On lack of sleep and a recent negative COVID-19 test, the Saturday Cup of Joe is here. I enjoy bringing quick updates on what’s happening this week but I wrote too much already. So, instead, I’ll save the updates for next week and cut the intro short. It’s been a busy week and one I hope that returns to regular schedule next week, or as regular as our schedules are in 2020.
Thank you for reading and hope this week’s Saturday Cup of Joe from Detroit brings up some interesting questions and provokes new ideas.
Can we talk about tyranny?
This week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was the target of a kidnapping scheme that, not surprisingly, was foiled by FBI agents before it could be carried out. As part of the reporting on the case, the FBI reported that the suspects called her “a tyrant” and wanted to “put her on trial for treason.”
The second part does not even warrant a response.
The first claim — is Governor Whitmer a tyrant? — got me thinking.
To dictionary.com we go:
Tyrant. A sovereign or other ruler who uses power oppressively or unjustly.
Oppressively strikes me as subjective to some interpretation. Unjustly seems to require a sense of justice, which very much requires perspective on who is doing what to whom. Neither are particularly specific to help us here. But let’s find out.
Oppressive. burdensome, unjustly harsh, grievous or “causing discomfort by being excessive, intense, elaborate.”
There’s unjustly again. Burdensome doesn’t sound so bad. Grievous sounds really bad. Discomfort, not so bad. Intense sounds more significant than discomfort but not grievous.
Grievous. causing great sorrow or outrageous, atrocious or “causing great pain or suffering.”
There we have it. Governor Whitmer causes great sorrow with her outrageous, atrocious and great pain-and-suffering-causing decisions.
Therein lies the rub.
Our language allows for personal opinion and interpretation. Always has.
It is also easily taken out of context. For example, without the entire, somewhat-unnecessary dictionary.com exercise, the sentence “Governor Whitmer causes great sorrow with her outrageous, atrocious and great pain-and-suffering-causing decisions” could be perceived as my actual opinion unless the context and syntax indicate sarcasm. That or that it was written by a bot.
My point is that one result of our country becoming more diverse, interconnected, complicated and complex is that our communication is also more all-those-things. There is greater ability to infer and impute opinion and perspective.
The reason this is important now is that we have many more sources and much greater access to information.
When I was a 1L intern in law school, I spent the Summer at the Legal Bureau of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). My first day there was a protest of the Arizona law allowing law enforcement to request immigration and citizenship papers during any police stop or interaction in the state. 47 people laid down in the middle of Broadway in lower Manhattan to protest Arizona’s state law, blocking traffic and ultimately getting arrested. The Deputy Commissioner of the Legal Bureau said to me, “When something happens anywhere in the world, there’s a protest or a response somewhere here in our city.”
This is now true not only in every city but everywhere online.
It can feel overwhelming. If you don’t know how to talk about it or handle it, it can feel like tyranny.
It’s just more complicated.
Governor Whitmer is not a tyrant. Her decisions did not direct pain and suffering on the bodies and lives of her constituents.
Governor Whitmer is managing an evolving threat, in real time, and trying to use the best available information to make the most consistent policy. She reacted with clarity and leadership. Immediately, when you saw the word leadership, you probably thought that meant a positive thing, like I was supportive of all her decisions. Did you stop to ask or just assume?
Back to dictionary.com.
Leadership means the position or functioning of guiding or leading a group.
But we mean so much more in what we say and we assume more than we mean.
When I see someone call Governor Whitmer a tyrant, I laugh. Honestly. Because, to me, I interpret that to mean the speaker has lost perspective on pain and suffering. I immediately compare it to the physical oppression and unjust treatment of men, women and children in many countries around the world. When I think of tyranny, I do not think of short-term business closures and required masks policies. In fact, even if a court ultimately rules that required mask policies need to be determined by the state health officials and not the Governor, I do not interpret that to mean the Governor was a tyrant to propose the policy in the first place.
Instead, I consider the context. What led up to the word or sentence or policy. What do I know about the world that informs the rest of my assumptions by comparison?
It also means that I do not deny that there were negative, in fact painful, consequences of Governor Whitmer’s decisions. I’m just able to put those in context, too. Put those in perspective without equating them to physical torture or grievous atrocities. Acknowledging and empathizing with economic suffering, with the anxiety that accompanies economic uncertainty also does not mean passing judgment on whether or not it was worth it. Those two things can exist separately.
I think context and perspective is lost in many of the stories and interactions, especially political interactions we’re reading about all day, every day.
Our language is naturally vague and circular. That’s not new. What’s new is the need to go further, think more critically about context and word choice before (or separate from) passing judgment. Information is coming from many sources at a speed that, believe it or not, is relatively new in the context of human history.
