Already Equal? Education to job.

Two personal disclaimers before I start:

  • In this blog I note gender differences in the workplace. It is not my aim to blame any party or group for these differences, as that would be neither productive nor is the truth ever that simple. Instead I believe systems are shaped by the people in it. As the workforce in the modern enterprise was for a large period of time dominantly (and some periods exclusively) male, the working conditions have naturally evolved to cater to masculine traits. Many societal processes are ongoing to help these systems adapt to the female influx. These steps taken to further equality will fall outside of the scope of my post.
  • The problems I intend to describe are complex and nuanced in a way that can never be captured in one blogpost. My aim is to showcase step-by-step how cumulative differences in rewards and participation between genders come into existence. I will use academic research to stave my points, but I shall not review these studies extensively. Instead I shall include links to those articles and invite you to make your own judgement. I have only included publicly accessible academic works.

Image result for wage gap cartoon

To look at differences in careers between genders is a complex endeavor. It is complicated to exactly pinpoint where differences stem from and almost impossible to establish causality. The larger differences only become apparent over a whole career, and they seem to be mostly due to an accumulation of smaller effects. In this post we shall walk through the many steps of a career and see which effects occur that create differences between genders.

In modern society most careers actually start with education. It is in this step that women tend to outperform men. The source of these differences are cause for speculation. Most frequently the differences are attributed to non-cognitive skills. Non-cognitive skills are skills that are important for studying, yet are not directly related to the content of study. An example of a non-cognitive skills is the ability to delay gratification, and voluntarily study instead of play. Research found that boys spend on average less time on homework, self-report less joy derived from school and are more likely to have behavioral problems. Read more about it here.

Image result for education boys and girls cartoon

An economic explanation for female investment on their own education (in time, money and other resources) is a greater return on investment. Women benefit more from higher education than men do. This is not to say that women earn more than men do with the same degree. Rather the difference between earnings with a higher and a lower degree is larger for women than that same difference is for men. It is important to note that while the decision for college participation is made at an age where one could conceivably take such outcomes into account, large parts of the education take place when the child is not quite capable to take such information to account. This economic explanation can therefore only be utilized for the higher levels of education.  Read the article here.

It is surprising that while females perform so well during their studies, they start losing ground the minute they enter the workforce. The very first differences occur long before the first working day.

To Apply Or Not To Apply; that is the question.

Before an employer judges whether a candidate is suitable for a specific position, the candidate decides for which jobs to apply.  A litany of studies show that this decision is influenced by the language used in the advertisement. Men, for example, evaluate extrinsic attributes higher than women, while women favor intrinsic attributes more than men. This means that women are more likely to respond positively to job advertisement that promote personal development and teamwork then to one that promotes a high salary. In all likelihood all candidates would like both types of attributes in a job, but the story measured which of these had a higher effect for which gender. See this study for more details.

Image result for lack of confidence cartoon

When I was in my Master, I was terrified that I would not find a job in my field. We were just coming out of a recession and I had the ambition to work in an industry that my bachelor had not been focused on. So I dropped my CV all over the place. A recruiter contacted me halfway through the year, asking if I wanted an internship. I had already done my internship, so I did not. Boldly I answered that I would be interested in a job however. To my surprise I received a job description and an invitation to apply.

The kicker was: looking at that job description I was not qualified for this job at all! I had already decided not to apply when my father told me that I could at least ask the recruiter why he had sent me this advertisement in the first place. The recruiter told me that I was the best candidate he had seen for this job. It turned out that I read the advertisement very differently than he did. I believed that I had to check all the requirements, while the recruiter simply shot for roughly meeting half of them.

Without encouragement from the recruiter and my father I would never have applied for a job that I did wind up landing.

Research found that this is part of a larger pattern. This study found that women are 5,8% less likely to apply for a job as full professor, and 4,3% less likely to apply for a job as associate professor. It is important to note that this statistical analysis controlled for productivity, to ensure that apples were compared to apples. The differences were larger (6,6%) in fields that had less objective evaluation metrics. Furthermore, when there are perceived lower chances of success for females, women are also less likely to apply.

