For national politics, most Americans profess a strong belief in conservative values - tight controls on spending and avoiding deficits at all costs.
In a recent edition, Fortune magazine humorously pointed out, in our personal lives, however, too many Americans operate like Greece, a country making headlines for its near insolvency with excessive spending. When it comes to household spending, the majority of Americans are free-spending liberals.
In fact, Fortune found that if you compared Greek debt, earnings (GDP) and amount of income required to service interest with the average American’s financial condition, the foreign country was in better shape. (Now as a disclaimer, Greek’s debt is held with a phenomenally low 2.6 percent interest rate. And much of the American family debt is in mortgages, which is a productive use of borrowed money.)
But if world bankers were gathered around the dinner table with an American family, when they started looking at credit card statements, austerity programs would quickly come up. As Fortune noted, the nation of Greece has all sorts of negotiating power for bailouts that the rest of us do not. You are not likely to see this headline ever - Jasper Family announces default if bank bailout not extended.
The comparison of family debt to Greece is a clever way to highlight the problem that too many Americans live beyond their means courtesy of plastic cards.
According to Federal Reserve figures, the average American has around $10,470 in credit card debt. However, as the Consolidated Credit website showed, this figure drastically underrepresents the situation as it bases the average on all Americans. If it is refigured using only the 53 percent of Americans who have credit cards (average 3-4 cards each) then the debt is actually $15,799 per American credit card user.
Online estimates of the average credit card interest rates vary between 12 and 17 percent. Even with the lowest rate, you see a lot of family income going to pay monthly credit card bills and related interest – a use of money as productive as buying scratch off tickets.
Economists have long argued that consumers make better decisions when using cash over credit. With cash you see when your money is running out and bypass non-essential purchases. With a credit card: It’s buy now and worry later about how much of your salary just went for the new shoes or fishing rod.
A German government official recently provoked a backlash by suggesting that if Germans were encouraged to use credit cards, their consumer economy would improve, knowing what retailers have long realized, people buy more with credit cards. Average Germans responded that they like the control of cash and didn’t want anyone pushing them to run up debt.
In America, we use credit cards for 50 percent of our purchases, according to an article in the July 17 edition of USA Today. And this is increasing with the ease of swiping cards most anywhere and online purchases. No one need urge us to whip out the plastic here.
What we need is some urging to stick with cash and to be aware that the ease of using plastic makes us less responsible – in essence we become the liberal spenders noted at the start of this piece.
Finally, back to our average American with his $10,000 plus in credit card debt. Consider this for your budget, if you are that person and pay only the minimum every month, it will take you a little over a decade to pay it off and you would spend slightly more in interest than you did for the goods purchased.
A purchase that takes less than a minute to make could have you paying for years. Just because credit cards are easy and convenient doesn’t mean you should use them whenever something catches your eye.
Well, what do you know? According to recent research from the American Journal of Public Health, kids who are nice, well-behaved and polite go on to succeed at a higher rate than their surly little punk counterparts.
All those stereotypes of ruthless, cold-hearted schemers rising to the top are not that accurate – at least if you look at personality traits of kids who go on to be successful.
According to an article on the study published in USA Today July 17, kids judged to have good “social competence” go on to achieve healthy, economically viable lifestyles ahead of those who have problems getting along with other students and teachers.
The study, which followed 750 kids for 20 years, (until they were 25 years old) found that how the children behaved in the youngest school grades gave one of the best predictors of how they would turn out down the road.
The social skills that translated in success: cooperation, resolving conflicts, listening to others points of view and the ability to give suggestions without being bossy, according to the USA Today article.
These skills, which needless to say many adults still lack, were thought to be just as important as academic grades as an indicator of who would go on to a good job and who would end up behind bars.
The study found that kids who had the basic social skills were more likely to have graduated from college and be holding full time jobs during the study period.
Kids that had been judged to have weak social skills were more likely to have substance abuse problems, require public assistance, and to have been arrested and unemployed.
Parents who have some ill-tempered badger of a child at home can take heart that the researchers found these social skills, just like math, can be improved at any point to increase the chances with later success.
There is a certain amount of justice in this study’s findings. The kids that win the behavior award also stand a better chance of winning in life over the bully.
The study’s findings clearly buck the old saying of nice guys finish last. Maybe, its not really that surprising that overall it’s students who know how to get along with others and have basic manners and discipline that come out on top eventually. Who wants to hire, promote or deal with some pushy jerk?
If the grown-up bully happens to own a company then they can play the role of Bad Boss but there aren’t any movies about bad entry-level employees getting promoted – except the occasional comedy.
As the school year rolls out, parents should take note of this study. These discipline, respect, and courtesy traits are clearly areas that need to be handled at home before your kids get to school.
And this ought to be some inspiration to address discipline problems: You really do need to take your parenting seriously not just to get the school off your back, but to help your kid end up employed at a decent job.
While some parents ignore their children’s shortcomings, this study makes clear that sooner or later the child will face the consequences of all the things a thoughtless parent lets slip by.
