Category Archives: Growth

Moral Consequences of Economic Growth

Source: NYTimes, Nov 2005
<original paper, 2005>

Benjamin Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard University, in “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.”

Friedman argues that economic growth is essential to “greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy.”

During times of expansion, he writes, nations tend to liberalize — increasing rights, reducing restrictions, expanding benefits for the needy. During times of stagnation, they veer toward authoritarianism. Economic growth not only raises living standards and makes liberal social policies possible, it causes people to be optimistic about the future, which improves human happiness.

“It is simply not true that moral considerations argue wholly against economic growth,” Friedman contends. Instead, moral considerations argue that large-scale growth must continue at least for several generations, both in the West and the developing world.

in the last two centuries, periods of growth have in most nations coincided with progress toward fairness, social mobility, openness and other desirable goals, while periods of stagnation have coincided with retreat from progressive goals.

he contends that economic expansion must remain the world’s goal, at least for the next few generations.

Related Resource: Journal of Socio-Economics, Feb 2013

In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, Benjamin Friedman argues that growth reduces the strength of interpersonal income comparisons, and thereby tends to increases the desire for pro-social legislation, a position he supports by drawing on the historical records of the US and several Western European countries. We test this hypothesis using a variable from the World Values Survey that measures an individual’s taste for government responsibility, which we interpret as a measure of the demand for egalitarian social policy. Our results provide support for a modified version of Friedman’s hypothesis.

We find support for a modified hypothesis: the taste for egalitarian policy is high when growth is rising, not high.  The modified Friedman hypothesis is not particular to industrial or Western countries.  Indeed, it holds more strongly among less developed than more developed countries.  In rich countries, policy preferences depend more on the change inequality than the change in growth rates.

Lucky Because …

Source: Fast Company, May 2017


The most important secret to being luckier is developing skills of intuition, says Simpson. “Intuition, like any other skill, can be improved with practice,” he says. “Poet and author Robert Graves knew its value when he said, ‘Intuition is the supra-logic that cuts out all the routine processes of thought and leaps straight from the problem to the answer.’”


“In the business world, as in movies, the big breaks flow through contacts between people,” writes Max Gunther in his book, How To Get Lucky. “Not necessarily close friendships, just contacts–sometimes tenuous ones,” he explains.

Your chances of getting a lucky break are in direct proportion to the number of people you know. Develop a network of friends and acquaintances at home and at work. Attend events with the goal of meeting one new person.

“Luck flows along linked chains of people until it hits targets,” Gunther writes.

Thor Muller and Lane Becker, authors of Get Lucky: How To Put Planned Serendipity to Work For You and Your Business, say this kind of motion is a basic element of serendipity.


While long-range plans are helpful, it’s important to not take them seriously, says Gunther. Lucky people permit themselves to be distracted by ideas that are interesting and exciting.

“The lucky are aware that life is always going to be a turbulent sea of opportunities drifting randomly past in all directions,” he writes. “If you put blinders on yourself so that you can see only the straight ahead, you will miss nearly everything. A plan can be used as a kind of guide into the future, but should never be allowed to harden into a law.”

Luck is often about making connections no one else has. For example, Arthur Fry, cocreator of the Post-It Note, learned about the adhesive technology because he happened to attend a lecture given by the inventor, Becker said in an interview with Inc.

“So, for anyone looking to activate their geek brain (the part of the brain that has many curiosities), take steps to advance your education–in whatever shape that takes,” he said. “Be alert and be present, even when you’re doing nonwork-related activities. You never know where or when inspiration will strike.”


No matter how lucky someone is, they will have to deal with adversity. Instead of ruminating over bad luck, look for the bright side or the new opportunity that presents itself.

“True champions in the world of sport define themselves by how they turn the most terrible negative into a positive,” says Simpson.