Chances of getting hired

In an experiment by Yale, 127 applications were send out for the position of laboratory manager position. They had randomly assigned 64 of the applications female names (Jennifer), and the other half male names (John), but the application materials were the same. The male applicants were considered more competent, hire-able and were offered more mentoring. As demonstrated in the graph below, and described in the article which can be found here.

johnjennifer

One of those application materials might be letters of recommendation. There are subtle differences in the way recommendation letters are written for the genders. Men are more likely to receive letters with standout words (e.g. “He is excellent!” Rather than “He does this well”) than females. Read the study here.

While I in general frown upon vanity, taking extra care of your appearance is vitally important for the female applicant who is invited on the job interview. Women with appropriate clothing were rated as more competent in this experiment, more creative and more independent. Unfortunately this paper did not investigate whether the same is true for men.

What you wear and how you behave is of course industry dependent.  This experiment found that women who played up masculine traits when applying for a job in a male dominated industry are more likely to be successful.

Tallying up the tab:

Women started off at a relative advantage in education. Then the application process started… First came self-selection. Women were less likely to apply to jobs they were sufficiently qualified for, and preferred jobs that emphasized intrinsic attributes rather than extrinsic attributes. Effectively they applied for less jobs and were less likely to select a job based on the associated economic benefits.

When they did apply they were evaluated as less competent and hire-able, regardless of same credentials. They also were offered less mentoring, which is invaluable for fast career progression and had a lower initial salary offer. In fact this meta-analysis of wage gap demonstrates that a significant portion of the wage gap is indeed induced in this first job.

The total cost? Women are statistically speaking likely to have found a lower level starting job, with a lower salary and less opportunities for personal growth, because they miss resources such as mentoring. This has all happened before they even worked a day in their life.

 

Next up: Fitting-in in an old boys network, getting promotions, the ambition gap and more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking errors

Lately I’ve acquired an interesting book on thinking called “thinking fast and slow”. This is a classic and I am most certainly not the first person who has been amazed by the simple explaining power it has.

I’ll quickly relay the theory of it to you as some background for a chain of thoughts I had quickly after starting reading it. The book states:

  1. We have an amazingly fast working mind which can respond to most occurrences of life in real time. It is the voice in you head that answers 2+2= and “what is the capital of France?” And as you probably did just answer these two questions immediately, and involuntarily, you have just been demonstrated its workings.
  2. We also have an amazingly analytic mind, which takes over whenever our fast system fails. It helps you figure out 11×23= . If you tried to answer that question you’ll have noticed that this system responds much slower, and takes time to first figure out how to figure out the answer.
  3. These systems can get cross-wired, which is when we start messing up. Things like those jokes where you have to read out the color written, not the color it is written in. This is your fast system recognizing the color and supplying the answer much faster than your slow system, which is reading the words. You can win at the game only by focusing on the answer given by the slower system, and ignoring the fast but wrong answer.

colorreading

I write all of this as a context to explain what happened on a sunlit Monday, when I was working at home and just nipped down to the supermarket to get some lunch. (“Down” as in “I live above the supermarket, which I strongly recommend.” )

Just as I came out, my groceries bungling from my arm, I saw a woman in her fifties sitting on a bench. I noticed the playboy t-shirt, the matted hair and above all the 8×6 beer (a.k.a hobo-beer) in her hand. My head drew some very firm, unshakeable conclusions on what had to be her personal history, her education and state of employment. This happened with the ease in which you just drew the conclusion “4” out of “2+2=”.

And then I realized that what I had easily taken to be true, and self-evident were a lot of erroneous assumptions of my side. A by-product of my own fast thinking system being a bit over eager.extremeprejudice_0

There are many conclusions that you can draw of the scene I saw. Maybe, the lady was a hard-working woman, like me, who worked at home, like me, went and bought lunch, like me, and also brought a can of beer for the end of the day. I could not remember seeing the can was actually open.

I hardly dress up for working at home, why should she? And that I don’t appreciate 8×6 beer, doesn’t mean it is impossible for some people to think it’s a good value-for-money beer. I could have been dead wrong about her. And yet, I had been ready to believe it all, without a second thought.

Now, I am not mad at myself for this jump to conclusion. I did not mean to be judgmental, I just had a mess-up in my thinking systems as described in point 3. It would have been a bad mistake if I had continued on and forgot to reflect on these conclusions. If I had acted on my judgment I would have been harmful to my environment as well.

