Friday, November 11, 2011

Is China a treat (economically)?

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article (available here) said that "China will soon overtake the US as the world's biggest economy." However, the remarks aren't all bad when you look at the facts. The authors point to a 10.5% annual increase in GDP in China since 2001 and a 1.7% annual increase in the US in the same time period.

However, looking at the GDP per capita (remember China has A LOT more people than the US), USA is at $47,600, China is at $4,400 (according to CIA World Factbook). Even if the growth rate continues at the same rate it has for the last 10 years, it will be another 28 years before China surpasses the US when you examine the dollars this way.

The article was interesting in the comments about the approach to expenditures. It points out that the US "spends, borrows and patches," while China "saves, invests and builds." Of course the current administration likes the term "invest" and "build," so the Chinese way makes sense for these parts (and they would like to ignore the "save" part.

Overall, I like Bloomberg, but you have to read the articles carefully.

My mom will be homeless at Thanksgiving

If all goes as planned, my mom will be homeless in just under two weeks. It's not as bad as it sounds, she's selling her duplex with the plan of moving into an assisted living center in the near future (in the mean time, she'll shuttle between my two sisters' houses). So for a while, she will be homeless.

Several years ago, several people asked mom where she was going for Thanksgiving dinner. They knew that she was widowed and her six kids were scattered across multiple states (and maybe even one of the Pacific Ocean island-nations depending on the year). They also knew that she visited her kids regularly and was seldom alone. She proudly responded that she was going to the Salvation Army. This horrified her friends who immediately invited her to their house for turkey. She laughed as she explained that she would be serving meals to the homeless. All of us kids were disappointed that she didn't come to our house, but we understood her need to serve.

Mom's always been one to see others that were less fortunate. Growing up we didn't have a lot, but when we outgrew clothes, we passed them to one of the local charities (if there was no one to pass them down to). She knew that there were people who could make use of them.

So, hats off to mom - I hope I can be the servant she has been.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

God helps those who help themselves

Did he really say that? Yes, he did. (see here for text). To be fair, it wasn't the president, it was his spokesman. And he corrected it later in the day. And many people use this same mis-quote much of the time.

The president actually said "God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work." I think it's interesting that he thinks God wants us to help ourselves, but by that he means the government helping us. But then I've always said that we're not electing a theologian in chief. I occasionally had problems with the previous president's theology and I'm sure I'll have problems from time to time with the next president as well.

This all brings me to my point. Over the next year, many of the candidates will say things that they don't have a chance to think through. Look beyond that. What is he really trying to say? What does his record say? What does he say in position speeches and papers? Those really determine what the person will do if he reaches office.

I'm not surprised that President Obama thinks that God wants the government to step in and help people who need jobs. This has been his approach all along. You may agree with the idea and you may disagree. But you shouldn't be surprised.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The power of the consumer

Over the last few weeks, banks have slowly backed off their plans to charge fees for debit cards (I expected this. See here for my prediction) The consumer has the power to effect change.

The first time I saw a change like this was back in the mid 1980's. At that time, the country of South Africa was under increased scrutiny due to Apartheid (see details here). It was discovered that many business interacted with South Africa and a large movement was made to force these businesses to stop. One bank, which has since been merged into other banks, was heavily involved and did not change their policies.

After several months of trying to get the bank to change, a group emerged that petitioned the bank for policy changes. The group said that if the bank did not change, the signees of the petition would open an account at the bank and then close it the next day. And there were a lot of signees.

The day after this information came out, the bank "clarified" their position on Apartheid. They explained that they made loans to businesses in South Africa and not to the government. Their loans were actually helping the people of that country and would give them a chance to change the government.

The petitioners were unimpressed. Even with the "clarified" position, they vowed to go on with their opening and closing of accounts. They responded publicly to the bank and planned to start the following week. Before they started, the bank announced a change in policy and stopped making loans to businesses in South Africa. The consumer had voted and US businesses (largely) stopped supporting Apartheid.

By 1994, South Africa had elected it's first non-white president. There are a lot of side-stories that come out of this incident, but the story relevant here is that consumers have the power to change a nation. Without violence, threats or even name calling, consumers can vote with their wallets. Individuals can change too. You have the right to decide what services you want from a bank (or any company) and evaluate the cost. If it's too much, you have the right to change providers.