Introduction to My Visit to Detroit, MI

Thanks to The Bell Towers, I had the opportunity to join a group of bloggers in Detroit, MI a couple of weeks ago. The project was organized by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and took us to see a vision of Detroit that the media rarely talk about: the possible revival of Motown.

I will be posting about my experience at The Bell Towers over the next two weeks. The first post was published yesterday:

They say the first impression is the one that counts.

This may come as a surprise, but my first impression of Detroit was good. It was not thanks to the government but to free enterprise and the hard work and aspirations to a better life of individual Detroiters. My first experience, and a few others after that, let me see glimpses of hope for Detroit.

Follow the link to read the entire post and please feel free to comment there or here.

Opportunity Detroit

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Let the kid sunburn: San Antonio School district bans sunscreen, because it’s a medication and toxic

Doing the most unreasonable things in order to cover yourselves just in case something might happen. In France, they have an expression for that: it’s called the “precautionary principle” and it has become a way of life. If we don’t take risks or act on anything, nothing bad can happen, right?

In the U.S., it is also getting out of hand.

At North East Independent School District in Texas, sunscreen was banned, even though some children came back sunburned after a field trip. Why? Because it is a “toxic” product.

Riggs said her 10-year-old daughter went on a school field trip recently and came back sun-burned. Riggs said district policy didn’t allow her daughter to bring sunscreen to reapply.

“When you have a school field trip or a field day (in) which they’re out there for an extended period of time, they should be allowed to carry sunscreen and reapply,” said Riggs.

Riggs said skin cancer runs in her family and her father recently passed away from it.

But, NEISD spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said sunscreen is considered a medication, something children need a doctor’s note to have at school.

“Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” Chancellor said.

Chancellor said if parents know their child may be outdoors, they should come to school fully covered in sunscreen. At this time, she said, sunscreen can’t be brought by students to school campuses.

“We have to look at the safety of all of our students and we can’t allow children to share sunscreen,” she said. “They could possibly have an allergic reaction (or) they could ingest it. It’s really a dangerous situation.”

Kids can do stupid things sometimes – they learn – and yes, allergies happen. But then almost anything around them has to be taken into account. Field trips? What about pollen or mosquito bites allergies? Or plant toxicity? Like the mother mentioned in the report, what about glue? What if some kids decide to try and lick their color pencil?

That is also the role of teachers and school staff to make sure nothing bad happens.

Sunscreen has to be reapplied every few hours to be effective. Children’s skin is especially sensitive to sunburn. Preventing children from reapplying sunscreen under a Texas sun for so-called precautionary reasons is putting children in danger, 1) without evidence that such allergies would develop, 2) simply to take the easy way and refuse to do one’s job of monitoring the children when they are in the school’s care.

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What Is Pomegranate Juice? Can’t Consumers Read Labels Anymore?

It took the Supreme Court to decide that Coca Cola could be sued for misleading its consumers into believing that a juice mainly made with apple and grape juice was actually pomegranate and blueberry juice. It’s not about a false statement that Coca Cola would have made. It’s about the size of the statement (size matters to some obviously).

Kennedy wrote that “despite the minuscule amount of pomegranate and blueberry juices,” the company’s labeling displayed “pomegranate blueberry” in capital letters on two lines, with “flavored blend of 5 juices” in smaller type.

The first time I needed 100% pomegranate juice for a recipe, I checked the labels for ingredients. Needless to say the difference in price between a Pom Wonderful bottle and a Minute Maid bottle are also big clues. Additionally, when “flavored” is used, it is usually a sign it is not going to be 100% pure.

The label met the FDA regulations but it appears that Justice Kennedy was fooled.

The case was not brought up by a consumer though, but by competitor Pom Wonderful, suing for false advertising. So either they think their consumers are stupid – and can’t make the difference if they wanted to – or they simply are annoyed that Coca Cola is entering a niche, their niche.

Either way, I might start juicing my own pomegranates from now on.

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If It’s the Best Solution for All Parties Involved, Why Is Government Intervention Needed to Force All Parties Involved to Agree?

Everyday, in almost every area of production, the Government intervenes, often by favoring some at the expense of others. The defense of the some is often that 1) they are needed in order for customers to be protected, hence need government protection themselves; sometimes that 2) without the protection their sector would be threatened by bigger (or not) players and it will result in job losses.

Government favors can take different forms, including (but not limited to) tax and other financial incentives, cutting red tape, or limiting entry to a market.

Tesla Motors, which has benefited from government favors before, suddenly found itself on the side of opposing such government favors, because it wants to sell its cars directly to consumers, and in states such as Texas, only independently-owned, licensed dealerships can legally – thanks to franchise laws – sell new cars.

Then, there is also the excuse that Government intervention is needed to help preserve competition. Since when has Government been encouraging competition, especially by defining who does what?

