WHAT A DEMOCRATIC (OR REPUBLICAN) CONGRESS MAY MEAN FOR YOU

In the 2016 presidential election, roughly 60% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which is common and shows that the majority of Americans think picking a president is worth the effort. But in midterm elections, typically only 40% of eligible voters bother to turn up at the polls.

The Trump Train

Clearly, many people disagree with President Trump’s policies, and even more people are put off by his Twitter comments and off-handed remarks from the stage. But he was still elected.

Almost half of the nation approves of his work, and he’s overseen a healthy economy. What’s more, President Trump has followed through on many campaign promises. Many of the president’s policies are outside the scope of economics, such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and building a wall along the Mexican border.

But Trump is pushing many business-friendly policies that have immediate effects. He’s cut 22 regulations for every one imposed, so far, and has opened more federal land for energy exploration. He’s also directed the Federal Drug Administration to fast-track new drugs and generics while working on reducing drug costs.

And, of course, at the top of the business-friendly list is the budget-busting Tax Reform, which moved $1 trillion from national taxpayers to corporate balance sheets by increasing the national debt.

We can debate all day about whether or not these policies are right for the country but it won’t change the fact that investors have cheered such moves by pushing stock prices higher. The S&P 500 is up 33% in less than two years since Trump’s election, and the Nasdaq 100 is up a whopping 63%. Corporate earnings are up more than 20% in just the past year.

Largely due to tax reform, GDP growth shot above 4% this year and unemployment has fallen below 4%. Those are economic numbers that other countries would kill for.

He didn’t raise taxes on companies or high earners. Of course, it’s not all fun and games. In addition to cutting some regulations and relaxing others, President Trump also started a trade war with just about everybody.

He demanded that Canada and Mexico revisit NAFTA, and he’s put tariffs on goods from the European economic bloc. China has incurred his greatest trade wrath, by far. The president imposed tariffs on roughly $30 billion worth of goods from China, and just recently imposed tariffs on another $200 billion worth of goods. He noted that if the Chinese retaliate, he’ll slap tariffs on just about everything else we import from China, which is another $267 billion worth of goods.

The president claims to be defending America from unfair trade practices. With the Chinese, it’s absolutely true. We already had a venue for dealing with that, it’s called the World Trade Organization, but our president isn’t one for international bodies.

In addition, conservatives also controlled both chambers of Congress. That sweep gave President Trump the ability to push through some of his agenda, but the easy days are over.

The Party Might be Over

The midterm elections are here, and Republican congressmen are retiring in droves. What’s more, midterm elections don’t favor the political party that controls the White House, and that’s before we factor in Trump’s polarizing style.

In 36 of the 39 elections since the Civil War, the president’s party has lost ground, giving up an average of 26 seats in the midterm election following his ascent to office, which is a bit more than the 23 seats the Democrats need to establish a majority next month. The numbers in the Senate are quite different

If the Democrats won all 35 Senate seats that are up for election, that would only give them a 58 to 42 majority because Democrats occupy many of the seats in play. Such a landslide is highly unlikely since some of those Senate seats are in very conservative states. Republicans likely will retain control of the Senate.

If the Republicans Win the House

The president will keep up his rapid pace of nominating conservative judges for district and appeals courts no matter what, because these matters only go through the Senate. Maintaining a majority also in the House will allow him to push Congress to confirm his political appointments within his administration.

We can expect Trump to come out swinging on matters large and small, from Stormy Daniels to Kim Jong-Un. He’ll beat the table about more tariffs on China, demand greater concessions from the European Union, and pound his chest on his success in redrafting NAFTA.

If the Democrats Win the House

Just like the Republicans in 2010, the Democrats are giddy with excitement over the midterm elections. With history and current polling on their side, a victory in the House of Representatives looks all but assured.

People don’t want details. They want bold strokes. Now the Democrats have assumed a new slogan: “For the People,” which residents in the Southeast will recognize at as the tagline for personal injury attorney John Morgan.
The “For the People” platform is sparse, calling for lowering health care and prescription drug costs, increasing worker pay, and cleaning up corruption. But don’t let the lack of words fool you. The Democratic plan for winning the House is to let local politicians run races best suited to them, with minimal interference from the national Democratic leadership.

Like Republicans, the Democrats want to focus on infrastructure, but they have a different way to fund such a push. Trump has called for a yet-to-be-defined public-private partnership that would cost American taxpayers little. No one is sure of the details, but it seems unlikely.

