Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jennifer Roback Morse rewrites "Love & Economics": is the "laissez-faire family" an oxymoron?

Author: Jennifer Roback Morse
Title: "Love & Economics: Why It Takes a Family to Raise a Village".
Publication: San Marcos CA, Ruth Institute, 2008, ISBN 978-0-9816059-1-3.
Description: 306 pages, paper, endnotes but not index. 4 Parts. 12 Chapters, Introduction and Conclusion.

This book is a rewrite of an earlier book that had appeared in 2001, titled “Love & Economics: Why the Laissez-Faire Family Doesn’t Work,” then published by Spence in Dallas. The new version appears in “collegiate” and “streetfighter” editions. This is a review of the “collegiate” version and I’m not sure as to how they are different. The book's subtitle is an obvious reference to Hillary Clinton's famous book "It Takes a Village" (1996, reissued in 2006 in an anniversary edition from Simon & Schuster.

I can relate to this book on two or three different levels. For most of its text, Morse is describing how the nuclear family should work, how parents need to be connected in love, recognized by society as their marriage, and how children, born helpless and needy until they become productive adults themselves, fare best in a traditional family. Ideally, she maintains, the father accepts the responsibility to protect and provide for the mother and children, and the mother stays home enough (and so does the father, to some extent) to raise the children and teach the children the socialization that it takes to function in a free society.

There’s something so fundamental about this, that goes beyond words. If you’ve ever watched a lioness train her cubs to hunt in a nature film, you see how motherhood underlies the continuity of a species at a certain level. Human civilization can grow and develop because it adds fatherhood and adds a social structure (the family) to pass its values down through generations.

One can debate her criticism of alternative arrangements that parents make, for example, using day care or nannies, and of her questioning the political progress in gender equality. She calls the modern “laissez-faire family” as the “problem that has no name.”

She has, however, described how unconditional and committed love should work within a marriage, and why children need to see this in their parents. No one can really question the soundness of these central ideas. She never mentions same-sex marriage or homosexuality per se, but some of her ideas about marriage really do apply to same-sex couples. She talks about love and power, as a balance between competing virtues that people bring to a marriage. She is not, however, willing to admit that this is not as dependent on gender as most people think. That gets into the “polarities” and the ideas of Paul Rosenfels, whom I discussed in this blog in April 2006.

I say that I have to discuss the book in levels, because throughout the book she is relating her ideas about marital love to her social and political philosophy, which she still says is libertarian. As the book title says, a free market society with minimal government cannot prosper without strong families transmitting care among generations.

Even as we have seen in the recent financial crisis, one of the most important requirements of a free society is a certain amount of trust among its citizens. People are not born with this; they learn self-control and proper boundaries and respect for others from parents. Morse discusses "The Prisoner's Dilemma" as a paradigm to show how people need to learn to perceive self-interest in terms of committed, long term relationships. That paradigm does really explain a lot of problems on Wall Street as well as it does in intimate relationships.

Early in the book, she discusses attachment disorder, which appears in children, as in overseas orphanages, who do not have proper attention from parents. Such children grow into adulthood with a very short-term sense of “rational” self-interest, focused on quick gratification. They often do not have respect for law and become sociopathic. However, judging from other characterizations (as on Dr. Phil) the term might be used for people who grow up without the normal facility to share feelings and emotions, but who are able to adapt to society by themselves and make a living within society’s norms of lawful and ethical behavior applied globally. Morse considers Attachment Disorder to be important enough to provide a special bibliography for it. I have to come back to that later.

At various places in the book, she questions the way we perceive the libertarian idea of personal autonomy or sovereignty. She says that most libertarians realize that pure “atomistic autonomy” is not possible, because all are dependent on other people, starting with our parents, to exist. In fact, absolute individual sovereignty could lead to a kind of social Darwinism that could eventually invite in totalitarianism again (that’s a good sci-fi theme). Indeed, arguing for libertarian policies in economics, government and foreign affairs does not mean we can advocate change in the essential nature of human social organization through the family, especially the raising of children. She points out that there is a cost to personal autonomy and "pride" when both giving and receiving love, particularly when it seems to be on someone else's terms (and particularly, I think, when expected outside of a marriage among members of an extended family).

