Just in case: A strategy for management

Members of the public at the Regulated Industries Commission consultation on a proposal to increase electricity rates, Centre of Excellence, Macoya on January 17. - Sureash Cholai
Members of the public at the Regulated Industries Commission consultation on a proposal to increase electricity rates, Centre of Excellence, Macoya on January 17. - Sureash Cholai

My interest in economics came relatively late in my academic career. Until then, I had not realised how integral to philosophy (my first love) economics was—in fact, how integral to most things it is. My only economics course up until then was taught by a tall, rather rotund man who shall remain nameless (anyone else who took his course will recognise who I refer to, and I do not want to be sued for telling the truth to the media). He was memorable for lecturing while visibly inebriated, which gave those of us who could see beyond the surface some valuable lessons in management. One of these was strategy in backup management. Always have a back-up plan. Do not wait for a disaster to happen. At work, as in life, always have a “take in front before in front takes you” plan.

In this case, the four strongest men in each economics class sat in the front row beneath the stage on which he stood to catch him in case he tipped over. This was not gender discrimination, or rather it was a lesson in positive gender discrimination. A lesson that it is wise to choose people with the right qualifications for the tasks to come. None of the women in the class had the strength to catch a 300-pounder if he fell. So the women got the task of recruiting the appropriate men for each shift. Shift management was a skill along with multi-tasking (listening, taking notes, watching for the possible necessity of back-up and trying to understand the applicability of what he was saying to real life. Not to judge by the alcoholic slur and most valuable of all, that it was that slur, that possibility of disaster that ensured every student came glued to what he was saying, every word of it. Just in case. We also learned not to judge someone’s value by their visible weakness (think of Prof Stephen Hawking, who was totally disabled, whose contribution to astrophysics has been unmatched) or, come to think of it, to be judged by their one visible strength.

“Just in case,” also known as “taking in front before in front takes you" covers the whole concept of insurance in all its many complex applications in life. Just remember that for every business strategy, have a back-up strategy in case of failure.

We also learned care in choosing people with compatible skills and compatible personalities to work in teams was another invaluable management skill – don’t put people with clashing schedules on the same team, whether online or face-to-face. And learn to listen or to read every instruction at least twice. Don’t assume the instructor is articulate or you will not be answering the question he thinks he has made, but the one he actually has made. In the case of this professor whose books on economics are highly regarded, his apparent sobriety led us to misunderstand some very real precepts such as: “Do not believe that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police built the Rocky Mountains," which actually meant, “Do not act on unrealistic statements, precepts, claims or projected project accomplishments by politicians or people in authority. But do ask questions about their feasibility." And around national budget time, look for the record of accomplishments of previous promises.

At that lecture, he also warned all students to carefully scrutinise promises made to or from applicants for new employment or new relationships. We were not always cautious enough to apply the wise budgeting rules such as never, ever borrow money to spend on recurrent expenditure such as, hiring other people to do things you can do yourself. Only borrow money for asset building, for things you know will bring you a return on investment and whose maintenance can be paid for out of the returns, ie, skill training.

And question everything. One query that came in this last week had to do with property tax, for example. The question was from a young couple that was buying a house. They understood that they had adequate finances for the downpayment and had obtained a mortgage loan from the bank, which included tax. This was consistent with the economic theories that were available at the time. But they pointed out, once we have paid for the cost of the property what is the purpose of then adding on that ownership tax? The maintenance cost, which is by law, you must maintain a property so it must not endanger the properties of others in the community. Then, you have to pay the cost of insurance against fire, flood, and acts of God. You have to pay for all of those factors that are now being contested as put forward by the increases decided upon by the Regulated Industries Commission. Based on a decision made by assessors, in terms of what they assume the usage would be for small/medium/large properties. The question of course is, “Who assesses the assessors?”

In many cases, the question is first “why first charge the tax on domestic usage and not on commercial?” which would give a much larger income to the government. Other than the above mentioned, what factors are the new property tax intended to cover? And what are the criteria used by the assessors?

With one property known to me, the property assessors were approached by functionaries from the ministry who offered to reduce the value that they listed for the property. If they paid the assessor on the side, a quote-on-quote commission amounting to 10 per cent of the assessment that they would have to pay. So the question remains: Who assesses the assessors? And what is the property tax intended to cover?


"Just in case: A strategy for management"

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