Working together… taking risks together.

Landing (Photo credit: Rhubarble)

44 years and one week ago, we worked together and landed on the moon. We invested massively as a society and we all took the risk that the mission may fail. Yet, we came out of it benefiting not only from the pride of such an amazing achievement, but also by the myriad technologies developed by the process to achieve said achievement. No money was made, no one became dirty rich over it, if it failed it would have ruined no one’s lives except the individual astronauts who were willing to take the risk for all of us and yet, we all gained in the long term.

We gave up short term gain by investing money, sweat, blood and tears on such a grand venture for all mankind.

We would have all gained from the investment in engineering and research regardless of the success of the mission, and a few heroes who went on that flying firework were the ones that took all the risk.

Business firms like Xerox invented  the PC as we know it (ethernet, GUI, etc.) They worked to create long-term value for their business, not simply to get short-term gain at all costs.

Wouldn’t that be nice if we could get over our religion of individualism and do the same today?

The ultra-individualism developing over the past decades has lead to short-term thinking, massive risk-taking and wholesale destruction of the social contract that kept all of us united and building a better world together. We excuse it because of the myth that anyone, without regards to luck, familial connections or access to capital can somehow become an individualistic God (read: billionaire) by simply working hard on that idea that changes everything.

Yes, some people have done that and helped the world – Steve JobsBill Gates, etc. However many, many more have not and what’s worse is many have discovered the best way to become a God in an individualistic secularist world is to cheat the system, find the loopholes where you can make money without adding value, where you can perform rent-seeking.

Firms like FedEx and UPS cut costs by providing terrible customer service because it saves them money in the short term, even though it could cost them customers in the long term. They rely on the barrier to entry of cost to get away with it, just as the wireless carriers in Canada regularly work to ensure that no real competitor exists against them so they can provide the worst quality server and most expensive data plans without fear of repercussions.

Many businesses have stopped trying to create value for society, instead trying to make competition difficult, if not impossible.

Our government systems have evolved from systems which work to improve the well being of all, into systems designed to maintain the status quo and only help those who are already successful – social darwinism by any other name.

We had a grand financial and economic experiment for the past 20 years. An experiment designed to take the wealth of the richest people and increase it without adding any significant value to the economy, all without risk – rent-seeking on a grand scale. These investments were nothing like the risky investments by the rich English bankers in the days of exploration – investments to build boats to bring the riches of the orient back to Europe or investments into building railways to connect millions and allow factories to be built. These investments were designed to be risk-free money producing money without any consideration for the production of value for society as a whole.

This whole house of cards collapsed in 2008.

Trillions of dollars were wiped from the account books in an instant and most Americans, heck most people worldwide had no say in this risk-taking, so their hands should have been clean when it failed. Those who taken the risk should bear the brunt of that gamble failing.

Yet, they haven’t.

In fact, those who did the risk-taking, those who gambled and lost have come out better than before from this. The economy has already recovere for them. Yet the contractors who build their houses, the factory labourers who build their goods, their software programmers who program their software, the doctors and nurses who take care of them, the teachers who taught them, the workers who pave their roads, even the barristas who makes their coffee are all still paying for their failure, and worse the government – our government – has made it clear that they aren’t going to even try to get any of the money back from them. The true failures of the experiment suffered nothing (or barely) while we, the labourers and the creators, suffer the most to save them from becoming failures.

We suffer in order to save these people from becoming fallen Gods, even though that’s what they already are. We are all sacrifices at the alter of individualism.

We went over 40 years from a world where the heroes brought back pieces of the stars to us, to a world where we all have to sacrifice to the fallen Gods of our individualistic religion, even if it costs us our soul as a united society.

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Dreams of a real TTC

I ran across the following image today:

TTC dream map
TTC dream map

It got me thinking about Toronto and our interesting, but underwhelming public transit system. It’s a real problem that we are still clogging up our vehicular arteries with streetcars (see Queen St. during rush hour) and trying to compensate for it with patches to the existing system, or incrementalism, rather than simply doing it correctly the first time. What’s crazier though is we claim we do the incrementalism to save money, when in reality these subway designs and relief lines have been in planning since the early 1900s and if they were built when they were originally suggested, they would have cost less money overall than building the equivalent system today would have.

Anyone who has driven in this city will easily agree that the road system, at best, has difficulties handling the traffic load at that time, and at worst is actually fundamentally dangerous. This has become particularly worse now that the city is starting to densify downtown, and the condos have introduced an entirely new group of drivers and pedestrians further amplifying the problem. Many people who live along the TTC simply take the subway, but as I have experienced (and no doubt many of you have experienced), riding the TTC between 4:30 and 6:30pm on a weekday is as futile as trying to keep a snowball whole in a 400 degree oven. With either shoulder-to-shoulder discomfort on the streetcars, or a wait for the 3rd or 4th subway car before you can even get on the train at St. George or Bloor station interchanges.

It’s not like I’m saying anything new though. There have been a huge number of suggested improvements to the current system. It’s not like there’s a lack of good ideas out there, and even taking a small portion of any of those maps and starting to build it now would immediately make life for ordinary people in Toronto (and surrounding area) better and more importantly safer.

If we build it now, we will save money in the future, it’s that easy. These subways need to be built as the city grows, and as anyone can easily see, Toronto isn’t going to start shrinking anytime soon.

Our governments (municipal, provincial, and federal) won’t do anything about it unless Torontonians start demanding it now and demanding that we build it right the first time. A lasting, solid system that Canada can be proud of.

Just my thoughts,


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