In Florida, a new Senate bill

would force craft brewers to sell their bottled and canned beer directly to a distributor. If they want to sell it in their own tap rooms, they would then have to buy it back at what is typically a 30-40 percent mark-up without the bottles or cans ever leaving the brewery, according to Joshua Aubuchon, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Florida Brewers Guild.

The rule would not apply to draft beer.

“That to me looks like racketeering,” Aubuchon told Reuters.

Emphasis is mine.

In Florida, where craft brewers say their market share remains under 6 percent and most breweries produce under 3,000 barrels annually, the small beer makers are out-gunned in the legislature, where influential politicians have vowed loyalty to the national distributors.

Mitch Rubin, lobbyist for the distributors’ Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, told Reuters their goal is to re-write the state’s rules governing the craft brewing industry to create strict lines between manufacturers, distributors and retailers, which he said would preserve competition.

Craft brewers say the distributors’ clout has resulted in odd regulation in Florida, including a ban on the use of 64-ounce (half gallon) “growlers,” which are reusable jugs that can be filled directly from a beer tap and sealed for sales to-go.

Florida allows the use of quart and gallon growlers, but the 64-ounce size is the most popular in 47 other states where it is legal. Craft brewers are trying for a fourth straight year to overturn the ban.

“It’s not going to be that big of a deal (to distributors),” said Joe Redner, owner of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing. “But their response is always to come over the top with a nuclear option.”

The result was a Senate bill filed without a named sponsor that permits 64-ounce growlers but forces direct sales of all bottles and cans to a distributor, Aubuchon said.

How is competition going to be preserved by forcing craft brewers to sell their products to distributors, then buy them back from them, at a higher price, the bottles and cans that they want to sell themselves, without the bottles and cans even having to leave the craft breweries? There used to be a few names for that kind of “deal.” Joshua Aubuchon gives one of them in the article linked to above. John Cheek, founder of Orlando Brewing Co., calls it thievery:

“It’s thievery,” he said.

Cheek has no say where his beer goes or how much it costs. Instead, he must pay a distributor to pick up his bottles of beer and deliver them to whatever restaurants the distributor picks.

His downtown Orlando brewery produces organic ales and lagers for some 200 stores, restaurants and bars from Sarasota to Daytona Beach. Yet “I have no control over what they sell my product for,” he said.

The microbrewers want the right to sell one another’s experimental and small-batch brews without using a middleman.

But huge beer companies such as Anheuser-Busch InBev argue the laws protect the market from overproduction and monopolies. Regional distributors want to ensure craft brews keep flowing through their trucks.

Retailers ranging from Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits to Whole Foods want to make sure microbreweries don’t get an unfair advantage when they bottle their beer.

An unrestricted Wild West of small brewers operating as their own distributors is a threat to the system,” said Eric Criss, president of the Beer Industry of Florida, which represents MillerCoors and other craft-beer distributors.

“An unrestricted Wild West of small brewers operating as their own distributors” if they so wish is what I would call free-market or laissez-faire capitalism, the best way known to this day to foster and preserve competition, as well as the interests of consumers.

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Rotating Emergency Lights Fail French Government’s Electric Cars; French Government Fails The Unemployed

It would be amusing if only the situation wasn’t so serious. While unemployment in France keeps breaking sad records with the number of people “defined as registered job seekers who are fully unemployed [rising] 0.9% in February from the previous month to 3,347,700, the highest level since comparable records began in 1996″ and “a 4.7% increase on the total number of jobless people from the same month last year,” we also learn in the French media that the members of the French government received news toys that break easily:

In its Thursday edition, Le Nouvel Observateur reports that each member of the government has a new car: Zoé, an electric car manufactured by Renault. They must use this car model when driving inside Paris.

[…]

But the members of the government think the car has a major flaw: they cannot use a rotating emergency light to avoid traffic. The use of the precious light causes the car to break down…

The Minister of Productive Recovery, Arnaud Montebourg, was the first to use a Zoé car to go to a Government meeting in October 2012. He was then caught speeding.

How do you say FAIL in French?

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“It’s Better to Entice Pity Than Envy,” Not to Be Taxed (More Than You Already Are)

A French expression might have to be rewritten soon: “Mieux vaut faire envie que pitie” (it is better to entice envy than pity). Basically the expression means that you’d rather have people think that you are doing well even if it is not true, because you do not want them to pity you.

This expression conveys two opposite sides of a single coin though. On the one side, you do not wish to induce pity on you, preferring to deal with your problems and to deal with them yourself. This is a noble feeling since pity is not a value. On the other side of the coin, the expression supposes that doing well, possibly in the context of wealth, will attract not a feeling opposite to pity, such as happiness or admiration for the person considered, but envy.

Envy is the feeling that dominates the reflection on taxation in many local and national government offices. From US President Obama’s Fair Share Tax, to French President’s 75% “Millionaire tax,” an unidentified group called “the rich” is deemed responsible for paying a so-called “fair share” of what they earn to support government budgets.

One recent piece of news from a little Belgian town near Liege seemed to represent pretty well the envy-led policy of taxing “the rich” because they are or appear richer than others (almost anyone is “rich” compared to someone else, especially in western countries).