The only way to get private dollars for public use facilities is to provide a path for revenue, such as toll roads; and even then, it’s tough. One of the greatest hurdles to infrastructure building is the length of time it takes to get permits and start actual construction. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office found that government permitting in general took 4.6 years.

For Democrats, the path to infrastructure is easier—simply raise gasoline taxes.

The current federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon of gas and 24.4 cents per gallon of diesel were last raised in 1993 and aren’t indexed to inflation, which is up more than 65% since then.
In addition to raising taxes on fuel, the Democrats plan to provide greater access to healthcare, most notably by allowing some groups to buy into Medicare before they reach 65. One proposal calls for allowing anyone over 55 to join Medicare, which will appeal to many state governments.

A recent study found that retiree healthcare benefits for public employees are underfunded by $862 billion dollars! If those retirees were allowed to buy into Medicare for their years between 55 and 65, it would dramatically reduce the cost of providing the benefits even if the cities and states paid the monthly premiums.

The money for the difference has to come from somewhere—that would be the American taxpayer. If the current trend continues, Medicare will go bankrupt in less than five years.

Adding more people to the system won’t help the situation, unless than can pay their own way, plus some. The chances of that happening are zero. That would leave the government to pick up the tab.
Obviously, the Democrats have other priorities, such as gun control, a resolution of the Dreamer Act, protecting the Affordable Care Act, and bringing back state and local tax (SALT) exemptions.

But, along with their plans for infrastructure and Medicare, all of these items require legislative action that must be approved by the Senate and then signed by the president. That’s not very likely over the next two years.
The main goal of a Democratic House of Representatives will be to stymie President Trump and his agenda at every turn. The House leadership will use the power of the vote to derail any legislative agenda emanating from the White House, as expected. But it won’t stop there.

Through the power of subpoena and investigation, the various committees in the House will bury the administration with demands for documents and testimony relating to Russian election interference, hush money, and anything else that comes to mind.

The push will be made in the name of rooting out corruption and increasing transparency, and many people will throw around the word impeachment. That’s a distraction, though.

With a Republican majority in the Senate, it’s almost certain that such a trial wouldn’t happen. Even if it did, it takes 67 votes to impeach a president, which would be an impossibly high bar, unless new information comes to light.

Besides, if they actually impeached Trump or somehow convinced him to resign, they’d be left with a very credible President Mike Pence. While Democrats might take issue with his political stances, it would be much harder to attack his character.

Democrats hate Donald Trump. The national media loathe him. Republicans fear what he might say or twee next. But investors can’t get enough of the guy.

Sure, the tax reform adds more than $1 trillion to the U.S. debt over the next 10 years, and, yes, trade deficits actually happen when a country does well, but let’s not dwell on specifics.

There’s no doubt that President Trump has ushered in a golden age for businesses, and therefore investors.

So, now it’s up to you to decide who will control the Congress.

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CURRENT EVENTS – OCTOBER, 2018

Two Big Strikes Against the Trump Agenda

President Trump’s White House has been dealt its most serious blows yet. The guilty plea by Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer, and the conviction and plea deal of Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, will rock the administration. Especially damaging: Mr. Cohen’s admission to paying a porn star hush money at Mr. Trump’s request, apparently violating campaign finance laws.
How much will that hurt Mr. Trump’s ability to govern—and to continue deregulating business?

Well, legal and political experts agree that Robert Mueller probably won’t seek to indict Mr. Trump while he is in office, and that lawmakers are likely to shy away from impeachment.
But all eyes are on his allies in Congress. Mr. Trump, Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg Opinion argues, is now “an unusually weak president.” The rewards of helping and protecting him may be shrinking.

Women-owned Businesses are Rising. Their revenues? Not so much.

American Express commissioned a report on the state of U.S. women-owned businesses, based on Census Bureau data. Some findings:

• Some 40 percent of U.S. businesses are now female-owned, up from 29 percent in 2007.
• Women of color made much of the difference. While the number of women-owned businesses grew 58 percent from 2007 to 2018, the number owned by women of color grew 163 percent.
• But employment and revenues aren’t on the same course. All these businesses are responsible for 8 percent of total employment (it was 6 percent in 2007) and claim 4.3 percent of total business revenue (up from 4 percent).

