1999 Dues Increase Proposal

Economics, History & Politics

The follewing exchange about the proposed dues increase took place on the M-Grapevine list.

Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 13:27:13 -0700
To: m-grapevine@lists.us.mensa.org
From: Sander Rubin <sander@acm.org>
Subject: Re: MGrapevine: Spreadsheet [Economics, history, politics]
Sender: owner-m-grapevine@lists.us.mensa.org
Reply-To: m-grapevine@lists.us.mensa.org

At 11:38 8/30/99 -0400, Carl Howes wrote:

>Barbara Ploegstra Hunt wrote:

>> I gleaned this from the Region 6 mailing list, but have not yet checked out the website.

>[Carl] I just did. It's an excellent website, well organized and informative.

>>[Barbara] On the Region 6 Web site, Lori has added a spreadsheet that covers the history of Mensa -- including the assumptions used in considering a dues increase. It includes dues charged, membership numbers, and two graphs tracking membership and the dues versus the Consumer Price Index [CPI].

>> I think one of the more interesting results is that, even with the increase in dues, Mensa dues are a better value than at any time in our history since incorporated, back in 1965.

>[Carl] All of which was interesting, but it only provides a warm fuzzy. The CPI is a government statistic used to estimate inflation by tracking the cost of a "basket" of consumer goods over time. In addition, the contents of the "basket" change periodically making a comparison over 40 years questionable. Having dues rise more slowly than the CPI can make us feel good but it shouldn't affect the increase proposal.

>The real question is does the state of AML finances now or under reasonable projection over the next 3-5 years require an increase. The Financial Task Force reports that this is the case. The report should have included summary numbers and the assumptions made for projections. What percentage of spending would have to be cut without an increase?



[Sander] Quite correct. The CPI is almost totally irrelevant, a bit of smoke.

The cost of membership should decline (in real terms) over time if the enterprise is well managed. There are two forces that push in that direction.

1. The total costs of the enterprise consists of fixed costs (overhead to maintain a business regardless of its scale of operation) and marginal (or incremental) costs (costs that increase with growth in activity – in this case, roughly the number of members). As the membership increases, the fixed costs are spread over more members reducing the per-member cost. In the extreme case, the cost-per-member should decline asymptotically toward the incremental cost. To compare dues for a 10K member organization with a 40K organization simply on the basis of the CPI is nonsense; the dues should be dramatically less for the larger org.

2. Efficiency should increase with time as workers learn to do their jobs better and technological advances are incorporated into operations. Increased productivity justifies increases in wages (and, one expects, in loyalty), but the benefits of efficiency should also be shared with the members. During the 1980s I kept a spread sheet of key financial figures taken from the annual reports. (I stopped when, during Remine's treasurership, the numbers became inconsistent and obscure.) The first hard confirmation of my suspicions about the quality of management came when I noticed that AML's data-processing costs were increasing at a time when the market prices of computers and software were declining dramatically. Our management then was sticking us with obsolescent procedures, probably as a way of defending their turf. Mensa's national operations are — more than anything else — a data-processing function. If well-managed, we should have obtained cost-savings more than offsetting the increase in the CPI (except for a few years of extraordinary inflation).

All this connects with the Dosse matter. Judy was the only member of the AMC I know who recognized what was happening and tried to do something about it, consistent with her duties as a trustee. That's why she had to be discredited by TPTB*. We all owe Judy a great deal and should not be “putting it behind us” or “getting on with it” without understanding the lessons of her case.


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* TPTB=“The Powers That Be”

Created: 31 Aug 99
Copyright © 1999 Sander Rubin