But if I had, I hadn’t meant it. I hadn’t intentionally done something wrong, I had just had a thinking accident. Rather, in fact, like I once accidently drove my car into another car which I had somehow failed to notice. People would have been justified to be upset at the outcome of it, and I was wise to follow this failure by some driving lessons to avoid future collisions, but I wasn’t morally to blame.

In courts they require both actus rea and mens rea: someone both needs to do something and have intended to do that thing to make them guilty. (Obviously crimes like Involuntary Manslaughter are slightly different in mens rea aspect, but they will come up later down the line.)

I had committed a thinking error, and this constitutes an actus rea, but I had not intended to and therefore lacked mens rea. I was not really guilty of anything.

57262-quotes-about-prejudiceYet, I like to make as little errors as possible, and so the incident sits uneasily in my stomach. It makes me think of those tests that demonstrate to you that you have racist and sexist associations. They are rather like the color-reading test: they ask you to associate words to sentiments, and if you have underlying racist and sexist tendencies some associations come easier. I failed both tests by being moderately racist and moderately sexist, despite being a feminist (and of the opinion that racism is stupid.)

It is clear to me now that failing those tests does not mean being a bad person. It means being a person who makes thinking errors.

Now messing up is not evil, but you are supposed to learn from it. So I spent the two years after the test trying to break myself of these tendencies. And while I’m writing this, I wonder how I did. So I took the racism test. I failed again, but in an utterly different way. I made too many mistakes with all associations, so I had to take the test anew. I did. And the results came in. I was less racist now than I was two years ago: I’m now only mildly racist, which is still bad. But you know… less bad? Sorta.

So what I have concluded up to now: racism, sexism and overall bigotry can exist as simple mental errors. People who make these mistake have no fault in making them, but they can harm people by accident. Overall it is a nice thing to try to break-free of all thinking errors, judgmental ones included. I have tried doing this and I have made improvements.

These improvements were made through conscious and effortful rethinking of my fast-thinking conclusions. This has led to me failing to have consistent fast associations at all, which is why the test didn’t work the first time. It means I am now still biased, and apparently also slightly slower on the uptake when race is concerned.

I guess being confused is better than being consistently wrong though.

And that leads to the promised furthering of the legal analog. There are crimes for which you’ll be punished even if you never intended to commit them.

definitely-not-a-racistAn example is manslaughter: the crime of causing another human beings’ death, without intent to do so. Which includes situations as a mother not taking proper care of a baby, which inadvertably led to the baby’s death, or a drunk driver hitting someone on the street.
While both people did not mean to do harm, they did it by not taking actions to avoid doing harm. The drunk driver should have taken a taxi, and the failure to do so fulfills the function of “mens rea” in these cases.

It is similar with being racist, sexist or bigoted, one has no guilt of it as long as one is unaware. However, once one has realized they are make thinking errors, one should aim to rectify it.

And you might justifiably say: “Why? Why do we care what people think, as long as they don’t act upon it?”

I don’t mean to say that we should instigate a thought police, or that we should actively try to find and eliminate those who think racist/sexist thoughts. I simply aim to suggest that we might try to improve ourselves by eliminating thinking errors.

Having said that, why should you take time out of your busy schedule to change the way you think? I have a couple of reasons, starting from the selfish to the selfless and back again:

  1. It will make you happier
  2. It will make you a better person
  3. It will help others become happier & better persons
  4. You will be happier in a world of happier of better persons

That probably requires some more explanation.

Sexist, racist and other bigoted ideas are negative stereotypes of subsets of people. These stereotypes in general make you expect negative and/or dangerous behavior from these groups. If you subconsciously believe these negative stereotypes you will perceive the world as more dangerous and filled with more negative aspects. This is detrimental for your happiness.

By decreasing the stereotypes you have, you will fill feel no fear when you come upon a young man of a stereotyped ethnicity. Since that fear was in all likelihood baseless in the first place, and therefore needless negative stimuli, your live will be better without it.
(I say “in all likelihood” because there are some murderous individuals in every subgroup, including those subgroups which are suffering under stereotypes. Either way, the likelihood of some stereotyped individual having killer intent roughly equals the odds of non-stereotyped individuals.)