Better to be reined in by a mother or father as a youngster than have the courts or a boss do the reprimanding down the road.
So as school bell rings for this academic year, do your child, his teacher, class, school and society a favor, instill respect and discipline when you parent. Good behavior pays off in the classroom and according to this study, down the road in life.
By Angela Reinhardt
Racial relations have dominated headlines the last year: Ferguson; the Baltimore riots; the Walter Scott shooting and others, culminating with the massacre of nine black worshipers in South Carolina.
This most recent and most tragic of the incidents again thrusts race into the forefront of our conversations, but the story brought along the Confederate Flag - a symbol some align with heritage and others with hate.
I was born and raised in Georgia, but I’ve seen the Stars and Bars more in the last week than I have in my entire life. This includes the one my dad - who was neither a racist nor especially proud of his southern heritage - hung for years over our sofa for the sole purpose of filling vacant wall space.
Fourth of July was the first day I noticed overt displays of the Confederate Flag in town. The next day my husband and I watched Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and I was reminded of an important and relevant piece of Pickens County history, a tolerant one we should remember if racial issues between blacks and whites continue to dominate national conversations.
King delivers those immortal lines about equality to over 250,000 people at the National Mall, beneath the gaze of the Lincoln Monument. As we watched I remembered the statue was constructed from marble mined in Pickens quarries. Then I remembered stories about Pickens’ unusual racial tolerance throughout history and thought how fitting it was the marble came from a place known for acceptance.
Unlike the armchair Civil War historians that have popped up over the last month I don’t claim to be an expert on the finer points of Confederate Flag history, but I do have access to Progress archives. In 2011 we ran a series about black residents in Pickens from the Civil War forward. Through her extensive research and interviews, Dr. Kathleen Thompson discovered a generally positive relationship between blacks and whites here. [The series is available on pickensprogress.com, under the news heading.]
In her intro she writes: “In the last 16 months of research, I have come to realize that the history of race relations in Pickens County is one of tolerance and cooperation. An unwillingness to resort to violence here in Pickens was often in contrast to the hatred and hostility of other communities. This heritage is truly worth understanding with pride.”
Even though I wasn’t raised in Pickens, this county’s history does make me proud.
Dr. Thompson goes on to write about Pickens' non-violent integration in schools, and then on to a piece of history I didn’t know about as I watched the King speech - the fact that black and whites both worked at the Georgia Marble Company in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Colonel Sam Tate bought Georgia Marble in 1905 and by the 1930s had built it up to over 1,000 employees, 15 percent of whom were black. He recruited black workers from other areas in Georgia and provided housing and rations. Black refugees from Forsyth fled to Pickens for higher wages and better living conditions. It's thought Col. Tate's care of and concern for the black community here influenced everyone else.
Reading this I realized not only did the Lincoln Monument marble come from a county known for being racially tolerant, the very hands that mined the marble were those of black and whites working side by side.
A few weeks ago I was at my grandmother’s in Savannah and coverage of the church shooting was on CNN. I was talking to my aunt, not paying attention.
“Why do they have to keep on with this?” grandma asked.
“Keep on with what?” I said.
“All this with the blacks and the whites.”
Grandma, who has Alzheimer’s and can’t remember much about five minutes ago, still loves to talk about her childhood. She told me about being a girl in the cotton fields in south Georgia.
“I was there picking cotton and tobacco right along with them, and I played with them,” she told me. “Color didn’t matter because we were all poor. We all worked our tails off.”
We need more people like my grandmother, who to this day loves everyone and values decency in people over color. Other than government buildings - where they should obviously be removed - I don’t care who flies the Confederate Flag, but I do know we don’t need more division in this country.
I hope at the end of the day, whether the flag is flying high in a truck bed or folded and tucked away neatly in the attic, we can remember this county's stunning racial history and continue tolerance well into the future.
By Dan Pool, Editor
I try not to be petty living in a small town. But frankly my continued exclusion from one club has long bothered me. I have never been invited to become part of the “Good Ol’ Boys network.”
Maybe it’s because I work at a newspaper or maybe it’s because I don’t believe they exist. Being asked to join this club would be like receiving an invitation from a band of Sasquatches roaming Burnt Mountain. Both are mythical, though there are oft-cited reports of damage they cause.
Twice in the past month, I have fielded comments about the activities of the Good Ol’ Boys and their platform on growth.
In the first case, someone attributed the massive Port Royal Water Park (proposed for Highway 515) as being a project driven by the Good Ol’ Boys. They argued that no one else in the community wants it and so it must be the mysterious “powers-that-be” keeping it alive – though it moves only at a glacial pace - if at all.
It would have been fun to play along, agreeing that it’s a well known fact that southern Good Ol’ Boys love waterslides more than football and no doubt some hidden mover and shaker has already locked up a lucrative sunscreen concession. But I didn’t.