She does make some important distinctions in our conceptual terminology. Marriage should not be regarded as a “contract” they way a home purchase is; it is rather a committed partnership. And we should accept that, while many of our adult relationships are chosen (a spouse, most of all), not all are. By a kind of negation of the “axiom of choice” in mathematics, we cannot choose are parents. And we cannot chose our other relatives, especially parents and siblings, and sometimes we will be expected to show some responsibility for them. These relationships are not “coerced” but they are not “chosen” either. They are simply a given, rather like a hypothesis for a math problem. There is a bit of Philosophy 101 in all this. She has a brief passage arguing against the folly that one can "divorce one's parents."

She also discusses the concepts of “risk” and “uncertainty”. When parents have a child, they have no control of which set of their own genes the child will get. Any family could give birth to a child with special needs, beyond the best attempts of any medicine; or any family could give birth to the next Da Vinci. (Or the child could be both.) “Risk” is a statistical concept that can be modeled with actuarial concepts, the domain of insurance companies. “Uncertainty” cannot, and simply leans on trust, and on the idea that a social order will get its members to accept and share uncertainty in the family unit. But the acceptance of "uncertainty" ties in (unfavorably) to libertarian ideas of "rational self-interest." Imagine a world where all adults decide that having children is "irrational" because they could bear the sole risk of raising a child with a disability, which cannot be predicted completely. One could indeed wind up with the apocalypse of the film "Children of Men."

The central problem, from my perspective at least, is that some people go their own way in life (like me) without forming their own families. Nevertheless, their willing participation can be important to the family units that they came from.

Let me deal with one excursion here, social security. Morse provides a discussion that says that social security has relieved adult children of responsibility for their parents, and has even encouraged elderly people to move into their own communities, often in the Sun Belt, breaking up extended families to pass down intergenerational values. She’s getting at something important, but I don’t think her analysis is correct. Social security is funded largely by a worker’s own contributions, and also provides spousal benefits (a big boon for traditional marriage in any book). If social security were replaced by a pre-tax privatized plan, essentially if could function the same way, as an annuity for oneself and spouse based on one’s own lifetime work record and earnings. It would be intended to help the elderly remain solvent without their kids. However Medicare is essentially a single payer system to take care of the major part of the senior’s medical care, but families are left on their own (or Medicaid) for long term care. This gets into the subject of filial responsibility laws which I have discussed in detail elsewhere on these blogs.

Let’s get back to her main train of thought. She mentions several times the importance of being willing to love other people when they are less than perfect. It’s not always clear if she is talking just about the husband and wife in a marriage, where the well being of the children is at stake. She mentions that some people are preoccupied with their own plans and agenda in lives (sometimes with a lot of fantasy investment) and have very little interest in permanent co-dependence with others. That’s true. It actually happens a lot in marriages (and contributes to divorce) But what is more significant to me, at least, is that many times such people don’t marry and have kids at all. They decide it is too expensive or requires allowing other people to make unwelcome intrusions into their emotional space. Sexual orientation may figure into this, but it would complicate the discussion here within the scope of the book review. So might medical issues, such as milder developmental “disorders” like Aspergers, or personality “disorders” like schizoid, that seem related to Attachment Disorder. But such persons do not become criminal or destructive; they simply want to manage their own space and live their own way.

The book leaves the impression that people, even those who do not marry and have their own children, should regard themselves as parts of a family, governed by the marital sexual commitment of the parents, than as competing individuals in a global society. It is common for unmarried or childless people to discover that they are expected to care for elderly parents (as noted in the previous book review) and sometimes to be expected to raise siblings’ children after family tragedies (as in more than one Hollywood film). In some cases, single adults might be expected to make huge changes in their own lives and priorities because of problems that others in the family had or even caused. Meeting such an expectation (and sometimes proving that one can “head” a “pseudo-family”) might be “easier” for an adult who had, after all, entered the committed intimate life of marriage and raised his own kids earlier; otherwise he (or she) is left, relative to the values of the modern world, in the (potentially shameful) position of someone who could not compete well enough to have his own family and must subordinate himself to the sexual commitments of others. This kind of situation is not often formally discussed, so indeed it becomes part of Morse’s “problem with no name”. I’d love to see Dr. Phil and Oprah willing to deal with this more often, although Dr. Phil recently had a program where a young man had to ponder giving up an athletic career to be tested to give up a kidney to a brother. This sort of thing does happen.