Oupeye was the site of a steel factory that was bought by ArcelorMittal. Unfortunately, in early 2013 ArcelorMittal announced it was closing down several of its operations in the Liege region, due to “weakening of the European economy and the resultant low demand for its products.” The news that 1,300 direct jobs might disappear resulted in the unions calling for strikes.

On its website, the town of Oupeye published a note on the 2014 budget explaining that the closure of the ArcelorMittal factory in their town had financial consequences on the budget: “when [the factory] was running at 100%, it brought in €6 million ($8.3 million) in revenues out of our €30 million ($41.6 million) town budget.”

So how did they manage the “loss”?

The note explains that the conservative administration of the town budget since 2007 enabled them to create some kind of rainy day fund of €9 million ($12.5 million) in order to cope with such a problem as the closure of the factory. But they do not wish to use it now, and prefer to apply “structural measures” year after year instead.

While we manage to save jobs (40% of the budget is dedicated to staff costs) and to keep on offering quality services to the inhabitants of Oupeye, we also continue to subsidize sports clubs and cultural organizations which allow for social cohesion and generational diversity.

So how did they do it?

They slightly reduced expenses (such as subsidized meals to employees of public services and subsidized organizations) and reduced the amount of money they are borrowing. And they slightly raised taxes of course… and created new ones:

“We did whatever we could to reduce operating costs, but we also looked for a few small taxes here and there,” the mayor Mauro Lenzini explained.
Some taxes have been increased, and two others have been created: one on private swimming pools (estimated to yield €30,000 [$46,600] in revenues), and the other on people owning a horse for their own enjoyment (€99 a year per horse, estimated to yield €11,000 [respectively, $137 and $15,300])

Many people reacted negatively, especially to the second tax, “judging that horse owners are not necessarily rich and it is unfair to tax them.” The mayor insisted: “This means €8 a month, I don’t think it is going to hurt the budget of a home that owns a horse. Adding up all these taxes will enable us to use our savings less quickly.”

Like most of the time in Europe, people don’t rebel against the act of taking from some to give to others, or the act of taxing in general, but against taxes aimed at them personally. What are people owning a horse trying to do? Entice pity:

“We are scandalized and this time, we decided to let everyone know. Why are they asking us for money?” . . . “We are average Joes here, who regularly sacrifice to pay for our horses’ food, care and horse shoeing and we pay a sales tax on all of that like anyone else.”

So what exactly “rich” means in the taxman’s mind?

Arlette Liben, in charge of Finances for the town, indicates: “We did not want to touch to low incomes. I am not going to say that the person who owns a swimming pool or a horse is rich, but with the current economic situation, we should above all try to protect low incomes.”

It is of course not clear. What is being considered rich, or richer than others? What is next? Owning a computer, a smartphone, a watch, a TV, leather shoes as opposed to cheap sneakers? This simply doesn’t make any sense, except “taking the money where it is” or where the taxman thinks it is. There is no end to this.

Another problem is the general mindset: the people who own a horse or a swimming pool might have thought “fair” to tax people with a higher revenue more than them. They might have approved and said nothing, or even supported a higher tax on higher revenues. Now that they are deemed “richer” than others, they think it is unfair. I personally could not afford a horse and the costs that go with it, but I don’t look at those who can in terms of being richer than I am, and I certainly don’t think I am entitled to part of their revenue to pay for sports clubs and cultural organizations that supposedly allow for social cohesion and generational diversity. This is not about who can pay, this is about the immorality of making some pay for others.

Bastiat talked of the State has “that great fiction by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” I don’t think he thought of it as “social cohesion.”

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Obamacare: Not Just After Your Insurance, After Your Snacks Too

I think it is now safe to say that we have all seen how the ill-named Affordable Care Act is not going to make the average health insurance plan more affordable.

This monster of an act that was probably voted without having been read, holds provisions that are discovered everyday, such as the one that follows.

If you are among those occasionally heading to the vending machine, be prepared to pay more for your snack:

There may be a lot more counting of calories when people buy snacks from vending machines or order food in certain restaurants under rules currently being crafted as part of the final phase of the Affordable Care Act.

Once the regulations are in place, calorie information will have to be displayed on roughly 5 million vending machines in many companies and in restaurants with more than 20 locations. The hope is that the changes will help consumers make healthier choices, the Associated Press reported.

Does anyone really think that choosing a Twix or chips to snack on is the healthiest thing to do? And even so, why would you force a regulation on companies because a few people would? Here’s another case of State the Savior intervening to save Consumer the Ignorant.

If the government is supposedly concerned with the consequences of our actions on OUR health, it certainly isn’t concerned too much with the consequences of its regulations on businesses, consumers or the economy:

It won’t be a cheap change, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimating it will cost almost $26 million the first year and $24 million a year after that, the AP reported. And companies with vending machines will have to foot the bill. Businesses will be given a year to comply with the new rules, although the vending machine industry has already asked for a two-year deadline, according to the wire service.