Justice Kavanaugh Will Win The Confirmation War

After an extended series of hearings and last-minute accusations, Brett Kavanaugh survived a sad, chaotic arena of politically inspired character assassinations to become a member of the Supreme Court, only to be delayed by a 7th FBI investigation of Prof. Ford’s unsubstantiated allegations.

Based on the available evidence to date, the FBI will most likely conclude they can neither confirm nor deny Prof. Ford’s allegations.

In the process, America lost a long-standing tenet of our legal precedent. The presumption of innocence has now been obliterated by the gender warriors who clearly stated, if you doubt any woman’s accusations about misconduct, you, too, are an abuser.

What a horrendous cost to pay for abandoning and forsaking the rules of fair play into approving/disapproving a nominee. It was a disastrous blow to democracy no matter whether you wanted Kavanaugh approved or not.

A Hard Day’s Work is its Own Reward…at Least in Theory

Consider this: 86% of Americans men and 67% of American women work MORE than 40 hours a week.

Annually, that’s 137 MORE hours than Japanese workers, 260 MORE hours than British workers, and a staggering 499 MORE hours than French workers.

67 Million People in the U.S. Do Not Speak English at Home

A record 67 million people living in the United States do not speak English at home, a new study has revealed, accounting for just over a fifth of the population. The study was carried out by The Center of Immigration Studies. It is based on the newly released Census Bureau Data for 2017.

California has by far the highest number of non-English speakers per state, with 16.5 million people (44 percent of its population) favoring other languages. Texas, where the number is 36 percent, has the second highest percentage, followed by New Mexico, New Jersey, and Nevada. In the country’s five major cities, the numbers are especially high. In New York City and Houston, the figure is 49 percent; in Los Angeles, it is 59 percent; it is 36 percent in Chicago; and 38 percent in Phoenix. The highest percentage per city of anywhere in the country is in Hialeah, Florida, where 95 percent of the population do not speak English.

Monday Night Football

For Americans who fear the country is in decline on a social level, a sports analogy might demonstrate that very well. The passage of time has not been kind to Monday Night Football. Once the biggest cultural event on TV, it is now a telecast that is actually hard to watch because of awful production values and lack of star power.

When Roone Arledge put together the broadcast for ABC in the early 1970’s, he eventually selected three major stars to call the game: Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, and the uber-controversial Howard Cosell. Ratings were enormous as politicians and celebrities swarmed into stadiums hoping for a few minutes of recognition.

John Lennon even showed up in the booth. America and MNF were made for each other!

No longer. As with many other television situations, the Monday night broadcast has deteriorated. The opening song by Hank Williams, Jr. is tired and the montage over it headache-inducing. The show goes downhill from there.

Our PC culture has badly damaged spontaneity and creative analysis. If Howard Cosell were alive today, he’d be eaten alive by the grievance mob. And there is no Roone Arledge to protect him. Many football announcers now fall back on clichés; they are masters and mistresses of the obvious, living life in the safe zone.

And it’s not just TV that’s in trouble. The Miss America telecast in September was a disaster, losing 20 percent of its viewers from last year.

Potential Democratic Presidential Candidate

Word on the street is that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg may run for president as a Democrat in 2020.

Bloomberg, who was a decent mayor, has been an independent but realizes that he needs the Democratic machine to defeat Donald Trump. Like President Trump, Michael Bloomberg is a billionaire with vast business holdings. He is generally a liberal thinker but not far-left like Bernie Sanders, who is also likely to run.

Trump and Bloomberg Don’t Like Each Other.

Don’t Fear a Flattening Yield Curve

The yield curve is essentially the difference between interest rates on short-term government bonds and long-term government bonds. Every time since 1960 that it has inverted—when long-term rates are lower than short-term rates—a recession has followed. For much of this year, the spread has been at its narrowest level in more than a decade. Many economists believe it will invert next year.

But Jay Powell, the Fed chairman, has played down the yield curve’s significance as an omen. The curve is “just one factor that you want to look at” when setting interest-rate policy, he said. Of the economy as a whole, he added, “there’s no reason to think that the probability of a recession in the next year or two is at all elevated.”

Counterpoint: Martin Feldstein, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan and a professor at Harvard, argues in a WSJ op-ed that a long, deep recession is looming—and the Fed has few tools to solve it.