Now that you surely believe you will be happier, let’s discuss why it makes it you a better person.

indiansYour thinking will change your behavior. If you subconsciously feel women can’t drive, you might compliment a woman on how well she parked, because you were surprised by that. You are more likely, as a shopping clerk, to keep track of a customer of an age, gender and ethnicity you feel is more likely to steal, while ignoring the tottering old lady who is slipping stuff into her stroller. This behavior clearly is a bit bigoted, and you might even experience backlash for it. That will feel unfair, because it was not intentional behavior at all. And because of the previously mentioned mechanisms you will secretly believe your assumptions were correct.

Your behavior will affect others, not just if you are openly demonstrated what your underlying assumptions are. We continuously express our opinions very subtly with clear effects on those around us, as De Correspondent shows in this article: https://decorrespondent.nl/5292/waarom-theedrinken-met-terroristen-niet-slap-maar-juist-moedig-en-slim-is/1540733968620-478722a3

cute-ratTwo experiments are used to illustrate this point. Firstly, a scientist labelled one cage of rats “stupid” and the other “highly trained,” and asked his assistants to have them run through a labyrinth throughout the week. There was in reality (obviously) no difference between the two cages. Yet, the “stupid rats” performed far worse, taking a longer time to leave the maze.

Now rats can’t read, so they didn’t know they were supposed to be stupid rats. Yet, something about these circumstances changed their behavior. The leading theory? The assistants could read, and they had obtained this notion of stupidity, which changed their behavior. As scientist they were, of course, trying to maintain objective comparability, so it is unlikely that they actually did anything overt. The changes were far more subtle, such as the roughness with which they picked the rats up.

An interested school director wrote the original scientist and asked him to do a similar test at their cuterat2school. They came in, “tested” all students, and labeled a random selection of them with “hidden potential”. At the end of the school year those who had been labeled as “hidden potentials” turned out to have on average a 27 point higher IQ than at the beginning. The effect was biggest on boys of Mexican descent, a group of children that the relevant teachers expected least off at that school.

Setting aside the moral objections I have to testing the effect of social recognition and high expectations on developing minds, how was this effect caused? To answer that question, studies set up cameras in school rooms and videotaped the interaction of the teacher with the children. They noticed small nonverbal ques of teachers that communicated their expectations. These were facial expressions that the teachers were often unconscious of making.

They also found that by showing these videos to the teachers they can learn to withhold such behavior, leading to improvements of their students’ school performance.
Now does that not sound a lot like the theory we read previously, of unwitting biases being discovered and corrected? The battle of fast thinking with slow?

Other people will become happier and better off if you learn to do the same. You will learn to more frequently display positive or neutral expectations, and as a result those around you will perform better. I see a very useful application for anyone who has a “lazy” teenager in/or around the house!

Finally, all what goes around comes around. You will be a happier person, expecting everyone to be nice and well-performing individuals. And in turn, due to the magic of self-fulfilling prophecies, no one will let you down.

 

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A very serious commentary on the EU’s reaction towards the Brexit

It doesn’t matter if we are countries, or giggling 12-year old girls. Human bonding benefits most from a common enemy. Someone who does not belong to the clique. An outsider.

Of course there are many countries that do not belong to the EU. Many of those countries are already naturally not part of the group. No matter the wealth, social and economic policies of Singapore, it is simply not a European country and so I’m probably the first person to even bring this country up within the context of the EU membership.

Then there are those whose membership are under discussion. For most people however The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro seem rather alien countries, too much to the peripheral of their world view to pay attention to.

How different is the United Kingdom, of all these non-members!

Here we have a country that is rather similar to us, so similar indeed that it was/is part of the EU! And now they want to leave us? They think they are too cool for us? Don’t make us laugh!

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I notice within the Netherlands, and a large part of the international media a bloodlust for this traitor country. We want it to tear itself apart: Scotland should leave the UK, hell if possible London should leave! We want to negotiate terrible trade terms with them: we will kill their beer trade, and lure all their artists away to the mainland! And we delight in the impending economic doom the UK is surely about to face: just look at the pound, the indexes!

It is an ugly face of an organization that prides itself on creating peace through economic interdependence.

It is also a first in a long, long time that the European Union is so united.

One might have expected that the number of refugees we saw entering, would have united us in solving a common problem. Instead it led to us passing the buck to each other, and a selling our soul to the devil (a.ka. the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named of Turkey)*.