It requires asking more specific questions than we’re used to:
“Where did you read that?”
“What was the context of that statement?”
“What did you mean by that?”
“What did he mean by that?”
“Are you sure that was the meaning?”
One thing I get asked pretty much every day at work that I have not heard once in a debate or political conversation: “What was the source of that data?”
Instead of trying to change anyone’s mind about politics or policy, my goal is to ask better questions of myself and encourage you to do the same.
Asking better questions must lead to better answers.
If it doesn’t, then everything ends up meaning nothing.
My mom used to use a phrase that I always use as well — keep in mind or keep that in mind. I thought of that when I read the stories on the group of men arrested for attempting to kidnap Governor Whitmer. According to FBI reports, the suspects joined up with a militia for assistance. The Michigan-based militia was already under FBI surveillance for the group’s “earlier plans to ‘target and kill police officers’.”
So when I hear the President of the United States or others raising accusations that it’s Antifa or Black Lives Matter protestors who use violence and threaten police officers, I want to keep in mind this story. Seems easy from social media or the mainstream media to continue to try to identify “good guys” and “bad guys.” Similarly we’re now all familiar with the President’s efforts to identify “good guys on both sides” during the Charlottesville protests and resulting violence. I’m not bringing this up to try to win some political ad points. I just wanted to keep in mind that when we talk about violence against police officers and we talk about civil unrest, including and especially who poses an actual threat to my family and public safety, these guys do. There is a lot of fear out there especially in cities and there are a lot of accusations about the motivations on all sides.
It almost seems when certain people talk about protests turning violent or even the potential for that to happen, they imply that only one group could make that happen — not the police and not these militiamen. But this attempt to try to draw lines or specific categories so that every city is viewed the same and/or that every protest as dangerous as this one or that one, misses the broader context. To target the protestors as dangerous does not tell the whole story and has me thinking — which ones. The more we see these militias in the streets, the more I’m asking who the real threat is, who is the more serious threat.
Barriers to entry or legitimate concerns. There is an interesting tug o’ war going on over what fintech means and where it should be regulated. Fintech has always elicited eyerolls even before blockchain and artificial intelligence. Now, though, fintech is maturing and challenging existing incumbents in a way that is causing some traditional levers of power & influence to emerge.
The OCC led by Brian Brooks, former GC of FannieMae, has encouraged the creation of a national charter to oversee expansion and innovation of financial technology firms. Banks and state regulators immediately pushed back. At first glance, perhaps both could be accused of self-interested turf war. Banks do not want to have to innovate or compete with rapidly advancing consumer technology — for better and worse. State regulators who see moves to centralize regulation in DC and nationally as further diminishing of their role. A deeper question is emerging, though, on whether this is actually a philosophical question about how open the market will be for new ideas and new companies.
The OCC charter could, in theory, ensure that giant tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon, solidifying their presence over every aspect of the market.
“Overseen by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the charter would allow firms like Facebook, Google or Amazon to bypass the process by which they need to collect money transmitter licenses state by state. It would instead offer payment companies a national servicing platform to replace the regime of state regulations such firms would be subject to under existing laws.” Source: PYMNTS.
At first it was all about liquidity and stability, but increasingly it is about the concentration of power and control.
A Wired.com story this week linked the reaction to monopolies to the rise of large tech companies going so far as to ask regulators and policymakers to breakup the companies the same way manufacturing and communications companies were broken up in the 1920s.
“Equally important, more and more law enforcers are abandoning the neoliberal philosophy of antitrust in favor of a traditional focus on protecting democracy and liberty from concentrations of power and control.”
But, in many ways, technology and innovation has served to help challenge concentrations of power and control. So where is the line that a technology company’s success becomes not an actual threat to democracy and liberty but rather a threat to so many established industries simultaneously that it appears more powerful than it is.
Case in point, fintech.
What about banks competing for checking & savings accounts is more democratic than Facebook, Google and Amazon competing with them for consumer banking services?
Put another way — we need to know more about what these tech firms are attempting to monopolize before declaring them a threat to democracy. On one hand, monopolizing information and the access to information is certainly a potential threat. On the other hand, each is overlapping not only with each other but with existing industries. Is fintech the area that will finally bring the entire debate over Big Tech to a boil?
The Wired.com author, Barry Lynn, ends on this note: “It is also vital to relearn how to intentionally structure corporations and markets, and access to technologies, as the trustbusters of the 20th century did.”
As you know I’m always in support of being intentional about choices and actions. Not sure how we’ll accomplish this level intentionality when the mere mention of businesses like Facebook and Amazon gets political quickly (Russia meddling in elections, Jeff Bezos as the richest man in the world, etc.). That said, all these institutions — corporations, Congress, the Presidency, and communities — are just groups of people formed to make decisions.
