Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

My new book is now available on Amazon Kindle.

People pursue three things during their time on earth: Life, Liberty and basically everything else.  This narrative nonfiction book provides a humorous view of society’s desire to pursue happiness and well-being. The book bursts with big ideas on happiness, ethics, thinking, nature, exercise, mindfulness and life. All of this and more can be found within its 81,000 words and no pictures. The footnotes are strictly for fun.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything by [Goodwin, Gary]

 

 

Triskelion Tattoo

IMG_4408This was a piece from a couple of years ago that was published in the Globe.

 

I finally reached that age when it was time to get a tattoo. There is a fine balance between the years you can appreciate your tattoo and the years that you finally regret it. Turning 60, my years of tattoo appreciation seemed likely to exceed the years of tattoo regret. Only 10% of my age bracket, the baby boomers have a tattoo. Moving from the middle of the pig in the python, I was on the verge of being an outlier.

My spouse got her own tattoo as a 50th birthday present. A nice Celtic knot on the side of calf. I have admired her determination to show who she was and an insight into her heritage. The only thing that people could tell about my heritage was that I came from nice hair.

Getting a tattoo would reveal my inner rebel. Getting a tattoo, and a motorbike, would go hand-in-hand. My spouse did point out the error of that logic, and a tattoo was a stand-alone rebel stance and would not require a motorbike. My rebel was appropriately schooled.

What tattoo could do this, without the motorbike? Latin phrases such as carpe diem have been done to death. The best approach would be a symbol. I was looking for something that spoke to me and represented what being human was all about. No easy task since people search all their lives for personal meaning, and I was looking for something like that that could fit on my slightly increasing, soon to be decreasing body size.

In the time that it would have taken to gestate five consecutive baby elephants, I finally set upon a design. A triskelion. A three part symbol that even predates the Celts. The interesting aspect is that you can apply any meaning you want to a trinity. Past present future, mind body spirit, grande decaf latte. The last is a bit of stretch, but the symbol is multipurpose. I wanted to include my wife’s initials in between the spokes of the triskelion. My spouse smiled. My adult children mildly rolled their eyes. PDAs, parental displays of affection, are to be avoided.

The placement of a tattoo also makes a statement. Men prefer arms while woman prefer upper back and legs. Each placement makes a different statement. A facial location would make the statement that I was not happy with my present employment. A deltoid shoulder placement was more in keeping. Not too shy, not obvious at work, and would integrate well with the yoga crowd when I wore my lululemon tank top.

This was the way to show my free spirit. I copied out varioustattoo sizes and taped them to various body locations. Apparently my free spirit likes to be guided like a slow moving trolley on tracks.

After contacting my local tattoo parlor, and checking out needle safety, I had my consultation. I veered away somewhat from the artists that would otherwise have been comfortable providing prison tattoos, while in prison. I settled for a more artistic looking artist.

The fateful day arrived and I was feeling flushed and decided to walk to the tattoo parlor instead of driving. I loaded up on ibuprofen. Upon arriving, I signed the necessary forms. There was no legal jargon to pour through. A good sign. I sat down in the dental looking chair, not a good sign, and my artist explained the process. He applied the stencil and I checked the mirror. This was the one last chance to bail, but I smiled and said ‘hey, it’s exactly what I was thinking of’. This may have been true at some point, but my mind was blank. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I can just about fall asleep when getting my teeth cleaned. I decided that I should try to stay awake and become more ‘fully engaged’ in the moment. But I was more concerned about my tattoo artist. If he nodded off and didn’t move from a certain spot after a minute, I wondered if I would be left with a large black splotch. And if so, what would this very unhappy looking death balloon symbolize?

The entire process took less than 90 minutes. I had been warned that getting a tattoo was like getting scratched by a cat. My previous scratching experience was rescuing a friend’s cat from a tree. The cat was terrified, but I coaxed it to leap into my arms. Yes, mistake, scratch wise. Fortunately getting the tattoo was way less painful.

When my artist was finished I paid the balance of my account. I gave him a nice tip. Even though the experience is almost the same, countless small punctures, I don’t usually tip my lawyer or my accountant.

Afterwards, I did feel different. After thinking about the meaning of the design, I understood how people can feel that their totem, crystals and the like are channeling another power. We all like to be attached to something greater. The triskelion reminds me to work on all aspects of myself continuously, a permanent conscious guide.

I like how they worked my spouse’s Celtic initials into the design which shows how our past, present and futures are intertwined.  I have committed to things that are important and to leave aside things that are not. There is no time like the present. Why wait?

IMG_4408

1000 books to read before you die

blur-books-close-up-159866I bought this book recently. I had hoped that this book would have made the list so I would only have to go through another 999. No such luck.

I always enjoy creating a list and discovering that a few item were previously completed so now I have less to do and I have that sense of moral accomplishment.

I just ordered 100 Years of Solitude. I thought I had to read this since Netflix was coming out with a series beforehand. Not sure if its better to read then watch, or watch then read. This assumes you intend to do both. Alway a conundrum.