But apparently seeing one sheep leaving the herd, has done for citizens of the EU what nothing else could: united us in a common will.

A will to destroy, rip apart and hurt what once was our ally.

Morale of the story? Mean Girls perfectly models international relations. We should encourage our international leaders to do trust falls, and push the UK under a bus. (Don’t worry UK will be the better for it, finally learning that sports are a better outlet for their frustration than Referenda.)

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What UK should have done instead of a referendum

*Yes, I am paranoid enough to think that there might be google alerts out on a specific name, which deliver inputs to blacklists that would make it hard for me to travel to Turkey.  You have to understand, I’m opinionated and idealistic, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to sip cocktails in all-inclusive resorts!

Referenda do not equal democracy

The Ukraine trade agreement referendum was a terrible waste of everyones’ time. A clotting of the blood of our democratic process, that might kill off democracy as a whole.

In this post I’d like to set-out criteria for referendizing things. A test of sorts to figure out when a referendum should be held. I will then hold the Ukraine referendum to these standards.
Finally, I suggest a feedback system to avoid further  clotting of the democratic process.

But first, why do I dislike this referendum so much? Surely it is legitimate to ask people to vote on decisions that influence their lives?
It is. I think that referenda do have some legitimacy if they influence the life of people to a sufficient extent. This is not the case for the Ukraine referendum.
Influence on our economy will be minimal either way, political involvement with Ukraine will barely grow, and so forth. The european union is very big, Ukraine is very small as a trading  partner (with or without agreement) and the agreement contains very little. The reminifications of the agreement, one way or another, are tiny.

That is to me, the first test a referendum should pass: does it influence people life in a significant manner?
This influence could take several forms: there could be ecoomical harms/benefits, infractions on personal soevereignity or moral harms/benefits, for example.
All of these impacts on peoples personal life matter. I for example am still most vexed over the party I voted for supporting dropping bombs on Syria. It makes me morally liable for actions I despise, which has a significant effect on my life.
A referendum on actively engaging in war would therefore at least be relevant.

The importance of relevance is, beyond all other things, that it ensures that people are willing to divest time and effort into obtaining information concerning the topic. Voting comes at a cost. The smallest of that cost is going to the booth, and divesting time and potentially money to do this. The bigger costs concern becoming informed on the topic.

And even when we are properly motivated, we will never be fully informed. This is not because we are lazy or stupid, this is because there exists a limit on how much you can know. So somewhere along the way we specialize. We learn more about specific topics and neglect others. We spent years obtaining expertise. But while I might be an expert on testing software, there is no guarantee I will be able to comprehend all implications of a 300 page agreement on international relations. Especially if I need to study up on it in those rare few hours I have left over in my busy schedule. Considering, my lack of background in the matter, it is fair to say that with all goodwill in the world, I cannot become an expert in Ukrainian trade relations in a couple of hours.

So my vote is based on a poor understanding of the subject matter. This understanding is based on a few sources that are probably read by all other voters as well. So not only do I have a biased few of the referendum, everyone else has the same bias.
And yet I went to vote. For I am a citizen in a democratic country and I see it as my duty to use my right to vote. And apparently, so did 32% of the rest of citizens.

Now, as citizens we will always only be able to be partially informed, so why have voting at all?
The case for elections is easily made: we know we do not know everything, but we vote in individuals whose preferences are close to our preferences. They will then be responsible on being fully informed on our behalf. They make the decisions to the best of their ability, with our preferences in mind. I love elections.

The case for referenda that matter are more difficult. Yet, one can argue, that relevant referenda have implications on our personal lives. These implications are so significant that we should be heard, for we, better than our politicians can make the trade-offs for our personal welfare. For bombing Syria, I alone can know if I can sleep easily being complicit to those acts of violence. A referendum gives me a chance to distance myself if I cannot.
Joining the Euro had serious economic ramnifications and complications for national and personal souvereignity, and sould be referendized. After all, only I can make the tradeoff between the benefits in economic terms and political stability on one side, and the ramnifications for my personal souvereignity on the other side.
We might even want to explore making such referenda binding.

So there we are, with a simple test for referenda:

  1. Does the subject have significant impact on the personal lives of our citizens?
  2. Is the subject one that gives an ordinary citizen a better ability for understanding than experts? (E.g. Does it require mounds of subject matter to comprehend?)
  3. Are we willing to make the results binding, or do we not have sufficient faith in our citizenry to make a decision to do so?