It seems that if one is going to say this in a book in a “play footsy under the table” fashion, one should have a separate chapter and deal specifically on what should be expected of unmarried people. Go ahead and blurt it out and take the criticism for being politically incorrect if necessary. Even from the vantage point of the “ethics” of “radical individualism” known to libertarians (call it “karma”), “singletons” were helpless once as babies (after all, as she says, everyone was – that’s a given) and therefore putatively owe some caregiving to others (and some "uncertainty sharing") even if never committed themselves to having their own children.

Morse spends almost no space on discussing specific family policies. Specifically, she avoids rehearsing all the usual conservative arguments against gay marriage. She is espousing libertarianism, but that it must be founded on a spontaneous order in which personal interactions involving the family come about on a voluntary basis, where people keep their marital promises but also where people on the fringe of the conventional world of marriage understand that they must be receptive to other people, too, sometimes on terms other than their own. But, in the book by Polikoff that I reviewed previously, that’s precisely a reason why public policy needs to recognize caregiving and co-dependency arrangements other than marriage, so that people can afford to step up to them. Morse seems to imply that “marriage culture”, if implemented consistently enough (especially on outliers like me) would take care of caregaiving without inviting intervention by government.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nancy D. Polikoff: "Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage": a pragmatic argument for fairness

Author: Nancy D. Polikoff.
Ttile: "Beyond (Straight and Gay)Marriage: Valuing All Families Under the Law".
Publication: Boston, Beacon Press, 2008. 259 pages, hardcover. ISBN 978-0-8070-4432-2.
Description: Hardcover, 259 pages, 11 Chapters and a conclusion.

American University law professor Nancy D. Polikoff has written a fairly brief but compelling argument for modifying family law so that it recognizes dependency fairly, whether in or outside of legally recognized marriage.

The “obvious” customers for her concerns sounds like LGBT people, but, not necessarily, she argues. Children of single parents or of non-legally married parents need to be treated equally in all areas of law, as do other dependents, especially, given today’s demographics, elderly parents. Yet laws often get in the way, particularly some recent state laws and constitutional amendments (like Marshall-Newman in Virginia) that would prohibit arrangements for non-married couples that “simulate” marriage (civil union benefits).

She does trace the history of the “cultural wars” relative to the gay rights movement, with respect to marriage, through the civil union and gay marriage debates that developed in the 1990s (first with Hawaii and Vermont) and then led to today’s situation, as with Massachusetts and California (where there is a referendum the November 2008 election).

She does remind us that marriage used to be regarded as society’s tool to regulate sexual expression, both in and outside of marriage. She moves on to a synoptic discussion of the political opportunism on the part of the religious right, trying to blame homosexuals and the unmarried for the problems today. She doesn’t connect quite all the dots of conservative arguments here, but it’s clear that the cultural attachment to marriage has a lot to do with emotional fidelity and emotion. “Special rights” for married people (and a belief that they have a right to monopolize sexuality) certainly hurt those adults who don’t have heterosexual intercourse with openness to their own procreation.

She understands the importance of gay marriage as an “equality concept” given that society favors marriage, but it is the fact that marriage is so privileged that is the source of unfairness, particularly to dependents in “non-conventional” families. By keeping marriage as a largely private and religious matter, upon which relatively little depends, one sidesteps all the potential arguments about extending marriage (as with polygamy).

The most remarkable passages in her book concern the idea of dependency (the “caretaker-dependent dyad”). On p 122 (in a chapter called “Valuing All Families”) she refers to Martha Albertson Fineman’s book “The Newtered Mother, the Sexual Family, and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies” (published by Rutledge in 1995) and the characterization of “inevitable” vs. “derivative” dependency. “Inevitable” dependents comprise children and often the elderly and disabled. “Derivative” dependents comprise those who care for the inevitable dependents. Although the most obvious example is parents, people often care for dependents whom they did not create (including elderly parents and sometimes siblings). “’We all lead subsidized lives’, she quotes Fineman as saying, adding that personal autonomy is a myth creating by hiding dependencies in the economy and public policy. Society should compensate derivative dependents, who often share caregiving duties inequitably, rather than leave them privatized in the family. One can debate this suggestion: after all, Medicare does pay for a lot of elderly Medicare, but not for nursing home care (generally).