I pointed out that the site is actually owned by a real estate division of a major national timber company. And none of the developers with Port Royal have any local ties that we are aware of.
While nefarious schemes are fun to speculate on, this one is a basic business operation, conducted at a national level with big investors and a corporate property owner.
In the next reported Good Ol’ Boy siting, someone commented to the Progress that downtown Jasper can’t develop because the Good Ol’ Boys like it just the way it is and run off other businesses – especially new eateries and most especially any establishment that wants to sell alcohol.
Some variations on this conjecture surface a couple of times a year, that forces unseen are intentionally driving businesses away. I have heard this conspiracy theory a number of times to explain why businesses thought to be popular here (Chick-fil-A and music venues) don’t come.
Except for a few curmudgeons, it’s hard to believe that most people wouldn’t welcome something unique, like a microbrewery, locating in the renovated NAPA building on Main Street.
Shying away from a massive water park is one thing, but the idea that local powers-that-be are somehow figuring out who is seeking to locate here and then stopping them is ludicrous. Certainly nothing has stopped the businesses in the Home Depot and Kroger shopping areas.
Rather than an unseen hand, it’s a case of the Invisible Hand – as in the economic theory that the invisible hand of the market drives business, proposed in the 1700s by Adam Smith and not related to Good Ol’ Boy conspiracies at all. While Smith was talking in broad terms, his theory explains well what we get and don’t get here – the market (demand) drives the economy.
The reason there is no Chick-fil-A? No one capable of making that investment has felt the best use of their resources is to locate one here.
Often people opine that the city needs to get some business to move here, as though it’s a function of government to determine what private entrepreneurs do. It’s not. The city of Jasper can’t very well force someone to open on Main Street, though a little more work at seeing the town is well promoted to potential buyers/renters would surely help.
Ultimately I am optimistic about the local economy, whether the water park and microbrewery show up or not. We see new businesses opening regularly on a slow and steady pace. While we may not be seeing the high profile businesses that excite everyone, the small business environment here is expanding.
Of course, if I am wrong and the Good Ol’ Boys network is meeting, I’d still be open to get together with them and drink microbrews, eat Chick-fil-A and visit a water park. You can send my invite to the newspaper.
Hooray for Hawaii.
There are many reasons it would be great to be more like Hawaii. The state’s beautiful beaches, surf and sand, shockingly blue water, and distinctive mountains are just a few enticements. But now we have another motivation for wanting to emulate the state - last week Hawaii became the first state to ban stores from handing plastic bags to customers at checkout. (California passed a law last year that was set to go into effect this July but a petition delayed it until a November 2016 referendum).
We applaud Hawaii’s move as a great first step toward reducing the one trillion plastic bags used every year worldwide. In our own home state, Tybee Island officials this spring held a first reading of an ordinance that would have banned single-use plastic bags citywide. While that proposal was ultimately delayed to hammer out logistics, we see this as a step in the right direction.
Plastic bags may be convenient – they are light and inexpensive compared to paper bags – but their environmental impact is ghastly. Groups who push for laws to limit their use say they are wasteful, harm wildlife and linger as litter for centuries. While there are several large cities who require stores to charge fees for plastic bags (Washington, D.C., Dallas and Boulder); others have banned the disposable bags altogether (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Austin).
Unfortunately, this spring here in Georgia the Senate passed a bill that outlaws local bans on plastic bags. It prevents cities from regulating “auxiliary containers” at all, which include bags, takeout containers and throwaway cups. Lawmakers said the bill is intended to help businesses who are “sensitive to the costs and regulation of auxiliary containers.” But we believe American business men and women are the most innovative folks around and will find other, less impactful ways to get their goods in the hands of buyers.
Old plastic bags find their way to lots of places – piled up underneath our kitchen sinks for one – but most wind up in landfills and our oceans. Americans alone throw away 100 billion plastic bags every year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil per year to manufacture, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It’s hard to imagine grocery and retail store clerks not handing us our recently-purchased items in the pliable brown plastic containers, but that plastic works its way into tributaries, lakes and oceans where it ultimately breaks down into smaller pieces and is consumed by marine animals. Scientists estimate that every square mile of ocean contains approximately 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it and single plastic bag can take up to 500 years or more to degrade. According to data from the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanups, plastic bags are consistently in the top 10 pieces of trash found on beaches around the world.
That’s just disturbing.
Our grandparents wouldn’t have relied on plastics the way we do today. And they wouldn’t have thrown things out the way we do today. Reducing our reliance on plastic bags is a great first step but, unfortunately, they are but one byproduct of our litter-producing culture. Plastic water bottles are another modern creation our grandparents would likely have scoffed at.
So now, let’s join Hawaii in our own small way and do our part to reduce plastics in our ecosystem. We encourage everyone to use canvas bags when shopping. Stuff them in your car and haul them out whenever you head into a store. By doing this one small thing you can save a sea turtle or a bird from mistaking your used plastic bag as food and reduce the two million plastic bags being used every minute around the world.