Maybe the NSA Is Tricking Us Into Not Being Stupid

For whatever reason, I had an odd thought today while listening to a recent No Agenda Show. I don’t remember the exact statement, but Adam (website | twitter) and John (website | twitter) were discussing the potential bogativity of Snowden and the whole NSA Spying Scandal.

For years security experts such as Steve Gibson (website | twitter) have been prodding us to secure ourselves on-line. Use https wherever we can, don’t click on links in e-mails, don’t open attachments we didn’t ask for. Don’t give out passwords on the phone, or send them via e-mail.

The internet has also gotten a whole lot scarier too, with new attacks such as crypto locker, plus an increase in scams being done in, going by the press reports, places like the Philippines, China and Russia.

So what if the NSA / Government has decided to pull some reverse psychology on the public? After years of reportedly warning people, with little results, maybe the powers that be thought business and citizens simply weren’t getting mad enough to take action.  Thus comes the crazy plan: let’s take things to the next level and convince everyone the US Government is spying on its own citizens.

Sure, I agree, perhaps it is far fetched. But it sure has produced results. Companies like Google are ramping up their security. For example, they are now encrypting the communications that flow between its data centers. Other web providers are following suit.

Private citizens have taken their rage and learned how to use more secure communications. I’m seeing an upshift in the use of e-mail encryption tools like PGP/GPG. I personally now use a great VPN service called proXPN to secure my communications so that local snoopers in coffee shops and hotels can’t see my communications.

Many companies are now implementing https by default on their sites. If you aren’t familiar with it, a site that has just http in your browser’s address by doesn’t encrypt their communications between you and the site. This means that the guy at the table next to you in the coffee shop could be spying on what you are doing between your PC / tablet / phone (using wi-fi) and the website.

Now, for some sites like say this blog for example, that is perfectly fine. There is no need to secure it because there’s no sensitive information between this site and your browser.

For many sites though, you do want to protect your connection. When website encrypts the communication between your browser and their site, you will see https in browser address bar. Any site that needs a password, should have its communications encrypted. While your bank comes to mind, other sites like Twitter and Facebook should (and are) moving to https being used everywhere. But I’m diverging.

I’m not sure I totally believe the concept my brain came up with, namely that the NSA is using reverse psychology to trick us into protecting ourselves better. However their actions have had that very effect. Further, it is not any more of a wild theory then the story that a low level contractor was able to remove a multitude of classified documents from a secure government site, one run by an agency with Security as its middle name. 

The Levity Effect

Mondays. Anyone who has been on Facebook or Twitter knows the inevitable stream of “ugh, Monday” comments, jokes, and pics all moaning over the return to the work week. Monday, dreaded Monday. The fear of returning to the workplace permeates society. But authors Scott Christopher and Adrian Gostick remind us it doesn’t have to be that way.


In their book, The Levity Effect, Scott and Adrian explain the importance of humor in the work place. How important? In the list of Fortune 100 Greatest Places To Work, an average of 81% of employees polled agreed they worked in a “fun” environment. Let me say that again, to be clear. Across the 100 greatest to work at companies, an average of 81% of their employees said they worked in a fun place. How many of your co-workers would say that about your company?

Throughout the book are examples from corporations demonstrating the success they have achieved by placing a high value of “fun” in the work place. Indeed some companies go so far as to make fun a core value. The case studies in the book, and the companies are all household names, should solidify a definite link in the readers mind between success and fun. But as they say, wait! There’s more!

Once the case has been made for the value of levity in the workplace, both from the perspective of the employee and the company, Scott and Adrian go on to provide methods and suggestions for implementing “fun” in your own work environment. In one section they have well over 100 ideas for getting the fun started, concrete suggestions many at little to no cost.

Now if you are a manager reading this, by now you are thinking the authors are nuts. Next thing they’ll be suggesting the hiring of a stand up comic. Don’t worry, that’s not what they are advising. At least not a full time comic (part time will do fine). Scott and Adrian acknowledge there needs to be a balance between fun and work, and provide useful guidance on how to achieve that balance.

This is not a huge book, which frankly I appreciated. In this day of huge tomes of wisdom, it was nice to have a book I could pickup without breaking my back. Plus the small size makes it an easy weekend read. The book was, as you might expect, full of humor which made it a fun and enjoyable. Frankly probably one of the most enjoyable books on business I’ve ever read!

If you are a electronic geek like me, I would encourage buying both the Kindle book and the Audible book. If you get the Kindle version you can buy the Audible version at a greatly reduced price. Having the “printed” version makes it easy to return to the extensive lists of ideas and suggestions for funning up your work place.