Later, on p 151, she speculated “A gay man with no partner or children may be the one among his adult siblings best suited to move in with, support, and care for an aging parent and grandparent.” Notice: the gay man in this situation is expected to give up his own sovereignty to meet the needs of someone else when he did not do anything to cause the need (unlike the case of having children). Perhaps he has to change careers, or become involved in groupthink-style political causes (to benefit the dependent) that he personally would not have supported. Such a scenario has profound moral implications, but it happens all the time. The naughty word for this is “family slave” but in the past, unmarried adults (especially women) were expected to do just that: stay home and look after the parents. She doesn't mention that 28 states have filial responsibility laws, which may become legally significant to adult children as their parents live longer but may become dependent.

That gives a clue to what the religious right wants: to socialize as many people as possible to be able to function as married adults raising children and caring for others (including the elderly) in their own families. Marriage, they say, has to be emotionally rewarding enough (including, in a lot of cases, a lot of pampering) to keep couples together so that they “voluntarily” provide all the intergenerational services that society needs. She mentions the old-fashioned “family wage”, upon which social policy (which discriminated against female workers) used to be based, but social conservatives like Allan C. Carlson, who in a 1988 book “Family Questions: Reflections on the American Social Crisis” (Transaction Books) wrote that the family wage would be necessary to counter the “logical consequences of radical individualism” (p 111). It isn’t hard to imagine that the family wage supports a patriarchal family, emotionally important to many men to remain faithful.

She also discusses the evolution of our health care system as something that came out of wage and price controls during WWII, analyzes the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act as being more rational in whom it covers than marriage law, and supports some paid leave, such as the proposed Health Families Act of 2007 (S 1085, govtrack reference here.

Polikoff does go into detail about the way different states handle issues like wills (including challenges from blood relative -- it's interesting how blood relationships are supposedly to get for people what they can't take care of themselves even as adults), dying intestate, hospital visitation, workman's compensation, and particularly social security, where she notes that the social security system has all people supporting the spousal benefits of high income one-earner families.

A good book for comparison might be Elinor Burkett’s “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless” back in 2000 (Free Press). Burkett admits that some people view the childless or single as “cheating the system.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Thomas Friedman's "Hot, Flat, and Crowded": Making "an inconvenient truth" pay off

Author: Thomas L. Friedman:
Title and Subtitle: Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution, and How It Can Renew America.
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, hardbound, 438 pages, indexed, ISBN 0-374-16685-4; five Parts and 17 Chapters.

Friedman has previously authored “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century” from the same publisher, and recently appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” to promote his new work, which is one of the best and most convincing books so far to deal with the sustainability issues raised both by peak oil and, most of all, climate change.

His thesis is straightforward and powerful. The planet is “reconciled” and most of the world’s peoples want to share the West’s patterns of consumption (with certain fanatical religious exceptions). We will soon make our planet unlivable, as the problems we create build at an exponential rate. He does state the scientific case that climate change or global warming is essentially man-made, and gives pretty much the same evidence as Al Gore, emphasizing the detailed evidence regarding carbon dioxide concentrations. The biggest cause of carbon dioxide concentrations is the burning of fossil fuels. Moreover, there are scenarios that could cause a lot of methane to be released into the atmosphere quickly (from former permafrost). With some humor, he notes that agriculture, specifically raising animals capable of flatulence, also adds methane.

Politically and historically, the rise of standards of living in Europe and the United States, probably resulting partly from a colder climate and from botches efforts of previous civilizations, always seemed like a moral justification of democratic capitalism, whatever the inequities and bumps along the road. Totalitarian societies, particularly Communism in the Soviet Union and China, probably delayed the same level of consumption by its citizens, even if the Soviets especially were big polluters in other ways. The inefficiency of Communism and probably totalitarian societies including much of Islam, prevent the same level of consumption in much of the rest of the world. As a result of sweeping changes (the fall of Communism, etc) it now wants to catch up.