Productivity Growth

Source: Obama White House archives, Jul 2015

The third level of mystery is explaining the conceptual drivers of productivity growth. Even if we agreed on the facts of historical productivity growth, explaining those facts is more difficult still. Moses Abramovitz famously called TFP a “measure of our ignorance,” the unexplained gap between input and output.1 And a rigorous conceptual understanding of that gap continues to elude economists

Figure 2—and all subsequent references to annual U.S. labor productivity in these remarks—references real output per hour worked in the private nonfarm business sector (excluding government enterprises) as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In other contexts, I have referenced the BLS’ labor productivity series for the nonfarm business sector (including government enterprises). The two series are closely correlated and exhibit the same trends, but excluding government enterprises permits the analysis of total factor productivity (TFP) that follows.

a simple thought experiment provides a sense of how important productivity is to incomes: what if productivity growth from 1973 to 2013 had continued at its pace from the previous 25 years? In this scenario, incomes would have been 58 percent higher in 2013. If these gains were distributed proportionately in 2013, the median household would have had an additional $30,000 in income. Had income inequality and labor force participation not worsened markedly, middle-class incomes would be nearly twice as high.

Virtually all the variation in labor productivity growth is accounted for by variation in TFP.

Improving Your Voice

Source: Fast Company, May 2017


We tend to interpret a strong voice as a sign of confidence. But what’s a “strong voice”? It’s one that’s resonant—the sound is full and rich. That isn’t a question of pitch or volume. It all depends on where the sound is coming from in your body.

Put your fingers on your throat and make an “ohh” sound. If your regular speaking voice feels the same way, it may be too gravelly. Now pinch the bridge of your nose and make an “eee” sound. If your regular voice feels this way, your voice may be too nasally. Finally, make a “mahh” sound and note what your lips feel like. If your ordinary speaking voice sounds like this, you’re in the sweet spot of resonance. It may take practice, but that’s where you want your voice to be if you want to project confidence.


. if your voice is smooth, you won’t speak with this tightness. The muscles around your vocal chords can relax, and your sound flows. Listeners will feel that you’re at ease and see you as strong.

You can figure out how much tightness there is in your voice by listening to the way you finish sentences. If your tone tends to drop at the end, you likely have a smooth voice. If your sentences go up at the end or if your voice start to break up a little bit—kind of like that unpleasant feeling of swallowing potato chips you haven’t chewed enough—it’s probably on the tight side.

Smooth voices should actually feel smooth when you speak—like swallowing ice cream or a nice glass of scotch. Listen to the ends of your sentences, or make that “ohh” sound again and notice what it feels like.


Your voice can also hint at (or scream) your level of emotional control. This is where volume comes in. If you’re too loud, chances are you’re managing your emotions by pushing harder—too hard. I’ve had many executives sent to me because they were basically shouting on a regular basis without realizing it.

If your volume is too quiet, on the other hand, you might be thought to be holding back a flood of emotions. I’ve also worked with clients who are hard to hear, even in a small room. Both extremes convey much the same thing, though—that you’re not fully in control of your feelings.

Speaking volume can actually be tricky to self-diagnose. You may think you sound just fine while others don’t. The best solution is often some sort of technology. Ideally, you would use a VU-meter, which is what I use with my clients. Otherwise you can find an app that serves as a decent substitute (here are a few more details on your options). The same way you need to look in the mirror to make sure your clothes fit and match, you often need some sort of recording device to see if your volume is right.


Our voices can also project warmth—or not. If your voice has a round quality, it’ll sound warmer. A “round” voice is smooth and even, with one consistent flow—think of James Earl Jones. If your voice is sharp and abrupt (the opposite of round), you’ll project more coolness. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world; you may grab your listeners’ attention that way. But the risk of a sharp voice is coming off as attacking, like those robotic Daleks in Doctor Who.

To feel what a round, even voice is like, place your hand in front of you and extend it outward, like you’re hitting a backhand shot in tennis. As you extend your arm, make an “ohh” sound. This will get you in the habit of elongating your vowels and smoothing out any choppiness.

The next time you speak, think first about what aspects of your personality—you or even just your mood—that you want to reveal and which ones you want to keep hidden. Your voice lets you choose.

Questions that Leaders (and Learners) Ask

Source: HBR, Apr 2017

The best teachers all have at least one thing in common: they ask great questions. They ask questions that force students to move beyond simple answers, that test their reasoning, that spark curiosity, and that generate new insights. They ask questions that inspire students to think, and to think deeply.

