This month marks yet another birthday, my 48th so far. As this blog is dedicated to my Grandmother, I thought I would use the occasion to share with all of you the best advice she ever gave me. Many moons ago, when I was in my teen years, my Grandmother told me about the importance of staying out of debt. Her exact words were, “If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.” As my Grandmother was a successful woman in her own right, I took those words to heart and I am grateful to her for explaining to me what none of my teachers ever did… that debt can ruin your life. In this age of everything on credit, I am one of a very few who actually has no debt. No student loans, no car loan, no mortgage… I don’t even owe 20 bucks to a friend. The only debt I owe is to my Grandmother for her sage advice.
I never understood why, in high school where we are supposed to be preparing for life, there was no course about finances. That’s the kind of math all of us can actually use. There does seem to be a backlash to all of this credit/debt mess into which we have collectively gotten ourselves. People like Suze Orman and Gail Vaz Oxlade have made a very nice living teaching others what we should already know, how to get out and stay out of debt.
Perhaps parents should be teaching the next generation not to fall into the same traps as we did. Or even more importantly, get more involved with school curriculum and demand a class on money management. I have seen too many smart people lose everything because a bubble burst (housing, stock market, banks, internet companies etc.) You want your kids to be successful in life, so you make sure they get the best education that your credit score can afford, but send them out into the world entirely unprepared when it comes to handling all the money they will be making from that high paying job they will hopefully get with their fancy degree.
Last night on Real Time With Bill Maher, Mike Rowe (host of a show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel) was talking about how there are 3 million high paying jobs that companies are desperate to fill in the United States, but nobody wants to do them. This is systemic of another problem facing the next generation of kids today. The idea that everyone is special and that everyone can be rich and famous. Kids brought up on reality television have been bombarded with the message that the only way to succeed in life is to be on TV so they get student loans and pursue a liberal arts degree. Meanwhile, there is a severe shortage of plumbers, mechanics and other blue-collar workers who could be making real money (over $100,000/year) if they weren’t so concerned with being ordinary or getting a little dirty.
It’s important to remember that, everyone is not special… to be special by definition is to be distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual. There is no shame in being ordinary. There is only shame in drowning in debt while waiting for the world to notice that you are special.
** Note, the links were not provided by me, but were automatically generated and I do not endorse them.
Canada and the United States have long had what, from the outside, can be seen as a symbiotic relationship. We used to have (until recently) the world’s longest undefended border. We signed on to NAFTA even though it benefitted us far less than it did our neighbours to the south. On the world stage, America is the cartoon Bulldog and Canada is the Jack Russell terrier jumping around asking, “what are we doing today, Spike?”
The USA is the one on the left.
America has long gotten their power through military might, which is why military spending is the sacred cow when it comes to America’s budget. Neither Republicans, nor Democrats will significantly slash funding for America’s military no matter the fiscal consequence. America’s military budget is larger than that of China, Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, Canada, and Australia combined. A strong military has been too large a part of the American identity for far too long but it’s the only thing keeping them in a position of any real international power, so they are doomed to keep the funding bloated. Americans are so wrapped up in this identity that they actually think that the rest of the world wants them in the position of protector. In this link, from Aljazeera, the Americans on the panel are all of the opinion that America HAS to defend the entire world, that they have been placed in that position by their allies. (The foreign policy conversation begins at the 24:15 mark.) It seems this opinion is a pervasive one in the U.S. However, if you ask the leaders, or even the people of countries around the world, you get a very different opinion. Most other countries see America as a corrupt and greedy bully that has taken the role of warmonger (not protector) upon itself, without ever being asked to do so, because they have been able to convince themselves that they own the moral high ground. That being said, there is no denying that America’s military might has served them well since the country’s inception. Unfortunately for America, their military (among other things) is bankrupting them, so they seem to be between a rock and a hard place. President Obama ran (the first time) on diplomacy over war. He seemed genuinely concerned about how America was perceived on the world stage. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, he has not lived up to his promise. Just ask any country who has been on the receiving end of one of his drone attacks.
MORAL HIGH GROUND
A big part of what angers other countries about America is the fact that Americans smugly go around the world claiming the moral high ground. America is, “the greatest nation in the world”. Meanwhile, America has tortured, murdered and raped its way through wars just as much, if not more than the rest of us. America should be called out on human rights violations as much as countries like China, Iran and Pakistan are, if only because of their for profit healthcare, prisons, and their drug war that only serves to keep the minorities and the poor from achieving any level of success. The hypocrisy of the moral high ground in this case would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. If you look at the countries causing the most conflict in the world right now they all have one thing in common… they all think that they have God on their side and that they are the good guys doing God’s work by fighting the forces of evil. In fact, this has been a huge part of America’s brand since the American Revolution. This religious ideology is dangerous because it excuses all sorts of atrocities without actually having to have any kind of well thought out reason for killing, torturing or raping innocent (and not so innocent) people in countries around the world. They are so wrapped up in thinking they are the best, that they constantly act against their own best interests. In this last election there was quite a bit of China bashing going on. Do they not know that China holds the vast majority of their debt and makes most of their products? Yes, Americans are so smug that they think it’s okay to bite the hand that (literally) feeds them. It’s not easy being America’s enemy.
It’s no picnic being America’s friend either. In 2011, when the United States Congress was busy bickering about whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, quite a few Americans seemed shocked that their country was not paying its bills. This is nothing new. America hasn’t been paying their bills for years. Even when court ordered to do so, America continues to be a deadbeat nation. Take a look at the Canada USA softwood dispute for an example of this behavior. Apparently NAFTA wasn’t good enough for the USA when it came to charging whatever they wanted to for a Canadian product, so they decided to impose a tariff on Canada’s softwood. Canada took them to international court, several times and won. America still has yet to pay the agreed upon amount in its entirety. (that is a nutshell version, to get the whole story, I encourage you to click the link.) I could cite may more examples, but we’d be here all day. When it comes to paying back what they owe, America reminds me of Dean in the following sketch from Kids In The Hall.
I’d be very wary of signing a deal with America.
THE BLAME GAME
One thing the U.S. government is good at, is blaming other countries for things that are (at least partially) America’s fault. Take, for example the Gulf Oil Spill. America was very quick to blame the entire thing on BP, so as to get out of having to pay for the lion’s share of the clean up costs. Halliburton was just as much, if not, more to blame, but they got off relatively scott free. Even the financial crisis in Greece, which was a major contributor to the Euro Zone crisis, falls onto America’s shoulders, via Goldman Sachs, a bank that received a government bail out.
Slowly, other countries are waking up to the fact that America’s purchasing power is a bit like the Emperor’s new clothes. Sure, they buy stuff with the zeal of a kid at Christmas, but if they defer payment, or just plain, don’t pay at all, why would you sell to them? Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper (whose actions are hit and miss in my book) has cleverly been travelling the world, making deals with burgeoning economic powerhouses like China, Japan, Brazil and, most recently, India to offset Canada’s reliance on American trade. In fact, this chart, from the International Monetary Fund shows that the world economic stage is yet another place where America is no longer number one .
The Twenty Largest Economies By Incremental Nominal GDP From 2007 to 2012
The twenty largest economies contributing to global nominal GDP growth (2007 – 2012)[
Many other countries are following suit, making deals with each other to offset their dependence on the weakening American economy.
I have long been saying that the only thing at which America can still rightfully claim the number one spot is branding. They are very good at perpetuating an image, just not so good at living up to that image. Unfortunately, for America, everyone but the American public can see behind the curtain.