The Ukraine referendum fails all of these questions. I already explained why there is no significant impact on the personal lives of the Dutch citizenry. (With the plausible exception of a gentleman whose largest customers are in Ukraine or something.)
The subject cannot be understood by the ordinary citizen than it can be by experts. I sincerely believe that under 0.001% actually read the trade agreement. It is 300 pages long, written in that way that legal papers are written. The subject matter it concerns is complex: both economically and politically and clouded in terminology. I believe honestly that the technocrat is more capable of making this decision.
And I personally do not have such faith in our citizens to make a decision that I would like the referendum be binding. I believe that almost everyone voting voted for or against the EU, which is a completely different subject than the one we should have been voting about.

This brings me to my final problem with the referendum. I’m in favor of the agreement, because obviously wiser men with  more time and information believe it to be good. I did not want to vote, because it would hamper those wiser men in their ability to decide if we referendize everything.
But if the referendum met the voting minimum, I would want their decision to still hold. So to vote or not to vote, that was the question.
When I did go tot the voting booth, it was pretty clear to me that voting minimum would likely be met. But I was also maybe contributing to it being met.
I was really aching to have a “I’m voting, but I’m opposing this referendum” checkbox.
All those who checked that box  could be deducted from the voting minimum. And if the voting minimum was met, than they could have counted our votes to ensure that our will was taken into account.

How to adult: the passport debacle

buying photoshop This series of blogs describes all the little mishaps, unfortunate events and moments of bliss of becoming an adult. My name is Sezen de Bruijn, and I’m in transition. I’m like a butterfly trying to remove the sticky cocoon residue, or a bird cheerfully jumping the nest to fly only to fall to the ground instead.

Somehow I expected my adult self to be graceful and full of wisdom. Turns out that I’m still just me.

Time to watch the little deer lose its’ footing on the ice again, in this blog which details my difficulties in getting a passport.

  1. How picking up a passport turned into a comedy show.

Parts of being an adult are amazing. Traveling for work is definitely one of them. This November we have the joint kick-off of our new fiscal year. It promises to be an amazing event in Atlanta. So, naturally I am thrilled.stages-of-adulthood

Only,I needed to renew my passport. And here we get to one of those adulthood obstacles that I didn’t foresee when I was a kid. To request a passport, one needs to appear in the municipality office during opening hours. My municipality was at that time still Rotterdam. This office is open from 9 to 5, which coincides with my (and everyone elses’) working hours. I made an appointment, worked at home and applied for the passport. I pointed out to the lady that I was going to move, and asked if that was going a problem. It was not going to be a problem.

Then I had to go and pick it up. One cannot make an appointment to pick up their passport in Rotterdam offices because handing out a passport takes too little time. The only period in which one can get service without having an appointment is between 10 and 13.00.

As I needed to be in the office during that period, this was a problem. I called to see if I could  get an exception  and an appointment. The helpful lady on the phone pointed out that I could come on “shopping Thursday” when the office was open longer. On Thursday you can come into the office without an appointment till 15.00.
That didn’t help.

wanna go to bedAfter insisting, she agreed to see if I could get an exception and I was placed on hold. Five minutes later she came back to me with the message that the people in charge of exceptions had already gone home “it is already after 16:00 after all”.

I did not get that exception.

So between ten and one it was. It took me two weeks to find a suitable moment. I had to go to Eindhoven that day, but I only needed to be there at twelve. If I made sure to pick it up at 10 exactly, I would be able to make it.
Meanwhile I had moved to Culemborg, so I woke up on time and started driving. Of course traffic jams happened and I started to fear I would be too late. On top of all of that I needed to gas up. So I stopped to quickly fill the tank. Impatiently I stabbed the pump into my car and squeezed the trigger. Should not have done that. It turned out that I did not put the pump in far enough, and as a result I was dozed by a wave of gasoline.
Deciding that it would be unprofessional to show up at my work in an inflammable state, I went home to change clothes.

Finally there was a day at which I actually could skip out on the office, so I decided to try again. This time I made it into the municipality office. In fact, I made it to the desk of a friendly lady who was holding my passport in her hands. She refused to give me the passport on the grounds of me not living in her municipality anymore. She therefore felt that she was not authorized to give me the passport. Instead she would send the passport by mail to the municipality I am living in now.  I could go and pick it up there instead.disillusionment

So that move that wouldn’t be a problem? It was a problem after all.