As a business leader, you might have years of experience and the confidence of your organization behind you, so it may be tempting to think that your job is to always have the right answers. But great leaders have to inspire the same curiosity, creativity, and deeper thinking in their employees that great teachers inspire in their students – and that starts with asking the right questions. Any answer is only as good as the question asked.

As a dean, I find it useful to remember the statement often (perhaps spuriously) attributed to Albert Einstein that if he had an hour to solve a problem, and his life depended on it, he would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask.

Yet asking a good question is not an easy task. It requires us to look beyond simple solutions and to encourage colleagues to do the same. It requires courage and tact, to generate hard questions without sparking defensiveness, as well as being open to new ideas and to questioning untested assumptions. It requires being willing to listen and follow up.

I believe there are some essential questions that are useful across a variety of contexts, including, and perhaps especially, the workplace. In fact, I gave a commencement speech last year on this topic, suggesting to students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education that there are really only five essential questions in life. Although the audience was future educators, I believe these questions are equally valuable for anyone in a position to lead or influence others.

“Wait, What?”

Too often, we jump to conclusions without having enough information. We listen just long enough to form a quick opinion, and then we either endorse or oppose what has been said. This puts us at risk of making faulty judgments, leaving key assumptions untested, and missing out on potential opportunities.

Leaders (as well as their employees) need to be able to ask colleagues and direct reports to slow down and explain in more detail what is being proposed, especially if something doesn’t quite sound right or seems too easy to be a lasting solution. Asking “Wait, what?” is an exercise in understanding, which is critical to making informed judgments and decisions—whether in the office or the boardroom.

“I wonder why …?” or “I wonder if …?”

Children are far better than adults at questioning the world around them – nothing is beyond interrogation. When children wonder why the sky is blue, they prompt others to think, reason, and explain things anew. Similarly, leaders have to remain curious about their organizations in order to bring new ideas to bear on longstanding challenges.

Wondering why something is the way it is will sometimes lead to an unsatisfactory answer—as in, we do it this way because it’s easier and that’s the way we have always done it. But asking “I wonder why…” is the first step in overcoming the inertia that can stifle growth and opportunity for leaders and employees alike. That’s because it inevitably leads to the perfect follow up: “I wonder if things could be done differently?” This can begin the process of creating change by sparking the interest and curiosity of those with whom you work.

“Couldn’t we at least…?”

Most of us have had the experience of sitting through a contentious meeting, where stakeholders are polarized, progress is stalled, and consensus feels like a pipe dream. Asking “couldn’t we at least?” is the question that can help you and your colleagues get unstuck on an issue. It can get you started on a first step, even if you are not entirely sure where you will end. Perhaps you might first find some common ground by asking: “Couldn’t we at least agree on some basic principles?” or “Couldn’t we at least begin, and re-evaluate at a later time?”

“How can I help?”

The instinct to lend a hand to someone in need is one of our most admirable traits as human beings, but we often don’t stop to think about the best way to help. Instead, we swoop in and try to save the day. This frequently does more harm than good: it can unintentionally disempower, or even insult, those who need to take charge.

So when a colleague or direct report is complaining about an issue or expressing frustration, rather than jumping to offer solutions, try asking, “How can I help?” This forces your colleague to think clearly about the problem to be solved, and whether and how you can actually help. It helps your colleagues define the problem, which is the first step toward owning and solving it.

“What truly matters?”

This question might seem obvious, but I don’t think any of us ask it often enough. “What truly matters?” is not a question that you should wait to ask when you are on vacation or are retired. It should be a regular conversation, externally and internally. For example, it’s a useful way to simplify complicated situations, like sensitive personnel issues. It can also help you stay grounded when you have grand ambitions, like an organizational restructuring. And it can make even your weekly meetings more efficient and productive, by keeping people focused on the right priorities. Asking this often will not only make your work life smoother, but also help you find balance in the broader context of your life.

Leaders should ask these questions both on a daily basis and during critical moments. Of course, these aren’t the only questions to ask; context certainly matters. But I have found these five to be a very practical and useful way to ensure understanding, generate new ideas, inspire progress, encourage responsibility, and remain focused on what is genuinely important.

Choosing Between a Startup and a Tech Giant

Source: Business Insider, Apr 2017

1. ‘Do I want to eventually found my own tech startup?’