Incorporating Machiavelli into the mergers and acquisitions department

Niccolò Machiavelli

 

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was the Renaissance-era politician, writer, philosopher and name-sake of the adjective “Machiavellian,” frequently used in political discourse to refer to achieving power through cunning, manipulative, cynical, ruthless and immoral means.

“So Nick, thanks for coming in for an interview. We are very interested in having you join our M&A department. I understand that you have been in practice for a number of years. Prior to this, you were an Italian historian, statesman, and political philosopher. Your legal tactics epitomize cunning and duplicity. Even your name conjures up negative thoughts. To be called a Machiavellian lawyer can be the worst form of insult.”

“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” Nick replies.

“Interesting, I see. It really seems that you have one of those ‘rags-to-riches’ type of story. Did that impact you in anyway?”

“He who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest,” Nick says.

“What does not kill me makes me stronger. Yes, I have always liked that approach,” the interview continues. “You became quite active in mergers and acquisitions. Do you have an eye for businesses ripe for a takeover?”

Nick briefly considers the question. “He who does not properly manage this business will soon lose what he has acquired.”

“So looking for a poorly run business seems a good approach. I understand that when you helped your client, Mr. Prince, for your last acquisition, it was a hostile takeover. Did you have to clean house a bit? The directors may have been upset.”

“The prince, with little reluctance, takes the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the delinquents, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places,” he answers.

“Yes, I read that you moved out most of the directors who opposed you. Was this ‘shock and awe’ tactic pivotal?”

“Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed,” he says.

“Well, that is a bit dramatic, but I take your point. I hear you managed to reverse some declared but unearned options for the individual directors. That must have hurt.”

“Men ought to be well treated or crushed, because they can avail themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge,” Nick declares, crossing his arms with self-assurance.

“Sounds a little harsh, but seemed to work. The new board certainly believed in your new direction. Do you think they will stand behind the new CEO?”

“And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force,” he replies.

“Get on the bus, or get under it. That is really tough leadership. And you helped implement some new business plans I understand. How did you view the staff who remained?”

“Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed, they are yours entirely,” Nick says matter-of-factly.

“You are saying that as long as you are reaching your goals, people are happy. Did you have any problems with management and the new strategies you were suggesting?”

Nick took a deep breath, exhaled and looked at the ceiling, before replying, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

“I’m with you on that. Boy, we implemented this new accounting package and the backlash caught everyone off guard. How did the rest of the staff respond to the fast paced changes?”

“In seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily,” Nick says.

“Yes, if you are pulling off a band aid, better to do it all at once … ”

Nick interjects, “For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that being tasted less, then offend less: benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.”

“What sort of leadership qualities did the new CEO Mr. Prince have that really stood out?”

“It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them,” he says.

“Fake it till you make it. Got it. But to be a good leader, do you agree that credibility is one of the most important criteria?”

“It is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple,” Nick says, “and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.”

“I hear you. A leader has to put on a front for staff and can be himself for family and friends. Do you have an open-door policy, you know that speaking truth to power thing?”

“But when everyone may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.”

“I see. Did you implement some sort of bonus retention plan to keep the key staff?”

“He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived,” Nick says.

“Ok, so money may not smooth over past slights. Do you have particular ways to discipline staff that may not be following your directions?”

“Leave affairs of reproach to the management of others and keep those of grace in their own hands,” he says.

“Seems like a good idea to pass out the roses yourself, and leave the real dirt to someone else. I know this is confidential. But what can you tell me about any future takeovers?”

“He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war,” Nick replies.

“Yes, business is like war, and all is fair in love and war. Do you have any guidelines you follow to make your clients a fortune with M&A?”

“Fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her,” he says. “And thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defenses have not been raised to constrain her.”

“Got it. Go for the weakest underbelly. I read something like that in Art of War or something. Thanks for your time Nick, and we will let you know. People certainly are talking about your working approach.”

“Hatred is acquired as much by good works as from bad.”

“Good to know. Have a nice day!”

 

Federal tax reform debates suffer from the Rashomon effect

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The film Rashomon won an Academy Honorary Award in 1952 and is considered now one of the greatest films ever made. The film uses a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving and contradictory versions of the same incident.

One can see the theoretical application of this plot device to the multi-varied perception of the liberal government’s changes to the taxation of Canadian controlled private corporations. Let’s just deal with the one plot device — the sprinkling of income.

The government takes the position that these tax advantages are in place to help Canadian businesses reinvest and grow, find new customers, buy new equipment and hire more people. Not surprisingly, people evidently use these corporate structures to reduce taxes by paying dividends to those family members at a lower tax bracket and not involved in the business. Mea culpa. The government perceives that these people are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes as opposed to investing in their business and maintaining their competitive advantage.

Of course, sprinkling income provides dividends to family members who may not have much to do with the corporation in the first place. The tax policy intended to spread income more among those involved with the corporation.

