending rising, employer contributions to health plans going up, and patient premiums also getting more costly, Chase argues that the lost wage increases for American’s have been channeled into an under-performing healthcare system.
This is where the fiduciary healthcare responsibility of our employers becomes an important issue. Our employers are offering us (for about 50-65% of Americans) health insurance at the expense of higher wages. The money used for purchasing the plans offered to us and helping us access care, can be thought of like a retirement savings account. It is our money, and the company has a responsibility to ensure it is used in our best interest and that the products and services purchased with our money are safe, effective, and likely to provide us with a reasonable return on our investment. The healthcare dollars spent by our employers for health insurance today does not measure up.
Chase predicts a series of lawsuits targeting the fiduciary healthcare responsibility of employers in the near future. Lawsuits could target ever rising expenditures for diminishing or stagnant healthcare quality. They could address limits in services that hinder health outcomes for individuals. Companies could be on the hook for failing to do background checks on brokers or failing to shop for the best insurance plan for their employers. All of these issues are addressed by Chase in his book, and he believes that if employers took their fiduciary healthcare responsibility seriously, they could be a major asset in changing the future direction and costs of healthcare in the United States.
runs a hotel chain in Orlando Florida. He has eight hotels in total, and his company does something almost no other companies in the country do. They provide real, meaningful healthcare services to their employees. They save a ton of money on healthcare by actually providing more of it, and better quality services at that. With the money Rosen saves on healthcare, he has developed programs in a neighborhood called Tangelo Park in Orlando to ensure children can attend school, get support to graduate from high school, and attend college on scholarships provided by Rosen.
Dave Chase writes about his efforts in his book The Opioid Crisis Wake-Up Call, “The cost over 24 years of the Tangelo Park program has been $11 million – roughly the amount Rosen saves in one year on health care. … For Harris Rosen, the approach is simple: Get involved; care for your people.”
$11 million is not a small amount of money, but what Rosen’s example shows is that you don’t have to be billionaire to make a meaningful impact in your community. $11 million is not an unattainable sum for many companies, communities, and philanthropists who want to make real changes. Mayor Bloomberg spent $500 million on failed presidential election campaign, money that could have helped almost 50 Tangelo Park neighborhoods.
What is important to see here, is that we can actually provide people with more healthcare, better preventative services, and easier access to good healthcare to save money in the long run. Money that could be invested back into the communities where it can have the greatest impact. Reducing crime means more savings for local communities by reducing resource demands for policing and jails. Improving education achievement means more people have the tools they need to grow and pursue the American dream. Improved health for employees means they are more productive and live happier, healthier lives.
We don’t make these kinds of investments for lots of reasons in the United States, but Rosen shows that we can. We are spending the money that we could use for these programs, but we are spending it in the wrong areas. If we looked critically at where we put the money, and where it could go to actually improve lives, then we could really make a difference in our communities and our countries. It starts with caring for people, helping them to become their best, and encouraging our communities to build together.
“The second reason that deep work is valuable,” writes Cal Newport in Deep Work, “is because the impacts of the digital network revolution cut both ways. If you can create something useful, its reachable audience (e.g., employers or customers) is essentially limitless – which greatly magnifies your reward. On the other hand, if what you’re producing is mediocre, then you’re in trouble, as it’s too easy for your audience to find a better alternative online.”
If you only produce shallow work, your work will never have a home. People will skip over you as they search for something more interesting. Shallow work cannot compete against cat gifs, well produced reports, and interesting perspectives on important topics. Shallow work steals people’s time, and people will recognize that and learn to turn away from sources of shallow work.
Deep work on the other hand is truly considerate and well formulated. It requires focus, attention, and an ability to connect ideas and points that are not obviously related at first. It provides value to people and rewards them for investing their time with your media, content, or production.
Because we have so much access to so many people through digital media, we no longer need to pursue a shallow work approach to gaining an audience. Our deep work can resonate with those who are truly connected to what we do or the topic at hand. We can provide high quality work for a smaller group and have a more committed following. The listener data from 80,000 Hours
, who regularly produce high quality 2 to 4 hour long podcast interviews is evidence in favor of Newport’s deep work claims.