I found the audio though especially entertaining. One of the authors, Scott Christopher, read it and did an outstanding job. But he should, not only is he a writer but an actor. There’s a fun show on BYU called “Granite Flats” (you can watch it on the web or Roku) which takes place in 1962 in a small town just outside an army base / hospital. Scott Christopher plays Frank, a patient in the “psych” ward of the hospital. It’s a role he was born to play.

Mr. Christopher proved to be a natural reader,  his voice was had all the right tones and emphases and other fancy words people like to use in favorable reviews to make a great story. In addition to being an author, actor, and reader, he is also a public speaker and TV / Event host. Clearly this dude has some kind of over-achiever complex. You can find out more about him at his website,

I give The Levity Effect a full five stars, and unreserved two thumbs up. And if you knew how hard it was to type with both my thumbs up in the air you’d know how special a rating that really is.

Book Review: Basic Economics

Basic Economics, Fourth Edition: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy | [Thomas Sowell]At no point during my public school education did I ever receive any lessons on economics or finance. This is truly a travesty, as after listening to this book I now understand how crucial economics is to the world we live in. Economics drives everything about our lives. The products we buy, which products we can by, how we earn the wages to buy those products, what interest rates we pay and how those are set, and more.

I did take an economics course in college, but frankly don’t remember much of it. To say the first quarter was dull and bland would be a gross understatement. The second quarter was much more interesting, but it was taught by a stock broker and focused on the market, which as I now understand is a different subject from economics.

It was fascinating to learn how much the concept of supply and demand drives everything in our world. I had a vague idea of how it applied to goods, but Dr. Thomas Sowell taught the reader how it drives everything, not just goods but wages, interest rates, and more. Supply and demand, when left alone, will work themselves out to an equal level when the economy is left alone, i.e. a free market. I also learned from Dr. Sowell the consequences when the economy is not left alone, and government interferes. He further illustrates the effects of compounded interference. Government steps in to fix one thing, which causes a consequence. So they step in to fix that, and cause more repercussions.

I’m a big fan of audio books, and found the reader of the Audible edition, Tom Weiner, to have an excellent voice well suited to this material. His voice had the authoritative tone of a college professor. His voice was far from the monotone you find in many instructors, it rose and fell appropriately to keep me engaged and attentive.

We home school our kids, and I intend to make this book part of their curriculum this fall. Having a good understanding of how economics affects our lives will put them in good stead in the future, and this book is a five star way to do it.

Links: Basic Economics on Amazon | Basic Economics on Audible | Dr. Thomas Sowell’s Wikipedia page

Book Review: For a New Liberty

image Recently I had the privilege of reading “For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto” by Murray N. Rothbard. Originally published in 1973, the second revision came in 1978 and the third and final revision in 1985. In his book Mr. Rothbard takes Libertarianism to its ultimate extreme, what scholars refer to as anarcho-capitalism.

In anarcho-capitalism, there are no more countries (what in the book are referred to as “states”). Instead everything is privately owned. Roads are built and operated by private companies, who can recoup their costs in a variety of ways. Toll roads being the obvious method, but they could also be built by the citizens of a neighborhood wishing new access to other locations, or as occurs even today by businesses wishing consumers to have easier access to their shops.

Because there are no states, no controlling governments, he postulates that the large scale wars of the past will remain in the past. Individuals will be too busy taking care of their own business and work to wish to engage in armed conflict. This focus on personal responsibility will result in an overall pacifist society.

But there will always be those who seek to do wrong. Mr. Rothbards take on the judicial system was the concept that intrigued me the most. When you are wronged, currently it is a government official, typically a District Attorney, who makes the decision whether or not to prosecute the person who wronged you. Indeed, this official can choose to prosecute even should the victim not wish that prosecution to go forward.

In a truly Libertarian society, people would subscribe to a court, much the same way we retain insurance today. As a victim, I could then make an accusation against the person who wronged me, and the trial would be held in my court. If the perpetrator is found guilty, they could appeal to the court in which they are subscribed to. Should he still be found guilty, the verdict stands. If however the person is found not guilty, I as the injured party could appeal that verdict. The court would not be one subscribed to by either the victim or the perpetrator, but a neutral one selected by the two courts. The judgment of this third court would stand. At that point, the process ends. Essentially best two out of three.

If you are wondering why courts wouldn’t always rule in the favor of their own clients, Mr. Rothbard explains that the reputation of the court for fairness which draws in customers. If a court was found to be unjust, clients would avoid it and the court would go out of business.

It is an interesting proposal which would relieve a lot of pressure on the current judicial system. Much quicker turn arounds could occur with legal actions, some of which now take years to resolve. I admit I’m a bit fuzzy though on how the judgments would be enforced, especially ones requiring incarceration. Still, it was a fascinating concept.

Of course the judiciary was just one area touched on. Mr. Rothbard takes on many topics such as personal liberty, education, welfare, business, and the problem with government.