The rules will apply to about 10,800 companies that operate 20 or more vending machines. Nearly three quarters of those companies have three or fewer employees, and their profit margin is extremely low, an industry group told the AP.

Will consumers keep on buying as many snacks as before? The regulation is supposed to have us make healthier choices. From what I have seen so far, most choices in vending machines aren’t really healthy. So, thanks to the regulation, seeing the calorie count for a Twix or a KitKat should make us change our minds. Really?

Several studies, including a recent one released last week, confirmed that when it comes to eating healthy, numbers don’t count for much. Knowing that a serving of medium fries contains 380 calories, in other words, isn’t enough to convince us to downsize to a 230 calorie small, or to skip the spuds altogether.

From the results of the study cited in the Time article:

Posting calorie benchmarks had no direct impact, nor did it moderate the impact of calorie labels on food purchases. The recommendation appeared to promote a slight increase in calorie intake, attributable to increased purchases of higher-calorie entrées.

Naturally, the cost of the regulation will be passed on to consumers though, which is understandable. It will also become increasingly difficult for those companies that make very little profits from the vending machines to keep their businesses open. Ah! But the ACA is a liberation, isn’t it?

Beyond the cost of the regulation, it is the constant and omnipresent intervention of the government in our lives, at every moment, that is increasingly bothering and disturbing. What if I decide to choose the Twix over the carrot sticks? Is it anyone’s business, but mine?

UPDATE: Of course, not just vending machines are concerned, all chain restaurants with more than 20 locations are.

Section 4205 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care
Act of 2010 (Affordable Care Act) established requirements for
nutrition labeling of standard menu items for restaurants and similar
retail food establishments with 20 or more locations doing business
under the same name and offering for sale substantially the same menu
items (hereinafter “chain retail food establishments”), and for
certain foods sold in vending machines operated by an operator that
owns or operates 20 or more vending machines (hereinafter “chain
vending machine operators”). Under the Affordable Care Act, retail
food establishments and vending machine operators not covered by
section 4205 of the Affordable Care Act may elect to become subject to
its requirements by registering biannually with FDA.

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This blog now has its Facebook Page here and you can also follow it on Bloglovin’!

Social media icons can be found in the sidebar on the right.

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Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand!

Ayn Rand, American philosopher and novelist, was born 109 years ago in Russia.

During her early years in Russia and what then became the Soviet Union, she witnessed first-hand the evil of collectivism. She fled to America, a country that was founded on the respect for individual rights, or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

She dedicated her life to fighting the spread of collectivism in America by a call to reason. She described the United States of America as “the first moral society in history.” She wrote several novels that sold millions of copies, including The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and We The Living (the name of this blog is inspired by the latter).

She developed the philosophy of Objectivism whose essence she presented as follows:

1. Metaphysics Objective Reality
2. Epistemology Reason
3. Ethics Self-interest
4. Politics Capitalism

Today, she is still widely read and appreciated around the world, and especially in America. She is also sadly reviled for having foreseen what the evil of collectivism would do to America.

As evidence of the continued relevance of her novels regarding the state of the world today, below are some pictures taken at the NY Public Library in New York City and in the bookstore BookPeople in Austin, TX.

Please visit the Ayn Rand Institute and ARI Campus to learn more about her philosophy or read her books.

NYPL Reads 2013 | The Song of Broken Glass

NYPL Reads 2013 – New York Public Library, NYC – June 2013

NYPL Reads 2013 | The Song of Broken Glass

NYPL Reads 2013 | The Song of Broken Glass

NYPL Reads 2013  - Atlas Shrugged | The Song of Broken Glass

The Fountainhead Review - BookPeople in Austin, TX | The Song of Broken Glass

BookPeople Bookstore – Austin, TX – August 2013

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The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation Knows What Your…

Imagine you want to start your own business. Since you love to cook and make especially good and original cupcakes, you decide to start a cupcake business. Would you think it essential to learn how to grill a steak to perfection in order to operate your cupcake business?

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation thinks it is essential for an eyebrow threader to get a license in order to operate a business. Getting a license implies a 750-hour training course on conventional cosmetology that will teach the eyebrow threaders techniques they will not use, reports the Institute for Justice.

Ladies, are you having your eyebrows done professionally? Have you tried eyebrow threading?

Eyebrow threading is not exactly new but it has become very popular lately in western countries.

It is sometimes preferred by those who want to avoid tweezers or wax because the skin on one’s face is sensitive and red spots are not exactly sexy. Ironically, waxing is one of the techniques that is required learning by threaders to get the license. Why should you be forced to learn a technique for which you are offering an alternative that your clients favor?

It looks more like a barrier to entry for a competitor that offers a viable alternative. And indeed:

The Department issued $2,000 penalties to threaders across the state and ordered them to quit their jobs until they completed coursework in private beauty schools costing between $9,000 and $20,000.