The government states that when the rules are used for personal benefit, they are not contributing to growing the economy. Rather, such practices undermine confidence in the economy by selectively giving away tax advantages and producing an unfair result.

The Canadian Bar Association takes umbrage to the government’s use of the term “loophole.” Loopholes are inherently legal, but they circumvent the policy intent of the legislation when corporations legally use tax advantages to make professionals more whole as compared to salaried employees. So let’s just call these advantages “loopwholes” instead.

We can use the Rashomon approach to examine taxes paid in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s CCPC comparison discussion paper. Susan, an employee, earns employment income of $220,000 and pays her fair share of taxes totalling $79,000. We compare this to our business owner Bob earning a professional income of $220,000 and, through the sprinkling of tax loopwhole-ness, pays only $44,000 in taxes. Susan pays about 36 per cent of her income in taxes while Bob only pays 20 per cent, a $35,000 difference. One could easily think that there is only a 16-per-cent difference, but through the magic of Rashomon, we can see that Susan pays about 44 per cent more in taxes (35/79). If the loopwhole is lost, Bob becomes even more upset as his tax bill would increase 80 per cent (35/44).

The CBA, to the consternation of some members and now some former members, takes a political position against the removal of the tax loopwhole. The main argument appears to be that the loopwhole allows the corporate professional to earn the same amount as an employed individual since a corporate professional does not have paid vacation or an employer pension. The pension argument has an iceberg quality to it since fewer companies are providing pensions in any event, down to around 37 per cent of employees.

In comparing total compensation, HR professionals use a rough guideline that benefits can total 20 per cent of income once you include vacation, health and pensions. If we get back to fun with ratios, we can see that Bob’s tax savings of $35,000 comes close to this 20-per-cent premium ($44,000 normally).

A major argument for allowing professional corporations a tax break is the risk premium. A business owner has no guaranteed income, job security, paid vacation, sick days or retirement program. In addition, the owner must personally guarantee debt obligations and pay the entire cost of the Canada Pension Plan. Therefore, an owner should be entitled to a risk premium. As an example, the risk premium for stocks is arguably about five per cent, but this does not appear high enough for Bob considering the risk.

So, in a straight comparison, Bob should pay less tax in order to have close to the same total compensation as Susan, a salaried employee. Unfortunately, we drifted away from the actual question, dreamed about a logical fallacy and refuted an argument that was never made. The question is not how the tax system should make Susan and Bob have the same total compensation but rather how to limit the tax exemption for what it was intended, mainly using dividends to compensate those involved in the business and to help businesses reinvest and grow.

If we use sprinkling dividends as a loopwhole in order to make Bob’s total compensation the same as salaried employee Susan, we have passed the risk premium over to be paid by Susan by way of tax revenue foregone by exempting Bob. The risk premium should belong to Bob to be mitigated by higher revenue paid by Bob’s clientele or by reduced expenses, not lower taxes at the expense of Susan.

If a tax break is truly yours, then let it go. If it returns, then it belongs to you. If it doesn’t, then it never was.

 

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

From a previous Canadian Lawyer Article.

The Open Office and the Hawthorne Effect

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Private and public organizations appear to be drifting towards the open office concept. They intend to decrease costs and increase interaction amongst staff.

We can see the slow evolution from the closed office, to the head high cubicle walls to now the chest high walls. All in the name of integration. We may get back to the day of no walls and simply desks arranged in neat rows and columns. Whenever they show this type of arrangement it always seems somewhat Kafka like; the bleak dystopian future that we are always trying to avoid but seems to be coming for us anyway.

A new study from CTF, Service Research Centre in Karlstad University, Sweden suggests that the more co-workers share a workspace the less satisfied they are and the more difficult it is to have a good dialogue with other staff.

This may have depended on where the studied employees started of course. Anyone with a private office suddenly cast into the open workplace community would be dissatisfied it would appear. Anyone coming right out of school, with no previous experience working in a private office, could well be ecstatic just getting their own private desk instead of one of the communal desks.

Perhaps a staff engagement and satisfaction management technique would be to recall the Hawthorne experiments conducted in the late 20s and early 30s. Here Western Electric in its factories outside of Chicago in the suburb of Hawthorne conducted various experiments regarding productivity. Hawthorne placed the individual in a social context and suggested that performance is influenced not only by a person’s innate abilities but also by their surrounding environment and colleagues.

The experiment attempted to show how the surrounding environment increased productivity. In one factory they improved the overall lighting and kept another factory as a control group. Productivity increased in the first group. As time went by, they added additional improvements to working hours and health breaks. Productivity increased again. Productivity continued to increase even when they returned the lighting to where it was originally.

The experimenters concluded that it was not so much the change in conditions that mattered, but rather the fact that someone cared about the workplace environment and gave them an opportunity to discuss the changes beforehand.

Staff engagement and an opportunity to have an impact on the workplace remains key in job satisfaction.

 

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#openoffice

 

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