Be aware if you are looking for a tome on how Libertarianism works in today’s world, in my opinion this isn’t it. In “For a New Liberty”, Mr. Rothbard takes Libertarianism to its ultimate conclusion, describing the ideal world for people who value personal liberty and responsibility to its fullest. I’ll be honest, I don’t fully agree with all of the positions taken in the book, perhaps I am still stuck in the mindset of the current political / governmental climate. But the book did cause me to think, and that alone made it valuable.


Below are links to obtain the reviewed book. I supplied links to both the Amazon and the Ludwig von Mises Institute sites. Be sure to compare prices, in some cases Mises is a bit cheaper, and the money goes to support the institute.

Book Review: Hidden Value

As part of my ongoing experiment with Arcane Liberty, I’ve decided to open up this site to guest bloggers. Topics can be “op-eds”, essays, observations, journalistic style reporting, or in this case a book review. I ask that it be on topic for this blog. Economics, politics (especially libertarianism), business, finance, etc. I just ask it be a reasoned article, and keep it clean (PG). If you are interested, send me an e-mail, arcaneliberty at

My first guest blogger is a friend of mine named Collin Petty. I think you’ll find his review quite fascinating, I certainly did. You can find out more about Collin in his bio, found at the bottom of this post. And now on to the review.


In-Depth Book Review: Hidden Value, by Charles A. O’Reilly III and Jeffrey Pfeffer

image Hidden Value is subtitled “how great companies achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people.” This immediately gives away the overarching theme of the book, which attempts to observe and report on the actions of top leadership in 8 different companies, and how the values, culture, and organizational design affect employee commitment and motivation. The premise of the thesis is that great companies with great culture can’t easily be imitated – that the people working for these companies are who truly make the difference. Hidden Value’s message is that the attitudes, value systems, organizational commitment, and culture fit of the employees make the difference between great companies and average ones.

The first lesson from Hidden Value is actually not from the authors but from Herb Kelleher, the historically charismatic former leader of Southwest Airlines and oft-referenced keeper of their uniquely “fun” culture. Southwest has been able to preserve its culture by growing slowly and methodically, placing the importance of hiring for fit above the short-term financial merits of expanding quickly. In doing so, it carefully hires people who are willing to take a pay cut to work for them, who want to progress through career steps with the company and make a long-term commitment, who desire to exhibit the company’s passion for customer service, and truly live the values of maintaining a fun culture and doing things a bit differently… If one does a brief search on YouTube for Southwest Airlines, one can doubtlessly find many clips of employees whose behavior characterizes just what I’m talking about, such as this employee’s unique boarding announcement, viewable at

Next, we learn about the value of frugality and hypersensitivity to changing market needs by examining Cisco Systems. Cisco has done what many technology companies fail to do in that they retain their most critical asset – people — in a hypercompetitive marketplace. Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers, realized that in order to grow quickly and stay ahead of the technology curve (which is often measured in months, not years), they must always be looking to acquire companies with needed technology and socialize their employees rapidly, if the cultures are deemed compatible. It is these two core competencies – retention of talent and rapid yet careful acquisition — that have allowed Cisco to maintain a leading position in a constantly evolving marketplace. Chambers speaks candidly about not clinging to a technology religion and giving the customer exactly what they want, even if it is an inferior technology that might be replaced soon, saying “we have no technology bias” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 55). Ironically, is this non-committed attitude that has allowed Cisco to stay relevant in a turbulent, highly complex market. One of the most innovative things I discovered about Cisco was their “Make Friends @ Cisco” recruiting tool. This enables casual career browsers to be matched with their Cisco counterpart, after which the Cisco employee will make contact with the potential recruit and give them an overview of life at Cisco. If the employee believes their new friend may be a good hire, they can refer them to a manager for an interview. At Cisco, ultimately it is the core values of the importance of cultural fit, and “…a shared vision, speed, frugality, and the need to continually change” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 76) that allows its people and the organization to succeed.

The Men’s Warehouse is next explored as a success story in a declining market, lest we chalk up the other companies’ success to a ripe market. Retail in general is not an industry where truly great employee performance or accomplishments are realistically expected. The potential candidate pool is of mostly part-timers with little commitment; most are young and relatively undereducated. The skills required are largely portable, too, contributing to abysmal industry-wide attrition. The Men’s Warehouse attempts to differentiate itself, compensating its “wardrobe consultants” rather well, and treating employees with generally more and better care and with higher expectations in return. They give potentially good employees “second chances” when they fail, and invest millions of dollars every year in development and training, gaining commitment and excellence in customer service in return for a generous base-plus commission compensation package. Again, people are the key factor, and unlocking their potential is how the best retailers are continuing to succeed even in grim economic climates that continue to stagnate, even twelve years after this book was written.