Three threaders and two threading-business owners joined with the Institute for Justice and sued the Department in 2009, arguing that the Texas Constitution prohibits useless and expensive training requirements that do nothing to protect the public. Two lower courts ruled in favor of the Department.

New products and services often initially escape regulations if they are original and innovative enough compared to what already exists on the market, because bureaucrats have not yet set their eyes on them. But in the age we live in, any product, service or activity necessitates the “wisdom” of some government regulator, so that we can survive the potential dangers of an innovation. Apparently, the same consumers that are smart enough to earn a living in order to pay for new and innovative services, cannot be trusted in making the good decision on whether it is safe or not to try these services.

It is just one example, among many others, of the government choosing for us what is safe or not (remember fish pedicures?), telling us how to run a businesses and stopping honest people from earning a living.

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Cinnamon Buns: The New Victims of Nanny States?

I am not a big fan of cinnamon. Less is better, as far as I’m concerned (it’s a matter of taste). After 2 and a half years in the United States though, I know that it is a very much used and loved ingredient here.

Since I love to cook, I read some food blogs and I couldn’t help but notice the high number of recipes for cinnamon buns. They are also quite popular (as is cinnamon) in Nordic countries in Europe. But the European Union is worried about this favorite pastry.

It reads like a joke, but apparently it is not:

The EU’s regulations on a common type of cinnamon called cassia limit how much bakers can use: 50 milligrams per kilogram of dough, if it’s a traditional or seasonal pastry, or 15 milligrams per kilogram if it’s just a regular old everyday pastry. The concern is that cassia contains high levels of coumarin, a natural substance that can cause liver damage, if you eat too much.

This particular kerfuffle comes because the Danish food authority recently classified kanelsnegler, or cinnamon rolls, as an everyday pastry, which gives bakers a lot less cinnamon to work with than if the rolls were considered “seasonal.”

“It’s the end of the cinnamon roll as we know it,” Hardy Christensen, the head of the Danish Baker’s Association, told The Telegraph. The union is extra miffed because in Sweden, cinnamon rolls are classified as traditional, seasonal pastries, so Swedish bakers can be much more liberal in their use of the spice. The union argues that people would need to eat a whole lot of cinnamon rolls to put themselves in danger.

Wait a minute. If cassia cinnamon is so bad for our health, why is it that a “traditional or seasonal pastry” can have more of it than a “regular old everyday pastry?” Surely, if you cannot trust people with Nutella, sodas or salt, you cannot trust them with eating reasonable quantities of seasonal pastries.

Thankfully, Europeans have the European Union. If they think they can regulate the form of your vegetables, they can regulate your intake of cinnamon.

Once again, the government is meddling where it shouldn’t. If Danes enjoy their cinnamon buns with more cinnamon, they should be left free to choose to have them with more cinnamon and to responsibly face possible health consequences of eating too many buns. Hopefully the Danish Government will be as enlightened to quit meddling with cinnamon buns, as it was to abolish the fat tax.

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“Unpaid” Internship? I Don’t Think So! Internships are priceless

How many graduate students started their career with one or several internship(s)? One might assume that studying 4 years after high school (sometimes more) puts you on the starting blocks for entering the job market armed with the knowledge to start high and climb higher. But has school completely prepared you for your first job in the industry of your dreams?

I started my career with 3 internships. The first one was unpaid (although I did such a good job that the company decided to give me a generous stipend at the end of my internship, something they had never done before), the other two included a small monthly stipend (not enough to live on). These internships immensely increased my knowledge of the industry I was trying to work in. They taught me about the different paths I could take in this industry. They enabled me to experiment with each path and to choose one.

About 15 years later, armed with my different experiences and the knowledge I gained over the years, I wish to change paths and career. I expect to be able to do so thanks to an unpaid internship. Although I have what it takes to enter the field I am trying to enter, I do not have experience. On the job market, I am facing people who have dedicated their past experience to this new field I am trying to enter. An internship can give me the occasion to prove my worth, pay my dues and start building experience in this new field.

Such opportunities in any industry are being threatened though.

Condé Nast, the media company that owns publications such as GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, or Wired, has recently decided to stop its internship program:

Magazine publisher Condé Nast, fighting allegations by former interns that they were paid less than $1 an hour for tasks such as proofreading articles and organizing jewelry, is ending its internship program, a company spokeswoman said Wednesday.

This comes after a number of former interns decided to sue the company they interned in. They retrospectively demand the minimum wage for the internships they completed.

Should internships be paid? Why would students “work for free”? Aren’t interns receiving anything in exchange for completing the tasks they are assigned to during their internship? Are interns supposed to work during an internship?

My 4 years of university studying business administration and marketing had not prepared me to work in a company. Of course, I had many of the theoretical bases necessary to understand how the real world worked but I had yet to be faced with reality.

