Atop Lookout Mountain

This week I had a quick trip to Denver for work.  It gave me the opportunity to have dinner in the Mile High City with the Second Secretary, who moved west about 20 years ago to escape Columbus’ winter dreariness — Denver, she cheerfully pointed out, gets sunshine 320 days out of the year — and loves it.

After I was finished with my meeting in one of Denver’s suburbs today, I asked my host if he had a recommendation for something to do before I had to catch my plane.  He gave me two options:  check out Golden, Colorado, an “Old West” town that is home of the Coors’ Brewery, or a drive up neighboring Lookout Mountain, where Buffalo Bill Cody is buried and where that old Indian scout claimed you can see four states.  I chose the latter option, and in this case, at least, the old huckster and Wild West Show promoter probably spoke the truth.  Lookout Mountain offers an amazing and commanding view due east, over the beginning of the Great Plains, where in the picture below you can just see the Denver skyscrapers hard up against the line of the horizon.  If you were scouting for marauding bands of Sioux, or for that matter blue-coated cavalry, you could have worse vantage points.  Lookout Mountain is aptly named.

Be forewarned:  if you drive up Lookout Mountain from the 19th Street turnoff, be prepared for some white knuckling motoring, with lots of hairpin turns, sheer falloffs that make you dizzy just to look at, and cyclists huffing and puffing up the steep inclines on their way to the top.  I felt like applauding them for their efforts, but they were a pain in the butt at the same time.  Every time you would draw up behind a cyclist approaching one of the hairpin turns, you’d wonder whether you should swing around the cyclist standing on her pedals to keep going — and whether by doing so you’d be moving in the path of a white-knuckled driver coming down the mountain in the opposite direction.  Of course, I decided to pass, and I didn’t have any problem.  And when I met a cyclist at the summit, after I relaxed my hands and stopped thinking about the drive up, I offered my congratulations to him.  In the photo below, you can see a bit of the road heading up to Lookout Mountain.


Interestingly, the internet sources describe Lookout Mountain as one of the “foothills” of the American Rockies.  Foothill?  Seriously?  If there was a summit like this in the glacier scrubbed rolling hills of Ohio, people would drive from miles around to check it out.  But when you’re just one of the easternmost parts of the majestic Rockies, perhaps “foothill” is a fair description.  After all, Lookout Mountain is part of the front range of the Rockies, and the summit, where Buffalo Bill’s grave is found, is only a measly 7400 feet or so about sea level.  Never mind that that is about 7000 feet taller than pretty much everything we’ve got in Ohio!

Buffalo Bill’s gravesite is a simple stone marker in a grove of coniferous trees that have a delectable, spicy smell.  I’m not sure why people pitch coins onto the gravesite, but they do.  Being a bit of a huckster himself, Buffalo Bill would probably like that.

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Considering “Universal Basic Income”

Mark Zuckerberg is the latest of the Silicon Valley quadzillionaires to espouse the concept of “universal basic income.”

mark-zuckerberg-harvard-speech-01-480x270In a commencement speech at Harvard last week, the founder of Facebook called for the creation of “a new social contract.”  “We should have a society that measures progress not by economic metrics like GDP but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful. We should explore ideas like universal basic income to make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” Zuckerberg said.  Zuckerberg noted that, because he personally had a safety net to fall back on, he had the confidence to try projects like Facebook, and he thinks everyone should have the same financial wherewithal.

For some, like Zuckerberg, universal basic income has become the Great White Whale.  It’s not fair, they think, that only people who come from families that have financial resources can experiment in pursuit of their dreams.  Proponents of UBI believe that, if only everyone had guaranteed funding irrespective of whether they worked or not, all people would have the freedom to follow their dreams, invent new things, and experience personal fulfillment.  Why, the outpouring of creativity and innovation would promote the flourishing of art, literature, music, technological development, and human interaction that undoubtedly would lead to a new Renaissance!

Or, people who got the money would sit around in their place of residence all day, watching TV and enjoying the recreational drug or adult beverage of their choice.

Look, who am I to disagree with Mark Zuckerberg?  But let’s lay aside the gnarly issue of how we could possibly pay for a basic stipend sufficient for every American to live on without working.  (Taxpayers, hang on to your wallets!)  My experience teaches that having a job is a good thing.  Working brings structure to lives.  It allows people to become self-sufficient and to learn the value of a dollar.  It promotes the development of responsibility, punctuality, responsiveness, planning, and other positive personal attributes.  And the labor of every worker also helps to fund things like national defense, Social Security, health care, national parks, and a bunch of other things that might not be as amply supported if the funds are going to pay basic living expenses for a bunch of people who are happily contemplating their navels.  And, if you really think your job sucks, maybe that will motivate you to go out on your own, become an entrepreneur, and follow your dream with the benefit of the real-life experience you’ve acquired.

And don’t call it “universal basic income,” either.  In my book, “income” should be reserved for something that you earn, through work or investment, not something that is handed to you.

So let me respectfully disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg.  If he wants to really help to create a “new social contract,” let him and the other mega-tycoons enter into some actual contracts — with employees working for the new ventures that Zuckerberg and the other filthy rich are in a position to establish and fund with their wealth.  Let’s help more people learn the value of actual work.