Category Archives: Education

learning in America

Our Fragile Earth – Think about it

Our Fragile Earth – Think about it

I have a concern about our short-term thinking. The stock market moves up or down based on the news and/or psychology of the day. Publicly traded companies focus on quarterly results. Politicians focus on elections every two years. As a Homo Sapiens we have only been around for about 200,000 years (or about 6,500 years if you are a Creationist).

Mother Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years and some form of life has existed for about 3.5 billion years. The Dinosaurs showed up about 250 million years ago and ruled for almost 200 million years. The Egyptians ruled for over 2,700 years and the Roman Empire took over for the next 500.

Our country has existed for less than 250 years and has only been a world leader for about 75 years. In the last 60 years the world population has doubled!

The land that we occupy is only about 1/3 of the surface of the Earth. The earth’s crust (that we depend on for life) is only about 18 miles thick below land. The remainder is mostly ocean that has an average depth of about 2 ½ miles. The crust below it only aveages about 5 miles. Think about these measurements in terms of the size of the earth which has a diameter of 4,000 miles.

What about the atmosphere that we require to breath? Healthy people can survive to 10,000 feet. Above that, most people need oxygen. From 12,00 feet to 50,000 feet oxygen and a pressure suit or a pressurized container is required. Above 50,000 feet a fully sealed suit or a space suit is needed.

To summarize these facts: We live on an extremely thin outer crust of the planet and rely of an extremely thin band of air to stay alive. As a species we have been around for less than .006% of the time since life emerged. Home Sapiens took the first 199,940 years to provide a population of 3.6 biiion and only 60 years to add another 3.6 billion. Do you see a problem here?

China’s Communism

China’s Communism

I have real problems with Communism in China. They have a poor record concerning human rights and do not have an effective system of representing their workers (which was the initial intent of Communism). The more positive side Free Trade and entrepreneurship is alive and well. We visited China in 2018 and have another trip scheduled for the fall of 2020. The tours are very inexpensive, and we surmise that the Chinese Government partially subsidizes them. There were a half dozen venues that were required that were shipping opportunities. What surprised me was that only one of them (The Jade Shop) was government-owned. All of the others were privately owned. All of these businesses provided very professional marketing presentations.

All of our accommodations were in four and five-star hotels that would rival any other hotels we have experienced. Without exception, all of them provided phenomenal breakfasts. As you would expect, most of its infrastructure is very new. I asked our tour guide how all of the improvements were funded. He reminded me that the government owns all of the lands, and they are everyone’s landlord. Beijing typically offers 70-year residential leases and 50-year commercial leases. Our guide further stated that the government had collected over $30 trillion US in lease income over the last 20 years and that currently, they were taking in over 2 trillion annually. The total Chinese National Debt is just under $5.5 trillion US. Their annual GDP is in the $11 trillion US range, and that calculates to a debt to GDP ratio of approximately 50%. By comparison, the current US debt is $24.9 trillion, and the current annual GDP is $21.4 trillion. This equates to a debt to GDP ratio of 117%. Keep in mind that the Chinese Government only owns the land; most of the commercial development and many of the residential improvements are privately owned. The government is communist-controlled, but the economy is more capitalistic and free trade. Their economic system seems to have evolved into a hybrid system. My term for it is “tight rope” capitalism.

Homeownership in China is higher than it is here. In Xiamen, a coastal city with a perpetually hot property market, $300,000 for an apartment is normal — even though the average wage is around $1,000 a month. Even for the city’s middle-class residents, who make between $1,200 and $5,000 per month, the price seems prohibitively high.

However, the people of China can afford to buy these extremely expensive properties. In fact, 90% of families in the country own their homes, giving China one of the highest homeownership rates in the world. What’s more is that 80% of these homes are owned outright, without mortgages or any other leans. On top of this, north of 20% of urban households owns more than one home. So with wages so out of whack with real estate prices, how can so many people afford to buy so many houses? This is all in a country where $5 can get you a bulging armful of food from the local market, and $70 gets you a bunk on a train that’s going all the way across the country. This is a good question that deserves a detailed explanation

Communism

Communism

As an avid Capitalist, it never occurred to me to read the classic “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. I have always considered myself to be open-minded, so why had I not been willing to read the philosophy of the competition. I was a bit paranoid about ordering the book, thinking that it might put on a person to watch list. I overcame that paranoia purchased the book, and read it. I found it a difficult read. The basic point was the downtrodden Proletariat would violently rise as a social group and take economic power from the Bourgeois class. At this point, I decided that I need good definitions of the Proletariat and Bourgeois.

In Marxism, the proletariat is the working class, including farmers and low-skilled factory workers. They do not own any means of production. The bourgeoisie are the capitalist class, the wealthy, who own most of the means of production.

When reading, it is important to remember that it was written in the context of the times (1847). It was the very early stage of the Industrial Revolution, and most of the lower wage working class was agrarian-based. The book recognizes the emergence of the Industry based workers and assumes that they will transition from the fields to a similar factory based existence. At the time is there was considerable proof that this is was the case.

The Robber Barons were in the process of validating the predictions of Marx & Engels. A Robber Baron was a  person who becomes rich through ruthless and unscrupulous business practices (originally concerning prominent US businessmen in the late 19th century). There is no question that businesses created an uncertain work environment for low paid workers, ignored reasonable working schedules, and often employed children. Labor abuse gave rise to labor unions. Unions began forming in the mid-19th century in response to the social and economic impact of the Industrial Revolution. National labor unions began to form in the post-Civil War Era. In my opinion, unions were created by company mismanagement.

The book addresses the possibility of unions and efforts to transition government to other Socialist systems peacefully. The authors contend that the Bourgeois will still control these systems and that any improvement in wage distribution will only move a small portion into that class. Still, the vast majority of the Proletariat will not benefit.  The only way to establish a fair balance of wage distribution is for the Proletariat to take control and make the rules. The only way that can happen is through a violent overthrow.

The book says almost nothing about how the government would work. Considering the conditions for labor in Russia at the time, it is understandable why the masses would support the idea of Communism. It is also understandable why the owners of capital in many countries would see that movement as a threat to their power and control.

Marx & Engels would not be around to see the rise of the middle class that slowly occurred along with improvements in technology. I doubt that would change their view, but it did provide a means for the Protelariat to improve their conditions, eventually.

The formation of labor unions was a decent first step in providing a more equitable working environment for workers in Industry. Unfortunately, unions developed their brand of Bourgeois. While workers did benefit, a disproportionate amount of the benefit ended up with the very few that controlled the purse strings. Over time most companies installed Personnel Departments, now titled Human Resources and implemented benefits. Federal legislation also established minimum wages, mandatory work and overtime hours, and employee safety measures. All of these steps lessened the influence of unions. In the past 25 years, the percentage of union members in the workforce has declined from 20% to 10.5%.

One tenant of the Communist movement is the renunciation of Nationalism. “Workers of the World Unite”. Communism has been a significant factor in the past:

Formerly Communist countries (by current name):

Past and Current Communist Countries: ChinaCubaLaosNorth Korea, and Vietnam.

In the 1980s, almost a third of the World’s population was Communist. Today the percent is still nearly 20% (primarily due to China’s massive numbers).