FAIR MONEY

Face to Face with Inequality


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Open House – August 23!

Want to learn more about FAIR Money? Think you might want to participate? Are you frustrated and offended by inequality and want to find a way to do something about it? Want to hang out with some really interesting people and exchange ideas for a few hours?

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, then come to FAIRMoney’s Open House:

August 23, 2:00 – 6:00pm, 1414 W Selby Lane, Redwood City, CA

If you’d like, you can RSVP via the FAIRMoney Meetup. But you can also just swing by and come say hello when the spirit takes you.

(And if you’re not in the San Francisco Bay Area, then drop us a note at fairnetwork at gmail.com to say hi and let us know you want to be a part of the solution too.)

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Program Description: Survival Skills


Do you support FAIR Money’s mission? Would you like to be a part of it? Then drop us a line at fairnetwork at gmail.com. Or perhaps you would like to contribute financially? Send your donation via PayPal or Square Cash to fairnetwork at gmail.com.


Project “Survival Skills” Mission

  • Create insight and empathy into the financial realities of Americans struggling with low wages, shrinking income and rising expenses, and the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Facilitate conversation about money and money management options and so break through isolation.
  • Inform the work of organizations that provide aid or develop tools meant to alleviate struggle.

Project Description

In FAIR Money’s earlier research, it became apparent that people who struggle financially, for whatever reason, have important financial skills that are not typically recognized by standard financial literacy education and that are in fact more relevant to real-life situations that are common under our current conditions of high inequality. Project [name] is an extension of that earlier research.  It seeks to build a knowledge base of financial skills and knowledge that:

  • Is cognizant of and suited to the financial realities people face when they find themselves trapped by low wages, wage stagnation, and a variety of external forces they cannot control.
  • Contributed and tested by the people who are living those realities.
  • Takes into account the local context of Silicon Valley, with its exceptionally high cost of living and high proportions of relatively recent immigrants.

In three distinct phases, Project [name] will gather skills and knowledge that are relevant to different contexts:

  1. Skills, tactics, tools, connections, and knowledge that help a person weather a financial crisis
  2. Conceptual models and financial tools that facilitate long-term financial stability
  3. Parenting approaches that contribute to resilience and sound financial decision-making in young adults

Data will be gathered through a variety of interactions with participants, including interviews, participatory design workshops, and online diaries.

Although the research will be conscious of local conditions, we expect that many of the financial skills, concepts, and approaches will be more widely applicable and can form a foundation as the model is replicated in other locations.

Phase I: Crisis Skills

This phase will consist of a round of individual interviews with people who find themselves in a financial crisis or have recent experience with financial crisis to gather initial data. It will be followed by several series of group discussions to identify, trial, and evaluate crisis-management skills put forward within each group. Group findings will be published by FAIR Money and will be made available, in the form of workshops, to other organizations that offer aid or create financial management tools for low- and moderate-income Americans.

The anticipated outcomes of the project are as follows:

  1. Identification of financial information and concepts that are most helpful in dealing with a financial crisis [other than the fake solutions offered commercially], with insights into how the information makes a positive difference.
  2. Identification and definition of skills that are important in order to regain more stable financial footing, illustrated with testimonials and step-by-step instructions.
  3. Identification of the most useful financial management tools (whether high-tech or low-tech), affordable financial services, and organizations that offer assistance.
  4. [Identify how findings apply to other contexts/locations.]

Phase I Timeline

Data gathering for Phase I is anticipated to take approximately 4 months, followed by an analysis, collation, and publication phase of approximately 2 months. The project start date is contingent on fundraising success, but is assumed to be September 2015.

  • Initial Interviews: October/November 2015
  • Group Meetings: December 2015/January/February 2016
  • Analysis and Publication: Summer 2016

Do you support FAIR Money’s mission? Would you like to be a part of it? Then drop us a line at fairnetwork at gmail.com. Or perhaps you would like to contribute financially? Send your donation via PayPal or Square Cash to fairnetwork at gmail.com.



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FAIR Money Meetup on Inequality

FAIR Money is kicking off a monthly Meetup on Saturday March 21 in San Francisco. We’re hoping to meet other people who are interested in inequality and who are itching to do something constructive about it. Interested in joining us? Check out the Meetup page.

We’re planning to make it a movable feast and pick different locations around the Bay Area, so if you can’t make it this time, perhaps another month will work for you.

We hope to see you there!


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Should We Trust Economists?

An article in the Atlantic today asks the title question: Should We Trust Economists?

I like Noah Smith’s question as stated, but I think it can be improved. I suggest: What Kind of Economics Should We Trust?

The interesting part of Smith’s article touches on the relationship between formal models and empirical reality. Economists are wonderful at formulating models and finding faults in each other’s models but less wonderful at checking those models against the messy and contingent world of human behavior. Much to Noah Smith’s credit, he is quite open about the limitations of economics as it is practiced today:

The problem is that economists haven’t really built a model of the whole economy that works. A lot of smart people have spent a lot of time creating tools with names like “dynamic stochastic general equilibrium.” But as of this moment, those models can’t really forecast the economy like our meteorologists can forecast the weather. Furthermore, they contain a lot of obviously wrong assumptions. To give just one example, many of the models stipulate that companies are only allowed to change their prices at random times! Crazy, right? Economists include things like that to make the models easier to use, and they hope that those zany assumptions are actually decent approximations to the way the world really works. But even with these kludges in place, none of the existing models can do much to predict the economy.

The participants in Fair Money’s initial study are great examples of the limits of formal modeling. Little of what they reported to us could have been predicted by standard models of consumer behavior, in large part because the conditions they face would not be predicted by those models.

While I admire Smith’s openness about the limitations of economics, I have to take issue with his implicit assumption that economists are forever doomed to work in a world dominated by formal (but empty) models derived from mathematically informed premises, which bear an uncertain relation to reality.

For inspiration, Smith needs to look no further than the example of Harold Innis. Innis’ most famous book The Fur Trade in Canada: An Introduction to Canadian Economic History, which spawned the once well known “staples thesis,” was informed by several months of fieldwork on trade routes in the Canadian wilderness. Innis quite literally took a canoe trip along the traditional fur trading routes, taking notes and interviewing people as he went. As a result, Innis’ work has empirical teeth too often lacking in economic work and remains one of the better arguments against neo-liberal economic policy.

In the spirit of Harold Innis, Fair Money welcomes any economist to our project willing to loosen the tie and pick up a notebook. No paddling required.