Another problem is well documented: western consumers are supporting despotic governments of the oil producing states (particularly Saudi Arabia), looking the other way. The end result is that religious zealots can inflame idle young men in those countries with complaints both about the self-indulgence of western consumers and the religious infractions of occupying (and “invading”) their oil-producing lands. Such thinking can sift down to moral blame on the individual western consumer.

Friedman offers an optimistic solution. The market needs to monetize clean energy, He speaks of an “energy Internet” where servers, in a manner parallel to the modern Internet, optimize energy use in homes and businesses. He sees this as the next great business revolution. He mentions some odd possibilities. If I read him right, home computer users would allow all their data be managed by servers, which could, I think, invited new security problems and possible issues with “terms of use” and “false positive” problems. Furthermore, homes would be even more connected to super-utilities (and vulnerable to storms) than today, so I wonder how practical this is. Some decentralization (which ironically is possible with wireless) makes more sense to me and others (such as in the film “The End of Suburbia”). Eventually, he says, “green” will no longer be a standout buzzword any more than is “civil rights” or “equality.” He suggests that children need deliberately designed programs to keep them in touch with the environment, a program he calls "No Child Left Inside."

He claims that even China is realizing it must change its ways as it migrates to capitalism, even if history has been a bit “unfair”. Nature, he says, knows only physics and mathematics and a finite planet. Nature doesn’t care about politics. He also suggests that America could become “China for a day” and, with some degree of Confucian authoritarianism, pass some draconian tax laws to nudge people into clean power, and give companies the right incentives (starting with cap and trade systems) to develop clean energy technology. At one point, he suggests construction regulation that is preferable to more draconian regulation (such as outright rationing of energy or many items) that could emerge.

At one point, he stresses that we will soon have to reach a point where every citizen pays for what he or she uses immediately (in terms of depletion of energy and in terms of climate change, both against total finite limits) and not borrow from their children.

That brings me back to the sustainability problem, at a personal level. Modern ideas of freedom suggest that the individual “develop the self” before being committed to familial relationships and communities. But most of the world doesn’t allow that much self-definition. Indeed, “individual sovereignty” can become dependent on an unsustainable technology that can implode (through natural disasters induced) or by attracting enemies who take it away. Individual standard of living can be predicated on the "unseen" sacrifices of others or on costs (such as carbon emissions) that the economy does not know how to assess. That may help explain some religious ideas based on living simply (and decentralized) with little technology but heavy emphasis on integrating everyone into familial social structures, whether the Amish or tribal radical Islam in some parts of the world.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

National Geographic has subtle featured article on Neanderthals, "The Other Humans"

The October 2008 issue of National Geographic (to me, each issue seems like “a book”) has an important, well illustrated article on the Neanderthals. It is authored by Stephen S. Hall with photographs by David Liittschwager and some reconstruction art and photographs by “Kennis & Kennis” and Joe McNally. The cover title is “The Other Humans: Neanderthals Revealed” and the internal title is “Last of the Neanderthals.”

The article depicts Neanderthals as having lived in isolated extended family groups all over Eurasia, in colder climates, with eventual challenge from approaching ice ages. They had large cranial capacities, pale skin (for absorbing vitamin D) and perhaps red hair. They reproduced about three or four years earlier than modern humans. They are closely related genetically to modern homo sapiens, but members of different races among modern man are closer genetically than they were to Neanderthals. It is possible but uncertain that man and Neanderthal could have interbred.

The article poses an interesting theory as to why the Neanderthals died out and were replaced by modern humans (conceivably they could have been absorbed). There seems to be a bit of a lesson in anthropology in all this. Neanderthals were mostly carnivorous, and hunted together for large game. It appears that they did not have a lot of division of labor within their tribal groups, and women and children had to join the men for hunts.

Modern humans developed more varied diets, including plant foods, which we now think of as more healthful and possibly closer to what most other primates naturally eat. The variation in diet encouraged agriculture and experiments in technology, but most of all, some division of labor within the family. The overall end result may have been a longer lifespan and a community with more varied members. That could have given modern humans a “competitive” and “reproductive” advantage, especially in times of environmental challenge.

There is no evidence, however, that Neanderthals overworked their environment (as with the Maya, in an earlier piece).