Textbooks may teach you how to treat customers in order not to lose them. Do they tell you what to do when your best client becomes hysterical on the phone because the thousand-dollars order he needs today and has ordered one month ago has still not arrived and the delivery company cannot locate the order? What do you do? Is apologizing enough? Do you deliver the order yourself? What if the client is on the other side of the planet? Of course you may have ideas on how to deal with this. But after a couple of cases of the kind, you will know exactly how to tract orders in advance to make sure they reach their destination in time, and no client is left unsatisfied. You will have faced the problems first hand. You will have learned how to deal with them.

Internships enable you to learn the inner workings of the job you’d like to do, with the benefit of the supervision and advice of someone, an employee, who has faced the problems before and is paid to prevent them from happening. No textbook will teach you experience. Working will give you experience. Experience will enable you to apply and complete what you have learned in school.

With an entry-level job, you are responsible of the tasks you are paid to do; with an internship, you can experience the tasks and perfect your knowledge. Interns are not supposed to know exactly how to do a job. They’re supposed to have the knowledge to understand how to do it and to be able to do it once someone has showed them how to perform the task.

What about knowing what you want to do? When I was a student, I knew (or so I thought) that I wanted to work in the music business. My university training did not prepare me at all to work in the music business. I read several books to learn everything I could on how the business worked. Although I had preferences, how could I know whether I would rather work in a radio, in a record company, or in an artist management company? All options had their interesting parts. I interned 6 months in a radio station and 9 months in a record company, with different labels and positions. That is how I found out. I could not have “tried” different paths with entry-level jobs. I could with internships.

Interning is a way of entering an industry, having the opportunity to prove your worth, get recommendations, network with people working in the industry, get advice from their experience… it is the first step to opening the door to an industry that can be very competitive, and in which your resume will compete with thousands of others (including some with a huge experience).

In the case of Condé Nast, would-be or former interns have expressed their concerns about the future of an ambitious student willing to work in the fashion business without the perspective of getting an internship. Some have also shared the benefits they received from such internships (check here, here, here, or here). Internships, in some industries, are like the golden key to a closed door: if you perform well during the internship, the doors open.

In addition, you earn a salary when you can do the job you have been hired to do. Interns are paid in intangible (not money) value because they present the risk of not being able to do the job: like some interns so often remind everyone, they are here to learn, not to work. Now can you learn to do a job without doing it? And if you can already do a job, do you need to learn to do it?

Far from being “unpaid,” so-called “unpaid” internships are rewarding interns with values that can prove to be much more valuable than a minimum-wage. You can get the minimum wage by selling clothes are your local H&M, but will it help you be the editor of a world-renowned fashion magazine? You will need to learn what the tasks of an editor are, and practice performing them.

Is it “all gain no pain” for the company and “a way to cut costs”?

The reality is a bit different. The company that welcomes interns invest time and money into them. Depending on the interns (and I have one in mind from when I was myself interning), this can cost them more than they get back. (And yes, I do think the company should get something in return for offering an internship to a student, but this should be the subject of another post.)

Interns will get the attention that few regular employees will ever get. They will benefit from close supervision in order to learn how to work. This means employees will take time to show them how their business work, they will answer questions, rectify errors and explain the problem to interns. These employees will play the role of a teacher in the company. It also means precious hours during which these employees cannot perform their job because they are training interns. Many internships are also part-time, which is not ideal for a follow-up of tasks in a company, but most companies understand that a student will either need to attend classes or find a paying, part-time job on the side.

Indeed, a company gives a lot in return for an intern completing some tasks. Some interns may not get money in exchange for their work, but they get experience, time, recommendations, and networking opportunities. Isn’t it what a contract should be about, exchanging value for value?

Of course, there will be internships that will be disappointing: some interns may have to perform tasks that may have nothing to do with their training and what they aspire to do in the future. But no one is bound to an internship. I had friends who stopped internships because they realized they didn’t get the value they expected from them. They did not want to do less, they wanted to do more of the task a regular employee was doing.

An internship is a contract that is signed freely between an employer and an intern because both sides think that they are going to benefit from the contract. Would you enter a contract in which you might lose money and are certain not to get any benefit? Students against unpaid internships would not, visibly. Neither would I. So why is the law expecting a company to get no benefit from an intern?

Forcing companies to pay interns the minimum wage when they perform tasks will not help inexperienced professionals. It will very naturally encourage employers to seek more experienced people for paid positions. It will destroy the position of intern. It will ruin the opportunities currently available to ambitious, knowledgeable but inexperienced students (for those who just graduated) or professionals (for those trying to change career paths). “Unpaid” internships are invaluable to these people.

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“I’m so in Debt, I Could Start a Government” #bartonspringssaloon

This has circulated on the Internet yesterday. While it is in Austin, just a couple dozen miles away from where I live, it is someone from France that sent it to me via Facebook (thanks to JS!).

I had to go and see it for myself.

Barton Springs Saloon

Barton Springs Saloon

I couldn’t help but notice the ATM next to the sign.

And then the Fed came to mind.

