Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Will Climate Change Alter Our Net Worth?

Here’s my issue of the moment: Will climate change, in turn, change our net worth? In the most rigorous economic sense, it’s pretty obvious that it already is. At the very least it is slowly causing a redistribution of net worth between people, among social classes, and around the globe. The prices of various commodities are shifting due to real, imagined, or politically-controlled availability. New technologies are entering the markets every day. The things we value are far from static.

But that isn’t the interesting part. What about our statistical net worth? And by ‘our’ I mean yours and mine as human beings. The EPA currently places the highest value of any U.S. governmental agency on a human (or at least American) life at 6.9 million dollars. That certainly throws a wrench into the idea that a life is priceless. Of course, the EPA needs some way of looking at the dollars and cents aspect of its proposed environmental programs, and actually the 6.9 million is calculated based on two very reasonable factors: 1. How much people who work in risky jobs get paid; and, 2. How much people are willing to pay to cut their own personal risk.

So what will climate change do to this number? Well, I think that there are two important factors to consider: First, personal risk will become more costly, both because climate warming will presumably foster more risky situations (i.e., droughts, landslides) and because the reduction and redistribution of goods will make people more likely to want stability. Secondly, however, the government’s ability to pay up to 6.9 million per person will diminish as the population increases, need becomes greater, and as technologies to combat the effects of global warming emerge- at a significant cost. Which factor will win out? I suspect that the government’s inability to pay out will be more significant than changes in personal risk, but I guess we shall see what the future holds.

To further complicate matters, climate change will surely begin to be viewed as the national security issue that it is (forget oil, eat up those California avocados before the Central Valley goes dry!). And in case you were wondering, yes, homeland security also has a statistical value for a human being, and it’s less than the EPA’s. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll start that Freedom Cabernet patch in my garden…

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How very L.A...

One could argue that every place on Earth is, in some (perhaps minute) way, unique. But when it comes to experience, the City of Angels is one of the planet’s most exceptional settings. Where else in the world can you enjoy both beaches and mountains in the course of a morning, interact with people having roots a multitude of countries on a regular basis, and aspire to be anything that your heart desires? But, let’s face it what really makes L.A. a very different kind of place is the unabashedly in-your-face celebrity culture that it supports. I mean, if you haven’t seen at least one or two famous faces after living in Tinseltown for a few years and you don’t keep track of all the celebrity affairs and weddings and babies while meanwhile loading your groceries onto store counter, you simply aren’t paying attention. More importantly, you’re missing the point: you gotta love L.A. for what it is, not hate it for what it isn’t. It makes the adjustment easier (if you’re from L.A., you already love it, and you have no idea what I mean by ‘adjustment’. Who could hate it here?).

Of course, some days are more ‘typically L.A.’ than others. Last Thursday was one of them. After having a dinner party in my Hollywood Hills pad the night before, I got up at an unreasonably early hour, and began driving through my neighborhood on my way to work. Before I could get even a half-mile from my house, I had a near collision with David Beckham in his Lincoln Navigator (my small ’92 Jetta certainly would have lost that battle). Then, after a few frantic hours at work, I rushed to a meeting where some council members were considering my neighborhood’s appeal to overturn the decision of the Mulholland Scenic Design Review Board to allow a movie mogul’s massive mansion to go up on the ridge that looms over my house. Sitting in front of me at that meeting was Isaac Mizrahi, fashion designer, who was at the meeting to discuss part of his new offices.

As much as I don’t really care for celebrity culture, I have to admit it keeps things interesting in this most unique of cities. And so my love-hate relationship with L.A. continues…

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

To Work or Not To Work?

I did something decidedly un-wifely this week. I cancelled dinner plans at our house with my husband’s colleagues to attend ‘Baby, I’m Bored: When Did Motherhood Become a Career and Is It a Professional Disaster?’, a conversation with writers Leslie Bennetts and Meg Wolitzer moderated by Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times. I was hoping that listening to two women who had survived the New York scene with apparently successful careers in both writing and motherhood would somehow yield The Answer that I’ve been searching for since I became physically and mentally aware that I might one day bear children. The Answer to what? Well, the Question that is the distinct product of cultural modernity and feminist awareness: Should I stay at home or should I work? If I have to work, should I aim to maximize my time with my kids given the economics of my situation or should I seek intellectual/creative outlets and fulfill my own ambitions?

Having taken several Women’s Studies courses and attended similar lectures in the past without achieving much clarity in the matter, I was pleasantly surprised to come out of this experience with what may not have been The Holy Grail of Womanhood, but certainly set me on a path of self-reflection. Maybe this discussion just managed to hit the nail on the head, or maybe I was just ready to listen to it. In any case, what I learned was certainly food for thought:

- Our society tends to romanticize the Stay-At-Home mom, even though this sets the woman up for economic dependency, which is fine until your husband dies, loses his job, or divorces you and you discover the hardly surmountable challenges of re-entering the work force in middle or old age with skills that are several decades out of date. While studies have shown that there is no risk factor for children associated with a mother who goes to work (not to be confused with the term ‘absent’), there is a tremendous risk factor for children who live in poverty. A working mom can also be beneficial from a husband’s point of view: he doesn’t bear the stress of being the sole breadwinner and he can better relate to what his wife did with her day.
- Many women who spent N years in graduate school, got top-ranked positions, and then became professional mothers, drive people, especially their kids and other moms, crazy. Why? Because these women take all the passion and skills that they would have used at the boardroom table to the soccer fundraising table. With all due respect to women like myself with graduate degrees from fancy schools, child rearing does not require a J.D. or Ph.D. (an M.D. could certainly be helpful in emergency situations, but is mercifully not a pre-requisite for motherhood). And although I think kids require lots of intellectual stimulation, by the time they are ready for Calculus, mom will hopefully be at the sidelines of their lives.
- One thing we can do to improve the situation for working mothers is political action, but this requires that most women stay in the work force (or re-enter it relatively quickly) to achieve the critical mass required for social change.

Most importantly, Bennetts and Wolitzer suggested that while Having It All is somewhat of a mythical aspiration, you can have a lot of many things. Kids or not, this is always the case in life, and it’s important to keep things in perspective.