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THE SPENDING WAVE AND WHERE IT LEADS – PART II

Last week we discussed the spending wave for adults which appears to peak about age 47 and we looked at the shortage of drivers in the trucking industry which appears symptomatic of our whole economy. So here in Par II we’ll take a look at the impact of oil and its importance on the spending wave, as well as the entire economy. To discuss oil, you must start with the Yum Kippur War of 1973 between a coalition of Arab nations and Israel—it did not end in a draw.

“In the first days of fighting, the Arabs caught the Jewish State by surprise and drove into Israeli territory. As the Israelis mobilized, they were able to stop the Egyptian incursion on the Southern border and then drive the Syrians out in the north. Eventually Israel took more ground, but then retreated to the borders established after the 1967 war to keep other nations, namely Russia, from joining in.

“The Arab nations celebrated as if they’d won the war, even though they lost thousands of soldiers and gained no ground. While they did not achieve a single objective in terms of land, they showed that Israel wasn’t invincible. And they established something else.

“In the midst of the war, the oil-producing nations of The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut off oil shipments to nations supporting Israel, mainly the United States. Over the next few months, the price of oil shot up 300%, from $3 per barrel to $12. Once the cash started flowing in, OPEC kept the price of oil high for the rest of the decade, demonstrating that the cartel now controlled prices.

“The price of oil fluctuated after the 1970s, heading lower for much of the 1980s and 1990s after the Saudis dramatically increased capacity. Oil prices shot higher in the early 2000s as the Chinese economic miracle took hold, and then fell when American fracking opened a new supply. Prices climbed for the last two years after OPEC and several non-members agreed to cut supply in the face of low prices, so now we sit at roughly $70 per barrel. That’s more than twice the recent low, but less than half the price at the top in 2008. While $70 per barrel sounds high, if we adjust it for inflation, the price seems more tame.

“With the new trade sanctions on Iran, Venezuela’s pumping capacity in shambles, the OPEC agreement to limit supply still in place, and disruptions frequently occurring in places like Libya and Nigeria, oil could remain in the $65 to $80 per barrel price range for the next 12 to 18 months.

“And then things get interesting! Even though prices have risen lately, outside of shale, companies aren’t doing much to look for oil. In 2016, oil companies discovered the lowest amount of new oil in 70 years, and 2017 was about the same.

“With prices low in 2014 and 2015, shale oil rocking the markets, and the constant talk of renewable energy, oil companies weren’t motivated to spend their resources on exploration. Shale is great, but in the U.S. we don’t have the infrastructure to move more oil from where it is sourced to export facilities. Renewables make up a tiny fraction of world energy production and can’t possibly grow fast enough to satisfy energy needs in the new few years.

“Energy should be one of the booming sectors in the U.S. for years to come, lining the pockets of related companies, their workers, and even state coffers. But there’s another side to the equation. As prices move up or simply remain at current levels, we must pay more for everything that contains or is moved by petroleum.

“Have you ever considered which products are made with petroleum? Excluding food (which is typically grown using farm equipment that runs on gas or diesel), it’s probably easier to list the things that don’t contain oil. Obviously propane and gasoline come from oil, but we also use the stuff to make ink, ballpoint pens, floor wax, basketballs, lipstick, insecticides, aspirin, phones, refrigerators, plastics, and toothpaste!

“It’s safe to say that everything you pick up at the grocery store contains oil, was shipped using oil, or both. If oil prices remain elevated, then the prices of many everyday items will increase. So, we’ll be paying more to truckers to ship them. This scenario is already playing out in transportation. Recently, the major airlines have announced fare increases because of higher fuel charges. We can expect the same thing from FedEx and UPS as they gear up for the holiday season.

The Outcome

“The equity markets will struggle to adjust. Investors won’t know which signals to follow. Do you invest for growth based on inflation, which typically signals that the economy is heating up, or do you prepare for a recession based on the yield curve?

“Do rising wages mean that workers will soon be bidding up prices on goods and services, or do they mean that companies are going to take an earnings hit as they pay more to attract and retain workers? The confusion should lead to vitality, and that maybe good for us.

“As employers pay more, workers will have higher incomes. Inflation will eat away at the gains, but inflation is lumpy, it doesn’t hit everyone equally. If long-term interest rates remain steady, then the combination of higher pay and steady interest rates could give some working families the push they need to buy homes. Rising pay could also give many consumers with student loans a way to boost their spending while remaining current on their debts.