Barton Springs Saloon

Maybe a copier machine would be more appropriate than an ATM to start a government.

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The Work of Bipartisanship

This week’s chart series uses data from the US Treasury to illustrate the past 30 years of raising the debt ceiling. These charts show that raising the debt ceiling and living beyond our means is a bipartisan problem.

Veronique de Rugy’s Mercatus Center article can be found here.

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We Are Going to Need Plenty of Kids

I generally keep my political and philosophical positions to myself, especially when at work, unless asked, or unless I want to state that I disagree with a statement I judge immoral. The latter happened more than once, of course, but in one particular instance, I was particularly struck by the evil of a socialist mind on survival mode.

We were three in the office, a female and a male colleagues, plus myself. The female colleague was saying that she was really enjoying her time with her son and that if she could, she would have another child. The male colleague, with a big, joker smile on his face, said while rubbing his hands: “Ladies, you must make plenty of children to pay for our pensions!”

Me: “What?!???”

Him, half joking: “Well, yes, you must be a good citizen.”

Those who know me know I generally keep a calm composure. So I calmly answered that “I do not intend to give birth to little slaves.”

His answer: “There you go, you are over reacting!”

Was I?!

Of course, trying to have a logical discussion was pointless here. When I pointed out that what he was saying was that some people had to literally live (be born) in order to work to pay for their elders’ pensions, the male colleague quickly changed the subject discussed and left the room.

It is not surprising then, that some of the people who think that government spending should be increased, regardless of the cost to people today and in the decades to come, do not see any problem with the growing and already unsustainable United States government debt. They think they are entitled to “free” “services” and, the worse part is that they know someone will have to pay for that. Not their problem though.

I realize the European pension or American social security problem is one of a ponzi scheme: our and our children’ elders have been robbed naked of their money with the promise that it was invested for their pensions, while it was not. Does that give them the right to perpetuate the scheme? That someone would acknowledge and support the fact that more people will be needed in the future to pay for pensions does not make the person a victim, but an accomplice of the scheme.

The video below is almost 2 years old, but sadly still very true and relevant today (only the amount of the debt has increased). It does not deal with the social security issue per se, but with the US debt. Watch until the end of the video to see what I was getting at above. Human lives de facto sacrificed for the sake of others’.

(Hat tip for the video: Victoria)

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What Happens when People Are Fed Up with the Government?

They try and take the measures necessary to break from it.

It seems that a number of counties in different States are looking into secession as a serious option. Two counties in California have started a movement to (re)create the Jefferson State:

The Modoc County Board of Supervisors today voted to join neighboring Siskiyou County in its bid to secede from the State of California.

Board Chairman Geri Byrne said a measure to join the push to form a State of Jefferson was approved by a vote of 4-0, with one supervisor absent.

“I put the measure on the agenda because I heard from a number of people in my district that wanted to do such,” Byrne said. “We’re not saying we’re seceding today, we’re saying let’s look into it.”

(…)

The move makes Modoc the second county to join in the fight to form the State of Jefferson in less than a month. Siskiyou County passed a measure to start the secession process at the supervisor’s Sept. 3 meeting.

Mark Baird, a spokesperson for the Jefferson Declaration Committee, said the group hopes to have a dozen counties commit their support before asking California legislators to allow the formation of the new state.

“California is essentially ungovernable in its present size,” Baird said. “We lack the representation to address the problems that affect the North State.”

“We’re looking for 12 counties, though we can certainly do it with less,” he said.

What are some of the grievances cited by the Jefferson Declaration Committee?

…the Modoc County Board of Supervisors recognizes the lack of representation for rural and frontier counties in the California Legislature and the Board is aware of an increasing tendency by the State of California to exercise legislative and fiscal malfeasance in the form of an illegal fire tax, property rights violations, and assaults upon Second Amendment rights, as well as, disregard for other inalienable rights of the Citizens of Modoc County…

Meanwhile, in Colorado,

on Nov. 5, residents of 11 counties across rural Colorado will vote on a proposal to secede from the state and, advocates hope, take the first step toward throwing off new gun controls, green energy requirements and other laws imposed by Democrats in charge in Denver, the state capital 75 miles away.

(…)

Much of the grievance is local in nature. Rural Colorado is farm country — Weld County is the eighth-largest agricultural producer in the nation in terms of market value — and a rich source of oil and natural gas. That yields enormous revenue for the state, officials say, most of which goes elsewhere. Roads are neglected, they complain, and schools are underfunded.

Even the recent floods that pummeled the area have provoked finger-pointing; some say they never would have happened, or been as bad, if environmentalists and their liberal allies hadn’t blocked construction of controversial water storage projects.

(…)

Most egregious, critics say, were adoption of stricter gun controls and the law requiring rural electricity providers to double their renewable energy sources by 2020.

Many here cheered the recent recall of two urban lawmakers from southern Colorado, one of them the president of the state Senate, in a campaign focused on the new gun laws, which include universal background checks and limits on the size of ammunition magazines.