Chapter Five gives us a peek into the extraordinary software giant known as The SAS Institute. SAS is in a very complicated business. They partner with – not just sell to – business and institutional customers who use their software on license to perform incredibly complex, precise statistical analysis of enormous chunks of data, while creating relationships with the companies they do business with. Incidentally, SAS Institute today finds itself enviably positioned. Although the media has centered on Google and Facebook in particular, many companies are doubtlessly eager to exploit the wealth of knowledge they have collected about their users, but how that will translate to revenue is not yet clear – “Everyone has a feeling that this unprecedented resource will yield something big, but nobody knows quite what” (Simonite, 2012). SAS is uniquely positioned to serve this market and capitalize on this enormous new power that social networking sites, banks, Apple, Google, and others have based on their knowledge of our collective buying habits, social circles, interests, arcane hobbies, etc. (yes, that was a nod to the blog’s owner). SAS’ uniqueness is oriented about its holistic view of people and family-friendly integration of work and personal life. Indeed, SAS’ overarching strategy is built on relationships, with customers through licensure renewals and impeccable service, and with employees through seeking long-term egalitarian attachments. A few of the ways they accomplish this is through providing their employees with peerless benefits, such as on-site child care, health benefits including an on-site treatment facility staffed by SAS-employed doctors and nurses, a health-conscious cafeteria staffed by SAS employees, and discounted land near the campus available to employees for home sites. SAS’ top management believes strongly in a Theory-Y (MacGregor, 1960) intrinsic motivation of their employees, in which it seeks to build rapport by treating their employees with dignity and respect, offering them a “fun” place to work, in exchange for organizational loyalty and commitment. The strategy continues to pay off, as SAS has one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry. David Russo, former head of Human Resources, comments that “the best way to produce the best and get the best results is to behave as if the people who are creating those things for you are important to you individually… …why we do the things we do is what’s important. The things we do are secondary….if you really mean that your people are important, you will treat them like they are important” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 108).

We see this strategy paying off at PSS World Medical as well, where individual drivers delivering supplies to physician’s offices have the job title of “CEO” printed on their business cards (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 127), signaling their empowerment to make things happen for the customer, whatever it takes. It also signals the company’s belief in their ability, which is reflected in the openness with which they operate. PSS World Medical gives its employees unprecedented access to financial data, performance metrics both at the branch and corporate levels, and expects them to act like owners. The goal is empowerment, using open book management to “drive out fear” with the ability to “fire the boss,” supporting employees with unequalled training, while holding people accountable for their results.

A common theme emerges by about two-thirds of the way through the book. “Each of these organizations is managed in a way that leads to immense productivity from their employees. Southwest does this through their fifteen-minute turnarounds [of aircraft]… …The Men’s Warehouse invests in people, who then sell more merchandise than their competitors. AES, a company that runs power plants, reaps a similar reward by running their plants with greater efficiency than the competition. PSS has sales reps who call on 33 percent more accounts on average and are better at meeting the customer’s needs. Each of these firms does this not by pressuring or “pushing” people but by giving them information, opportunity, training, coaching, and a fun place to work. The secret of these companies is no secret at all – it simply requires more attention to detail than many managers are willing to devote. Success is in the small operational details, not the grand strategic decisions that entrance many senior managers” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 149-150). But more than providing attention to people, it begins with hiring the right people and ensuring the right people are in the right places for synergy to occur.

AES, as previously mentioned, recruits and selects for aptitude and cultural fit, not for current skill. The company believes that skills can simply be acquired, but attitude and ability are more important. The company also encourages risk-taking among its employees (not in safety but in initiative), allowing employees the freedom and flexibility to pursue business goals and initiatives that they believe hold promise without fear of reprisal. Again, the hallmarks of the leadership at AES are giving people the power and responsibility to do their jobs, and then to trust and enable.

If there were an objection raised that starting with the right people make all the difference, O’Reilly and Pfeffer then explore a company whose entire workforce was laid off, only to be hired back by a re-envisioned new venture following entirely different management principles. NUMMI (New United Motor Manufacturing) was created from much of the old workforce of the defunct Freemont GM Assembly Plant, following a lean production system pioneered by the Toyota Motor Company, instead of the union-steeped labor practices that had brought quality to its knees and production to a standstill. The goal was to foster “…an innovative labor relations structure, minimizing traditional adversarial roles and emphasizing mutual trust and good faith” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 183). The new system encouraged employee participation, centered on a new team-based culture. It offered employees continual training and a relatively flat wage structure, job redesign based on ergonomic factors and job enlargement, and the sharing of information widely with peer coaching and a peer Team Leader. The lessons from NUMMI are clear – if management truly believes in the values they are stating, they will act in accordance with them. If not, the old command structure will reappear over time, and it will become painfully clear of the dichotomy between espoused values and actual values. Employees will see right through the supposed “commitment,” lose respect for management and their supposed “value system,” and act accordingly.