“How creeping inflation will affect you depends on your situation.

“If you’re retired, then chances are your expenses are skewed more toward energy, travel, and healthcare, so this could hurt. Energy and travel obviously are tied together, whereas healthcare costs are driven higher by overriding demographic factors.

“On the income side, most retirees or those near retirement aren’t job hunting, so that keeps a lid on earned income that might be pushed higher. For Millennials, this could be very beneficial. The group tends to have little in the markets, so they won’t suffer valuation swings, and they are the perfect group to leave their current employer for better pay at a competitor.

“If interest rates remain low as expected, then the income boost could be just the thing to push them to buy homes at a faster clip, which might finally move the generation closer to starting families and moving up their Spending Wave.”

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THE SPENDING WAVE AND WHERE IT LEADS

Another insightful view of our economy from Randy Johnson of Dent Research.

“Typically when we talk about demographics we’re referring to individuals as spenders.  The Spending Wave tracks the number of people in the population at their peak spending age.

“Starting at age 18, we follow people through their lives as consumers, tracking their movements through higher education, first jobs, apartments, early marriage, trade-up homes, empty-nesters spending on travel and cars, and, finally, retirement.

“Aggregate household spending climbs as we earn more money, peaks at age 47 just as our kids are leaving home, and then slopes slightly down.  Knowing this, we can track the number of 47-year-olds in the economy to get a sense of economic growth, which is the Spending Wave.

“It’s easy to see why we spend money in the early years.  We start earning a living so we have a bit more to spend and, once we have kids, living gets a lot more expensive.  But there’s something else to remember.  In our early years we augment our earnings with debt.

“Typically we finance our cars, homes, and even daily living with two auto loans, mortgages, and credit cards.  Debt allows consumers to increase their spending well beyond their paychecks.  When the kids are gone we tend to pare the use of debt, using our empty-nester years to get out of hock and save for retirement.

“We forecast Baby Boomer spending to peak around 2008 just as the highest number of Boomers, born in 1961, reached age 47.  This came after a flurry of home buying, car buying, and credit card use in the early 2000s.

“We all know how that ended.  After the financial crisis, spending dropped, the economy reset, and unemployment shot higher.

“We’ve been recovering for the last decade as we deal with Boomers holding down spending and the Millennials joining the economy, creating something of a consumption tug-o-war.  Boomers still earn the bulk of income, but they’re at the point of saving for the next phase of life.

“Millennials want their share of the economic pie as they join the labor force, but can’t earn enough to buy homes at the same pace as previous generations.  We’re not done with this part of the economic cycle, but it’s getting closer.

“In the worst part of the financial crisis, businesses laid off employees.  As workers found new jobs, they struggled to replace their old income.  Paying workers less allowed companies to be more competitive and eventually ramp up profits, but it came at a cost: unhappy workers.

“The huge generation that joined the labor force in the Disco era is now leaving and there aren’t enough new workers to take their place.  With the economy on stable footing for years and Boomers retiring, unemployment has fallen near record lows.

“Today, the U.S. economy has more job openings than people looking for work.  Companies claim they can’t find enough qualified employees.

“Still, Corporate America has been unwilling to pay higher wages, or has done so only grudgingly.  With unemployment so low, employees are becoming restive, and now workers find themselves in a position of power.

“Companies will have to spend more to attract and retain talent in the months and years ahead.  The problem isn’t about engineers or bankers.  It’s about plumbers, electricians, and forklift drivers.  We’re simply running out of blue-collar, non-college graduate workers, the very people that fuel our national economy.

“The trucking industry exemplifies the issue.

“Truckers are part of the delivery chain for almost everything we purchase.  Whether it is packages left at our doors after we order from Amazon or food at the grocery store, 70% of freight is hauled by truckers.

“Gasoline is delivered to service stations by truckers.  Even our water supply, which is typically pumped from reservoirs, relies on truckers to deliver the chemicals used to make it safe for drinking.

“To call truckers vital to our national economy is an understatement.  And we don’t have enough of them.

“According to the American Trucking Association (ATA), we need another 60,000 truckers right now, and the need is going to grow in the years ahead.

“Part of the problem is economic growth.  As America rebounds, we’re demanding more goods.  We’re also dramatically increasing online shopping, which drives package delivery.

