Gongol.com Archives: December 2011
Brian Gongol

December 20, 2011

Business and Finance Iowa unemployment rate falls to 5.7%
Outsiders can say what they want about this being flyover country, but the economy tends to be much more stable here than in other parts of the US. The unemployment rate here is nearly three full percentage points below that of the rest of the country. That's a huge margin of advantage. That's certainly not to diminish the suffering of the many Americans who are among the long-term jobless for whom times are very, very tough. The challenge, of course, is coming up with the right prescription for solving joblessness. There are a lot of people who think that there's some kind of magical power held by politicians or businesspeople that allows them to create jobs at will. The problem is that people in the private sector don't set out to create jobs -- they set out to make money, and jobs are a byproduct. Jobs for jobs' sake are just unproductive. Building a 5,000-foot monument to Ronald Reagan would create jobs, but it wouldn't do anything really constructive. Jobs exist because people are capable of doing things that other people want to have done. And technology allows us, as it always and forever has, to produce more goods and services with fewer people doing the work. It's not a new phenomenon -- that's why American farm families used to have lots and lots of children, but today by and large do not. Machines do the work that people used to do. But at the same time, technology opens new opportunities for people to do useful work. For everyone who thinks they're entitled to a full-time job posting things on Twitter or Facebook (for which there really is no such market), there are lots of little jobs appearing on places like the Amazon Mechanical Turk and products showing up on Etsy. The Internet is helping break down the barriers between people who want to do work and those who want it done. It would be nice if we could concentrate more of our efforts on creating a healthy environment in which businesses could grow on their own rather than forever chasing big "economic development" projects, but the allure of those projects draws headlines, and that's what gets politicians elected and re-elected. We need a better metric for demanding a good economic environment than "jobs".

Threats and Hazards Baby, you're a firework
North Korea reportedly test-fired a missile a few hours after it was announced that Kim Jong-Il had died. The world is clearly better-off without people like Kim Jong-Il. But the question now is whether we'll be better off with whatever or whomever follows. Kim's apparent successor is his son, about whom very little is known. But it's also not clear whether he's got the moxie to keep the military and the inner circle of the regime loyal to the family. Any kind of revolution there would probably require the complicity of the army, and their bread is buttered by the regime. If we really want change, we're going to have to find a way to incentivize the new boss to head towards reform -- and to get China to back it. It's a tall order.

Business and Finance Rumor says Chicago Sun-Times is about to be sold
Chicago's #2 paper has had a checkered financial history over the last few years, thanks to Conrad Black

Business and Finance Why Warren Buffett wants IBM stock to go down in price
He said he's done buying IBM stock through Berkshire Hathaway, and is now counting on IBM's own buyback plan to cut the number of shares outstanding (which, in turn, increases Berkshire's stake in IBM without costing a penny in cash). Tricks like that make estimates of the intrinsic value of Buffett's own company very difficult to measure, but make that intrinsic value very clearly much greater than most people realize. Based upon paper accounting, it might appear to decline if IBM's shares decrease in market price -- but the long-term value is actually weighted very heavily in its owners' favor if the company takes a lot of shares off the market. Using cash to buy back shares makes oodles of sense when a stock is undervalued. When the stock is overvalued, it's an abomination.

News Fighting gang violence in Scotland

Aviation News The evolution of the NASA logo

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