There is a weird facet of my personality that applauds irony in all its iterations. I was asked to speak at a local community event for "innovators and entrepreneurs" highlighting the United Nations Sustainable Goals--specifically equality. My suggestion to introduce the utility of census data and how to access, clean, and analyze for free was welcomed.
Unfortunately, in the absence of effective marketing -- the draw of census data is not exactly standing room only. Because as it turned out--they must have been all standing somewhere else. The attendees mill about drinking free beer and nibbling on heavy hors d'oeuvres and once the second round of talks begin--they are typically engaged in other conversations. Not to worry, I persist.
My motivation in agreeing to give talks for free from time to time is not unlike the comedian ducking into little venues to test out new material.
I prepare for the bigger events by learning from the smaller gatherings. It is easy to gain insights from the questions asked, requests for additional details, or invitations that follow where the good "bits" are and where there may be a little meat missing from the bone.
For example, I teach audiences how to read a job's report. Over a dozen previous attendees sent me a link to the New Yorker article--The Bullshit-Job Boom. They get me.
One of my favorite observations in the article I can relate to from my previous life--"I do digital consultancy for global pharmaceutical companies’ marketing departments. I often work with global PR agencies on this, and write reports with titles like How to Improve Engagement Among Key Digital Health Care Stakeholders. It is pure, unadulterated bullshit, and serves no purpose beyond ticking boxes for marketing departments. . . .
I was recently able to charge around twelve thousand pounds to write a two-page report for a pharmaceutical client to present during a global strategy meeting. The report wasn’t used in the end because they didn’t manage to get to that agenda point."
A book I carry with me everywhere--a textbook and guide through all of the discussions about economics, Measuring What Counts: The Global Movement for Well-Being begins with the following few sentences.
"The world is facing three existential crises: a climate crisis, and inequality crisis, and a crisis in democracy. Will we be able to prosper within our planetary boundaries? Can a modern economy deliver shared prosperity? And can democracies thrive if our economies fail to deliver shared prosperity?"
Back to the census data. To explore broad questions beyond GDP -- the overworked metric of gross domestic product-- it is vital and it is important to dig deeper. And better yet the insights are free once you can tackle the steep learning curve. What an opportunity to meet your potential clients, patients, or customers in the communities where they live. Identify the barriers to improved outcomes by identifying structural determinants and working for policies to ameliorate wide disparities in not only income but opportunity.
If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us. We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year. But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction - purpose and dignity - that afflicts us all.
...Gross National Product - if we judge the United States of America by that - that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle* and Speck's knife*, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.-- Robert F. Kennedy March 18, 1968 *mass murderers