“While the last mile of delivery is not handled by trucking companies, shipping firms move packages among distribution centers via trucks which requires truck drivers.

“Today, 52% of truck drivers are 45 years old or older.  Many will retire in the years ahead.  The ATA estimates that the U.S. economy will be short more than 100,000 truckers by 2026, which is just after the peak number of Baby Boomers retire in 2024.  With so many openings, you might think that trucking companies are ramping up wages to attract more drivers.  They are, but not fast enough to attract the drivers they need.

“And they have a long way to go to catch up to the median pay scale.  Since 2014, truck drivers’ median wage has grown faster than the median wage for all occupations, but truckers still make 13% less than the median annual wage.

“The American Transportation Research Institute estimates that truck driver wages and benefits make up 43% of the cost of shipping via truck.  As those costs go up, so will the cost of delivery, which will drive up the cost of the goods we purchase.  Say hello to inflation.

The Internet Deflator

“Pushing the other way, the internet has served to keep prices low.  The internet is integral to our everyday lives.  We use it to work, study, communicate, research, share, shop, and sometimes, just goof off.

“While we waste a lot of time with cat videos and other questionable pursuits, there’s no doubt that the internet has disrupted many areas of our lives by allowing the almost instantaneous sharing of information.

“Documents travel via email, we buy products from across the country and around the world, we collaborate on work projects and research pieces without needing to travel.  The cost of transmitting is close to zero.

“Just as the Boomers were cutting back their spending, the internet gave us more ways to comparison shop and save money.  It was a match made in economic heaven.  Combined with lower spending by the largest generation, online shopping helped to hold inflation well below the Fed’s target rate, even as the central bank printed trillions of dollars.

“The move to interconnectivity via the web isn’t over, of course.  We are just at the beginning of the internet of things (IoT), where many devices are connected to the internet and can be constantly monitored.  But buying online is now mainstream, with shoppers of all ages checking prices on the internet before they head to the local store, if they get in the car at all.

“Amazon might drive prices a bit lower as it enters new sectors like groceries and healthcare, but competitors in those fields were already fighting a pricing battle against information.

“It’s unlikely that online shopping drives prices lower in the years ahead.  That deflationary ship has sailed.”

The “spending wave” is often now more a ripple then a wave.

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MARSHMALLOWS MAY PREDICT YOUR FUTURE

Here’s a psychological challenge for anyone over 30 who thinks “kids these days” can’t delay their personal gratification.  Before you judge, wait a minute.

It turns out that a generation of Americans now working their way through middle school, high school and college are quite able to resist the prospect of an immediate reward in order to get a bigger one later.  Not only that, they can wait a minute longer than their parents’ generation, and two minutes longer than their grandparents’ generation could.

It may not sound like much, but being able to hold out for an extra minute or two at a young age may serve them well in the long run.  Research suggests that superior results on a delayed-gratification task during the toddle years is associated with better performance in school and in jobs, healthier relationships, and have even fewer chronic diseases.

Those findings emerge from a new effort to understand how children’s ability to hold out for the promise of more has changed over time.  The study, published in the journal of Developmental Psychology, resurrected an experiment that’s become a developmental psychology classic, the so-called “marshmallow test.”

Pioneered in the 1960s by a young Stanford psychology professor, the marshmallow test left a child between the ages of 3 and 5 alone in a room with two identical plates, each containing different quantities of marshmallows, pretzels, cookies or another delicious treat.  Before leaving the room “to do some work,” the adult researcher instructed the child that the single treat on one plate could be eaten at any time.  But if the child could wait for him to return before eating it, the researcher added, she could have the second, bigger treat instead.

After the experimenter closed the door on the subject, researchers on the other side of a two-way mirror monitored the child’s bout with temptation and recorded how long he or she could hold out before licking or eating the treat.

Replicated many times and followed up by a wide range of researchers, the marshmallow test has earned recognition as a powerful predictor of future performance—at least among the white children of well-educated parents.  Compared with kids who lunged for the early reward, those who held out for a bigger prize did better in school, got higher SAT scores, had higher self-esteem and better emotional coping skills, and were less likely to abuse drugs.

Other studies found that children unable to defer gratification were more likely to be the opposite.

By the time U of Minnesota psychologist Stephanie Carlson and colleagues at the U of Washington ran the exact same experiment with 540 kinds from 2002 to 2012, the changes appeared to be real close to 60% of the children tested held out the full 10 minutes for a bigger reward.  And only about 12% claimed their reward in the first half-minute.