As an experiment in the latter, the book concludes in the fiercely competitive semiconductor industry, exploring a company where the alignment is off, and practices do not always match the values supposedly held by the CEO and top management. At Cypress Semiconductor, a company that flourishes on rapid adaptability, it is critical that employees not be micro-managed and allowed flexibility to focus on one goal or another. Yet, tracking software is used to critically monitor employee goal attainment – even to the point of withholding paychecks until goals are met. This unresolved conflict between management’s supposed trust in employees and their actual behavior in implementing software that undermines that trust causes value congruence conflict, and holds back the organization’s potential.

So it’s clear from reading about these organizations that people-centered companies can succeed brilliantly by following several deceptively simple guidelines. It’s vital to put values and culture first, and make sure what senior managers say and do are congruent with those values and culture, and ensure that people are hired for fit. This is not to say that performance is not important – in fact, all of these companies place high value on performance and are noted for how fiercely they compete. “What is different in these firms, however, is the emphasis they place on two dimensions frequently absent from their competitors: a sense of purpose – why what they are doing is important – and the importance and dignity of people… …the larger purpose of the organization through both management actions and practices” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 235). Of equal importance is to make the values real and to align them with organizational goals consistently, creating a strong organizational culture and then staffing that organization with people who fit, investing in those hires, sharing information with them, empowering them, linking them with team-based systems once socialized, and rewarding and recognizing the right performance for the right reasons.

This is what O’Reilly and Pfeffer’s theme is and the “Hidden Value” to be found in organizations: people! But quality people need to be led, not managed. Properly led, people in organizations exhibit what the authors refer to as distributed intelligence. “Dennis Bakke has commented that he may not be as smart as some other CEOs, but that collectively, “AES’s people, all 10,000 of them, are very smart, and he would bet them against any single CEO” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 258). It is this collective of ideas, insights, and wisdom of the workforce that makes the organization great – and greatly successful.

There are many principles of Hidden Value that I found to be applicable as I grow my leadership potential. One of these that immediately came to mind was the concept of what is central to one’s work – what truly matters – and how great organizations like AES empower employees to get things done within the framework of their capability. I was immediately taken back to one of my first classes as a graduate student, Management in a Changing World, taught by Dr. Don Van Ornam. While doing ancillary readings for the class, I became ideologically enamored with British economist and social philosopher Charles Handy’s idea of The Doughnut Principle. Perhaps you are familiar with it, but if not, I will explain briefly. Handy compares a job to an inverted doughnut, where instead of the hole in the middle you have a core, and outside of the core, you have an area bounded by the doughnut’s edge. The core is the essential function of the job, and outside of that is an area that resides inside the boundaries of the doughnut, which represents the variable potential of the job. Thus, the potential is variable; one can develop as much or as little of it as one might want or be capable of, but it does have a limit. It must. Good companies place controls on what is ultimately expected of their employees, too, for as the doughnut has a boundary, so must a given role. “Without a boundary it is easy to be oppressed by guilt, for enough is never enough” (Handy, 1994). Conversely, good companies know what’s at the heart of their employee’s core functions and reinforce what’s truly important, but “Societies [and organizations] which over-emphasize the core can be too regulated” (Handy, 1994). Quality organizations strike a balance between the two expectations of employees.

In the case of some organizations, just finding and keeping employees is one of their greatest challenges. Hidden Value, even though fully twelve years old, recognizes this fact relatively early in our transition to a knowledge economy (away from the service economy that characterized the closing decades of the 20th century). Gone are the days when employees are loyal to an organization because it meets some, or even most, of their needs. Hidden Value recognizes those companies who seek to create a long term relationship with their employees, recapturing an era of organizational commitment that many have dismissed as the relic of a bygone era of capitalism. For example, all of the companies featured in Hidden Value try to help employees reach self-actualization (in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), and go a step further by creating processes, procedures, and equitable reward systems that satisfy Adam’s Equity Theory (such as at PSS World Medical), and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (such as at AES). These companies aren’t just paying lip service to these principles, but allowing them to pervade the strategic thinking that sets policies in the first place. I would do well to embrace these when creating and shaping the culture within my own “doughnut,” or sphere of influence.