This leads to good questions about diversity and a population’s sustainability. The questions sound like they have a “moral” nature. On the surface, this fable sounds like an argument for sexual division of labor and religious ideas supporting complementarity. To some extend it certainly is. But it could also be taken as a subtle indication that a wide variation of talent within an integrated population is good for the long term prospects for the culture. Conceivably that could include variations in behavior even within a gender. Most primitive and native cultures have had non-conforming people and behaviors. It would be good for someone to write a book or make a documentary film with modern research on this issue.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Stephen Leeb: The Coming Economic Collapse ($200 oil): a review

Author: Stephen Leeb, Ph. D.
Title and Subtitle: The Coming Economic Collapse: How You Can Thrive When Oil Costs $200 a Barrel.
Publication items: New York: Business Plus, 2007. ISBN 0-446-57978-5. Paper, 212 pages

First, the author believes that our energy crisis is more urgent than climate change or global warming. He points out that the two major oil shocks of the 1970s were politically motivated (and he recalls the even-odd gasoline rationing after the shocks), but this time, he says, it really is related to “peak oil” and to not being able to find much more at reasonable prices.

There are several possible outcomes. One is essentially a collapse of civilization, in what Leeb calls a loss of “complexity.” Something like this has happened repeatedly with large empires (the Romans) and small localized communities (as on Easter Island) and probably, in stages, to the Maya city-states. Generally they have happened because their collective “lifestyles” were not sustainable, and they depleted resources in some way (with the Romans it had a lot to do with overextension). He talks about the writings of James Kunstler, already presented in the “End of Suburbia” movies (review link) where society becomes decentralized and simplified, less globalized, and life becomes familial and adaptive. Possibly there could be extreme hardship for many communities or for more techno-dependent kinds of people (like me). That’s a worst case. But, with thoughtful political leadership, he believes that we can shift over to renewable energy and maintain our civilization. It is likely that he would agree with T. Boone Pickens that there could be intermediate stages moving from oil to coal or natural gas.

But some of our problems really are psycho-political. There is a tendency for most people to follow “herd mentalities” He describes the experiments of Solomon Asch and Stanley Milgram in “groupthink.” Authoritarian or conventional people are more prone to this than “creative” or “open thinkers”; on the other hand, “creative” people may lack the social and adaptive connectivity to be believed.

Leeb seems perhaps a bit self-contradictory in the level of confidence we should have in technology. The dot-com bubble was based on a herd-mentality belief that globalization and broadband would lead to endless profits. The clean energy boom (which Thomas Friedman predicts also, in another new book that I expect to review soon) would depend on technological savvy too, but in a much more creatively thought-out and designed manner.

Leeb feels that the relentless upward push on the price of oil is unstoppable. He wrote the book when oil traded at about $70, which at the time was considered high. Since then, it has doubled again, but now has retreated. He also wrote the book just as the subprime mess was starting, and does not predict the mortgage and credit meltdown that has actually happened. At one point, however, he says that he hopes his book will inspire the creative thinking that could delay or prevent an eventual $200 price in the real world.

Leeb, criticizing the “modern portfolio theory” (MPT), offers advice for investors in an environment of inflation, which includes holding gold and precious metals or stocks, and oil and renewable energy stocks. He offers warnings about depending on cash and particularly bonds as “conservative” strategy for retirees.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tory Johnson and Robyn Spizman: "Will Work from Home"

Authors: Tory Johnson and Robyn Freedman Spizman.
Title: Will Work from Home
Subtitle: Earn the Cash--without the Commute. A "Women for Hire" book.
Publication: New York: Berkley, 2008. ISBN 978-0-425-22285-0. Indexed, 254 pages, paper.

Tory Johnson is the workplace reporter on ABC News, particularly on “Good Morning America” and emphasizes issues for women in the workplace. She has ventured into areas of general prudence, such as “Dusting Your Digital Dirt: Your Online Webpages Could Cost You a Chance at a Job” March 16, 2006, link here.

This is a fairly straightforward, “how to” book, practical, aiming at the general proposition that a lot of people need to make some money without commuting in these days of higher gas prices and green living. The early part of the book has some quizzes and assessments to help the reader decide if “homework” is for him or her. The book has many sidebar testimonials, printed at the bottoms of pages.

