Inputs vs Outputs

Read this from a chap that has a 204 acre organic permaculture farm:

“The key selling point for me was to shift the focus from output to input. What I mean is that conventional farmers all seem to have tunnel vision on the output side of the equation, perpetually chasing a higher yield, while not paying enough attention to the input costs associated with doing so (man hours, fuel, pesticides, herbicides, etc.). That was ok when these oil-dependent products were cheap. Today, variations in the costs of those things on world markets can have a huge effect on a farmers success or failure, even moreso than weather.”

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Being Strangled by the Australian Dream

A colleague of mine opened right up with me today. She is in her 40s, married with two kids (10 and 14) and two years ago got into a mortgage up to her neck. The kids are in private schools. The daughter does piano lessons. The son plays soccer. They live a 45 minute drive from work. Sometimes my colleague has to catch the bus to work which can take up to an hour and a half. Twice a week they take their son to soccer practice across town, which means they don’t get home until 10pm.

This just sounds like the Australian Dream.

My colleague migrated to Australia several years ago from Central America. She told me, with tears in her eyes, that, in many ways, she feels she has taken ten steps backwards. Her and her husband work to keep afloat, and there is little money left for entertainment and definitely not enough to work on the projects she feels will make for a more comfortable life–landscaping the backyard and putting solar panels on the roof–or travelling back to Central America to visit family every few years.

She told me that she longs for the day when she will be comfortable. When she doesn’t have to worry about money. I stopped her and apologised in advance for being so bold. I told her: “Sometimes we have to be less fixed on getting more money to satisfy our needs and instead reduce our needs so the money we currently earn is enough”. She agreed. She and her husband are going to sit down together soon and really work out what it is they want out of life. Is the mortgage necessary? Perhaps they are better off renting, or buying a cheaper house. Do the kids really need to go to a fancy private school? And are they perhaps more wise to move closer to work to cut down on the money and time they are losing to the commute?

(I am placing this post in the the “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback” category as it is terribly apt.)

Entrapreneurism, Politics and The Simpsons

There’s a pithy moment in an episode of the Simpsons, Worldly Distractions, in which the oft-mocked and suicidal publican, Moe Szyslak, creates a successful brand of booze, Maker’s Moe. The product is so successful he is persuaded to publically list the company. The night before the IPO he attends a swish party at a rooftop bar. As he leaves a venture capitalist tells him to “[e]njoy [his] last night as a Democrat”.

I’m a small business owner, some would say entrepreneur. I, too, have been lead to believe that because of this I should support political parties that look out for ‘my’ interests, namely the conservative parties like the Republicans in the USA and closer to home, the Liberal Party of Australia. That’s who ‘my type’ votes for.

There are reasons why I would not vote for the conservatives even though I am a small business owner:

1. Their support for small business is overstated. In their first 100 days in government, the Liberal Party scrapped the Entrepreneurs Tax Offset which benefited entrepreneurs to the tune of $6k per investment by allowing them to write off asset purchases immediately, rather than the depreciation over time. I benefitted from this when I founded my business. It made it possible.

2. I believe in employees and the trade union movement. My business interests are my employees and my customers interests. My employees don’t have to work for me. They chose to. I owe them respect and fair pay and conditions. Whilst my employees aren’t union members I ensure that I am up-to-date with the law and voluntarily pay them well over (around 35%) the award. I did the work my employees do–and still do for a few hours every week–so know how hard they work. They deserve to be paid well for it. Also, I provide them with the flexibility I would want. Sometimes their interests clash with our customers when it comes to scheduling. That’s why I try to negotiate with both—what’s the harm in asking a customer if you can come the next day instead; maybe it’ll suit them better?

3. I believe in resilience not best-case scenarios. The Liberal Party is lorded–rightly or wrongly–as the economically responsible political party in Australia. The reasons, I assume, many small business owners and entrepreneurs might defer to them is for economic reasons. If the government is making the conditions for commerce favourable then they can run their business successfully and reap the profits. Commendable view, but it doesn’t take into consideration the bad time that are inevitable, especially in a world that is experiencing climate change, peak-resources, and a host of other factors that will negatively play on the world economy.

In building my business I wanted it to be resilient, as all successful businesses must be. Seeing through the government rhetoric and realising the things that are going to effect the economy in the years to come and ultimately my business’, I set out to create a business that didn’t rely on best scenarios and embraced the opportunities that transitioning out of the old–if we wise up to the facts–and into a low-carbon future may bring.

4. I am not driven by greed. I don’t like money much. I look at it as a means to an end. I’ll go as far as saying that I think society would be better off without a money-based economy. Growing my business to the point where I can own mansions and fast cars and go on expensive holidays doesn’t appeal to me at all. I think such growth is unnecessary. In fact, I had a rather heated debate with a fellow from the Socialist Alliance party some years ago on this very topic. He accused me of being an evil capitalist because I own a business. I tried to explain to him how different my position on the matter is, and how I am more like him than a free market capitalist. He couldn’t fathom the idea of a business owner paying their staff well, providing favourable conditions, and being in it more than just for the money.

Sure, I do want to earn a few dollars from my business–where my life is now, and where it will be in the near future, will depend on it. But that’s it. I want (and need) to earn enough to meet my needs. I’m far beyond growth for its own sake and exploiting those who work hard to produce it.

5. I give a shit about the planet.