American Priorities

Despite the fact that most talking heads on TV will ignore it, inflation is becoming a problem for the American consumer. Although the prices of "core goods" might only be up nominally, the prices of other important goods, like food and energy, are increasing at double digit pace. The Economist recently pointed this out on its cover.

According to CNNMoney, milk prices alone are up 23% this year. So what would you expect a reasonable consumer to cut back on? Discretionary goods? Gasoline? They would never cut back on staples, like milk, right? The CNNMoney article goes on to give a slightly disturbing anecdote:

John Norris' family is drinking a lot less milk these days. He said he considers the higher prices and has cut back on his kids' milk consumption. But between work and family obligations, he still drives almost as much as he used to. "That's the reason I cut down on milk consumption - so I can drive my car," said Norris. And Norris should know. He's the director of wealth management for Oakworth Capital Bank and a food price expert.

The Norrises aren't the only family getting pinched at the grocery store. Prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose 4.7 percent since the beginning of the year through November, outpacing the 4.3 percent increase in the overall cost-of-living, according to the federal government's Consumer Price Index. Everyday foods like fruits and vegetables, beef, poultry and cereals are on the rise. The price of milk is the biggest culprit, with a staggering increase of 23.2 percent through November. And with basic foods like dairy and wheat driving up the cost of other groceries, almost everyone is feeling the squeeze.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't be surprised to find that many families are cutting back on consumption of goods like milk and other wholesome foods in order to maintain their perfect suburban lifestyles. And some wonder why America has such an obesity problem...

Get Out of My School!

I recently came across two articles on the topic of higher education that I felt the need to share with everyone. The first is a column by Thomas Sowell in the Detroit News. Sowell currently works for the Hoover Institute at Stanford, but has held many jobs in higher education over the years. His argument is simple: there are too many kids going to college, many of whom probably don't belong there, and it is ruining the quality of education for those who really want to learn. In his own words:

Wanting to be in college is not the same as wanting an education. Among the other reasons for wanting to be in college is that it is a social scene with large concentrations of people of the same age and the opposite sex. In college, immaturity is the norm, accepted not only by peers but even to a large extent by those in charge. An academic campus can be a refuge from the realities of the world, not only for students but even for members of the faculty.

Even if you disagree with Sowell and think everyone deserves the chance to be in college and make the best of themselves, his column is extremely though provoking and worth the read.

The second piece comes from Jon Morrow, the author of www.onmoneymaking.com, who has a brilliant post over at another blog titled: Why I Regret Getting Straight As in College. I've personally seen the obsession a lot of students have with getting the perfect GPA. They care more about grades more than learning, and in this end it seems like a huge waste to me. College is supposed to be about learning and preparing yourself for what the future will bring. If what Morrow says is true and grades really do not matter, then sadly, a lot of people are wasting and a lot of time and money. According to Morrow:

I nearly killed myself in college to get straight A's. Well, almost straight A's. I graduated with 37 A's and 3 B's for a GPA of 3.921. At the time, I thought I was hot stuff. Now I wonder if it wasn't a waste of time... if you want to get a job and make as much money as possible, then good grades aren't going to help you as your teachers and parents might have you believe. You're better making powerful friends, building a killer résumé, and generally having the time of your life on your parent's dime.

Even though these two pieces may seem to be in opposition to each other, I think they paint a nice picture on how to maximize the time spent in college. First, focus on learning whatever you think will be most useful in life; thats what you're paying for, after all. If you're signing up for classes you know will teach you virtually nothing useful because you just want to spend your time screwing around then you're missing the point. At the same time, if you're so obsessed with grades that you're overlooking the big picture and not learning anything in your classes then you're still missing the point. Obviously what works for some people won't work for everyone, but there is hope, as long as you can figure it out in time.