There are several basic scenarios that could make this book of interest. The most basic situation may be that a worker or salaried professional wants to cut down commuting and wants to work from home certain days of the week. This could work particularly well for software developers. Another likely adjustment is fewer but longer workdays.

A common situation is that a stay-at-home parent needs extra income. This may happen in some not so voluntary situations, like eldercare. Even so, working from home often requires considerable investment in space and organized time, in which children or dependents may not interrupt. It doesn’t always eliminate the need for hired help with care.

A more challenging and perhaps positive scenario occurs when someone knows what he or she wants to do, and might need income from a second source. Tory Johnson does discuss authoring a book (including e-books or Kindle) and freelance writing, and logically that would include screenwriting. In practice, the business considerations for trade publishing when compared to cooperative or “supported self-publishing” (like iUniverse or Author House) are quite different (she doesn’t go into detail here). Later she talks about how to earn income from websites. She does distinguish between different kinds of web businesses somewhat: political blogging requires a very different kind of web presence and presentation when compared to information about one topic, or a site that processes e-commerce on a narrow kind of service or product.

I wondered, what about two work-from-home jobs, if one does not pay enough (like the freelance writing – and (to add on to her discussion) the National Writers Union has made a lot of royalties from Internet republication so that “professional” freelance writing can be viable economically).

That question calls up a lot of matters I have checked. Some of the higher-end homework careers, from customer service agent companies (like Alpine, LiveOps, etc.) do require quite a bit of commitment. Alpine, in fact, apparently offers benefits and real advancement. But the agent needs to invest carefully in his home office setup, with considerable attention to computer stability and freedom from viruses. One needs a stable cable or broadband line, a second phone line, fax machine, headset, and other hardware. Generally one needs to buy a desktop computer to be used only for business (for reasons of consumer security), meeting strict software, browser, connection, and security and firewall requirements, which are likely to grow with technology. Perhaps later these jobs will allow more secure wireless connections, but they don’t yet. In some cases one may need to have made this business investment even before securing the job.

She talks about myriads of opportunities, for varied temperaments. One interesting idea that varies on substitute teaching would be online tutor. Many of them are leisure, lifestyle, senior, or childcare related. She usually gives websites with lists of companies in a particular area. Some of them are well known, like real estate agent. I can think of some other examples, such as literary agent or even film studio production agent (for vetting screenplays).

She talks about direct sales, and Amway-type companies. The median income from these kinds of representative opportunities is low, but I heard a pitch for something like this as early as 1970. A few people are spectacularly successful at this (often women).

She warns against the spammy “work from home” emails (and street postings) requiring purchasing of starter kits first.

She mentions the legal arrangements (proprietorships, LLC’s, S-corps, etc.) She talks about zoning (and license) requirements that vary enormously by community. She talks about cookie-baking as a business, but in Charlotte, according to John Stossel, a woman was put out of business because she didn’t have a “commercial kitchen.” Another woman who wanted to braid African-American “nappy” hair was put of business because she laced a cosmetology license (in Kansas). You would think freelance writers and computer programming would always be OK because it doesn’t require physical traffic in the neighborhood. But in New Jersey (and a few other communities) freelance writers were harassed or fined (including one rabbi for writing his sermons at home). Some of these made John Stossel’s “Give Me a Break” story on ABC 20-20 a few years ago. Some of these incidents seem to be related to the political power of established unions or companies interested in protecting their “turf” rather than legitimate zoning or licensure concerns. Some apartment buildings, condominiums or co-ops may have specific rules against home-based businesses, although it’s hard to imagine blogging being a problem today, especially since it is so tied to social networking sites. But, on second thought, personal web activity attracts attention, and that itself in the modern world can setup new kinds of problems.

I look back about fifteen years to when I took home dumb terminals from work for Nightcall (on a mainframe, with the nightly processing cycle in batch), and hooked them up on the living room floor, and struggled when the phone rang with an abend. We went from that to Procomm on a PC, and using pagers. A lot has changed, very quickly.

One other opportunity, intermediate to working from home, could be renting office space in a “telecommuting center” close to home.

Students who take Spanish learn a good vocabulary word, “la tarea”, which means “homework.”