Economy and Education & Workforce Development and Government and Manufacturing & Technology and Real Estate & Retail

BULLS & BEARS: Amid all the complaining, U.S. continues to prosper

March 5, 2007

A few weeks ago, I heard Ben Stein speak about politics and the economy.

The noted lawyer, writer, actor and economist spouted off various positive statistics about the U.S. economy and then lamented that the public seemed morose about the financial sunshine.

Even though our standard of living is at an all-time high, it seems as if Americans like to grovel and complain. Stein said, in his best Ferris Bueller drone, the American public was the most "unhappy happy society" on the planet. Things are really good-we just don't believe it. Why are we generally unhappy and like to complain while sipping a latte that costs more than billions of people in the world earn in an entire day? Maybe it is the nightly news, maybe the quagmire in Iraq, or maybe we are consumed with the pitiful fates of Britney and Anna Nicole. How about some positive news to get you out of your funk? We hear constantly about how seemingly every country is whipping our tail when it comes to education. If we are the dunce-cap-wearing laggards, why is it our universities are full of foreign students and not vice versa? When comparing the smartest of the smart, guess how many non-Americans won Nobel prizes in the sciences and economics last year? None! All the Nobel laureates in science and economics were Americans. We also are bombarded with stats on how Americans don't save money. Comparisons of savings rates among countries lead you to think U.S. citizens are spendthrifts.

Economist Brian Wesbury recently wrote how the savings rate as calculated by the government is a nearly useless statistic.

A better way to measure America's financial health is total net worth, which grew $3.5 trillion last year.

As Wesbury says, "If this $3.5 trillion increase in net worth were used as the appropriate measure of personal saving, the saving rate was 37 percent last year and has averaged 33 percent the past 10 years, a far cry from the 'negative saving rate' which so many pessimists decry."

Now, look at how much Americans own in financial assets-not real estate but holdings in bank, brokerage and 401(k) accounts, and the like.

According to the Federal Reserve's most recent flow-of-funds report, U.S. households own $27.5 trillion in financial assets.

The next-highest countries are Japan with $9.5 trillion, the United Kingdom with $4 trillion, and Germany and France with $3 trillion each.

Not only are we No. 1, but we Americans own more financial assets than the rest of the planet combined!

We also think we are not manufacturing and exporting anymore. All we hear about is the "trade deficit" and "outsourcing" of American jobs.

Did you know we are exporting about twice as much now as we were just 10 years ago and more people are employed than ever before?

Or did you know that our manufacturing output is at an all-time high, and that Americans are making about 50 percent more stuff now than we were 15 years ago?

Now you do, so quit bellyaching and do something productive.



Gilreath is co-owner of Indianapolis-based Sheaff Brock Investment Advisors, money management firm. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at 705-5700 or daveg@sheaffbrock.com.
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