Don’t worry, be happy

It is official: the happiest country in the world is Norway, with Denmark the runner-up, according to the World Happiness Report. What lessons can we learn from this survey and what, if anything, should we do as a nation to join their ranks? Where, you might ask, do we here in the U.S. rank? The answer would be number 14, down from number 3 in 2007. The least happy inhabitants on earth appear to be in Africa while the average Chinese person is no happier than he was 25 years ago, despite the country’s much-lauded economic miracle. How do a pair of tiny countries stay so happy for so long? It sure isn’t the weather, where it is so cold that summers require overcoats and the days can last so long that they keep tourists complaining about lack of sleep. Or is it? Clearly, the people there have a lot of money. Norway, for example, is the sixth wealthiest country in the world. They can thank the North Sea’s oil discoveries 40 years ago for that. Denmark also has a high GDP per capita, but so do we, and yet we placed far lower. One answer is what these people actually do with their money. These countries make it a priority to give their citizens economic security. Take health care, for example. While our government is in the throes of reducing the number of Americans who will be insured through health-care, in Norwegian society citizens pay a maximum of $300/years for doctors, hospitals, and other medical services. After that, the government pays for everything for that year. In addition,...

Trump’s budget

It was late, “skinny,” and guaranteed to send Washington lawmakers up a wall. President Trump’s first crack at a budget, released on Thursday, makes drastic cuts to many sacrosanct departments and programs while boosting spending in others. If you haven’t strapped in quite yet, now is the time to do so. The president’s 53-page budget (less than half of his predecessor’s lean, 134 pages) makes dramatic cuts to departments such as the Environmental Protection Agency (-31%) and the State Department (-28%), while increasing defense spending by $54 billion. Areas that would also be hit hard were foreign aid, grants to multilateral development agencies such as the World Bank and United Nation’s climate change initiatives. Clearly, “America First” was front and center in making these decisions. Here at home, renewable energy research and carbon dioxide emissions reductions would also be jettisoned, if the President gets his way. The Agricultural Department, a bastion of American protectionism, was cut by 21%. It would see loans and grants for wastewater slashed, headcount reduced, and a program that gives U.S. farmers tax credits by donating crops for overseas food aid would disappear. Nineteen organizations that count on federal funds for support such as public broadcasting and the arts would cease completely. Home heating subsidies,  clean-water projects and some job training would also go by the wayside. The Housing Department’s community development grants, along with 20 Education Department programs, including some funding programs for before and after school programs, felt the axe. Anti-poverty programs were targeted as well. In contrast, defense spending will be boosted by $54 billion, money for Vets would increase six percent...

America’s road toward universal healthcare

The GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was introduced this week. As one might expect, the Republican Party’s long-awaited plan was met with a firestorm of protests from just about every conceivable lobbying group. That’s exactly what one should expect, given that there is so much at stake. Headlines throughout the week warned that if the plan were passed in its present form, healthcare premiums could rise by 30% or more. Seniors could pay far more for coverage under the new plan, while between 6 million and 10 million people would lose their health insurance coverage altogether. The poor would get short shrift, while the wealthy would benefit most. The new plan dubbed “The American Health Care Act,” (if all goes as planned) will be rolled out in three phases under a budgetary process that would allow Republicans to pass the bill through a simple majority in the Senate. The problem is that although Republicans are unanimous on the need to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the party is divided in how to replace it. Readers might recall that after the landslide Republican victory in the general election, many Americans were worried that Obamacare would be abolished altogether. The doomsday crowd is convinced that the country’s health care insurance coverage will go back to the way things were prior to the ACA. I argue that it is too late for that. Regardless of what you may think of President Obama, he and the Democratic Party set this nation on a new course. It will, in my opinion, result in universal health care coverage for...

A circus by any other name is still a circus

By now you may have heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are set to close in May of this year. That’s the third circus in as many years to close their doors. You might say the announcement marks the end of an era stretching back for almost 150 years. I disagree. The circus will never die. It’s been around since the Romans were sticking each other with swords. It is a venue that is constantly changing that I believe will simply continue to evolve. Society has moved on from the need to see blood and guts on the sandy floor of the arena. For the last century and a half, we have been entertained instead by death-defying feats, acrobatics, wild animals and loud music. In today’s digital age, where kids (and adults) would rather sit at home and watch television or play internet games, the smell of peanuts and popcorn, intermingled with elephant feces and three rings of lion tamers, human cannonballs and clowns just doesn’t cut it. Over the years, dwindling audiences, rising expenses, competition from other sources, the lack of marketing savvy by owners, and the increasing efforts by animal rights activists have contributed to the dwindling supply of old-time circuses that at one time crisscrossed the country. The rising cost of attending the circus may have also been an issue. Middle-class families, whose numbers are also shrinking, had long been the bread-and-butter of the industry. In some cities, tickets for a Ringling show could be as high as $125. The cheapest seats, at $25, were still almost twice the price of a movie...

Trump’s tweets continue a presidential tradition

“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”                                                             Tweets attributed to Donald Trump Over the past week or so, Donald Trump has taken aim at two companies, the entire health sector, and a union boss. The media and the financial community are in an uproar over his statements. Should they be? Actually, ‘jaw-boning’ industry and labor is a time-honored tradition among America’s leaders. Some presidents have done much worse. The fact that president-elect Donald Trump is using social media is about the only thing new in bashing the private sector. The stock market, however, is acting like this is a blatant and irrational act by someone in power; not so. Consider Theodore Roosevelt’s actions at the turn of the Twentieth Century. “Teddy,” young, brash and every bit as outspoken as “The Donald” in his own way, tangled with none other than the all-powerful, John D. Rockefeller, whose company was supplying 90% of America’s oil. It took years, but Roosevelt, the first president to take on Big Oil, managed to break up the Standard Oil Company in 1911.Since then a long line of presidents have challenged various oil companies and their managements with varying success. This week’s vow by Trump to “control drug prices” in a Time Magazine interview sent pharmaceutical and biotech stock prices down 2% or more. This caused a chorus of complaints from investors. But it isn’t the...

A good news Thanksgiving

As we all sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner today, there is a lot to be thankful for on the economic front this year. For many, it may not feel that way but trust me there are some reasons to be hopeful. Let’s begin with the price of that dinner you are eating. The American Farm Bureau estimates that the typical turkey day meal for 10 people will cost less than $5 per person this year. At a total cost of $49.87, that is 27 cents cheaper than last year. The lower price of turkeys is the main reason for the savings. Your bird is costing you roughly 2 cents per pound less than it did last year. There will be more of us making that trip to Grandma’s house as well. Over 48.7 million Americans are hitting the road this year, according to AAA. If their forecasts are accurate, there will be more traffic out there than at any time since 2007. At least 43.5 million of us will be traveling over 50 miles from home between Wednesday and Sunday. That is a 1.9% increase over 2015. In addition, 3.7 million Americans will be flying to their destination (a 1.6% increase over last year). There have also been some changes to the notorious Black Friday tradition, as well as Cyber Monday that some shoppers will like, while others will abhor. Over the past few years, retailers, in their quest for more and more sales, have invaded the once-sacrosanct Thanksgiving holiday itself. As of the latest count, 41% of consumers disapprove of stores being open on the holiday, while...