Interesting that in a time when everyone believes we’re more fractured politically and socially than ever before that historians and regulators are worried that we’re too centralized in technology, power and control. If consumers saw spending and downloading and sharing as civic, would that change the landscape without the need for breaking up Big Tech? Are consumers capable of treating spending like voting? How does self-interest play a role?
In many ways the culture of the Internet is both at odds with monopolies and fueling them. How could that be?
No matter the outcome of the Presidential election it seems the next year or two will be a lot about regulation and the role of technology in markets and in our private lives. It will likely be a generation-defining issue whenever, that is, we get to being intentional about it.
3 quick hit articles on Housing. I felt that by next week these article might not be as useful. So, here’s some interesting stuff that might help your outlook or strategy as you prepare for the coming week.
I know, sounds almost like clickbait, but it’s not.
Millennials are suffering from what it means to move back in with your parents in your mid-thirties. As we all know, especially those in the real estate and mortgage industries, Millennials are delaying life milestones in favor of career opportunities. There’s thousands of articles on that. Once COVID-19 change the economic, job and real estate landscape in many places, some millennials decided to move back home until a plan of the future emerges. The only problem is that it’s not that easy.
I think of Millennials as peak “supposed to” kids. We were supposed to play a variety of sports, participate in diverse activities and be well-rounded. We were supposed to make honor roll, join National Honor Society, and get into a good college. We were supposed to overachieve, make our teachers and bosses very proud of us, and follow our dreams. We were supposed to change the world.
All those supposed to’s really add up. Now if there is a dramatic change in where you live or how you live, many Millennials feel it as a complete disruption of “the plan.” Moving back in with your parents being the ultimate concession.
“Many of my millennial clients who move back home feel they are emotionally regressing,” said Sara Stanizai, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It’s very common for adults to feel like kids again when interacting with their parents. So, everyone needs to learn to renegotiate house rules for adults, things like a curfew or having guests over. Some adults think it’s a no-brainer that their parents would not have a right to dictate these things. But some parents think it’s a given, ‘my house, my rules.’”
But where are they moving?
Those moving back home with parents are likely moving back to the suburbs they previously left. Those moving off the coasts on their own are finding smaller, mid-tier cities.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been writing about the suburbs less from a Millennial-perspective and more from a fair housing and racial equity perspective. Millennials moving back in with their parents is not going to change how their parents vote or view the suburbs, I suspect.
Both President Trump and Vice President Biden mentioned the suburbs in their first debate. Bloomberg’s City Lab compared and contrasted these views of the suburbs.
The reality is: “Segregated suburbs are not an artifact of consumer choice. The suburbs have been built up that way for decades as a result of federal policy, or more precisely, a failure to enforce civil rights-era laws to dismantle segregation.”
When Millennials walk their parent’s dog around the neighborhood or go house shopping in the suburbs to escape their higher priced urban home, they will see a suburbs that neither as diverse as Biden claims or as threatened as Trump claims. The suburbs are exclusive and can remain so, if nothing else changes.
“While the federal government has sat on its hands for decades, the Trump administration has actively sought to undermine or discard the tools that make this work possible.”
Here, both sides are not telling the whole story. To me the outlook is easy to define. The Trump administration is saying that imperfect tools need to be thrown out completely and then flipping the imperfect tools to also (somehow) be a threat to a suburban way of life.
At the same time, admitting the current application and interpretation of the rules is imperfect and could be improved is viewed as admitting defeat. “Something is better than nothing” is not a completing sales pitch.
And so here we are. Consider the source. Consider the data. Consider the outcome as we continue to see rhetoric trump reality in this particular area of federal policy.
NextBelt: When I started writing about the Next Belt, this is what I meant. purpose.jobs & OPTIMIST teamed up to publish “Midwest Salary & Cost of Living Handbook.” Advancing tech community with creativity and jobs. Diverse communities in historic cities representing character and grit. Low cost of living leading to high quality of life.
As our economy and way of life changes during COVID-19 and beyond, the cities mentioned here — Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee — offer something that fits with how many Millennials and Gen Zers view the world. In order to truly do something differently though, it has to be participatory. It cannot just be about low cost real estate and hipster microbreweries. It has to be able choosing to respect the history and people of the place. We can be placemakers for a new way to build community that does not displace the current residents and history of a city but instead celebrates and elevates it.
More to come from the NextBelt.
“When the standards have been set, things are tested and weighed. And the work of philosophy is just this, to examine and uphold the standards, but the work of a truly good person is in using those standards when they know them.” — Epictetus from The Daily Stoic
Continued success and continue to answer well,