So once again, I return to Charles Handy and how his thinking relates to Hidden Value and the practical examples set forth in this book. I come away from reading Hidden Value with practical insights as to how organizations are implementing the abstracts that Mr. Handy set forth. When I think of Handy’s principle of “portfolio lives” (Handy, 1991), I think of the knowledge workers that Cisco and SAS seek to court a long-term relationship with. Regarding the former, Handy foresaw in The Age of Unreason the emergence of workers who would pursue “a multi-faceted, multi-client freelance career in which individuals take responsibility for their own earning potential, personal development and general well-being” (Handy, 1991). Employees in our new knowledge-based economy are in fact independent to an extent rarely approached in organizations, moving about among a portfolio of jobs, employers and even kinds of work. Similarly, Handy contends that a mid-career course correction can open new challenges and achievements in what was once viewed as the twilight of one’s career, which is actually encouraged at AES. They give “…people responsibility, letting them move to new jobs, and holding them accountable for their decisions … and is the best way AES has found to develop future leaders and encourage people to learn” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 164). Regarding ownership, Handy contends that workers should be corporate citizens who hold a financial stake in the company in which they work (such as at PSS World Medical, where many drivers own stock (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 139)). Handy furthermore believes that employees should enjoy a set of inalienable rights, such as the right to be heard (such as at NUMMI) and to even potentially block the sale of a company they work for.

Work / Family balance is important to great employees such as those at SAS, who are given the opportunity to reconcile the two by integrating on-site child care and allowing the flexibility to manage competing priorities. Again, I return to Handy in The Empty Raincoat, when he writes about modern life being about the identification, acceptance and management of paradox and in getting the balance right between work and life outside of work. Hardy sees this as balancing “the four p’s (Profit, Performance, Pay, and Productivity) with the four f’s (Family, Friends, Festivals, and Fun) (Handy, 1994). Hidden Value exposes how successful organizations like The SAS Institute leverage their employees’ innate capabilities by seeking to restore this balance. SAS’s top management, particularly those involved in interacting with employees and setting policy, believes that “…an employee with some of the normal workday stresses relieved … is more productive, not only for that day, but comes back more refreshed and able to be more productive that second day … and so on” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer, 108). If I can learn to apply this in some small way to my doughnut and help people seek to achieve balance in their own lives, my team or organization or business may benefit from this resolution of paradox in employees’ lives as well.

Perhaps the greatest idea I come away with from Hidden Value is regarding how we view our “human resources” – the new capital in a true knowledge economy – and is a philosophy from AES. “The company dislikes the phrase ‘human resources’ because steel is a resource, not people. AES people are called just that: AES people. You will not hear or see words like ‘employee’ or ‘worker’ in AES materials or in conversations at the company. In fact, the company does not even like or use the term ‘management.’ It’s not that AES people prefer ‘leader,’ but that they don’t like to distinguish between people on the basis of job titles or hierarchical positions” (O’Reilly / Pfeffer 169). I can think of no better philosophy that sums up the values expressed by the companies who have unlocked their own Hidden Value – and one I aspire to adopt in my own personal and professional career.

Hidden Value is available at many fine retailers or from


Handy, C. B. (1989). In The age of unreason. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

Handy Essentials | Handy Essentials – London Business School BSR. (n.d.). London Business School – Business Strategy Review – London Business School BSR. Retrieved from

Handy, C. B. (1995). In The empty raincoat: Making sense of the future. England: Arrow Business Books.

McGregor, D. (1985). The human side of enterprise: 25th anniversary printing. New York: McGraw-Hill.

O’Reilly, C. A., & Pfeffer, J. (2000). Hidden value: How great companies achieve extraordinary results with ordinary people. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

Simonite, T. (2012, July/August). What Facebook Knows. Technology Review. Retrieved from

Collin Petty began life in the Golden State, but subsequently spent many formative years in Central Alabama, which probably explains his “arcane” thinking about what constitutes “freedom” or an “ideal” American societal model. He will gleefully wax semi-eloquently about the merits and drawbacks of a purely capitalistic society, but as a graduate student pursuing his MBA, has mellowed somewhat to embrace a shift to more organic systems of capitalism, and its intricate, complex influences on “the common man.” He embraces many Libertarian ideals, and spends a great deal of time pretending to philosophize about economics and sociology, considering the effects of strategic policy. He is known for challenging both the macro and micro impacts of everyday business, and often punts to Charles Handy or shamelessly mutilates a dubiously attributable quote. He listens to NPR, insisting that he’s not a closet liberal but simply a reflective nostalgic of radio shows such as This American Life or A Prairie Home Companion.

Collin resides in Chattanooga, TN, where he attends Southern Adventist University as a graduate student and insistently peddles a renewed faith in the future of manufacturing in the Tennessee Valley. On weekends, he can be found proselytizing his many hobbies, such as science and technology, weather, aviation, being a vegetarian foodie, hiking, anything related to automobiles, regional travel, or simply trolling about on social media. Collin can be contacted on Facebook or via e-mail at

TSA Orders Airport Valet to Search Your Car

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Those of you who know me, know I am a big fan of the No Agenda Show. On episode 531 I was flabbergasted to hear the TSA is now ordering the valet companies at airports to begin searching the cars they park! And this isn’t just rumor or hearsay. In the episode, they played clips from television station WHEC in Rochester NY, interviewing TSA official John McCaffery, who confirmed the story. But don’t take my word, listen for yourself.

