A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams


October 2014

It is Not the Humans, It is the System: On Bike Messengers and Wage Abuse

There are two reasons why I like this article by Mr. Stromberg on Vox. The first is that the cover photo is of someone on a bicycle who clearly understands and appreciates that Pink is the fastest color.

Cover image from Vox's article on bike messengers
Bike messengers know style.

The second reason is that this article clearly explains why a persona in our society is not a villian, fundamentally evil and worthy of disdain, but rather another victim of the greater inhuman, indeed machine-like system in which we all operate. Economics is all about understanding incentives and if we give people the permission and the incentive to abuse each other, they will. Moreover, because the system is so big and removed from any individual’s choices, those of us who are hurt (pedestrians and drivers who are startled and annoyed by cyclists) don’t even know where to direct our anger because even though it’s the cyclist, or the cashier, or the customer service representative that sends us the message that we are not valued, it’s the manager, and his supervisor, and the owner of the company who operates inside a system that cares only about money and nothing of honor or dignity that is truly at fault.

Modern markets remove our control over our lives by limiting our options for employment and consumption. What might be worse, though, is that also remove our ability to express righteous anger at the injustice because the “market” isn’t something we can ever meet in person.

Have a read: Bike Messenges Pay

Week 1: I Love My Students!

I just finished my first week of classes for the new semester. It is now one full year since I started teaching here and I’ve never been so excited by my students!

The first class of the day was my basic microeconomics class. I made a point of being relaxed and just talking about the things that I care about while still sticking to the subject of the day. I also tried a new method of asking students for feedback. I picked a number (first three, then five) and every nth student would have to answer my question. It was really effective and I had a lot of participation without having to wait too long for students to hem and haw out their answers. At the end of the class one of the girls approached me and told me that she thought I was a really wonderful economics teacher and that she wished I could have taught her when she was a freshman. Wow! And on a day where I hardly prepared my talk! I was positively glowing for a solid hour after that.

The second class was orientation for my special seminar. This seminar is designed for young graduate students or undergraduates who are working on their thesis. One of the students who attended my orientation today is a former student of mine from my basic class. She’s a real smarty and I was flattered that she wanted to study with me again. After orientation she told me that she really wanted to study behavioral economics, and maybe even write her thesis under my supervision. I was flattered even harder. Unfortunately I am more than a little one-of-a-kind at this university and I don’t know of any other faculty who are doing behavioral work, so I felt like I couldn’t be much help to her. However, what really made my day was what the next student said to me.

In the last session of the week an exchange student from Canada attended my class and during introductions he said to me that he would be writing his graduation thesis based on the material we study and that he is frustrated that economics seems to never ever work the way it says it should. His criticisms of economics are the same as mine and he wants me to guide him on his way to find answers!

I couldn’t tell you who was more gratifying or inspiring today. I fight so often with feelings of impotence and futility in my work that to hear from these students that I was an inspiration to them, that they appreciated me and that they thought they could learn something valuable from me, this was so wonderful I could cry. Better! This was so wonderful to hear that now I feel excited to do more work! I feel like I matter to people and that my struggles do have meaning! People want to hear what I have to say and I want to rise to the level of their hopes.

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