“I meet a lot of people who say, ‘Oh eventually I want to start my own company, but I’ll join Google now,’” he says. “My advice there is to always to just go and join a startup. That’s where you’ll actually learn how to start a new company. That’s where you will see a lot of mistakes made, and a lot of successes as well.”

A smaller company might provide you with a broader experience, which you’ll need if you plan to strike out on your own.

2. ‘What drives me?’

“If you are someone who gets a lot of ideas, like you’re showering in the morning and you just have an idea, in a startup, you can have that idea live and serving users by that afternoon,” Otasevic says. “In bigger companies like Google or Facebook, you’ll probably need a month to roll that out.”

So if you’re driven by speed and constant, fast innovations, go for a smaller team. That being said, Otasevic says that your fast changes may go unappreciated by users, if your startup lacks a big reach.

“Everything you release in Google or Facebook will have millions of eyeballs on it,” he says.

In order to figure out where you should take your talents, consider where you’re more motivated by speed or impact.

3. ‘What do I want to learn?’

“People often just settle for conventional wisdom like, ‘Oh, Google has a great engineering team and therefore I will learn a lot there,’” he says. “Yeah, but what do you want to learn? Go deep.”

He says that companies like Google offer excellent learning experience in terms of large-scale systems, while startups can provide more education on building things up from scratch.

4. ‘In what environment do I work best?’

Many tech giants like Google come with great perks and strong company values.

“Google has a great culture, in terms of engineering,” he says. “Intellectual curiosity is a value. That’s been Google’s philosophy in hiring forever. You want to hire people who are extremely curious and passionate about the world’s problems.”

On the other hand, tiny startups can also provide you with a close, fun environment, if you’re on a great team.

“You really feel that people on the team are like your family,” Otasevic says. “You’re pulling in the same direction. Everything that goes good or bad, you’ll get through it together.”

Becoming a Popular Speaker

Source: Fast Company, 2017


What makes you different from every other speaker out there who’s also teaching leadership lessons? Simple: It’s how you angle your talk—which in turn should determine how you position your pitch. For example, Jeff McManus is a successful leadership speaker and author who’s found a unique way to incorporate his background as the director of Landscape Services at University of Mississippi into his speaking—which he frames as techniques for transforming “weeders to leaders.”

Pitch a topic that shows off your unique background or expertise, and make sure it conveys how you have a fresh, unique perspective to share on a common topic that a lot of people want to hear about.


Regardless of whether you’re pitching yourself via email or preparing a formal speaking proposal, the proposed title of your talk needs to be attention-grabbing. Sticking with our “leadership” and “motivational”  examples, you might pitch, “What You Can Learn About Leadership From Playing Video Games” or “Living Joyfully After Loss: Overcoming the Grief of Losing a Child.” Great speakers are skilled storytellers, and that all begins with your title.


“The easiest way to ensure your topic would fit well is to research the event website, connect with the organizers via social media, and get a feel for what the retreat is all about before submitting talk ideas,” says Ahern. In other words, it’s pretty easy—it just takes a little time and diligence.


. “The downside is, if an event organizer doesn’t understand your title or topic description, it’s more likely to be thrown out. I would rather see less fancy labels and more straightforward titles in a speaker’s application so I know what they’re about.”

But it goes beyond your own job title. If you’re in a tight niche and applying for a conference that covers a broader range of topics, you might want to stay away from industry jargon in your program description. If you’re unsure whether you’re being clear enough for an outsider to understand, try to think about how you’d explain your speech to a friend or relative who isn’t familiar with your business or industry. How can you put it in layman’s terms and still make it sound appealing to the uninitiated?


Not every event opens a formal application process for speakers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pitch them proactively on your own. However, you can’t wait until a month before the event to send your pitch in. Not only will the agenda be set by that point, but even if you’re a late addition you’ll miss out on promotional opportunities.

“Speakers need to be locked in at least three months in advance—two at a bare minimum—otherwise the visibility is minimal, if at all,” says event planner Vanessa Cañas, who works with entrepreneurs to plan conferences, retreats, and nonprofit events.

So in short, pitch early, pitch often, and make sure organizers know what the heck you’re pitching to begin with.