Go to Click on the “Clips and Stuff” Link in the tabs (upper left side). Scroll down and expand “Obama Nation”. The two clips are “TSA Searches valet 1.mp3” and “TSA Searches valet 2.mp3”. You can find the full interview on the WHEC site at, but the important pieces are in the two clips at the No Agenda site.

Of course the TV station totally missed the point. Their main concern was “why only valet and not all cars”. The TSA rationale is that valet parking is typically very close to the main airport, and thus an exploding car could damage the main terminal. Cars in daily and overnight parking are not searched, since they are parked farther away and thus won’t endanger the main terminal building. Instead, if they explode they’ll just blow the crap out of the parking deck. (I guess the TSA values the main terminal more than the parking deck.)

Seriously? That was the main concern the TV station had?

The real issue is this, and I want you to read carefully:


Since when does the US Government have the authority to order a private company to do anything on their behalf? I have to wonder, did the valet company agree to this? Is the TSA paying them for the time it takes to search? As far as I’m able to tell, this whole ordered search is unconstitutional. The TSA has stepped outside their legal bounds in ordering a private company to do the TSA’s job.

Once again we have a government out of control, going outside their legal authority, and the public just goes along with it because it “makes us feel safer”. Go ahead people, keep giving up your rights. And I don’t mean just the right from unreasonable search and seizure, but also the right as a business entity not to be forced to blindly obey orders from some government entity.

Washington DC Gets An F in Math

One of the biggest things that inspired me to create this blog was the flurry of articles on the recently passed “Living Wage” bill by Washington DC. The bill targeted large retailers, most notably Wal-Mart, to force them to pay a minimum wage of $12.50 per hour, roughly 50% over the national minimum wage.

All during the debate, and even after its passage, heaps of scorn and abuse were piled upon Wal-Mart. I shall not repeat them as by and large they are not family friendly, but the overall theme was Wal-Mart abuses its employees by paying them substandard wages. What these commenter’s fail to understand is wages are established much like the rest of the economy: supply and demand.

Wal-Mart has a supply of jobs they are offering to the community. They have calculated how much they can afford to pay each employee and still be profitable. The community has a population of people who wish to work. This is the demand for the supply of jobs Wal-Mart has. If Wal-Mart sets the salaries for those jobs too low, less people will be willing to accept those jobs, and demand decreases. In that situation Wal-Mart has no choice but to increase the amount they are willing to pay in order to increase demand for those positions. If the amount they are willing to pay still does not increase demand sufficiently, they will be forced to raise prices until they can maintain a certain profit level and pay employees sufficient wages to meet their supply of jobs.

Left alone, this contrast of supply and demand works itself out to an equilibrium. Wal-Mart sets a wage that it can still make a reasonable profit at, and employees take jobs at pay rates they find acceptable. Economists refer to this as a “natural” balance of supply and demand. But when government gets involved and alters that natural balance there are inevitably unseen consequences.

On the surface a higher wage sounds great. We can show a store full of happy, smiling Wal-Mart employees with their new wages. But what about what we cannot see?

In a Huffington Post article ( it states that Wal-Mart has decided not to build three new stores in the DC area. They go on to say the increase in pay will only cost shoppers an additional 46 cents per trip, or $12.50 per year. But does it really? What is the real unseen cost to the consumer?

Let’s do some simple math. (Well simple unless you are on the DC Council, this was apparently beyond their grasp.)

According to Statistic Brain ( Wal-Mart has 2,000,000 employees in 4,253 stores. Doing the division we get an averages of 470 people per store. Multiply that times the three stores Wal-Mart has decided not to build, and Washington DC has just lost 1,410 jobs. Yes, there’s 1,410 people who are not happy smiling Wal-Mart employees, but could have been. 1,410 people who are not paying income tax. 1,410 people who don’t have money to spend, to put back in the economy.

But wait, there’s more.

Statistics Brain lists the total amount spent at Wal-Mart every hour of every day at $36,000,000. Multiply this by 24 hours in a day, then times 365 days in a year, you get $315,360,000,000. Now divide by the number of stores, 4,253, and you get $74,150,012 spent at each store annually. Tax ( lists the sales tax of Washington DC at 6%. 6% of $74,150,012 yields $4,449,001 per store in tax revenue to Washington DC. At three stores, Washington DC has just lost $13,347,002 in sales tax revenue per year.

Of course it goes on. There’s the lost construction jobs and land sales that won’t occur because these store’s aren’t built. And have you ever seen a Wal-Mart that didn’t have a strip mall or out parcels with stores and restaurants close by? And what about other large retailers such as Target and Best Buy, who now won’t build in DC, but are wisely keeping quiet about it? Those are business that won’t be built, and thus will not employee far in excess of the 1,410 already mentioned.