These kids—like the two earlier cohorts, overwhelmingly white from families with relatively high incomes and educational attainment—are now 11 to 21.

On average, they waited two minutes longer (during a 10-minute period) than those from the 1960s before seizing their reward.  And they waited one minute longer than those tested in the 1980s.

Surprised?  You’re not alone.

In a survey conducted before performing the new analysis, the study authors found that adults in the U.S. “generally intuit” that children today are less tolerant of delayed gratification and less self-controlled than children were 50 years ago.

Roughly three-quarters of a representative sample of U.S. adults did not believe that children these days would show such self-restraint for a better reward.  And parents—Latino parents especially—were overwhelmingly convinced their own kids would not delay gratification as long as they would have when they were 4 years old.

Carlson wasn’t so sure.  On the one hand, she wondered how kids’ self-control would hold up under the influence of daily television and amid a dramatic rise in attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder diagnoses.\

On the other hand, she knew that research has chronicled a steady rise in kids’ IQ scores—the so-called Flynn effect—which correlates with executive function.  And she knew that a growing portion of kids’ screen time, including video games and some social media, can help them learn to manipulate language and other abstractions to accumulate social approval and other rewards.

Higher preschool enrollment and changes in parenting styles, including the rise of the empowered child, also might contribute to generational improvement in kids’ ability to delay gratification, Carlson said.  After all, only 15.7% of all 3- and 4-year-olds in the United States attended preschool in 1968.  By the year 2000, more than half of kids that age attended schools that stressed social skills and self-control as cornerstones of educational readiness.

The findings “do make me hopeful,” she said.  Not only have qualities such as perseverance and self-control not disappeared, a simple and unchanged measure of those qualities—the marshmallow test—has withstood many trials, including the test of time.

“Delay of gratification is still a good bellwether of these self-regulation and executive function skills, and we’re learning more every day about how important they are for school readiness an achievement.”

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TRAVELS AT THE TOP OF THE LIST

In our over 80 some odd trips, it was hard to pick out the ones to call “The Best.”  Interesting in all these trips there were only two we could say were the least enjoyable.

Back to picking out the best.  In early 2015 we had a blog in January and one in February attempting to name those best.

In no particular order, here were our nominations for best trips:

China, right after 9/11, small group.  Fascinating combination of ancient history busting with energy and modernization.

Canadian Rockies with Tauck.  Beautiful Banff, Jasper, and unforgettable Lake Louise.

Peru, on a private tour to Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the highlight was an unbelievable Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest lake and South America’s largest.

Loire Valley, France, on a Backroads bike trip.  Outstanding close up of life in a beautiful countryside.

West Africa cruise and six-day inland trip in Mali, including Timbuktu and a number of awesome sights.  What an amazing bygone world!

Southern Africa, including Joburg, Kruger National Park safari, Victoria Falls, Botswana with three different safaris, Namibia with three more safaris, and the fabulous city of Capetown.

The next set included:

Southeast Asia – interesting traveling to Laos, Ankor Wat and the highlight was Burma, including Inle Lake with a guide named Wa Wa.  All wonderful!

Chile/Argentina – both countries most enjoyable with an outstanding all-day trip with three buses and two boats from Chile to Bariloche, Argentina.  We’ll get to Iguazu Falls later.

Barge trip outside of Dijon, France – seven days of interesting cruising where you could walk faster than the barge—or ride one of their bikes, or take a morning town or church visit, and three outstanding meals every day.

Rafting the Grand Canyon – eight days of nature and adventure with lots of rapids and small hikes to tour turquoise waterfalls.  Amazing!

Spain – fabulous eight-day peek into the Muslim, Jewish and Christian history of Seville, Cordoba, Alhambra, Grenada, Madrid and then wonderful Barcelona and  Bilbao.

Washington, D.C. – what a great treat to spend time in our nation’s capital and get to see a bit of Congress, the White House, but really special was the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian museums, the Portrait Gallery, Spy Museum, and the National Cathedral.  A terrific place to visit!  You leave with a great sense of pride.