Slightly annoyed I called the Culemborg municipality the next day, to check if the passport had indeed arrived. It had not.

Nor had it arrived the next Monday, although the Rotterdam municipality assured me they did not have it anymore either.

Finally, on Wednesday I was called by the Culemborg municipality. My passport had arrived, and the lady responsible for the intake had recognized my name from the sheer amount of time I spent on the phone with her. I was welcome to come and pick it up. Between nine and five of course.

Rather antsy to finally get my hands on this hard-to-get document I arranged to pick it up immediatedly.

funny-adulthood-cartoon-partyThe Culemborg lady was very helpful and skilled. However, it turned out that while she was authorized to give me the card, she could not complete the process. Apparently the Rotterdam municipality also needed to press a few buttons in the system. She was unable to reach the fine ladies and gentlemen of Rotterdam, but she would arrange it would be done that day. I was allowed to take the passport with me. I was not however, under any circumstances supposed to use it before the buttons were pressed.

Finally, the passport was activated; and life was good.

 

 

I’m certain there is a valuable life lesson in here somewhere. This experience surely came upon my path to teach me something, and I feel privileged to have been taught. If only I could figure out what the lesson was…

How to adult; a series of misgivings, difficulties and lost innocence

I have recently transitioned into that thing they call adult life. That is to say; I have a job, rented a house with my boyfriend and a car. All things I did not have half a year ago, at which time I was still a student.
This is insane because I was worried about being able to find a job at all, only a year ago. I wasn’t even thinking about moving (in with my boyfriend or otherwise) or buying cars at that time.
Yes, cars, plural, because I’m up to my third car now. I killed the first one, bought a terrible second one that I have just traded in for a hopefully functional Peugeot. So I burned through a Ford Ka and a Daihatsu Cuore in just four months. Which is 200203132impressive.

Anyway, that adult life. It turns out that being an adult is weirdly difficult. Not in all the ways I expected, like having pressure at work and having to solve all your own problems. My work is enjoyable, I have nice colleagues and the stress levels are reasonable. I am still not solving my own problems, only now I call it “outsourcing” chores.
Here are some things that are way more difficult than you’d expect, being a student.

Therefore a series about trying to be a functional adult, for the students and the transitionees (like me.)

Today: Moving.

1.Moving. It is hard. Really hard.

I was such a sweet summer child, believing that moving is something you did over the weekend. It’s not strange, given that Tantrum-06-09-13-397x400my frame of reference was moving into my student room, but I was so wrong.

When I moved into my student room lighting, internet and even part of the furniture was already there. This time around there wasn’t even a floor yet. The walls had to be painted, because adults don’t just stick posters over all the stains. And while my boyfriend and I both had furniture for bedrooms, neither of us had anything else. So we either had things double or not at all.

And yet there was so much stuff…  Where did it all come from? How did I end up with so many shoes? Why do I have nine pair of pants, when I maturity-graphonly wear three of those pairs regularly? And why, after throwing all useless stuff away, do I still have two boxes full of office supplies? Most of those are for dealing for paper and I mostly work online…

Sorting it all out took a full day. At the end of filling those ten trash bags with prized possessions that didn’t make the cut, I was emotionally drained. And that was just the foreplay.

Because then it was moving day and I was carrying endless amounts of stuff. Only a week after carrying 140kg of floor to our apartment, I might add! And there was rushing, and an insane planning, and going to bed at midnight. Waking up the next morning at six to report for work was not fun. Sitting behind my desk to fulfill my duties, on the other hand, felt like a holiday away from all the chaos.

Chaos, btw, is also a key ingredient of moving. Even if everything is at our new house that does not mean that everything can just be grabbed when needed. Firstly, I usually have no clue which box or bag contains the needed object. I should have, of course, written that down. I did not. When I do know where something is, it is either the box at the bottom of a stack, or conveniently located in our storage box on the ground floor. And of course, there it is also located at the bottom of a stack.

'Can Bradley come out and litigate?'

‘Can Bradley come out and litigate?’