Whether these initiatives succeed or not remains to be seen , but they are proof that a growing number of productive people are fed up with a Government that imposes regulations and makes an increasing percentage of the producers’ earnings de facto property of the Government. And they are tired of remaining silent about it.

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On Working Less and the Pursuit of Happiness

A discussion with any American liberal still has to turn out differently. After telling them that I am originally from France, I receive a big “Wow! France! I love France! The food and the art de vivre!” Generally, they instantly become best friend forever with me, until I discuss my philosophical and/or political views.

“Oh how I envy you, with your 4 weeks of paid vacations and 35-hour work week!”

I am still amazed at the number of Americans (liberal or not) that I have met who think life is easy and sweet in France. Supposedly, we work less and accomplish more. We know that relaxation is important, taking the time to follow one’s passions and not always work, work, work!

Agreed, some people are more productive than others, and can accomplish more in less time than some other people. Not all are though.

Some do work less indeed, whether they like it or not is another problem. With an official unemployment rate of nearly 11% (and nearly 25% among young people age 15-24), a large part of the population can follow their passion.

If you are wondering with what money someone would follow one’s passion if they are out of work or underemployed, you might want to ask the question to Representative Nancy Pelosi. When questioned about the comment of Teamsters’ President James P. Hoffa on how ACA is “destroy[ing] the foundation of the 40-hour work week,” she smiled and declared that it was “a liberation” for the American people:

“Overwhelmingly, for the American people, this is a liberation, this is life, healthy life, liberty, the freedom to pursue your happiness, which could be follow your passion for good rather than follow your palate and be constrained by your policy. It’s about wellness. It’s about prevention, it’s about a healthier America.”

[As an aside, can someone explain to me what she meant by “follow your palate”?]

I assume she is talking about ACA (the Affordable Care Act [sic]) as a liberation, and not the reduced working hours many people have been subjected to due to ACA. Even then, I can’t help but wonder how someone, even someone healthy (supposing for a second that ACA would be the miracle she seems to claim it is), could follow their passion and pursue their happiness without being able to sustain themselves. Of course, Ms. Pelosi will evade these details, something only commoners might care to worry about.

I won’t discuss here the fact that for many people, following one’s passion or happiness, is working at the job they have chosen to do and this is precisely what life and liberty imply to them. This will deserve another post.

What are the consequences though? It is summed up in the title of an article on this page: “Why Everyone Wants to Work in France (But No One Wants to Hire There).”

Although the article is, in my sense, somehow making the French employees’ “rights” look like an advantage to be sought (droits acquis or “acquired rights” is an expression the French will use ad nauseam to cling to an unfair advantage they receive at the expense of others), the result is clear: no one wants to hire there. Add to that something that is not listed in the article, the fact that it is extremely difficult to fire someone in France (and if possible, it is always expensive), and you’ve got yourself the recipe for decades of slow growth and high unemployment. The Government will step in and “create” jobs, some will argue: yet again, something France has tried already.

It seems that many an American who wishes to live the nice life we (supposedly) live in la douce France, are about to get a taste of it. Then maybe, these will understand why the discussion on how sweet life must be in France always left a bitter taste in my mind and why there is no such thing, even in France, as “free” healthcare (via the Acton Institute Blog):

In the waiting room of the Family Health Center on Portland Avenue, Kelli Ramirez, an uninsured restaurant server, appears to be a perfect example of someone ready to benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

“I don’t have any (insurance). I can’t afford it. I come here,” Ramirez said.

Yet, Ramirez, 35, is not embracing the ACA, even as it makes her eligible for free health insurance.

“I don’t like it,” Ramirez said. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all,” because she is already paying a steep price for her free health insurance.

“I got my hours cut in half because they put a new computer system in orders,” Ramirez explained…

Ramirez said her hours have been cut from 32 per week to 16 per week, though a superior was working to add more to her schedule.

“They only have so many people that can be full time because of the cost of health insurance,” Ramirez said, defending her employer. “And so now most of us that are working lower jobs are going to have to get a second job just to be able to make it.”

Posted in France, healthcare, socialism, unemployment, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome and About the Blog

Again, welcome to The Song of Broken Glass!

You can learn more about what motivates this blog in the About page.

I intend to post as regularly as possible about my subjects of interest, among others: capitalism, corporate social responsibility, individual rights, the effects of collectivism and statism on the economy and on individuals, and sadly, the fact that the U.S. is becoming a little more like France or Europe, philosophically speaking, every day.

If this post is long overdue, it is because I kept seeing similarities with what was going on in the United States right now, and what has become of Europe and France. I was afraid I had too much of an ethnocentric view of current events, but sadly, some resemblances can hardly be denied.

Please feel free to react and comment, or contact me if you have questions. I welcome honest debate on ideas and facts.

Let’s roll!

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Welcome to The Song of Broken Glass

This blog is currently under construction. If you are intrigued enough to want to read more, please come back in September :-)

Thank you. Have a productive summer!

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