I’ve mentioned some of the great cities sometimes when describing them as part of a trip, but there are a dozen other very special cities to call attention to:

  • New York
  • Vienna
  • Berlin
  • Dubrovnik
  • Paris
  • Shanghai
  • Vancouver
  • New Orleans
  • London
  • Quebec
  • Sydney
  • Singapore
  • Amsterdam
  • Beijing

I’m sure you have your own nominations.  Next month we’ll take a look at the next to the best trips.

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ON GOD AND POLITICS

The following is an article written by Robert Levy, an attorney and former chairman of the Cato Institute.

“Last year, I was on a panel discussing a provocative play by Suzanne Bradbeer, The God Game.  The play’s protagonist is Tom, an agnostic-leaning-atheist vice-presidential wannabe who is offered a shot on the ticket if he will falsely affirm his belief in God.  Like most political candidates, Tom is convinced he can do great things for the country—but first he must lie about one of his deep-rooted convictions.  That quandary raises several public-policy questions that might interest” blog “readers.

“First:  Today’s voters seem to accept religious differences.  We’ve had a Catholic president, a Mormon presidential candidate, and a Jewish vice-presidential candidate.   Doesn’t that belie the underlying premise of The God Game—that is, voters will reject a candidate who doesn’t profess a religious belief?  According to a 2012 Gallup poll, the premise is still correct, despite evidence of increasing religious tolerance.  When voters were asked if they would support a well-qualified presidential candidate who was an atheist, 46 percent said ‘No.’”  Comparable percentages of voters who have a problem supporting a qualified presidential candidate who is:  African Americans 4%, Jewish 9%, Gay 31% and Muslin 42%.  “Apparently, voters care less about race, sexual orientation, and minority religious views (Catholic, Jewish, Mormon) than they do about belief in God.  The exception—most likely for geopolitical reasons—is concern about the Muslim faith.  Even that aversion is less than voter antipathy toward atheists.

“Second:  Politicians often dissemble to justify their ends.  Obama said we could keep our health plan; Bush II equivocated about Iraq; Clinton lied about Lewinsky, Nixon about Watergate, and Johnson about Vietnam.  Why should voters be even more hostile when a candidate prevaricates about religion?  My best guess:  Religion is a core value.  Lying about such a value is more serious and reflects more on the candidate’s character than, say, lying about whether health insurance will be canceled.  If the only way to get elected is to falsely claim theism, and if voters discover the deception, the end will not justify the means.

“Third:  Shouldn’t religion be a private matter—that is, none of the public’s business?  Ordinarily yes, but once a person becomes a candidate for national elective office, his private affairs become public.  Voters demand full disclosure about religious beliefs that might have an impact on political decisions.  Suppose, for example, a religion disavowed all medical care or endorsed pacifism, jihadism, racism, sexism, or homophobia.  Surely, voters should know if a candidate embraces that religion and those beliefs.

“Fourth:  Are there constitutional issues related to the precondition in The God Game that Tom must profess religious beliefs?  After all, Article VI states that ‘no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to an Office or public Trust under the United States.’  That question reflects a common misconception about the nature and purpose of our Constitution.  It has two primary objectives:  to secure individual rights and to limit the power of government.  The Constitution does not constrain candidates or political parties or voters; it’s a code of conduct for the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government.  Importantly, in The God Game, there are no actions by government that would affect Tom’s decision to run or not.  It’s up to him—shaped of course by his assessment of whether he can win and his willingness to compromise his principles.

“Fifth:  The Declaration speaks of unalienable rights endowed by our creator.  How can that be reconciled with the Constitution’s prohibition on the establishment of religion?  There’s no conflict.  Several of the Framers were deists—meaning they believed in God as creator, not a God who interacts with mankind on an ongoing basis.  For constitutional purposes, however, that belief is irrelevant.  Our constitutional framework does not hinge on the question of whether rights come from God, nature, or some other source.  The key point is, they do not come from the king.  Individuals have rights, independent of and prior to government.  Rights come first; then we secure those rights to delegating limited and enumerated powers to a government bound by a written Constitution.  That document does not separate God from our lives; but it does separate God from government.

“Historically, our political leaders have been theists—not surprisingly, because the overall population is overwhelmingly theist.  But even when those leaders have actually been religious figures, such as Rev. Martin Luther King, the public-policy ends they sought and the justifications they advanced were secular, not religious.  King did not insist that everyone should be a Christian because Christians believe in racial equality.  He insisted that everyone—Christians and non-Christians alike—should believe in racial equality on moral and constitutional grounds.”

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