Plus, we still don’t have everything we need. So, breakfast still has to be eaten on the “bank” (actually my bed, but repurposed). We used to shower by the light of a reading lamp, and take our toilet visits in the dark. Our neighbors are probably starting to hate us for the trashbag “curtains” we have been employing.

Anyway, we are still in the middle of this. But I believe we surely will be done before christmas… next year!

Uninformed and irrational

The free market has not functioned in any instance in the past, and it will not function in the future until we have solved one particular issue: the uninformed and irrational consumer.
We have been trying to solve that problem in the past, and we will undoubtedly try to do that in the future.
Until such time that we have resolved it, I myself remain of the firm belief that we need to maintain a strong government to interfere on consumers’ behalf. The government has a stronger ability to analyze the large amounts of data to analyze, and can be more rational. uninformed

Government agents are of course still human and therefore irrational, but through protocols, a higher amount of time and a lack of emotional involvement they can at least obtain more rational decisions than any individual.

I’m hardly the first one to observe this, and that is why you see in regulation of at least a minimum extend (USA) to a large extend (Netherlands, Scandinavian countries) in all wealthy countries. These rules and regulations are meant to protect the individual consumer from the information asymmetry they have in comparison with large corporations.

A less forcefull option is the labelling of products by goverment or private bodies. These labels, that tell you what is healthy, or fairtrade and so on, are simple so that people can understand their meaning. Therein lies their problem: they take a complex issue and break it down to a binary answer. You simply cannot answer the question “is this product healthy?” by saying “yes” or “no”.
Why? Because healthy has many different parameters that need to be taken into account. Some of them reside in the product itself (fat content, sugars, poison), others far outside of the realm of influence and knowledge of the governing body. In what quantities is a product consumed, is the person in question suffering from low sugar or high sugar and what other things does this consumer consume? It also requires us to weigh off all these things and often in correlation with others. Is it better to have a high sugar, but low fat product or vice versa? The answer is: depends on the type of fats and sugars, who is eating it, and what else they’ve been eating.
That is not an answer that fits on a label, nor is it very helpful. This is not just a problem with health labels, this is a problem in all forms of labeling. To simplify: the lack of time spend on making decisions by consumers means that even qualifying labels are too extensive to be properly processed.
So, a frustrated government does its best to at least enforce the important health decisions: banning some goods, highly taxing others…
And that is, to be honest, much more effective. Goods that do not get past the EU borders because they do not meet the EU’s health standards are not consumed by Europeans. Goods that are highly taxed like cigarettes and alcohol are consumed to a lesser extent.
People however do not like it, because they feel that their liberty is being impacted, and they are right.trickle down effects
This is definitely not a perfect system, its just the best one we have got. Yes, I just democracy defensed the parental state.

Anyway, just because this is the best we have got right now, does not mean we should stop aiming for a better solution in the long run.
So what do I propose that solution should be?
Artificial intelligence.
Yes, yes, I know, rise of the machines and all.
But, in reality, artificial intelligence is really very useful. It corrects your spelling errors for you on you smartphone and interprets your drunken babbling as valid key terms for Google. Currently, it is providing doctors with the ability to recognize more symptoms and use better treatments. Why?
Because Watson (the AI in question) has a better memory than its human counterdoctorsparts. Knowing more and remembering patterns from previous engagements, it decides faster and more precisely.
This is what we need, not just for doctors, but for consumers as well.
A computer program that will understand your preferences and uses many sources to find correct product information. She will give you recommendations that are so good you want to follow them, yet it does not oblige you to do so. If you want something else, you can ask hetwhat the differences are between the two options and make an informed decision.limited resource
She does not make the same decisions for you as she would for your neighbor and over time she decisions become better. After all, the machine understands you better and is more capable of optimizing for you.
She will be with you in the store advising you from your phone, ordering your regular consumption needs for you online after you’ve given your approval and she even reminds you of upcoming presents to buy.
All in all she will make your decisions better in quality and planning, while requiring you to do less than you are doing now. She enables you to optimize your decisions for your own purposes. You will opt-in because of the benefits it bring you. So will the  neighbors.

not enough demandConsumers will be able to have the information and analytical power of a company. The information asymmetry disappears and we will have a functioning free market at last. (That is if we manage to do meet all other requirements such as no transaction costs etc. Oh well… lets just say we’d be closer to it.)