I also have to ask the question, what business is it of the Washington DC government what a private citizen’s pay is? If a company offers a job at a certain pay rate, and an individual accepts the job at that pay rate, that agreement should be private between employer and employee. The government should not be able to interfere with that arrangement.

On the surface it looks good, trying to help out “poor downtrodden” employees. But that same intervention could work in reverse. Let’s suppose a new council comes to power. This council decides they need to attract more companies to the area. One way might be to lower the average wage of people in the community. This would lower the cost of a business to operate, and therefore make the area attractive to businesses. Thus, using the same authority it claims to raise wages in this case, the council could mandate all wages be lowered by 50%. Suddenly government intervention in wages doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

Let me be clear on one point, this article is not about defending Wal-Mart. In fact, I wish they would spend more on their employees! I’d be more than willing to pay a bit more on each trip if it meant getting happier and more motivated service.

My complaint is with the government intervention of what should be a natural process. Clearly the politicians in DC only had one thing on their minds, making the public believe government cared about them, cared about them so much they were willing to give them Wal-Marts money.

But as with all government interventions, there are negative impacts that were not clearly thought through. The loss of at least 1,410 potential jobs. The loss of over 13 million in tax revenue. The loss of additional business, jobs, and tax revenues are all “unseen” by the public because they aren’t physical, not right in front of you.

Let me assure you though, these consequences are quite real, and costing the taxpayers of Washington DC dearly.

Arcane Liberty

About six months ago I was in my local Starbucks, and by chance met a lawyer by the name of Richard Duke (website). Richard is leader in Asset Law, but our discussions centered around Economics and Libertarianism. In the past I held a more conservative viewpoint, but over the last few years my confidence in the Republican party and its conservatives has diminished. As I began to hear more about libertarianism, it made more and more sense to me. I began to identify myself as a Libertarian, to the extent I understood their platform.

Meeting Richard turned out to be a true stroke of luck. First, Richard has a love of books like I do, and recommended a series of books which I have been devouring. Authors such as Henry Hazlitt, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Sowell, and Tom Woods. I’ll be posting book reviews of the books I’ve read as upcoming blog posts.

Second, Richard has strong ties to an organization called the Mises Institute, located just down the road from me in Auburn Alabama. (website) If you’ve not heard of them, they focus on the teachings of Ludwig von Mises. Mises was responsible for what is known as Austrian Economics. While Ludwig von Mises may not be a household name, you may have heard of one of its advocates, a former congressman, Presidential candidate, and gentleman by the name of Ron Paul. Doctor Paul is a lecturer and author with the Mises Institute.

Today the US, along with many countries, follows an economic strategy called Keynesian Economics. I’ll explain more about this in the future, but the gist of Keynesian Economics calls for government intervention to tightly control the economy. Tools such as regulations, subsidies, taxes, labor rules, and often used techniques like the infusion of money into the economy are used to control not only the flow of money but our free choices.

While I’m sure the people who founded this framework had the best of intentions, like the proverbial snowball rolling down hill we are now buried under an avalanche of government control. Virtually everything we do is controlled in some way, however minor, by the government.

As I read more, I become acutely aware of the negative impacts of these policies. That is what has attracted me to Libertarianism and Austrian Economics. Austrian Economics takes a hands off approach. The free market should be able to sort things out much more efficiently than government, while giving consumers freedom to pick and chose the best products and services for themselves.

So why a blog? Well, as I read various sites and blogs on the web, from both the left and the right, I see more and more abuses of our personal liberty. Unfortunately many are not aware of it, or see something presented to them as a positive, but if they really understood likely they would not be any happier about it than I am. Sadly the media of today skews its reporting toward one party or another, typically with some hidden (or not so hidden) agenda.

Second, I am seeking to learn more about personal finances, liberty, logic, economics, and history. They say the best way to learn is by teaching, so this blog will provide me a way to share what I learn, as well as serve as a personal journal on my quest for knowledge.

Finally, you may ask why the odd name for my blog. In part it is due to my professional efforts on the web. I run another blog called ArcaneCode ( | @ArcaneCode). In my day job I teach and consult about the Microsoft SQL Server Business Intelligence tools, in addition to coauthoring four books, training videos, and have been awarded the Microsoft MVP award for the last six years. I wanted to retain that blog for my technical outreach, and as these two efforts would have vastly different audiences decided a second blog was in order.

The name Arcane Liberty though, is also fitting in another way. The dictionary defines arcane as “understood by few, mysterious or secret”. In today’s society I believe the concept of Liberty is becoming less and less understood by more and more people. Perhaps my simple writings will help to clarify and educate, at least in some small way, as I seek to further understand liberty.

You can follow me on twitter at @ArcaneLiberty