If we invest in our minds, work on our thinking and focus, and produce high quality work, we can reach an audience that matters. If we don’t pursue this strategy, if we try instead to shovel meaningless content into the faces of everyone we can, we might get some clicks, but few people will appreciate, learn, and return to what we produce. The attention we receive will be fleeting as we are passed over for things that are more valuable and important.
One idea from The New Localism by Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak is that states and cities should not be looking to attract companies simply by offering tax breaks and by promising to streamline permitting. Bringing companies that can be enticed by these types of handouts is a good way to generate short-term positive headlines, but it is unlikely (especially on its own) to attract the kinds of companies that will help develop a city or metropolitan region into an attractive hub for other companies. For Katz and Nowak, what is more important than just getting a few companies to move in with tax breaks is engaging the business community that already exists, and working with civic and private sector leaders to invest in place-making.
A general problem we have faced in the United States over time is sustained disinvestment in localities. This has taken different forms at different times and has had serious conflicts for people living in disinvested places. For years, urban centers were ignored as people moved to outlying suburbs, and the result was a crack epidemic and a hollowing-out of many great American cities. Today, we are disinvesting in our suburban small towns and in former manufacturing hubs in the Midwest. The result has been an opioid epidemic and a spike in suicides. Simply convincing a company to move to an area that has been disinvested with some tax breaks won’t help solve our underlying problems and won’t help cities and people adapt to a dynamic globalized economy. What we are more likely to see in this strategy is the attraction of companies who are able to implement exploitative labor strategies that burn-out the people who have faced disinvestment and desperately need jobs.
“Networks must now ensure that their education and workforce development systems produce locally grown talent with the specialized skills that align with local advantages,” write Katz and Nowak. On its own, this advice is not very helpful. But when you think about what a network is and how cities can invest in existing networks within a region, you see that this advice is actually quite practical and represents a shift from the traditional thoughts of attracting companies to a region to produce jobs. Cities have to consider their advantages, such as ports, transportation lines, physical space, or educational institutions, and find ways to connect local business leaders, engaged civic actors, and other organizations in a way to get stuff done. Engaging to talk about problems and starting action for just a few months is insufficient – leaders need to be engaged in long term place-making – a committed effort to improve the region in a “rising tide lifts all boats” type of approach.
Katz and Nowak continue, “And they must also create quality places that not only attract and retain workers and companies with a rich set of amenities, but also provide a platform for the seamless and collaborative exchange of ideas.” The organizations and groups brought together in these networks cannot remain in individual silos. They need to be connected through new co-governing institutions that have the power and authority to make real decisions that generate meaningful investments in the places where businesses operate and where workers live. Without such long-term and permanent planning that gets stuff done, cities will meander along with incremental changes, or worse, will continue on a path of disinvestment that leaves their citizens vulnerable to despair and exploitation.
In The New Localism authors Bruce Katz and Jeremy Nowak quote Matthew Taylor of the U.K.’s Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce by writing, “it’s necessary for a city to think like a system and act like an entrepreneur. Thinking like a system requires taking a long and broad view of the regional economy.”
Cities cannot just assume that people will move to them, that current businesses will stay, and that a market will pop up on its own to make the city thrive. Cities need to consider all of the elements, from education and workforce development to infrastructure development, that are necessary to create regions where people want to live and work. They need to look at their regional economy and identify the areas (not just a single area) where they can be competitive and have unique advantages from institutional capital like universities to geologic benefits like attractive rivers or easily accessible ports. Cities have to figure out what it is that they can maximize and offer to people, and work with local groups and organizations to rebuild and promote the things that make them so attractive.
Acting like an entrepreneur requires that cities think about innovations and opportunities to invest. This is a challenge for cities because investments with public dollars that go south can be a reason to vote leaders out of office and can draw criticism from local residents who view their tax payer dollars as going to waste. With that in mind, cities, like any entrepreneur, must be able to cultivate multiple streams of funding for the plans they adopt and projects they take on. This requires working with organizations outside the formal city government to co-invest in projects that benefit the entire city. It also requires networking and building support systems with groups that can lead and groups that can provide the necessary assistance to get things done.
When cities adequately assess their economic prospects and develop networks to share risk and coordinate progress, real problem solving and real action can be taken. Cities can help provide the infrastructure and social capital needed for firms to move in and for organizations to feel connected to the places where they are located. This benefits the cities and provides a reason for companies to stay and invest locally by further developing the institutions that make the city an attractive and competitive place.